Somewhere backstage, some time or other, a woman had told Precarious Lee that a journey of thousand miles begins with a single step, and he was noncommittal; he knew it wasn’t true. A journey of a thousand miles begins with finding the proper pair of shoes. And while Precarious knew it was an allegory, he still idly wondered why you would walk a thousand miles. If that’s what your God demands, he thought; his God was right over the horizon, and while Precarious had never explicitly identified his personal deity as American, it was assumed.
But skies darken, and fill, and burst; the road gives way to nature just as a man upon it does. Slowly, cracking and baking and freezing; all at once, washed out and down the hill and never to be seen again. Now you see ’em, now you don’t. Precarious had his maps, dog-eared and notated in his block-letter pencil; there was always a Plan B. The gear wouldn’t fit through the door, or the town ahead was on fire, or there had been a surprise eclipse and all the cows had drowned themselves: these things would happen.
Go around? Hunker down and find a bar, with a motel attached? Precarious always allowed for the option of getting up a head of steam and bulling through a problem; he found it worked more often than you would think. There was no turning back, Precarious always thought. It’s too late to turn back now. Even if he wanted to double back, the turning radius of a 1972 Pontiac Grand Prix was approximately the size of Kansas and it was too much of a hassle. Precarious had tried to do a K-turn the day he picked up the car and given up halfway through; better just to go forward, he figured.
The Grand Prix wasn’t the best car he ever drove: it used the same suspension technology as a Conestoga wagon did, but you could get it with a 455 cubic inch engine that made 300 horsepower, which was enough. Pontiac also used the fact that doors were the longest ever made as a selling point, and that tickled Precarious, and it was available in Cumberland Blue; that sealed the deal. Besides, he didn’t keep cars all that long.
Precarious kept the window rolled down so he could smell the weather; it had to be damn near zero for him to put it up. He never ashed out his window, though, and never ever tossed his butt from the car. Lady Bird Johnson had asked for Americans to help beautify the highways, and Precarious thought that was an excellent idea. He may have had a mild crush on Mrs. Johnson, but that was the sort of thing that got you made fun of backstage. If someone else admitted to it, Precarious leveled with himself, he would make fun of them; he kept his infatuation to himself.
Dammit, Precarious, can’t you sit still? That was his mother, over and over, and years after her death he had an answer: I can sit still as long as I’m moving forward. In a farm town, life progressed by the season. The earth set the pace. The ground told you what to do, and the sky told you when to do it. And when the storms came-and they came, and they came, and they came–you had no exit ramp, and you had no bar with the motel attached, and you had no choice. You sat there and you took it.
Sometimes in conversation, he would let himself embellish his childhood; it wasn’t that bad, though. Outdoors a lot, healthy. Made him strong as hell and taught him how to work, he figured. Sure as shit didn’t sleep til noon like some people he knew. But people belong somewhere, Precarious knew, and sometimes it wasn’t the place they were born. He had an elaborate theory about personality types and geography, how mountain people were different from desert people and so on. Precarious was a road person, and a farm no place for that sort; three months and nine days after his sixteenth birthday, he walked across town to the bus station, stopping to post a letter to his mother.
The windshield was bad news. There were storms, and the radio fizzed and crackled and so did the clouds; Precarious knew the safest place during a lightning storm was in a Pontiac Grand Prix, and he feathered off the gas as he inspected his future. The sky was angry, and Precarious had an uncanny feeling that the anger was specifically directed at him; the hairs on the back of shoulders stood up.
He had skirted the path of Hurricane Beyoncé, which was one of the fiercest to ever hit the Gulf Coast. Gambled and lost outside Iowa City in the spring, and had to shelter from hail the size of pork chops. That’s how two locals described the hail, but Precarious was sure that wasn’t right. Rockslides and landslides and mudslides; once in Colorado, he saw a treeslide. The trees all just fell over. That one worried him a bit.
And there was an exit, there was the off-ramp, there was the way to get home: Route 77, lying out there just like a killer in the sun. Precarious smiled and he gunned the engine; it was a V8 with no turbo-charger so it screamed just as soon as he mashed the gas, and then he remembered the last time he had ducked a storm on 77.
The weather looked iffy, so Precarious got onto the Interstitial. It was nice and smooth, and it was a perfect day: he stayed on 77 until the evening and then merged back onto the more-agreed-upon version of reality; the road was slick, and the wind blew him sideways nearly into the Chevy next to him; refrigerated trucks loaded with malt liquor were swept off bridges, and streaks and bolts and jags of white and yellow broke the sky in half, quarters, eighths. This, Precarious thought, was worse.
He swerved to the right, and made a bulbous u-turn across all the lanes of the road; there was a bar a little ways back, Precarious had noticed; it had a motel attached. The storm would blow over, or he would lose patience with nature’s meanderings just like he did as when he was sixteen, roll up his window, go through the problem. The secret to shortcuts, Precarious thought, was knowing when not to take them.
A little bit of weather cannot be avoided on the road. There was rain hitting Precarious Lee’s arm as he drove, but he didn’t mind, and he left the window rolled down.