Last night I slept in a rest area. It was wonderful. I’m happy today I didn’t give up and go to a hotel. It would’ve been so easy and it was certainly tempting, to show up at a Motel 6, slide my Alaska Airlines credit card across the counter, and then suddenly be in a room, clean, all my own, taking a hot shower and pulling the crisp sheets that would’ve smelled like antiseptic up to my chin.
I would’ve been lonely.
But instead I kept driving, and I pulled over at a rest stop, where I read a book by John Fante for awhile, a guy Bukowski said was his “God,” and then turned off my headlamp and went to sleep.
I had it in my head that sleeping in a Honda Civic was terrible, based almost entirely off a less than savory I’d had in high school where my friend and I drove around the island all night, looking for mischief or a party, I think this was before I drank alcohol because when I drank alcohol the mischief was always easier to find, the mischief was in a can, and then for some reason we couldn’t go home and so just slept in the car in the senior parking lot.
The key to sleeping in the front seat of a sedan is to imagine you’re in an airplane. If you were in an airplane, it would be luxury! You have a seat that reclines almost 180 degrees, you have your own little compartment, you can get up whenever you want and outside is the fresh air and the stars above you and the sounds of the night, the bugs in the forest, and the whooshing of the cars on I-5. Plus, in the driver’s seat, I had a variety of amenities: tortilla chips, a blend of cruciferous vegetables, Swedish snus (smokeless tobacco), and of course my book. It was the picture of luxury.
The next day my first stop is Safeway in Longview and the Starbucks in said Safeway. I get up from my earl grey tea to look for the bathroom. “End of aisle 13,” the woman in the deli yells at me.
On the inside of the stall is written “Nazi’s get fucked” and also something like, “Love before hate. There is a God.” I think of two things: 1) the curious punctuation in the first phrase, and also 2) the book Catcher in the Rye where Holden finds the writing in Phoebe’s school, someone has written something terrible including the word “fuck” or something, and it fills him with interminable sadness, he imagines it destroying her innocence, this is the climax of the book, and he scratches it off and walks down the hall.
I surfed the Elwha upon getting out to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It was flat but beautiful. There were some bros on the beach and I felt embarrassed about being all suited up when there were no waves, I avoided eye contact. But then I felt the familiar surge of excitement I feel before any surf session. My soul was pulsating with joy. I looked out over the strait, seeing the mist-covered mountains of Canada in the distance, longing to be there, longing to have a girl there, but also content to be at the mouth of the Elwa, looking down as I sat on my board and seeing rocks slide by me, waiting for waves that never came.
Except one wave did come. The tide was dropping and in an hour or two it might actually be good, but by then it would be pitch black. I thrashed into the wave, realizing I had to catch it, stood up, pumped right with all of my life force, looked down at the smooth, black face in the dying light, felt the wave taking me, felt connected to it — just for an instant — and then kicked out the back.
After surfing I drove to a campsite off a forest road where my best friend Doug and I had stayed the weekend previous. But right where I planned to camp, there were two logs blocking the road. I sat there for a minute, wondering whether or not to move them and continue, but then I figured there might be people already there, or someone might be mad if I moved them, and drove on. At the next campsite I got out of the car, wedging my car in sideways in the road to make a sort of barrier between the main road and where my tent would be, and I got out to sit on the hood and take in the surroundings. It was quiet. It was disturbingly quiet. My imagination began to run wild. I imagined someone coming up there and attacking me. The terror I’d feel. I imagined a bear coming out of the woods, trying to fatten up before winter, swiping at my skull in the manner that bears are wont to do.
When I was 25 I worked for a summer in Alaska as a housekeeper, and had two encounters with bears. On the first my friend Phil and I were hiking, keeping to ourselves, not making noise despite this being precisely what they tell you to do. We rounded a corner and 40 feet in front of us was a brown bear, a chunk of exposed flesh in its right flank, possibly from fighting. The bear turned to face us, and in that instant both us that it was coming at us.
Many things impressed up us, like the fact that we could feel the power of the bear’s footsteps in the ground, like you can with a horse. The thing that most impressed upon us, however, was that if the bear had wanted to come at us there would’ve been nothing we could’ve done. Nothing. We wouldn’t have had time even to drop to the ground, such was the power and force evident in the creature.
It didn’t attack us; it sprinted off into the woods, and we stood there, our hearts firing, ant it was a few seconds before we dared to look at each other, and even then we didn’t say anything.
This specific incident wasn’t in my mind as I stood at that turn off on the forest road, listening to the muffled sounds of the night, wondering what lurked in the woods, but bears were in the forefront of my mind, as was Bubba, the man I conjectured who liked to get drunk, drive into the hills, and t murder people. Either way, I just didn’t feel right about it. I try to pay attention to these feelings. It doesn’t happen a lot. Usually things feel OK. The last time it happened I was in Lima, Peru, leaving on a series of local buses at night, trying to get to a crucero where more buses passed on their way south. The further and we got the stronger the feeling became, and eventually I just got off and was on the main road in front of a big shopping mall. I found a hotel, a love hotel with a picture of a woman from the 1980’s wearing one of those swim suit bottoms that looks like a deep v and very uncomfortable, but it was nice to a have secure, semi-comfortable lodging, and I walked to the mall and got a McFlurry at McDonald’s and sat in my room watching people play soccer on some lighted fields across the street.
And last night I also listened to this feeling, feeling such relief relieved as I drove back down the forest road. I got back on highway 112, put a snus in, turned on the radio, and drove south toward Oregon.