Yes, the road.

Yes, the road.
Eagle Nest, New Mexico. “People like to drive because driving is actually and symbolically an almost perfect mechanism for escape…there is probably no human being who does not have troubles, real or imagined, from which he at times feels the need to flee.” George R. Stewart.


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Brooklin, Maine, United States
We own a 1975 GMC Sierra Grande 15 in Maine and a 1986 Chevrolet Custom Deluxe 10 in West Texas. Also a pair of 1997 Volvo 850 wagons. Average age in the fleet is 28 years--we're recycling. I've published 3 novels: THE LAW OF DREAMS (2006), THE O'BRIENS (2012), and CARRY ME (2016). Also 2 short story collections: NIGHT DRIVING(1987) and TRAVELLING LIGHT (2013). More of my literary life is at I was a Fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study for 2012-13. I'm an adjunct professor at Colorado College and in the MFA program at Queens University of Charlotte. In 2015-16 I was a Fellow at Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The Autoliterate office is in Car Talk Plaza in Harvard Square, 2 floors above Dewey Cheatem & Howe. SUBSCRIBE TO THE AUTOLITERATE DAILY EMAIL by hitting the button to the right.

Monday, October 31, 2016

1955 Ford F-750

thanks to Lee Salutes for the heads-up on this one. Details at B-A-T.  

What does a cowboy have for breakfast?

Q: What does a cowboy have for breakfast?

It was the longest road trip ever. No, it just felt like the longest. Leaving Alberta in a snowstorm. Down along the Rocky Mountain front ranges in a ’52 Chevy 1-ton grain truck, pulling six canoes on a homemade trailer, heading for Texas and the whitewater canyons in the Big Bend. 

Low gear over Raton Pass. The highway was banked with sedimentary layers of snow. Coming down out of Raton the snow faded quickly, the air smelled of sun and piñon. The sky was crisp, dry blue; and the road was muddy, red New Mexico mud. South of Taos, the road met the Rio Grande for the first time. We pulled over at the first set of gorges and lay like bugs on the warm red rocks, hearing the water rushing, absorbing sun, winter fleeing our bones.

It’s a challenge driving vehicles older than yourself. Keeps you on your toes. Miles don’t spin by in any meaningless, heedless blur. You’re thankful for every one. You start to pay attention. 

That truck was happiest cruising in the high 40s. The brakes were free-spirited. Approaching 55 mph, the steering wheel started to bounce, the engine began whining, and I could picture thrown rods leaping through the hood like miniature Titan rockets launched from underground silos. When it was cold, driving at night, we crammed towels into holes in the floorboards. We developed an addiction to cheap nasty cigars, the kind you buy in gas stations, cigars that continuously explode while you’re smoking them, like dry grassland burning in a fast wildfire. 
Following the weather south, every 50 miles was hotter and drier. South of Santa Rosa, the desert came out a silvery shade of green. We always slept in the back of the truck, which was crammed with an expedition’s worth of canoe paddles, life jackets, rescue gear, tents, and trip food packed in 10-gallon plastic buckets. I liked waking up in the middle of nowhere in New Mexico, crawling out of a sleeping bag, jumping down off the truck, feeling the sun, smelling sage. The atmosphere was perfectly clear and still. Nothing moving except maybe a hawk.

Voices overheard in truck stops of New Mexico sound semi-Okie with Hispanic softening. The chili verde is stronger than you, the coffee weaker, and sometimes the tortillas are homemade. At the truck stop between  and Albuquerque, a photograph of the Apache warrior, Geronimo, hung on the door of the men’s room. 

In Vaughn, N.M., a kid called Ramon with amazing forearm tattoos meticulously performed an oil change on the Chevy, then offered to buy it. He wanted to transform it into a dump-truck lowrider – chromed, chopped, and candy-painted, like his beloved ’69 Impala parked outside. He kept offering more money. We hated to turn him down, but we had to keep going. As we were pulling out, Ramon yelled, “So tell me what you want for it, man!” I guess he didn’t want to let go of a vision of himself cruising Saturday nights in a ride bigger and weirder than anything else around.

