South through the mountains. Three AM dark so that when you look up you think you’re seeing strange clouds and it takes a while to realize they’re really snowy mountains all around you. I could drive through this country forever, but when the road starts to blur into something imagined I find a flat spot to pull over. We have these pull offs, you know just like a loop off the road. I have an obsession with flat places to sleep because otherwise I wake up thinking that the van is rolling off a cliff.
Even though my brain is maybe not so up to the driving thing I am still wide awake. It’s only four and I’ve been going to sleep at 7 or 8 (one reason people don’t think I’m sleeping in the van… who would be asleep at one in the afternoon?). I dig out the dulcimer and re-tune it. Once I travelled with a girl who played guitar and we sang in truckstops for money sometimes. I got really good at that one song, you know, “twenty five years and my life is still, trying to get up that great big hill of hope…” I play it but it annoys me to play it all the way through. It is long and I get bored. I play a song I wrote in the same style, and Oh Susanna and Home on the Range. I want to learn to play in that way where the dulcimer sounds like a harp, and I try to play Tis The Gift, but I’m sitting between the seats on a kitty litter bucket facing backwards trying to balance the music book against the bed and it doesn’t work for very long before I go to bed.
I wake up to Bro barking. Someone walking a dog, probably. But then he stops, abruptly, turns in circles and backs away from the door. A person too close to the van, then.
“Bro, come back here,” I whisper.
They try the passenger side door. It’s locked, of course.
“Hey Buddy,” a man’s voice says to Bro probably. Then he walks around and tries the drivers side door. Motherfucker (and by that, yes, I mean someone who would fuck their own mother over).
I hide under the blankets. This is what I do. Sometimes I wish I had a gun. First impressions being the important thing, yanno. I like my life now much better than my life when I had guns, though, and I am strangly superstitious about it. I peek out from under the blankets and see the beam of a flashlight bouncing around the van. Anyone who’s lived in a an or hid from the cops knows that flashlight = cops.
I haven’t done or witnessed anything illegal, so I’m pretty sure I’m under no obligation to talk to the guy. Plus it’s not like he’s said anything to me anyways. So I call Bro back to me and hide under the covers while he walks around trying all the doors. Then there are the footsteps of another person, murmured voices, and they walk back to the passenger side window.
“Hey, Buddy,” the guy says to Bro. “Who left you here? Don’t worry, we’ll get you out.”
Yep. That got me outta bed real quick. Yep, they were about to bust out my window with their mag lights.
When they saw me pop my head between the seats they yelled, “are you okay?”
I nodded and gave a thumbs up.
That wasn’t good enough. They wanted some kind of verbal contact, so I opened the door a crack (windows being frozen and all) and sat on the floor, crosslegged in my jeans and tshirt. They stared at me like I was completely insane for wearing a tshirt, but I had just gotten out of a very toasty bed and I ignored it.
“Are you okay?” they asked again.
“Yes,” I replied, “I’m fine. I’m sleeping. Please leave me, my dog, and my van alone.”
They introduced themselves as off duty law enforcement and I relaxed a little because it’s pretty damn hard to be handcuffed and hauled off by off duty out of jurisdiction cops playing around in big trucks with their snow machines pulled behind.
“Where you coming from?”
“If I’ve broken a law, please tell me. Otherwise I appreciate your concern but please leave me alone.” I shut the door in their faces and waited for them to drive off before crawling up to the front seat. Then I saw why they thought Bro was abandoned and why they were so worried about me: it had snowed while I was sleeping, and the plow truck had come and plowed all around me. The van was covered in snow, sitting in snow up past the running boards, and surrounded by a snowbank about a foot high.
Sometimes I’m such a judgemental asshole.
I’m still glad I didn’t talk to the cops, tho, and through artful use of backing up, running starts, and diagonal steering I got through the snowbank and back on the road just fine.