Okay, so when I quit writing this blog – quite a while ago now – I had agreed with Elizabeth George that murder, or at least something akin to it, is important to every mystery story. Is, in fact, important to humankind. It is in the extreme, that the tale is told, that the characters struggle and take heart, or lose it.
You, dear reader – and I imagine there aren’t many of you left by now – may have wondered where I went, not having written on this blog for some time. I’ve been crossing the country by automobile, proving that almost anybody can – with a little bit of luck. It wasn’t until I got here, that I realized my friends weren’t fearful about my trip because I was 74 and driving alone. They were worried because I’m not much of a driver. Since I arrived, I’ve been dealing with all the bureaucracies that intersect our lives when we move from one place to another. Worse than the hardest, longest ride on US 80. Much worse.
There were mysteries in the crossing. There had to be. There’s so much oddness in this country. Everyone seems to be waiting to make their first appearance in a cozy mystery or, at the very least, a B movie with zombies.
However, I didn’t cross the country to find new plots for mysteries. I crossed the country to get to the other side. I left the nearly perfect state of Vermont (give or take a winter or two) to go to the very imperfect state of California.
I had hardly crossed the Vermont border when I began to show signs of not knowing what I was doing. I got lost in the suburbs of Albany trying to find Highway 90 so that I could actually start the trip. It was a learning experience, of course. Always. I discovered that the Erie Canal, or signs to it, were nearly everywhere. History in funky neighborhoods. The quiet waters were an anomaly alongside the fast food, machine shops, schools and working class neighborhoods.
When I found Rt. 90 I also discovered that 90 wasn’t just the name of the highway, it was the speed the drivers aspired to. If I traveled the 70 posted, I would be traveling jowl by fender with trucks many times my size. My scenery would be confined to massive metal walls, some of them colored over in bright lettering, all them roaring and growling, every one of them a threat to me and my little red PT cruiser. So the cruiser learned to travel at 80 mph with all the grown up cars. Poor thing. I’d apologized to it for Vermont’s dirt roads, but here it was performing new feats, feats for which it was never designed. Nor was I.
I had traveled nearly as far as Rochester when I decided, willy nilly, to get off and look for a motel. I envisioned motels everywhere. I‘d choose one. Instead I found myself in lovely green communities, full of parks, schools, libraries and upper middle class homes. One after another after another. No matter where I turned, there was one more small, gentrified town surrounded on all sides by meadows and fields. But never a motel or a restaurant or even a general store. There were cars occasionally, but no pedestrians. Kind of Stephen King, it seemed to me. Inscrutable.
I did, by the way, try looking at a map, many times in fact, but it’s hard to find those little blue roads and harder still to locate where you are when you haven’t any idea where you are. Somewhere, not too far from Rochester?
Inevitably, finally, one turn took me to less affluent communities. But it was the same thing at another economic level. No Rochester or signs to it. No Buffalo or signs to it. No stores. No gas stations. And 90 was altogether lost. The sky darkened. I knew east from west and north from south. It wasn’t enough.
One hour, two hours, passed and it was night time. I couldn’t find a highway with more than two lanes and an exit to a motel. I’d have sung a Gloria for a McDonalds. This was to be my life. I was to spend it driving on two lane roads in northern New York state. Up, and down; should I go this way – or that?
(to be continued)