Riding Shotgun

 Riding Shotgun

Expansive valley and low clouds, in Yellowstone N.P., but I was having a hard time appreciating it due to my crazy driving partner.

            Materializing out of the forest at a curve ahead in the road, the old weathered concrete block building looked completely incongruous after hours of driving through the amazing landscape of Yellowstone National Park.  It offered the prospect of a much needed pause from what already had been an exhilarating, yet exhausting long drive.  This was a rescue facility, plain and simple, and not some shiny tourist oasis.  Fuel, towing, and minor repairs were its primary functions.  Public restrooms and refreshments were an afterthought.  Several crusty carafes on a hotplate offered dark fluid vaguely resembling coffee.  A shelf below the greasy counter displayed a slim selection of overpriced candy.  I filled my travel mug with the noxious liquid, grabbed a couple of giant Milky Way bars, then went outside for a smoke and to soak up the aroma of pine trees while contemplating the sheer wonder of being where I was.  My traveling partner, Todd, soon emerged from the building carrying something, and broke my reverie by announcing he would take over driving.  I would be riding shotgun for this next leg of our journey.  Had I any inkling what the ensuing hour would portend I might have protested.

          Todd and I had spent the previous five days driving a huge RV across the country in order to deliver it in Oregon.  On this day we rented a car so we could travel easily around Yellowstone – driving to take a break from the driving job.  Our time on the road had demonstrated his skill behind the wheel.  But he also drove me crazy by his propensity to have his attention diverted from the task at hand by continually fiddling with his phone – either making calls, looking for messages, or trying to text.  Then he would commence messing with the GPS, or adjusting his playlist, while getting tangled in the wires. and maintaining a constant barrage of profane oaths and a running commentary on the driving skills, or questionable family origins, of those unfortunates sharing the same patch of pavement.  I did not think it could get worse!  Now, being behind the wheel of a fast maneuverable car, instead of the sluggish RV, my partner’s crazed driving traits were amplified.  Also, he had made a most unfortunate choice of snack food – individually wrapped Hershey’s Chocolate Kisses!

          Climbing out of the secure confines of the forest to a landscape of exposed mountains and deep valleys, the narrow pavement had no berm, no guardrails or cables, and even lacked the decency of painted lines.  While navigating this, and wanting to pass all vehicles, Todd was driving with his wrists on the steering wheel while trying to remove tinfoil off his Chocolate Kisses instead of watching the road.  Brake lights were not detected until seconds before collision, as were his deviations from our asphalt path.  The view of the mountains, valleys, and canyons below was extraordinary, but I was having a difficult time appreciating it for fear we would soon be having an up-close-and-personal look at the bottom.

          Prayers that he had purchased a small bag of Kisses proved futile!  It apparently was the industrial size, and was bottomless.  All I could do to rein in my fear was to try to focus on the distant views and ignore what was going on in the driver’s seat.  Then I would hear the plastic bag rustle again as he reached for another.  The crinkling bag signaled that this terrifying ride would last a little longer.

          Suddenly Todd veered off at an official scenic overlook.  The contents of the bag had been exhausted, and my nerves were shot!  My recovery from alcohol and drug addiction, as well as surviving cancer, compared favorably to this fear-wracked ride which seemed as if it would never end.  Certainly, a delegation awaited to present a ribbon of valor as I opened the door.


Edited excerpt from my book, Hitting the Road Without a Map



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