2012 Personal Narrative Essay: Road Rage

I anticipated an excruciating day of nausea and indigestion; I thought aloud, “That was a terrible breakfast.” My halfhearted words spoken straight at the windshield could have easily been ignored, but the bulbous man in the driver’s seat had a general need to contradict everything I said.

“I thought those hotdogs were delicious,” he replied. It was mid-morning, the second day of an interminably long trip down a Nevada back-road.  We were stopped at the lone gas station of a miniscule town wedged between an improbable lake and a mountain that shot straight up from the rock-strewn white line that signaled the westward shoulder of a meandering two lane highway.

The man to my left claimed to be Mexican, but his German name, his corpse-flesh whiteness, and his lilywhite accent did not agree. His receding hairline, swooping eyebrows, beak nose, and imperceptible neck made him look like an owl; his eyes bulged as he stared at me with mounting disgust. I despised this man nearly as much as he despised me, and I tried to remember why I was there.

I was waiting for my ride in a parking lot behind the Wal-Mart. I was excited to see the big blue truck lurching in my direction; it wheezed to a stop. Robert Gore had given me his name over the phone, and now he was pushing open the passenger door.  Stooped in the doorway, he inhaled deeply and nearly doubled his considerable girth. He grabbed my bags. “Get on board;” he said in a jovial manor, “We’ve got to make time.” His frame deflated as the gale-force words caused his lips to flap violently.

The gradual curve of the truck started at the front bumper ending in a senseless peak where the dusty white trailer began. The aerodynamic styling was obviously not functional. The interior was perfumed with the bittersweet mix of diesel fumes and human armpits. The seats were a mottled blue with large rings of amber from sweat that leached off countless rear ends. The armrests were streaked with a gloss of black grime where the oils from hundreds of bare forearms were laid to rest, but I barely noticed. My mind enthusiastically recounted the tales my cousin had woven; they were tales of excitement and adventure concerning his wanderings about our nation’s highways. My mind was brimming with possibility for adventure of my own.

Hours later, the sun drooped near the horizon, and we pulled over for the night. The truck stop was sparsely filled, and we easily backed into a spot away from the other trucks. As night turned black, the lot filled up, and I watched a lone truck weave tiredly through the lanes; it hoped to find an open spot that was not there on the three previous times around. As I watched, I wondered why Robert had been in such a hurry to leave only to sit around pointlessly at a truck stop. Later, I climbed up to the top bunk, a toddler bed but half as wide. I laid in the fetal position my head smashed against one wall and my feet imbedded into the other. The husky dwarf, Robert was lost in the expanse of a larger bed below. It was going to be tough, but I only had to sleep in this bed for one month; then, I would be out on my own.

My arm hung off one side of the bed and my leg dangled from the other when I jolted awake in the middle of the night.  My head was buzzing with confusion and alarm. I had heard a loud noise. Dismissively, I assumed it must have been the refrigerated trailer next to us; it must have started up automatically and forced my heart out through my throat. When the hum of the reefer started to sing its lullaby, I became aware of my mistake. My eyes began to water, and my nose stung; my taste buds withered from essence of decomposing walrus, and my lungs strangled. I needed air. As I opened the tiny vent, two more rounds burst forth from the rump-cannon on the lower bunk. I pressed my face against the vent and created a hermetical seal around my mouth and nose. The rancid barnyard smell, from the bull hauler two trucks away, was sweet ambrosia compared to the nerve agent released in the trapped air. Eventually, my nostrils died and sleep resumed.

Sunlight Streaked in through the vent hole as I awoke. Robert inhaled from one end and exhaled from the other, and I knew without having to look that he would not regain consciousness soon. Therefore, I trekked across the long expanse of urine-stained blacktop to the showers where I completed my morning routine. As I was walking back to the truck, I passed Robert with sleep in his eyes. He just woke up and was headed for the showers. Upon his return, I informed him of my dreadful night of flatulent terror. He was indignant. “I do not fart in my sleep,” he exclaimed; “I have never farted in my sleep.”

Before leaving the truck stop, Robert bought three of the largest bags of sunflower seeds I had ever seen. By midmorning, He had consumed half of his first bag and showed no signs of stopping. He tilted his head back and poured the seeds directly from the bag into his mouth. His cheeks bulged and his jaw ground the seeds from side to side like a cow. He chewed shell and all. The speed and efficiently with which he did this made my household garbage disposal hang its head in shame. He sucked out the juices; then, he expelled the fibrous paste into an oversized soda cup to ferment.

Three days and ten pounds of sunflower seeds later, I asked intentionally trying to anger him, “Aren’t you worried that all that salt is going to give you a heart attack?”

“How dare you,” black and brown spittle paste exploded from his mouth. “My health is my own problem.” A mixture of new and chewed sunflower seeds fell against the floorboards.

The morning dawned; we were headed down a lonely Nevada back road toward a lakeside town, and we wanted breakfast. A few hours later, we pulled into a dirt lot next to a quaint old gas station. The food inside was limited to pickled pigs feet in a filthy communal tub and shriveled, jalapeno-spiced hotdogs that rolled back and forth on a grease stained griddle.

I had no idea that I would recount these stories with great fondness. I found out the hard way: adventure is the bad, the strange, and the silly parts of life that can only be appreciated in hind sight. Great stories are ten parts misery and one part revisionist history. I no longer go in search of adventure; I can’t handle the aggravation.

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