the town without orange
At two thirty-eight a.m. the vent, set to its coolest setting, is
blaring hot air at me. I am seeing double, driving by braille, letting
the little lane-line hamburger-bun bumpies let me know when Ariel's gold
nose is pointed too far to the left, or the right. There are too many
goodamn semis on the road. I can't really see. I stopped trying to
feel perky a long time ago. I have 16 more miles to go. Somehow I can
do math with a lucidity I lack at all other times and calculate
approximately nine more minutes 'til the next offramp. I stick my hand
out the windown to feel if the air outside is cooler than the vent. It
is the same temperature. I cannot fathom how hot it must have been all
day. The earth is exhaling all its heat, now, and I'm driving blearily
through its transpiration, talking to myself to stay awake, observing
the inner dialogues between the different bits of myself.
I reach the green sign, and the offramp. I curve off the highway. The
town is nothing but one gas station, a closed Burger King, and more
18-wheelers than I can count pulled off the interstate, idling, their
lights humming, drivers sleeping. I think. I feel slightly afraid. It
brings me a bit more wakefulness. The sky seems both infinitely distant
and crushingly low overhead. The stars seem to expand into blurry
I walk into the gas station. I don't remember if it is a Chevron or a
76. They are all the same. When there are women behind the counter, I
feel a sort of calm, and when I ask and they tell me in a high-desert,
soccer-mom drawl, "Sure, it's safe to sleep in your car here, people do
it all the time" I believe them. When it is men, and I ask, and they
say "Sure, it's safe to sleep in your car here, people do it all the
time"...I do not believe them. My knife is in my shoe. It is now 3 am.
I walk in. The almost inaudible hum of freezer cases, the silent echoey
sound of the linoleum, the hats and postacards for sale ("Get your kicks
on 66!"), the ginseng and vitamin packets for truckdrivers trying to
kick speed, the coffee dispensers I've learned to navigate with a sick
ease in under two days. I always pile up two cups, so the heat won't
penetrate through to burn me.
And then it kicks up, the same damn exchange I've had since I left LA
and hit around Fontana, then streaked out towards the Salton Sea and
"Hey now, little lady, how ya doin'?"
"Pretty good, thanks!" [grin big. I am One of the Guys. I am Just
Fine. It's All Good. Yee-Haw.] I notice I am unconsciously injecting
an indiscernible accent into my speech--part British, part yokel drawl.
I can guess why but it takes some explanation.
Then the inevitable:
"Now that's some pertty hair you got there."
"Thanks." I nod my head emphatically. I am One of the Guys. No
"Real pertty. What color they call that?"
I pause. The audience in my head is eating this shit up. This is too
fucking funny. This is fucking hilarious. We know this is sitcom
material, here in my head. The audience and its cultured palate is
going fucking nuts.
Orange. It's orange.
I say it.
I pause. Wait the requisite beat. I look up. The men here, these two
men, one behind the counter and his friend here, HANGING OUT like it's
the local coffeehosue or something, like this is where it's at, like
this is some happening place, they just look at me, and look at my hair.
They nod. Yeah, yeah, it sure is. It's orange. Wow. Nonplussed.
What a waste. What a loss. I was just fucking brilliant, a genius, and
it was as over the head of this town as the planes people take so they
don't have to drive through it, like I do.
"Well that's real nice. Real nice."
"Thanks!" [Grin. I am Totally Ok. Just One of the Guys. Yes.]
I pay for my coffee. Gas up Ariel. Check her oil, and she's good. I
drive her across the street, check the locks six times, put the back
seats down, check the locks again, roll up in a sleeping bag that's been
in my car since JunkmailMan, and check the locks. Again. Put the knife
by my hand [so it will be both close to me and visible to anyone on the
outside, just in case, bright orange (again with the goddamn orange)
colors on a butterfly saying I am poisonous, don't eat me, I'm
dangerous, but really pointing to said butterfly's desire to just
fucking live through the next day--], the keys in the ignition in case I
have to bolt. I fix in my head the way I want the sky to look when I
wake--imperial violet, stars still shining, a shimmer of light in the
east--and check the locks again. Yes. Put my head down. Will myself
When I wake up, the sky is the way I wanted it to be, cool and silent,
and I vault myself into the front seat, drink the hour-old coffee
(finally tepid enough to drink), and gun it out of there, feeling alive,
alive, alive, and strong as hell, with orange hair that I tie back, as I
hit the onramp, to get it out of my face so I can drive with the windows
down. The rushing air is inexplicably cooler now.