The last stretch was fairly uneventful. Driving silently through the sea of redwoods, I lost myself in my second time through Moby Dick… such an absorbing book, I dove deeper this time, and could go deeper still on a third, for it is a work as vast as the ocean itself. I stopped off at a bar in some forlorn little town deep in the california north woods for a whiskey to ease off the headache I’d accumulated from too much driving. Inside there was a small but rowdy crowd of locals acting like total drunken assholes. They fought each other, they fell off their stools, they jeered and cranked the jukebox to its maximum. I had to nurse the whiskey since I had more driving to do, but it was hard to stay. I watched a couple not so much as dance as dry-hump each other to The Black Crow’s rendition of “Hard to Handle.” Outside, a woman screamed at a guy with long, flowing hair and a soul patch that his big, black hummer was a “faggot mobile.”
I paid my bill and left as quick as wheels would carry me… but not before a fat mexican man stopped me in the parking lot to say: “What’s the matter? Can’t find a girl in there?” When I explained I was just moving through on tour and not really looking since I’m engaged he said, “So, you just want some last pussy before you get home huh?” I again explained that I was not and that I had just wanted to ease off the final stretch of the drive with a quick drink and he says, “There’s a motel right there across the street.” Now I can’t tell if he’s some kind of backwoods pimp, or what. I say I’m going to keep moving and he taps the hood of my car and says “You be safe, now.”
Not sure what to make of this I turned the conversation over in my mind as I moved on through the blackness. Brilliant stars poking through the ragged treetops high above me. Place after place I stopped, but deemed not right for the night. Plus I wasn’t yet tired, and was deep in a really good section of Moby Dick. Finally, I pulled to a stop in a deserted section of the road in a deep, wide turnout for semis with nothing around but one blinking yellow light advertising a dangerous turn ahead. I still wasn’t tired, but I realized with a start that I’d been driving for near 12 hours, and figured that was enough. As I made my bed in the back of the subaru, I caught my reflection in the window. A bearded, dirty bum in dirty pants. Sleeping in his car on the side of the road. This? This is the last summer of my twenties? Living like a beggar on the road, pissing in the dirt, sleeping in a bag as semis roar past? It was an exceedingly dark moment.
So afraid of this vision I was that the minute I woke up I piled everything back in and took off like a maniac for oregon. There would be no stopping till Portland. The final stretch is the hardest and longest. This is because there is nothing potentially “new” or exciting ahead, only the familiar, and with each mile closer you get, the more acutely you feel the ache to just be there already and to hell with the next 300 miles. My back developed a severe twinge and I had to stop and iron it out, just as the blacksmith tells Ahab there is but yet one crease he cannot make smooth. So mine would not go away. As the final preparations for the white whale are made I was filling my final tank in southern oregon, and as all perished in the swirling vortex I was on the outskirts of Portland… and only I alone survived to tell you.
Coming back from a long voyage alone is strange. Or rather, you are strange. Things have happened in your absence that you do not yet understand, and you are a stranger in your own place & time. Romney has somehow pulled ahead of Obama. The crazy neighbor has moved out. The neighbors have bedecked themselves in huge heaps of halloween gimmickry. The air is cooler, crisper. The cornstalks are all dried and dead. Fall has arrived in your absence. Summer isn’t ending, it is ended, and all without you being around to notice.
Still, it is good to be home. Good to soak in the tub. Good to eat a home-cooked meal. Good to rest in your bed, and not feel a hobo adrift in strange, hostile woods. It is good.