Breaking Through Concrete: An Ode

| July 1, 2010

We had to leave Lewis Lewis this morning at 9am Central Time. He wouldn’t start, the same problem he’d given us in three different cities. Between Berkeley, Flagstaff, and Birmingham, we’ve replaced glow plugs (twice), starter, fuse, added a second battery, bled the injectors, bled the injector pump, wetted the intake with diesel (a risky move), replaced fuel filter, grease filter, and oil.

It didn’t feel right, driving to Birmingham’s Pepper Place Farmer’s Market this morning. We went along fairly normal, like all the other visits to farmer’s markets, but something just seemed off. His heart was not in it. We’d lost confidence in him. We returned to Jones Valley Urban Farm and I turned him off to fill him with grease.

Things had been rough for a few days. When we arrived into Birmingham from New Orleans, we picked up our good friend Hans before heading to the farm party. Cut the engine to say hello to Hans and to my ex-girlfriend, who lives next door. Then Lewis wouldn’t start up. Forty minutes later, after sitting on the curb of the old street, we had Lewis behind a tow truck.

He started on and off at the farm yesterday, but never with the former gusto. By this morning and the farmer’s market we could read all the signals. There’s always a point when you just know.

We now roll a mini-van, a Chrysler Town & Country, white, with two sliding doors that open and close automatically. It has AC and a CD player and it rides smooth and almost silent at 75 mph. It’s Road-Trip Light. Vanilla, non-fat, sugar-free road-trip.

But to understand why it all makes sense, why it actually forms some sort of poetic beauty, you must know the story of Lewis Lewis, which we have yet to share.

When Edwin first began Jones Valley Urban Farm on a vacant city lot surrounded by condemned houses and full of junk soil, he met a homeless Vietnam Vet named Lewis Nelson Lewis. Lewis was a little crazy and had a huge heart and appreciated the opportunity to have a responsibility and be a part of Edwin’s project. He began caretaking the farm, a necessary duty in the sketchy neighborhood where JVUF was born. Lewis even lived for a while in the large tool shed.

Over the next eight years, Lewis was a fixture at Jones Valley Urban Farm. Edwin says Lewis had a dubious knack for finding marbles strewn about the farm. Edwin and the staff found some irony in crazy Lewis “finding his marbles.” Some conspiracy theorists posited that Lewis was actually planting the same marbles he was stumbling upon.

One afternoon, while I was living in Birmingham, I went to the farm to pick up some arugula. Only Lewis was there. The arugula bin was empty but Lewis said I could take some off a row. He brought me to the arugula and told me to pull up the whole plant. Really? He showed me – roots and all. I cleaned out the entire row, who was I to question Lewis. The farm manager, I later heard through Edwin, was not happy.

Lewis became ill a few years ago. Edwin was the one to take him to the hospital, and the farm helped with the medical bills. Lewis Lewis died last year and Edwin and the farm miss him most.

So when we drove Lewis back to his spot on the farm and cut the engine to fill up the grease tanks, we did not have a good feeling. When I climbed back in to crank him, he just did his vaporous cough, no substance to turn it over. He did not want to leave this farm, not now.

We unpacked most of our things and we drove away, the start of another loop, this one Birmingham – DC – Brooklyn – Philly – Detroit – Chicago – and back to Birmingham, to revive and retrieve Lewis Lewis. He will see the road again.

We are very sad in our soft country-club mini van.

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