I’m driving north on Interstate 83, somewhere near York, PA. It’s around 10:30 p.m., March 20, 2004. Stacey sits next to me, and somewhere in the back seat there’s a shop vacuum, a shovel, a ladder, some clothes and a bookcase.
And a lawnmower. A smelly, hulking lawnmower.
“There’s a story in here somewhere,” I tell Stacey.
Everything we own is scattered over two states. Our kitchen table, desk, sofa and recliners are in an apartment in Gaithersburg, MD. A dining room set, a piano, a treadmill, and Lord-knows-what-else are crammed into two storage lockers in Westminster. And our bed, a chest of drawers, and some cardboard boxes are in an apartment in Allentown, where I’ve just found a job as a reporter.
Everything will finally be in one place in three months, when it’s all moved into our new house in Bethlehem. We buy the house in six days, so in a week we’ll start doing yard work.
Hence the mower in the back seat of my wife’s car, a few feet away from our heads. All three of us are headed to Allentown.
Stacey swears her dad drained the mower’s tank, but we hear the gentle slosh of gasoline inside every time we hit a bump. Fumes seep from the tank, mingling with the smell of rotting clumps of grass clippings that cling to the mower’s underside. The car smells like a garage. Or maybe a municipal landfill.
“You’re really hung up on this lawnmower thing,” Stacey observes.
Well, yeah. I’m envisioning gasoline leaking out of the tank and onto the folded-down back seats. I’m imagining what the big spinning blade would do to the back of my head in a crash. I’m picturing the car enveloped in a gigantic, gasoline-fueled fireball when someone rear-ends it.
Jesus is my co-pilot, Stacey is my navigator, and I’ve got a stinking, possibly life-threatening lawnmower for a wingman.
It’s raining in Harrisburg, PA. Stacey’s been talking at me for half an hour, but I’m only half-listening. Most of my brain is disengaged, its gears spinning wildly. I stare at the taillights glinting off wet asphalt, trying to comprehend the meaning of the lawn implement in the back seat.
It has to mean something, right? Something deep. It has to be deep. Maybe it’s a metaphor, or a poem. Or a parable! Maybe a modern fable — “The Young Motorists and The Lawnmower.”
I’m desperate to write the story, to uncover the Meaning of riding 150 miles while breathing in gas fumes. I want this to be about Moving On, or maybe about Growing Up. Or about Mortality or Philosophy or Religion or Hell or Nirvana or Transcendence or Death. About The Meaning of Life.
But I think it’s only about a lawnmower. It’s about two people, in a car, with a lawnmower.
There’s still snow on the ground in Allentown. Stacey wakes up, and I ease the car into the parking lot.
The mower is the last thing we unload. We wrestle it out of the back seat and lumber upstairs. By 1 a.m., it’s tucked under a tarp on our spartan apartment’s tiny porch.
“Our neighbors must think we’re crazy,” Stacey laughs. “We’re the only ones in the apartment complex with no furniture, but we’ve got a lawnmower!”
It’s gotta mean something. I swear there’s a story in here somewhere.