Sometime after dark, just south of Orla, Texas, the trailer blew over in a crosswind, flaring sparks along the highway. We pulled over and checked the damage. The canoes were dented and scratched, but they’d been hit harder before bashing river rocks. But the wind was so relentless we couldn’t get the trailer back on its wheels, and we were afraid that the canoes would fill up with wind, tear off their cross-trees and go sailing into the desert, cartwheeling to Oklahoma. There was nothing to do except lash everything down as tightly as possible, crawl into the back of the truck and try to sleep, hoping the wind would die down before it blew the whole rig over. That night the truck felt like a boat battened down in a mid-ocean storm, but by morning the wind was down, the air was crisp and sharply tuned. We got everything righted enough to limp the trailer into town. A waitress at the café phoned her welder boyfriend who asked what we were doing with six canoes in the desert; then went to work mending, reinforcing and ballasting; and soon we were on the road again.

Hard traveling in questionable vehicles isn’t something I want to do for the rest of my life. Or maybe it is, and I’m only wary of admitting it because it sounds so, well, unproductive. There’s nothing like a good long drive to be reminded of – maybe reassured by – the resilient emptiness and the harsh, sweet loneliness of the West. 

A: a piss and a look around.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

1970 Ford F250 (for sale)

Thanks to Stephen Hendrickson for the heads-up on this. Up for auction until Sunday Oct 30 at Everything But The House.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Vancouver Public Library Panel truck

I wish I knew the make & year. Looks like 1938-40 to me; but the library branch (Collingwood) was opened in 1951, a strong modernist design that has seen some unfortunate alterations over the years. Generally the standards of Canadian architecture have been low, historically, with exceptions; disastrous buildings or disastrous modifications of good buildings are too often the rule, from sea to shining sea. The truck looks almost British, doesn't it?

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Granville Island, Vancouver

Every morning the trucks lined up to get their fill of concrete. They looked like big toys; I wanted to push them around, play with them.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

1951 Ford F1, Cutchogue

Kyle Knodt caught the truck out there on Long Island.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

1964 Chevrolet C10 Stepside

The truck sold at auction yesterday at B-A-T so we're noting it here for a guide to current prices on admirable trucks. This one had a few issues apart from the surface corrosion but it was starting quickly and driving at highway speeds, apparently. Went up without reserve, and sold for $4500. Details here.


Laurie D. Graham poem: "Louis Riel Trail"

Louis Riel Trail
for Jan Zwicky

Despair can become an effective arsenal.
— Louis Riel

Trucks, their engine retarders as hell-bent as planes coming in,
queuing up and down the flanks of the Qu’Appelle—
don’t refer to the hills as a body, don’t be cliché
the valley of industry, the empty-canvas plain, the tow rope between cities.
Across the way someone’s herding cattle in an ATV.
The bright blond stubble a colour not natural to this place mid-May.
Underneath, the knowing grasses waiting, finger-feeling.
The main branch of the militia hiked from Qu’Appelle
to Batoche in how many days.


You better like white noise you live so close to the highway,
the drone of progress wearing away a register of hearing,
a tidal thinning, the static of one’s quiet,
wanting weekends all these bikers up the hill,
and trucks, trucks carrying bulldozers and John Deeres,
tanker trucks and pickups pulling earth-movers on a Sunday,
and all around, the orbits of predators and scavengers,
mice and flies and ants in anything but a straight shot.
The jostling wind—watch your clichés again
the deer and porcupine, trucks with rebar,
trucks with plywood, trucks with empty beds descending
the hot limbs of the valley—does that sound original?


