Cobwebbed eyes measure the interstates. Borders are irrelevant, if not for speed limits. Seventy in the South, sixty-five in the North. We care less about life at the bottom of the map. Heat and dust and grapes of wrath have us moderately insane. The gas pedal whines with my wavering foot, but no matter. Press on. At the other end of the state Bill unfolds route maps and worries. I have gone itinerant on you and, considering my flighty nature, you know, it was bound to happen.
Somewhere in Tennessee silhouettes of fleshy mountains are etched in the dark. Tents bolstered by the stars ahead. Another hill and I am there, at the base of the behemoth, but after each pinnacle there is a chasm and my wheels hurry greedily within and fall, like fluff. This is the cardiogram of night, of any night: a sinusoid that changes its mind so inconveniently. Here goes the first can of Coke, half-spilled on my white peasant shirt, the remaining half tasting of sweet awakeness.
Kentucky. The anonymous Kentucky creeps in with no welcome signs, no special recognition. Exemplary modesty, one could say. I am carefully inserted into the envelope of heavy fog and sealed inside. The night is opaque. Hades is puffing his pipe in the Underworld, smoking us out. Not much for courtesy. One more Coke before I yield to these heavy lids.
The endless Ohio. I arrive in Cincinnati in its most glorious hour. All alight and angular, a man-made organism. It breathes into me as I pass. Eyes flung open, mind sharp, I drink. The streets are barren but life palpitates, dormant like a hibernating animal. Ahead, the highway is all mine.
Columbus is a ghost town to which I have no desire to return. Creatures that sleep so peacefully make me drowsy. Not a twitch. Another tab clicks, contents effervesce and I look but straight ahead, where the night shudders undecided. Somewhere in this endless Ohio I bully a guy in an SUV to make it clear that I am awake and he is hardly. Petty delights of this monotonous drive. As I pass I take a sip and my aluminum goblet glistens in the moonlight. He is looking, I know. Adroitly I slide and sneak back into the safe lane, my alacrity conceited for sure. In my taillights he drowns ignobly. Another exit, an orange dot intermittent and I’m alone again.
Sun enters before Cleveland, for which I am grateful. But this is when sleep catches up with me and goads, the poisonous rat, the light of morning notwithstanding, and I slide from lane to lane, describe infinity on the road. I yell at myself. Concerned, I pinch my arm. Another can froths. Right and left there is nothing to entice, the eyes still trapped in long exposures. Although I am nervous I can’t conquer this wayward flesh that softens. A city, Cleveland, please. Please, sooner.
Along the water everything is different. After the Endless Ohio Pennsylvania is a meteor, short-lived eye candy. New York would be too, if it were not for tolls every ten miles. A full tank of tolls. It is right when you gain some speed that you can see the yellow booths up ahead where petulant people hand you unfathomable cards. A wordless transaction. Except for Niagara: there they smile and wish you a nice weekend.
Two more tolls and I am there. Cars line up in Fibonacci sequence. Passports ready. Origin engraved on backs of cars. New York, Michigan, Ohio, Ontario. Georgia. I advance before I am called. A border gaffe for which I am heavily reprimanded. The driver behind makes room for me to back up, contritely. Everyone is looking. I blush pathetically. Behind her dark glasses the officer’s expression is murderous and she scolds me again. I melt with shame for this poor introduction. First time in Canada? she demands. And with this question a door opens, a sort of crevice to look though which I do, thirstily, like children who don’t have money to go to the cinema but love the movies. The pleasures we fight for are so much more delicious than those we get effortlessly. What is the contentment of an American living in the States compared to mine?
There is a stamp on the passport, reluctantly granted I suspect, but my paranoia sometimes misleads me. In any case there is a river I cross and then a road, just one road with two lanes, where I am informed that in Canada the speed limit is 100 km/h, which is 60 mph if my math skills are poor. After my brazen driving heretofore the sluggishness feels bizarre. I crawl lento in the right lane, the big trucks passing me, everyone passing me. I am doing the right thing, at least, and hereby I imagine that I atone for advancing before I was called at the border and disrupting the events. No, nothing will atone for that. I am not a person of good introductions, after all. Never have been. I am hard pressed to imagine that anybody ever liked me the first time we met. I am for patience, forbearance, for second chances. For this reason I am not in a hurry to get anywhere.
You drove to Canada in one day? he asks later. Well I’ve looked at these Americans, always ready to get up and go, essentially a bunch of nomads without roots, balloons without strings. There is plenty of risk in this constant Brownian movement, of course, but there is also beauty in the breakdown and the possibility of happiness is always more attractive than decided unhappiness. I learn too, see? Few things are impossible and they seem even less so when you are doing them. I am telling you, on the other side there is more light and less fear and seventeen hours behind the wheel feel like a pat on the back, if anything. There are much harsher things in the world. Much worse places to be. Much more unfortunate shoes to walk in.