Ron Carlson

       Oh sing in me muse and through me tell the story of our road trip–or anything you feel inclined to type up while I drive.
       This is a road trip in what we call a recreational vehicle, an RV, which means anything with wheels in which you can watch TV. We (two families) are rolling out of Phoenix in the long-awaited massive monsoon rain toward Cedar City, Utah, where we’ll pick up the Nelsons’ daughter Becky who has been at Shakespeare camp for 10 days. Seven people going up, eight coming back. Three boys ages 12 and 13, two of them ours. The TV is on before we’re out of Scottsdale.
       Our family road trips, of which there are at least two every summer, are different endeavors. In the closer quarters, Elaine reads to us; in the last two summers we’ve had a dozen books.
       By the time we’re north of Flagstaff, all the characters in this vehicle have sorted themselves into the furniture. The three boys are in the far back well into a cinema classic about a plane crash, snow–a film made five years after my one-minute monologue: “I Ate My Best Friend’s Brain.” The first line there is: “Well, he wasn’t my best friend, I mean, what’s a best friend?”
       Today our route is the great old highway 89: Flagstaff, Page, Kanab, Hurricane, Cedar City, the little ship rocking through the Navajo Reservation, rain all the way.
       After the first film and before the second, a feature about spiders, we consider a reading. The Odyssey is our next book, but there’s some resistance. We’re in an RV and Nick is lobbying. He says from the kitchen table, 10 feet behind the driver: “I already saw that show.”
       “It’s not a show,” I offer. There are seconds between every sentence in this huge noisy thing.
       “He starts with the goddess,” Colin (12) adds; he’s always been an evidence man.
       “It’s not a show,” I repeat. “It’s a book.”
       “He tries to get home and he kills that one guy,” Nick says.
       “The Cyclops,” Brian says. There’s a reverential pause for one of the first great action sequences, and then Elaine reads the first page, which sets a different tone, kind of legal, and makes the story seem to be about property rights. It’s relatively hard to hear. The boys hide behind the TV way back there.
       Elaine does the pragmatic thing. She stands in the rolling ship and gives everybody a cup of pistachios. Immediately a fabulous moment of gratitude descends; we’ve got snacks–and the wonderful debris! We’ve got the open road before us, the spiders in the back, and we’ve got snacks. In 90 minutes we’ll be in that American paradise–a motel!
       I’ve always loved the invocation of the muse however. I spend my life dealing with writers’ tenuous confidence in their stories and there’s something true right off the bat about writers nodding at the fact that they may have bitten off a story that may bear a dimension or two they may need help chewing. I’d like to bring it back; it would beat the heck out of acknowledgments and serve the same purpose.