Friday, August 27, 2010

Road Trip

My motorcycle is for sale, so in case it was the last chance for a road trip, I took it on a quick visit to my family in the old home town. The journey started out in sweltering heat. Even though I knew better, I did not take a coat. There was a chance of rain by nightfall but I would arrive well ahead of any storm. When I checked, the weather front was far out in western Nebraska. I had plenty of time.

I have to say, the first 170 miles of the trip was not much fun. It was so hot that I stopped about every 30 or 40 miles to get a bottle of cold water and cool off in air conditioning. The heat rolling off the motorcycle and the road added to my misery whenever I had to slow down, but at highway speed it was tolerable. Instead of moldering away at a desk, where I sell my will to live by the hour, I was on the open road. No complaining allowed.

Late in the afternoon I could see a line of clouds in the west but they did not look like thunderheads. The blue behind them was the same color as the sky before them - just a thin line of innocent white clouds. I was not worried or in much of a hurry until the last fifty miles of the trip when it became clear those clouds were the leading edge of a storm full of lightning and coming in fast. I tried to remember if I had ever heard of a person struck by lightning while on a moving motorcycle. I rolled the throttle and rode hard.

Within seventeen miles of my destination, I had to pull over. It was not raining but the lightning was severe. The wind was gusting so hard that it was difficult to keep the bike in one lane. The final two towns on the drive home have no public places, no businesses where I could take shelter. I stopped in the driveway of a church with a tiny porch roof over a south door. No matter what, I was going to get wet. It was the possibility of being outdoors in 70 or 80 mph straight winds that worried me.

I waited at the church until it seemed the strong front winds had passed. It was not raining yet so I hit the road, riding as fast as I dared. Quite soon it was clear I was heading into a blinding rainfall. It was folly to stay on the road. An empty town that no longer has its own zip code was the last chance for shelter. I did not believe anyone lived there. I left the highway and headed for a collection of buildings. Amazingly enough, I turned a corner and there beneath the shelter of a sturdy porch roof, several people were relaxing in the cooling winds. I stopped and called to them, asking if I could take shelter with them. Even if they were ax murderers, they were a most welcome sight.

They were hospitable and apparently not practicing ax murders. I was warmly invited in and given a glass of iced tea which went down like the finest wine ever served. About forty-five minutes later, the rain passed and the western horizon lightened, so I took my leave. Though my boots were full of water by the time I made it to my stepfather's home, I was alive and well. I had not been struck by lightning, blown off the road , ax murdered or sucked up by a tornado. How lucky can a girl get?

The Last Town

Now, had I followed the original travel itinerary and left the next day at noon as scheduled, the fact that I did not have a coat would never have been an issue. Two of my classmates from the excellent graduating class of 1970 bc heard I was in town. Naturally, I had to wait until they got off work that evening. There was much to be discussed. I did not leave until about an hour before sundown. At least I would not be baking my brains in that helmet for the next four hours.

As soon as the sun went down, I was consumed by thoughts of my warm, snug fitting, tightly zippered, officially sanctioned Harley Davidson motorcycle jacket filled with a mysterious synthetic material that keeps a person's body heat from escaping into space. I could picture it clearly hanging in the closet where I left it the day before. Oh, I pined for it each time the road dipped into air temperature that felt to be 40 degrees! Mile after mile I rode through cold that was not pleasant, punctuated by brief spots of mild warmth. I stopped once to put on every shirt I had with me: a sleeveless shirt, a t shirt, and a long sleeved denim shirt. Even that much cotton was no match for seventy miles an hour through a cool Kansas night.

To distract myself from the cold, I began singing the Plastic Jesus song. At first I could not remember much of it but eventually recalled the two verses from the movie Cool Hand Luke.

Beneath a full moon on a windless night, it was a wonderful ride - not counting the cold. The prairie scents were rich in the cool air. Acres of domestic sunflower blossoms gave a rich green scent, wholesome and fertile. The miles of grasslands were clean, fresh, sweet. Something growing, maybe a particular tree, had a sharp peppery smell that lingered. I came across that scent several times and wondered what plant grew that possessed such a distinct, strong odor distinguished so clearly over all other plants. The corn fields smelled like sweet corn and summer, reminding me of my grandparents. The cool summer air itself was wonderful.

I sort of hope no one wants to buy my motorcycle.

Here's handsome Paul singing Plastic Jesus


Li'l Ned said...

I love the photo of the Last Town. Last Towns seems to be an iconic image (and presence) in the American West (and I include Kansas, even though it is currently 'MidWest' because for a long while it was the western frontier). Are there Last Towns in Pennsylvania? Illinois? Massachusetts? I am thinking of all the 'eastern' states I have been to -- not that many! But especially in the arid West and apparently, Great Plains, there are a lot of Last Towns. I am so glad you found one to take shelter in, amid non-ax-murderers, no less.

And thanks for the clip of the Handsome One singing that great song. Reminds me of the Plastic Cheesus night light I found at the Saturday Market in Eugene OR many years ago. I bought one for my sister and regrettably, passed up the opportunity to get one for myself.

Your description of the smells and sights of that prairie night made we want to head .... well, east! to get a taste for myself. Someday .........

Jackie said...

In the 50's, about 60% of the US population lived on farms. Now only 2% of the population does. Many, many "last towns", which is sad. The good news is that you can live in the nicest house in town - like my hosts last week!

Li'l Ned, I have one word for your plastic cheesus night light: EBAY!!!