Suburban Soliloquy #48




We started out on Friday after sunset. Leaving Levittown, Ms Keogh (my more significant other) and I drove the more than 650 miles [1,050 km] through the night to reach Lexington, Kentucky. Our stay in Lexington would be short, merely a day and a half. The entire point of this trip was to see our newest granddaughter, Whitney, who was not yet a month old.

Ceaseless stretches of highways made anonymous by the darkness passed through our headlights. To eat up the long hours, we had stocked our vehicle with CDs. We listened to Bizet's Carmen and Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado, enthusiastically singing along, humming or scatting when we didn't know the words.

A half moon accompanied us for most of our journey and, towards the end, had gotten ahead of us to lead the way.

We also occupied the time with conversation. Ms Keogh and I just recently saw the remake of Planet of the Apes. As much as I appreciated the costuming and apish manners of the actors in Tim Burton's version, I preferred the original 1968 version with its intelligent story and thought-provoking dialogue by Rod Serling. Ms Keogh had not seen the original, so part of our journey was occupied with my detailed recounting of the entire movie as best I could. I did not leave out mention of Charlton Heston's charming derrière. I tried to reenact scenes without taking my hands off the steering wheel - "Get your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!"

Mountain followed mountain, each higher, as we crossed the Appalachians. At the tops of some, the elevation was posted. Each presented a long climb that slowed the speed of the car. The highest I remember was over 2,800 feet [850 meters]. As the peak approached, the horizon would drop away and we could just make out the odd-shaped, tree-covered peaks on either side, silhouetted against the less black sky of stars. Then came the long drop into the next valley and the car would approach 90 mph [145 kph] - well, that's as fast as I'll admit to here in print.

Morgantown, West Virginia, was the halfway point in our journey. We stopped long enough to refill our gas tank, and then Ms Keogh decided to drive the next leg of our journey.

The unlit highways of West Virginia gave her a gruesome challenge - deer. The amount of venison on the roadway was unbelievable. We must have driven past two dozen carcasses, not to mention the streaks of blood where bodies had been removed. Live deer stood at the edges of our high beams and watched us zip by. So it seemed only inevitable when we hit one of those corpses that occupied the middle of our lane. We had just passed a police car turned sideways on the shoulder so as to light a first body with his headlights. The light blinded us. A truck's lights behind us continued to blind us. Our eyes did not recover quickly enough to see the next dead deer that came soon after the first. Ms Keogh saw it too late, and from the passenger seat, I saw it a moment later. She placed the corpse (assuming it wasn't just sleeping) between the wheels, but my 2000 Honda Accord Coupe did not have enough clearance. There was a loud boom and the car jerked. The hood [bonnet] popped up, but the safety latch kept it from opening completely, although it came loose and vibrated vigorously. We pulled off at the next exit so that I could shut the hood and inspect the underside of the car with my flashlight. I couldn't really see much of anything. There were no streetlights. However, the car continued to perform flawlessly, so we didn't worry.

Coming out of the mountains of West Virginia, we approached a disturbing blob of light. It was our welcome to Kentucky. We entered the Commonwealth of Kentucky by crossing the Big Sandy River to be greeted by an immense refinery complex. It was a frightful and unfriendly vista. The stars vanished as we entered into the bubble of brightness, a windowless city of steel tanks and tubes, pipes and columns, well-lit but deserted of people. Jets of blue flames crowned the tops of tall metal stacks. We past through this harsh and comfortless place. From this point, the road straightened, and flattened, and grew exceedingly boring. The moon dissolved and vanished in an overcast. It had recently rained, having left the roadway darkened and damp.

It was about four o'clock in the morning when we pulled into the parking lot of the Marriott Hotel at Lexington. The trip had taken barely more than ten hours and that was with a stop for dinner on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Not bad.

After we dropped off our bags in our room, we went to a local all-night eatery for breakfast. This was my first taste of Lexington, Kentucky. I watched the barehanded cook peel my waffle off the waffle iron and drop it on my plate. They didn't have little creamers of half-and-half, a ubiquitous item for one's coffee throughout the East Coast. In the South, the use of artificial creamer prevails. I drank my coffee black. Nor did I put butter on my waffle. Butter is prevalent everywhere back home, but in the South, it is only in the better eateries. Where we had breakfast they offered only some imitation made from soy.

Except for the pleasure of seeing my son and his family, I was not happy with the city of Lexington. A Sunday stroll downtown had nothing to offer, except the new main library which was open on Sunday. The city is tiny and there are no obvious museums. I was glad when we had finished our visit and were on our way home. I was eager to be out of Kentucky. My family delighted me, but something about Lexington and the surrounding countryside depressed me. In truth, I found the long drive to Lexington more stimulating than being in Lexington. I was glad to be once again ensconced in the car, eager to distance myself from Lexington, invigorated to have home be my destination.

Our daughter and grandson, who live in Philadelphia, had been visiting Lexington since Thanksgiving Day, and now they were accompanying us back. We were on our way home, but I did not escape Kentucky without one last frustrating delay to torment me - a speeding ticket. Despite the day and a half in Lexington, this police officer was the first person I met with a heavy Southern drawl, and it required an effort on my part to not react to it. Such is the training of us Yankees from television and movies to associate ignorance and bigotry with such accents. It is unfounded, to be sure, and I consciously knew better, yet I could not dispel my anxiety that this was a redneck, good ol' boy with a loaded weapon. Here I was, a Jewish Yankee, Ms Keogh a Catholic (of sorts), and our daughter and her son African-American. In my imagination, the officer would call his buddies and they would take us down some side road to be lynched. He was, however, nothing but business-like. I had my ticket and we were free to go, but I didn't feel comfortable until we past the foul refinery at Catlettsburg and crossed the river back into West Virginia.

Again we were passing through up and down West Virginia at night and Ms Keogh had elected to drive this leg of the trip. There was fog, sometimes heavy, usually in the valleys, but occasionally at the mountain tops. We were crossing over a mountain ridge when our daughter, sitting in the back seat, happened to look out the rear window. "Look!" she called out. I turned my head and saw the ragged peaks encircling a valley filled with fog, forming a cauldron of eerie smoke. The fog glowed, ignited by a gibbous moon hanging over the far ridge. Then we crossed the mountain and the nightscape was blocked from view. Ms Keogh, who was driving and focused on the road ahead, watching for deer, didn't see it and was disappointed. I reminded her that there would be other trips and new horizons to see.

Bruce Bentzman

This is the forty-eighth in a series of regular reports from the life and times of Mr Bentzman. If you've any comments or suggestions, the writer would be pleased to hear from you.
For further reading, Mr Bentzman's book "The Short Stories of B.H.Bentzman" is available from Amazon.