Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Sky flares were a part of my childhood, growing up on a moth-balled army base along Highway 101, close but not too close to its civilianaive transit corridor. From my childhood home, a WWII-era barracks, I watched cars and trucks travel on their night-drives, along a far off section of the highway. This was the 70's, the era of big rig Christmas lighting, when the independent operators decked their tractor trailors in burning yellow and white and red, from nose to trailer.

Big-rigs offered the land-flares. In contrast or complement, the military sky flares cracked from the gun and hung in the summer air along an empty valley. No Viet-Cong (the enemy past) and no Taliban fighters (the enemy, as yet unimagined). Just the lazy, slow float of yellow light, witnessed by a child on a bluff above the river plain on a 90 degree summer night.

Even on those nights, big trucks featured in my fantasies. A truck, strung with lights and the hit Alabama tune "Roll On" braying over the FM -- In my dream, this truck and its driver would stop, and the paternal, safe, home-spun hero would take me along for the ride. I'd be his side-kick, his girl Friday, the Bear to his BJ. (Okay, now there's a dated tv reference for ya.)

What kid doesn't fantasize about being that gypsy spirit? And yet, how many kids have memories of the crack of the flare gun, the pop and glow and drift of the flare, and its interminably slow death as it fell in increments of night?

Another kind of flare impacts this adult me, its potential banked in 12-inch red tubes that are stored next to the emergency triangles. So uninspired and unimaginative, these flares are lit much as a match is ignited ... by the friction drag on a hard surface. They have their own beauty, I suppose, but they're the sad things hissing on wet asphalt next to fender benders. For that matter, mostly they're the tubes rolling around in my cab.

I'm not much on nostalgia. I'd be the last to say that the world was better, safer, more innocent in 'my day.' Still, flares in a childhood that experienced truly pristine night skies. Those were damn cool.


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