Nebraska is the first state where I could see forever. No pesky trees or mountains to get in the way of the eternal sky. My moods shifted with the clouds that skidded across the sky. As the day started, the sky was the color of faded jeans. Slowly, it darkened to the hue of a healing bruise. Certain that rain was coming, I stopped for gas and a Subway sandwich.
Calamity (or at least a close call)
I had just finished off my turkey and provolone in big bites and pulled up to a nearby gas station when my cell phone rang. My mother, calling to chat and probably to make sure my eyelids remained open despite the mesmerizing drive. The call distracted me. I eased out of the giant SUV until my feet touched the pavement. I shoved the driver’s door shut as I said, “Hello.”
Immediately, I realized my mistake. “Oh, sh%#@.” I tried the door. Locked.
“What?” my mother asked. “What happened? What?”
“My keys!” At first, that was all I could say. I cupped my hands around my face and peered in through the dark glass of the driver’s side door. There they were, on the driver’s seat. They may as well have been floating on one of those cottony white clouds overhead. “Sh#%!” I said again. “Now what?
“What happened, dear?” my mother asked, in the voice of someone afraid of rousing a sleeping bear. “I locked my keys in the car,” I wailed. I am good at wailing, even at age 55, although not as good as when I was younger.
My mother knows when to leave me be. “I’ll call you back later,” she said. I told her I needed to call the rental company. I had noticed something that maybe, just maybe could save me. There was a combination lock on the outside of the door. If the rental agency had the combo, I would be making tracks again quickly. If not, well, I wasn’t letting myself think about how long it might take roadside assistance to come to my rescue here, miles from what I considered civilization.
But the rental agency did have the combination, and it only took half an hour of working my way through God-awful piano tunes and voice message options that never matched my problem. I went through the same menu four times, punching in a different number each time. Finally, I found the person with the magic numbers, and I was on my way, freed from prison. Doing nothing in a gas station stocked with bear claws and coffee was not a Whee! way to spend the day.
It was my first “Duh, you weren’t paying attention,” moment of the trip. A little later, I stopped to use the restroom and saw a pretty bluff behind the building. Thinking I would stretch my legs, I walked behind the building and neared the trail, which started between two piles of rocks. I stopped. One, two, three signs told me the walk was a poor choice. Two signs warned of rattlesnakes, and a third was a huge, “DO NOT ENTER” sign, the size and color of a sign you see if you try to go the wrong way on a divided highway. I backed away, picturing the snakes wrapping themselves around my ankles and biting me repeatedly, too far away for other motorists to hear my screams. It mattered little that my husband and I used to flick rattlers off the trail with our walking sticks when we hiked in Hell’s Canyon, ID., years earlier.
The rest of my day in Nebraska was calm and meditative. People were nice, and they had time to talk. I had time to think about UFOs and the meaning of life, not to mention my jobless state. The very lack of features, at least on the main roads, encouraged quiet contemplation. I drove in silence much of the time, matching the interior of my world – the SUV – with the outside.