Monday, September 01, 2008

Road Fest, Part 2: Beth, and the Entrance to Nowhere

I had not slept so well in years. It was the kind of deep and dreamless Rip van Winkle sleep from which one awakens with the impression that no time had passed at all. The first objective data to the contrary was presented by the merciless blaring of the alarm clock in my hotel room. My eyes snapped open and I fumbled hastily across the unfamiliar, darkened room with a single-minded determination to stop that damned bleating instrument of chaos and evil. It was during this effort that I encountered the second (and far more effective) means of ensuring that I was awake, in the form of the chair leg against which I struck my left great toe.

Oh yeah. I was awake now.

I held my afflicted foot and spoke the Official Ritual Chant for Toe Trauma (Ow, ow, ow, oh crap ow) for the prescribed minute, then tearfully crawled the remaining distance to the source of that hellish squawking. I dragged myself up into the chair whose leg had caused me such woe and sorrow, and with some trepidation turned on the light to assess the extent of the damage. I noted some stiffness to the toe and mild pain with articulation of the joints, and gingerly palpated along the digit to assess for deformity. While still exquisitely tender, the toe and nail seemed otherwise intact. I knew that even if the toe was broken, so long as no deformity was present the course of treatment was the "I-Cubed" method: Ice, Ibuprofen, and Immobilization. And if the toe continued to swell under the nail, I would do as we do in the ER: Puncture the nail with a sterile object, apply a sterile dressing, and keep the offending digit clean.

I hobbled to the ice machine with a sandwich bag, returned to the room, popped 600mg of Advil, carefully buddy-taped the first toe to the second toe (leaving a little room for swelling), put my foot up, and applied the ice pack. I spent the next twenty minutes cursing that damned chair and watching an inane infomercial about some device that promised to be the "next revolution in potato peeling." The product was all chromed-up and slick-looking, but I felt no compulsion to buy it. The man demonstrating the device was loud, and his behavior led me to suspect that he was on the manic swing of his bipolar disorder. The token well-endowed, mini-skirted female co-host, however, was serious eye-candy (if they were real, they were spectacular). Now if she had been demonstrating that device, I'd have been more interested...

Twenty minutes later, I reassessed the toe and became reasonably certain that I would indeed live. I got dressed, got my stuff together, checked out, and loaded up the slumbering Baby-san. She started with a throaty, popping snort (her way of saying, "What- already!?, I guess), but quickly warmed up to a low and pleasant rumbling purr that told me, "Alright, darling, I am ready for you now."

I pulled onto Susanville's main drag as the eastern sky was just beginning to pink up, and I made my way to an open local restaurant for breakfast. After being led to my booth by a tired man, I pulled out my map, calculator, notebook and pencil, and set to rechecking my route. Country music played softly in the background. It was the perfect soundtrack for the open road. I smiled to myself as a fortyish, suntanned, brown-haired, attractive woman approached me. She tilted her head, observing my navigational efforts.

"Hi, my name's Beth and I'm your server," she began as she gently placed a cup of seductively aromatic coffee before me. "Where ya goin'today, hon?" the waitress inquired with a cigarette-husky voice a la Julie London.

"Well, hello Beth," I responded. "I'm driving through Nevada to Kingman, Arizona."

"Wow. That's a lonnnnng day right there, hon."

"Yeah, I figure about twelve hours..." I replied tentatively. Beth stepped back, placing her hands on her hips as if to preparing to deliver a Great Truth.

"Ya got kids? Make it 14 hours if ya got kids," Beth advised with empirical certainty. "Kids always slow ya down..." she said, her voice trailing off. I looked up at her. She looked weary, and the lines around her mouth and eyes bore evidence of a tiresome life. Every human is a saga, I thought. I shook it off and decided to steer the conversation toward a more positive region.

"Actually, I'm driving solo," I said with a boyish grin.

"Are ya?' Beth asked with a frown as she scrutinized me down the length of her straight and narrow nose with searching eyes. She again placed her hands on her hips and concluded, "Hmph. One of those 'finding yourself' things, huh?" Wow. Cynical too, I thought. This may take some work.

