We slowly weaved in and out of the cars and trucks parked everywhere. “Can you believe that your party is still going on? I mean, look at all of these people. It keeps getting bigger.”
“I’m sure that Tuck’s happy about it. He probably has scored enough weed and ass to last a month.”
The truck had no air conditioning, and it was already hot. “I can’t believe that we’re driving across Texas in a dark green truck with no air conditioning.” I complained.
“What are you talking about Pooh? We have air conditioning. Look here.” He pushed on a lever under the center of the dash. “Low, Medium and High.” The cowl vent on the hood raised. Then he reached down by his door and pushed a second lever out and opened a side vent. “Hell, this even has overdrive, get it? Over the driver.” He laughed.
“Hot air is still hot air. It doesn’t matter.” I said. “I’m just excited about actually leaving town and going on this trip.
“Me too! I’m ready to get away from these flatlanders, and out West where the mountains are.”
Eze looked happy to be driving. He casually had his left arm leaning on the door, with his right wrist laying on top of the steering wheel. I noticed that as we passed different pick-up trucks they would signal each other.
I don’t think that I noticed it at first, but it kept happening. Sometimes Eze would signal one finger, or two. Other times it would be three or four, or his whole hand would raise as if telling someone to stop.
I never noticed any cars signaling, only trucks. The drivers would signal back in the same way. This continued for the first two hours while we were driving and talking. Eze was casual about it, almost non-chalant. It was driving me crazy not knowing what this was about, so I had to ask Eze.
“Why do you do that?”
Eze looked at me, pretending to be confused, but I wasn’t going to let up until I knew. “You know, the signaling!”
“What?” he said. He continued to act like he didn’t know what I was talking about.
“You know Eze, the signals between you and the other pick-ups!”
He continued to play it off, but I wasn’t going to let him off this easy.
“I see what you’re doing,” I said. “Every time we pass a pick-up, ya’ll are signaling each other with your hands. I’ve been watching. So what gives.”
Eze looked at me. I think that he was confused as to how I was able to figure this out so quickly. “Signals Pooh? What signals did you see?”
Now, I knew that he was testing me. “I see you and the other drivers hold up one finger, or two, three, four sometimes even your whole hand. The other driver signals back in the same way. So, what is it? What are ya’ll telling each other?”
“So you saw that? Asked Eze.
“Yes I did. I have been watching you do it for the last two hours, so tell me?”
He got that wry smile in the corner of his mouth, “I truly am impressed with your observational skills. I didn’t think that I was being that obvious.” He said.
“Well, maybe you weren’t, but I noticed two hours ago. I just didn’t say anything.”
Well, Pooh, when you leave a town there are cops setting up speed traps. Typically, people driving cars don’t pay much attention to their surroundings. But people in trucks, mostly men, rely on each other for information about what’s ahead. Since we don’t have a CB, we signal each other.”
“I knew it was something like that.” I boasted. “So tell me the signals.”
“Okay, it’s like this. One or two fingers means there is a local cop, or constable. Three or four fingers mean a CountySheriff or State Trooper. The whole hand is the all clear signal.”
While Eze was explaining the details of the secret signals, a pick-up went by with four fingers showing. Eze replied with the all clear hand signal. “Okay, so the truck that passed us signaled that there is a State Trooper up ahead, and you told him it was all clear, right?”
“Wow Pooh, you picked that up fast. Now, just because that truck signaled a State Trooper, that doesn’t mean we will ever see him. He’s probably driving the same direction we are, so we just slow down a little, and we’ll be fine.”
“I’m right with you Eze. I had no idea that all of this was going on before now. I have so much to learn.”
“Yes, yes you do Pooh!” Eze laughed.
We drove about two miles down the road and just as we topped a hill I saw a State Trooper parked under a tree with his radar pointed at us.
“Look Eze! There he is!” I yelled with excitement as I pointed out the trap.
“Holy Shit!” Eze said as he hit the brakes, and slowed us down.
Eze waved as we drove by, and the trooper waved back.
“That was awesome!” I said with excitement.
Eze looked at me surprised and said “Yeah that was. I was just yanking your chain about the hand signals Pooh. I can’t believe there was a trooper there! We just wave hi to each other as we pass by. A lot of people like the old truck, so I get a lot of waves. I couldn’t let you think all the way across Texas that we were actually signaling each other because you would have gotten annoying pretty quick. Don’t believe everything people tell you Pooh!”
“What?” I asked. “Well then, why is it only pick-ups that wave at you, and not cars?”
“Pooh, here in Texas, you ought to know that a man and his truck are a beautiful thing. We may still ride horses, but a truck is an extension of a man’s character. It says a lot about who he is, and what he’s about. It’s as simple as that. The waving to each other is being polite and showing a mutual respect to each other saying that we’re men!”
“Wow. I guess that I need to get me a truck. My mom’s minivan probably says that I still live with my mom.”
“Yep, knew it when you pulled up. I even wrote it down for you!”
“I have so much to do when I get back.”
“Give it time Pooh!”
We drove through the outskirts of Austin and deep into the hill country. It was absolutely beautiful. I could get used to this. I couldn’t believe that I had lived my entire life within a hundred mile radius. Within a few short hours I had traveled farther than I had been in the twenty years I had lived.
