Little America

Little America

“God, you drive like you’re ninety,” Scott says.

“I’m going five miles over the speed limit,” I say.

“Do you see any other cars out here?”

Okay, he has a point. We’re on the highway where people die of boredom. Otherwise known as I-80 through Wyoming. It’s isolated and flat and covered in snow and boring as shit. Occasionally tiny prairie dogs poke their cute little heads out of their holes and above the snow. A few bison roam in the distance. But mostly there are lots and lots of potholes for company. I grip the steering wheel and carefully maneuver around these. I don’t care that I’m a grandma driver. This is my car.

“Seriously, if you don’t go any faster it’s going to take a week to get through Wyoming,” Scott says.

“Hey, I’m driving. You just DJ.”

He plugs his cracked phone into the car jack and the Marshall Tucker Band blasts its cowboy-country-with-a-sweet-saxophone through the speakers. I haven’t spent this much time around my youngest brother since we were teens. I’ve been living in Oregon the last six years while Scott and the rest of my family has been in Georgia. Now, my car is stuffed full of all my belongings, and I’m moving back to Atlanta. Deep down I know it’s probably a bad idea, but I don’t know what else to do or where else to go.

I swerve around another pothole.

I have just left my boyfriend of five years, John, my home in Oregon, my friends and a cushy cafe job to move my ass 3000 miles across the country. Classic break-up behavior. I am depressed and on the verge of a turning-thirty freakout. The question I try to ignore on this drive is: What the fuck am I doing with my life?

A gleaming blue billboard greets us out of nowhere.

Can’t wait to see you in Little America! 100 more miles!

“What’s Little America?” Scott laughs.

This becomes the most important question of our journey for the next hundred miles.

“Maybe it’s an amusement park in the middle of nowhere,” I say.

“I don’t have any cell service so I can’t look it up.”

Another billboard. 100 miles to Little America! Spotless bathrooms!

“Ooh, spotless bathrooms!” Scott laughs.

“I think Little America is a truck stop pretending to be a town,” I say.

“Do you think truck stops are considered towns in Wyoming?”

I crack up, shoulders shaking. (Sorry, Wyoming.)

This is good! This is a distraction from thinking about how lost I feel! I turn up the country-saxophone music. I’m also going to ignore the fact that I feel like there are a dozen potholes inside of me and instead focus on Little America.

Are we there yet? 70 miles to Little America!

“The anticipation is killing me,” Scott says.

We’ll be expecting you. Little America.

“Okay, that one was a little creepy,” I say.

“They’re expecting us, Meg! What will we find?”

Relax! 17 Marble showers. Little America!

“Marble showers? Maybe it’s like Oz but in Wyoming. We’ll get sweet hairdos and shiny shoes and ride horses that change color and then get the answers to our burning life questions! Do you think there’s a man behind the shower curtain in Little America?” I say.

“Maybe it’s a prairie dog wearing a cowboy hat.”

We have the same obnoxious throat-choking laugh as our Mom. My shoulders relax and I tap my fingers on the steering wheel in time with the music. Okay, this drive is fun now. I’m feeling good, feeling excited about life! About the future! And Little America!

50 cent ice cream cones in 15 miles. Little America!

“Okay, we HAVE to stop there,” I declare.

“They had me at marble showers!” Scott cries. “I want a billboard that says: Little America – Where happiness is a spotless toilet seat!”

“Little America. Where depression dies and dreams come true!”

“Whoa, Meg. Buzz-kill.”

“Right. No negative thoughts right now. Fifty cent cones are on the horizon!”

Almost there! Little America, exit 68!

I haven’t even had ice cream yet and I feel like I’m running on an insane sugar high.

We’re there! Take this exit!

“WE’RE HERE!” Scott and I squeal.

Little rooftops and a big white sign with red letters rises above the snow: LITTLE AMERICA. There’s a giant gas station, a motel, big travel center, and a dozen 18-wheelers parked all around. Yeah, this is just a truck stop. But a NICE truck stop. This isn’t one of those Podunk truck stops with sketchy dudes hanging around near the cracked bathrooms with coin-op dispensers selling “Love Drops for Her Special Pleasure” for 75 cents. It’s like the Marriott of truck stops. The Grand Piano of truck stops.

