The human’s name is Nicole. Or Beau. She goes by Beau, which has never made sense to me. I know why it does to you. I don’t care. For the purposes of this story she’s Nicole, and riding with her are three animals. Stacked on top of each other in cat carriers ala Hollywood Squares in the passenger seat are two cats, Franklin and Monkey. I call Franklin Frank because he seems like more of a Frank to me, but Franklin also makes sense since both are black males often marginalized by white protagonists. Or so is my understanding. I never really got into Peanuts. While we’re on the subject of fictional characters, caged up in the back seat is our ginger-faced austrialian shepard, Finn. Like Huckleberry Finn. Or Finn from Adventure Time. Or Finn from the upcoming Star Wars Episode VIII. That’s right, we future-proofed our dog for pop-culture references. He’ll always be relevant.
Anyways, Nicole is the head of this peanut gallery, blazing the path through the darkness inside the little prius I’ve been tailing now for what already seems like quite a spell. Now comes the part in the story where I tell you about her driving habits. To say she is aggressive is a misnomer. Nicole is a very…alert and singularly aware driver. Aware of road conditions, aware of her own bladder-to-miles ratio, and especially aware of the driving abilities of the other motorists in her immediate area, to which she is apt to provide “observations.” Those are among her best qualities while behind the wheel. Unfortunately Nicole has no concept of speed or how fast she is going relative to her boyfriend following behind in a moving truck while bobbing and weaving between other vehicles at 85 miles an hour on a tight curve at 3am. It was like chasing down a CPU-controlled Waluigi in 1st place on Mario Cart when you’re plum out of shells. That’s right, Waluigi. Princess Peach or Daisy are too obvious. She drives like Waluigi looks.
While Nicole seemed to pop a mushroom-boost every 2 or three minutes, I struggled to will the Beast into speeds above 60 mph. The thoughtful folks at U-Haul had installed a “Fuel Consumption Gauge” to monitor fuel efficiency throughout the trip. They could have easily called it “How fast your money is being eaten and shat out by this giant metal box o’ worn gears.” I could actually feel my wallet lightening up every time I pressed down on the accelerator. The helpful needle would waver between the green zone of presumably fine china tea-cup sized gas sips to the red zone of construction worker lunchbreak-sized big gulps of unleaded octanes. For the past four hours or so I was perpetually in the red.
I would see the brake lights of the Prius changing its own shades of crimson every few seconds as it was forced to slow down. I imagined I was probably the latest subject of one of Nicole’s “observations,” but there was nothing I could do. Kicking your spurs on a wooden horse get you about as far as baking it a pie. I made that up, but it sounds like something a Texan would say, doesn’t it? Pity I was just getting into that role.
Anyways I was maxing out my horsepower as I watched other cars passing us on both sides. Riding up high, I could see down into the cabs of the other cabs pretty easily. Most people looked about as dead-eyed as I was, passing mile after mile in a race of phantoms. When you drive for so long on the same road you see the same cars/drivers again and again as you pass each other. For me it became a sort of fellowship of ghouls, forever cursed to roam the highways. They soon became such familiar travelling companions I started naming them. The white acura was Whitey Folgers (he was perpetually drinking a mug full of what looked like homemade coffee). A black F-150 was Mr. Dipshits, named simply because in my experience guys who buy tricked out F-150s are dipshits. I know it’s a hasty generalization. Some guys who own tricked out F-150s are successful mexicans, and more power to them brother.
I had just passed a familiar Honda Civic (Simple Lisa was her name) when my phone began ringing. I guess phones today don’t really ring. Mine just sort of pulses a pleasing tone while vibrating in spasms. I looked down and saw Nicole’s face vibrating across the seat next to me as if she were calling me so hard and with such urgency that she was causing the phone to jump up and into my lap. I grabbed it with one hand and awkwardly answered “hello?” If it wasn’t already obvious and evidenced by the fact that I was assigning personalities to people around me, this was my first time talking to someone in hours. I was also a little leary to hear how she was doing in animal-infested roll-cage on wheels after several hours. I only had to manage myself and my imaginary phantom friends. Nicole on the other hand was clocking-in hours as both driver and animal wrangler.
“Hey, we have to stop” she said. “Oh yeah? Gas?” “No. Frank.”
I soon found out what she meant. Pets are great.