I was following down the highway after my dream-love at ninety-five miles an hour. She and I were the two fastest cars on the road. I was at the wheel of an air-conditioned 1971 Ford Galaxie (at that time the suburban car par excellence), she was in a black Chevrolet pickup, 1970, the make embossed and then painted in large white letters on the tailgate; she kept the window open all the way to blow a sultry wind through pale-blonde hair. I had not yet seen her face and I was having a hard time keeping up.
I blasted the radio as loud as it would go over the air-conditioning. KCRQ San Diego, having played off American and British hits and totaled consecutive telephone-preference victories for each, was plumping down the swollen fruit of its British Invasion Weekend, driving toward Number One in the standings.
Down — below the ocean
That’s where — I want to be, want to be
Down — below the ocean
That’s where — I want to be, she may be
When they switched into the long version of Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Born on the Bayou” I was feeling powerful and good. My eyes were glutted with half-shadowed summer California hills and irrigated fields, my ears blared with the heavy steady rhythm of right vibration, my body moved with added strength at will, faster than the more mediocre cars on the road, my orange pink T-shirt and hair not suitable for job interviews revealed me to be (as I imagined) more alive and in-touch with the universe than they, and more than any or all of this — fleeting and illusory as it might in the end prove to be — I had abandoned myself to the pursuit of my mystery-shrouded dream, the faceless all-counts-answered alabaster miracle-prize at the end of my lifelong wandering, my misty all-enchanting one-before-everything, all-America beauty-queen — substanceless image that made a man pour out his all to try to win. Well, that’s what a man was supposed to do, in those times.
When I was just a little boy —
Standin’ to my Daddy’ knee —
The energy of the music did more than I could even think about, ever, but my car moved at almost the very pitch.
My papa said Son don’ let the man gitcha:
Do what he done to me.
(‘Cause he’ll getcha)
Was there someone I should attack with all this life-strength I had now in hand?
(‘Cause he’ll getcha mama)
Because of my fear of the law and some elementary safety precautions on curves (she knew the road better), I would not maintain more than 92 or 93 on my speedometer and I began to slip farther behind. For why, I reasoned, risk a substantial loss for something that felt good to pursue but to win or lose would make, in reality, no difference? Clearly I was the second-fastest car on the road. Yet there was no faster man and that, I decided, was the important thing.
As the amplified rumbling bass beats and occasional slicing tenor of the song continued to rattle the loose chrome and echo in traffic below Riverside my Chevrolet pilgrim-love passed an old green Buick and a gold Pinto, who then both passed a camper and were left between us. Fearful of losing sight of her permanently (Would it be absurd to say that an American is fiercely attached to his dreams even when he knows them for what they are?) I sped up, passed a yellow light, and hung beh1nd the Pinto, trying to pressure him into moving back into the right lane. On his bumper unmistakable fluorescent pink-tape letters spelled “GET OFF MY TAIL.”
Then as if by magic both intervening cars put on their blinkers, pulled into a left-turn lane and left me to pursue my black Chevy pick-up blonde unimpeded.
The reunion was glorious and brief. I shouted with the final notes of the song and the opening lyrics of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence”:
Hello darkness my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
I took a moment to relish the trappings: what things, I wondered, filled out the life of my pilgrim-love? Was it the suburbs or the country that surrounded the pickup at night, did she and her husband raise crops or was he an engineer in the city and she a housewife, did she or they live with family, were there (it was an ugly thought) children of hers and another man’s? There was something compelling and American in the scene I could not identify.
‘Neath the halo of a streetlamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
— split the night —
and touched the sound… of silence…
There were signs directing us to Spanish place-names: Encinitas Drive, Los Nietos, Laguna Rd. She had not yet begun to pull away from me again. Suddenly I was filled and helpless, unable to move — paralyzed at the wheel, the windshield, the accelerator — at the marvel of love this moment.
