Cross Country Jaunt

Tiffany Smith

© Copyright 2021 by Tiffany Smith

Photo by Julia Karnavusha on Unsplash
           Photo by Julia Karnavusha on Unsplash

On June 2nd, 2020, at ten am in the morning, I started driving out of Long Beach, California, where I had lived for several years, toward a friendís house in Millsboro, Delaware, not far from the city where I grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. But Philly, with relatives of mine still stuck in 20th century thinking, wasnít my ending destination. I wanted to go and be of help, service, and what I thought was to be love, to a friend who had suffered some very personal losses in her life. She was an unmarried woman in her thirties with three kids by two different fathers, and the love of her life had done her wrong in a very big way. I, in thinking that now seems clouded, thought that I could somehow fill the void in her life, and be a companion, lover, and maybe, if fate favored me, a spouse to her. That was at least, one of my most coveted reasons for driving 2773 miles across country. I had lost all three of my part times jobs to the COVID-19 pandemic. And since I didnít think Iíd be finding anything soon on the employment horizon, and after I had signed up for unemployment, I decided that I would start life anew closer to where I was born.

It would take 116.64 miles before I crossed the border between California into lazy Arizona. I knew before I began the trip, that I would be hotel hopping all the way across country, but I had hoped to drive for ten to twelve hours a day, and put as much distance into each day as possible. But little did I realize that the Black Lives Matter protests that were going on all across the country in majors cities would spill over onto interstate highways. Shortly after arriving in Arizona, I passed an over-highway sign that said the highways had to be evacuated at eight pm due to curfew. I was astounded that a state could put a curfew on a highway, but I didnít want a run in with the highway Patrol, so I calculated in my head how far I should go before beginning a search for a hotel or motel in which to stay for the night. Somewhere along the way, my check engine light came on, and fright gripped me. ĎOh no, not now on a cross country tripí, I thought. I had no idea where to find a reputable mechanic outside of the Los Angeles area. It had been coming on and going off every once in a while, but now was not the time for it to terrorize me. I tried not to pay attention to it, and maybe, just maybe it would go away. I had purposely been paying attention to how far gas stations and lodging were between long stretches of highway, and at 5:15 pm, not knowing how much further I could drive before I would find a hotel, I stopped and found a Motel 6. Iím told they are called Motel 6 because when they first opened years ago, they only charged six dollar for a nightís stay. This particular Motel 6 should have been called Motel 86, because thatís how much a nightís stay cost. But it was luckily located just across the parking lot from a diner, so after checking in, I had a leisurely dinner before retiring to an evening of news about BLM protests on the nightly new stations. I drifted off to sleep that first night of the drive, feeling content.

The next day, I got on the road at 8:15 am, half an hour later than I had planned, because I wanted to have a substantial breakfast for what I anticipated would be a longer drive ahead. I made it to I-40, which according to my Mapquested directions, Iíd stay on for 1202.60 miles. I donít recall ever being on I-40 before, but it felt like an endless set of landscapes that had absolutely nothing on them. Just weeds, rocks, and presumably lizards lurking across the hot desert floor. At the end of the day, not only did the check engine light go off after me silently meditating it away, but I crossed over into New Mexico, and the landscape changed somewhat. The highway was wider, and it seemed both brighter and cleaner that what had come before. There were many more hues to the passing backgrounds. Literally trees, and what looked like mountains, had muted reds and slight grayish-yellows to them. It was fascinating in a nonchalant sort of way. New Mexico also looked like a nicer place than was Arizona, but since I had topped off my gas before I left the Motel 6 the night before, I didnít even stop at all in New Mexico. I stopped in the state of Texas at about six pm. I wanted to travel until almost eight pm and stop, but not knowing what lodgings were located ahead of me, I was forced to error on the side of caution. Some of the road signs did tell me how far the next gas and lodgings were, and thus, I was constantly calculating in my head, how far I could go before refueling principally, but also how far I could go before I was forced to exit the highway to stay in line with the nightly curfews. I did notice that the radio stations were all broadcasting music and commercials from the Texas Panhandle. That night in the hotel, I brought up a map of Texas on my laptop, and found out why they called the area the Texas Panhandle. It is shaped like a handle. I was thankful that I wouldnít have to travel through the thick of Texas. Being Black was bad enough at the time, but being Black in a red state during the BLM unrest didnít make me anything but nervous.

The next day, after a hearty Texas breakfast, I refueled and started out again across more of I-40 and crossed into Oklahoma. Now before entering Oklahoma, I had nothing bad to say about it, but that would all change before the end of the day. Oklahoma has highway tolls that cost me three dollars to pay all the way across the state. And since there was literally a highway closure and re-routing in my path, I had to get off on an exit to ask for directions. Both the off ramp and the on ramp had tolls. I think it was just fifty cents to exit and enter, but still, REALLY? I think it was the John Kilpatrick Turnpike that turns into I-44 that had the re-routing, and three nice women at a business whose name I didnít even bother to find out, told me how to get back to where I wanted to go. I didnít want to spend the night in Oklahoma, so I pushed on to Missouri, and found a hotel just as I was getting restless from sitting upright all day. It was almost six pm. The skies had turned somewhat gray and I could smell rain in the air, but it just hadnít started yet. Before I closed my eyes that night, I heard the torrential rain come. Under different circumstances, it might have kept me awake. I however, was too tired to care.

The ground was still wet, and it was partly cloudy when I woke up, but since rain was still heavily forecasted for most of the day, I refueled, found a place to eat quickly, and was on the road again by 7:45, hoping to beat another round of the rains. I was thus, exceedingly proud of myself for the early start. But my preparations were in vain. I drove at ninety miles an hour trying to outrun the impending storm, as the skies darkened and the rain began behind me. It caught up to me and dumped buckets of water onto the two-lane highway strewn with tractor-trailer trucks speeding along, seemingly oblivious to the torrential rain. I had to slow down to twenty miles an hour, but was still getting passed by double and even triple trailer trucks happily throwing water up onto my side the highway, and drenching my windshield such that I couldnít see a thing. I contemplated pulling over and stopping, but the incessant rain blinded most vehicles such that, I would probably get plowed into from behind if I parked anywhere on the asphalt surface of the highway. I continued on with high beams and constant prayer.

The rain continued for almost two and half hours, at times lightening up and at times getting strong and heavy again. I could see lightening in the distance, but heard no thunder. Near the end of the day, I had passed into Illinois, but I stopped for the night in Indiana. The rains stopped but the skies stayed gray. For June weather, it was surprisingly cool and windy, but I loved the way it felt. I found a motel almost a stoneís throw from the highway and ate at a local diner, while reading their city newspaper before returning to my room, and dropping immediately off to sleep. I woke up once during the night at about three am to check the weather, and a light rain this time, pelted the area. It was oddly soothing. The next day before starting out, I updated my friends on where I was and what was happening, since they were expecting me to materialize much sooner than I did. They were worried and I was mildly stressed.

I was almost three hours into my commute when I noticed that my breaks were acting up, and I had hardly been using them the whole trip. They felt like they were threatening to lock up as I was decelerating from high speeds to make highway changes or exits. I stopped early in the day in Ohio to search for a hotel, a place to eat, and a place to get my breaks checked. I found the hotel at 4pm, and a Meineke brake shop immediately thereafter. They replaced my brake pads and shoes for a modest price. I was relieved. I went right from the brake shop to a restaurant and treated myself to a large, sumptuous meal. I had formerly been eating rather light, since I wasnít getting much exercise getting fat behind the wheel from all of that driving. The heavy meal didnít make me sleepy since I knew I was far closer to my destination than I thought I would have been with all of the highway closures and inclement weather. I slept not quite as well as the previous nights, probably due to excitement. I hadnít been back on the East Coast in many years, but I was most certainly close.

In the morning, I left after a light breakfast and quickly passed from Ohio in Pennsylvania. Lush green trees and forested areas dominated the landscapes. I thought I would recognize some of the areas, but I didnít. I was back in the state where I was born, and it was as foreign to me as Italy had been not long after I joined the military, and to which I was posted as a first duty station. The circuitous route of my directions took me toward Morgantown, West Virginia, and then into Maryland. I was close to, but never entered Washington D.C. Finally, near the late afternoon, I crossed the state line into Delaware. Now, instead of long stretches of highway driving, I was turning onto and off of local highways, crossing bridges, and passing along one-lane roads that were becoming increasing packed with vacationers. It was June after all, and the start of the summer vacation season. I didnít enjoy the crowded roads as much as I loved many of the lonely highways that ushered me along the way. I made it into Millsboro, Delaware along back roads new to me, but obviously well known to locals. At five pm on June 6th, I called my friends while I was sitting in the parking lot of the community center at the front of their housing community, because on the last mile of the trip, I got lost. I was inside their housing community but I couldnít find their house. After driving around in circles for half an hour, they heard my voice on the phone telling them that I was lost. My friend sent her kids out onto the streets to look for me, and on a third or fourth circuit around the complex, they recognized me, and told me where to turn to find their cul-de-sac. I arrived at their house with gifts in hand and with a weary smile, excited that I had made a somewhat perilous journey across fifteen states.

I am a Queer woman of color veteran, who writes fiction short stories, non-fiction essays, screenplays, novels, poetry, and reconditioned well-known, European fairy tales into those with African-American, Native-American, Hispanic American, or Asian-American tints. She is an avid supporter of the Disabled, Academically At-Risk, and LGBTQ+ communities. She lives in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware where she writes prolifically and dreams without cease.


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