On The Road—Pushing On

Brian J. Sullivan

A lone RV bus towing an additional vehicle is heading northward. Collectively these RV's were known as "snow birds" because before the start of each winter, they headed south to a warmer climate. Now that spring had arrived, they would be heading back up north. This was their yearly ritual.

I, however, am heading south, after surviving another harsh winter. This will be my second drive down south to exhibit at an art fair this season. The fuzzy orange glow from my odometer/clock shows it is nearing 3:00 am. Eyes weary, I have now been on the road for 18 hours. Billboards advertising Motel 8, lit with powerful spot lights, beckon me at my most vulnerable time. I resist the temptation. Mile after mile I fight the battle over sleepiness. The constant rhythm and monotony of the truck tires over the control joints in the highway further add to my sleepiness. Thump, thump, thump. It never changes, except when I occasionally drift over the edge of the highway and run over the safety grooves along the edge. Its teeth chattering staccato startles me, at least for the next couple of miles before my pounding heart returns to normal.

Attached to my windshield by a suction cup bracket is a small black multi-purpose radar detector and compass. As I am extremely tired, I turn its sensitivity and volume way up. Its unpredictable beeps to phantom radar signals will help keep me awake. Occasionally, such loud chirping noises prove to be an actual radar trap. To be sure, I always slow down at each warning.

A large-type atlas and folder containing the art fair info sit on the passenger seat, along with an open bag of partially eaten Cheetos and the remains of several Hersheys candy bar wrappers. Behind this seat is a well-worn suit case with wobbly wheels and a broken pull handle. It contains my essentials like shorts, T-shirts, and shaving kit.

In the distance, clouds form mysterious shapes against the early morning sky. Like a Rorschach inkblot test, I mistakenly believe I see Moses, Chief Running Bull, and John Lennon. I find meaning in totally random shapes where no meaning exists. My mind wanders.

My cell phone rings, scaring the bejesus out of me. In the darkened cabin of my van I fumble for it. I locate its tightly wound cord attached to my cigarette lighter and follow it back to the phone, while trying to keep my eyes on the road ahead of me. It is a fellow art fair friend who is also fighting fatigue. Our conversation helps keep both of us awake for the next 100 miles.

Occasionally, off in the distance ahead of me, small red lights glow, growing larger and more recognizable as I speed up and pass these lone semis, only to be in total darkness again a few moments later, except for the dim glow of my headlights ahead of me.

I set the cruise control to 70 mph and let the van drive itself, being much too tired to consistently coordinate and monitor my speed between my foot and the reading on the dash. I place both hands firmly on the wheel at the 10 and 2 positions and begin to sing loudly to myself to help keep alert, but no words come out; the effort is too great.   

Road kill along the highway, some rather fresh, takes on some symbolic meaning in my delusional state. I ponder my own fate, this silent killer called the automobile. And even if it can't be seen, the pungent odor of a dead skunk leaves no question of its finality for several miles.

The silhouettes of young deer can be seen in groups of three or four, grazing in the fields adjacent to the highway, unaware of the dangers the vehicles pose to them. Their attention is focused on foraging for leftover corn from the fall harvest, missed by the super-sized combines.

Trees barren since last fall are beginning to  show signs of life as tiny green buds emerge from the tips of each branch. Spring is not far away.

Alligators are what the State Troopers call the re-tread tires that have separated from the original tire and now lie mangled in pieces along the side of the highway. This particular road has much debris along the side.

Rising above the Plaines are cellular towers, like small oil derricks appearing every three miles with their two blinking red lights on top to warn passing planes of their existence. They are man-made and do not seem to fit in among the fields. 

Across the barren fields, away in the distance one can see the illuminated night sky caused by the lights of a city. Upward, like a giant beacon, its lights fade into the night until darkness becomes too strong. Constellations become visible beyond this point.

I yawn and then yawn again. I try to stretch, but I am confined by my seat belt. I flip on my interior light. Strapped to my sun visor are CDs of music and books on tape. Titles are arranged alphabetically in separate slots. I choose some high energy AC/DC and crank up the volume. This will be good for another 50 to 60 miles. I take a drink from the blue plastic sports squeeze bottle and replace it back in its holder on the floor console. In reserve, on the passenger floor, I keep an old Coleman gallon water jug filled with ice water.

Signs at an approaching exit ramp announce such distant towns: Tuscola pop. 13,900. Arcola pop. 3,298. They hold little meaning for me.

I drive on, mile after mile.

Long forgotten, a small white cross with some unreadable inscription and a wreath of faded plastic flowers hanging diagonally is half hidden among the scruffy grass just before the tree line. I do not stop. There will be more.

Extremely tired, I pull into my driveway. It has been a profitable art fair, renewing old acquaintances and making new ones.