On the Road with Maggie Scratch, Arcata, California

arcata coast

We pursued our destination one night with our thumbs jabbing at the headlights of a ’62 Chevy.

The driver slowed down and told us to get in. I started to hop in the front seat. Horace opened the back door for me.

“I’ll sit in front,” he said.

“Suit yourself,” the driver grinned, looking at me in his rear view mirror. “Where ya headed?” He released his foot from the brake and carefully moved it over to the accelerator pedal.

“We’re on our way to Arcata,” I said from the back. “Ever hear of it?”

The driver offered me a cigarette and I took one. Horace said he didn’t smoke. The car moved along the dark highway for a minute before the driver spoke again.

“Sure I heard of it,” he told me. “Yer lucky. I’m goin as far as L.A. I can take ya all the way. Yer lucky,” he said again, shaking his head. I asked him his name but he didn’t answer. He kept his eyes fixed on the road and we drove on in silence.

“Pretty wife you got there,” he gave a short nod to Horace.

“Oh, we’re not – ”

Horace shot me a glance. “Thanks,” he said to the driver. “Mind if I turn on the radio?”

“Suit yourself,” the driver shrugged.

Horace fiddled with the buttons until he found the news.

“What are ya listenin to that crap for?” the driver said. “Get some music on that damn thing.” Horace passed a country western station. The driver reached over, pulled out a button and pushed it in.

“That’s better now, ain’t it?” He turned around. “Can you sing?” he asked me.

“I have a terrible voice,” I said.

“What about him?” He jerked his head in Horace’s direction.

“Oh, he’s got a – ” Horace shot me a warning glance.

“I can’t sing,” he said.

The driver let it go at that. Johnny Cash did the singing for a few minutes but when the news came on again the driver pushed in another button. He reached under his seat and drew up a tin can. His head went back and he took a swig. He drove along with the can cupped in his hand.

“Gotta be careful,” he nodded out towards the road. “Can’t see the CHP comin in the dark.” He drove slowly.

“CHP?” I asked.

“California Highway Patrol, honey. They’re out there,” he gestured with his can. “You bet your sweet ass they’re out there.”

Horace cleared his throat.

“Listen,” the driver said. “We’re gonna take a little detour, you don’t mind now do you, gonna take you up tuh bar I know…”

Suddenly he turned off the highway.

“I think it would be better for my wife and I if we got out… we can catch another–”

“I think it would be better for your wife and you,” the driver mimicked, “if you stayed right where you are. Relax now, it’ll be fun, we got plentya time.”

We drove along the dirt road. There were no other cars in sight. The driver offered me a beer from under his seat but I declined.

“Take it,” he said, insulted. “When a man offers you a beer honey, you take it.”

“Thank you,” I said.

Horace’s left arm, which had been resting calmly on the back of the seat between himself and the driver, slid down and patted my knee.

“You got plenty a time for that stuff,” the driver said. “Don’t you now?” The driver pulled over and stopped the car in a grove of trees. He flicked off the headlights.

“How do you like it best?” he grinned at Horace.

“What do you mean?” Horace said frowning.

“You and the little lady back there.” The driver jerked his head in my direction. “I was just curious.” He reached under the seat to pull out another beer. As soon as his head went down, Horace opened his door, I opened mine and we began to run. We ran like frightened jackrabbits into the woods. We ran so fast we could hardly see where we were going, the trees were as tall as buildings, black, and in the way. We panted through them like prisoners making a break, clutching our backpacks and dragging them on the ground. We ran through the forest as if we knew exactly where we were going. We made it to a road. Headlights approached. A car came along. A station wagon. A plump, cheerful woman waved us into the front seat.

“Shhhh,” she whispered, putting her finger to her lips. “My son’s sleeping back there.” She pointed to a little bundle on the foldout bed. “I want to make at least a hundred miles or so before we pull in. I’ll take you to watch the sunrise from the prettiest look out point in the west.”

And with that, she sped off at about eighty miles an hour, unconcerned about CHP.

arcata redwoods

Maggie Scratch

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