Sarah Ficke's short story ACT OF GOD will be featured in LET THE EVOLUTION BEGIN, the first book from Intrepid Publishing.
It was a crazy idea. Especially looking out of the Burger King window, eating a 5:00pm cheeseburger and realizing that there was still more than halfway to go. My mind had equated the journey with my jaunts to and from college, but there is a difference between a 7 1/2 hour trip and a 9 hour trip: a little more stiffness in your driving leg, a little more blurriness in your eyes, and before you know it every extra mile feels like 15. Even 20 minutes with a cheeseburger couldn't relax the set of my shoulders and every minute Cincinnati looked farther away.
* * *
Why Cincinnati? I hadn't seen my college roommate for over a year and spending a few hours in a car to visit her - catch up, see her new apartment - well, it made sense at the time. And in the Burger King I realized this truth: once you're halfway to Cincinnati there is no turning back.
But subliminally I think I needed the trip itself. Needed to get away from my books, my computer, my paper abstract that is due in two days (Two days? Shit shit shit.). Something inside me was whispering seductively of the rushing air and the construction signs and the miles of highway scrolling away beneath my wheels. Out of state, out of mind.
* * *
It is 4 hours after my dinner and there are darker places than Ohio at night (Wyoming, Iowa) but I have forgotten them as I curve mechanically along 52, counting the miles to 32 and the miles to the roads beyond that will lead me to my destination. Factories loom like alien towers of light; the river to my left is dark silk. The impression of space is greater in the dark that shrouds the houses that in daylight give the landscape shape and form.
The journey that night ends in weary circling to find street signs hidden in the gloom and my friend silhouetted against the window screen. When I arrive I am so tired that I forget the Hershey's bar that will melt onto my driver's seat before the next afternoon.
* * *
The trip out was distance, but the trip back turned into one of those golden road trips that only come once in a harvest moon. Autumn's living scent was in the air; the sky was its most endless shade of blue. And when you are alone in the car with the windows open to the sky and you are shouting your music to the trees and the wind because at 65 mph the guy in the next car won't hear you and you don't care even if he did... that is healing.
You drive along wondering how this day can possibly happen, and how you can ever hold onto it even as pieces of it slip past in the tick of the miles. To stop is to break the spell, so moving at 70 miles per hour you reach blindly into the passenger seat and pull out a paper - any paper - and a pen and scribble down some words that come to you out of the heavens themselves in the rolling rhythm of Kerouac, and your heart sings the expansive, all-embracing prose of Steinbeck...
about how the blackbirds swoop and spin like the rusty leaves across the fields...
about how the hard beautiful mountains of West Virginia - the ones that first greeted your newborn eyes - are now turned to calico with October frost.
About how you are writing this while driving, and even as you write you know that you will never capture exactly what you are feeling in this moment when you are the heart of an object in motion.
* * *
I had been in a terrible state the days before I left, rabbiting about like a fish who had just been handed a bicycle by Gertrude Stein and told to ride on it if I dared. Tangled up in things that were bigger than they needed to be. But I didn't even know that until I traced the river back from Ohio and in the space and distance regained what I didn't know I was missing.
The trip back was long and the glory faded as I reentered my state with hours still to go. The shreds of golden afternoon were snagged on strip bar billboards and blown by diesel gas but there was enough left to carry me through the traffic and the accidents and the six lousy chicken McNuggets through to the end and beginning of my journey, where someone was waiting for me.
Sarah Ficke will make sport for you, and laugh at you in her turn. She has channeled her obsession for books into a career as an English professor.
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
10.27.03 @ 9:17a
Aren't road trips just the most theraputic thing?
There's nothing you can't get over with a good road trip.
10.27.03 @ 11:00a
Even though the piece was lovely, just lovely, I want to scold you for eating at Burger King and McDonalds even though I realize there are no sushi bars at most highway exits. I'm feeling nitpicky this morning, so maybe I should take a road trip and get back to normal. What am I saying? This IS normal. Sarah, you MUST stop putting that stuff in your body!
10.27.03 @ 1:15p
I view Burger King as a necessary evil. But, if it makes you feel better, I had sushi for lunch today.
10.27.03 @ 7:49p
Road trip! The backseat of Michelle and Joe's new Jeep is mine, mine, mine.
10.27.03 @ 8:04p
That's the best. None of that pesky watching the road stuff for you!
10.27.03 @ 11:46p
When I lived in Raleigh, I made driving jaunts similar to this one back to Michigan.
This particular road trip was always a blast, for many of the same reasons mentioned here.
But daaaamn, driving through the West Virginia mountains at night is frightening.
I'm a big fan of road trips as long as I have a stocked cooler, snacks and plenty of tunes. Company is good, but often not required.
10.28.03 @ 12:05a
Writing while driving? Driving at 70 MPH? Nope, not gonna chastise you for breaking a few pesky laws (kids, don't drive like Sarah did.) because the column is so uplifting in spite of those legal sticky-wickets I seem to be stuck on.
I actually envy the freedom of the road trip. Beautifully written, BTW.
10.28.03 @ 1:08p
"...what you are feeling in this moment when you are the heart of an object in motion."
That's my favorite part.
And I think I understand what you mean by it.
A body in motion tends to stay in motion, unless it needs to stop and pee.
I just hope it doesn't hose-up the unified theory.