“Recreational Vehicle” by Sean Boyd
She was a beauty. I was cruising the freeways and the open road living the great American dream in my new, used twenty-eight foot Winnebago. Motoring around the country I would see the sights while cocooned, tortoise-like, with all I needed tucked in my thin-shelled home on wheels. Reaching the interstate I got in the middle lane and set a pace on my trip to Anywhere, U.S.A. Feeling satisfied with the motorized mechanizations of my movable vacation I stepped away from the wheel and furthered my explorations of the cubbies, closets, and amenities. It still contained that new car smell, making the “only driven on Sundays” sales pitch believable. I was thrilled that this home, that was never away from home, had only cost $28,000 and felt confident that in the years I would travel I would more than realize the fortuitousness of my expenditure.
Every now and again I felt a quickening of my pulse and a feeling of panic, as I wondered at the ingenuity of the on-board navigation system. Looking through the huge windows of the front of the vehicle I could see the freshly laid metallic paint dividing the lanes that the sensors used to direct the steering. The speed control responded to both a radar-based object identification protocol as well as shortwave radio signals emitted from other vehicles that shared road conditions and traffic flow information with the on-board computer. The system was new and only worked on freeways, but would soon work everywhere.
I was eating the fruits of freedom, which dripped their nectar over my maps and travel brochures, as the ever receding horizon summoned me on. Still exploring the gadgetry and fixtures that had been carefully thought out by both users and engineers to lend every comfort and sate every need, I was alerted to the approach of my exit. Having pre-programmed my destination, the personality I had chosen for the control system informed me I should prepare to resume manual controls. I had chosen the personality of Hal, the computer from the movie 2001, A Space Odyssey. Taking the exit, I turned down a lonely two-lane road that wandered through a melancholy forest of conifers whose sweat was pungent and sweet. Meandering through the broken hills, I passed stands of towering ponderosa and fir who were ancestors of the offspring that fought for sunlight in the spinney of alder and holly. My mind floated like the drunken clouds traipsing above. Not familiar with driving this vehicle I entered a turn too fast and used the extra space of the wide shoulder to maintain control. Knowing that if I applied the brakes I would lose the control I was fighting for, I slowly decelerated. The curve seemed endless. As I hoped for the road to straighten I saw before me impending disaster in a large tree that had been blown down, its remains strewn across the road like shards of pottery.
As the distance closed I applied the brakes, which started the top-heavy mass swaying, and tried to calculate some eventuality besides disaster. Unsuccessful, I hit the debris as the RV swung to one side and was launched into the air, half capsized. Amazing the way time slows during moments like this. It seemed I had an eternity to enjoy the feeling of weightlessness, factor survival possibilities, and take in the surreal view of the interior which was now lying on its side. I noticed it was an eastern white pine that had contributed so fatefully to my predicament and felt sorrow at its loss of life even as it appeared we might share the same fate. Then I found myself down the road watching the event as the large glass and aluminum projectile’s trajectory was completed in an explosion of shattered hopes and wrenched dreams.
I walked toward the deflated form and was shocked to see what little resistance the shell of a frame had mustered. As I approached what was left of my wheeled domicile, I heard moaning and saw another me trying to sit up in an avalanche of glass and gravel. I tried to be cheery and, as the blood had yet to start flowing, thought maybe the damage was not so bad. At first I thought it might be possible to simply wipe the gravel away and dust off the damage just as one might tidy an old clock. Then I saw how deeply embedded the sharp pieces were and watched the human form become instantly red as the blood found its escape. I realized death was certain.
I woke up in my bed to the sound of a pelting summer rain and felt disappointment at the outcome of my dream. Determined to see a different ending I revisited the scene of driving down the freeway, decided to skip the exit, and fell back asleep.
I ignored the alert of my impending off ramp and took over manual control and rolled down the freeway drinking in the open road through my rose-colored lenses. I felt like a blood cell in a giant circulation system of civilization’s anatomy. The vein through which I coursed was part of a continuous stream of pavement that connected the beating cities and pulsing towns to all points of this massive organism. My maps were physiology books which would guide me as I mingled and blended with trucks and cars and all the elements of this circulatory system. Avoiding major hubs of the flow, the vein I was following narrowed until I was in direct contact with one of society’s other support systems, a town. I had seen the sign that announced “Freeway ends 1/4 mile” and slowed as the artery funneled into a single capillary of cellular procession. The strip was a display of predictable Americana, with its storefronts, gawkers, crosswalks, and streetlights. Having some destination in mind I followed the signs through town to the highway that would lead me away from the populated area and towards a park-like setting of festive nature. Back on the open road, though this time it was a two lane highway, I realized I had traveled these parts with a band I was in some years before. I remembered an outpost up ahead with a store that functioned as a post office, a gas station, and a repair shop. We had stopped there for gas and had been greeted by an attendant who enthusiastically recounted our performance of the night before. He was thrilled when we agreed to swap one of our CDs for a cap with the outpost’s logo on it. I thought I would stop there and get some supplies before separating myself from society and finding a nice quiet place to call home for a few days.
