Dylan’s lyrics thundered in his head like crashing waves, without mercy. He understood the words. He liked them. He didn’t want to accept that they applied to him. No, he was above such things. Wasn’t he? Or perhaps he was too proud? More likely, he was just afraid. If he did get out of this new world, where would he go? What would he find? How would he live?
His eyes glanced back to the sign in front of his car. It was simple enough. To pay for his parking spot all he had to do was use the app as instructed. Shaking his head, he looked away. It wasn’t simple at all.
He didn’t have a smartphone. He’d never wanted to be so tethered to other people and technology like that. He liked his freedom. He didn’t need a computer in his pocket all the time. The world was entertainment enough. He enjoyed the right here, the right now, the real world around him rather than the digital world so many others partook in.
It had been easy in the beginning. Only a few people had them and he hadn’t felt left out or behind at all. He had marked the change over the years. Sometimes it had been subtle and other times it had been dramatic. By the time everyone else in his life had a smartphone, he had grown used to navigating the world, the dark desert highways and the crowded city streets, without one and saw no reason to change.
Shifting his gaze, he watched the wind-whipped white caps frothing as the endless roll of waves crept higher and higher up the beach. The tide was coming in. Soon those breakers would be perfect for swimming. The wind had kept almost everyone else away so he’d have his pick of waves to ride and then sand to stretch out on. He’d been looking forward to it all morning.
Feeling the power of the tide push and pull against his body while the sun warmed his head and shoulders was one of his favorite experiences. It helped ground him when he was feeling too disconnected from the world. It helped free him of stress before it all got to be too much and he had to hang down his head and cry.
In general, nature had always acted as a reset button for his mind. The beach was closest to his house but he loved the high peaks and the low valleys, the empty swaths of desert, the rocky crags of ancient volcanic fields, and on and on. Anywhere he could get away from the norms of life and just breathe in peace was where he felt his best.
He’d found his way to the beach a lot recently. It wasn’t like he’d been on a surfing safari, his stress had been rising faster than normal. The beach worked its magic just fine but then he’d wake with his jaw clenched and that nagging at the back of his mind that he needed an outlet again. He couldn’t quite pinpoint why that was. There was too much change swirling all around him every day for him to say which one thing was bothering him the most.
Yet, more and more he was running into these obstacles. Nature was right in front of him. A miles-long stretch of beach that he couldn’t enjoy unless he had a smartphone, had the app, had a credit card associated with his account, and and and...
With a sigh and a frown, he turned the key in the ignition, backed out, and left the dirt parking lot behind, the ocean glistening temptingly, invitingly, in his rear-view mirror. The radio blasted some ditty about Jack and Diane. He tuned out their story, though. There was no room in his mind for them.
The week before, he had turned away at the entrance to one of his favorite parks. He had made the long, hot, winding drive out there only to find they too now required an app. He had to reserve electronically through his phone, check-in electronically, and pay electronically. He’d turned his back on the mountains and driven away in disbelief and disgust.
Now the beach where he’d always been able to pay cash before had gone cashless. What was next? His biking trails? And then what? There was so little else left for him. Like his camping spot, his favorite hiking trail had moved to an app registration system. His beloved places and activities were being stolen from him one at a time.
Was that anger coursing through him? Embarrassment? Depression? Should he just get a phone and join the rest of society in the sun of the future? Should he stick to his resolve?
A new song started playing and caught his attention. How appropriate. How fitting. He wasn’t free falling. Not yet. But his mind did feel like it was falling. He needed something tangible to hang onto.
His car passed his house and he kept driving. He wasn’t sure if he was headed to a store to buy a phone, finally, bitterly, or if he was off in search of his own new world. His old world was nearly gone. It very soon would be. There was no way to bring it back either.
Why was it so wrong to just want things to stay the same? Why did society frown on the status-quo? Why was progress idolized? What about tradition? History? Routine? Why weren’t these held up as important standards?
Stopping at a red light, he realized he was at a crossroads. There was no devil here to make a bargain with. He had to make a decision one way or the other and then learn how to make peace with it whatever the future brought. He could either join the new or find something else, some direction, some adventure on his own path. Then again, perhaps embracing technology would be a new type of adventure.
The light turned green. A car behind him honked. He heard and knew he should move but couldn’t get his foot off the brake. The tune in his car changed and only then did he begin to drive again, a small smile tugging at the corners of his lips. It didn’t matter what he decided. This life, this land, was hard, always had been and always would be. That didn’t have to stop him from dreaming.
Let them keep their trails, their beaches, their campgrounds. Let them keep it all. They didn’t own the whole world. So what if he couldn’t visit his old favorites anymore? So what? He could find new places to reset his mind, restore his peace. As long as he had the desire to do so, the land would provide. It wouldn’t be the first time he had gone it alone.
The blacktop disappeared beneath the tires of his car. He zoned out to the music, letting the words fuel his thoughts, half expecting to see Frank and Jesse in the distance roping something only half-seen in the glare of a setting sun. The road began to climb away from the coast, through the rising hills, and towards the mountains where he could step off the beaten path. The music, as it always had, gave him direction. It lifted his spirits.
The song changed again and now he was in a good mood. It was the best he’d felt, not just since leaving the beach, in days and weeks. He was in the mood for a melody, high on the hope of what he’d find ahead.
Rolling down his windows, he let the fresh air fill his car and his lungs. He eased off the accelerator as the road climbed steeper in winding twists and turns. Half laughing, he sang along to the tune blasting through the car speakers. The stories intertwined around a central character. It all came back to the music.
“Sing me a song, indeed.”
The song ended and a new one came on. His mind drifted out the window, above the trees, to the possibilities waiting beyond the reach of his knowledge. Somewhere ahead he would find what he was looking for. He wouldn’t stay there forever but it would be waiting for him whenever he needed it.
Summer 2020 Contest Winner