A companion piece to Inclined Corners of a Yellow Map and Bite of the Oven Salesman.
The Long Drive
I handed the cop my driver’s license: Soledad Smith, 1704 E. El Toro Boulevard, El Fuego, NM. Date of Birth – 7/19/77. Hair – Brwn. Eyes – Hzl. Weight – 165. Height – 5′ 9″. Corrective lenses – None... Former oven salesman in Omaha.
“You were swerving.”
“You were swerving Mr. Smith. Have you been drinking tonight Mr. Smith?”
I looked out the windshield at the great expanse of stars draped across the black sky and I wanted to be drifting in space like a lost robot.
“No. I haven’t been drinking. I’m just very tired. Long day of life, you know.”
“Where are you coming from?”
“What were you doing there?”
“Shopping and mingling with the savages. After I dropped off a friend at the airport. The Sunport in Q-town. You know it? I’m just trying to get home and sleep.”
“I thought you were in Santa Fe?”
“I was… After Albuquerque. It’s hip and super fresh.”
He looked at me like I was some sort of a loon. “Mr. Smith,” he said in a very authoritative tone, “You’re not making much sense and I really don’t feel like arresting you tonight. I just want to finish my shift, go home, and fuck my wife. I suggest you stop at the next motel and get some sleep before you get yourself killed out here. There’s one up ahead in Encino… ‘bout 20 miles I’d say. Not the nicest place in the world, but it’s got beds.”
“I know it… Know of it.”
He handed my license back and I tucked it inside my wallet and looked straight ahead.
He started to walk away back to his patrol car, and I stuck my head out the window into the black veil of night.
I heard his boots come to a dead stop.
“Did you see that wreck back there?”
“Isn’t that where you were coming from? The bad wreck some miles back.”
He stood tall and looked back down the road stretched out behind us.
“There ‘aint been no wreck on this road tonight. Nothing. Nothing at all. I’ve been up and down this road all night. Haven’t seen anything. Get some sleep, sir.”
I watched him climb into his patrol car and he drove off.
I started my car, rolled up the window and turned on the cd player. Loud music rolled out of the speakers as I pulled out onto the highway and headed to the motel in Encino.
My room at The Cactus Motel smelled of mold and old cigarette burns. I splashed cold water on my face and looked into the bathroom mirror. The grime and worry on my skin rolled away with the beads of wet and dropped down into the pool of dirty water in the sink. Stopped up. Of course. I grabbed a drab towel and dried my face. Took a deep breath and laid down on the uneven mattress of the bed. It felt dirty. A semi roared by on the road outside. Someone was having sex in the room next to mine. I could hear the woman moan “oh yeah, oh yeah” through the thin wall, could feel the headboard rhythmically knocking against it. It was late. Well after midnight and I felt very panicked and out of it. I tried to close my eyes, but all I kept seeing were visions of the weeping girl walking around the wreck in shock. “There hasn’t been a wreck on this road tonight…”
The words of the cop echoed in my head. Had he been lying? But why? Could I have been so tired that I did imagine the whole thing? Perhaps. It doesn’t matter. I was safe. I was so tired. I had to get some sleep to get up early enough to drive the rest of the way and make it into work by 4 p.m.
Morning came quickly. I rolled out of the bed sore and still sleepy. I got dressed and went to the motel office to check out. My car looked dusty and road weary in the sparkling sun of morning. A tarantula aimlessly strolled by one of the tires. I got in, started the engine, and sped off. Encino dissipated in a flash, and I was once again going 65mph headed south. Another 125 miles to go before I reached El Fuego. It was already getting hot. I rolled down the windows and cranked the volume on the stereo. Oasis – Definitely Maybe – Track 3 – Live Forever. If only we could. But then again, why would we?
The parched, rocky landscape flew by me like a desolate nightmare. The sky so gaping wide, churning blue and cream. The sun muscling its burning power through the stratosphere and into my eyes. Past the sad town of Vaughn I rolled and onto the remaining 95 miles of pure nothingness. Flatness. Openness. Scorched skin on the rocks and dust. Rocky red lands exposing burnt flesh. Stillness. Isolation. Wind and silence and heat. It was the desert. Endless miles of god’s gaping wound upon the Earth. I could see the highway roll on in front of me forever; an asphalt ribbon cooking in the first rays of day. A seemingly endless needle piercing the horizon, and all around it flat and gore and a dry stew of dirt and rocks and cactus. An unending mirage maybe; perhaps if I pulled the curtain aside a bit, I would find Eden on the other side. A paradise of lush, green and magnificent waterfalls tumbling over wet rocks down into the deepest pools of midnight blue. But there was no curtain. There was no mirage. This was the real deal. The great American Southwest in all its desolate glory and me a simple corpuscle pumping my life through the corroded veins of overcooked sanity.
I turned the stereo down to zero just so I could hear the hot wind rip through my car, wrestle my thinning locks and breathe life into my scorched lungs. I pushed the cigarette lighter in and waited for it to pop. I pressed it to the tip of my ninth cigarette of the day and exhaled a ghostly cloud of venomous smoke. I coughed. I always cough after the first drag. I turned the stereo back up just to drown out the din of nothingness and kept driving, my eyes fixed on the heat waves on the horizon.