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Note from the Middle… of the road.

September 12, 2012

August 25. leg 1

I’m supposed to be hitting the road by noon.  I’m supposed to have already sent boxes by media mail, the cheapest way to ship weighty items when time is not of the essence.  I am a great planner, but not always an awesome executor of plans.

Something I learned the hard way that will hopefully save someone some trouble in the future; “Media mail” aka ‘book rate’ is available only within the 48 contiguous United States.  You are shit out of luck in Puerto Rico, Alaska, and anywhere else beyond the classic US map silhouette.  Flat rate priority mail, is another great option provided by the USPS; as much stuff as you can fit in the box provided, up to a weight of 20lbs.  I’m a kinetic learner and a visual learner.  This means that it doesn’t matter that the USPS online site gives the dimensions of the “large” flat-rate shipping box, I need to physically see the dimensions to understand with my non-mathematical brain that we have differing definitions of “large”.  Re-packing my ‘large’ box into two of their ‘large’ boxes would be the same cost as shipping my one ‘large’ box via UPS.  It is this back and forth between the Eagle Rock Post Office and the Atwater Box Bros. Shipping Center that has me leaving Los Angeles, sweaty and irritated at four pm.  But I am on the road.

I can’t access any car snacks because the interior is packed Beverly Hillbillies style, and the mini cooler is wedged between the passenger seat and the glove compartment.  The organic corn chips and seaweed snacks are a jumble of packages buried under a stash of zip lock baggies, cutlery and napkins.  It’s an OCD nightmare.  I drive in the curb lane with my eyes forward because I cannot risk looking to my right or I may have a panic attack.  I take solace in the fact   I   am  on  the  road.  I did not have to postpone.  I did not have to concede defeat to the planning gods.  It is a pyrrhic victory.

Another detail on which I am steadfast in my obstinance is that I will not spend my first night in Vegas.  Las Vegas is the antithesis of what this trip is about;  spiritual connection, peacefulness and meditation.  Night falls on my approach to Vegas.  It is a city best seen at night, her beauty and artifice cannot be appreciated by natural light.  Las Vegas is the Blanche Dubois of the United States, the city is coquettish with light and befriends shadows.  Despite my best intentions I cannot blow past her.  The gas pump icon glows a ghoulish orange on the dash.  I exit and refuel at a sketchy looking Shell station on the wrong side of The Strip.  I have been driving hard for four-plus hours non-stop.  It takes less than fifteen minutes to refuel and void my bladder.  I get back on the I-15, pushing my nearly ten year old car up hill at a steady speed of 80 miles an hour.  I have to get to Utah on night one.

Past the city lights of Vegas, the night is inky black and peaceful.  Occasionally there are other headlights but it’s just me on the open road, surrounded by infinite darkness.  I’m feeling quite pleased with myself.  I see a falling star – a shot of green light falls from the sky.  It’s a good omen.  Or it’s a Martian crash landing.  Either way, it’s an extraordinary sight and therefore lucky.  A few miles further, fireworks spontaneously light up the eastern horizon.  I’m growing weary but my efforts are being celebrated!  This is a version of the magical thinking that Joan Didion talks about in her memoir of grief.  I am recently orphaned but a benevolent energy smiles on me.

And then this happens.

WTF.

SERVICE ENGINE SOON.

My breathing is shallow.  I begin to chant to keep from passing out.  Squeezing the steering wheel with white knuckled intensity, I call on Ganesh, the Hindu deity and remover of obstacles while I compute the miles to the next big town.  There are no more fireworks.   I’ve noted that this stretch of highway has no shoulder to speak of, and the brightest light in the infinite darkness is the screaming orange of the SERVICE ENGINE SOON light.

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