My Little Detour

My Little Detour - Image copyright 2005 Peter A. MartinSomewhere between Ludlow and Needles I faced a crossroads and a split-second decision that could change my life.

Exactly 56 miles westward, I had passed by a rest area and gas station with the clearly noted sign: “Next services 56 miles.” I’d glanced at the pertinent dial on the dashboard and quickly reckoned that, with a little less than half a tank remaining, I should easily make it into Needles, the small town where I planned to rest for the night.

My morning departure from San Francisco was delayed by a violent reaction to coffee. Still unsettled, inward guts speaking, I pressed onward from the City, nearly sideswiping two cars on the Bay Bridge and causing one woman to audibly gasp, so surprised was she at my audacious (and admittedly reckless) driving. Happily, I settled down, and the next 500 miles peeled off without auspice.

And now I saw a sign for “gas,” the last opportunity before Needles to ensure that my engine would have sufficient fuel to keep me from being stranded in the high desert of California as the coyotes closed in. I hadn’t seen a sign indicating the distance to Needles in miles. How far was it? Could I make it? Would my stomach clench as the miles passed in the approaching gloom, wondering wondering wondering if the gas would evaporate entirely?

I jerked the wheel to the right, raced down the exit, circled through the underpass, crunched through gravel, and arrived at the family-owned gas station, which required that I pay the cashier inside before pumping away.

As I opened the door to the well-lit establishment, I wondered at the hand-made, computer-printed sign on the door, something to the effect that “We maintain a business in the middle of nowhere. If you do not like the prices, please do not take it out on our employees.”

Fair enough.

I paid for $20.00 worth of gasoline, wondered how high the prices could possibly be, and then at the pump discovered that the cheapest grade of gas would cost me $3.59 per gallon. When even the highway robbers at the last small town only charged me $2.67 per gallon.

At least I don’t live in Europe.

I paid, and drive off, and looked for the entrance to Interstate 40, East, toward Needles and bed and saw that the entrance was blocked with a large “detour” sign.


It looked official, but as I headed off in the direction the sign pointed, away from the Interstate, I wondered. This was the set-up for a thousand horror movies. Perhaps intelligent zombies waited off the narrow two-lane road, or carniverous aliens, or in-bred hicks with funny accents.

Still I drove.

Darkness was settling upon the land, and soon it would be pitch black. I could see no man nor beast between me and the horizon, but who knew what horrors the night could bring forth? No building, no man-made thing could be seen, save for the endless telephone towers, casting their evil shadows.

I felt at one with nature, ready to accept my fate at full speed.

Finally, after five miles that felt like fifty, I came to another road and saw another sign, again very official looking, pointing out the detour in the opposite direction. No turning back. I sped forward, wondering if this road had been paved over the trails left by the so-called pioneers, the intreprid men, women and children from the East who trampled on the rights of the native-born Americans and complained when they fought back.

Were my tires burning rubber treads on a trail marked by tears?

Finally finally, after twelve more miles careening down a road as the dusk disappeared, an official looking “End Detour” sign appeared, pointing to The Road Chosen By Many.

I rejoined the Interstate Civilization at 75 miles per hour. As it turned out, Needles was just 26 miles away; I didn’t need to stop for gas after all. Because of my delay, I just missed getting the last room available at two different motels. I looked forward to a sleepless night lying twisted in the back seat of my little car at a well-lit rest area, as curious children looked upon my pathetic state.

And I missed my little detour, and longed to rejoin the unbeaten path.

(Note: Comments about Asian movies will return by mid-week. In the meantime, I offer only my ramblings about life on the road.)

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