Dawn breaks in the east in small-town America, just the same as every other place. The farmer has been awake and working for an hour by the time the sun begins to rise. Birds chirp their familiar song to the farmer during the coolest hours of the day as he begins maintenance on his 15-ton John Deere combine, paint faded and scraped from the two decades worth of fields it has harvested. Equipped with the proverbial outfit of patched jeans, long sleeve shirt, and hat, the farmer knows he has 12 hours worth of work in that field on this day. With the crop being freshly planted, the first task is to take a hoe with his weathered, jagged hands and remove pesky weeds that want to take his crop’s vital nutrients. The farmer will be occupied for hours combing through the rows and mounds of soil.
The morning progresses and local business owners arrive at their respectful place of commerce to begin the day. The coffee and tea shop on the corner of Main Street and the highway welcomes its normal flow of regular customers while the donut shop fills with retired men eating their favorite cake donut and discussing politics and the drought. The forecast shows no sign of rain again, and the men chatter about another day with temperatures in the triple digits.
The drug store opens its doors to find customers already keenly waiting in the parking lot to refill their prescriptions. A familiar man in a motorized scooter pulls in to buy his regular: a Diet Coke priced at $1.50. Though he knows the price has never changed, he still asks the cashier for his total, and hands over exact change as anticipated. The man leaves the drugstore and gets back into his scooter, small dog and soda on his lap, to coast through his regular Main Street route, heat be damned.
A mother of three has beads of sweat dripping from her forehead after vacuuming the house and getting the kids dressed and ready. She dreads making the monotonous drive to Wal-Mart some ten miles away, but knows that it must be done. The kids fuss about the musty smell of the feedlot crowded with cows as they pass by, but to her it smells like home, strange as that may be. Even as early in the day as it is, she appreciates the air conditioning in the car, as the dash reads “92 degrees”. The car rounds the only curve on the trip and passes through the unused underpass, and the mother of three anticipates seeing familiar faces at the only corporate-chain “superstore” in the Valley.
A recently promoted eighth grade boy wakes up early for his first day of strength training with his future high school teammates and coaches. The lanky boy with disheveled hair already feels soreness crawling through every underdeveloped muscle in his body, which just got its first taste of working out. He cringes knowing that he has a city-recreation baseball game to be played that evening. In the meantime, he knows a paradise that will give him temporary reprieve: the town’s swimming pool.
Elsewhere in the town, a group of friends gathers at the Loaf-N-Jug gas station to plan out their friendly assault on the streets. They decide to begin by going for a cruise; one done by many before them, up and down Main Street, poor sounding bass rattling and rocking their parent’s cars and trucks that they claim as their own. After an hour of cruising, the group spots a few more friends playing basketball at the concrete slabs on Main Street, next to the railroad tracks. The friends won’t cause much mischief there, being that the slabs are catty-cornered to the police station. They throw off their shirts in hopes of staying cool and play some basketball, as the deafening roar of trains intermittently cuts into their banter during the game.
At lunch time, the farmer has moved to another field, swathing through the hay that has already grown so that he can sell it and make a profit for the month. Sitting in the tractor is not exactly a leisurely activity, as the sun beats furiously through the windows, turning the high-powered machine into a slow-moving sauna.
The lunch hour at the local restaurants sees a swarming of business men and women, roofers from out of town, retirees, and families looking for a temporary reprieve from the heat as well as a tasty meal. Not one of the four or five eateries disappoints, all offering a cool, air-conditioned space equipped with a variety of menu items and, of course, ice cold beer.
Sitting at the bar is the regular day drinker, known by any and all throughout the town. He is a staple at the joint nearly every day for up to six hours, telling stories of high school glory, war, love and loss. The man’s life story has been told to customers through and through, and his familiar jeans are as weathered and gray as his shadowy beard stubble. Most amazing to onlookers is his ability to pay his bar tab daily, despite no longer having a job (or at least, as far as they can tell).
The group of friends playing basketball has had enough for the day, and makes its way to get a revitalizing drink from “Sonics” as the Sonic franchise in town has come to be known to locals. The extra “s” on the end derives from years and years of slang becoming so familiar that it is used by residents, whether serious or as a joke. After visiting with classmates working there, the gang decides it’s time to fraternize with the lifeguards at the pool.
From around 1:00 until 4:00 p.m., the swimming pool transforms from a refreshing body of still water into a madhouse of shouting and splashing. The mother of three is there, sitting with her youngest daughter in the baby pool while trying to keep an eye on the two boys, dunking each other and doing their best version of a front flip off the diving board. The new freshman is there, tossing around a ball with his group of friends, feeling better than earlier now that the cool water replaced the heat and sore muscles. The lifeguards sit on their posts fantasizing about diving into the refreshing blue paradise, a feeling much better than baking at 100 degrees directly below the sun. They are given a very temporary tease of what the pool feels like when the group of high school buddies splashes them flirtatiously. Music from the speakers bellows throughout the parking lot and baseball fields a mere 100 yards away.
It’s near 5:00 p.m. now, meaning work is done and men and women can rush to the golf course to get 18 holes in before their spouse calls for dinner. The farmer, finally accomplishing his daily routine, drives the tractor back to the house, temporarily slowing down highway traffic until he reaches his destination a mile away, a long journey for the slow-moving machine.
At the baseball field, the freshman runs onto the diamond while spectators admire one of the best-maintained fields throughout the Valley. The mother of three is there, rooting on her son at first base and husband, who coaches the team.
Clouds are seen in the distance, though skeptics are sure that they won’t make their way to the dehydrated town. Instead, warm and unforgiving wind blows dust in the faces of residents, akin to being trapped in a dryer filled with dirt.
The group of friends gathers into one car now, plotting out their plan for the night. The first destination is the never-empty liquor store, hoping to see a friend or uncle willing to buy them a few beers. The mission is a successful one, and the gang calls friends, acquaintances, and acquaintances of acquaintances to let them know about the beer and ensuing bonfire. They make the trek out to the countryside, to the home of the farmer, father of one of the group members. The pit at the farm is due for a good burn, and the group is due for another memorable night.
The sun sets in the west here, just the same as any other place. This is the life of small-town America. This is Rocky Ford.
— by Nick Jurney