"Not really," I replied with my best and genuine you are important to me smile. "It's more of a 'driving a fast car as far as I can go in two weeks' kind of thing."

"Ahh..." the cynical waitress replied as she scrutinized me again. Looking out the window, Beth jerked a long-nailed thumb toward Baby-san. She asked, "That your car out there?"

"Yes, it is," I answered with the enchantment of a twelve-year-old boy who had just discovered that girls are pretty damn cool after all.

"Niiiiiiiiiiiiiiice," she said with a slow, approving nod. She paused for a second and concluded, "Hmm. Make it maybe ten hours. Just watch out around the border and around Vegas, sweetie. They love guys like you."

"I'll do that. Thanks, dear girl." I gave Beth a sincere and wide smile and she seemed taken aback. She finally responded with her own quite lovely, warm smile and retreated with my order in hand and a stride that would evoke, from a single man, a Pavlovian drool.

I ate at a leisurely pace (while Beth doted upon me with her wonderful coffee and attention) and revised my fuel stops based on yesterday's mileage data. (I was pleasantly surprised with the discovery that in addition to being sleek of beauty and menacing of voice, Baby-san had herself some nice, long legs.) After finishing my breakfast and my calculations (remaining conservative on the issue of travel time despite Beth's assurances), I dropped a big tip on the table and walked up to the cashier's counter where Beth met me.

As she cashed me out, she offered her hand and said, "I'll be praying for your safety, darlin'. You be careful, you hear?"

I took her hand, shook it, and replied, "I promise, Beth. Thank you for your hospitality." She smiled a distinctly un-cynical smile, gave me a pat on the shoulder, and retreated to the kitchen with that drool-inducing stride.


The eastbound approach toward Reno on Highway 44 was a perfect warmup stretch. The highway snaked down from Susanville into the light-brown, gently rolling hills below and provided long straight sections and pleasant banked curves that were taken with ease. I suspected that this was a section of road worthy of Beth's warning, which called for a light foot on the accelerator. My hunch was confirmed by the good half-dozen hapless speedsters pulled over by CHP and NSP troopers between Susanville and Reno. Nodding in self-congratulation (and silently thanking Beth for her generous advice), I rolled merrily along at a prudent speed into that garishly-lit oasis that attracted so many seekers of unearned wealth, night-of-passion weddings, and morning-after divorces. Feeling neither the need nor the desire to stop at Reno, I pressed eastward on I-80, and then on alternate Route 55, toward Fallon.

At Fallon, I prudently checked the air pressure in the Pirellis and made sure that the engine oil, coolant, and belt tensions were all satisfactory. The prospect of having a breakdown along the next leg, which ran through a very hot and unforgiving bunch of real estate, did not appeal to me. I topped off the gas tank and stocked up on nonperishable foods and a flat of bottled water (just in case the unthinkable occurred). My cell phone had a full charge, I had a disaster survival backpack in the trunk (as I always do), and I was as ready for the run down Highway 95 as I would ever be. I felt a little knot of tension as I gave sober thought to the possible problems and incidents that provoked my preparation for the worst. At 0900 the temperature was already well past 90 degrees, and it was expected to reach 115 before noon along my route.

But at the same time, I felt a bit of that long-exiled, youthful adventurer awaken in my soul. It was that same thrill that drove me to spend nearly a decade on the sea just to see the sea. It was kind of like the old cliche of having an angel on the right shoulder and a devil on the left. I compromised between the two, pressing on with nervous excitement while taking every precaution. That's the nice thing about being my age; I'm young enough to stand on the edge, and old enough to know when to step back and just appreciate the view.

With a preparatory sigh, I strapped on Baby-san and launched with a roar, leaving Fallon- and civilization- far behind. Settling myself into my seat, I took a deep breath and let Baby-san go free. Cruising at 90MPH in 5th gear, the engine was barely touching 2,250RPM. The noise was deep, entrancing, and consuming. The car seemed to take the curves of her own volition, as if my control of her was merely an allowance. I surrendered to her as she enticed me into the barren, forbidding wasteland of Western Nevada...