May 12, 2023 | ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT | By Caleb Hering

I am driving east through Salida, Colo. – do not ask “from where,” all that matters is that I am driving east. East, back to Colorado Springs. East, back to home, where I am from. East, where She thinks the world might end and puts all her money into gold and silver. Really only silver because She does not have enough for gold.

East. East, back to the city of Newark, N.J., where she lives; “Exit 15 E” for Newark. I pull into the left turn lane and slow to a stop. The yellow lines surround my car and my blinker ticks as I wait for an opening and pull into the Salida Thriftparking lot, peruse the isles and eventually I grab a single cassette.

East, Newark. Standing on the road outside her second-floor apartment you can see clearly the towering New York City skyline. Buildings over which metal Martian cylinders towered on spindly metal legs and spewed toxic black exhaust in “The War of the Worlds,” originally broadcasted Oct. 30, 1938, over the CBS Radio Network. This was recorded on the cassette which I grabbed.

A different day, not too long later. I am now driving west towards Eleven Mile Canyon to climb. I am listening to my new cassette, listening to a crackly voice describe in detail the metal cylinder which has newly embedded itself into a farm in Grovers Mill, N.J. Listening to a radio drama about Martians invading earth, and a drama I bought specifically because I knew what it had caused: mass panic.

Mass panic as listeners tuned in only after any mention of this radio drama being fictional, and whose hearts must have dropped as their ears brought before their minds the abyss we so eagerly forget, and whose notion painted before our eyes those, those we sit before at breakfast, lunch, or dinner, with the dreadful reality of the fragility of our lives.

It is fascinating to be transported back in time while driving along the winding road through rural Colorado. The car eases into a turn and a farmhouse appears through the woods. No more assuming than that which bore the fate of the human race as the Martians attacked. And it is more fascinating to wonder at how so easily what we take for granted can collapse.

And I remember my great aunt who lives in Newark, and think of her dread, and her worry. Why she buys up and invests in “infallible” standards after watching two planes from her own window, or reads a headline which begins, “SILICON VALLEY BANK” after living through 2008. As so many others have also.

A voice tells me to turn the tape over, then a “click.” I reach for the tape deck and remember my own car, whose head gasket had failed and whose recently replaced battery did not like to start. And a little chasm appears before me as I flip the tape over and push it into its own form-fitting crevasse. A little chasm, the presence of the possibility that my car might fail whenever it might like and despite all other signs that it is operating normally. And only because it has happened before. A door which once opened stays forever lurking in the back of your mind.

My eyes flash to the temperature gauge, which has since become habit after looking down and seeing the needle steadily occupying the red. But a habit which has only been noticed now. And the lurking anxiety stays.

I think of this as I turn off my car. I think of this after listening to the Martians finally cross the Hudson. I think of this as I think of her, reading the local, highly misinformed newspaper which proclaims the end of days every day for multiple days on end. But she is able to believe it because she has seen this edge of the abyss multiple times. The lurking fear of another day. A day where reason might fail, and empathy cease to exist.

I try not to think of this as I climb. But the metaphor was all too real as I scaled the rock wall, the open air ever increasing below me. Grasping onto what was solid and pulling on it. Standing on it.

I am again driving east. Back from Eleven Mile Canyon. Back to Colorado Springs. East. And I listen to the end of the broadcast on this new-used cassette. I listen to where the broadcast had to stop because Police rushed their studio as panic ensued in New Jersey and New York as for just a moment people truly believed they were being invaded, killed by Martians. It resumes.

East. East towards the place where the unstoppable Martians, so advanced, silently succumbed to some everyday virus despite all else. A familiar American narrative reversed. Was Orson Welles exalting an anti-colonial narrative? Possibly. No matter, as long as you hear what has to be heard in “The War of the Worlds” and ponder the ever-growing abyss we stand so near to. The lurking fear. The creeping anxiety. And the tentative balance we rest on every day.

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