I mentioned it before: Tolstoy said “All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.” Which is actually one story from two perspectives.
I plunked my college things at my parent’s house. They have lots of storage sheds, the stuccoed kind out back that match the house colors but not quite- I put the rubbermades with the broken handles and the stacks of books with dog-eared corners and notes in the margins like this professor desperately needs to get laid and the third-rate cooking implements and my fishnet stockings (which I would regret leaving), yes I put all of these things away in stack that I hoped was neat enough to trigger nostalgia in my father rather than annoyance at the space it took up.
I had my application from Americorps, that strange bit of the government that deals with unskilled college kids who can’t bear the thought of going straight into anything familiar. My Taurus was crowded and the front seat was still a bit of a mess from a goodbye trip to my sister’s place. I subsist on popcorn and grapefruit juice when I travel, and the detritus usually accumulates, sedimentarily, in my front console.
So I perched the application and my purse with proper identification and all the other things that need to be within reach on top of the teetering pile of jackets and pillows and a jewelry box and ten years worth of journals that I just couldn’t leave behind.
I kissed Dad goodbye, he was being loving and pouty and wondering aloud, as he always does, “Why can’t you just stay here? Why do you have to go charging off somewhere? The schools here are hiring and they pay much better,” etc.
And I gave my customary poetic answers- “Dad, ‘Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I, I took the one less travelled by, and that has kept me from dying of heart disease.” Things along those lines. “To live, perchance, to dream, of being somewhere without a mall,” and so on. We did it all morning and it became rather wearisome.
We were going to miss one another very much. Our final hug was quite a lingering, squeezing thing and I noticed that he was a little squishier than he was at the beginning of the summer. “Lay off the scotch eggs, Daddy.” I said. I’ll miss you more than words can say.
“You probably won’t even get enough to eat,” I’m proud of you- you have come so far, this is all going to be worth it.
“There will be plenty to eat! I’m a grownup, for heaven’s sake.” Thanks, Daddy. I’ll come home way more often then is convenient or reasonable.
“Okay. I love you, honey.”
“I love you, Pops.”
I ducked into the car and fiddled with my iPod, then jerked into OD and pulled out of the driveway. He watched me go on pretense of checking the mail that wouldn’t come for hours.
Gas station Earl Grey is unacceptable. Typically the water is either too hot, in which case it scalds you for the first twenty minutes that you try to drink it, or it is too cold, and then the teabag just leaks listlessly like a white lie. Invariably, the tea takes on the flavor of the cup, which hopefully is not styrofoam, but even when it is paper, there is some kind of residue from its manufacture that is activated by scalding or lukewarm water. Honey and RBGH milk do little to ameliorate this situation.
I stepped out of the only gas station in Fort Garland into the most arresting scenery- mountain peaks like a crown on the northern horizon, their steeps blazing in the sun. Their blue roots gave way to monsoon-green fields, only interrupted by the highway and this gas station, black holstein cows plodding about just on the other side of the fence.
Gas stations are, for me, a symbol of dissatisfaction. Where is it written that their wares have to be too sugary or too salty to be advisably consumable? Why are primary colors and linoleum the decor of choice? Has no one ever thought, gee, I think I’ll make a nice cozy gas station, perhaps in the log-cabin style. I’ll get some fruit, some nuts, some good hard cheeses and sparking water, brew some strong, fair trade coffee and offer real cream, keep the bathroom really clean with some potpourri in a bowl on the toilet and a painting of a ginger kitten in a basket of flowers for you to gaze at as you try to induce your travel-compressed intestines to eliminate? Oh, and most importantly, I’ll filter the tea water and keep it at a sensible temperature, and buy cups that won’t dissolve into carcinogens when filled with it. And tea sachets, please.
I mean, who wouldn’t be willing to pay more?
But then I get into the gas station and I see 25 people buying cheetos puffs with heavy-lidded eyes, and 40 oz. Rip Tide Mountain Dews, with wispy bits of low quality toilet paper stuck to the bottom of their New Balance tennis shoes and… well, I realize that it is not that entrepreneurs have never had this thought, but that Americans are culturally conditioned to salivate at the sight of primary colors and the smell of packaging.
I got back in the car with a sigh. The drive was long, the scenery was all that was keeping me from dashing my abysmal Earl Grey into my face to keep myself awake.
Steinbeck said, “I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one.”