No Surprise Here

Sundown near Landers, California, an unincorporated community of San Bernardino in the Mojave Desert. (Photo by Jessie Eastland via Wiki)

Who could have foreseen it — 130˚ in the Mojave Desert. The hottest day I ever suffered through was 126˚.

I was driving back to Tucson on Interstate 8 from a job interview in Southern California. I know it was 126˚ because the guy on the radio said so. My old Nissan pickup had 240,000 miles on it, and no air-conditioning.

A hundred and twenty-six in the shade. Only … shade?

As we descended through the Chocolate Mountains to the desert floor (me and the truck), I heard a sound — peewww! — and thought I smelled and saw a bit of blue smoke.

How hot is 126˚? Well, I learned pooty quick that day that the flat places on either side of a dry wash might be a tad hotter than the rest of Hell. See, “cool” air sinks into the dry wash, which kicks up the air around it and makes the wind blow. So when I approached a wash, doing 80, I’d roll up the windows to keep cool — out of that 126˚ wind.

Next morning I drove the pickup to the Nissan guy, and asked him to check out the engine. Said I thought I might have burned up something in there.

He called me an hour later and said: “How did you get that truck here?”

“I drove it,” I said.

“Well, I don’t see how,” he said. “All the gears are melted together.”

Get used to it, mah fellah Amurricans. Fire tornadoes in California now.

Fire tornadoes?

Plenty of planets like this in the universe, I reckon, but not many of them with mammalian creatures on it. Not for long.

I remember another day when it was 126˚ in the shade, one summer on the rez.

Here’s where the news comes in.

I’m not spinning this yarn just to jawbone, you see. I’m trying to help — in case you ever come up against such a situation. Or your kids or grandkids do. Will.

After four years teaching high school on the rez in Arizona, I decided to stay home on my summer vacation. Come to found out that what you do when it’s 110˚ and up is stay home and doze through the day, if you can, then live your life at night.

High 80s at night ain’t bad, with moonshine on you, and maybe an imagined bit of a breeze. Everyone else hanging out under the moon.

But I tell you what, step outside under the Sun in short sleeves at 116˚, and that sunlight will make you feel sick in about 1 second.

Trust me on this.

So, when we have reduced this lovely planet to a smoldering cinder, with fire tornadoes whirling about, adiabatic heating setting off forest fires in mountain passes, groundwater depleted, Congress adjourned … as I was saying, when this comes to pass — Who could have foreseen it? — when this comes to pass, we’ll all have to live like Indians.

Which might have been a good idea from Jump Street.

Let me close on this story. I loved my six years on the rez. Forty years later, I’m still in touch with some of my old runners. I learned pooty quick out there that if I wanted to go to a piast — a party — it might be a good idea for this white boy to leave by midnight.

So. I’m at a piast that summer. Big bonfire on the desert, people standing around it in a circle, passing quarts of beer.

I see it now, in my mind’s blurry eye. I see me check my watch. 11:59 p.m. I sigh. Pass the Q. Head to my truck.

As I approach the pickup, a pebble bounces off my head. Off in the darkness a voice: “Hey, Kahn! Fuck you!”

I look at my watch: 12:01 a.m.

“Right on time,” I say.

No surprise.

No surprise at all.

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