Country Boy in Downtown Traffic

I HAVEN'T gotten over being the country boy in the city, when I drive down into Denver traffic. Probably, I will never get over it, since I don't go there often. It doesn't matter if I do, as long as I eventually get where I need to go. I have made some progress. The third or fourth time down, I realized that clamping my lower teeth with all available force into my upper teeth didn't help me drive in heavy traffic. I worked at being alert, but with muscles and mind at ease. Gripping the steering wheel hard enough to thin it to half its size didn't help, either in getting me through traffic or in getting me found when I was lost.

Actually, I was never lost. As I said to Nancy, my supervisor, when I drove 15 miles extra, trying to get where I needed to be, ``Were Lewis and Clark ever lost? Often, they didn't know where they were, but they weren't lost. They were exploring, and that's what I was doing, exploring. Now I understand part of Denver much better than I did, and that will stand me in good stead in the future.''

And it did. I avoid that part of Denver at all costs. Broadway goes in six different directions there, and there are places where going around the block again and again will never put me back where I started. That block or series of blocks never does (do) complete itself (themselves). I understand what I mean, and you would too, had you been with me.

Today is a challenge such as I wouldn't face if I could think of a believable way out of it. John and I have been wanting to meet each other. I've suggested that he come up the mountain to my place, but nothing has developed in that direction. So Nancy is driving to his office in her car, and I am to follow in the truck.

She hands me a piece of paper with instructions, in case we get separated. I read the instructions three times and decide that we won't get separated. It isn't that I'm so nervous that I can't remember what I've just read. Rather, it is that she has not remembered that I am not bilingual, and she has written part of the instructions in Chinese. I think of pointing this out to her, but we are already on our way from the office to our respective vehicles.

The last three figures of Nancy's license plate are 899, and I keep that 899 right in front of me.

A LEFT turn, a left turn, a zig, two zags. I realize where we are - 6th Avenue, which is actually a highway, but with much narrower lanes. I was here once before. That time, I was terrified and very tense. This time, I am relaxed. Terrified, but relaxed.

Traffic is heavy and fast. I can't look at the speedometer, because I am concentrating on the 899, but I think we're doing about 65, and so is everybody else, but some of them more. The idea that people in the cities don't trust each other is totally false. Only people who completely trust each other can drive almost bumper to bumper at 65 m.p.h. I try to join in the spirit of it and trust everyone around me.

I'm sure the truck is much too wide for the narrow lane it's in, but I keep the accelerator down and trust that the people on either side of me will work with me and allow me room. I don't hear any scrapes, crashes, or bumps.

IT isn't a sudden thought, but develops gradually that, although in so may ways so different, this feels like the time we headed down the graveled road from Whitney, taking a herd of cows to Unity, with an overnight stop planned at China Creek. I was supposed to be out in front with the big green tractor, pulling a wagon of hay that gave the cows promise of what they could have if they kept up a good pace and made the corrals before dark.

The tractor spit, sputtered, coughed, and quit, and I spent a half-hour clearing water and ice from the fuel lines. I got it running again and caught the herd in the narrow part of the canyon. The men on horses were driving the cows along, but slower than we wanted to go, and four tons of lovely meadow hay in back of them slowed them down even more.

Jim rode his horse, Edward, in front of the tractor, which I still had moving at about two m.p.h. Jim turned around and looked at me and patted his horse's rump and kept patting until he realized he meant, ``Ride my tail.'' And I did.

I tapped the throttle up, and Jim picked up the pace, and I tapped the throttle some more, and Jim put his horse into a trot. Cows that wouldn't give passage to a tractor pulling a wagon-load of hay moved aside for a man on a horse. Cows spilled off both shoulders of the road, and we went right through the center of the herd at about 12 m.p.h., Jim on Edward, Edward at a strong and steady trot, the big green tractor about 10 feet from Edward's tail, me up there in the glassed-in cabin, hand on the throttle, foot hovering over the break, in case.

We made it all the way through. Jim put Edward over on the shoulder, and I went by him, pulling the herd down the road after me like a magnet pulls iron filings, and we did make the China Creek corrals well before dark and spread more than half the hay out for the cows, to prove we hadn't been lying to them.

IT'S a good memory. Nancy isn't Jim, and 899 isn't Edward, but because everything came out just like it should that time, and this time feels a lot like it, I know this time is going to come out just fine too. And it does. We exit 6th Avenue, and the traffic isn't that bad, and I don't get caught behind any traffic lights, and we cross 70 and find places to park in front of buildings 51 and 52, and we meet John in his office, and the three of us sit there and talk, and it's worth the trip across town. I don't even tell Nancy, ``If I'd been told where we were going instead of how to get there, I could have found it myself,'' because I probably couldn't have, even though I recognized the place when we got there. I recognized it, but I didn't know its name, in Chinese or English, and there were just too many speeding cars between.

WHEN we leave, Nancy goes her way, and I go mine, and it's easy for me, because access onto 70 is right by the building, and I know my way from there all the way up the mountain, and I'm home by dark.

Now that's one more place in the city I can probably find if I have to, and it's a lesson that nothing needs to be alien and terrifying as it at first seems. Every time it works out just the way it should, which it always finally does, it's that much easier the next time.

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