Along 108, 11/9–11/10

We’re not even past Manteca when I wander carelessly into an argument about climate change and the primaries. It ends poorly, with one friend red-faced and seething in the driver’s seat and me in tears, confused—but not really—at how easily I make people angry when I’m only playing a game. 

A neutral third party, child of schoolteachers, tries to mediate from the back. It is gently suggested I tend to belabor semantics. (Moi?)

“Listen, have you ever seen Star Trek?”

“I’m not Spock,” I protest, wiping my nose on my sleeve. I’ve heard this one before. “I have feelings.”

Apart from semantics, color and light

Chief among them: I’m tired. In trying to make up for a summer lost to my new job, I set a rat-a-tat cadence of shoulder-season trips I didn’t really have the energy to take. The weekend-warrior maneuvers have always been hard: fractious Friday-night logistics, restless sleep, pre-dawn alarm. Sixteen or so waking hours of the good stuff before the reluctant slog back to reality, straight into the glare of the sun bleeding out in Central Valley smog. Those drives are so much longer than they used be, the dread of the Monday so much heavier in my chest. This late in the year the days are short and cold along the edges.

So what I want to do, if I’m honest, is crib from notes on another day I didn’t feel like trying very hard and have brunch on the deck of the Jamestown Hotel. My friends will not say no to me, now that I’ve scared them by behaving like a girl—so I order French toast and inform them we will be here for a while.

I know, but there’s a miniature town in the stem of the glass.

Our waitress is a grandmotherly type in sensible shoes and a black butterfly-sleeved blouse. I can see her pausing over it at the sale rack, a scene so vivid I realize I may cry again when she arrives to take our orders. She moved to Jamestown after a divorce, she says, doesn’t miss him or the city or a single damn thing. She works when they’ll have her. She likes seeing people find a moment to breathe.

The boys make steady progress on biscuits and gravy. When the server returns to distribute the remains of the mimosa pitcher, she just grazes their glasses before chugging the lion’s share into mine with a wink.

“Ready to roll?” one friend asks me tentatively as I finish my drink. We’ve got another hour or so in the car and they want to ride. “No,” I announce gravely. “I want to go antiquing.”

We get to Pinecrest eventually. I bail on a long cross-country route in favor of dozing by the lake like a civilian, guzzling sun in the brief afternoon hours that still look like summer. The crowds are manageable now, and if you keep out of the shadows it’s warm enough.

I do ride a little: just the short stuff, more a vague gesture at the French toast than anything else. There is a moment after dropping in from a road crossing when my friends and the trail turn directly into the setting sun. As they pull away from me they are cast suddenly into silhouettes against the their own rising dust, lit deep orange and red through the trees. I hit the brakes, taste the dirt settling on my tongue as I watch them disappear into plumes of light.

Even when I won’t follow

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