Friday, 7 November 2008

07 November 2008

town of Mojave which was the entry way to the great Tehatchapi pass. Mojave is in the valley formed by the desert plateau descending to the west with the high Sierras straight ahead north; the whole place a bewildering view of the ends of the world, with railroads toiling in all directions in the vastness and sending up smoke-signals like nation to nation. The Okie woke up and told funny stories, sweet little Alfred sat smiling. Okie told us he knew a man who forgave his wife for shooting him and got her out of jail, only to be shot for a second time. We were passing a women’s prison when he told it. Up ahead we saw the Tehatchapi Pass starting up. Neal took the wheel and carried us clear to the top of the world. We passed a great shroudy cement factory in the canyon. Then we started down. Neal cut off the gas, threw in the clutch and negotiated every hairpin turn and passed cars and did everything in the books without the benefit of acceleration. I held on tight. Sometimes the road went up again briefly: he merely passed cars without a sound. He knew every rhythm and every kick of a first class pass. When it was time to U-turn left around a low stonewall that overlooked the bottom of the world he just leaned far to the right making Louanne and me lean with him and negotiated thus. In this way we floated down to the San Joaquin valley. It lay spread a mile below, virtually the floor of California, green and wondrous from our aerial shelf. We made thirty miles without using gas. It was very cold in the Valley that winter. Suddenly we were all excited. Neal wanted to tell me everything he knew about Bakersfield as we reached the city limits. He showed me rooming-houses where he stayed, watertanks where he jumped off the train for grapes, Chinese restaurants where he ate, parkbenches where he met girls and certain places where he’d done nothing but just sit and wait around. “Man I spent hours on that very chair in front of that drugstore!” he remembered all…every pinochle game, every woman, every sad night. And suddenly we were passing the place in the railyards where Bea and I sat under the moon drinking wine, on

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