Turning 46, going on a billion | AspenTimes.com

Turning 46, going on a billion

A bright red Hummer pulls up to the pump in front of me. The driver exits and begins the arduous task of filling its tank while his wife and two teenage kids hop out and head inside for chips and a pop to fill theirs. Going through the motions as if alone in the Arizona desert, he looks up and we make eye contact for the briefest of moments.

His countenance changes ever so slightly as he glances away, but I don’t miss it. He’s embarrassed about his machine. Unbelievable. I’m refuel­ing a rented 30- foot RV, and he’s self- conscious!

In that instance, I understand midlife crisis, at least for that instance. This guy didn’t shell out big bills for a gigantic trendy auto­mobile because he’d missed out on doing things he wanted to do or meeting the special person he nev­er did. This isn’t about regrets. He likes his job. He knows there is no one better suited for him than the girl of his dreams that he married. He loves his kids as deeply as he now understands his parents loved him. Nope, a guy can’t scour his soul so thoroughly over something he never had. The suffering he feels with growing older comes from fear of losing something of real value that he senses slipping away.

Unlike what I believed, the world’s balding drivers of convert­ibles and too tanned flashers of bling aren’t trying to impress me, at least the ones who didn’t squander their youth aren’t. All the guy at the gas station wants is for his wife to notice him again. The silly changes he’s made in his life are for fear the people he loves most are looking right through him now. He wants her to see him the way she did when they first met. He wants his kids to come running when he gets home from work like they used to.

I want to tell the guy to be patient, that everyone is busy right now with jobs and school and activities. Hell, she probably feels about the same way you do. The kids are overwhelmed figuring out who they are. You never lose the passions of youth. You might put them away for awhile when you’re too busy to use them and forget where, but they’re underneath all the junk. Relax a minute, and then have another look.

Of course I don’t say anything. I’m being wise to myself. Maybe I haven’t been where he’s been yet. Maybe I never will. Maybe he just likes hot cars and has never felt a pang of panic about get­ting old. My wife comes out of the store with the kids while I’m climbing back into my own rig. She plants a pack of Twizzlers in my shirt pocket and a peck on my cheek then we’re back on the road, where everything is good.

I’m two days away from 46 years old and the hum of a big engine burning through a gallon of gas every six miles provides ample gray noise to ease reflection. I get stuck behind a 268- horsepower Toyota Camry doing 60 mph on a busy two­lane highway posted 65, and there’s not a chance in hell that I’ll be able to pass him. I watch helplessly as smaller, nimbler cars accelerate past the two of us stuck together by his desire to save a little energy and my inability to burn enough of it to get around him.

I couldn’t have dreamt it.

At the Grand Canyon, I’m inspired when I look into the great abyss of time. It’s amazing to look down 1.2 billion years and see what once was alive and is now morphed into solid rock that water will eventually wear away and carry downstream to become a part of California. While you can’t say that any bit of life from those many epochs ago became better with all this time, you certainly know that this expanse of earth they became a part of did. It truly is one of the most incredible things I have ever seen. I feel young again by comparison, but am acutely aware that my time was short here even before I was born. It’s strangely uplifting.

I take a short rest in Trailer Village between sight-seeing events. My neighbor’s name is Roy. He’s retired and seeing the country with his wife in his rig. They’ve been through all 48 contiguous states already, so they decided to spend the summer here. He’s been inspired to take a part- time job as a park bus driver to help pass the time and tourists.

He’s been reading the day’s Ari­zona Republic, which features a pic­ture on the front-page of a Hispan­ic woman screaming at “anti- illegal immigration protesters.” It’s difficult for me to grasp what that phrase really means ” way too much con­notation. But Roy is grumbling about Mexicans taking over the country. I can’t listen to him with­out ruining our moment, so I try to imagine what the woman on the front of the paper might be saying 20 years from now when I, the last baby boomer, retires and there are not enough young “American” workers left to keep us up.

“Scrub your own toilets! Pick your own vegetables! Build your own condos in the Sonoran desert!” she’ll scream at the former protest­ers turned gray and begging. ” Remember where you told me to go?!”

The next morning on the rim of the canyon, I have a great desire to hike the vertical mile down to the water flowing across the bottom. It might be a case of wanderlust, but more likely it’s all of the signs warn­ing people not to make the trek in one day for risk of death by exhaus­tion and heatstroke.

Life isn’t about pain avoidance. You get a dog, doing what you can daily to outlive it, knowing all along how painful that will be when you do. Midlife anxiety. Stuck behind slow moving traffic. Angst over political folly. It’s all part of a fami­ly trip to the Grand Canyon that I wish had never ended.

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