The highway rises and falls, makes subtle curves through grass-covered hills dotted with tall, white windmills. The moon is almost full, and casts a still light across the land. Only my car keeps moving. The giant arms of the windmills are frozen in place, completely still, like the moonlight. And they have no point, no purpose, no reason for being. But I like them better this way. Like massive pieces of art, without any discernible meaning. They seem more alive, more aware. They appear watchful. I imagine them having windless, existential crises. And maybe I’m not alone, though the road is empty for as far as I can see.
I follow the signs for Interstate-5 and turn south just after midnight. I drive past endless acres of farmland, forgotten land of California, not mentioned in the travel brochures. Because there are no beaches or Palm trees or whatever California is supposed to be. But it’s here. The valley at the heart of the state, but almost apart from it. I drive past almond groves, walnuts, pistachios. Then rows upon rows of vines growing wine. I don’t remember any of this, though I've made the drive dozens of times. It all gets blocked out of my mind by the distinct odor that lingers for miles around the sprawling cattle farms. The smell lingers in memory. Methane, manure and mud.
Radio stations tune in and out, and turn to static through these abandoned stretches of highway. Between gas stations and motels, where there’s nothing but the occasional pair of speeding headlights. Cars that don’t stop. Everyone's just passing through. This is the place where the clouds go on clear, starry nights, so they won’t be disturbed. And the darkness is so immense that headlights can barely see the road. The road is short. A few feet, at most. Ahead of me, the end is always in sight, but never gets closer. The speedometer reads 90 now, but I have my doubts.
Maybe the dashed lane lines streaking by are just an illusion--amphetamine-induced hallucinations. Maybe I’m marooned upon a treadmill island of highway. Maybe I shouldn’t take any more amphetamines.
I pass little clusters of fast food joints, and gas stations with employees that seem to only exist for the length of a shift. Then they disappear, return to invisible homes, or underground lairs. A subterranean fall-out shelter beneath a Subway restaurant on the side of I-5. They must live somewhere. Because when their shift begins tomorrow, they’ll reappear, and man the gas stations like lazy lighthouse watchmen, taking extra cigarette breaks, leaning back against neon signs, leaving their spent butts beneath the backlit numbers of dollars per gallon. They stand watch at the only points of light for miles in all directions. Only they determine whether I’m actually moving, whether I’m getting closer to home. The open road is not a place. It is a period of time, measured by gas station attendants, who turn the lights on when it gets dark.
Every twenty or thirty miles, a Chevron or Shell or 76 or Arco or Love’s or Valero or Mobil--a fluorescent gas station. Then nothing. A sign on the side of the highway reads, “Next Gas: 26 mi.” I’ll believe it when I see it.
It comes in the form of a Mobil station with gift shop. I need gas at some point, and this is some point with a gift shop. And I really wonder what a Mobil gas station might sell in a gift shop. So I take the off ramp, and pull up to one of the pumps.
They sell Mobil coffee mugs, a few San Francisco Giants hats, and mostly porn. There are at least a dozen different adult magazines. I didn’t know people still bought porno mags. Most of them are sealed in plastic wrapping. Probably so that lonely, horny, long-haul truckers can’t sneak a peek without buying anything. There are also some DVDs for sale. Mostly porn, with a few regular, Hollywood titles lost amongst the more mature parodies.
Spaceballs is on sale for $3.99, but I’m not sure whether it's the original, or a porno remake. It could be just a bunch of fucking staged on some low-budget set that vaguely resembles a spaceship . All of the DVDs are in generic black cases, with hand-written labels. So it's impossible to be sure. But this is worth buying, even if it isn’t the original. I wouldn’t mind watching a pornographic remake. So I put $20 on pump 4, and pay $6.somethingcents for Spaceballs and an energy drink. I take more amphetamines. I know I said I shouldn’t take anymore, but at the end of the day, they’re pills prescribed by a doctor. They’re not prescribed to me, but really, what’s the harm in a few more milligrams? I’ll let you know. #highway #home #interstate #california #environment #setting #drugs #ontheroad #alone #drive #allnight #wannabe #writing #descriptive #physical #medicine #homeforchristmas