The idea at the core of “Chatqauqua,” my contribution to the new Book View Cafe anthology Nevertheless, She Persisted, goes back much farther than the sanctions against Sen. Warren, the 2016 U.S. election, or even the problems of climate change that are key elements in the story. It started with a bit of family history from 1923.
That was the year that my grandparents, with my five-year-old father in tow, decided to move out to California from Texas. As they were driving their Ford Model A down what is now Interstate 40 in Arizona, they saw a car coming from the other direction. Since it was 1923, there wasn’t any other traffic, so both cars stopped and everyone got out to chat for a bit.
The people in the other car turned out to also be Texans, on their way home from California. The two families exchanged information before getting back on the road.
I’ve driven across Arizona more than a few times. These days, it’s hard to imagine no traffic on the major east-west route. Instead, one is always trying to dodge the trucks. But cars were still pretty new in the 1920s, and the big highways we all know today hadn’t been built.
I mined that family story for a flash fiction called “Thank God for the Road,” (available in my collection Flashes of Illumination) in which a group of players traveling on an old bus across Arizona meet people coming the other way, and stop and exchange stories. That story was set sometime in the latter half of the Twenty-first Century and took place on what remained of I-40. There was no traffic.
It often occurs to me that the infrastructure we built around the automobile in the Twentieth Century will be gone by the Twenty-Second.
The bus and the travelers on it continued to haunt me, especially one of them, a woman named Irene who had traveled with them from the beginning. “Chatauqua” is the story of Irene and a new character, Keryn, whom Irene rescued when she was a child.
When Mindy put out her call for stories, I started to think about tales I could spin that had some direct tie to the election and the problems we’re facing as a country. And then I thought of the half-finished story of Irene and Keryn. Persistence applies to both of these women, but especially to Irene, who is quite old in the story. It takes place in 2070.
I think of Irene as someone who, in 2017, was in her early 30s, working on environmental and immigration issues along the Frontera — the border between the U.S. and Mexico. As things got rougher, due to bad government and unaddressed climate change, she and some friends put together the bus and called themselves the Chatauqua Frontera. In 2070, she persists.
Keryn also persists, in more ways than one. But the persistence at the heart of the story does not belong to any one person, but rather to human beings. Global warming and the changes in climate that it is causing are a challenge to all of us. The fact that climate change deniers have so much clout in both the joke of a presidential administration and the so-called “leadership” in Congress that we have now in the U.S. means that there will be even more delay in addressing this vital issue.
But I don’t believe the world is coming to an end. I don’t even believe people are coming to an end. Things are going to get ugly, but I have faith that we’ll survive.
Human beings persist.