Big Wheel, Keep on Burnin’


I saw something on the way to work this morning that one doesn’t often see.

Like most stories (or, more accurately, anecdotes), this one starts out with the hackneyed phrase “I was minding my own business …”  I read that that is a good opening sentence in the “Helpful Hints” section of the “Blogging for Fun and Profit” book I found at the used bookstore for 25 cents.  Anyway …

I was minding my own business while zipping along the five-lanes-in-each-direction freeway, on my way to work.  Apparently “my business” was to be going too slow for the prevailing traffic conditions, even though I was doing about ten miles an hour over the posted speed.  But in my defense, I was listening to “Summertime Dream” by Gordon Lightfoot on the CD player, and the song was admonishing me to slow down and enjoy life.  Okay, maybe not explicitly, but it was implied.  So I was taking it slow (at the poky speed of 75 miles per hour).  I was on a trip on down to worker-land, where time gets logged, with a straw boss tallying up the hours.  (That was just a little something for you Gordon Lightfoot fans out there.)

Suddenly, traffic began to slow down (as it often does, for no apparent reason).  In the lane just to my left I began to see two eight-inch-wide black stripes on the pavement running parallel to each other.  They paced me for a bit and then made a graceful parabolic arc away to the left and off the road.  There was no burning wreckage at the end of the marks, so I’m assuming the driver that created them managed to regain his composure and continue on his merry way.

The cause of these skid marks was a little odd.  There, right in the middle of the road was a metal wheelbarrow.  It was upside down, resting on the rim of the barrow part.  It was just sitting there innocently while cars weaved and swerved and darted around it.  I managed to make my way by it with no problems.   I kept looking at it in my rear view mirror.  Everyone seemed to be avoiding it okay, though I’m sure there were plenty of salty monologues being delivered to no one in particular.

At about that time, the inside of my truck was suddenly filled with the acrid smell of burning car tires.  Apparently, whatever vehicle had made those thick rubber skid marks on the freeway just in front of the wheelbarrow had done so just moments before I arrived.

Egad!  What a smell!  It instantly reminded me of the year of my youth when I lived with my uncle, aunt, and cousins on their farm in rural Alabama (VERY rural).  My uncle apparently believed that the way to dispose of a cow that had expired was to surround the dearly departed with about three dozen car and truck tires and then set the rubber pyre (see what I did there?) on fire.  You might say it was a funeral tire. (I did it again …anything worth doing, is worth doing twice in a row for maximum comic effect.)

The tires would burn for days and days, creating a plume of black smoke that could be seen from outer space (or at least from Demopolis).  The air was filled with the pong of burning tires.  It became a topic of discussion around about those parts for as long as the plume was visible.

What’s really bizarre, is that at the time I didn’t think there was anything bizarre about my uncle’s behavior.  Why WOULDN’T you bury a dead cow under a pile of old tires and set it on fire?  Made perfect sense to me.  At that innocent time in my life I believed that grown-ups held all of the secrets of the universe in their minds and that if they did something, then there was no reason to question the sanity of it.  But we grow up.  We realize grown-ups are fumbling around in the dark for answers just like we are.  I must admit, though … I’ve always been curious as to the sequence of thoughts that led from “Hmm … ol’ Bessie died” to “I’m gonna bury her in tires and set the whole shootin’ match on fahr.

But the real point I’m trying to make is that it’s funny how an aroma can take you instantly back to a distant time of your life with such clarity that it is startling.

Not quite as startling as suddenly encountering a wheelbarrow in the middle of the road at 75 miles an hour.  But nearly.

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