Highways of Horror – Day VI – The Last Drive

You can’t beat me on the grade. You can’t beat me on the grade!

David Mann – Duel

As the old saying goes: “The last mile is the hardest mile.” In my case, it was the slowest mile and I had to put my car in full throttle…

The morning hadn’t started out well: -10 degrees (-23 Celsius), windy, snowy, and a thick gray sky ready to plop down onto Butte, Montana like the Blob on Phoenixville and a young Steve McQueen. But mere minutes out of the city, the clouds parted, the sun shined, and the roads were clear enough for 90 mph driving.

I loved the latter because this was a ten-hour haul to Seattle. Ally figured I wouldn’t mind driving 120-minutes more to get to her, the pups, and our new homestead, and I couldn’t argue that. I felt pretty damn solid and the Malibu moved like a rock star.

Google Maps welcomed me to the panhandle of northern Idaho, as I remained on my old friend, 90 West, who never seemed to steer me wrong. In short order, I took the curves and overcame the black ice of the road as the Chevy meandered through the Bitterroot Range of the Rocky Mountains. Pines sprinkled with white snow stood firm against the rock faces and made for a series of picture postcards, but I couldn’t pull over to take a shot.

I had already passed far too many overly cautious drivers and trucks that rolled like tortoises in slow motion because more ice patches could lay in wait in the shadows of the peaks as the sun dipped lower and lower on the horizon. With the temperature still in a frozen state, and with such narrow shoulder room, pulling over to take a picture would have been a dumb and possibly deadly tourist move.

At the end of the mountain pass is the lovely town of Couer d’Alene and its picturesque lake, and though I wanted to stop there, I felt it best to move further on into Moscow for better refueling options. Here, I took a small break and stretched my legs, but failed to see any Putin fans having a parade or posters of Lenin and Stalin. But I did have the opportunity to use a squeegee and wipe salt from the windshields, windows, headlights, and taillights. That cleanliness ended in such record time that it crushed the speed in which the singularity expanded in the Big Bang that created our Universe.

I pressed on into the dark, with a sliver of a crescent moon sending down enough light to radiate the rolling, snow and ice-coated landscape outside of Spokane as a grand blue mass. The small hills seemed curled up against the cold and let the wind run roughshod over them. Cars and trucks shifted side to side with the gusts right as we entered the Snoqualmie Pass.

This is where my New Jersey driving attitude kicked in. There may have been frozen patches, compressed snow, and seemingly single lanes in lieu of two thanks to bad plowing, but I pressed on at recommended speeds, while others moved as if on square wheels. In fact, signs requested all slow moving vehicles to get in the right lane, yet a string of cars climbing a hill were doing 40 mph in the left. I had to engage the risk of passing on the right because a truck got the message and abandoned the center lane for a relaxing roll up the hill. I pulled into the center and hurled by that string of six cars and kept on flying.

In Richard Matheson’s renowned television horror/thriller, Duel, directed by a young Steven Spielberg before he sent a shark after innocent swimmers, David Mann (Dennis Weaver) didn’t seem to have that many options as a crazed trucker (Dale Van Sickle) remained hellbent on driving him off the damn road. This took place in 1971, long before cell phones and such, so David was on his own. However, when he tried to get help, the man failed miserably. And once, overtaken by fear and paranoia, he even attacked the wrong person at a diner. This isn’t a “fish out of water story” or a “stranger on a strange stretch of road” tale, it’s a bit more existential than that. David’s dueling with himself: overcoming fear to find courage, overcoming anger to embrace logic, and overcoming the fear of death to fight for life. In this sense, he has to cope with the “dual” nature of the human experience.

There are two sides to each of us. We may present ourselves to the public in one way, as opposed to maybe a more relaxed or more honest self to those in our private lives. We also have fears, weaknesses, phobias, and illnesses though we may not have yet been put in a position to overcome them. David has though. He’s been thrust into a war and David can either stand down and die, or stand up with more confidence than he ever imagined he could muster. Even if he doesn’t make it, he’ll know he did his damnedest in the face of adversity.

