Godzilla (the truck) broke down on the way home from Paicines last week. Actually, it didn’t break down. Claire, who was wrestling with Katie, kicked the 4WD gear shift, which, when activated at anything other than a complete stop, drops the gears into neutral. I thought I’d lost the transmission.
AAA was called along with some of the parents who picked up the kids and drove them all home while I waited for the tow truck. As luck would have it, it was an unusually busy night. The truck took an hour to arrive and the driver, who was already overtime, was also running out of gas. It was now past 11pm and neither of us was in the mood for conversation, which was pretty much limited to whether or not the truck should be left in Santa Clara or driven up to my mechanic in Redwood City.
When we dropped the truck off at the transmission repair shop (in Santa Clara), the driver, Randy, noticed the riding helmet and commented on it. I told him I ran a small, charitable riding program. He said, with no emotion or interest, “How noble of you.” The conversation returned to cars and mechanics until we got to the gas station (where it had been arranged that my son would pick me up). Not wanting to leave the interaction on such a dull note, as I got out of the truck at the gas station, I turned to the driver and said, “The reason we were on the road is that we were returning from a field trip to a ranch in Paicines where the girls get to work with baby horses.” He stopped in his tracks, looked straight at me and said, with intensity, “I grew up on a ranch.” He continued with, “It the best thing in the world. I mean we worked hard.” At this he looked somewhat distressed at the memory of what must have been, fairly often, a difficult experience for a child. With real emotion, he said, “We raised all our own food, did our own slaughter. But you learned what was real, what really mattered. You learned how to be a decent person, not like these kids here are getting. These people here [meaning the city/suburbia] just don’t know.” He was now done filling the tank and had reached to grab to window cleaner. When he pulled the squeegee out of the soapy water, two or three feet of sopping wet paper towel came with it (someone having obviously been careless about disposing of it). He fumed and said, “See what I mean? Look at this! This is just what I’m talking about. People don’t take responsibility for themselves!”
Randy paused for a minute, looked pensive, then said, “I didn’t think I’d miss it, the ranch. It was hard. Real hard. But there’s nothing like it, there’s nothing better than that kind of work and I really miss it.” Done with his thought and time for me to join my waiting son, he ended with a passionate, “Don’t ever stop. Don’t ever stop taking those kids down there.”
The girls had had a marvelous time all afternoon (and evening). (They’ve started putting lead ropes around the necks of all the foal and all the foals are getting calmer and friendlier and more accepting of touch. Maddie is working on gentling the mare, Mayamar.) Driving away from the ranch, more than an hour before the “breakdown”, I had said, “I think every kid should be able to grow up on a ranch.” To this they responded with an enthusiastic and unanimous “Yes!”
To Randy: “You bet.”