We park the car and stretch outside. Crisp, cold air slaps my face.

“Take my picture in front of the sign!” Scott says. We giggle as I snap his photo in front of this historic milestone that is Little America. We head into the huge travel center that is part grocery store, part restaurant, and part souvenir shop.

The signs weren’t kidding about the spotless toilets. I walk into a giant marble bathroom with real wooden doors and brass knobs for each stall. Plus a plush rose-colored couch against one wall, which is something I’ve never seen inside a bathroom. Actually kind of gross to think of couches in bathrooms. Don’t couches absorb smells? But I sit on it anyway, just because it’s a novelty and clearly this is what you do in Little America. Also, I have the bathroom to myself, and relish the solitude after two days of being in a car with my brother.

“Wow, Little America. You sure are fancy,” I say.

I lean back, shut my eyes, and inhale the sweet, clean smell of lemon verbena. Soft piano music plays from overhead speakers.

I hate that I shut my eyes and see John’s blue-grey eyes, teared up, as we said goodbye. Two days ago, I started this drive in the dark, crying as I drove away from the apartment John and I shared for four years, past Freddie’s grocery on 39th Ave., past my favorite coffee shop and park. Sadness wrapped around my neck like a scarf pulled too tight. It can be terrifying to know you have to drive away from someone, something, but have no idea where you are going instead.

They should make truck stops for people in big transition in their lives. For people who are sad, confused, depressed, and scared of the uncertainty of change. Truck stops to have a mental rest, be comforted by tiny wonderful things like 50-cent cones and soft music and room to breathe without thinking so much. Not just a vacation on the beach. In an ideal mental truck stop, there would be kind, wise old ladies who would give you a hot meal and hugs and tell you “Honey, you’re gonna pull yourself out of this funk. You’re enough just as you are. Here, have some pancakes.” And those words and hugs and pancakes would give you the boost, the hope, to just keep driving forward. There would be these cushy, cozy mental truck stops available to anyone anywhere. Truck stops that don’t necessarily give you answers but give you a break from the chaos in your head and a little hope, too.

The soft piano playing. It’s a Ravel piece. Ravel’s piano pieces always sound like dainty flowers to me.

I’m going to be okay, I think. I open my eyes. Get up off the rose-colored couch.

In the busy travel center, Scott and I order fifty-cent ice cream cones. Vanilla, soft serve, on crunchy cake cones. It’s nothing special, but I enjoy it anyway. We eat our cones and peruse the shelves full of stuffed penguins, postcards of Yellowstone, bison key chains, magnets that say WYOMING.

“The bathroom is pretty fancy,” I say.

“I know. I took a picture of it. The guy at the urinal gave me a weird look.”

“Scott!”

He doubles over laughing and ice cream drips onto the carpet. He was kidding. I think.

I love my brother. That boy can always make me laugh.

We get back into the car. I’m in the driver’s seat again, Scott in the DJ seat.

“I’m kind of sad to leave Little America. It gave me such hope for the last hundred miles,” I say, turning on the ignition. “Maybe I’m sugar-crashing already.”

We drive in silence for a bit. The car hums and moseys along and bugs splat onto the windshield. I feel like this godforsaken road will never end. Like I will never leave Wyoming. Like I will never leave this directionless mental state. Where’s the billboard that says: Megan, this is your stop! 38 miles to the place you belong! 38 miles to personal fulfillment!

The speed limit is 80. My speedometer reads 83. It’s 1700 more miles to Atlanta and whatever is in store for me there. I’m not in a huge hurry to arrive and get on with the next phase of my life. But this state of flat, potholed, vast uncertainty is even worse. For now, just getting to Atlanta is the goal. It feels good to have a goal.

“Okay, where to next?” I ask.

“There’s a giant bronze sculpture of Abe Lincoln’s head in Laramie, Wyoming,” Scott declares.

A big grin crosses my face. I step on the gas.

Megan Thorson

Megan Thorson

Megan is a writer and cartoonist who was raised between Spain and Atlanta, Georgia. She currently lives in Portland, Oregon.

Megan is a writer and cartoonist who was raised between Spain and Atlanta, Georgia. She currently lives in Portland, Oregon.

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