We needed to get from San Francisco to Youngstown, Ohio. Time and distance were on our side. It was December 1991, almost Christmas. Two cars (for important reasons I can’t remember). Two couples. 2,521 miles.
You need to know we didn’t need much sleep; lived to drive; wore flannel shirts and 1950s dresses with long underwear stretched underneath; drank bad coffee and listened to the Pixies and Camper van Beethoven; had never heard the term Generation X.
We drove straight through.
The rule was: after the exit, stop at the first “location” on the right. It was my idea: I used the Rand McNally atlas and a ruler, calculating distances, methodically switching from each state map—California to Ohio. I gave both cars a hand-printed list of exit numbers. Every 200 miles or so we’d meet up, switch around drivers, make sure no one was getting bored.
This seems impossible to me now. But we met up—at Burger Chefs and Sinclair Gas Stations, empty parking lots and corner diners. Once, near dawn, the exit led to a factory. James and I crunched down the long bumpy entrance lane and pulled over. Snow covered the ground like a thick milkshake. It was freezing and fiercely beautiful. The pristine snow, the chainlink fence glowing behind it, a few lightbulbs glittering with industrial effect, and jack rabbits playing—hopping and romping—in the foreground.
Was it Indiana? Iowa? This was before Rob was gay. Before Suzy’s mom couldn’t remember her name. Before I stopped eating. Before James’s last postcard.
And then, like somber soldiers, they came. A premonition. Men and women with thick metal lunchboxes hanging from their hands—workers starting a shift. I don’t recall that they paid any attention to us at all: a strange couple in a four door sedan shivering outside their factory gate.
Bleary-eyed and pasty-mouthed, we watched them. I can’t be sure, but in my memory, they wore gray uniforms and the factory loomed behind like a castle, nothing else in sight for miles. Everything buzzed the metallic blue that comes with winter on the verge of morning.
And then, Rob and Suzy’s Toyota rocked down the same lonely lane. They’d found us, and we were together, laughing, our breath marking exclamation points in the frigid air.