Way past midnight on a moonless highway half way through Saskatchewan, headed back from a funeral, and the radio is playing a ballad by Journey or Air Supply. Probably the reason why some genius invented push buttons for car radios.
Further down the dial a solemn CBC host interviews a man who has written a book about the Franklin Expedition, and later on there’s a woman who claims to have been abducted by aliens. Janice is asleep in the passenger seat, her head resting against the window, One Hundred Years of Solitude slipping from her fingers. I turn the radio off and listen to sound of the wheels on the road.
Sometimes I wonder how much of my life has been spent on road trips like this, measured out in Tim Horton’s double-doubles, deep in the night on deserted highways. I remember pretending to be asleep on the back window ledge of Dad’s Monte Carlo on the way home from the cottage, watching the trees and street lamps recede into the distance, waiting for him to pick me up and carry me inside the house. Or sitting in the front seat, imagining that the car is a boat carrying us down a long, winding river.
Years later, eighteen hour days driving with friends down twisting coastal roads, a pack of cigarettes up on the dash, laughing and heading to Montreal or San Francisco. Watching the gas gauge and wondering how many miles five dollars will equal. Pitching tents at the end of abandoned logging roads. Immortal.
In between towns the thermos full of coffee arrives at my bladder, and I pull the car to the side of the road. It’s late August and the bailing is finished. The deserted fields look eerie and beautiful in the headlights, the great round bails like immense sleeping beasts. Grasshoppers and locusts and moths the size of tea cups dance about me.
I want to wake Janice up and get her to walk out into the field with me. I want us to lie on our backs and look up at all swirling constellations. I want us both to see them with the sense of wonder that I had when I was a kid, no older than our daughter is now, and my father had just explained to me that some of those ghostly lights up there are great burning worlds of gas, and others are mostly ice, and some of them aren’t even there anymore — gone maybe thousands of years before their light ever reaches us. Terrible and beautiful. I want to tell her how good it feels to have someone with me on this trip, because these places in the middle of nowhere can sometimes be so quiet. I close the car door softly so as not to wake her, and ease back onto the road.