I’d hoped to drive as far as Kate’s house in Indiana, but the snow was coming down too thickly; the roads seemed to be clear enough, but I couldn’t see enough to drive the speed limit.
I texted her “Sorry, I’m not going to make it” and tried not to mind too much when she expressed regret for my missing the Christmas party she’d intended to take me to. Her mention of the Greek lemon-chicken soup she was making for said party just about broke my heart.
By 10pm, I was too tired and starting to feel crazy encroaching on the back of my head. So I pulled off the interstate onto US-40, and followed it to a McDonald’s-cum-gas station where I used the Wifi to check the weather. The snow was scheduled to continue until just after midnight.
With some bare thoughts of using a quarter of what remained in checking account, I followed a sign a little farther along National Road.
I didn’t have the scratch to get a room, so I slept in the car.
By which I mean I took cramped 30-minute naps leaning my head down on the front seat divider, between which I ran the heater to thaw my toes.
The place looked as if someone had taken some trouble to decorate for Christmas, then lost interest midway through. It looked like the Coca-Cola commercials of my childhood…grainy, a bit dingy with age, relics of a lot of trouble someone took long ago.
I spoke on the phone with Graeme “Hunter-Gatherer” McPherson for the first time. He’s an IGer, photographer and traveler whom I’ve admired for some time. I’d set up the interview on purpose to be late (I was at least a couple hours ahead of him), and had popped a couple of melatonin just as he answered his phone. My hope was to talk to him until I fell asleep.
He was in Houston, planning bike travels through the south’s sunny winter. He’d just started dating a girl back in Montana. I was surprised to learn that his travels are funded by a big oil company, for whom he does cultural recon and on-site staff training.
I wasn’t really asleep when a knock came on my window. A man with a snuggle tooth and a complexion that spoke to many hours of driving without rest asked if I had any cigarettes. Sorrow drowned out the fear I knew I ought to be feeling, in response, as I said no, I didn’t smoke. I don’t know why I felt the need to add that extra, somewhat duplicitous detail. Hopefully so he’d just go away. That was what made me feel so sad. On a night like tonight, to refuse even the warmth of human kindness to someone made me feel colder.
The melatonin wore off within less than an hour, and the cold woke me up. I resorted to the last resort of all good Christians: I opened the Bible to read it. I read for who knows how long, and finally realized that the problem wasn’t lack of sleepiness. It was that my feet were not having it.
I turned the car back on and inched across the parking lot, taking more photos as I went. The motel was decked out, as best it could be, for Christmas. I wondered who was sitting at the front desk, at this hour. I thought through an entire mundane drama of walking in, sliding my debit card across the desk, inhaling the smell of stale cigarettes and instant coffee, apologetically avoiding the red-eyed gaze of whatever unfortunate was manning the desk that night.
I’d checked the weather well in advance, to find out when the snow was supposed to stop. Thirteen minutes before iPhone weather predicted its stoppage, I pulled off onto US-40 again and sallied forth into Indiana.