The blossoming deep red sunset behind the car illuminated the dashboard in an array of oranges and reds, reminding the driver of the red rose upon his lover’s chest not so long ago. As the day drove towards night, darkness overtook the last of the light. The bright headlights of the lonely car cut through the darkness. Gas soon became a need after hours of constant driving and hours of never changing landscapes.
The days soon drew on, one after another all lined up in a row. Although that did not matter as time had stopped at that place of death, almost like the smashing of a clock with a hammer. As the “Welcome to Alabama” sign went past the passenger side window, the driver had a memory that came to mind.
“Isn’t it beautiful, the way the sun cuts across the horizon?”
“Almost as beautiful as you, same red spread across your face, same curvature when you smile.”
“Kinda reminds me of you, too, all red when you’re mad, the same curvature on the car that you love so much.”
The memory, still fresh in his mind, began forty-something years ago coming into the damp and hot state of Florida for their honeymoon. The difference being he was leaving The Sunshine State and the car only held half of what it did that sunset, years ago.
Sleeping at rest stops along Interstate and sleeping in the backseat came with downsides. The pain in his neck and back, the changing heat throughout the night, and the worry of someone breaking in the car while he slept took its toll. But he reminded himself that a little bit of anxiety and worry never hurt anybody, and he slept with the half tinted windows partway down throughout the long night. The bright parking lot lights didn’t bother the old eyes anymore as sleep was too precious to spend acknowledging the nuisance.
It was a relief to get up and just drive knowing he was not going back, he was not looking back, not imagining about going back. To leave it behind since nothing was there for him now, seemed right. For what was life now, but just a shell that was no longer filled by that other half. A life well spent is what people would say, yes, a life lived to the fullest, right to the end for that matter. But now it was a new journey for him, alone, back to where it had all started and flourished.
On the third day of driving he reached the first major destination, Houston. When he had last driven through this major city of Texas, this old car he was driving had been new and like him had, no scratches, no dents, and no empty heart.
He merged off the highway and onto the main drag which was filled with all new stores. Even with all the colorful signs marking the locations of all the stores, there was only one place this man was set to go. With no sign to tell what it was except the one above the mahogany door that was almost hidden in plain sight. Even after all these years, it still looked the same, smelled the same, and hopefully run by the same man.
The people in the cafe could hear him coming as the 6.6 liter V8 rumbled down the road. They then gazed at the man stepping out of the cardinal red Pontiac GTO. The car gleamed with a blinding glare that shot through the coffee shop windows. As the driver stepped out, some noticed the same gleam from the sunglasses on the man’s face as the windshield.
The little bell that hung above the doorway inside sang a little song as the man stepped in. He had only a little hunch in his back and walked slowly like he needed a cane. The cold hard face changed as he stepped into the vicinity, the conversations stopped and a man strode out of the kitchen with the largest grin on his face.
“Why it’s the man in the GTO! It’s been a lot of years! How has the journey been?”
The GTO’s driver stuck out his old calloused hand to the man from the kitchen and replied with the deepest “Good!” they had ever heard.
“Where is the other that rode shotgun with you when you showed up here in 1970? She was something in that pink summer dress and leather sandals,. Eyes like the ocean on a calm summer day.”
“Gone, and hopefully in a place that she can feel just as happy as she was with me.” said, the driver as he put his head down and shuffled to the nearest table. The look on his face made the man from the kitchen feel just as empty and lost. As they sat down across from each other, a woman set down a coffee pot and two cups and hurried off so as to not disturb the cold silence.
“Where are you off to now in your beauty?”
Slowly the driver replied, “Off to where it began, where my life really started.”
“Out in California, I take.”
“Yes, out on the Santa Monica Beach at sunset forty-something years ago.”
“Well, I hope to see you and your car again.”
The driver got up without replying and left the coffee shop with a little less shuffle than he came in with. The man from the kitchen stood up after he left and picked up the still-warm coffee and empty cups and thought about their meeting those forty-something years ago.
