Pamela hated driving.
Actually, she hated other drivers; she knew perfectly well they were all out to get her. Two accidents caused by total idiots had taught her well, and she had developed a healthy disrespect for those who shared the road with her.
She wasn’t a rage driver, or even a fearful one. She just didn’t trust anyone else out here.
Sometimes, like now, it wasn’t so bad. It was late, and it was I-80 east to the Wyoming/Colorado border, and she had the road to herself.
Except for the occasional big rig, at least. Those suckers sometimes seemed to come up behind her out of nowhere, and they’d get close enough to the back of her little car to fill the rearview mirrors with glaring light before zipping around her at top speed.
“Asshole,” Pam growled as the latest monster truck roared past.
As she neared Elk mountain, she cursed again, realizing that once again, it would be snowing and blowing. It seemed to be the norm regardless of the time of year.
“Come on, baby, come on!” She coaxed the car along. It was an older model and little, to boot. The wind picked up as she climbed, and the engine protested; she slowed to under 40 mph and wondered if she was going to make it, but things began to level off and then it was time to go downhill again. Now all she had to do was fight the wind and stay on the road.
That there was a road she was assured of only by the reflector poles drifting past the windshield. Snow was blowing across the freeway in sheets so thick she felt it best to put the car in its lowest gears so it wouldn’t pick up too much speed going down the slope.
She wanted to pull over and call it a night, but she had to get to Laramie.
By the time she saw the exit sign for the Wagonhound Rest Area, she had had all she could take. She was shaking with tension and exhaustion. She took the exit and made her way down the slick road.
When she got there, she had a hard time locating a parking spot. The place was full of semi trucks, cars and trucks of all sizes. She found a spot as close to the rest rooms as she could get and parked.
With so many people around, she knew she’d have to turn off the engine and lock the car before going inside to use the facilities. Old car, regular lock and key. Damn. She experienced a moment of new-car envy, which would allow her to do everything by remote.
“If I were a rich man, yada dada,” she sang softly. She pushed her seat back as far as it would go and shrugged her way into her parka, zipping it and pulling the hood up before opening the door. Out in the wind, she cleared the door lock of ice and snow before locking the car–she didn’t relish the thought of a frozen lock.
The wind was howling like a banshee, and she tied her hood down tighter and shoved her hands deep into her pockets. “Stupid,” she chastised herself. “Where are your gloves?”
In the car, that’s where they were. She’d never learn.
She hurried as much as possible to the brick building she could barely see in the blowing snow. By the time she got there, she had ice crystals on her eyelashes and her glasses immediately fogged as soon as she pulled the door open and stepped inside.
There was a long line at the ladies room door, and a shorter one at the men’s room. She nodded to her fellow travelers and took her place at the end.
Behind her, the door opened again, bringing in a blast of icy air. Everyone turned to look at the latest arrival. It was an enormous man in Carhartt coveralls. “Road’s closed, folks,” he announced. “Hope you’re gassed up, because we’re here for the night.”
Groans filled the room, but no one seemed particularly surprised. Probably over half had planned to shelter in place already.
Pamela had planned to carry on until something stopped her. She was glad it was here, and not somewhere on the long stretch of freeway ahead of her.
After a wait, she used the bathroom. She dug some singles from her pockets to feed into the food and soft drink machines. She’d gotten change earlier so she’d have it when she got to the hospital, so she made a mental note to get more as soon as possible. Then she made her way back to her little car.
Before getting in, Pamela took a walk around the car, inspecting the undercarriage around the tailpipe and making sure it was clear of ice and snow buildup. She kicked away the drifted snow, leaving a cleared space of about three feet behind the vehicle.
This came from years of living in windy, snowy Wyoming. One did not risk a blocked tailpipe in a snowstorm when forced to shelter in your car–you could asphyxiate as easily that way as you could running your car in a closed garage.
She was busy–she didn’t have time to die right now.
She noted with satisfaction that drivers around her were doing the same thing. If they weren’t natives, they were at least emulating them, and that was good.
When she was sure she could safely get at least a little nap, she proceeded to the car door.
She was in luck–the lock had stayed clear, and she easily gained access. She pulled her coat off, sat down and shook the snow off it out the open door before stowing it on the passenger seat and locking herself inside.
It was already pretty cold inside, and she started the engine, grateful that she’d gassed up in Rawlins. Cold air blasted out of the vents, but quickly warmed up.
She pulled her cell phone out of her pocket and plugged it into the charger. Best to make sure it didn’t die, even if she didn’t get a signal out here. She turned it on, and thanked the server gods–three bars!
She reached into the backseat and grabbed the thick blanket she travelled with during the winter. Tucking it around her body, she settled herself more comfortably by reclining her seat.
Finally, she cleaned the melted snow off her glasses and then squinted at the screen of her cell phone, searching for the number she needed.
“Hello?” Neil’s voice was raspy, but strong. Pamela’s heart skipped a beat; she’d expected a nurse to pick up.
“You’re answering the phone?” she cried.
“I am,” Neil confirmed. “Please tell me you’re at home, safely out of this weather.”
“I’m at the Wagonhound Rest Area,” she confessed. “For the night, apparently.”
“Clear the tailpipe? Yes.”
“Have you got–?”
“Food, water and blankets? Yes.”
“Gassed up? Yes.”
“Can I get a word in edgewise, please?”
“I love you,” Pamela giggled. “Yes, you may.”
“I love you. I can’t wait to see you. But I CAN wait to see you. They aren’t going to kick me out of here. So take your time and be safe.”
“I am just so happy to hear your voice!” Pamela tried and failed to keep the sob in her throat from being audible.
Neil heard it. “Baby,” he said, “I slept through the whole thing.”
They talked for a couple more minutes, and rang off when the connection got wonky.
Pamela made one more call, to her mother. It was one of those “Don’t worry, I am safe” calls she’d been making since she’d learned to drive, and as a mother herself, she knew it wasn’t just common curtesy–it was essential to Mom’s well-being.
She snuggled into her blanket and napped restlessly, rising every hour or so to get out and make sure the tailpipe remained clear of snow and ice. Neil had lived through the nightmare of COVID-19. She wasn’t going to risk dying herself on her way to pick him up and bring him home.
Just after sunrise, she was the first car to head up the entrance road, and the first car to pull onto the freeway, right after the highway patrolman pulled the “Road Closed” sign out of the way.
It wasn’t far now, and she’d see her husband again for the first time in almost three months.
One night out in a storm? Worth it.