Matt Potter 6:30 a.m., Dec. 7
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Highway 80, first thoughts
I am old enough to remember when Interstate Eight was built over our back-country mountains. Before then, the main route east was what we now call Old Highway 80. That is the highway I recall traveling as a child.
One of my earliest memories is of that road. We went out to rescue my aunt and uncle, whose car had broken down at the edge of the desert. We picked them up at a garage and gas station near Ocotillo – or maybe it was Mountain Springs.
Each time I drive through the edge of the desert, out there on Eight (which passes very close to the old 80 route) I swear I can identify the ruins of that service station, abandoned thirty years ago for this new highway route. Or maybe it’s the other one? Even as an older child, nine, ten, fourteen, when we drove to Yuma or New Mexico, I would ask my parents, “Was this where we came to get L and V when their car broke down?”
I have forgotten what they answered, except that it was always one or the other.
Even now, decades later, virtually safe and comfortable at home, I zoom in on google-earth, and realize that, in fact, I still cannot remember whether we picked them up at Ocotillo or in Mountain Springs. There are ruined gas stations near both places, and the old highway passes nearby the new. Perhaps….
No matter. There be many more things I will forget before I go to sleep forever.
But for a little while longer, people will still be driving up and down the highways, both ancient and new.
No doubt some of them will turn aside, and drive “Old Highway 80,” and wonder at the ruins of a time gone by. Perhaps even one of them will read these words and stop, briefly, just to question whether it was Mountain Springs or Ocotillo.
Truth be told, as I peel back the layers of my memory, casting aside all the rational analyses – and questions – which followed, year after year, all those added-on levels of thought which I have created every time I travel along or contemplate this precious gemstone, yes, as I try to get back to the core memory, the actual trace of sensation from that night we drove east over the mountains, after drilling down into my memory, I am left, in the end, with only two or three solid sensations. How cold it was in the mountains and how much warmer it was down in the desert. That, and the darkness of the night. Everything else, even the words “We drove east over the mountains to get my aunt and uncle” are later additions, rationalizations, analyses, created later, layer upon layer, whenever I remembered that deliciously disturbing evening of travel.
Even the statement “I must have slept much of the way” – which seems to unimpeachably true – is a later addition, looking back. What I believe I actually remember from that night is a sensation of grogginess, of a sweet fatigue, and waking up once to a realization of chill and then later to a feeling of warmth.
The highways, meanwhile, are still out there, burning under the blazing sun or freezing in the winter night.