350 Miles of Bad Road

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We were on Highway 1 leaving Ventura, heading north to San Francisco, when I lost my pencil.

The first place I looked was behind my ear, but even though I thought I had absentmindedly stuck it there a few seconds ago, the search proved fruitless. First I pinched the tufts of hair surrounding the left lobe, definitely non-regulation length, then the hair of the right just to be certain. My ears have always been large. I fingered each thin piece of pink cartilage as if it were capable of deception, gave that up as a bad beginning. I dropped my hand to my lap where I thought the pencil might have fallen and disappeared into a crevasse or wrinkle created by my posture. No such luck.

I flattened the palm of each hand on either side of my butt and began burrowing in among the papers and books, magazines and tissues used and the spilled contents of my Aunt’s purse, an empty soda can and two wrappers from a candy bar I’d just finished eating. Why do they put so much paper around a lousy piece of chocolate anyway? Two when one is enough? Ran my hands through this detritus as through a foamy dishpan seeking silverware.

No pencil.

I touched my breast from throat to stomach and opened the top-most button of my shirt, peered into the cloth covering my chest as if opening a cave to daylight. Not found.

For good measure, I stuck my hand deep into the concealment of my crotch and felt around. No pencil. I removed the hand, held the shirt cuff open with the index finger of my other hand and peeked down the sleeve

Still no pencil.

Shifting from side to side in the red fake leather-like upholstery, I thought perhaps to reveal the lost writing device by a touch other than that of sensitive fingertips. I squirmed my buttocks in the seat. No better luck. My hands fell to either side again, slipped beneath their respective ass-cheeks and knurled around the outside of my jeans in search of the missing utensil.

By this time I was half standing, hair to headliner, in the moving vehicle. My intention was to intensify the search, to cover more ground in and around me, to go beyond the cushion area, to look at my feet, dig into the crack in the back of the car seat. Nothing. As I dropped the full weight of my body down onto the springy-but-comfortable material, I expected to hear the wood snap as the graphite stick broke in half.

However, I did not find it in that manner either.

I became concerned. My anxiety increased as the search widened. I was probably giving more attention than was due such an innocuous item, but the thing had been in my hand only moments, perhaps seconds, before the hunt began. Now it was gone – magically taken from me, disappeared, obliterated, fragmented into molecules, whatever – who knows, perhaps by a feat of prestidigitation, possibly levitated out of this mortal plane when my back was turned.

A frantic left hand went again to the ear and grasped the yellow hexagon where it had been all along, where it belonged, in the right place, hidden by the hair and the natural camouflage of the ear-strap on my dark glasses which allowed the blasted yellow tool to elude my every inquiry.

What’s happening to me anyway? Oh, I forgot! I dropped acid today. A little while ago. This must be the first stage of the rush. That has to be it, I warned myself. Calm down, David, be calm. Let the traffic flow, David. Don’t get excited about a crummy pencil. Just remember the ride. Enjoy the ride. Forget the notebook and the pencil. You can’t take notes anyway when you’re high.

And remember, David, this is only the beginning. You have eight hours’ worth of trip in front of you, literally and metaphorically.

* * *

The edge is getting harder and harder to find.

Believe me, I’ve done my share of testing the envelope to know you don’t find excitement in ordinary living. Otherwise, we’d all just watch the sports channel every hour of every day.

Finding a thrill (reminds me of the Stones’ “Kicks Just Keep Gettin’ Harder to Find”) is getting more difficult. A safe thrill? Well, yah, that’s where you want to be, really. Secure in the knowledge you won’t get hurt. But then, that’s not a thrill, is it?

You see where I’m going here?

A dangerously safe place, I call it. That’s why people ride roller coasters, drive fast on the highway. Mountain climbers — they think they can pit skill against the force of gravity with impunity. It’s like a race car enthusiast who can no longer live vicariously, who can’t just sit there and watch as someone else takes the risks That’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout.

The kind of excitement that only comes when you take chances. Consider, then act, perhaps use your own design. Like the retired lawyer who builds bi-planes. He calculates stress, makes them safe to fly — only there’s that certain small percentage of probability that maybe it’ll fall out of the sky today. With him in it.

There you have it: the essence of a safari in Africa, the real life-threatening danger that comes from trusting everyone from your travel agent to your Kenyan guide. Additionally, you are at the mercy of the airline pilot whom you trust to get you safely across 6,000 miles of ocean and arid land at 32,000 feet.

Safe danger. An oxymoron, really. An impossible joining of two concepts that cannot live peacefully side-by-side.

It has long been a test of temerity in my family to ride as a passenger with my Aunt Casey at the wheel. She is in perfect health, never had an auto accident of any consequence and has driven on almost every continent under all sorts of weather conditions.

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