At Victorville we pulled into a Wendy's. We had made our way across the Mojave in the worst way: we had gotten up to see the sun rise at the Grand Canyon, and then packed ourselves in the truck and worked our way over to Needles. We crossed the Colorado there at around noon, which meant we spent the next four or five hours driving up and down desert hills in the full midday heat of late July. About halfway across the Mojave on I-40 there's a little rest area, where we stopped for the restroom. I remember bikers and others standing under what shade there was, smoking. I suppose if you were on a motorcycle, standing in 110-degree shade wasn't any worse than riding in 110-degree wind. But anyone who had left an air-conditioned car in favor of those conditions had to be seriously dedicated to the craft of smoking.
We had planned to stop and eat at Barstow, but as we made the leftward bend from I-40 to I-15 we saw nothing to lure us in, just a landscape of weather-beaten little houses and commercial strips that was even less inviting than the desert we had just driven through. So we went on, and I marveled a bit at the aqueduct, and wondered about all this. Finally we spotted green plants and a familiar sign at Victorville, and we were starving by then, and so we pulled off and parked.
I wonder what that trip would have been if Eric hadn't been with me. It would have been a long way to drive, alone, into the unknown of adulthood and a real job in a strange land.
It was before we knew better, so we got what you get at Wendy's: burgers, or a chicken sandwich maybe, fries and a Coke and a Frosty. We took our trays and sat down. We didn't talk much. We had spent a week climbing in and out of the front seat of my pickup truck, packed with everything I owned. My furniture consisted of a rocking chair, a coat rack, and a couple of lamps. I didn't own a bed or a television or a table. A coat rack, though. At least a third of the load was books. After a week of hauling this stuff from Gambier to Victorville, with a stop in Oklahoma City (Anne, who rode a ways with us) and side trips to Phoenix (Dorien, and where Anne got out), and the Grand Canyon, there wasn't a lot of small talk left.
At the next table were a father and his adult son. I glanced at them as we sat down. The son turned to me and said, with extreme earnestness, "I noticed, from your license plate, that you are from Ohio. As am I."
"Um - uh-huh." Or something to that effect.
"From Dayton," he said.
I was seated with my back mostly to him. That was the extent of our conversation, but throughout the meal it became apparent that the son had his hands full with his father. "Dad, do you want an ice cream? Dad, I'll get you your own ice cream if you want one. Dad - dad - I told you if you wanted an ice cream I would get you one."
We finished and walked back to the truck. Eric asked me if I had seen what was happening. Apparently, not wanting to impose the full burden of a second Frosty on his son, the father had wiped out the ashtray that was on the table and scooped several spoonfuls into it.
We laughed. Now, with the benefit of experience, I would say that in the end, all you can hope for is that you'll have someone to try to keep you from using the ashtray as your ice cream dish.
We got back into the truck for the last time on that trip - maybe there was a stop for gas - and rode over the Cajon Pass and down into the endless suburbs east of Los Angeles. Back then, if you faced in the right direction and squinted, it could still look like California, the oil wells and scrubby flats that Marlowe drove around when he was making trouble his business. But I don't know if I was thinking about that; I was busy seeing it (for the last time) for the first time. At Claremont, Kelly was waiting for us with the key.