A Song Cycle In Four Parts. Part Two
So we did it, baby. We got the sun and moon in our pocket, baby. We spanked it. And there we were on the far side of Madras planning to head south, away from Portland, well ahead of the crowds. Sure, everyone was leaving at once, but they’d be hours getting untangled, and we had the jump; and there might be a little slowdown here and there, all to be expected, but we were riding high. We’d practically teleported to Madras, we’d met a really nice old gentleman with two working toilets, we’d bagged the eclipse, and we were on our way to beautiful Crater Lake. Ten minutes after totality, at 10:30am, we were pottied up and on the road again with a cooler full of water and sandwiches and a spare can of hubris in the trunk.
And traffic was moving! Within five minutes we were driving the limit on I-97 with the theoretical wind in our hair, and trying to decide whether to go straight to our Airbnb cabin an hour past Crater Lake and come back to it the next day, or hit Crater Lake along the way. My passengers began pulling out their magic tiny phone boxes. “Webcams at Crater Lake show clear blue water,” came the happy consensus. “Two and a half hours to Crater Lake, or three and a half to the cabin, estimated time of arrival 1:55.”
I am not wieldy with the magic tiny phone boxes or the little talking geniuses that live therein, and I marveled at the twin wonders of nature and technology. Everyone was on a high, mostly natural, not that we hadn’t visited a Dispensary. Brake lights appeared briefly ahead, and then dissipated, trailing a vapor of distant shark music.
“There’s a bit of a slowdown coming up,” Linda reported a short time later, “but it clears up after Redmond. Estimated arrival time at the cabin now 2:20.” Not so bad! It only stands to reason it’s going to go a little slower with 100,000 people trying to leave all at once. Most of whom, one must assume, are going north. We can take a little delay in stride.
Then all the cars stopped altogether. I squinted while laboring at the arithmetic without a device. Eleven o’clock, still north of Redmond, current speed zero miles an hour, puts us at our destination by…carry the one…never.
Linda piped up again, after consulting the savant in her phone. “There’s a service road coming up that will take us right past this blockage,” she said. We found the road right away and were soon back on pace, paralleling the line of stopped cars at a smug 40mph. Until we smacked into the clog of other drivers using navigation apps, which appeared to be all of them. We slunk back to I-97 on a gravel road of shame. All the way to Redmond and then Bend the line of traffic lurched and sputtered, smooth as a ghost dragging a chain. Some stretches were sufficiently sludgy to allow us to walk around to the trunk and retrieve sandwiches. “Picks up again after Bend,” Linda’s lying sack of phone contended, “so we’re now estimated to arrive at 4:55.”
“That’s not so bad,” I said. “Let’s go straight to our bnb while it’s still light out and go to Crater Lake tomorrow.” It was so agreed. All phones in the car furthermore agreed that clear roads were just ahead of us and we were about to bust on through to freedom any minute, as soon as God could put a stent in.
As a matter of fact, however–we can see that now–we were in the moist center of an epic bolus of traffic that was pushing its way down the esophagus of I-97 with yards of intestines yet to navigate and hours to go before we reached the end. At which point, of course, we’d be pooped out.
“At least we’re moving,” I chirped, noting with approval the speedometer needle quivering near 4mph, and then we stopped completely.
Did I mention Oregon was on fire?