DOING THE MIDAIR SAMBA
This two-part story recalls the era of serialized fiction in publications such as the `Atlantic Monthly' and `Harper's Weekly.' It concludes in tomorrow's edition. The author is the Feature Editor of the Monitor.
FOR several hours Beamer sliced through the mountains, gearing down to control the descent of the big truck, windows open to gulp spring air, samba music from Luty Boo and the Rio Spoon Flyers playing at maximum volume. Behind him were thick ranges of white capped mountains fading to green; ahead was the long, gray asphalt lane pulling him home to Denver, down through the Rockies. In the truck was an unidentified load, not at all bulky or leaden, but a mystery to Beamer, except for the smell which was astringent, or was it fruity? or was it medicinal? He wasn't sure.
``Don't ask no questions,'' said the tall boss with the broken nose. He jabbed Beamer with an index finger on the shoulder in Kansas, face to face. ``You want the load, you got it for double pay, but no questions. OK?''
Beamer drove the load out of Kansas, figuring the tall boss had yet to break the trust of two men dependent on each other as surely as pollen needs a bee. He wouldn't break trust now. OK, double pay.
He took the money, swung up into the cab like a panther, slipped in a tape of Luty Boo, samba's reigning queen, and headed for Big D, as in Denver. He loved trucks, roads, nights, the play of getting from here to there in rain or moonlight.
Now, a day later, riding the swift descent down a two-lane mountain road after driving all night and morning, things were getting a little too swift for Beamer as the truck was equal to the beat of the samba, lurching and swaying, not out of control yet, but the risk level was rising like heat from a beach in Rio.
Beamer, never a man to fold in a crisis, talked calmly to the thin air flowing through the cab around him while his left shoulder moved in a samba beat. ``Rio ... here's to Rio ... oh yes, to Rio ....''
He geared down, pumping the clutch, once, twice, three times, wrestling the gearshift, his right arm fighting gravity and all known laws of physics, not to mention the sheer artistry of keeping all 18 wheels on the pavement. What ran through his mind was not danger and death, but the truck as an object on a very natural mission, a large silver bird, if you will, ready to soar easily between and around the green gabled mountains of a fabulous land.
``... Rio ... Oh yes, to Rio.''
His poignant mother used to cup her hand under his little chin and tell him, ``Dear boy, think before you think or you'll bump into hard things all your life.'' Mothers are always right. Beamer, she knew, was a bumper.
Now he saw his sweat-beaded face in the sideview mirror, big eyed but confident, a little flagrant smile, a sort of Humphrey Bogart curl to the edges of his lips as the samba beat became the soundtrack to Beamer Drives a Mystery Truck. ``Mother,'' he whispered, ``look at me now. A little help, please.''
Why is it, he thought, that the road is steepening? This is flawed road engineering, he thought, better suited to a toboggan. The gears clashed, a grinding, tumultuous noise that vibrated up his arm. Go get 'em, Beamer boy! The truck continued down the road, open space to the right as far as the eye could blink in terror, a granite wall swiftly passing on the left.
Well, he thought, soon I'll have to use the brakes. Very soon now I will lift my right foot from the floorboard and gently apply the brakes because I think I am understandably out of control. I've lost the rhythm.
``Rio ... oh yes, here's to Rio .... ''
He touched the brakes. Smoke, squealing, shuddering. The truck lurched as he angled perilously around a wide sloping corner, the truck leaning, l e a n - i n g, l e a n i n g until it tipped slightly, then sprang back to all 18 wheels and thundered on.
Beamer had lost control, certainly a disappointment to his mother and probably his father too, who, at the very moment was watching the sixth inning of the Giants and Dodgers at Candlestick Park.
Will Clark had just hit a home run with two on and the crowd was going wild. Suddenly, in celebration, the public address system played a song by Luty Boo and the Rio Spoon Flyers. Beamer's father thought, Hey, that's Beamer's favorite music. He stood up and yelled happily, ``Rio! Here's to Rio!!''
Meanwhile, Beamer's lips were pursed, his brow cluttered with corn rows of worry. Up ahead he could see a sign with an unmistakable message: very sharp curve. There was no way not to miss this last curve of a long journey. The speeding truck, no longer an extension of Beamer's intent and easy democracy, was about to become an airborne idea, a form of pure anarchy in a world of order. Well, he thought again, somewhere along the line I should have gotten married. Jabba, sabba, the samba is over; here's to Rio. I should have known better from there to here.
The truck broke through the guardrail. Wham. Crunch. So steep was the mountain falling away from the road and so fast was the truck that it continued as a big arrow shot in the blue sky toward an unknown target. Gravity was a joke. The truck hung there. Beamer tried one more push of the brakes, but once there was pavement and now there was air.
For a few seconds nothing was different. Beamer's biography and vision were valid - a product of the West, second son of a lovely mother and circumspect father, a graduate of nothing, a doubter of applied love in a world of broken hearts. Not necessarily a drinker of pure waters, he had learned to not place trust in the outcome of liberal events or other surprises; all this was valid as far as it went. Beamer was, after all, no less noble than anybody else who had passed this way.
Then everything changed.
Down. He felt the truck start to go down. (To be continued tomorrow)