Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Topic 214: Acid Tests

The Dead Zone

I call the stretch of the I- 10 between Blythe and Indio the Dead Zone. It  peaks at Chiriaco Summit, which at 1700 feet altitude isn’t much of a summit unless you consider that you are climbing from 800 feet at Blythe in the middle of a desert and jockeying for position with massive trucks that slow to a crawl. I reckon I have driven The Dead Zone over 100 times since we moved to Arizona in 1983.
We called it the Dead Zone not just because of the arid terrain. Our radio reception would usually die out somewhere after Quartzite. We had a stack of tapes to counter the monotony, but often we would just talk, letting the conversation meander all over the place.
The first few years, we made the trip with two toddlers strapped into car seats. Going west, we usually broke the journey with a stop for breakfast in Blythe. As the kids grew older and quit napping, they would ask questions that often couldn’t be answered with our pooled knowledge which was long on language and literature and short on science and technology. How many times I wished we had a dictionary or a portable encyclopedia so that we could find the answer right away.
By the time the kids outgrew their car seats, I often made the trip without Marc to visit my parents and brothers’ families in southern California. If we left Thousand Oaks by 5 a.m., I could avoid the worst of the traffic crawling into Los Angeles from the San Fernando Valley and the kids would sleep until we hit Blythe for a food and fuel stop. The Dead Zone seemed to stretch during those years, no conversation for the driver and no music if I forgot to pack the travel tapes.
The kids grew up, the vehicles changed and the technology evolved.  Our current vehicle has an I-Pod port and a CD player, but the conversations continue. Last August  Megan and I read essays out loud from a 1925 writing textbook. By the time we hit Blythe, we had committed to writing our own essays and creating a website. The first Daily Theme essay was posted on September 1, 2010.
On September 5, 2011 we found ourselves again traveling the I-40 back to Arizona after a family wedding. The radio was turned off, and conversation picked up after Indio. Did we know that Chiriaco Summit has a General Patton museum? Should we gas up over the border in Ehrenberg, or should we continue to the Pilot stop at Quartzite? My mind wandered ahead to the daily theme due the next day.“Acid tests.”  Hmmm.
I cheated a little and threw out a question to Marc. “So, how would you define “acid test”? Is an acid test the same as a litmus test?  If only we had a dictionary or an encyclopedia.”  A voice from the back seat suddenly announced, “According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, an acid test is….” Megan’s cell phone, not much bigger than a playing card, had become our dictionary thanks to the Internet.
The conversation eventually led us to Ken Kesey, the Merry Pranksters, Tom Wolfe and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Like I said, we are short on science and technology and long on language and literature.
Megan says the satellite reception on that dreary stretch of desert between Indio and Blythe was strong and clear. Guess, I’ll have to find another name for The Dead Zone.

I came back from California with a little cold, which has now transformed into a serious sinus infection. For those of you who may not know, I start a new job next Monday, and I'm pretty sure that if I call in sick on the first day, I will fail the litmus test for new employees (litmus test being interchangeable with acid test, according to Merriam-Webster) and this is the best I can do. 

Back to bed.

1 comment:

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