by dustin sturges
A housewife in the Midwest finishes packing lunches, hustling the kids off to school, doing dishes, vacuuming, scrubbing and washing. She gets a cup of coffee, and plops down in front of the TV. While she tries to occupy herself with the common mindless drivel of daytime television, her mind wanders. It doesn't go far-not past the post office or the grocery store.
She wonders briefly about the strangers she saw in the parking lot at the bank. They were dirty longhairs in an SUV covered with mud. On top of the vehicle were stacked three boats of some sort, looking very new compared to the truck.. "Vagrants," she thinks to herself. They need to get a job and cut their hair.
On TV, Sally Jesse Raphael is jabbering about some alien abducted, anal probed white trash idiot who believes that dating his uncle is a natural thing, and that he should therefore be accepted into the National Cosmic Church of Snake Handling Acrobats. The overstuffed woman lounging in the overstuffed plastic-leather Lay-Z-Boy doesn't even bat an eye.
In a month, her husband will get his two-week vacation. They are going to pack up the entire family and fly to Disney Land. There, they will spend ten fun-filled days being herded like cattle onto one ride or another. They will go back each night to their air-conditioned hotel rooms-miniature replicas of their house on the prairie-and watch TV until they fall asleep.
When they return home, they will be the proud owners of some pictures of themselves with a formerly out of work actor in a giant felt costume. This person will shot himself shortly after their departure at the realization that walking around as a cartoon dog was going to be the pinnacle of his career.
Absolute bliss. She continues to channel-surf while she daydreams of mouse-eared hats and other location specific consumer merchandise.
Two days west, a grungy, mud covered 4Runner careens along an isolated two-lane road. The stereo fills the car with an ancient, flittering ditty played by Sam Bush. Two men and one woman watch the Teton Mountain range pass by outside of the window. They have been on the road for months now, and sit in the comfortable manner of friends who no longer need small talk to fill the silence.
The mountain range stands sentient and eternal. It seems to approve. The Grand speaks to these travelers in a language long forgotten by mortal men, the ancient language of kings.
The SUV stops at a convenience store and heads up Grey's canyon for the night. The three travelers roll out beds and sleep under the stars. The night is warm and the road was way too long to bother with pitching tents. The light of their small campfire illuminates a stand of old growth pines. One man pulls a guitar from the utterly overloaded vehicle. He hands it to the other and grabs his mandolin. The woman takes up the nylon case that holds her harmonicas, consults the boys about the key, and chooses the correct one. They play into the night, a private concert for the trees, the stars, the critters, and themselves.
The next morning, they are awakened by a slightly disgruntled squirrel throwing pinecones at them. As the sun begins to rise, the delicate light filters through the pines. Coffee is put on the fire. They will eat Top Raman for a month straight-but drink bad coffee? Never!
"What are we doing today," one young man asks. "We have to get a gig sometime this week or we're not going to make Yosemite," the other answers. There can be no compromise between responsibility and desire. They settle on kayaking the alpine section of the Snake River in the morning, and sport climbing on the Rodeo wall in the afternoon. That evening, they decide to treat themselves to a beer in town. While they slowly sip the only beer they can afford, they get an audition, and later a gig. Within a couple weeks, they are climbing seas of endless granite (still living on Top Raman) in the hallowed halls of The Valley.
Charon, with his skeletal hands, rows his boat across the river Styx, taking one person at a time to the land of the dead. No group rates here. Each is responsible for his own fare. Most sit passively in the bow and let the boatman land them upon death's door whenever he chooses. They see only what they are supposed to see from their safe vantage point and they DO NOT ROCK THE BOAT.
There are still some, however, who are not content to sit quietly and float until death. They bring their own paddles and row where they please. They dance and jump and scream, whirling like madmen into the far shore. Though the boat tips and rocks crazily, Charon doesn't mind. He gets to relax for a little while and they add much entertainment to a very monotonous job. The next in line always look on in terror from the shore but somewhere, deep in their souls, a toast is raised for these bold individuals. They raise a glass to the rowers of Charon's boat.