Traffic ahead begins to slow. This means one of two things. Either there’s construction further up the highway or there’s a crash. A half-mile ahead, it appears that cars are beginning to merge into the dreaded one lane. The highway in my mind narrows also and comes to an unexpected stop.
The radio says not one word about any of this yet. The stations remain gleefully un-aware, playing inane love songs followed by equally inane infomercials, all of which have noth-ing to do with my current reality. Maybe this is not happening, I tell myself, reassuring my work-wounded psyche. Some sort of mind mirage. A delusion of the motor skills.
Progress flows slower now. There is the floating sensation as if I am almost under wa-ter. There is no sound as in dreaming or in drowning. Any and all noise has been swallowed by the privacy of my rolled-up windows. I wonder if this is what dying feels like.
The shadows growing in the Joshua trees around me outline the tortured faces in the cars of the still merging next lane, their mouths uttering silent words to gods unknown. Time ceases to mean anything. The light around us is steadily fading.
My tank is almost on E. If the traffic doesn’t start to move, my car will become yet an-other impediment in the struggle to get nowhere fast before this darkness descends upon us. A relevant thought overtakes my mind: If the car stalls, home will be a distant memory. This only makes me sigh. Thankfully, the traffic moves. A tongue of static hisses from the radio, the words I can discern come through as some sort of half-tone cipher, a hieroglyphic of the ear; useless. A check of my cell phone finds that dead, too. All lines of communication have been neatly silenced. I am cut off from the world and orphaned by modern design.
Now all of the cars around me are compressing into one thin line of an amalgamated steel snake, slithering slowly around a sharp turn, past what has been deterring our ride home. Burnt skid marks upon the gray-blue asphalt detail the last effort to maintain control. Then all gets blurry. Slowly, then suddenly. Fade to black.
The darkness of the road disillusions my mind’s eye and my memory is trajected back to a blood red sunset when a car ahead of me had hit a coyote in the road, already lifeless. My idiotic quick turn of the wheel to avoid crushing the already dead coyote’s skull nearly sent my car careening into another car in the other lane. It took me a week to rid the outside of my car of the splatter but considerably longer for me to purge the memory.
There will be no coyotes tonight.
Ahead, flares have been set up, funeral tapers alight near the mishap, rendering my eyes; retelling the rest of the story as the snake slowly slinks on. The flares stare back into the encroaching nothingness with angry, red eyes and give a hellish illumination to an already con-fused scene. I see an ambulance and a police car, both rave lights blinding the desert night, standing idly by as the scene is reflected in thousands of diamonds of broken reflection.
Given the length of the scorched tread marks, I deduce that a car tried to pass in be-tween two trucks to get into the slow lane to exit and one of the trucks, failing to see it or al-low it, barreled right into the vehicle, ramming it into the trailer in front of it, sending chunks of the Detroit spewing all over the road. The truck then apparently slid off the road in an attempt to stop. Maybe the brakes locked and the cab skidded down the embankment. I can not see it from the highway. All that I can make out are the remains of an overturned shell of the trailer, abandoned alongside the carnage.
The entire area is being carefully swept up and hosed down, as if it never happened. The ambulance is now somehow part of this cruel spectacle. It stands as a mocking figure of sorts, being totally useless now.
The cars shed their single skin slithering freely across the desert once again. The tor-mented faces will twist and contort from the inconvenience of being momentarily held prisoner to that of gawking delight. There will be now something to discuss around the microwave at work tomorrow morning, of how they were made late in getting home by this annoyance, I muse in a smug manner.
As the ambulance u-turns and the police hold back the stem of traffic, the carriage looks empty, there is no body bag, as there wasn’t enough to go around. No desert souvenirs, no body to identify, no toe to tag. A Christ on the highway. A perfect Mojave Resurrection. No proof of existence or of having ever been. We are here today, gone in a speed limit. Turn me on, dead man.
Manifest Destiny was what really killed off the American Indian, as surely as it did the coyote; although the coyote’s death was potentially quicker and more humane. Covered in blankets of smallpox, our ancestors silently watched the indigenous’ genocide spread. Now the corporations try to pull blankets over our eyes with each passing billboard lie; vying to get the last word embedded into the collective societal chant; to make us concerned about trivial dis-eases such as not having white teeth and having a dependable deodorant in a way our ances-tors never needed worry.
With only the moon overhead to guide us, we blindly follow the red lights ahead to the road that will take us from this mad hour of darkness; that will lead us from this bruised con-sciousness; past the realm of forgotten desert towns that disappear into the haunted swallow of night; where we have killed off the Western dream with neon and assuaged our guilt with casinos as the new oasis of greed.
American roadway death-Ideal-Madison Avenue-Streamlined-Right into the grave-Efficient. No down-time at the funeral parlor for me, no thank you. Now only one epitaph rests along these haunted roads for us; the ghostly message of “me first.” Common courtesy has turned to road rage. The thought merges in the lanes of my mind: Somewhere along this lone-some highway, we have become our own road kill. Goodbye James Dean.
I roll down the window, letting the cool evening air pour in. Utter a new creed, I cry, perform a new tribal dance in the shadows that grow across the promised land. The time has come again to embrace the Navajo night. The American Dream has become a mirage. The New World is no longer working, I scream into the empty darkness.
Out here, even on the precipice of nothing, I am consumed with the sensation of our driving too far, too fast into the American night that we can no longer find the original road back again. We have come so far only to be left driving headlong into the nothingness. Now, as traffic begins to slow once more, there too lies the tangible sense of our never getting home.