Friday, August 10, 2012
By Jim Christopher
108 Degrees. Henry’s ass crack was getting chafed. Why did he wear jeans for the long drive back to Los Angeles? The trip south on Route 17 brought him down to the valley floor and the temperature soared with each mile. Henry couldn’t afford to run the A/C non-stop. He’d turn it on when there was a downward incline, letting gravity do the work, and when the road leveled and he had to press the gas again, he turned it off. A/C uses gas, he thought. He’d have to suffer.
A sign indicated Phoenix in 28 miles. What an appropriate name, Henry thought. He imagined a bird spontaneously bursting into flames from the intense heat – scorched feathers drifting to the asphalt like the remnants of a pillow fight in hell.
Henry scanned the dash of his 1996 Nissan Sentra. The temperature gauge was at three-quarters. The fuel gauge showed only an eighth of a tank of gas. That wouldn’t do. Once he connected with Interstate 10 he’d have a three hundred mile stretch heading West with few signs of life. He had to stop in the next half hour and that meant Phoenix. There was no way around it.
The sprawling Valley of the Sun stretched out like a monopoly board. Palm trees and swathes of green indicated golf courses and the recurring billboards hawked unfinished developments to unemployed and overleveraged passersby who would never be able to make the balloon payments.
Henry thought of the air in his tires. Heat would cause expansion. He hadn’t checked them before he left Sedona. And the engine coolant. Check that too. This little car had lasted many years – the two of them bought it new and he never expected to still be driving it. But a lot had changed.
He saw it on the right, one of those huge trucker stops with a sign as tall as the Chrysler building shouting Mexican Food and Diesel. Henry guided his subcompact into the draft of a Kenworth and rolled up next to a pump. The smell of Diesel fuel and tamales hit with the hot blast of Arizona air as he opened his car door.
Henry stood by his car squeezing the pump handle as he watched the digital numbers flash: nine, ten, eleven gallons… click. Forty six dollars. It was a lot of money. But it was worth it. The trip was a success. He hung up the pump handle and inhaled deeply, the scent of cigarettes joining the desert stench. Henry watched a forty-something dad sucking on a Marlboro while he deposited a king’s ransom into a rented camper from El Monte RV.
That will never be you, he thought.