Daily Archives: July 31, 2014

Life Is a Highway

Due west of Salt Lake City, out past the big smelly pond that lends the city its name, and beyond the outermost fringes of suburbia, the landscape seems to open up. The dome of the sky, which feels much closer back home, suddenly pulls away from you and soars up to an untouchable height. You find yourself in a dried-out, otherworldly place, with few signs of human encroachment. A line of telephone poles, their bases crusted white with salt left behind by the receding lake. A lone factory refining minerals from that same dead sea. A 1950s motor lodge, long since boarded up and abandoned, the painted doors of its rooms bleaching into pastel shades in the sun. And the road, of course, the endless double ribbon of a divided highway unrolling across the floor of the basin, then slanting up into the hills in the distance before dropping to the bottom of the next valley over, rinse and repeat all the way to California.

Traffic is different out here too. The tight, congealed knots of cars you endure in city driving relax, and the space between the vehicles increases almost imperceptibly until you realize there’s a half-mile or more between you and the next one ahead, and the last one behind. That constant sense of defensive urgency you feel while commuting fades.

Out here, the outpost towns are a hundred miles apart with nothing in between, and you and the other drivers around you are long-haulers. The college-age kid in a Subaru station wagon, its windows obscured by boxes and garbage bags of possessions, on her way to a new, exciting phase of life. The middle-aged, pot-bellied salesman in the ten-year-old sedan with a couple of dress shirts hanging from the hook above the back seat and a quota to meet. A family in a mini-van, with Disney princesses on the flatscreen monitor in the rear to placate the bored kids. An RV towing an economy car, which will become a shuttlecraft once the big mothership docks someplace for the week. And the big rigs, of course, the eighteen-wheelers that snarl and claw their way up the inclines while you roll right past them like mobile cliff faces in a range that spans the country.

I’m barreling along in my Mustang with the cruise control holding the speedometer at 80. The top is down and  a hot crosswind tugs at the steering wheel. A mild stinging sensation is beginning to penetrate into the skin on my cheeks and my bare shoulders. I’ll slather on some Coppertone in another few miles, but for now, I let the sun have its way with me, ravage me with its delicious warmth. I fancy I can smell my own flesh cooking in the heat.

The famous Bonneville Salt Flats spread out around me, the eternal road like a pencil mark on an endless sheet of white paper. My breaths are deeper and slower than they’ve been in weeks, and something inside me has finally unclenched. Out here, alone behind the wheel with that road reaching toward the distant Pacific, I feel like I’m not so much of a screw-up, like redemption is possible, like maybe all kinds of things are possible. I feel authentically myself. I want to drive until I reach the sea and then stand on the beach or the pier or the edge of a cliff — whatever may be there at the end of this road — and watch the sunset, and then in the morning, drive on to some other place…

I want to be just another long-hauler in the open spaces between the outpost towns…