I parked in the back, and walked around and entered the store. Closing the door behind me, the sleigh bells hanging on the door alerted the clerks of my entrance. The store had a confused layout. It was obvious that gas and fishing gear were the establishment’s primary mercantile concerns and as I wasn’t looking for either the haphazardness was especially clear to me. Navigating the confusion I began to un-shelf some necessities while listening to the banter of the three people behind the counter. There was an older woman and man, and a just-past-teen person using what little facial hair he had to seem like an adult. This younger person caught sight of me and ecstatically rushed around the counter and fairly well mugged me with hugs. He was the same kid who had seen the band. After his wordless physical assault he darted off. Not knowing what to expect next I approached the cash register, list-checked and disheveled. Setting my stuff down I watched the older woman, without any motion of her feet, disappear through a door at a pace I would not have imagined possible. The older man began adding up my purchases and when half done was called to the repair shop that adjoined the store. He excused himself and I heard conversation and the clanking of wrenches from the shop. He returned after a few minutes, but before he could add a single item he was called out a second time. This time I heard under-breath utterances and no mechanical sounds to suggest repair work. On returning he picked up an item, but instead of focusing on his check-out responsibilities he simply glared at me as if trying to size me up. Moral, spiritual, friend or foe, I was unable to discern the purpose of this assessment, and then he dropped the can he held and rushed off.
I waited five, then ten, then fifteen minutes without seeing anyone or hearing any sound besides the noise of the cars on the highway. Finally I was overcome by curiosity and walked around the counter and peered into the shop. It was empty. To no avail I shouted out a friendly “Hello!” Full of surprise that they would leave a stranger alone with their wares and their cash register, I exited the store empty-handed. I walked around the shop and discovered my RV—my home that’s never away from home—was gone. I was mystified. There was only one exit and the store had a commanding view of it, so it couldn’t have been driven off. Filled with wonder I looked around for a garage or barn and found there was absolutely no logical explanation for the disappearance. Letting myself through a small gate that led to the neighbor’s driveway I had a look around the fourth side of the building, though I was confident that the RV couldn’t have climbed the eight foot stone wall or squeezed through the gate.
It was then I realized I was naked. Now this was strange. No food, no shelter and now, no clothes. As I pondered what it all might mean I realized that at least I wouldn’t suffer any embarrassment as there didn’t appear to be anybody around. No sooner had the thought trailed through my gray matter, when I heard, “What the heck do you think you are doing?”
I turned to see a fellow who looked like a mechanic, with grease on his clothes and a piston shaped head, bearing a family resemblance to the owners of the gas station. Before I could respond he jumped in a car, started it up, threw it in gear and peeled out with a look of determination that I felt sure was to kill me. Quick as a deer I leapt up on the rock wall and grabbed a rock which I hammered onto the hood as the car ground to a halt, enmeshed in the rough wall. He got out and with a lamenting tone asked me why I had assaulted his car. I could tell he had released his anger and answered that I did it in self-defense. He looked at me with a puzzled expression and asked if I really thought that smashing the hood would save me. I responded that since it was my dream perhaps anything I tried might be effective. His look of bewilderment deepened as I said “look,” and all of a sudden I was wearing shorts, sneakers, and a t-shirt.
He was impressed and suggested we get a six pack to drink while I explained it all to him. We sat there drinking as I told him how unsatisfied I was at the home never away from home dream ending in road rash and a crumpled hull. Trying again I had been adding bits and pieces from memory as I traveled to an ideal location. I shared the no food, clothing, or shelter twist and slowly downed my last beer as I wondered where this twist had come from. At a loss for a satisfying explanation I sat in silence as he looked at me with pity and awe. I knew he was sorry for having tried to kill me, and for my current predicament. I told him it was okay, as there were many endings to this dream and I would probably try for yet a different ending. We sat together, quietly enjoying each other’s company as a cool breeze stirred the warm air. While we sat there I noticed my body losing opacity and he watched as I slowly grew translucent.
He noticed and said, “I guess it is time for you to go.” We stood up shook hands, and I woke up.