I've driven down this road before -- the first and only other time I visited my friend Jill #2's house. And once again, I can't find my way back home.
Getting to her house is easy. A right turn off one of Richmond's main drags, followed by a series of rights. But I am learning once more that three rights, when reversed, can make a wrong. And I find myself on the wrong side of the tracks in the small town that bills itself as the "Center of the Universe," but which I feel -- at least right now -- should be renicknamed "the Bleakest, Blackest Black Hole in the Universe."
It should have taken me 20 minutes from her door to my door, but here I am, cursing and not exactly cruising down the same narrow, winding country road, bordered by deep ditches waiting, open-jawed, to swallow up my car and its increasingly freaked-out driver. The guy behind me in his monster SUV is practically driving in my trunk, his lights blinding me without illuminating the path that I'm trying to navigate. I recognize the deserted gas station I've just passed. I can't slow down and can't find a place to turn into and out of the SUV-of-a bitch's way.
I know that there are houses along this route, but none is lit up. I bet I know why: the lone parent remembers to pick up her newspaper at some point during one starless, moonless evening and, weeks or months or years later -- with the help of the FBI, the Air Force, GPS, and MapQuest -- finds her way home. She flings open the door, only to be confronted by the snarling progeny of her poodles or German Shepherds or sharpeis, long-reverted to their wolf-ancestor wildness and prepared to defend to the death the howling, feral teenagers, cowering and pissing themselves in the corner, and who will always be a disappointment to the canines that raised them from infancy for never having been able to compete with the rest of the cubs in terms of looks, communication skills, or instinct.
I drive on, knowing that the road sign that would have led me directly to where I wanted to go had never been erected or had been stolen (perhaps by a pack of feral cub scouts). Up ahead I spy an intersection and make a left turn, praying that the guy on my tail won't continue to tail me. He doesn't.
I make a three-point turn, praying that no kid who's just been granted his driver's license and is trying to impress his carload of friends by pretending he's on a racetrack will ram into me. I'm praying that I won't land in a ditch and be found, thirty years from now, upside down, seat belt firmly belted but half gnawed through, my last thought, caught in my head for eternity, "I wish they'd stop playing "Horse With No Name" for the gazillionth time..."
Someone must have put back the missing street sign, because now I see it. I make my way to Broad Street, to the highway, and homewards. The needle on my gas gauge hovers near empty, as do I.