I stood there in line, dazed in the forgotten hour of the early sunless morning. Feeling the blood rush and recirculate inside my exhausted and detached shell.
“Welcome, professional drivers.” Echoed the recorded female voice from the loudspeaker as it vibrated against my eardrums. “Please make sure that your vehicle is pulled fully forward, and that your lights are shut off.”
I considered for a moment, ‘Am I a professional driver?’ I might as well be. I don’t race cars or drive long haul trucks for a living, but I’m still on my 15th hour on the road. I could just be getting better at this.
Somewhere in the middle of nowhere outside of Price, Utah. Homeward bound. This Sinclair truck stop as my lighthouse, whose fluorescence began to wake the tired expression on my face. I could hardly distinguish the man standing in front of me at the cash register. About 5’5”, hunched over. His wasted body covered in warm clothing from head to toe. Only his tired and bloated hands exposed from the long, tattered sleeves of his aged Carhartt jacket. His voice hardly audible, a shy and simple mumble as he paid the attendant for a hot shower.
The case of sandwiches next to him seemed like a good idea. I wasn’t hungry, but knew that anything resembling a meal would add to my mental capacity for the remainder of the road.
Ham. Roast beef. Turkey. I am not a vegetarian.
But my heart twinged as I recalled seeing the imprisoned and disabled bovines near Boise earlier that night. Residing their so-called lives at a slaughterhouse next to the highway. Their necks and bodies locked in place, unable to live out their destinies. Held inside a forever-case by undeserving humans. Their collective breath visible in the cold night among their innocent bodies reminded me of their wildness imprisoned, but not taken.
I opted for the turkey. The gas station bird, ashamedly enough, made me feel less guilty.
The long, drawn out transaction between the trucker and the attendant continued. As I looked around, I noticed that I was the only female inside the gas station. There must have been 5 more men, each of whose questioning stares I felt as they shopped for supplies.
I fixed my attention back to the cash register. Noticing the young attendant’s jerky gaze bounce back and forth between the truck driver’s face and mine over his shoulder. His words directed at him, but his attention distracted by my presence. He looked to be 24 years old, sporting a mustache of good effort but little maturity, while a jewel glistened from his right ear. He seemed a bit bewildered by my arrival and perhaps my bright red jacket. Surely he must’ve been thinking, ‘What the fuck are YOU doing out here by yourself at 1:53 in the goddamn morning?’
But truthfully, and little does he know, I have done more questionable things than this by night and for more hours. Things that are far more exhausting. By headlamp and mobilized by knife-edged shoes. My life anchored to a rope. Except not exactly anchored to anything that means anything at all. Only to somebody else, trusted, who is equally dependent on me for safety.
The tired trucker turned toward the showers in the corner of the building, looking down as he slowly shuffled away. What is it with my stuffy empathy at this hour? My mind raced with imaginary stories of what his life must be like and I hoped that it included more joy than what I was able to come up with.
I started toward the register and noticed the young attendant’s shyness suspended in the now empty space between us. Seemingly remorseful for allowing his eyes to meet mine for longer than 2 seconds at a time. Contemplating how long it has been since he’s conversed with a nonprofessional driver, I set the coffee and sandwich down on the counter.
“How’s your night going?” I announced. Trying to maintain an energetic tone in my voice in contrast to the settled road-silence inside my head.
“Not bad. You?” He responded. His name tag reads ‘Kyle.’
“Pretty good! Kinda tired.”
He gently smiled back at me. “Is there anything else that I can help you with?”
I shook my head and mumbled, “No, thanks.”
The expression beneath his shaggy blonde hair suggested that he had more questions to ask, but he remained silent during the remainder of our transaction.
“Thank you!” I waved to Kyle, collected my newly purchased revival gear and walked out the glass doors.
I paused for a moment as the door shut behind me, finalizing my exit with a cold draft against my back. I scanned the darkness and listened to the purr of idling semi trucks as the towering bright lights above exposed my car. As I slid my hand inside my pocket, my knuckles caressed the knife clipped to my pants. My self-awareness was charged with that familiar unease of walking back to the car alone at these places during the night.
