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Monday, November 15, 2010

Panic On Highway 81 or Nothin' But the Taillights


Back then, it felt like the truck drove itself.
Young enough, to go to classes, then head out
on a 700 mile road trip at three in the afternoon.
No need to rest, or stop to eat or drink. Just drive.
No need for a road atlas, just shift the gears to fifth,
my little red Ford Ranger pickup knew the routine.

Climb hard, coast down; hit the gas at the bottom
to get back up the next mountain that’d be coming.
Make it out of Tennessee, start thinking how big
Virginia really is since you’re sliding diagonal up 81.
Check the clock, check the odometer. Mark the trip
by the cities-Wytheville, Blacksburg, Roanoke, Lexington.
Get to Harrisonburg; feel like you’re making progress?

Sun goes down, air grows colder, radio always fades.
Marvel at Autumn trees, showing off this weekend.
Think about seeing my wife after being away six weeks,
you smile. Hearing Ozzy’s Mama I’m Coming Home,
you laugh. Notice a car in your rearview mirror.
you panic. A tailgater on this road, no reason to be
so close, acceleration lane clear, he stays behind
making you nervous, frustrated, a bit angry.
Slow down to let him pass, speed up to lose him.
Wonder, if you cut him off, is he the police, a convict?

Twilight now, plan to exit at Stephens City,
before Winchester onto a road called Route 7,
340, US 15? You don’t remember it’s name.
If he follows, you know he’s after you. Sure enough,
he follows. Heart pounds with anxiety, you go past
the familiar line of fence posts of a Black Angus farm,
the curvy road in front of Patsy Cline’s Rainbow Room,
Dinosaurland, the little dinky post office in Berryville.

Still he follows you. You’re almost into Charles Town.
You’ll pull over into Tastee Freeze, they’ll call the police.
For a brief moment you wish he’d just get it over with.
You jump out of the truck, close your eyes, say a prayer,
come to terms with the fact that you’re about to be dead.

A simple man in his early thirties gets out of his car,
walks over to you, smiles and says in a calm southern voice-
I’ve been trying to get your attention. You see, I been following
you for about fifteen miles now. I wanted you to know that
you ain’t got no taillights. Not safe riding up the Interstate
with no taillights. Man could wind up getting himself killed
.

You nod, take a deep breath and tell him you appreciate it.
You mention he didn’t have to do that. You say he’s too kind.
After he leaves, you walk to the window and order the biggest
chocolate malt shake you’ve ever had. You change the fuses.
You calm yourself down, consider yourself lucky and drive on.

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