12 January 2010

Road Work

How could something he had passed so many times be such a puzzle? It was that sign, the big one not too far off the beltway interchange. Huge for a simple road sign, it said:

Columbus 420 miles
St. Louis 845 miles
Denver 1700 miles
Cove Fort   2200 miles

For being so big, it was remarkably devoid of truly useful information. Unless, he muttered, one is going to Columbus, St. Louis, Denver or...Cove Fort? Where the hell is Cove Fort? And why would I want to drive 2,200 miles to get there? Silence, except for the hum of tires on worn and weary pavement. A radio turned up enough to listen, but not enough to hear. He sucked air through his teeth, knowing the answer.
Because There is a hell of a long way from Here. And There is maybe where I want to be. Sonofabitch.

The dashboard glow was getting brighter as the car followed its lead into the west of the setting sun. Another frantic steel salmon in the red glow of a taillight river. The low sky was a dusty peach, and above a huge platter of steel-gray clouds, high and thin, was creeping its way towards the light. He was entranced by the image, mildly bothered by not having his camera. The scene made him shiver, from an excess of beauty and dread. The traveling sky, as metaphor for...this? cracks a wry grin on his face. Beauty always losing out to the beast. Too bad.

The car rolls along down the low grade towards the bridge over the river, bottoming out high over the water below. Tonight, as always, he is mildly surprised at just how high the bridge seems to be above the river. The river itself seems modest, not like the deep canyons out west, and a pale shadow of the worldbeaters like the Amazon. Even with its smallish hills and demure demeanor, it appealed immensely to his sense of place. He could orient himself, get his bearings simply by thinking of the river he had come to call his own.
At least, that used to be the case. Lately, the river only served to intensify the longing he felt to move, to go away...ride the river of his mind and heart and let it carry him wherever it would. He laughed, knowing full well if he rode this river, he'd only end up almost right back where he started, just a short drive from his home. And where was the adventure in that? He sighed. None, none...

He downshifted as the car bottomed out on the perigee of the bridge, gravity tug slight as he prepared to accelerate up the hill. Slingshot of the earth, car poised on a reverse bowstring, he fancied it flinging him at the speed of sound to the west. What a trip, he said, What a trip that would be. I could get out of here, no strings, no questions, maybe move so fast the pressure in my head would be left here in the valley.

To be washed away by the river.
He pushed the accelerator hard, trying to edge away from a maniac truck coming up behind him. They always did that, carrying too much inertia from the downslope on the opposite bank. It was game of sorts, they barrel down the hill, he would wait to get just above the bottom of the curve then hit the gas. He took a weird satisfaction from seeing them fall behind, too much mass, beaching whales on the asphalt river. He smiled smallishly, quickly fading as it hit him just how pathetic it was when this was entertainment.

Christ in a Cadillac...what has become of what I used to be?  Cove Fort flashed into his head, neon letters and a big red arrow pointing west. By the side of the highway of his mind, an old man in worn overalls and a tattered leather hat stared at him, shaking a grizzled head and pointing down the road.

The driver blinked and gasped. What the hell...? The split in the highway was coming up, one fork off to the left leading to the place he slept but couldn't call home. The main branch continued off to the right, heading west. The road was gilded by the dying peach-gold rays of the sun, and the stream of tailights waggled like fish in the river, throwing off sparks. He felt the tug, the impulse trembling into his hands and for slow second the car drifted to the right...I could go to Cove Fort, right now, just drive, and probably no one would know or care until I was out west where the "wind blows tall" just like Tom Waits said...

...I could...
...I could...

...but I won't.
The impulse died. The car drifted back to the left, another timid fish forsaking the deep. One hand reaches up and wipes away a bead of moisture from the corner of his eye. Cove Fort, or freedom or whatever it was...would have to wait.


  1. Just in case you really don't know where Cove Fort is...
    It's in the dead-ass middle of nowhere in central Utah. The perfect destination for road tripping, cuz the mud fort has been restored and set up as a museum complete with folks in period costume to tell you all the stories.
    I'll stop and write your name on the bathroom wall next time I drive through...

  2. Muddy Gap, Wyoming... a place in the void of nothing, where even jackrabbits pretend to go; now that's place to write about when here is nowhere.

    I really dig: "Slingshot of the earth, car poised on a reverse bowstring, he fancied it flinging him at the speed of sound to the west. What a trip, he said, What a trip that would be."

  3. I think you should drive to Cove Fort. Keep your eyes on the road and your hands upon the wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaall. Ba da dee daung daung!

  4. I always use the inertia trick when I'm driving up to visit the family. It's mountains all the way and my mini-van needs all the help it can get.


  5. excellent
    as usual
    it does get boring, doesnt it?
    youre right
    its not boring
    love the milds
    and sharing the alone-ness
    great sutff

  6. Fabulous descriptive writing, Mr. Gumbo! You should head South for Mardi Gras, and leave all of that snow behind!


"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...