Favorite

Gone to Alaska 

The Observer is a great fan of anything with wheels. We spent our formative years up to our elbows in grease and automobilia in Pa's dirt-floor shop, so we know our way around cars — cars of 20 years ago, anyway, before they got so damned fancy and electronic. So when a lawyer started talking about a car of his youth while we were camped at the courthouse during jury deliberations after the Hastings trial a few weeks back, our ears perked up. Car stories are almost always beautiful, whether they want to be or not. 

Don't know who Hastings is? Doesn't matter to this story, but you can find a passel of information about it online, some of it written by Yours Truly. Feel free.

When the jury is out, the courtroom drains, left to silence and polished wood, the judge's bench and the old church pews in the gallery vacated and the jury carton in the corner empty of eggs. Most of the rest of The Observer's scribbling brethren had decamped to the hard benches in the hallway. Once our flat beehind started feeling like fine Corinthian leather, however, The Observer went inside the quiet courtroom and found a more comfy chair.

The prosecutors were at their table, talking, killing the bottomless hours. In the courtroom, built for acoustics, it's easy to overhear. John Johnson is the chief deputy prosecutor of Pulaski County. He's hard not to like as a human being, though we'd rather die on the lam than ever be forced to face him over that defendant's table. He's that kind of guy. The Observer was watching "Casablanca" the first night of the Hastings trial and at a moment when Humphrey Bogart frowned particularly deeply at Ingrid Bergman, it occurred to us that Bogie and Johnson have a similar face. Not twin- or even brother-similar. Just something about the eyes and mouth. John Bogart, distant cousin.

At the prosecutor's table, Humphrey Johnson was telling a story to his comrades about a car: an ancient Volvo with a gas tank that leaked more gasoline than it held, in an age when gas was so cheap that that sort of thing didn't matter much. It was a story of The Good Ol' Days, surrounded as they are by the golden glow of hindsight and knowing you survived them.   

In that silence, he told of how as a very young man, before mortgage and marriage and duty, he and a friend had packed up his Volvo in Arkansas on a whim and drove to Alaska, eight days straight through, only to wind up broke down and stranded on a beach in Valdez, victims of a bum alternator. He told of how they'd slept in the busted Volvo there by the ocean; of how the mosquitoes had come down in a black swarm and gnawed them; of how they had fished for salmon and spent a whole, gypsy summer there. He told how, as the snows were threatening to bury them, he'd finally walked to a tiny town's Sears and Roebuck mail-order outlet and ordered a car battery. Then, he said, he drove that alternator-less Volvo across Canada, pressing South until the battery would damn near give out, at which point he'd coast into the next little town and get another battery, proceeding that way, over and over, all the way back to Utah and the bottom of his wallet, where his pride finally broke and he called his father. It was easy for The Observer to imagine a much younger man there in a phonebooth next to his rusty Volvo, plugging dimes in the desert sunset of Mormonland. 

The Observer is probably getting the details wrong. Eavesdropping is an inexact science. That said, given that we'd spent days looking at autopsy photos, one life taken and another spoiled, we found a lot to love in that story about wanderlust and freedom and cars and being young. We feel honor bound to tell those kinds of stories as they come to us. The world is too full of misery, as Mr. Johnson and The Observer both know much better than most, and courtrooms need all of those they can get: stories that don't end in shipwreck ruin for someone or other.  

There were times when we wish we'd been a little more spontaneous in our own Good Ol' Days before responsibility — less worried, more faithful in our own ability to get there and back in one piece, more like that kid gone to Alaska: sure that there is always a way to get home. That said, we've got car stories of our own, each of them glowing like candy paint and flaming backfire in The Observer's mind. Everybody should have at least one good car story like that, we think, if only to carry them through.

Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Readers also liked…

  • I'm sorry

    I'm sorry we stood by while your generation's hope was smothered by $1.3 trillion in student loan debt, just because you were trying to educate yourselves enough to avoid falling for the snake oil and big talk of a fascist.
    • Nov 17, 2016
  • Show and tell

    The Observer is an advocate of the A+ method of integrating the arts and using creativity to teach across the curriculum, an approach that the Thea Foundation, with help from the Windgate Charitable Foundation, is offering to schools across the state.
    • Feb 25, 2016
  • Yawp

    The Observer has been in a funk lately for a number of reasons: revulsions and slights, both foreign and domestic. We get that way most years as the winter drags on, once the tinsel and colored lights of Christmas drop into the rearview, soon after we come off the New Year's Day hangover.
    • Mar 24, 2016

Most Shared

  • So much for a school settlement in Pulaski County

    The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's Cynthia Howell got the scoop on what appears to be coming upheaval in the Pulaski County School District along with the likely end of any chance of a speedy resolution of school desegregation issues in Pulaski County.
  • Riverfest calls it quits

    The board of directors of Riverfest, Arkansas's largest and longest running music festival, announced today that the festival will no longer be held. Riverfest celebrated itsĀ 40th anniversary in June. A press release blamed competition from other festivals and the rising cost of performers fees for the decision.
  • Football for UA Little Rock

    Andrew Rogerson, the new chancellor at UA Little Rock, has decided to study the cost of starting a major college football team on campus (plus a marching band). Technically, it would be a revival of football, dropped more than 60 years ago when the school was a junior college.
  • Turn to baseball

    When the world threatens to get you down, there is always baseball — an absorbing refuge, an alternate reality entirely unto itself.

Latest in The Observer

  • Dumb and smart, at the same time

    The Observer spent the week at a bar and thought a lot about a joke and its writer.
    • Jul 20, 2017
  • -30-

    A newspaper died up in Atkins a few weeks back, not with a bang or a whimper, but with the sound of change jingling in a pocket, just too little of it to keep the printing presses rolling.
    • Jul 13, 2017
  • Does she know?

    Did Kim Walker-Smith, when recording "Throne Room" for her new record "On My Side," truly understand the power of her music? Does she now know that her song was the one that played on the radio as Michael Reed thumped into the Ten Commandments monument on the state Capitol grounds and brought it on down?
    • Jul 6, 2017
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »

July

S M T W T F S
  1
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31  

Most Viewed

Most Recent Comments

 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation