Don’t hate me if this seems incomplete. Road trips often do. Man, I am jonesing for a road trip these days. Who’s with me?
Gerald felt the pressures of life lift from him as soon as he climbed in behind the wheel. Perhaps he was running away, but really, what in his life was there to run away from? His last date had been nearly two years ago, and he had made a clean break with his job. Gerald had few close attachments in his life; he had never bought a house, despite having made good money right out of college. He’d never seemed to stay with a girlfriend for more than a couple of months; after a while, they just drifted apart. Even in his hobbies, Gerald was a dilettante, moving from interest to interest. Jack of all trades, master of none… that was the motto of Gerald’s life.
He had decided to get out and see America while he was still young and nieve enough to enjoy it. He had felt stifled in his job, and one night while browsing Powell’s Books for something interesting to read, he’d noticed all the interesting travel literature that had been written. Kerouac’s “On The Road”, Persig’s “Zen And The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, Steinbeck’s “Travels With Charley”, Least Heat Moon’s “Blue Highways”. All those titles had jumped out at him, a uniquely American literary genre. Road Books. He’d bought them all, but had returned them the next day: why read about it, when he could do it?
Gerald had given his two week’s notice at work, given a month’s notice to his landlord, and put all his money into a decent car, and a lottery ticket. It had taken him about two weeks to find the perfect car: a 1967 Ford Thunderbird convertible. Black, with a white interior, completely restored. A Classic American Automobile.
The closer he had gotten to fulfilling his dream, the happier and more animated he had become. The boy who grew up in Portland, Oregon, would finally see the world.
And so he had done it.
The stars flickered brightly over the moving passenger train, and Warden Kelly caught it all, lying on the grassy hill a few yards from the tracks. Behind him ran the highway, US 101, the Pacific Coast Highway. Warden waited, and watched. In the morning, he knew, the car would come, and Warden Kelly would deliver his message.
With a patience almost superhuman in capacity, Warden waited for morning.
Gerald had secretly hoped that the lottery ticket would have won. But it didn’t (as most lottery tickets don’t) and so he had had to follow through without the comfort of having a million dollars in the bank. He’d blown his savings on the car (classic automobiles don’t run cheap), and now had exactly $358.92 in his checking account. He was going to see America.
He’d spent the week selling off his worldly possessions, then moving the rest into storage (just his bed and some momentoes and odds and ends he couldn’t sell). He’d donated the bulk of that money to charity, to build up some good karma. He’d decided to first head towards the Pacific Ocean. That way he could later claim truthfully to have gone from “coast-to-coast”. He drove out of Portland on the Sunset Highway straight from his last day at work. His few close coworkers had bid him goodbye, each with a wistful look in their eye and some excuse about why they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) do what he was planning on doing.
Gerald felt like the last of the pioneers, and was more than frustrated that no one seemed to feel the restlessness that he felt. It was so easy! he thought. Possessions are just… things; it was easy to give them up. The teevee and stereo, the nice apartment, what comfort could they bring. Gerald knew that he needed something more than that, some adventure to stir his spirit. And he felt sad that others either didn’t seem to need that same thing, or were so caught up in chasing material possessions that they ignored that need.
Was Gerald so different from everybody else?
The drive to the coast was peaceful. Two hours later, just as the sun was setting, he reached the ocean. He stopped in Seaside and watched the sun define the horizon in brilliant pinks, blues, and reds. Getting gasoline, the attendant remarked on Gerald’s car. Gerald made small talk with the man, an older man who seemed distant when Gerald tried to shift the conversation to other topics. Gerald’s sense of isolation deepened.
He stayed the night in a small motel, and went to sleep with the sound of the waves crashing into the beach.
In the morning he headed south, towards Lincoln City. The highway swung away from the ocean for a while, and then later that morning swung back. He hadn’t been to the coast in, what, three or four years ago? It was just as he remembered it four years ago when he was unexpectedly interrupted. Shortly before 11 am, he noticed three things in rapid succession; a train track paralleling the highway, a Southern Pacific freight train running along the tracks, and a man standing in the middle of the highway.
Gerald stomped the brakes, then pulled over to the side of the highway. The man had been waving his arms and shouting something; perhaps there was trouble. Gerald rolled down his window. There was little traffic, odd considering it was a summer weekend, but one car did go by. The man ignored it and turned towards Gerald’s car, covering the distance in an easy lope. The man was dressed in faded jeans and a blue cotton sweater; with the sun coming up, Gerald thought, the man was going to be warm.
The wind made off with the man’s words. Gerald shouted at the man to speak up. As the man got closer, Gerald could make out the man’s words.
“Red hue. One day this will make sense to you.”
Gerald was cold all of a sudden. He quickly rolled up his window, put the car back in gear and rushed back on to the highway, nearly cutting off a VW Bug in his hurry to depart. What was that all about? Gerald hadn’t counted on the inexplicable on his new adventure.
Warden Kelly smiled to himself. He was not an evil man. He had simply had a message to deliver, and he had delivered his message. He could rest for now. Until the next step was required of him.
Gerald drove straight down the coast, passing through Lincoln City, then Newport. He was spooked by the oddity of the man giving him a cryptic message. What did it mean? It was almost as if the man had been waiting there for Gerald. The words rattled around in his mind: Red hue. One day this will make sense to you. Red hue. One day….
This day, the first day of his grand tour of America, was a glorious day. The sky, rarely this blue; the sun, rarely this warm. Traffic picked up as Gerald neared other Oregon tourist spots; campers and minivans filled with families and their accouterments crowded the lanes, swerving into and out of McDonalds and motel parking lots. Gerald’s car got lots of stares and honks from passers-by, and Gerald had to admit it was a great conversation piece, for a brief moment or two of human contact. His thoughts of not being tied to any material possessions were gone for the moment, forgotten in his need for being noticed.
Gerald stopped for lunch in a little restaurant that overlooked the ocean, and had a bowl of clam chowder. He could see many boats out on the sea, fishing boats and trawlers, pleasure craft. Little boats on the sea… all having a safe harbor to sail into at the end of the day.
“Want a refill on that Coke, hon?” The waitress gave him an anticipatory look, one hand on his empty glass. She seemed frozen in mid-gesture, awaiting Gerald’s response before moving again.
“Uh, yeah, yes please. This chowder is excellent! My compliments to the chef.”
She moved again, no longer a mannequin. “Oh, yeah, he gets that all the time.” She took the glass and headed back towards the soda fountain.
Gerald looked down into his bowl, and tried to arrange the chunks of clam into a smiley face, but he’d eaten too much of it. When the waitress returned, he smiled and asked, “Is the traffic going to be this heavy further south?”
“Yeah, it’s the tourist season, all right. I hear ya.” She moved off to a nearby table; a family of four had just sat down. “Hello!” the waitress said brightly “enjoying the warm weather? I’ll be right back with menus for you!”
Gerald paid his bill, leaving exactly a 15% tip, and drove off. He was headed inland. He’d seen enough of the coast.