All Night Diner

We drove all night - 22 hours straight across the state of Nebraska -- alternating 5-hour shifts. On either side of us, rolling hills whizzed by - a pillowed moonlit haze of auburn and orange and gold split down the middle like finely parted hair by Interstate 80.

Not a word was spoken for hours. Mostly we were entranced by the hum of the car's motor and the gentle vibrations of tires on pavement. I remember thinking I'd never seen such a lonely road before. A road tasked with no other purpose than to offer a conduit from one place to another. A sad lonely highway. A dying river.

Mike slept while I drove, and during his first stretch, I sat motionless, straining to hear something - anything at all - on the one static-ridden radio station we were able to capture out here in the middle of nowhere.

Round about Omaha we broke out the coke, a golf ball-sized lump of white crystal that Mike had scored from the bass player who lived in the apartment above him in a small flat over the police supply shop in North Philadelphia. We cut out long lines that burned our noses and chatted and smoked and talked about the crazy trip we were on and how insane the whole road trip thing was and we watched the coyotes stare wildly from the edge of the interstate and we imagined how it would be, to be lost out there...how easy to be forgotten really, who'd come looking?

Barren hills stretched for miles. Who do you think owns this land, the government? Must be. Ain't nothing worth owning here anyway. Shit it just keeps going on and on and on...

We stopped somewhere outside Lincoln for a piss and a cup of coffee. The drugs were wearing off, replaced by a heavy fatigue and it probably would have been best - for safety's sake at least - if we pulled the car into a parking lot somewhere and hunkered down for the night. But we didn't. Instead we had coffee and eggs in an all night truck stop and flirted with the teenaged waitress. She liked to show off her mid-western thighs the color of freshly-churned butter, and she made sure the all truckers were watching before reaching for an order of chipped beef.

Her name was Darlene and she was from Hastings, a college town not far from here. She talked incessantly - about her sister, who was in Los Angeles studying acting and how Darlene was going to save enough money to join her - and anything else that came to her mind. She told us that Hastings had an official Japanese sister city - Ozu - and that when she was in junior high school, her family had hosted a Japanese student for a semester. His name was Isho she said, and he had been her first and only love. Someday Darlene would go to Ozu and find him. He's crazy about me, ya know. And she showed us her tattered copy of Japanese for Dummies.

We got back in the car and started to roll back onto I-80 and out of Lincoln.

Lincoln sat nearly equidistant between Omaha and Denver, a ragtag little industrial city - large, really, by mid-western standards, tarnished and hollowed by a depressed economy and a demoralized populace. For the youth of Lincoln, dreams took shape in dark cornfields and behind barns with bootlegged liquor and homegrown pot and had one common theme to all - getting the hell out of Lincoln and going somewhere, anywhere else.

Only a special sadness was reserved for those few young people for whom Lincoln was the escape, them having come from the far more remote alcoves beyond the stumps of wheat and government land. These kids saw Lincoln as the big city and never would have made it anywhere else. They'd be eaten alive in places like New York, or Los Angeles, or Philadelphia, and I know that's the truth, cause I've seen it happen.

It was still dark when we left town. Just past North Platte the river breaks and the south fork follows route 76 on its final run into Denver. Here the rolling hills give way to a desert moonscape, pitch dark but for the glow of Denver's lights a hundred or more miles ahead on the horizon. Dry grass and clumps of wild sage dot the sandy roadside, stretching into oblivion. The black asphalt of the old road drawing the travelers toward salvation - the light of reason illuminating the mouth of Plato's cave - beaconing through nature's brutality. This was Denver.

After driving an entire day - three days straight since we left Philly - passing through the womb of America, this was Denver.

I gently glided the car off to the side of the road and got out. With Mike sprawled across the back seat I stood looking out across the desert struggling to understand something.

Denver was a glowing knifepoint on the edge of the World.

 

- Chris Moraff