Sunday, May 24, 2009

At The Turnpike Service Station On A Rainy Sunday Afternoon

Luggage presses against the windows of the cars, lined up at the pumps by the dozens and families of pedestrians play chicken as I turn off from the stop and go. The wipers stick across the windshield and pulling my sweatshirt hood over my head I make fast steps across the puddled pavement.

Holding open the door for a lady with short curls supporting an elderly woman on a cane, hundreds of voices pour from the station, and I hand it back to a man with a trimmed white beard and exhausted little red eyes in thin framed glasses.

The place surges like the inner corridors of a busy hive. I don’t know anybody but they look like everyone - everyone I’ve ever seen. Generations sit at tables, picking at packaged food in plastic trays with plastic forks. They wear the graphic design of professional sports and corporations, the names of events and cities in embroidery on jackets and hats. They swarm me in old polo shirts and shorts from outlet stores, with clean white socks riding up calves from clean white high tops, necks bent over cell phones and arms filled with bags and babies.

Heroic fast food clerks move mechanically beneath molded plastic signs, filling plastic trays and the oblivion of needs widening from perpetual lines, overwhelmed and tense and tired, spilling in from the turnpike, from the weddings and graduations, the ballgames and the funerals, the weekend trips, the hospital visits, tracking rain water and gasoline and concern in from the parking lot.

An expressionless custodian wheels uncontrollable trashcans through the crowd. An old man coughs and coughs from his chest. I nearly trip right over a little boy stepping rigidly in his parent’s tow, bewildered by a jungle of legs and bags, and I maneuver around a teenage daughter in a college sweatshirt, holding an ice cream cone, reflective eyes fixed to her mom, long given up on fashion, composing the structure of a frustrated lunch with a frustrated dad between stranger’s heads as he drifts into the bathroom.

I need to get the fuck out of here.

To the spacious highways of night, where ancient pines rise in the shadows at the hem of the road and packs of semis rumble through sleepy towns, unobstructed by the tide of humanity.

To the quiet rural exits and soft crunch of gravel. The dormant cars, splashed with moonlight in lonely hotel parking lots and that big frightened woman behind the desk, who will look me over cautiously as the automatic doors spread and I walk in, draped like a porter in backpacks and bags and cases.

She’ll ask for ID and smile to herself. “You’re a long way from home,” she’ll say, in a little voice - just like all the others just like her.

And I’ll stare through the TV, saturating the dark lobby with grays and blues until a sitcom joke knocks a laugh out of her and she’ll direct me to a smoke stained room with light from the hotel sign glowing through coarse curtains and the anonymity of a white tile bathroom, paper-wrapped soap and institutional towels, where I can wash the tension from my neck, the grease from my hair, and fall asleep in hard sheets that can’t remember anything.