Sean Dietrich

The day before New Year’s Eve. I was stuck in Birmingham rush hour. A ten-mile line of standstill traffic stretched before me. It looked like I wouldn’t be getting home until sometime around the next papal installation.

The Dodge truck beside me towed a gooseneck horse trailer. Inside was a white horse, staring at me from her open window, chewing a mouthful of alfalfa.

You might not care about this, but as a boy I was obsessed with horses. I grew up around horse people. I rode some; I wasn’t any good.

Even so, I was always thinking about horses, drawing pictures of quarterhorses in notebooks, reading novels like “National Velvet” and “My Friend Flicka.”

“The Black Stallion” was perhaps one of the greatest horse movies ever made.

All these memories came back to me while looking at that horse. She ate her dinner of legume hay, sniffing the Alabamian breeze, cheerfully watching the passing eighteen-wheelers, the UPS trucks, the public transit busses, the Porsches, and the giant SUVs which were roughly the size of rural school districts.

And I fell in love with her right there.

The horse had other admirers in traffic, too. There were teenagers in the Nissan ahead of me, rolling down their windows to greet her.

“HEY, HORSEY!” they howled.

Soon, everyone in traffic was staring at these obnoxious teenagers who tried wildly to get the horse’s attention.

After watching the teenagers for a few minutes, I decided that I had never seen behavior so ridiculous and immature in all my life, and I wanted to be part of it.

So I cranked down my window and joined them.

And do you know what? No sooner had I rolled down my window than I discovered other adult motorists were doing the same thing I was doing.

An older man in a nice suit, driving a Land Rover Defender, was speaking to the horse.

A young woman in a newer model VW Bug was blowing kisses.

An old couple in a Jeep Wrangler was trying desperately to get the horse to notice them.

And for a brief moment in time, several humans from different backgrounds, creeds, and income tax brackets, shared something in common. We were all acting like idiots.

For a horse.

Traffic moved slowly onward, and I eventually lost sight of the livestock trailer. But during my commute I began to notice the many varying hues of my fellow man.

I saw a young guy in a souped-up Cadillac with a stereo system emitting bass notes loud enough to affect the climate.

I saw the young couple having a heated argument in their Kia.

I noticed the van of work-release inmates, each man absently gazing out his window, with the weight of the universe on his back.

I saw an ambulance cutting through traffic, sirens screaming. Off to save a life.

I pulled alongside a minivan full of children. Behind the tinted windows were childish bodies gyrating and singing at the tops of their voices. The driver—God love him—was a middle-aged dad.

And even though Dear Old Dad was probably exhausted, he was actually singing along with his children. Full blast.

Greater love hath no man than to sing with his kids.

For some reason, I started thinking about all the highway games I used to play with my mother during road trips as a boy. I thought about how my mother and I used to sing with the radio a lot. I thought about how we were so close after my father died because we were all we had.

My family had one road-trip game we called “Collect The Bumper Stickers.” It was a bloodthirsty battle wherein you pointed out bumper stickers.

Below are some of the greatest stickers I have seen:

—I’M SPEEDING BECAUSE MY KID HAS TO PEE.

—I THINK, THEREFORE I AM STILL SINGLE.

—DYSLEXICS ARE POOD GEOPLE.

—I BET JESUS WOULD’VE USED HIS TURN SIGNAL.

—DRIVER CARRIES NO CASH. HE’S MARRIED.

And my personal favorite:

—PROUD PARENT OF AN AVERAGE STUDENT.

Then I started thinking about how much older I’m getting. Yesterday was my birthday, tomorrow is New Year’s Eve, and in mere hours it will be 2022.

Sometimes it feels like time is speeding up. Sometimes I wonder how a stiff-jointed middle-aged man took over my life.

Every moment that passes, I get one moment older. And each year that I complete, I am one more year removed from that little kid who used to draw horses in his notebook.

Thoughts like this are enough to make you feel nostalgic, perhaps even a little sad at times.

But then something happens to you.

You look around yourself in traffic and you see things. You see dads singing with their children. You see young couples who love each other enough to argue about it on the freeway.

There are inmates who, even though they have every right give up and quit living, don’t.

There are gajillions of ordinary people, just like you, driving average cars, waking up every morning, and doing the best they can.

There are people out there who sometimes, for no explainable reason, become so overwhelmed with the world’s beauty they can think of nothing better to do than to wave at a pretty horse.

I don’t care what they say. It’s going to be a great year.

Sean Dietrich is a columnist, and novelist, known for his commentary on life in the American South. His work has appeared in Southern Living, The Tallahassee Democrat, Good Grit, South Magazine, Alabama Living, the Birmingham News, Thom Magazine, The Mobile Press Register, and he has authored seven books.

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