That old familiar road trip feeling – a spreading sense of wonder & possibility – didn’t settle over me until about an hour into the voyage, after I watched the sun set over San Juan Island’s Friday Harbor. My spirit rose at the idea I was off to see places I had never seen and drive roads I had never driven. In celebration I decided to browse the duty-free.
San Juan Island has had a long and storied history which includes being home to one of the longest running wars on American soil that didn’t cause unnecessary delay in airports and of course the famed “Pig War” that you should look up because it was called the Pig War. Friday Harbor itself was supposedly named for Joseph Poalie Friday, a Hawaiian in the employ of (then) island owner the Hudson Bay Company. As the Chelan set off towards a rose-hued horizon I realized that this more or less meaningless gesture (“British colonists may have brought about the ruin and subjugation of your homeland and people but hey – we named a sheep station after you”) would turn out to mimic western foreign policy throughout most of the 20th century.
Night had fallen by the time our ferry reached the dock at Anacortes. I started making my way through darkened residential streets (I despise interstates and avoid them whenever possible) toward my destination for the evening, the Homestead Inn & Suites in Bellevue, Washington. During a pit stop on the Swinomish Indian Reservation I saw what may have been Skagit County’s most dilapidated functional automobile – some nameless four-door beast, vast in the way only American cars can be, painted the same shade of green as my grandparents’ bathroom.
It was covered at intervals in patches of rust, with a roof that had faded from black to a Library of Congress gray. Despite being rundown, the car somehow retained an air of dignity and sunset splendor, like an elderly drag queen. It certainly caught the eye of the overweight Latino women who had gathered in their Friday best outside the liquor store to get a solid buzz going before heading to the nearby casino. They tottered over unsteadily on too-tall heels to coo at the driver, an angular middle-aged man with iron grey hair cut close to the skin, while he polished the windshield. Never let it be said that small-town Friday nights are boring.
On my way off the reservation I found George Noory’s Coast to Coast on the AM band and kept it there as the miles slipped by. Coast to Coast is talk radio specializing in the kind of things that only make sense after the sun goes down – alien abduction, ESP and government conspiracy theories, to name a few. Tonight Noory’s guest was David Ruben, a modestly famous “life coach” and firm believer in “precognitive dreams” – dreams that are windows into the future. Ruben maintains that just such a dream had helped him save the life of his son.
As I joined the interstate for the final stretch into Bellevue, Coast to Coast’s signal started to fade and every cloverleaf that passed overhead brought with it a wave of static washing across Ruben’s voice like waves breaking over the bow of a ship. His thoughts on the continuance of life after death slowly began to disappear among the screeching phantom voices that live in the space between radio signals. I’m far too practical to take any of what Ruben says seriously but all the same, every time the rolling static took more of the signal and the in-betweeners screamed in triumph a chill ran down my spine. It was a comfort that my motel was only a few miles away.
Now I know why no one listens to the radio anymore.
Brennan Storr writes the blog Largely the Truth