Thursday, October 31, 2019

Black and Red and Blue

We drove the gasoline-empty black car toward a red cliff. (Actually, our borrowed Acura kept heading toward Redcliff, but we did not know it was there.) The digital gauge warned us, and when the alarmingly fast count down from 50km to ZERO happened, we were seriously worried. Eastern Alberta prairies are an endless field after field. The gauge now read naught! Yet the engine kept running. Our cellphone did not tell us of any nearby gas station. We slowed right down, coasted the downhills, and phoned the number on our Automobile Association card. “You have to be stalled,” they told us. So long as we were going, they would not help. Well, for at least ten long minutes, or longer, we travelled in disbelief that the car did not stutter. And then, Redcliff magically appeared! A Shell Station sign enticingly beckoned. We turned left at the light, and drove up the side road toward it, only to discover a yellow tape around all the derelict and disused pumps! So, carefully we turned around, and espied a Co-op petrol station, hidden behind some other buildings, across the highway. At the light, which stayed red overly long, I envisioned us stalled while crossing the highway, and so right in the speed-path of the huge 18 wheelers, or any other vehicle, unable to see us until the last moment. And when the light let us move, I gingerly gave the gas paddle a little press, and must’ve muttered under breath, “Please don’t stall.” And... we made it! At the pumps, we replenished! And we laughed, at last angst free.

Risk is often miscalculated. Yes, we’d checked the gas gauge before setting off. Our destination would’ve left us with 80km to go. But given the excessive headwinds of a chinook, (that warm wind that Albertans love in winter,) as well as the posted speeds above 110 kmph, we must’ve swallowed more gas than estimated. And the rest is history. At the very least, we barely made it in time for our appointment at Medicine Hat. At the very least, all was well.

But not so if the black car stood for a bank column, the red cliff stood for imminent debt, and the helpline was, like a perched vulture, awaiting one’s bankruptcy. The simile abides. Then the metaphor changes. Then the analogy can be scary. Then the story gets more complex.

Given colour, red states and blue states battled it out, these past elections. Particularly in the USA. But so too for Canada. Conservative versus Liberal. Republican versus Democratic. And then there are the other parties. The orange and the green. We are so easily divisive. We are so easily contrary. We are so readily persuaded. In Alberta, the oil-rich but untapped province that voted entirely for conservatism, there is now much talk of Wexit*. Many want to leave Canadian liberalisms! The Alberta west wishes to establish itself, like Quebec, a sovereign nation. And so, the disgruntled populace of Alberta, suffering under growing joblessness and plummeting real estate values, wrestling with clogged reserves and not sufficient arteries to get the produce to the coast, is considering withdrawing from the federal playing field. In the USA, the president’s impeachment is under the microscope. In Canada there is anger over the prime minister’s face masked by black makeup. And yes, like most things, one needs to have been there, seen that, even done that, in order more fully to appreciate the references. We do prefer our own colours!

An autumn friend turned eighty. A summer friend turned ninety-six. The years tick by. The decades grow by dint of time, irrespective, in spite of, and despite ourselves. We each have a tank of gas, and unlike the car, we do not easily refill. Our lot is our lot. Yet “living on borrowed time” is not so unusual a phrase. So too for “having one’s luck run out.” And in the meantime, we travel into the future, by diurnal turns, minute for minute. We sleep. We arise and vote. We go make our choices. We live, impassioned, and full of intention, and we take our chances.

But when the brown-rich topsoil is all stripped from the skull of the land, and the exacerbating wind distributes it all, will-he, nil-he, against the arid and unyielding surfaces of our fears and concerns, shall we still ride in our luxurious vehicles of privilege, despite our constraints; and shall we all be heading toward a cliff, lemming like, from which there really is no return? Or might we each, each by each, check our gauges, determine our co-ordinates, and take fewer chances? After all, above us, does the sky not quite often still become an unblemished blue?