I said goodbye to the varmints, hugged the folks and tried not to think about all the crap I’d probably forgotten to pack.

Bob Johnson followed me down to the end of the driveway. I rolled down the window of the truck.

“You be good, Bob,” I said. “I’m gone to Texas.”

I didn’t bother trying to explain to Bob Johnson I’d be back in a week or so. How Bob Johnson apprehends time, no one knows. But surely Texas was a concept he could grasp.

Luckily for me, Texas is a large state and hard to miss. I knew if I pointed the truck west and pressed the accelerator, I shouldn’t have
too many problems.

In Memphis, the interstate on which I was driving split in two. One sign said NASHVILLE EAST and the other said JACKSON SOUTH.

I didn’t want to go east or south! I wanted to go west. West to Texas! Did people in Memphis not like to go to Texas, or even Arkansas? Where was the signage for those of us who wished to actually cross the river?

After a brief tour of local interstate ramps, I headed for downtown Memphis. I knew I would find a serviceable bridge there, unless it had been moved. It’s not an easy thing to move a bridge, so I felt pretty good about my route.

Downtown flashed by, and there was the bridge. I’m inclined to gawk at things like the Mississippi River, but there was little time for that.

Driving in heavy interstate traffic is serious business. I’ve lived in the country for the last seven years. There, being crushed to a fiery pulp by tractor-trailer rigs ranks fairly low on my list of survival concerns.

Suddenly I found myself in a mass audition for the next Road Warrior movie. Those who have experienced the delights of the I-30 corridor between Memphis and Little Rock know what I’m talking about. This stretch of pavement has everything except guys with mohawks and spear guns. But maybe I just didn’t see them.

My driving instincts are above average. I may not always know where I am, but I’m pretty good behind the wheel. My driving instincts told me to keep moving and not spend one extra second in that brutal funnel.

Arkansas passed in a blur. It was now early evening. I’d survived a miles-long traffic jam (jackknifed rig) and driven through a wicked storm front that stretched vertically and horizontally as far as the eye could see.

Not long after I crossed the state line, I pulled over for gas and food. I was prepared to be broiled alive by the heat wave I’d heard so much about, but the air felt great.

It seems like there’s always a breeze in Texas. The humidity is nothing compared to Alabama. The sunset was stunning. It produced a rush of memories of the time I’d spent in Dallas and Austin. I filled the tank and fielded a call from my friend Bill, who’d just learned he was having major surgery in a few days.

“It’s either going to be a triple bypass or a quadruple bypass.” He was matter-of-fact about it. “They won’t know until they get in there and take a look around. Where are you?”

“Somewhere in Texas,” I said. “Good grief. When are they doing the surgery?”

“Next Friday.”

“That soon?”

“Not soon enough for me, man. I was ready to get on the table today, but the surgeon is on vacation until next Friday. I was like, ‘Okay, I’ll try not to DIE before dude gets back.’”

“No [expletive]!”

“Yeah,” Bill said. “I’m taking it easy, trust me.”

I got back on the interstate and drove a long way in silence. The wooded, rolling hills gave way to serene prairie. The taillights of the cars and trucks ahead of me matched the color of the sun. The clouds turned red, orange and hot pink.

I slowed down and set the cruise at sixty-five.
____________________________________

John Hicks has been there and back.

John Hicks lives outside the city limits, where eagles dare.

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