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Wednesday, February 08, 2006
The Black Hole
Over the past decade I've driven between Portland and Eugene so many times I feel like I know every last inch of it. For most travelers this section of I-5 is a long, dull slog, especially after sun goes down. Sights like Fry's and Enchanted Forest break up the monotony heading south but, once past that paper mill in Albany, there's nothing to look at but lonely brown hills and grass seed farms. For years I've referred to this seemingly endless expanse as "The Black Hole."
Once daylight disappears, this 44 mile stretch of the Willamette Valley is the absolute pits, especially when you're dead tired at the tail end of a weekend. Ot's almost impossible to make out the landscape surrounding the interstate after Eugene's lights fade away. Could be the Mojave, could be rural Kansas or New Jersey during a blackout. All there is to look at along this passage is the occassional farmhouse porchlight, other drivers and nothingness.
I found myself heading into the Black Hole at midnight on Super Bowl Sunday, exhausted and in absolutely no condition to deal with its tedious desolation. This isn't the first time I've found myself in this situation but, given my driving record as of late, it's the first time I haven't been able to fight the tedium by putting the hammer down. While there was no one but a few stubborn truckers on I-5 that night, I couldn't employ the tactic I usually reserve for this scenario: equal parts Guns N' Roses' "Appetite for Destruction" and the awesome might of my vehicle's 10-horsepower engine.
Instead I had to keep the odometer hovering within a few millimeters of 65 MPH as semis and the occasionally import passed me by. I made it to a rest stop 15 miles outside of Eugene and seriously considered spending the night at the Best Western in Harrisburg, if only to say I once spent a night in Harrisburg. I could have even spent part of the following morning sending out postcards. I wonder if any stores there actually sell them.
After taking a hard look at my bloodshot eyes in piece of metal covered with graffiti (when did rest stop do away with mirrors made of actual glass?), I headed back to the car. Then, there in a cubby hole below the radio I discovered it: an old can of Red Bull. There's no telling how long it had been there. The top was covered in dust, dog hair and dried up drops of Taco Bell soda.
Manna from Heaven! Sweet nectar of the Gods! Red Bull, blessed Red Bull!
I brushed off the top and downed the can like Popeye before a brawl. Instead of utilizing "Appetite for Destruction," I opted to roll my iPod's screen over to "Tenacious D." More respectable bands just don't cut it in situations like this. When you're dead tired and high on caffeine, only '80s metal or tongue-in-check acoustic metal will cut it.
The moon came out behind a row of clouds and lit up the Black Hole's plains, many of them flooded by recent rains. The light glinted off the murky water and, while it may have been the Red Bull talking, the lonely interstate looked quite 'purty.
I don't know what they put in that energy drink but it certainly seemed to give my vehicle wings despite my determination to drive the speed limit the entire way. By the time I hit Portland, I felt like continuing on towards Seattle for the sheer hell of it. In fact, I could have easily made it to the Canadian border and back to town in time for work.
Instead, I headed home and promptly passed out. This is why I don't drink coffee. With a low caffeine tolerance, a single Red Bull seems like an entire bottle of "Trucker's Little Helper."