Rolled out of town like a sad little hurricane, burning oil and squinting into the perplexing haze of flashback shadow and last-gasp winter storm bullshit. Immediate anxiety on the road, worrying my eyes were going to be brimming with semen-colored pond scum, worried that the tires were unfairly and inappropriately imbalanced, worried that I'd be thrown to the violent mercy of the slushy gray accumulation that lolled slick and sickly along Highway 60. The lines on the road ceased making any reasonable sense, sometimes all the lights and white looking like a Picasso painting, no perception of depth or content.
Stopped at a wonderful little gas station (Lee's? Luke's?) just a few moments out of town to collect myself, satiate my need for more Diet Coke, and to check tire pressure. The gauge I borrowed from the friendly woman behind the counter didn't work worth a shit, leading only to me kneeling in the muddy ice and accidentally letting a few pounds of air out of two tires before realizing my folly. Back into the store, where in addition to all the usual useless refreshments and snacks and roadside bric-a-brac and distractions, they had several shelves of used books, a box of records, and about two flea market booths' worth of weird glass sculptures, vaguely offensive little busts of Chinese fisherman, hand-painted flower pots, and other items of interest and note. I carefully combed through it all, idly chit-chatting with the cashier and sipping Diet Coke. Back in the car, I took out my contacts and, feeling refreshed and subdued, found a cassette copy of Born in the USA that blasted me forth, eastward, where the temperature immediately began to rise on the dashboard thermometer, and where the sleezy winter nonsense began to subtly turn to nothing but a cold spring rain. The clouds parting, I became one with the night, one with the machine.
Passing under an overpass, hearing the pause in the rain on roof and windshield, coinciding with the pause between Springsteen songs. That's where I want to exist; in the tape hiss, a noiseless progress, a hurricane's eye, the arclight. Driving with one hand on the steering wheel and the other on the tape deck. Dreaming of driving with one hand on the tape deck and the other on your leg. Earth-movers looming along the road, silent giants in the early night, gave way to Mark Twain Nat'l Forest, where the road dried and I was able to safely zoom like a flying saucer, brights bright, whipping the machine around fantastic corners.
Another gas station, looking for the tasteless bathroom graffiti I've grown to love. Another can of Diet Coke, another fifteen minutes spent wandering around staring at the inane trinkets arranged haphazardly on pale tan metal shelves. The people less friendly here, an angry little woman vacuuming the rugs looks at me like I'm a dog, out of bounds. The gas station was enormous, though, and doubled as a grocery store, as well as hosting a surplus of practical and agrarian hardware and hunting supplies. Funny I've never noticed this place before, sprawling out in the low Ozark mountains, somewhere near Van Buren, big and well-lit as it is. Maybe it existed but for a night, to appear on the hazy hallucinatory roadside as some neutral oasis, offering neither solace nor contempt. They had, set up on a rickety table with folding legs, a display of frightening rabbit statues, Easter candy, and a few busts of Jesus lugging His cross around.
Outside of Sikeston, west, about fifteen miles, I came upon a red Chevy pick-up with a tail-light out. I saw him make for the shoulder three or four times, discounting the first two as accidents, and then watched him wander towards the median at high speeds, only to jerk back and straddle the two lanes for a while. Deciding he was probably drunk, or a Cro-Magnon unwittingly shoved behind the take-no-prisoner controls of a beat-up Chevy, or possibly both, I hung back, unwilling to pass him for fear of a tragic double-vision lane change that would send me and my machine splintered and sobbing, in pieces, into the ditch. Another truck, followed by a little silver anchovy of a sports car, passed to the right of him, and I lost a few heartbeats as the drunk swerved within inches of both, causing panicky acceleration and a collision narrowly avoided by jerky adrenaline maneuvering. I debated with myself for several minutes about calling the law enforcement, generally disapproving of their involvement in any matters pertaining to my own cause, but finally relented, feeling a naughty sort of exhilaration as I punched 9-1-1 into my cell phone. After talking to the Sikeston emergency folks, and then being transferred to the Highway Patrol, I hung up the phone and decided to tag the drunk driver, feeling a sort of sick fascination at the thought of witnessing those sly pigwolves responding to my own demands, as a free citizen and patriot of this great You Ess of Ay, and watching them slink up behind him and slash at his tendons and go for the throat, as is their wont. After following him for fifteen more minutes, he still wandering all over the roadway, sliding in the dusty shoulder and coming nail-bitingly close to another few vehicles who dared pass, we passed through Sikeston, beyond Sikeston, past at least two police vehicles going the opposite direction. He made for the I-55 exit towards Memphis with a sickening lurch, and disappeared. I called the police again, but they responded with general ambivalence, had no record of my first call, and offered to transfer me to the Highway Patrol once more. I told them to forget it, and resumed my faithlessness in American roadway justice. Why nab drunk good-ol boys in well-worn American rigs when there are all those doped-up longhairs and You-Ain't-From-'Round-Here-Boys, craving our white woman flesh, true degenerates whose supple arms are begging to be bent behind their backs.
Another gas station stop in Kentucky, spent every last dollar I had to put a few more gallons in the tank, muttered a silent prayer (silent muttering?) that I'd make it home with the slightly-more-than-half tank of gas. Kentucky is lovely at night, all Speed Zones and farmland and cafes and convenience stores still named after real people. I listened to as much of a Sartre audiotape that I could bear and, quietly accepting the evening's lessons, bore down towards I-24 and Tennessee and home, putting each cigarette off as long as I could, and enjoying each as much as I ever will. Tennessee met me with the smell of wild onions, lovely and warm in the air, though it may have just been a ripe landfill.