We woke up in Des Moines, home of the infamous Carol and our war-wounded late-night ex-USMC saviour, G. Smith, to the sight of puffy grey clouds flowing sluggishly across the sky through the hotel room window. There was mist rising from the river, and the concrete pavings outside the hotel lobby doors had that thin dampness that speaks of moisture seeping out of the air, rather than rainfall.

We ate an unhealthy, unpleasant breakfast at the continental buffet of the Quality Inn. By this stage of that trip, I had learned that I needed to have food in my stomach for the day, no matter how unappetising; I had learned that hydration is a major factor for me in keeping alert and driving safely.The bacon was OK; crispy and easy to eat with your fingers, as most American bacon is. The biscuits and gravy were thick and dry, undercooked and with a texture like carpet samples; after a few mouthfuls, I was gratefully chugging a glass of reconstituted orange juice. I knew as I was scooping the biscuits from the bain-marie that I should have waited to get to the South for my first taste of this so-American meal, but I didn’t listen to my better judgment, and, as usual, I paid the price.

We hit the road as rain started to haze the air. I hoped that once we hit the highway, we’d outrun the weather. I hoped that maybe the chill and the mist were flowing from the river, that once we got some speed into our wheels we’d be back under blue skies.

But the weather was having none of this. It wrapped chilly fingers around our axles and held on tight; the rain and the wet embraced us like long-lost lovers. And were we went, it came too, staying cosily by our side, every step of the way.

By mid-morning I couldn’t see a fucking thing. The rain was pouring down as fast and as hard as the windscreen wipers could wash it away, and I stayed on the road by keeping my eyes on the tail lights of the car ahead of us. I could literally make out nothing else. Just grey to my left, grey to my right, grey behind us.. and in front, these two tiny red dots that pull away to their destination. I stayed close on their tail; acutely aware that if they were to brake suddenly, then I’d most likely aquaplane straight into the back of them. But if I lost those guys, I’m not sure I would have been able to pick up the road again.

Occasionally, the rain would slacken off, just enough for us to see the shape of the road, and then it came back down, heavy and heavier. At one point visibility was enough for us to see a motorcyclist, drenched, valiantly trying to make it through the storm.

There was thunder and lightning, but more than anything else, there was water. When people talk about the heavens opening up, they’re talking about weather like this, because for the whole day, the rain didn’t stop. Driving ceased to be fun; it became a marathon of concentration. Talk quieted down; each driver’s focus was on the road and the short space we could see ahead of us.

I can’t speak for Zara, but at some point for me… it became personal. My worry and concern flipped into a challenge to the sky – maybe somewhere outside of Omaha; I’m not a hundred percent on this. But somewhere, I decided that this was between me and the storm. The road belonged to one of us, and the only way to see who was to push through on the other side and see who broke first.

And so, I drove on.



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SIMON SMITHSON is an Australian writer and editor. He is currently based in Melbourne, Australia, but frequently finds himself in Los Angeles and San Francisco. His work has appeared on both sides of the globe in print and online in publications such as BLIP, Every Day Fiction, Beat, The Loop, My Sinking Boat, and more. He has a tumblr at www.simonsmithson.com and he runs a lifestyle experiment at www.selfhelpless.net.

9 responses to “TPAC 2010: Day 12, 13 – La Cielo es Oscuro”

  1. Joe Daly says:

    Dude, what a vivid encapsulation of a stormy, gray morning. You evoked a very strong memory of driving through a storm in the middle of Indiana, with rain pouring down and lightning striking the corn fields on either side of the car. My buddy and I stopped talking when the truck driving next to us was hit by lightning, and to this day, we still refer to that hour in terms of survival.

    Did it help at all to sing Bon Jovi songs while you drove through the rain? I have to imagine that it would be near impossible to resist throwing in “Slippery When Wet” in such times.

  2. Becky Palapala says:

    Leaving on a jet stream…

  3. Simon Smithson says:

    Muchos gracais, Joe.

    You saw a truck get hit by lightning? Holy shit. I was kinda wondering if that would happen to us, or if lightning would hit the road, or the ground near us, or some such chicanery.

    It always helps to sing Bon Jovi.

    Always.

  4. Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

    “I knew as I was scooping the biscuits from the bain-marie that I should have waited to get to the South for my first taste of this so-American meal, but I didn’t listen to my better judgment, and, as usual, I paid the price.” Classic Simon. Your errs in judgement are always so enjoyably overcome with wit.

    “I hoped that once we hit the highway, we’d outrun the weather.
    I hoped that maybe the chill and the mist were flowing from the river…”
    This actually sounds like Bon Jovi lyrics. (Hope you don’t mind I’ve sliced your sentences for the sampling.) From me, this is a compliment. I am only beginning to realize that your crush on Bon Jovi is nearly as epic as mine.

    “There was thunder and lightning, but more than anything else, there was water.” This actually reminds me of something Becky or I would say. (It’s a Pisces thing, but then again, you’re a Cancer.)

    I came on here to write myself, and now I’m procrastinating all over the board.

  5. Zara Potts says:

    Fucking Carol. She started the whole rain shit.

  6. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    PTSD trigger!!! AHHHH!!!! I had to drive alone to a remote bookstore in Arkansas. Flat land. In the distance ahead, the HUGEST black storm cloud I had ever seen. I considered turning around and bailing on the reading I had to do. But there were no exits, and I’m a Virgo. So I drove on. A few drops of a warning sprinkle–then there was nothing but Bibilical deluge for the next 30 minutes. Me in a little tiny sedan surrounded by 18 wheelers speeding past, flinging yet more water against my windshield. F*** yeah, I prayed. (Don’t let me die like this. Don’t let me die like this.) Somehow, I got to the bookstore on time. Did what I had to do in a dissociative state. Maybe nobody noticed.

    You showed that storm who’s boss, Mister.

    • Simon Smithson says:

      Oops! Sorry, Ronlyn. Didn’t mean to bring up unpleasant memories…

      And that’s exactly the word for it – Biblical.

      You and me, Ronlyn – the storms can’t take us down!

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