Drinking good wine out of paper cups at the Howard Johnson’s in the mountains, the knocking through the wall could be the neighbors signaling Keep it down, or the neighbors knocking each other around, with the bed frame. We decide it’s the latter, and turn our music up so the kids can’t hear.
In the morning checking out, the complimentary breakfast and starkness of it in the hotel conference room with remnants of other snotty families and their crumbs, no effort to put garnish around the ice bath with the yogurt, or prim up the store-bought muffins. The showcase is a belgian waffle maker that squeals across the room when it’s done, and cuts through the news reportage on the corner TV: football, terrorists, rain changing to showers.
I find a Joy Division CD in the glove compartment I forgot about, perfect for the moody drive home across the mountain passes, with the fog curling around the trees and tufts of grass against the snow. It puts me in a trance with just my hand on the wheel and the other, on a coffee, bound to drive the two hours straight and let the CD turn over once, maybe twice.
I want to go slow through the passage south from Leavenworth down to Cle Elum and west again, toward Seattle. I get behind an 18 wheeler when the road splits to two lanes, sit there behind him doing 40, then get in front at the last minute, so he can block the others in the back who are impatient and want to pass as the lane cuts down to one again.
And then it’s the story turning over in my mind as the music descends into the undoing of a tortured soul, the jagged beauty of the Pacific Northwest with its pines and larches; rock formations angled the wrong way against the road, sleeping giants with netting tied around them like chain mail.
The rocks could be faces or furrowed brows, knotted elbows and joints with layers of rust and mustard-colored algae hanging on, sloughing off. Forest roads snaking off into the hills, where I want to run barefoot into the dark and lose myself there, in some sea of darkness that is the wonder of creation and time immemorial, so far from the surface there’s no light and no way to see without feeling.
We come upon the no-name cowboy towns with shit hotels announcing VACANCY and Free WiFi. We string together stops with Safeways on roadtrips like this, and get to know where they hide their bathrooms, in the front or the back. This one’s back with the employee lockers and the bulk stacked sodas and beers, with bulletin boards and fluorescent lights, all original condition from the 1960s.
The women in the parking lot could be from Alaska, their skin the same pigment as the sky — when they do wear make-up it doesn’t matter because you can’t hide the lines that come from hard weather and hard living, like patching a ceiling you can never make it look the way it did before.
The kids’ little voices, little faces in the backseat with their heads in their books, souls unfurling in slow motion, this time together crossing Snoqualmie Pass and the fog that hangs there above the lake like spirits sleeping; tired peaks coming in and out of focus and the snow on them blending with the sky behind.
We go to the mountains to this cheap hotel to get away from our perfect lives and it’s just what we needed, to wait our turn in the cold by the promenade for the horse-drawn carriage, and find a place that would have us with our tennis shoes and our coughs for a hot cocoa and a drink.
We play our new Monopoly game, the classic edition, and have to read the rules to remember. It’s a game of strategy and power through money and real estate and I love it, to suck them dry like a spider to a fly, and leave them like paper husks, no money, no property, defeated.
Instead, it gets too late and the girls are too loud and we settle in with the novelty of television, a show about a guy who slack-climbs across mountain passes in the Tyrol, how he becomes one with nature as he listens to the sound of the wind and responds with one foot balancing on the line, could be dead in a second, but makes it at the end, amazing. He lives for the rush of it, to look death in the eye and deny it, for another day.