Here, David’s propelled into becoming “the hero who didn’t want to be.” He has to recollect himself in order to focus to live another mile. Because the world is completely different for him now, and the rules that brought him safety and comfort no longer hold any weight.

When I finally entered the city of Seattle, I was met with overly conscientious drivers, and my duel became finding patience as the female voice on my GPS said, “I don’t have a fucking clue” when it comes to the most convoluted traffic patterns I have ever endured. Collectively, the drivers and their tentative nature and inability to take advantage of opportunities left me frustrated and begging for openings. Hell, when the light turns yellow, everyone stops and some intersections don’t even have stop signs. For the most part, Seattle drivers all seem to have earned their licenses the day before, which is a far cry from the assertive driving I’ve grown accustomed to from New Jersey Formula One racing. Welcome, “stranger in a strange land.”

As I drove on, I realized Seattle is far more gigantic than I ever realized, spreading wide amidst the Cascades. The Space Needle does stand out, but only as if a metallic wildflower nearly drowned out by a city of strong redwoods reaching ever higher towards the Big Dipper and Belt of Orion. Cranes pepper the cityscape, and they’re decorated in different colors to blend in with the lightshow emanating from apartment buildings and skyscrapers, where modern architecture complements the natural ebb and flow of Mother Nature.

This reminded me of Lisbon, Portugal when cranes marked the skyline and pierced the sunset like darts. Lisbon was healthy then, and Seattle is healthy now, growing in the tech and information sectors, offering new career opportunities for those who wish to relocate to someplace cool and begin anew – Hey, that’s Ally and me!

But the Emerald City is so much more, as all cities are, with a great mix of cultures, peoples, and languages, and endless venues. The art and film community is strong here, as well as the love for green and healthy living. Litter has proven to be a rarity, and people are not only concerned about the city, but they love it. In this sense, it reminds me of Montreal (without the European flair) and Vancouver, where the streets are clean and people take pride in where they live. Ally and I look forward to exploring all of Seattle and helping others care for it as if we’ve lived here a lifetime.

The house Ally chose is a perfect rental. Large and roomy, it’s a cool craftsman. The owners seemed to have chosen three different interior design avenues to explore, and “made it up” as they went along, which only adds to its charm. We also have a small backyard for our pups, Suki and Karma to run free. We’re located in the Roosevelt section, where suburbia meets city in a Brooklyn sort of way, and we like that. We’re close to transportation and can easily head downtown or to other section where the city thins out, rolls out, and expands as if at the ends of a lava flow. Better still, we’re right next to Patricia and John Eddy, two friends we hold dear who continue to mentor us in all that Seattle has to offer, and have helped us in ways neither one of us expected. Thanks to both of them, Ally wasn’t alone, and they both continue to send me wonderful job leads – though I doubt I’ll become an exterior washer of the Space Needle – ever.

In Duel, David Mann wasn’t simply a name Matheson chose at random. He was every “mann” caught in a battle he didn’t know was coming that turned his worldview upside down. However, when it came to his little car rolling tough against that 18-wheeler, he was definitely “David” facing his “Goliath.”

All David wanted to do in Duel was get to point B and meet someone. But whether on the road, on the street, or in our minds, we all have unexpected battles to confront and navigate, to come to terms with our own duality and put our own internal duel to rest. The point is to hang in there, dig deep, stand tall, travel safe, and overcome.

Ally and I don’t know what awaits us in Seattle, but I do know my family has had the most wonderful and amazing times in odd years. 2016 was a horror show for many reasons, but Ally and I have much to see, learn, and gain with our new and exciting venture.

I hope the road rises to meet you wherever you roam, and that your highway to success is never blocked. Yes, there may be a detour or two, as well as some bumps and a wrong turn, or maybe even a crash, but as David Mann learned, you’ll get there if you accept reality, keep your mind sharp, and put the pedal to the metal.

Ride on…

(Photo of Roosevelt Way near University of Washington taken by Billy Crash on his iPhone 5.)

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