The GTO sped off as it had from many places and found its way to the highway again, continuing its final journey.
The ride across Texas was long and hot along Interstate 10 and the meaning of “Lone Star State” presented itself in many ways. There were times when the GTO would be the only car on the visible road. Sometimes the road’s lonesomeness began to make the driver wish he was back in Rosewood sitting in his La-Z-Boy recliner watching the afternoon oldies. The love of his life in the kitchen cooking or baking. Although the food making seemed endless, the man’s stomach never got bigger, only his love for the woman in the kitchen did that. If there was any way of going back to those times, the man would give away everything he had, even the car.
Once out of Texas a truck stop gleamed into the windshield and the GTO took no time quickly driving in and shutting off.
He woke up and read his watch under the dim light spilling into the car. The river unlocked and opened his door and strolled into the truckstop still half asleep. As he came back out, he noticed that his trunk was slightly open and that there was something under the car. He opened the trunk and was not surprised to find it empty as that was how it was before. Once the driver closed the trunk, he inspected what was to be underneath the car. When he looked he found a gasket for the exhaust, but no exhaust. People would steal anything.The driver got back in the car and started up his now even louder muscle car and drove off into the silent night.
The trip through the night lasted until the GTO came upon a small roadside cafe in Arizona with gas pumps. As he pulled up to the pumps, a man around six foot five approached him with a comforting smile and words on his lips.
“What in tarnation are you driving on this road with no exhaust in a muscle car? I don’t know how fast you’re driving, but I swear I heard you about ten minutes ago and knew you would stop here.”
“Yea, someone stole it about a’ hundred miles ago and I just took off driving till I got here.”
The man with his oily overalls replied with a concerned look on his face, “You do realize that having no exhaust and catalytic converter, can fill the car with carbon monoxide and kill you, right?”
“Well, I guess I’m lucky for riding with the windows down I take.”
“Quite lucky sir, it doesn’t take long for the car to completely fill up and you die behind the wheel.” The oily overall-wearing man replied with a not so sure look on his face.
“As long as I ride with the windows down the rest of my trip, I should believe I will live.”
Live the driver did, to his destination, with no problems at all. Infact, other than the noise and the smell, the ride from then on was some of the best. With the wind whipping through the open windows, the din of the tires running across the cracked gray tarmac, the driving continued throughout Arizona. The day crept to the stars and the moon soon shone itself over the cardinal red GTO. The Pontiac drove into the next rest stop near Phoenix, and stopped for the night.
The man, awakened by hunger, went into the rest stop and bought a breakfast sandwich and coffee and ate it with much thought. The rest of the drive towardCalifornia was taken at high speed and the sound of the engine seemed to drown out the rest of the world. Stopping only for gas and a lonely burrito, the car and its driver made its way to the starting place of their adventure. While nearing the coastal city of Santa Monica, the man in the driver’s seat thought about all that had happened in this beautiful place.
The car later drove through Los Angeles and was surprisingly not stopped by police for the loud noise it produced. It was late evening when they finally arrived in Santa Monica, California, and the sun had not yet set along the western shore. The driver did not need directions as the location was still locked inside of his head from all those years ago. The car almost seemed to drive itself, but only the driver knew the place next to the Santa Monica Pier where he met the love of his life. When the Pontiac GTO made it to the spot just above the beach, the sun was just a few minutes away from setting along the horizon.
The driver had dreamed of this moment all throughout the trip, yet never imagined it would be this beautiful. He closed the windows and his eyes and thought of all the things that he had done throughout his life. He thought of the people he had met along the way. When he picked his head up, the sun was just a sliver of yellow along the water and the nearby sounds had been brought down to a low din. Suddenly a wave of sleepiness and confusion swam over him and the inside of the car seemed to waver in and out of vision. The man behind the GTO’s steering wheel closed his eyes again, remembering the beauty the setting sun and the curvature of her smile.