On a sultry August night,
I'm driving down Highway 87
through the heart of Texas.
My windows alternately steam and defog
as I turn the air conditioning on and off
and open and close the windows.
The stench of a thousand oilfields
forces its way in,
reeking worse than a planet
full of mutant skunks.
The radio scan button alternates between
screaming static and five lonely midnight broadcasts:
a low-budget radiovangelist,
yelling in southern drawl that,
'the end-a of-a the world-a is-a near-a!'
Art Bell interviewing a physicist who claims
That he regularly travels through time;
a distant Tex-Mex Spanish station;
a country station playing a medley
of George Jones, Loretta Lynn, and Patty Page;
and dueling traffic and weather updates,
fading in and out from LA and New Orleans,
competing for the title of Airwave Dominance,
if only for a night.
These are my road trip travel companions,
talking very loudly to keep me awake.
Like the Blues Brothers,
'I'm on a mission from God,'
my late Hyundai Excel overloaded to the hilt
with food and clothing,
making a beeline to an orphanage
just across the Mexican border.
I feel God smiling down on me,
and He rewards me by pulling back
the translucent veil that separates
the Earth and the canopy of the night sky.
A zillion happy stars, now safely convinced that
the whole world lies in slumber
and that no one is watching,
come out to play.
They run hither and thither,
silently and surreptitiously,
reminiscent of the classic fairy tale,
'The Shoemaker and the Elves.'
As the star which is 'it' counts,
another to the east dodges across the sky,
mischievously giggling while trying
to restrain its laughter,
lest its hiding place be revealed;
then another to the west;
then another to the north;
then another to the south;
then another straight above;
emboldened by the others.
On and on they go for hours,
Indefatigably playing endless rounds
of hide and seek.
I turn off my headlights
and drive stealthily through
the pitch-black darkness,
my nose pressed in fascination
against the inside of the windshield
as I crane my neck and look straight up
into the celestial fireworks display
high above in the night sky.
Hoping the stars won't know that I'm watching,
I squeal in childlike delight
at every shooting star,
sharing the excitement with myself.
I pull over and lean back
on the overheated hood of my hatchback,
hy head resting in my clasped hands
as I recline comfortably against the windshield
and gaze up at the sky in wonder.
The stars have now seen me,
and send Mr. Sandman to bring slumber to my eyes.
Yawning like a child up long past his bedtime,
I suddenly realize how exhausted I am
and crawl into my makeshift bed on wheels,
lulled to sleep by the lullaby
of a million frogs and crickets.
In the morning, I am greeted by a pale dawn sky,
and, like the cliché ending to a short story,
I wonder if it was all but a dream.