The mind wanders during an all-night drive, if it's a big road and you have it all to yourself. In the last two weeks I've gone from the Eastern Time Zone, to the Pacific Time Zone and back again. It was two weeks of night driving, mainly. Two weeks of all sorts of weather, every variety of coffee, several languages, an endless variety of landscapes, and virtually every human disposition in the civilized world. Herewith, random thoughts from the middle of the night:
* If fatigue is a problem, listen to music from your childhood. Sights, smells, people, places, experiences, happy moments and heart breaks, …they all have certain songs that bring them back to life. One song takes me back to a childhood playground, while another brings a family member back to life with that old easy going grace and humor. Old girlfriends have songs, as do favorite cities. Listening to music from the past is like visiting with people you love, ...like browsing through an interactive photo album.
* After a lengthy stretch of road with no sign of people anywhere, the lights of an approaching town seem strangely comforting.
* For some reason, road construction crews feel compelled to aim blindingly bright lights directly into the windshields of on-coming traffic. I speculate it allows construction workers to take faster evasive action when a vehicle careens toward them because the driver is totally blinded. It also has the bonus effect of preventing the motoring public from seeing how many workers it takes to stand around and watch a single piece of equipment operate.
* The stimulus law probably stimulated the orange traffic cone industry more than any other.
* No matter how numbing the fatigue, the soft hues of purple and red in the quiet minutes before the sun peaks over the horizon are the most energizing minutes of the day.
* An open-faced hamburger, resting under layers of chili, grated cheese and onions, is pure culinary bliss, though it's probably healthier to eat the plate.
* There is something about a desert landscape that looks beautiful and prehistoric.
* An impromptu visit with friends, particularly Ricochet friends, is a heaven-sent reprieve.
* After working all night, there is a decadent happiness about sleeping during the day when everyone else is awake and working. Conversely, truck stops are noisy places during the day, so the decadence is short lived.
* The best coffee is at sunrise. The worst coffee is something that claims to have lots of nuts in it. It tastes like it was strained through an old gym sock.
* It's called a Grand Slam breakfast because within the hour you'll be slamming the restroom door shut behind you.
* Most truckers seem to drive with more courtesy during hours of darkness. Maybe it's from flashing our lights at each other so much. Their chatter on the CB is more polite too.
* It's fascinating to see the little lights line up in the night sky on approach to a major airport, knowing that each of those tiny bright specks in the darkness represent an aircraft with perhaps a hundred or more souls onboard. The planes are perfectly spaced too. I wonder if they have brake lights.
* The rising moon looks preternatural, eery and ominous. Sort of like mail from the IRS.
* Most Cajun songs are in three quarter time, and most Dixieland Jazz songs can be broken down into 32-measure segments with sub-themes that go through a subtle change every 16 measures.
* At 3AM, you can go through most major cities like a liberal through a budget, like Newt through a premise, like Clinton through an intern, like Peter Robinson through a "last question," or Lileks though a segue, like EJHill through a digital photo, like, …well, …you get the idea.
* If you eat a pastry of some sort during the evening and you have to get out of the truck and talk to people the next morning, be sure to brush your midnight snack off of your shirt first.
* Another memory that brought a smile in the night: I'll never forget the young Asian lady who worked at the service center coffee shop on a New York toll road. So very helpful and unfailingly polite she was, though she struggled with the English language. I asked for "artificial sweetener," and she didn't understand. "Splenda?" I asked. She smiled and shrugged. I tried, "Nutra-Sweet." Her smile burst into happy understanding as she said, "Thank you. You sweet too!"