Burnout (3)

There were about a hundred people already arrived. The core of the gather. The guy who’d started it, his friends, his lovers, the people who just decided to take on this one project as their own. This gather started with a half-dozen civil engineers from Portland. Some port-o-sans and a pile of steel, and sixteen thousand people were expected.

I pulled my truck up next to a patch of trees about a mile away from the action. I walked over and I commenced to wander. They were just getting ready. Checking materials. Driving stakes into the ground to mark where cars would park, where roads would be. Another city raised from nothing and to nothing soon returning. This time grass instead of desert. This time, I hoped, no screaming in the night.

I raised a tent, spread out some solar sheeting, helped a circus troupe construct up a little stage. Someone handed me a pita bread stuffed with venison and shredded carrot and then I spent two hours setting up tanks of oxy and acetylene. When I looked up the stars were out. When I looked back down they were joined by the sparkles of a hundred welding torches, earthbound stars in the late summer night.

The Crooked River Gorge is three hundred feet wide and almost twice as deep. Sheer rock cliffs falling to a gently flowing river. Mountains in the background. Blue sky, brush and scrub. Indian reservation not too far away. Gorge used to have a bridge over it. Steel got stressed, had to come down. It was going to be a few years before the state got around to repairing it. It would cost a lot of money. For some reason.

So these Portland engineers, they each chip in about a grand, rent a flatbed or two, put up some posters at the metal shops in the art schools around town. They show up with steel and blueprints, a bunch of kids with purple hair show up with welding goggles. It takes a long weekend. Park ranger comes in on Monday, does a double-take, there’s a bridge. And a bunch of people asleep on the grass beside it.

That’s when they realize they’ve had more fun than they can remember. That’s when the engineers realize they’ve started and finished something all themselves. That’s when the kids realize the power of just being in a place with nothing but other kids.

So they agree to do it again next year. What the hell. Build another bridge. They come back. See how the old one’s doing. Not bad, come to that. Make a few design improvements. Add a flourish, here and there. Tear the old one down. Build one new and better. Don’t have much trouble with three times as many welders – and ten times that number who’ve just tagged along.

It becomes a ritual. Like the burning man. Like the ball dropping on New Year’s Eve. Each year they pull the old bridge down and over a few days they build another. Do it better. Make it the more beautiful. Then at the end everyone walks across it. That thing they made, their life is in its hands. Their life is in their own hands. Not bad.

***

The welders’ stars were out, tacking together great steel beams. The grinders were out, sending showers of orange sparks into the night. People shaping the steel. Working it to their will. Rumor was the bridge would be deco, chrome and right angles, very WPA. In two days I’d walk across it. Then back across. Then be gone.

Right then I was just tired. I’d done my fair share for the day. I headed back to my truck and my bed. I just had to pass through a few thousand people to get there.

It was the first night. Everybody was talking. Smoking and drinking. Just hanging out. Getting all settled. Showing off a little. But not too much. That would start tomorrow. When being together wasn’t quite enough. When people had to really make their fun.

Someone had set up a saloon. A fifty-foot plank of oiled red oak, propped up on beer barrels, elbows leaning upon. I threw a dollar into a jar and I got a glass of beer. I stood there for a while and watched the people go by.

People started talking to me. They always do. A girl snuck out of her house in Astoria. Three pretty boys up from the Bay. Techies from Seattle, flight crew from Beale AFB. People talk to me because I’m pretty and quiet and because I just look like I belong. I am and I am and I do. It’s where I belong.

The three boys were together, their first vacation hand-in-hand. The girl was very angry but for the first time was in company that made her embarrased to be. A lawyer from Portland had just left his husband. A couple from LA had two little kids in tow. Half of Reed was half in the bag. Half the kids from the local towns were there, kids who couldn’t get out of their town now gotten out for one brief set of nights.

Some of them were getting away from a big city. A few were people like me. But a lot of them were born and raised in towns with fewer people. This was the only city they’d ever be a part of.

I had another beer.

The night pushed into dawn and the crowd began to thin. I asked the girl from Astoria if she had a place to sleep. She looked nervous. She looked young. I took her back to my truck and climbed in, took the other side of the bed from her, wished her goodnight, and rolled away.

After a few minutes I felt her hand around my chest, the other slowly pushed under my head. I felt the warmth of her pressed against my back, her breath on my neck. And that was how we slept.

Maybe it was just what she needed. Of all the things she would have taken, maybe it was the right thing to give.

I woke in the morning with her climbing on top of me. And I smiled as she began to kiss my neck.

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~ by davekov on 24 November 2012.

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