… And the sign said the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls —
I blinked to clear my vision. I shivered. My desperation did not amaze me, I enjoyed it, I celebrated it. I wanted the highway to narrow to two lanes so that the two of us would be trapped together.
It worked out rather differently. It narrowed at a time when she was passing two cars and I was behind them; again, separation. We climbed a long hill, my pace set by two slow vehicles, hers unencumbered by any limitation save the power of her truck. At the top of the hill the song changed to “A Day in the Life.” A third lane appeared. The sign said YIELD TO UPHILL TRAFFIC but I rushed by at ninety-eight miles an hour, my headlights warning away would-be challengers, the Galaxie squeezing between the two sluggards on the right and a stream of uphill traffic at one hundred sixty miles an hour to the left; it seemed so tight and reckless at that speed I was tempted to close my eyes.
He blew his mind out in a car
He didn’t notice that the lights had changed
Back in the right lane I had nearly caught up with my dream-woman when she pulled out to pass a Dodge Dart. I pulled out behind her. We both made it back into the right lane before the road narrowed again.
They’d seen his face before
Nobody was really sure
if he was from the House of Lords
Why was I driving so recklessly? Why was I behaving in so un-adult a manner? It didn’t seem like, it didn’t feel like me. I was a frustrated teenager, a hot-rod dragster showing off to the girls. Could a dream be more than a dream? If we could meet, she and I, it would be an achievement against the distance of geography and background between us, against the likelihood that we — the California sex-symbol fantasy-girl and the supposedly suffering intellectual who ought to know better —would ever come in contact, would ever meet across anything less than opposite sides of a lunch counter; it would be an assertion of human will against blind nature and the probabilities of conventional society. But how could I fall so in love with one whose face I had only imagined, with one about whom my only knowledge was how she drove and what? Should a person be, could he afford to be so indifferent to the characteristics of his individual loved-object? — I was loath to pass judgment on the state of mind implied. But was it possible that lovers in general, looked at unsuperficially, are more or less in the same boat?
Could it be anybody?
(I laid the burden of another Sgt. Pepper line over the radio’s.)
I need somebody
Well, I was a lost soul. If her body were lying naked before me (but don’t get me wrong, it’s not one of those trips) I would cover her with kisses all the way down her flanks and… hey, whoa fella!
But now as the sun began to dip behind a mountain she slowed the truck, put on her right-turn signal, and finally pulled off into a Shell station, I had to make a quick decision. Before I knew what was happening or what the consequences might be I had passed the entrance — and lost sight of her, probably forever!
But wait — there was an exit too. Jamming the brakes I managed to twist my way in — no, it wasn’t over.
But then just as I made the turn, out of nowhere the pickup lurched toward me, then suddenly spun and screeched to a skidding halt, kicking up a sandstorm of dust and dirt — just barely tapping my front bumper with her rear.
My brain reeled but there wasn’t time: She revved her engine and peeled out of the station on two wheels. “What the hell is she doing?” — the whole thing made no sense — too comic-book! I floored the pedal and spun the Galaxie on the same two wheels — the chase was on!
In the deepening twilight we approached a town with a multitude of highways and a flashing red hung over the main intersection. I was no more than ten seconds behind her as she came to a stop, and proceeded. But when I reached this point an aged woman with a walker had left the curb and was now almost directly in front of me. She paused as if fighting for breath and turned to look at me. What was I fighting for? Nerve wrackingly she continued. I was ready to tear my hair. In front of my left headlight — again she stopped. Why was she doing this? Was she trying to prevent my success? Why was anybody doing anything? What about all my dreams?
At last she was clear and I zoomed off. But the pickup had vanished. There were too many forks, too many turns. I circled one block, hoping to spot the pickup parked in front of a tavern, or somewhere; then another block. The darkness deepened. I didn’t know which way to choose. Without hope I drove off on one of the secondary highways, beating the steering wheel. My eyes filled with tears of anguish and anger and finally I pulled off the road and sat a long time in the dark, in the wilderness.
# # #
© Jerry Kurtz 1976