Previous Challenge Entry (EDITOR'S CHOICE)
Topic: MAP( 01/31/19)
After the Last Mile
By Jack Taylor
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Earl grunted but stayed focused on his work. He was decked in a flimsy tank top stretched taut over his bulging belly but riding half way up his back. His faded plaid boxers had no right to be on display in a family neighborhood like ours. The oil rag lying askew over his balding skull shielded him from the blistering sun but it did little to save the lobster red patch on his neck. “You must have a couple hundred thousand miles on this beast by now,” I added.
Earl pursed his generous lips before licking them. His sunglasses rode his eyebrows like a pair of adolescent skateboarders but did little to block the glare causing him to squint at the tiny paintbrush squeezed between his pudgy fingers. “Where are you going next?” I asked.
Earl shrugged and rotated his neck like a tire being pried off its rim. I knew Earl charted every highway he traveled across the U.S. of A. and he did it by charting out every bend in the road across the body of his land yacht with those purple lines. The rolling tank was a dinosaur that refused to go extinct under his loving touch. The chrome bumpers and grill shone and the whitewalls gleamed.
The eight-track tape belted out a distorted version of 'Route 66'. The chart of veins wrapped itself around the entire passenger side of the 225-inch car from front to back. I visually traced the starting point on highway one in Maine clearly marked by the right front headlight. There was a large knot of veins bundled together in the front center of the hood around where Boston and New York should be.
“Must have been fun fighting off all those yellow cabs in the Big Apple.”
He smirked. “Not as fun as getting lost in Harlem,” he growled.
I tried to imagine the web of purple lines more like a fish net. It seemed to help as I tracked from Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington over to Detroit, Chicago and Indianapolis. Highway 95 ran boldly over the left fender and down along the wheel well to where I assumed Miami must be. “How about them Heat? Ever stop to watch any games?”
Earl furrowed his brows and the glasses fell over his eyes onto the bridge of his nose. He didn’t seem to notice. “No time,” he said. “Too busy driving.”
Highway 10 tracked along the bottom of the Thunderbird and took me the 1200 miles through Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana into Texas. The smell of BBQ filtered from my backyard but I stayed. Highway 10 continued through Arizona and New Mexico right up to Los Angeles in California.
“Must have had some hot days driving across 10.”
“Took it in the winter,” he said.
“How was 5 up the coast to Canada?” I asked as I traced the wobbly blue line upward toward the far taillight on the trunk.
“Prettiest sunsets in the world.”
“What’s the best route you’ve driven,” I asked.
“84. Met my Jeanie in Portland and my Jesus in the Rockies. Don’t get better than that.”
I traced 84 into Idaho and stopped at the small red cross near the gas cap. “Didn’t take you for the religious type.”
Earl set down his small brush and pushed himself to his full 6-foot stretch. “You travel this country on your own for long enough. You see nature in all its glory. You have to talk to someone. Might as well be the one who made it all.”
“So, Earl, why are you spending all this time drawing out the whole highway system on your car?”
Earl bent over and pointed toward a series of small white dots scattered along several of the purple lines. “See them dots? That’s where people stop me to ask about the map on my car and that’s where I tell them and then ask them the most important question of all.”
“What’s the question?”
Earl smiled big. “When you finish your last mile here, where are you really going then?”
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