My hotel in Yreka was a bit pricey, but other than that I enjoyed my stay there. I made the mistake of turning on the television in my room, and it sucked in my brain and turned it into a little pool of foul-smelling liquid. I’ve never had immunity, but now it’s ridiculous. I reflected, as I flushed my late-night productivity down the electric plumbing, that people who watch TV every night have no right to call themselves busy. Seriously. You think you’re busy? Turn off the damn tube for a month. Now you’re busy, doing cool stuff, and I bet you’ll be more relaxed as well. You’ll even have found more satisfying ways to veg out. Stacking rocks, maybe.
I could have spent another day investigating the little downtown, but probably not much more than that. At any rate, I had places to go. Caffeine, food, gasoline, road. North. I find Gatorade to be a good traveling companion, offsetting some of the effects of exposure to wind and sun, but it’s getting ever-riskier to buy the stuff. It seems there are new flavors on the shelves every time I walk into the quickie-mart, and most of them are vile. I got lucky this morning, there was no plain ol’ Gatorade to be found, so I took a chance on something that was roughly the same color. Cool Rain or something like that. It was drinkable.
Road. North. Portland. Traffic. This is likely an extreme case, but Portland was traffic hell. There is a limited number of bridges across the river, and it seems that part of Interstate 5 was closed, shifting all its traffic to I-205. Things might still have been tolerable, but a truck broke down on the I-205 bridge, which already had to carry more traffic than usual.
After the first ten miles or so of stop-and-go traffic, I decided I’d better fill up the tank. I dove for the exit ramp and pulled up to the pump at the first station I found. What followed was a very confusing encounter. Here is an abridged version.
Gas station guy walks over to my car as I pull up and turn off the motor.
Jerry (scanning the markings on and around the pump): Is this full service?
Gas Station Guy: What’s that? I mean, I can clean your windshield…
J: Never mind. Before your time.
Jerry gets out of the car.
GSG: So… do you want gas?
Jerry moves toward the pump, but GSG is in the way.
J: Uh, yeah, I want gas.
GSG: You want me to fill it?
J: So this is full service?
GSG: You want gas, right?
J: should I pull up to a different pump?
J: Oooohhhh! This is Oregon!
The actual exchange was much longer and far more confusing. For those not familiar with the ins and outs of buying gasoline in the United States, there are filling stations that offer the service of pumping your gas for you, but the fuel is much more expensive. Yours truly is truly a cheap bastard, and would never pay extra for someone to stick a hose in his car. When I found someone attempting to perform this act, I thought I’d pulled up to the pump labeled “ream the lazy drivers.” I was not about to let him pump my gas if I could move to another pump and save several dollars.
But this was Oregon. In this little section of the Pacific Northwest, it is illegal for individuals to pump their own gas. So, while I was perplexed by guy who wanted to pump my gas but didn’t know what “full service” meant, he was equally confused by my questions and because I got out of my car. It was a cultural disconnect, just as deep as any I’ve had in the Czech Republic, exacerbated by our ability to communicate.
Tank full, I got back on the road, and after another few miles of creeping along (during which time a bicyclist passed me going uphill — as I watched him approach in my rear-view mirror I tried to think of something to shout at him that we both would have found funny, but I decided that there was no such thing) I got around the broken-down truck and was on my way.
Some time before or after that I was passing through an area where deciduous trees dominated the softwoods. Must be oak, I thought, as I passed a town called Oakland. Later I drove past the turnoff for Oak Ridge. The thing was, all the oaks were dead, nothing more than moss-covered skeletons. Some sort of nasty thing from somewhere else got loose, and the result is a lot less variety in the forest. Here and there some smaller, slightly shrubby trees were alight with pale white blossoms, quite pretty, and I wondered if they were the heirs to the spots the oaks used to occupy.
One thing the ads don’t mention when they try to sell you a convertible: the smells. Pine, grass, flowers, fertilizer, the good and the bad. You’re out there.
Now I am at Denny’s in Columbia, Washington, sipping Red Hook ESB. Foreigner is on the juke box. This Denny’s is better than most, although the menu is if anything more horrifying than ever. I chose the New! Jalapeño burger, and completely forgot to ask them to hold the goo. The menu called it tangy ranch sauce or something like that, but I knew without looking that it was goo. Then I was tweaking the last bit to a story when she came by and I ordered, and only when the burger arrived did I remember that it came with goo. Without goo it might have been all right. With the goo, it was… not.
Goo and Television. Al Qaida doesn’t need to attack, they just need to wait until we all have coronaries.
In good news, I finally, finally, finished the first draft of the short story that’s been keeping me from the things I really should be writing. Now I can get back to work… um… real soon now.