It feels like it took so much longer than it really did to get from Point A to *counts on fingers* *sings the alphabet song* Point E. But here I am, safe and sound in the land of Sunshine and 65° weather in November.
I truly feel for all y’all back in Wisconsin where it’s cold and snowy this week, though I’m sure it’s quite lovely to look at. I hear it’s getting up to 40° this weekend? How fun. Oh wait – my bad. Just checked my phone and it’s saying it’s currently 78° here. Well that’s nice. Ok. But back to Wisconsin. Back to– to– I’m sorry, what were we talking about?
Oh snow. Right.
So. The trip. Driving. Flagstaff to Pasadena on Monday 11/17 after countless hours behind the wheel, rocking out to the same 15 or so mix-CDs again and again and again…
Toward the latter half of my travels I actually left the radio off quite a bit. Just sat back, relaxed into a seat that knows me by now, and watched the miles speed past in silence. Up, up, up to 7,000 feet above sea level, down to 6, down to 4, back up to 6… The road is long, and far too wide for never actually being as wide as you wish it was when semi trucks–
I’m sorry. I have to interrupt.
I’m writing this at a coffee shop that’s actually kinda packed given that it’s a Tuesday afternoon, and every other table is taken over by someone grading papers, while those in between are taken over by people north of 60 using fancy expensive tech, and I’m on a couch next to a guy who’s working on a project overburdened with binders and hi-liters and we keep humming along to the same snippets of the 80s tunes piping in off the shop’s Hall & Oates station on Pandora, and the college students at the table across from me are talking about Jonah (of “and the whale” fame) and homework and it’s just really… nice.
I drove. Mostly in silence. Stopped for an iced coffee lunch at a gas station Dunkin Donuts in Kingman, AZ. Walked around at rest stops, enjoyed the sunshine, the high, bright sky, the bristly, brushy plants pockmarking the shoulders of 40 West. Talked to God, talked to Alfred, talked to myself. Had brilliant writing ideas; forgot them. Had other brilliant writing ideas, scrawled them down on post-its, read them back to myself later, realized they were not actually brilliant, pitched them into random trash receptacles at gas stations in the desert.
Ok but this coffee shop, though. Half the men here are craaazy tall, and oh my my my so many pairs of khaki cargo shorts I feel like I walked into a camping ad. And the women are all doing that thing where everything they’re wearing looks great together in spite of being comprised entirely of stuff that went out of style 25 years ago and is in patterns that were never intended to go together.
So anyway, I’m driving along I-40 W, enjoying the sun and the silence and the dipping in and out of hilly parts and flat parts and brown parts and gray and yellow and white and black parts. Landscape open and wide and windswept, and places charred black like coal with terribly appropriate names like “Quemado.” And there won’t be a good place to stop for gas for a while, so even though my tank is half full, I pull off the freeway to buy the most expensive fuel of the trip so far: $3.49/gallon.
They serve food there, the sign says. Indian food. And there’s a shop. Excellent. I don’t think I need anything, but you know – maybe something will strike my fancy. Maybe I’ll discover a need. A slushee need. An energy drink need. A Chick-O-Stick need.
And I’m filling up my tank, and there’s this guy at the pumps across from mine, and he’s white haired and shirtless and sun worn, and he’s digging through the trash while his dog looks on – black and average-dog-like and quiet – and he’s tucking his finds into the basket on the back of his bicycle. And I’ve got Wheat Thins and granola bars and stuff with me for the trip so, you know – grab some, give it to the guy, pet the dog, go inside for a look around, then leave. That’s the plan.
Except I hand over the stuff from my car and the man is — he’s not entirely there? And he’s got this kinda surprised look on his face that could just be how he looks? And his name is Harry and he calls his dog Pal, and he talks like he’s got a couple of strokes to look back on, and it’s hot out and sunny… So I go inside, chat with the guy behind the register (it’s his first day, he tells me; best of luck, man) and pick up some other stuff for Harry. Like water, and bananas, and peanuts, and the most over-priced beef jerky west of Oklahoma. And I go back outside and hand the sack of groceries to Harry on the way back to my car, and Pal asks for some head scratches, and Harry tells me about the book of Hebrews, and it is at that point I realize Harry has no teeth.
In the best intentioned ignorance I could apparently muster, I just gave a bunch of tooth-demanding foods to a man who cannot chew.
Oh my God, Ruth. Just — just get back in your car. Lend a hand from a distance. Get back on the highway.
So I’m back on the highway. And it’s criss-crossing this no man’s land in a way that looks haphazard, but is born out of years of This Is The Best Way To Move Past These Mountains experiences, and we all slow down for long swaths of construction, but you can’t help but be grateful for people willing to repair these roads in the middle of nowhere. And for the mountains that anchor the deserts on all sides. And for the generations that drove these roads before you were ever born so there would be gas stations and rest stops right when you need them.
I got to my final stop in Pasadena around 4 pm local time. Greeted my friend Becca, greeted her dog, greeted the website for the City of Pasadena, to whom I am paying $3 a day to park my car over night. And it was good. So, so good. Some friends just always feel like home. It’d been 13 months since I’d last been in this house, but it felt like it’d only been days; corners here and there dusted with corgi hair, boxes of tea in the kitchen, and every bookshelf in its place.
Friendship is miraculous. Feeling God’s love through other people is life.
And I’m so paranoid about parking fines that I think I need to wrap things up here at the coffee shop so I can check my car and make sure I didn’t get a ticket in spite of parking in a totally legal spot. Except that I don’t want to leave because the sun has just come through the window on the far side of the building and it’s lighting up my hands as I type so it’s hard to see what I’m doing but it’s so nice I don’t want it to go away. I’ve watched the turnover of three different crowds come and go, though, so I suppose it’s time to relinquish my table. Let someone else sit in the glare before it runs out.
Welcome to California.