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Trucking the final ten miles to my first stop on the way out west.
I’ve been driving since just after 5pm.
I’m charging towards a wall of milky fog.
The fog is slithering all over the road.
It’s rising up my windshield as I drive farther.
Yellow diamond-shaped signs with ‘Deer X-ing’ are posted every few miles on this road.
I hit a high wall of fog. Now I’m driving blind. High beams make it worse.
I ease off the gas even though I just want to plow through these last ten miles and get some sleep.
But there could be a deer standing in this stewy, soggy fog.
There could be anything in here.
Mind phantoms dance in the fog.
Shapes that look like an animal or a human face with a giant forehead. Big teeth.
It’s like picking shapes out of storm clouds.
The green glowing numbers on my speedometer flicker.
Every light on my truck dies.
I’m bowling blind through the night. Release the accelerator completely.
The lights return.
Then the needle on the speedometer jumps from 40mph to 60mph.
But my pedal pressure is the same as it has always been. The RPMs are the same. They are not whining louder.
Though the fog makes it hard to tell, I am driving the same speed.
The needle quivers and dives down to zero miles per hour.
But I’m still going at a speed that feels like 40mph.
Now the speedometer licks up to 40 but then crashes to zero. Whips across the entire dial to point at 100mph.
All lies. My speed is not changing. The needle is possessed.
The truck is old.
She’s mechanically sound, but she has emotional problems.
Just under ten more miles to Warren.
I got sick of hearing my music and wanted some quiet.
Running in silence. Deaf to the engine hum after these hours.
Rhodie, the truck, starts beeping.
I slap the dash. The beeping stops. The engine starts hiccuping and coughing. It makes the ride bumpy.
If I break down, I can pull the bike out of the bed and get to town.
And then…what? Nothing will be open. Still. I can bike somewhere. I can do something. Or I can pull over, pull my sleeping bag out of the back, and nap in the cab till dawn.
Let some cop rap on the window with his flashlight. Demand to search the truck.
Rhodie, get it together.
We are this close to town. Get me a few miles more and tomorrow, I will buy you everything you want and anything you need. Fluid top off, new spark plugs, spa day, you name it.
The lights flicker again.
Those clunking sounds in the engine jolt the driver’s seat.
Little farther, please.
I pull off the road, cross a bridge, and drive through a brick downtown.
My Airbnb is only point eight miles away.
I park in a garage across the street as instructed by the host. Grab the two most important bags from the bed. Pull the bike out too. Pull a tarp over the landscaping supplies and food. They’re not as attractive to thieves as the bike would be.
With two backpacks and one guitar on my back, I bike to the Airbnb.
The first-floor door is unlocked. That’s weird.
I walk the bike up three flights of stairs.
My Airbnb’s room is unlocked, too. I call into the room to see if the unlocked door is because the host or last guest is still inside. Or if someone broke into this Airbnb.
No answer. Tiny kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom are all empty. All closets empty. There’s a key on a red piece of yarn on the table. I lock the door and go to bed.
I find a note on a chair I didn’t see last night explaining the unlocked doors. Honor system.
The place is very clean. The bedroom and kitchen are squished into one room. The closet-sized bathroom with a plastic cubicle for a shower crammed into it. It looks retrofitted. Like the apartment didn’t always have a shower.
Showered and shaved, I’m walking on the same street I drove down last night with brick buildings on either side. I pass a stone statue. The bridge over the river I drove across. I want to check the bed of the truck for missing items.
A woman in a parka and gloves is walking past me. She says good morning and smiles. I say it back, surprised. Two more people do this.
In the parking garage, nothing is missing from the truck bed.
This town. No litter. Nobody sleeping behind dumpsters. No locks on the Airbnb. Every stranger says hello.
Clearly, they don’t know about evil in Warren, Pennsylvania.
I need to do one more day of work before my vacation begins. I work from my laptop in a cafe all day. It has a few tables and big leather chairs with a coffee table near a gas fireplace.
“I don’t recognize you,” the barista says when I order an Americano and breakfast burrito.
She is surprised to see someone new. I’m surprised she expects to recognize her customers.
I explain the truck. The journey west. The land. She beams.
Halfway through the workday, I step out to buy a phone charger.
When I come back, the manager makes eye contact with me.
“How’s your road trip going?” she asks. “How’s the truck?”
I ask how she knows about those things.
“Word gets around fast here,” she says.
The coffee shop empties out. I’m still working.
“Are you closing?” I ask the manager.
She is wiping tables down with a rag.
“Oh, we closed ten minutes ago, but you looked so busy we let you stay. I just can’t let you back in once you leave.”
I thank her. Finish work. Bag up the laptop and cables. Say goodbye.
It’s time to check the truck’s fluid levels.
Test a couple of theories about what caused last night’s moodiness in drive performance.
I come back to the parking garage with my bags.
A yellow parking ticket is tucked under the wiper blade of the truck. Thirty-five dollars. Payable by mail or online.
I just became the only criminal in Warren.
Time to hit the road.
To be continued