On the road again

There are many places on this planet where one can have a thoroughly enjoyable and liberating experience while engaged in the simple act of driving a car. Outer Nevada is definitely one of them.

It’s a Wednesday morning, early, about 6:20, and I’m pounding this lumbering SUV down Highway 375, aka The Extraterrestrial Highway. This Chevy Tahoe is one thirsty pig, getting about 15 miles per gallon on the open road, but that expensive guzzler of a V-8 under the hood allows me to set the cruise control for the heart of the rising sun at 82 mph.

Highway 375 is a swingin’ piece of work, especially for ‘Vette and Viper drivers looking for two-lane playpens. It’s smooth, flat, light on cops and empty—empty enough to make lonely ole Highway 50 seem Kietzke-esque by comparison. At this moment, in the perfectly rising light of the spreading dawn, it’s the antithesis of its nickname. At this moment, this highway couldn’t be more terrestrial.

It was cold out here last night, cold enough for the fog to freeze, resulting in a layer of pogonip on the sagebrush that has typically overrun this stretch of high desert. As the sun begins its photonic bombardment for the day, the light fog that dangles over the ground begins to thin. It’s as if the ghost of the dark is slipping off into its favorite hillside hiding spots, submitting agreeably to the unstoppable force of That Star. The marsh hawk that was sitting atop a reflecting post along the side of the road launches itself into the mist, disturbed by the oncoming roar of my vehicle. He flaps away, quickly becoming invisible in the fading fog.

I click the radio on, curious to see what crazed jive can be received out here in the safety of this solitude. The radio searches and quickly finds KNX, a news-talk giant in Los Angeles. The Happy Face News Team brings on exactly what I want to hear: a frenzied burst of chaotic traffic reports (six-car tangle on the Hollywood Freeway), police blotter desperados (like the car thief who broke both ankles jumping into a dry canal while fleeing the cops) and stupid stuff. (How does a 1 percent drop in the nation’s annual french fry consumption rate qualify as a news story?)

Give it to me, Happy Face News Team. Give it to me good. Sear my ear holes with the groaning, crunching gears of Kesey’s Combine. Let me eavesdrop on the crazed carnival of Everyday while hurtling through wide open spaces on this sacred asphalt sanctuary, and let me indulge in the wickedly smug feeling that I’m not a part of it anymore, that I’ve somehow escaped, even if that feeling is only a fleeting illusion that will blow up in an hour when I pull into the Scolari’s in Tonopah to stock up on ice, bread and psyllium products.

You know, come to think of it, this just might be the Extraterrestrial Highway, after all.