Extraordinary stories from everyday life on the edge of the world

Stories

the best thing about us is the people we know.
 

National Road || Friday, 7.30pm

I find a motel on the side of Highway 40, one only faintly Batesy, hung with Christmas lights and accentuated with cute old Coke machines. I pull into the parking lot and wonder how this will go.

I've always wanted to try sleeping in my car, en route to somewhere or other. (That one summer night in Vermont doesn't count.) And a night when I'm stressed out about money and too mad at God to ask for it is, I reckon, as good a night as any.

arrowhead motel [2]

I pull all my Mexican blankets out from behind the seat and mummify my legs and arms with them, before finally turning off the car and, with it, the heat. IĀ open a can of salmon and mix it with the mayonnaise I confused the McDonald's girl by asking for. (Note: they don't do packets.) I finish the last of the hemp chocolate bar Mae gave me. And that, friends, is camp.

I'm just about to open a book when a man taps on my window. I noticed him pull into the lot, but didn't see him get out of his idling car.

He asks if I know how to get to 70 west, and seems incredulous when I tell him it's back that way (the way he was just going, it seems). He apologizes for startling me, turns back to ask if I smoke, and digs his fist in chagrin when I say no. He turns back again to apologize again, and once more to wish me a merry Christmas.

I finish eating and realize my pearl ring is missing from my finger.

This always happens.

arrowhead motel [8]I've admired Maryland's Cumberland Motel three times in the last year, passing it on my way east. Today, going west, I finally pulled over to take its picture.

I'm going back to Portland, and after that will be driving back down to San Diego, the way I came when first I left.

And I've always wanted to see if I could make a go of sleeping in my car en route somewhere.

I'm leery of what these things might mean--that maybe this is winding toward an end that's been decided for me, and I don't have the strength to exercise my own agency.

I don't want it to end. At the same time, I don't have the mettle to sustain it. Clearly. You can only run so long on adrenalin. Adrenalin can only pass so long for faith.

arrowhead motel [7]

I pop two melatonin, drape a blanket over me, and hope for the best.

I wake up sanguine that soon the sun will be up, that maybe it's 12am already; certainly, it's at least 11.

The clock reads 8.22.

The snow is still coming down hard.

My feet are cold.

At this juncture, I could go inside and get a room key. I could just as easily rough it. My problem is that I can't do either with a sense of humor. If I'm just going to be scared and resentful all night, I might as well save $60 and do it in the cold.

When Kimberly and I prayed last night, I felt so confident that I was about to start feeling really confident.

arrowhead motel [10]

And I know other people have been through this too. People with less money and fewer friends than me, trying to get farther for the sake of higher stakes. People who had less time and less comfort waiting at the end of their journey to figure their shit out before they...

What?

Well, what?

Gave up, I guess...but on what?

That's what I'm wondering about. Having a few jobs at the end of this ride, and a place to stay, just prolongs the inevitable. This isn't an experiment, anymore. It's a way of life that I have to either marry or break up with. And if I marry, I'll just keep hitting this point of exhaustion over and over? And if I break up, I'll always wish I'd stuck with it and found a way to make it work.

arrowhead motel [3]

This is what I meant, talking to Peter, John and Dan at the Prince Street Cafe two nights ago, about normal life. I'd feel this way even if I weren't on the road. I would just have an easier time distracting myself from it, maybe.

Or not...distraction takes comfort and that requires money. And my normal life has never involved much of that.

The people who look at my life and sigh, or scoff, still have moments when they panic that life is slipping away without their having done enough. When they can't sleep. When they wonder how long they can keep this up. When you shudder thinking if how many great people are waiting for you to keep your promise. When you're so tired you seem to see down a tunnel of time at bothnends. You understand past things with regrettble clarity; you see into the next many hours of what you woll do, and how you could do it if you had the grim resolve you have now. But you won't; eventually you'll fall asleep or else reach your breaking point, and on the other side you'll wake up and stretch and believe again that you've still got plenty of time.

arrowhead motel [4]

It's 9.08pm now, and still hours to sleep before I go.