At night, the Rules of the Road change. Driver and driven upon have different relationships, Precarious defined it to himself. When the sun was up and there were cars in every lane, you had to cooperate with the road, but on a long, clear three a.m. shot, you could collaborate. You could never be in charge, he knew; well, you could for a few miles, but the end of your rule would generally be marked with a cross and flowers on the shoulder. After dark on the highway, you could make suggestions and on a good night you might even get a vote; the road always had a veto.
Precarious didn’t consider it night driving until around midnight. Before that, normal folks were still driving normal cars and doing normal things, just in the dark. Precarious hated these hours, dreaded these miles: most people can’t drive for shit, he had noticed, and taking away the sun didn’t help at all. Tired commuters and drunks with their children in the car and strippers going to work; he was vigilant and this driving drained him, and sometimes he stopped and waited for it to blow over like a storm.
He had places to be, though. One place in particular, and if 8 o’clock would get out of the way and let him get to midnight, he would appreciate it. Precarious was driving a 1979 Pontiac Trans Am Firebird with a 454 cubic inch V8 and positraction to help fix its ass to the ground around the curves. It was Mayan Red and Precarious had borrowed it from a guy he’d known forever.
“Don’t take that old thing. I got a brand-new Mercedes. Take that,” the guy said.
Precarious was already in adjusting the seat in the Firebird, and he didn’t disagree. Precarious had no problem with a little luxury, and though he hated to admit it, the Germans made a fine product. There was nothing wrong with floating through the air, separated from your tires and alien to your machine, not so much driving as adjusting; the older he got, the less wrong there was. Easier on the back. Better for the neck. The modern ones almost do the driving for you, and pretty soon they will, and Precarious knew he should hate that, or feel threatened by it somehow. Twenty-year-old him would have, he thought. But, he knew, twenty-year-old him was a complete shithead.
Precarious would have grabbed the fob instead of the key if he were taking I-80: it is a deathly chore of a road, no fun at all, to be endured and the Merc’s toys would amuse him while the car’s computers chauffeured him. Marin to Toronto is two or three days, depending, and there was a lot of nothing along the way. More like a slowly-evolving series of nothings, Precarious thought, but that was just semantics. There are immense stretches of America that were not stolen, only because no one had even wanted it in the first place. But he wasn’t planning on taking I-80.
The Firebird wasn’t the right car for the trip, but it was the right car for the job, and Precarious was going to do this job right. A roadie that can’t lift shit ain’t shit, he thought. Precarious figured everyone else thought it, so he might as well. Sure, he was at Santa Clara, Chicago, but that was just a nice gesture. When he used to look at the stage, he would know that it was there because of him, but those stages for the reunion didn’t need his input. He left before the third show and drove home, and he was no different from any other asshole on the road, and he didn’t turn the radio on once. When the phone rang, Precarious was home to answer it.
And now the highway ran parallel to Milky Way and on Route 77, the moon is always full, unless it is more dramatic for it to be a crescent. Precarious had found the on-ramp just after midnight, and then he chased it for several miles before overtaking the on-ramp and making his way onto the Interstitial Highway System. There was a tollboothe, which is a tollbooth manned by Powers Boothe, but Precarious just drove around it and gunned the engine.
A long time ago, Precarious had figured that the only a small group of people drove at night, at proper night, and there were three categories: workers, cops, and other. Truck drivers and nurses and delivery guys and strippers coming home from work had to be on the road. So did the cops. But the other folks wanted to be on the road that late and were clearly up to no good, and the cops knew it. The trick was, he further figured, to look like a worker. Now, Precarious had failed to figure out just exactly how to look like a worker, but he came back to the question many times over the years.
You take the shine off the guardrails, and multiply it by the ellipsiastical white dashes, and square it by the horizon; this is divided by the rearview. The windshield is for suckers, at night, in the dark. This is the highway, Precarious thought, and it was built straight so President Eisenhower could land planes on it and drive tanks on it in case the Communists went nuts: it’s predictable, and you follow the path. Route 77 posed its own challenges, though: the white lines moved around quite a bit and would often form very unflattering caricatures of motorists; the double-yellow is currently going through a goth phase, and dyed itself black, and that is simply the least helpful thing it could have done.
Precarious passed the Boondocks, which has the most remote stevedores in the world. In the Low Desert, the AC was fine and powerful even as the thermometer gave up and fires ignited among the Joshua bushes, which are like Joshua trees, but bushes. He followed rivers and skirted lakes; at one point he saw a glacier and didn’t know what to think of it, so he just kept driving. Almost nothing could have kept him from driving; he had somewhere to be.
The cops don’t give warnings on Route 77, and sometimes they eat you, so Precarious didn’t speed. He didn’t have to. The Interstitial knows when you have to be there, and if you know the Rules of the Road you can have a straight shot there and home without letting the clock know about it. It was a good deal, he thought, but occasionally he’d see the ghosts of drivers that got lost, or the husks of cars that ran out of gas. You had to know the Rules of the Road.
Borders are more conceptual on the Interstitial than normal, and Precarious chose not to think about it, so he didn’t have to stop. When he got to Toronto, he dropped off the package and stretched his legs and felt like having a cheeseburger. World’s changing, Precarious thought. Changed. But there’s still work for a man who can drive, if he knows the way. It was dark out and there was gas in the car and Precarious Lee drove out of the city as fast as he could onto the open highway, looking for Route 77. It is the road to Little Aleppo, and it is a hard truck, but God will reward you the miles.