I’d been concentrating for well over an hour, my eyes focused on the road ahead of me. I am afraid to blink for fear of missing something, and they are beginning to burn a bit.
“You’re doing great,” he says.
We are in the middle of what many Minnesotans find themselves in the middle of: road construction.
The ’74 Ford LTD, a car built to hold you and six of your closest friends, hurls itself in a powerful but lumbering fashion between the orange construction cones.
We are going Up North, as all right-thinking Minnesotans do in the summer.
When we had started the sun had been out, but hours later, we are in the coal-black darkness of the outskirts of Duluth.
And this is where the orange construction cones appear.
Confined to one lane, cones on both sides, the sun has gone down and the headlights have come on. Mile after mile stretches before me, the first in a conga line of cars trapped on a one-lane road with a soft shoulder, orange dots and dashes on either side of the massive, lane-wide car. Akin to the optical illusion of driving into an illuminated funnel or being brought in for a landing at an unfamiliar airport, I blink hard, fight to maintain my sanity.
He reassures me from the passenger’s seat. “You’re doing great.”
I swallow. “I really want to pull over.”
He turns around, looks behind us. “There’s a line of about 400 cars behind you.”
I tear my eyes from the miles of dark road ahead of me, look in the rearview mirror.
“OK. Twenty,” he says, smiling.
I want to weep.
The orange cones loom.
We pass a sign informing us that the next 27 miles is under construction.
I grip the wheel.
The car has no stereo, just a radio that has devolved into call-in shows, people talking about aliens and what our government doesn’t want us to know about them.
“You want to listen to this?”
I shake my head, eyes glued to the middle of the road. He turns the radio off. We stare at the road, hypnotized.
“Tell me a story,” I say.
He stares straight ahead.
“Once upon a time, there was a girl who found herself trapped in a video game. She didn’t want to be, but there was nothing she could do about it. Worse yet, it was a driving game, and she had never been fond of those. And to make matters even worse than a game she didn’t want to play, she was down to her last guy. So she kept her eyes on the road, her wits about her, and she made it all the way to the end without dying. The end.”
I shake my head again. Man, I think. When you’re right, you’re right.
Twenty-seven miles later, the road goes back to an expansive two lanes wide.
And that last guy?
I’ve still got that last guy left.
Princesses of the New Age
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