Aida noticed my approach and quickly abandoned the driver’s seat to scurry into the back. I promptly got in and turned my key in the ignition as the engine chuckled itself back to life. I reset the odometer to match my newly purchased tank of fuel and turned to scratch her on the head behind me. “Good girl.” I spoke quietly.
As I accelerated back onto the highway, I was surprised by my gratification after so many hours behind me. It would seem that my exhaustion should keep me from continuing on. After all, I had only stopped for a mere 10 minutes just then. But the disappearing fuel lighthouse in my rear view mirror made the solitary darkness of the road feel like home.
Why am I like this? This isn’t normal. Carting myself back and forth from north to south and south to north and wherever else in-between isn’t something that normal people do on a regular basis. Every mile that ticks beyond 500 seems to be my kind of drug. But, I suppose I have accepted the fact that normalcy isn’t my forte, though I sometimes wish it was. Surely my car is wearing a lot quicker than your 9-5 commute is wearing on yours. But, in my own special and decidedly abnormal way, I am content.
A single, plump drop of rain landed on my windshield and spawned into several, another below it a few moments after. Ain’t No Sunshine serenaded me for what seemed like the 20th time that night. I don’t know why I keep hearing this song lately, it isn’t by choice. The rain never amounted to much of anything, only a teasing threat to downpour.
Friends often suggest podcasts to me in an effort to fill my car time with thought-provoking information. And while I sometimes take them up on their offers, I admittedly prefer the hum of the road beneath my wheels and simmering thoughts inside my head. Taking me through wide open spaces and offering me glimpses of new communities populated with folks who live differently than I do. These discoveries allow for my life’s frame of reference to form.
My headlights illuminated wide splatters of stain in the middle of the road. Unable to decipher whether they were streams of red rock or remnants of roadkill, I soon noticed a pair of gleaming eyes atop four tall, skinny legs. Eventually clusters of them, dozen upon dozen beside the highway. Stares in acknowledgement of shared presence.
I resolved to give my eyelids some rest at my dearest rest stop at long last. I know that if I don’t sleep for a few hours I run the risk of losing my mind somewhere between here and Ridgway. The sun will be up in a handful of hours and it’s best to sleep before it arrives.
Thompson, Utah. I know this rest area on interstate 70 well. It is quiet and common for a few cars to reside here at night. I have parked in various locations that don’t offer quite so friendly accommodations. Places that had me feeling more awake and alert after I closed my eyes. There is somehow a light to the darkness here and I feel safe. Hearing Aida’s sleepy breath in the passenger seat made me grateful to have my friend beside me. I’m in the desert now and the silence quickly whispered me off to a slumber.
The stars above painted fleeting and short-lived dreams of glimmer inside my head that night and I woke with my eyelids still shut. Bright yellow light shined through them as I listened to a pair of car doors open and close. I gently opened my eyes, noticing the faint voices of a man and woman attending to a child.
“Come on, put your jacket back on” dictates the woman.
I waited for their voices to fade before I sat up to compose myself. Certainly still tired, but I know this is enough to get me through these remaining five hours.
Aida and I walked outside and stretched all six of our legs. Views of the San Rafael Swell were a welcome addition to this charmingly sunlit morning. I stood still for a few moments and enjoyed the undisturbed smell of this place alongside the warm sun against my cheeks, when a piercing Ping! of my cell phone broke the silence, prompting a startled shrug of my shoulders. I pulled the device out of my pocket to discover a text message from Eric Cabin House on its illuminated screen. “Get some sleep?” it read.
It is indeed true that I adore solitary nonprofessional driving, but receiving these handsome little beacons from Mr. Cabin House help me to sleep warmer. These are the things that remind me I am loved, and it sure makes solitude taste sweeter and burn a little brighter.
Welcome to Colorful Colorado
This gesture had me in love at first sight months ago and I still feel like I’m approaching it with open arms. Friendly and unusual, bursting with color as I now know Colorado to be. The nearing completion of my drive closes a door behind me as I cross over the state line. Here I leave my usual mourning, knowing that Washington is officially now far away. It is undoubtedly a beautiful day in Colorado, but I can’t help but wonder if the sun happens to be shining in Washington and if the water sparkles bright.