Sometimes it can’t be helped, that long drive across the West, rolling the odometer like a slot machine that promises to pay off with just one more spin. The gas gauge hovers around half and it looks like you’ll get there without stopping again in the middle of who knows where. Home is all you think of, the familiar walls, the mattress that remembers the curve of your hip.
So you settle in, determined to
take it fast. The sign at the side of the road says 60 miles to
home and you think, glancing at the speedometer, that at 60 mph,
it’s just an hour before you get there, the place where you
belong. Though the weather report promised snow before the end of
the day, the road has been easy, the sky, a little soft but
certainly tolerable. Nothing left but to turn off the cruise
control and find a new line on the speedometer. A few snowflakes
begin flickering against the windshield, but you expected that. And
it’s simple stuff, 60 miles and 60 minutes. In an hour it
will all be over.
Two songs into your favorite tape, the
snowflakes start to stick. You flip the wipers to
“intermittent” and sit up a little. You’ll have
to adjust. The snow is starting to accumulate like static on a TV
screen, but it will pass, you know it, it always does. The next
signpost announces 50 miles to where you’ll be laying your
head on the pillow. You check the speedometer and notice
you’ve been forced to drop down to 50 mph. You think, looking
at your wristwatch, so what! In an hour this will be finished. One
hour and you’ll be warming your insides, not caring what the
The tape is finished. If you let your
pupils stay fixed to that point through the windshield where the
flakes converge, it’s a little like being hypnotized. Time
itself appears to gather at the vortex of your vision. The whole
sky seems to spin, yet you feel motionless. The mile marker you
just passed indicates 35 miles and you’ll be inside the city
limits, where the streets are plowed. If you slow down just a
little, you’ll not only be home, but you’ll be safe.
The speedometer reads 35 mph. Just one thin hour and you’ll
be there if nothing happens, and what could happen? You’ve
got it under control.
When the snow turns to sleet,
driven like rock salt from a shotgun, you’re wishing you were
stuck behind the semi you recklessly passed 25 miles back. Those
taillights burning red like the devil’s own eyes would be a
welcome sight. Visibility is so poor not even the glow from the
town you know must be out there in front of you appears.
It’s as if every familiar touchstone has been obliterated,
the landscape altered so that it exists in no place but your
memory. You roll the window down so you can brush away a chunk of
ice that’s stuck to the wiper blade. It’s impossible to
stop the car because you’ll never get moving again;
it’s that slick. Your fingers are numb from trying to knock
the ice loose, so you decide to navigate by watching the side of
the road through a rolled down passenger window. The heater fan
screams, hot air competing with the rush of cold.
beacon of hope shines against your headlights: a metal sign assures
you 10 miles is all that’s left. Thank goodness, just 10.
Daring the two fates of accident and death, you take your eyes off
the road for a frightening moment to see how fast you’re
traveling. At first it doesn’t seem possible, so you check
again. It’s gotten this bad: 10 mph! Simple math tells you
you’re still an hour from the safety of your home.
It occurs to you that at this rate you may never reach home. Some
archaeologist will find your remains centuries from now, after
they’ve been deposited by this circumstantial glacier a few
yards from the spot that would have been your doorstep. You will be
labeled “chronoman.” Crowds of onlookers will file past
what they believe to be an elaborate steel coffin, gawking at the
strange burial ritual of a vanished civilization. You will be
another King Tut, set out for display. Your exhibit will tour the
earth, fascinate children’s imaginations and inspire
commuters as they set out for the stars.