“Holy Shit Pooh! Do you see that frame house with smoke coming out of it? It looks like it’s on fire!”
Eze turned the truck down a long dirt rode and jumped the cattle guard and skidded to a stop! “We need to see if there’s anyone in there, quick!”
We ran into the small frame house. Smoke was pouring out of the kitchen and we couldn’t see, or breathe. It was so hot it felt like my clothes were going to melt off. My heart was racing. I just knew that we we’re going to burn up. Eze pulled me to the floor.
“Stay down where the air is. We can crawl into the front two rooms and go out the front door. Be fast about it!” He yelled as he power crawled through the kitchen into the other room.
I practically ran into the other two rooms but no one was there. The room that I had just left caught fire and was flaring up. “Pooh!” Eze yelled. “I found someone, get out hurry!”
I ran into the other side of the house and Eze was carrying an old man in his underwear who was burned all over. I helped carry him as best as I could as we fell through the front door.
“C’mon Pooh, let’s get him away from the house before that propane tank goes.” We ran carrying the unconscious old man about fifty yards from the house to the truck.
“Get the small tarp out of the bed and lay it on the ground Pooh!”
Cat jumped off the bed as I reached in and grabbed the tarp. I spread it on the ground, as Eze laid the old man down. He was burned all over and wasn’t breathing.
Eze started breathing into his mouth as I saw his chest rise. “Do you know how to do chest compressions Pooh? If so, do them now, and don’t stop!” He yelled.
I learned CPR in college and did what they taught me. I started to push on his chest and I felt a rib crack. “Oh my God Eze, I think that I broke his rib!”
“Just keep doing it! Don’t stop.” Eze yelled as he continued to breathe for the old man. He checked for the pulse several times with nothing there.
“Come on Old Man, don’t give it up yet!” Eze pleaded.
We continued for another five minutes when Eze checked the pulse and said, “Hang in there my friend, he has a pulse.”
We heard the fire truck sirens coming down the highway. It seemed like it took forever for them to get there. The house was completely on fire by the time they pulled onto the dirt drive.
Suddenly there was a huge explosion that knocked us over. Eze fell onto the old man to cover him. He was breathing very faintly. The propane tank must have blown because it was so loud and a fire ball went several hundred feet into the air.
The volunteer fire-fighters started spraying the house down with water. Two of them ran over to see if we were okay, as the ambulance drove up, and stopped next to us.
“The old man was unconscious in the house, probably from the smoke. He’s burned pretty bad. We were able to get him back, but maybe not for long.” Eze told them.
They immediately hooked up oxygen and their other equipment. They worked on him for the next fifteen minutes with no luck. One of the EMT’s walked up to us and said “He didn’t make it boys. He was just too old and weak.”
I looked at Eze who looked deflated. I don’t know why, but I felt the tears well-up and I started to cry. I just walked away toward some trees. Why couldn’t we have gotten there just a few minutes earlier? I had never seen anyone die before and it hit me pretty hard.
I fell down on my knees and continued to cry. Why? Who was this old man, and why was he all alone? He probably fought in a war and sacrificed a lot, and yet he died all alone in a crappy little frame house.
Cat nuzzled his nose under my arm and laid down looking up at me. I rubbed behind his ear as I continued to cry. “You’re such a good dog. You know what just happened too don’t you boy?” He just kept looking up at me with those glass eyes.
Eze walked over and put his hand on my shoulder. “Pooh, we did what we could, sometimes people just die.”
I was still crying because I didn’t understand any of this. “He was all alone Eze. No one should have to die all alone!”
Eze put an arm around me and knelt down with me, “He wasn’t alone Pooh, he had us.”
I just buried my head in his chest and continued to cry. I felt him hug me as a tear fell onto my neck. “Pooh, I heard that death is only one event, but life is many. You have to move on and live life. Let’s get the hell outta this place and get back on the road.”
We walked back to the truck and Cat was there on the bed waiting for us. A firefighter came up and said, “You boys are heroes. You ran into a burning house to save someone that you didn’t even know.”
“Well, it doesn’t matter, ‘cause he’s dead!” I said, still disappointed.
“You boys did a good thing today. I don’t think that I could have ran into that house with no protection like you boys did, I want to shake your hands and say thank you!”
Eze reached out and gave him a firm handshake and said, “Thank you Mister, but make no mistake about it, we’re not boys. We’re all men here!”
“Well yes sir!” he said, “I can surely see that. God Bless you both.”
“Thanks, can we go?”
“Yes, of course, but can I get your names. There will be some kind of an award for you because of this.”
“I guess that you don’t know that the old man died! Why would we get an award for that?” asked Eze. “Why don’t you do the right thing and honor him for his life instead?”
We both walked to the truck and drove away.
Cat lay on the bed of the truck with his head between his paws. It was as if he sensed the tragedy too. We drove without saying a word. Nothing could be said to bring that old man back. I know that it was a shock to me, and that I cried for the old man, but I also knew that Eze was touched. He might not show what I felt, but it was the same with him.
“You know Pooh, sometimes when you have done all that you can, it’s not enough and you just have to walk away.”