Buddy had no business driving at night and it was hilarious.
That was not a white line painted on the blacktop, as Buddy assumed. That was a white painted curb that rose up from the blacktop. But the hour was pushing past midnight and Buddy is, well, 80-ish. We left Port Angeles, Washington after dinner and he assured me that once we were off of the two-lane that he would be fine to drive; a nice fat fog line and no oncoming lights—not a problem for his vision limitations. We hadn’t even made it out of the rest stop before he swerved with gusto away from the approaching white concrete curb and back onto the road. I erupted into laughter. I couldn’t stop laughing all the way onto I-5, where Buddy finally barked two succinct mono-syllabics (One of four letters. The other of three.) that just incited yet another peal of suffocating laughter. Cramped into the to the cab of a 25-year old Toyota pickup, there wasn’t a lot of space for gesticulation, which somehow made it just that much more hysterical. He told me to pipe down and rest my eyes, which was why we changed seats. I tried to comply, but was awakened frequently by Buddy swinging the truck away from an exit that had gobbled up the fog line—almost leading him away from the freeway and onto the off-ramp.
The date of my sojourn from Oregon to Victoria, B.C. appeared as suddenly as the leaves turning to fire and clogging the storm drains. So, it should not have been a surprise that the pre-trip check of my old van revealed marginal brakes and an unignorable gas smell. I needed another mode of transport up the Olympic Sound where the ferry connects the United States to Victoria, B.C. It was obvious to me I needed to take the motorcycle. The weather was supposed to be good and I’ve done this ride a bunch. Those with more sense than myself vetoed that idea with no room for bargaining. Something, something...deer...wet leaves...late night....Whatever.
Thankfully, Buddy is never one to pass up a road trip and his wife, Sylvia is never one to miss an opportunity to see Buddy out of the house for a bit. So he decided he would drive me. I balked, ensconced in the notion I needed to do this alone because accepting help is about as comfortable for me as getting a hernia check from a blind blacksmith. Out of character, I acquiesced to reason, allowing Buddy the first laugh: watching my elbows and knees bend unnaturally as I tried to drive a mini-pickup with a manual transmission.
The drive up to the ferry along Highway 101 was awash with fall colours, blazing through the mist. It felt like I was driving into a Maxfield Parrish painting; spokes of light poking through the clouds setting aflame reds and oranges. Once we rolled into town, I figured Buddy could sleep on the floor of my single-bed motel room. He wouldn’t hear of it. His pickup was all set up for sleeping in the back. His point was garnished by recounting a trip to Midland, Texas in that very truck in the middle of the hottest summer in recorded history (on any continent), where he bedded with obscene comfort in the bed of his pride and joy. No puny-assed 55º Washington night was gonna push him indoors. Even so, I was up every couple hours to make sure he was still settled and not out peeing against the Lexus SUV parked next to him.
The next morning about 6:00 am I roused Buddy from his truck to offer him the final hours of my motel room for a shower and a nap in front of the flat-screen. I pocketed a couple of hardboiled eggs from the motel breakfast bar and a cup of brown liquid generously advertised as something more exotic that Folgers. In a few minutes I was flashing my passport and ticket to the customs officer and boarding the ferry. The crossing was perfect in the still morning waters and the coffee served onboard was invigorating; doing more than just waking up one's colon, as if that wasn’t enough. I was due back in about 10 hours and Buddy was turned loose upon the city of Port Angeles. If it was anybody else, I would have some serious guilt about leaving someone behind while I basked in the gloriousness that is Victoria. But, this was Buddy. I’ve yet to see a circumstance where he couldn’t make a friend. I had no doubt he’s be holding court with several of the locals, regaling them with tales from his time as a Marine, his work as a shrink, or his miles on a motorcycle.
The visit to Victoria was a thing of private conversations and uncomfortable disclosures. I went to see my sister, with whom I share an intimacy of humor that often isolates us from the civilians and can serve to contextualize unthinkable realities--if not just for a moment. At one point we sat upon a driftwood log on a beach and looked out at birds and seals and kelp and rocks. It was warm and the air was ripe with the sea. She gently rifled through the pockets of my jacket, reading each receipt and piece of paper before putting it back. I hardly noticed; it’s one of those things familiars do when words get in the way of communicating. She knew better than to ask me to unlock my phone and hand it to her.
The trip back to The States was just as serene. I huddled deep in my Carhartt coat against the cooler ocean air on the top, outside deck of the ferry. I watched the island retreat in the great wake of the Coho Ferry under the vigil of the flying United States flag. I sipped my coffee, watching fellow tourists rattle about the ship, somehow finding gazing lovingly into their phones more important than the real-time seafaring experience. When humpback whales surfaced and blew a couple hundred feet off the stern, some folks pulled away from their handheld glass tech and soaked in the analog wonder of such mammals courting our trip. As if they were forgetting themselves, cellphones suddenly rose and eclipsed the whales; trading living that precious moment now for recording the moment and replaying it never.
Buddy stood on the sidewalk outside the ferry terminal where I landed. He smiled as he always did, hugged me, then announced we were going to eat at this corner cafe that has a presentable cob salad. He asked about my visit over a mound of greens that could have fed an alpaca for a week. I ate my tuna melt and told him about there being a bunch of dogs on the ferry. I didn’t remember that being a thing. We speculated why that was, ate, paid the flirty server, then trucked the inland highway down to Olympia. My resolve to drive the whole 300 miles home evaporated just after connecting with I-5. The coffee stopped working so I relied on the adrenalizing driving of my night-blindness encumbered travel partner.
Once back behind the wheel where I belonged, the miles passed quickly and the conversation slowed the closer we got to home. We arrived unscathed at Buddie’s house. I made a great show of unfolding myself from the confines of his truck, commenting that it must be nice to be the size of a leprechaun. He refused the insult by laughing at my discomfort. He probably didn’t hear me. Yeah, he can’t hear shit either. It’s okay. We don’t need words or visual aids to know we’ll be glad to travel again after my joints heal from the contorting and he gets an espresso maker and laser disc player for the back of his truck.