Walking by a demolition site in Berkeley today, my thoughts returned to another day, years ago, when I had been on a cross-country hike to what I thought was a deserted Pt Reyes beach.
Rounding a bluff, I arrived at a stretch of grassy dunes, and atop one of the dunes sat an enormous contraption, belching smoke. Giant caterpillar wheels supported a swivel platform, from which reached a giant arm with a huge clawed scoop. It dwarfed the two men drinking coffee from a thermos at the base of the slope.
“What is that thing?” I hollered as I waded towards them through the sand, trying to be heard above the rumbling yellow beast.
“Excavator,” one of the men hollered back.
“What are you doing with it?” I shouted.
“Habitat restoration. We’ve gotta move this dune.”
The 3 of us wordlessly regarded the dunes and the ocean beyond. Gulls wheeled overhead, the tide rose and crashed, and I thought to myself, “Oh how I wish I could play with that.” On the heels of that thought, a question blurted from my mouth, somehow bypassing my usual internal censor.
“Do you ever let other people operate that thing?”
The two men squinted at me from beneath their baseball caps for a few moments, apparently having a silent conversation with each other, and then one of them nodded to me and said, “Let’s go!”
I scrambled after him up the face of the dune, heart suddenly pounding. When we arrived at the excavator, he pointed at the caterpillar wheels, taller than my head, and at the cab up above. “Put your foot here,” he said, “then grab that handle, step up there, and swing on in.”
I did as he said, and he followed right behind. Once in the cab, he pointed to the big bucket seat, and I sat. “You can use any of these,” he shouted, gesturing to a variety of levers and pedals, “but don’t touch those ones there.”
Then he jumped down to the sand, grabbed his cap, and ran. I sat in a stupor for a moment, the engine vibrating the cab around me, as he rejoined his buddy and the two of them backed away even farther, faces wrinkled up into huge grins.
Hesitantly, I grasped one of the controls, and the vw-sized scooper shuddered to life with a mighty clank.
Remember Tonka trucks? Remember the feeling of make-believe, and the power of literally moving the earth? Sitting in that excavator, I was once again the child that could make anything happen. I reached, I scooped, I swiveled and dumped. I rode a huge wave of joy, laughing and whooping, moving my giant metal limb through space. I was a superhero.
When I eventually climbed back down, I wanted to throw my arms around the two men in gratitude, but their faces told me they already understood. They got to do this every day.
As I hiked back towards my trailhead, I found that I still carried a jumble of enormous feelings inside me, feelings that have dimmed little with time – amazement that my blurted wish was granted, and wonder at how magical it felt, to sit in that little cab and scoop up a sand dune.
That day on the beach changed my life. I learned that wishes deserve to be blurted aloud, no matter how unlikely their fulfillment, because it might just move your world. We can never know when somebody might just grin back at us and say, “Let’s go.”