December, 1995. I was relocating from Seattle to New Orleans for a six-month contract. I packed up my Audi as much as I could and started heading East on December 8th. I was looking forward to the drive at least as much as I was to the destination. I've always liked driving cross-country.
Anyway, after spending the first night in Spokane, I took off early Saturday morning towards the Rockies.
Everything happened so gradually that I just didn't notice until it was almost too late.
At one point - perhaps 10:00 PM or a little later - I realized a few things:
1. I hadn't seen another car in several hours.
2. I was making fresh tracks in about 10 inches of snow.
3. It was snowing very hard.
4. I was in a mountain pass in the winter.
5. I was an idiot.
I briefly considered pulling off the side of the road and waiting for the weather to clear, or for a snowplow to go by, but I really couldn't tell where the edge of the road was. My only indicators were guardrails on one side and steep hills rising up on the other. I had visions of falling asleep in my car and then being buried alive or knocked into a ravine by a passing plow. Perhaps they'd find me in a thousand years and the descendants of Americans would demand that their alien overlords return "Idiot Man" to his sacred burial place inside the Audi.
The slightly better option was to just keep going. After all, this wasn't 1846 and I wasn't the Donner party. The chances were good that I'd see an exit or at least a rest stop before I had to eat my own arm to stay alive.
Several times (too many) my car would hit a particularly slick patch of highway and I'd suddenly be going sideways. Or backwards. These were surreal times - everything seemed to happen in complete silence and in slow-motion. Each time this happened I'd manage to straighten out and continue onward like nothing had ever happened.
All of this repeated several times. I never saw another car. I eventually passed the Continental Divide and entered Montana, but by this time I was pushing my way through at least 2 feet of fresh snow. I did eventually pass a couple of signs promising "Exit 50 - 2 miles ahead" or some such but everything at ground level was completely featureless. I knew I'd be as likely to drive off a cliff as I would be to navigate an unfamiliar exit ramp that I couldn't see.
So I kept going, navigating as much by feel as by sight. The snow flying off my hood allowed only the rarest glimpses of the little reflective markers that lined the right side of the road and were my only friends that night.
I eventually saw that I was going down in elevation more often than not, and that the snow had lessened considerably. At about 4:00 AM I finally saw civilization again. I think it was near Missoula but I'm not certain. I came down a hill and saw a couple of snow plows and a police car facing West and parked at the side of the road. A brightly-lit sign informed any Westbound travelers that I-90 was closed due to inclement weather.
No shit, Sherlock.
A short drive later I finally found myself on a plowed road and I took the first exit I saw and checked into a motel for what was left of the night.
It was certainly an interesting journey, but not one I'd ever want to repeat.
Which brings me to 2004.
Right now I find myself in an eerily similar situation.
There's no mountain pass, no snow. I'm not even sure where I'm supposed to be going, but I still find myself in nearly the same situation.
I've read many times that dreams are metaphors for life. That the brain, trying to make sense of the nearly random firings of neurons that occur during sleep, will often conjure up imagery and sensations that, while not exactly relevant to the waking world, are often a very close approximation. At least if you tilt your head and squint a certain way.
I think that sometimes life can provide its own metaphors.
Like the one I'm experiencing right now.
I once again find myself on a road that, while it was perfectly safe when I started, has become fraught with danger. Unknown obstacles wait around every turn.
I don't even know what I'm doing on this road. I just followed the stream of traffic, thinking perhaps that all these other people knew something I didn't - that there was something worthwhile up ahead.
Every now and then I'll pass a car lying in a ditch, perhaps aflame, a sign of a traveler who should have stayed home. Where it was at least safe.
I know I should get off this damn road. It's leading nowhere, and the snow has started. I should be in my basement shooting pool and watching reality shows instead of out here with all the other lemmings.
Sometimes, however, the right thing is not the easy thing. I'm not alone on this trip. Along the way I've picked up a few hitchhikers. Usually survivors from the crash sites I've passed, but also an occasional fresh-faced youth who seems completely unaware of the dangers ahead.
On that night in 1995 I was responsible only for my own actions. I could have pulled over and hoped for a rescue, but I chose to drive myself out of the mess I'd gotten myself into.
In 2004 I cannot make that choice as easily. I have a responsibility for my passengers. People who for one reason or another want to continue their journeys and expect me to be with them along the way.
I'd love to find a different road. A nice, flat, boring one. One where every hitchhiker isn't a potential serial-killer.
I bet that road would lead somewhere nice. Even if I got there alone, at least I'd get somewhere, and I probably wouldn't kill anyone or be killed along the way.
I can't make up my mind.
With every mile traveled it gets harder and harder to stop, and more impossible to turn around. Some landmarks can only be passed in one direction.
If I just jump out of the car I would certainly be hurt, but would I be hurt more if I kept driving? Would my passengers stop to help, or would someone take the wheel so they could continue unhampered by my misgivings?
What would I WANT them to do?