How would he feel to have a highway named after him,
a highway sprouting north from the city where he’s hanged.
White trucks by the thousands, double-trailers full of imports in a new age of austerity,
which you’ll feel if you’re not playing all the ball that you’re supposed to,
if all that’s left is rocks as ammunition for your rifles, be it soldiers in zarebas
or snipers in the ditches blasting holes in all your churches:
if you want to get from here to the site of last resistance,
you must descend the ready slopes of the Qu’Appelle.


And a nineteen-year-old woman walks the highway at night
around the weigh-scales between Lumsden and Regina.
Four lanes all around her, traffic pitched too loud for reason,
and the news and the cops can’t fathom why she took this trail.
About the time I dropped to sleep last night
was when she found the answer.
Fifteen hours before, there was an owl on the roof.

It must have been dancing for the highway.

                                                         ---Laurie D. Graham, from Settler Education

[Most Canadians know something about Louis Riel and the Northwest Rebellions. Most Americans don't. You could start here. ]

Monday, October 24, 2016

Sunday, October 23, 2016

"At the Interstate Gas Stop"

"At the Interstate Gas Stop"--photo by Stephen Hendrickson. Corvette Sting Ray. One-eyed.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Urban Camino

from Stephen Hendrickson, who saw the car in Long Island City. 1977 Chevrolet El Camino. Maybe my favorite edition is this 1960 El Camino posted from Colorado Springs a while back. And here's a Camino on eBay.

Friday, October 21, 2016

1950 Chevrolet 1420, Saskatchewan, and etc.

From Alex Emond: "Random truck sightings ... taken in a few small towns in southwest Saskatchewan. Seems like anywhere I get to, there's another truck sitting there, posing . Most of them still have up to date license plates on them."-AE

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Nissan Figaro, North London

 Michael Moore spotted it in Hampstead. "A lot more interesting than the herds of BMWs and hordes of Audis that infest the heights around the Heath…" AL posted one in Vancouver a while back.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

c. 1935 Ford pickup. Quadra Island, British Columbia.

It was raining like hell. "Pacific typhoon," they said. I got off the plane at Campbell River, took the shuttle taxi to the dock and caught the ferry to Quadra Island. Waited at the Quathiaski Cove dock on Quadra for another cab to take me cross-island to the landing at Heriot Bay where I caught the ferry to Whaletown on Cortes Island. Saw this truck at the QC landing on Quadra.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

1954/55 Job-Rated Dodge. Banff, Alberta.

Saw the truck in October light on a chilly Banff day, with snow in the mountains. Alex Emond shot the truck a while back, but it was worth another look.

Monday, October 17, 2016

"Wyoming Highways" by William Notter

Wyoming Highways

Most of the traffic is pickup trucks
caked in bentonite from the methane roads,
or one-ton flatbeds with dually axles
and blue heelers balancing on the back.
But the blacktop slicing through rabbit brush flats
and weather the color of heated steel is perfect
for opening up a highway-geared American car
from the days of cubic inches and metal.
You could wind that Detroit iron up
to a sweet spot well above the posted limit,
where torque will casually pull the grades.
The car would rock on the springs, and growl
from deep in the carburetor throat
yanked wide open, gobbling down pure light.

--- "Wyoming Highways" by William Notter from Holding Everything Down. © Southern Illinois University Press, 2009. (buy now) Thanks to Stephen Hendrickson for the heads-up on the poem, which was read on NPR's The Writer's Almanac, Oct 15 2016. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The field-grey Volkswagen, and "Memories of a Nation"

Erinnerungen einer Nation' (The British View: German - Memories of a Nation) exhibition at the Martin Gropius Bau museum in Berlin on October 7, 2016. The exhibition running from October 8, 2016 to January 9, 2017presents approximately 200 objects that originated during the last 600 years in Germany, and which are formative for culture, business and politics -- past and present. The show traces German identity from a British perspective. Adam BERRY / AFP
"Germany: Memories of a Nation" was originally a BBC broadcast, and is also a book by the director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor.

Saturday, October 15, 2016