Column: Books

by Chris Engman

Tape Deck Transmissions a Ways From El Dorado
I am driving east towards the Black Rock Desert when I turn off the audio book and open my windows to let in the night and a feeling of desolation. Seduced, I pull to the side of the road, shut off the engine and get out of my truck. I haven’t seen another car for hours, and I wonder, how many miles is it from here to the nearest person? Or gas station, or grocery store?

The wind is coming in gusts. There is something about strong winds in vast, open places that terrifies me, when alone, and especially in the dark. It is the quantity of dark above and around you, the immense volume of air moving through space. It is the hearing it and feeling it but not seeing it that makes you feel the depth of your own smallness and fragility—a sensation alternately terrifying and exhilarating.

I light a cigarette, and reflect on what Jean Baudrillard was just telling me: “The marathon is a form of demonstrated suicide, suicide as advertising: it is running to show you are capable of getting every last drop of energy out of yourself, to prove it…to prove what? That you are capable of finishing. Graffiti carry the same message. They simply say: I’m so-and-so and I exist! They are free publicity for existence. Do we continually have to prove to ourselves that we exist?” (America, 2010)

I wonder: Is that why I do what I do? One’s existence is perhaps least obvious to oneself in a place such as this, so vast and isolated as to constantly impress upon you its indifference to your presence. I mark these places, and the more intentional the marks, the more I can create a localized, human intention to stand out from the geological intentions of the place. The more I know that I am here, the more I feel alive.

I let some air out of my tires. I check the tightness of the ratchet straps securing my load: a box of tools and ropes, a cooler, seven wood panels on end and a ladder on top. I get back into my truck, turn on the radio, and continue.