The Phantom Rest Stop
The funny thing about Faeryland, or the Otherworld if you prefer, is that you do not always know it when you see it. I've been reading lately about descriptions of people's spontaneous, physical trips to the Otherworld, and wondered if I have had any experiences that could be interpreted that way.
In searching my memory, I recalled my two drives cross-country in 1993. It was a there-and-back-again trip, with a few months out of state in between. Both drives were along the same route.
The trip out saw me driving my old 280 ZX, so heavily loaded it rode only an inch or two above the ground. I drove accompanied by a friend's cat, Pippi, who was returning to said friend after a stint staying with relatives.
The first day out went uneventfully enough, although Pippi had decided that the motel was our new home, and was most unhappy the next morning when I forced her to leave it.
It was a beautiful day, and I was enjoying the scenery as we crossed the mountains. As we neared the apex, the road grew so steep I had to downshift to fourth gear. My car protested this decision the shift was rough and I was suddenly very worried about my transmission.
Sweat broke out on my forehead, but I did not panic. I grabbed the map from the passenger seat, quickly figured out where I was and cursed once with feeling when the map indicated no rest stop for about 100 miles.
I had to slow my breathing at that discovery. I was afraid to try shifting, which meant staying in fourth gear. I was looking at driving this way for more than two hours. That seemed like a very long time.
The road was almost empty, so I was able to coast down the mountains most of the way without much interference. Good thing, too I was stressed and anxious enough without the interference of others. About forty minutes later I was coming down out of the mountains.
The sun was only an hour or so away from setting, and Pippi was snoozing away without a care. I would periodically reach over and pet her in an attempt to keep my stress at a manageable level. I would alternate cooing to her that everything was going to be all right, mostly trying to convince myself, with pleading for help to anyone who would listen.
Apparently someone did.
I had not put a half-dozen more miles behind me when I saw an exit sign. I could not believe it, but I was not in a position to ask questions. I took the exit.
It was a wide, slowly curving exit that rambled for at least half a mile before leading onto a straight street. There were three or four gas stations on that first block. I popped it into neutral and pulled into the first one. Two old men were sitting on wooden chairs that looked older than I was.
"No gas," one of them said. "We're closed."
"Please," I said, "I need help. My car is shifting really rough. I'm afraid to drive it."
The men looked at each other, then at the setting sun, then back at me. One of them called to a younger man who was standing nearby. He called him by name, but I cannot recall it, if I ever even knew it. Addressing him, the old man said, "This boy's got a real problem. You want to help him before you close up?"
The young man, wiping his hands on a rag, looked at me for a moment, then said, "Sure. My place is there across the street. Let's push your car over." We did, and it was so heavily laden for the trip that we needed two jacks to lift the car.
He examined it briefly and said, "Well, you're completely out of transmission fluid. I mean it's almost bone dry. I don't know how you got it this far. Anyway, there doesn't appear to be any real damage, so I'll fill it up and you can be on your way."
He did, I paid him with a traveler's cheque and was on my way. I won't say what he charged me, but it was less than I would have expected.
When I stopped for the night, I got out my maps again and tried to find that rest stop. There was no listing for it on any of them. I thanked whoever it was who was looking out for me and went to sleep.
Several months later I was driving back, the opposite way on the same freeway, this time towing my car. Once more I had car trouble. Somehow, even though I was towing it, the axle went on my car. I spent the next four hours getting to an exit, waiting for AAA, and going through an odd, improvised sequence to get my car turned around so I could tow it on the good axle.
By the time it was done, it was about eleven o'clock at night. The winds and rain had started, and I was shaking and strung out from six hours of driving and four hours wasted on car trouble. I had been planning on making it the rest of the way home that night, and I felt resolved as I watched the yellow truck pull away. I was going to make it home that night, even if it meant another six or seven hours.
I got back in the cab of the truck and started on my way. After an hour or so I pulled into a rest stop to use the bathroom and pick up a soda. As I was checking out, the woman behind the counter gave me a concerned look and said, "How far are you going tonight?"
"Oh, I still have a few hours to go yet."
I will never forget the tone in her voice when she next spoke. She was honestly worried when she said, "Please, don't. Don't go any further tonight. There's a place to stay at the next exit. Please, stop there."
I was so far gone at that point that I would not easily listen to anyone. Still, her tone and expression reached me through the fog. Here was this complete stranger, worried about my welfare. That was when the weariness hit me. The exhaustion of the long, long day slammed into me like a stone.
Fortunately the next exit was close. As I pulled off the freeway onto a long, slow curve there was something familiar about it. In my current state, though, I couldn't place it.
At the end of the long curve was a street. On this street were several motels. All but one of these motels had a "no vacancy" sign lit. I pulled into the only one that could take me.
I had to ring the bell twice to be let into the office. The old man behind the counter told me he was just about to close up for the night, but that he had one room left. I took it.
The room itself was simple, a bit small and fairly comfortable. It also did not look like a motel. It looked like a converted office building of some sort.
Anyway, I slept well, rose early and was on my way, feeling refreshed. As I got back on the freeway, I noticed that I saw no sign of the long, curving road I had taken off the freeway the night before.
Then I remembered the last time I had seen that road, and laughed out loud that once more that exit had been there for me. Soon I was entering the mountains and on my way home.
I periodically check maps to see if that rest stop shows up anywhere, but I have not found it yet.
Maybe what I would need to find it is a map of the Otherworld.
Four Winds Bar