Saturday, November 14, 2009

Population 3,147

The first few days on the road are glorious. Those days play out exactly as you would imagine. You sleep a fitful sleep, plagued not with the thoughts of a directionless day job awaiting you on the other side. Rather, this is a peaceful, restorative sleep, the likes of which usually only happen on a Friday evening, when only the impending sense of a languid Saturday lulls you into a deep rest.

In the morning, you awaken, confused for just a moment about what city you're in, where you are, and which friends you're about to share breakfast with. Through years of training, your brain naturally prompts you to roll over and get another 15 minutes of sleep. Then, suddenly, you remember that there are adventures to be had.

You bound out of bed and take a few moments to thank your friends for hosting you for the night. After a quick shower and breakfast, you head straight for the front door, eager to see what happens next.

On those original days, as soon as you walk out of the front door, you have a soft, emotional outburst. The second the sun hits your eyes, the full weight of realization hits you: today, there is nothing but freedom. There are no responsibilities besides the adventures of a man with nothing to accomplish. On those first days, when you meet the sun, your knees get weak and threaten to collapse, and you laugh. Nothing is funny. But you laugh all the same. It is not a deep, cathartic guffaw at something humorous. No. It's just...just a laugh. An expulsion of some weakly overjoyed...some free emotion.

Composing yourself, you get into your car, affix your sunglasses, and open your sun roof. Turn the ignition. Roll down the window. Set your left arm on the sill. Double check your directions.



Something happens after the first nine days. Or, maybe it begins to happen before the ninth day, but that ninth day is when this creature rears it's head in it's most noticeable visage: Fatigue. There won't be any symptoms until the evening time, after a rich day's worth of story-gathering. But then, out of nowhere, you're just tired. But you push through, because everyone would kill for this opportunity. So you shake it off, and keep pushing on.

But each day grows a little worse. You become tired earlier and earlier in the day. You promised yourself that you wouldn't overdo caffeine anymore, but you don't have much of a choice. The cups of coffee become larger and more frequent. Each dose brings temporary relief, at the expense of your poor nervous system.

Then, after thirteen days, in Nashville, Illinois, it finally takes you down.


This happened to me. I woke up on November 12th, 2009, after getting a hotel room one hour east of St. Louis. I had planned on visiting St. Louis and Springfield, Illinois that day, but my body -my mind- had different plans. I woke up and had to think for a couple of minutes about what day it was, and how long I had been driving the evening before (it was about five hours, more or less). Rolling out of bed, without showering, my legs carried the dead weight of the rest of my body to the truck stop next door. I ordered eggs and a biscuit.

From here, things went on autopilot.

I ordered a cup of coffee that I didn't touch. I ate my meal, though, and then watched myself float back to the hotel. Once inside, I heard a voice that sounded remarkably like mine request to stay in the hotel for another evening. That voice even mentioned the same room number that I stayed in the night before. The funny thing was, I don't recall making that decision. And yet, here I was- about to spend my second evening in Nashville, Illinois, population 3,147. They have a Hardees, and at least two gas stations.

Leaving the front desk, I watched myself saunter back to my hotel room from the evening before. I affixed the 'Do Not Disturb' sign to my doorknob, and fell onto the bed.

There I stayed until the next morning, when I awoke and felt, at long last, refreshed.

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