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A novel by Len Joy

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Driver

I started taking writing classes at night at the University of Chicago's Writer's Studio in the fall of 2003. For my third course in the spring of 2004 I took a Poetry course. The first exercise we had was to "steal" a line from another poem and write a poem around that. Then we were supposed to take out the stolen line. I used the line "I think about my father..." but I forgot the part about taking it out. I enjoyed the course, but I knew that I lacked the poet's skill with language. However a year later when the Tribune was soliciting stories about family vacations I sent them the poem and they used it as their lead in the front page of the Tempo section along with my Dad's color photos of our iconic summer vaaction.

Published August 26, 2005

Take a look at these photos from the car trip Len Joy and his family took across the country and back in July 1960, and they're likely to trigger your own memories of family auto journeys. And read the poem that Len, now 54, wrote about his father as driver then and today.

There's a mythic quality to the stories families tell about their long car trips together -- about breakdowns and June bugs, about wrong turns and queasy stomachs, about rubber-armed dads keeping order in the back seat (while still driving) and suitcases flying off the luggage rack onto the highway. These are experiences that carve deep lines in the memory.

Len was one of nearly 200 readers who wrote in with their accounts of car trips past, after Tempo writers shared theirs on Aug. 10. below are excerpts from some others:


I think about my Father.
It is 1960. I am 9 and we are on the vacation
we have talked about my whole life.

We have a mint-green Chevy Wagon pulling a canvas tent trailer.
No radio, no seat belts, no AC. We add an air-cooler in Albuquerque.
They say we'll need it for the run across the desert.

Six of us in that wagon.
Mom and my three sisters and Me and Dad --The Driver.
I always sit up front because I am the Boy.

From Canandaigua to Chicago, then south.
Missouri . . . Kansas . . . Oklahoma. . . .
We miss the twisters at Roman Nose, but catch the rain in the Panhandle.

On to Gallup where Mom and Dad fight.
Up to Angel Lake in the Rockies. The car overheats.
The road is narrow and winding. I am scared.

We drive through Vegas at midnight. So many lights.
We don't stop. I sleep through the Desert.
I wake up at the Flamingo Motel in Pasadena.

Disneyland is cool.
Knott's Berry Farm is boring.
I like playing shuffleboard at the motel pool.

My Uncle takes us to the Beach.
The ocean's too cold. It knocks me down.
I can't get out. I like the motel pool.

Then we turn around.
Wall Drug, the Corn Palace, Mount Rushmore (where I get lost).
Back through Chicago and all the way home.

Four weeks to California and back.
Seven thousand five hundred and forty-nine miles.
Dad drives Mom keeps track.

We come home and I grow up.
Dad goes to every lousy basketball game (home and away)
Even when we lose 18 in a row.

Last summer my Father turned eighty-five.
I ask him to give up driving his car.
My sisters choose me because I was the Boy.

He says he can drive better than most of those
Yahoos on the road today.
I agree. But . . .

I can't say what I need to say.
That he's in the final chapter of a great life.
Why risk it all?

What if you fall asleep or pass out
or just lose control?
What if you kill someone?

But I can't say that.
He's the Driver.

-- Len Joy, Evanston

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