The road

Originally published December 2014

You’re driving out of California and trailing a storm, the road still wet from the rain that passed ahead of you. The backroads you take to get from your small town to the big interstate are covered in mud, having recently been under water. You feel lucky you didn’t leave a day earlier when roads might have been impassable to your rented minivan.

You hope you can stay behind the storm and that it dies out soon. It doesn’t really rain in the desert, right? Isn’t that whyit’s desert? You expect endless blue skies (and maybe a bit of smog) once you reach southern California. You get not much of either.

It hits you hard once you reach Phoenix and turns into an almost blinding rain by the time you roll into that night’s destination (Tucson). After a good six hours of sleep and a hearty breakfast at Best Western’s companion restaurant, which is way better than it has to be, you continue eastward under gray skies. The dogs don’t like the rain, but they do like road trips. Maybe it’s the close accommodations, everyone within eyesight at all times. A sleepy dog opens her eyes, lifts her head, sees everyone is there, puts her head back down, dreams of little mammals.

In New Mexico, you can’t tell if you’re looking at dark storm clouds or the gray of distant mountains. Most of the time, you’re seeing both, and you again find yourself in the misty nothingness of highway spray from 18-wheelers. They barely slow for the rain and you wonder if it’s balls, experience or stupidity that keeps them moving. Maybe the desperation of an unyielding schedule and fears of no pay for late arrival.

You wait until you’ve crossed the Texas border to grab lunch at Whataburger. It’s about four miles from New Mexico in a town called Canutillo. It’s just right, exactly how you remember it, and you marvel at how taste memory is so specific and so easy to access.

As you drive the endless road that is I-10 through west Texas, you appreciate a bit of blue above. It makes it easier to snap pictures of the border patrol trucks driving up and down the barbed wire fence. Mexico is so close you can throw an empty Lone Star out the window and litter in another country. You wonder what would happen if you park on the shoulder, crawl through the fence to pee behind a bush and get stopped by the border patrol on the way back. You decide to hold it until Van Horn.

Flying J/Pilot has the cleanest bathrooms, so you plan your stops around their locations. You wonder if the pickled and preserved food in jars with homemade looking labels is made by a nearby little old lady or a huge company like Nestle or Halliburton. You can’t remember the brands from location to location, so you plan to pay more attention on the way back. Not because you want to buy any of it, but because you like the idea of locals plying their wares in big truck stops to people from far away.

When you roll into Houston, it’s raining hard and traffic is at a standstill. The familiar and expected. Within a few hours it feels as if you never left, as if the adobe house with a view of the Pacific is a sweet dream from a long afternoon nap. Familiar faces at your company party, at a gathering of friends, at your boyfriend’s mother’s house, at your favorite Tex-Mex place. Joyous reunions, promises to come visit, unwelcome allergies, welcome queso.

You can’t wait to see your family on Christmas Eve. To enjoy the comfort of Home. The excitement of your niece and nephew waiting for Santa. The soul familiarity of family. You hope to not overwhelm them with your excitement to see them but know they’ll forgive you if you do.

Happy holidays.

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