We played a game all afternoon, and it was “Buffalo or Rock”. We would look out of the window of the ’98 Camry, which we had all but purchased from our family friend, and we would see a shape – majestic and earthy – and oh!, and it was rock and rock and rock, but we had hope. We crawled the car along a slow wind of road cutting through the grasslands. And I am almost 40 and I have never owned a car before. This one is beige and beautiful, and we have put 18,000 miles on it since February. It has clear Gorilla tape on the front bumper which I first cracked on a snow bank in Boston, but which we fixed in the Outer Banks. It’s the crack that made me realize this car was going to be mine.
We parked briefly to run down a woolly path, so that I could take a macro shot of a purple wildflower which seemed to have a special glint of sun (I could see it through the bug-murdering passenger window) – because it is a North Dakotan wildflower and I’m not sure if I am ever going to be here again – but I had a panic when we returned to the car. The ground was soiled with a trickle of fluid. Was it there before we were? Was it our fluid? Was it innocuously our fluid? I am almost 40 and I have no idea. I just know that I am now 1,000s of miles from my Brooklyn apartment, in a field that my fellow New Yorker Teddy Roosevelt once galloped over, and I was driven there by my new old car, and I need it to live, to keep the dream of freedom alive. If it doesn’t get us back home, I don’t know what will. I have trouble relaxing. Generally. I have trouble unwinding. Free time does not as a rule free my mind, and I’m beginning to appreciate the wilderness-seeking parts of my loved ones’ hearts. Because a mere trickle of fluid can snap me back into fluorescent, metropolitan worries, and what if we have to fly home, we can’t afford that, and I already love this car, I don’t want to abandon it here. Not here. I have no connection to here...which is the experience I was seeking, but it’s not a good moment to bring that up.
It belonged to my late grandmother’s late best friend, Pearl, and her daughter said that Pearl would be so happy I can give it more life. I believe that. And it runs beautifully, save some funny (innocuous?) electrical glitches which manifest themselves when I turn corners a bit sharply – the doors click open and shut several times, as if clapping, or clucking its tongue at me, or saying “ha ha ha”. I’m not a new car/new building kind of person. I’m a wabi-sabi/crumbling brownstone hygge-driven driver/liver, and she suits me, my ’98 Camry – as old as my college degree. The fluid, we decided, was from the AC, and harmless, and let’s just go back in.
I went quickly from crying on a rocky path to vigilant and hoping, staring through the bug smears. “Buffalo or Rock”? And just then, over a rise, a whole herd of buffalo lumbered, rubbing themselves against rough boulders and National Park signposts, approaching us. We froze and witnessed. Terrified and titillated city kids, seeing our first roaming buffalo. It was like moving folklore. They encircled us and moved past. We were too smooth in our ’98 Camry to be useful to them.