I suppose two years of nearly constant road travel isn’t too shabby a record for going without a car accident.
I left Boulder around noon, following a compliment to the General from a guy in an Audi wagon (I thought he was messing with me, but he said he used to drive a Jeep Cherokee…presumably before midlife and affluence befell him) and an injunction from the “between homes” guy who took a break from filling bicycle tires to help me fill mine not to write about him.
I was in a high frequency state to get from where I was to where I was going, the weather was clear and bright, the first five hours passed without note of much beyond the glaring statue of Lincoln marking the distance between Cheyenne and Laramie, and the memory of borrowing money from Jackie to get a place to sleep when 80mph winds closed the interstate down last year.
It had begun to tap rain when I pulled off the road in Sinclair, at a gas station by the same name; yards away I could see where the gas was being made, blowing darker grey fumes into the grey sky.
The pump wouldn’t spit my receipt, and I almost left it behind. But responsibility reigned and I went inside the store to request it.
A juvenile mother in an oversized hoodie was herding two little boys around the front counter while balancing one on her hip; she shook her head no when I asked if she was waiting in line.
She was, it seemed, waiting for a guy behind the counter, who was counting out a register drawer. The oldest little boy started kicking up a fuss about wanting beef jerky; the middle one seemed in danger of following suit.
“That’s my favorite, too,” I said, without meaning to.
The oldest boy looked up at me with an expression I recognized from my playground days—it was respect surprised at being won.
“I like chew,” he confided.
The mother smiled at me. “They call it chew,” she told me.
“My dad has chew,” the boy continued to intimate.
The conversation circulated this way for another moment, until I got my receipt, complimented the newly installed cashier on her earrings, learned she got them in Alaska, and headed for the door. Something possessed me to look back at the mother; she met my eyes and smiled with warmth that I felt all the way through.
The boy called after me with concern, “Aren’t you going to get chew?”
“I have some,” I told him half-truthfully, waved goodbye as he mumbled something into his shoulder while making what will later in his life prove to be very effective bedroom eyes, and went back out to the General full of the joy of these little moments of travel.
It gives me pause, though, when I look back now, because these little moments proved just enough to bring me into dangerous proximity with a Volvo sixteen-wheeler as I was merging into the single lane marked off dubiously by caution cones. I couldn’t tell which lane I was supposed to start from and which I was supposed to go into, and by the time I’d negotiated it, the truck was sneaking up in my blind spot and my first awareness of its presence was of a sort of tight, thick feeling in my left forearm. Seconds slowed way down as I ruminated “Maybe I’m getting close to something; maybe I should pull onto the shoulder; I don’t want to overcompensate and swerve into the ditch; maybe I’m just being paranoid.” I looked to my left and at the same time felt and heard the long scratch of his metal against mine. That tight thickness penetrated hard up into my neck and chin; I heard myself wail; I pulled off onto the shoulder just beyond where the orange cones ended and stopped the engine, heaving deep breaths to reassure myself of being alive as the tapping rain steadily blurred my view of the most modern oil refinery in the west.
The driver’s side rearview mirror was lopped off, hanging from its stump by a long extended spring, and there were a couple of thin gouges against the doorframe and the tire guards.
But when I turned the engine on again, it jumped to life without protest.
The biggest cost of the accident was the ticket I got from the state trooper for failing to properly follow the yield sign, and the splinting of my neck and shoulder muscles that kept me awake with headaches and nightmares for another couple of weeks after.