Coughing, I make to hand the pipe over to him, but he says, “No, it’s ok. Smoke all that you want to.” So I take another hit. Then another one. If you can’t beat ‘em… I think, after taking my third hit. I hand the pipe back to Shane, where I warily watch as he proceeds to smoke and drive.
We are coasting along Highway 97 still, Sara is watching her iPhone tell her that we have three more hours to go until we reach our destination. A long lake is beside the car, Klamath Lake, Shane tells us, proudly boasting that it is the largest manmade lake in the world (it is the largest freshwater body of water in Oregon, but it is not manmade nor is it the largest of its sort in the entire world). Shane’s comments have gotten more and more slurred and unintelligible. He starts murmuring things to my mother, I can pick out small phrases: “I seen some people die over there”, “I hear Jesus tell me what he wants me to do”, “There has been blood all over this part of the highway”. My mom, trying to keep her cool and figure out what to do next, merely nods and says back, “Mmhm.”
Shane and I are now high. As he passes his freshly packed pipe back to me for a third time, I discretely smoke it then slowly edge the glove box open and slide it in, hoping he won’t notice. He doesn’t. He is happily swerving from lane to lane, tailgating people though there is a passing lane, cursing at people who let him pass and drumming along to the radio all the while. We hold our breath and hope that we can make it for three more hours without any bodily harm.
An hour goes by and we are still on the 97. We pass the turn off for Crater Lake and stare longingly. I wonder what it would have been like to hike into Crater Lake, which is supposed to be the most beautiful part of the Oregon section. It all seems so funny to me, where we are now as opposed to where we thought we would be at this point – ten miles into a daily hike and five days away from Crater Lake. But with three thumbs, some gas money and a crazy driver, we find ourselves here, on the highway, passing by Crater Lake in two hours, a feat that should have taken us five days. I almost laugh at the hilarity of it until I feel that familiar swerve and the old white truck rumbles off of the highway to a halting stop on the side of the road.
“What’s wrong?” My sister asks, anxiously looking at her phone, urging us onward.
“I think I saw my cousin back there,” Shane says, putting his arm outstretched on our seatbacks and, looking over his shoulder, backing up next to cars whooshing past at frenzied speeds in the opposite direction. “He’d be pissed if I didn’t say hi.”
And with that, Shane pulls a U-turn on the highway, pulling out in front of a huge, speeding semi. Our white truck stalls and Shane curses at his gearshift as the semi truck screeches to a halt, barely stopping itself from crashing right into my sister and I. With a honk and a middle finger, the semi driver veers into the other lane, making a wide circle around our stopped car, and continues his drive southbound. My heart is pounding and tears leap to my eyes. This isn’t funny anymore, the fast that he’s crazy doesn’t make me laugh anymore, his smoking and swerving and drumming aren’t just silly passing jokes anymore. For the first time in this car, I realize that our lives are actually in danger. I could actually die, along with my mother and my sister, on the side of this Oregon highway.
“I saw him at this motel up here,” Shane says once we are properly turned around and headed south, apparently ignorant to the scene that just unfolded.
A sign erupts ahead out of the flat landscape. It is a faded pastel pink Motel sign, ancient light bulbs surround the sign like the ones from retro Vegas ads. A shining red Vacancy shimmers off of the sign, the unlit No beside it forever begging to be turned on. Shane turns slowly into the parking lot and creeps deliberately along the sparse row of cars. A gravel road rests beside the motel and goes on toward a speck of forest in the distance. Shane is quiet and for the first time I wonder if I have judged his crazy innocence wrongly. I see the speck of forest in the distance, the isolation that surrounds us, the obvious absence of a cousin and I wonder if we are about to be driven right into an episode of Dateline. I look to my mom and she is thinking the same thing, she pats the knife in her pant leg pocket, her fingers wrapping around the hilt, ready for the slightest provocation. I do the same, my brother-in-law’s hulking serrated knife now not seeming to be as overzealous as I thought it might be.
“Nah, he ain’t here,” Shane says, and with a quick, “Sorry girls,” He whips his truck around and has us back on the 97 heading north in no time.
The tension leaks out of my back slowly, my prickled senses refusing to back down after they had been so carefully raised. Eventually, though, I sit as comfortably as I can back in my sister’s lap and we both watch as the miles tick down on her iPhone. Each mile safely conquered feels like a miracle. We have only an hour to go until we are safe.
With forty miles left, we pass a dead deer in the middle of the road and have to swerve to miss it. “Looks like dinner,” I joke to my mom. I am thrown forward as the truck slams to a stop and veers to the side of the road. My eyes widen in shock as Shane throws the truck into reverse and backs up on the highway, with cars passing and honking while speeding past us. He stops with the deer to our left, separated from us by two lanes of the highway.
“I was joking…” I say feebly, unable to process that Shane could be crazier than he already seemed.
“Be right back girls,” Shane says, jumping out of the car and running to the middle of the road. He grabs the deer by its hind legs and, puffing, he drags it to the edge of the road. He lowers the hatch of his pickup and tries to heave the deer into the back and, inevitably, onto our backpacks. I watch through the rear view mirror. My sister erupts in a fit of giggles and I have to join her. My mom is tense. “Stop laughing,” She tells us, though a smirk works its way onto her stern face. She is trying to stop herself from laughing when we hear a noise from behind us. We look outside, Shane is grunting and heaving, trying to throw the deer in the back. After three failed attempts, though, he closes the hatch and, leaving the deer on the side of the road, gets back into his car. We are composed and solemn now. He looks at us and says, “The one that got away!” And we laugh a little too eagerly along with him.
As Shane turns the keys to start the car, we see a silver Scion that had been parked in front of us peel off. Shane follows the Scion, quickly throwing the car onto the highway and ensuing in a quick chase, weaving in and out of traffic, dodging cars and drawing the angry honks of Memorial Day drivers. The Scion turns a bend and disappears.
“She told me that she wanted my help,” Shane says, shaking his head, “Even though I don’t know her from Adam.”
Another mid-highway screech. Another mid-highway U-turn. Another close call as we stall in the middle of the highway. We are headed southbound again in pursuit of the silver Scion.
“I swear she said she wanted my help,” Shane says. “I think I saw it pull into this place.” We turn into a diner parking lot. Sure enough, a silver Scion is parked nearby the restaurant. Two boys sit beside it, dark haired and young. Their faces are tan and their gaze is squinty as they raise their eyes to the rusty white truck that is stopped in front of them.
“Hey!” Shane shouts at them out of my rolled-down window. “Is this your Scion?”
The boys sit confused and slightly scared. I can’t blame them. A toothless man is yelling at them across three grungy looking women in matching headscarves out of a dinged up old truck. Shane tries again.
“Hey, uh, hablamos Mexicanios?” He says, wrongly assuming that the dark-haired boys are Hispanic and even more wrongly speaking gibberish to them.
The boys are petrified now, so I chime in.
“Is that your car?” I ask.
Whether it is or not, the boys shake their heads vigorously in unison and Shane growls angrily and peels off, spinning his car around and turning back onto the highway.