4.29.2011

Go west, young (wo)man.

Take off the parking brake
Go coasting into a different state
And I'm not looking forward to missing you
But I must have something better to do
I've got to tear my life apart
And go west, young man

And it feels like I've got something to prove
But in some ways it's just something to do
My friends turn me around and say,
You go west, young man.

The driving began on Thursday morning. The rental car is loaded with an almost incomprehensible quantity of possessions; this is not the first time I have performed small miracles of packing. I've been trained from an early age both to be an expert mover and to make cross-country drives quietly and without complaint.

We've done what we can for Harvey Harverson and Scamperton J. Rabbit. They are not creatures who enjoy movement or noise, so a 1300 mile journey cannot under any circumstance be a pleasant one for them. But they have their spaces each, and they're being tough little bunnies. We are proud of them.

Yesterday went as smoothly as a day's driving could; we hit the expected congestion in Brooklyn and paid half a dozen tolls before making it off the turnpike, but none of this came as a surprise. It seemed that the St. Christopher medal I'd remembered to carry with us in the front seat really was working its magic charm.

Until, that is, about an hour after our dinner break. We should have had about two hours left to go before making it to our Holiday Inn Express in picturesque Dandridge, Tennessee when it happened. One minute we were cruising along in the orange of the sunset. And then we just... stopped. Dead. Still. And didn't move again for about twenty minutes. Over the next two hours, we traveled approximately five miles. Due to some internal circumstances which increased the stress, this triggered a pretty major panic attack on my part.

Perhaps you've heard about a few pesky little tornadoes that have made their way though the southeastern states in past days? We'd heard tell of them in passing. But we haven't been following the news too closely. Perhaps we whould have perked our ears.

I've never seen tornado destruction before, and I can't truly say I've seen it now. What we saw was just an inkling. It had been hard to understand what could cause such a backup, but when we made it to the site of the problem things became somewhat clear. The highway was down to the left lane only, because in the right lane was strewn with box cars that had been crumpled like cardboard and then dropped willy nilly. More had been scattered on the surrounding grassy slopes, just visible in the early evening light. The images conjured of these enormous metal boxes spiraling in the sky were surreal - in an eerily and unpleasantly familiar way. God rest the souls of the 300+ who have died in these events - a tornado death must be one of pure terror, and the thought of it makes my heart tighten and ache.

This morning we reached northeastern Alabama, and saw more of the storms' effects. Upon trying to stop for gas, we came to understand that for miles and miles, there was no power. There hadn't been, and there wouldn't be - likely for days. Even if the pumps could have worked, it wouldn't have mattered: there was no gas for them to dispense.

The people we met at the three exits we tried before reaching Gadsden were friendly, and doing whatever they could to help each other. I saw a young girl dive purposefully into the back of the family SUV, only to emerge several minutes later with a large slice of homemade cake on a napkin. She handed it to a man who had been hitchiking along the road with his dog. The two smiled warmly at each other, as if old friends. The chaos and need of disaster seems to bring strangers together in much the same way that long estranged family members bond at funerals.

For Jonathan and I, today's driving was smooth and easy. Though we stopped in what should have been "the middle," we were only on the road for 2/3 the time today of what we spent yesterday. And in everything we witnessed this morning, we were merely passersby, unaffacted. We were never in any real danger of running out of gas. It's almost as if last night's incident and this morning's snapshots of strife were just a reminder: Yes, there will be problems. Yes, at times it will seem almost unbearabley difficult. But in the end everything will be alright, because you are finally back where you belong.

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