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Alice Kahn

Life on the Open Road Leads Home

June 18, 1989|Alice Kahn

It's one of those mornings. A beautiful, clear, hot, sunny morning--too hot to work but not to dream. It's the kind of morning that makes you want to get in the car and just drive, drive, drive.

And in your mind's eye, you see yourself doing it. You've done it before. 9 a.m. The kids are gone. The husband's gone. There's just you and the heat and the open road.

So you put on some nice clothes, comb your hair and actually look at yourself. Maybe a little lipstick. You could look good if you tried.

The car door slamming might be the opening salvo in a new life. Roll down the windows. Turn up the radio. Leave off the seat belt. You're something wild, babe.

On the radio, there's old K.T. Oslin, "the '80s lady," singing about how she woke up this morning bound and determined to leave. She got only as far as "the edge of town."

You can beat that. You can get to the next town.

You switch stations because country music with the open road is a cliche. You get The Boss singing "Pink Cadillac." And you imagine that you are some babe in a halter top with her hair hanging down.


When you get to the light, you wink at a guy in a red convertible. But when the light changes, you floor your Toyota and peel away.

You hit the search button. You get some '50s stuff. You're getting sick of '50s stuff, but you never turn off Santo and Johnny's "Sleep Walk." And you remember playing hooky. You remember hot mornings when you got to school after studying for the quiz on polynomials and doing your paper on "Romeo and Juliet: Could It Happen Again?" You saw your boyfriend, and the two of you went off for the whole day.

You remember everything about that day now, 25 years later--the greasy fries, the red '57 Ford convertible, the hot sand at the beach, the smell of Old Spice. And you picture that poor boyfriend today, twice-divorced and sweating in some office.


You hit the button fast. You get the jazz station. McCoy Tyner plays the sound track from the movie about your escape from the mob. You ratted on John (Johnny the Saint) Santos. He broke your heart, that lying dog. But now you're off to Phoenix to start a new life in the franchised nail salon business. You've dyed your hair blond, and you've gotten green contacts. You didn't tell the Feds. The Feds can't protect you. And, sure enough, there--in the rear view--is Johnny.

Poignant piano solo.

Finally, you are out of town. You've been driving for an hour. You park and look around. You find the thrift shop. You buy a little statue of a geisha with a parasol all in chartreuse and maroon. Very '40s. And only a dollar.

You find the local coffee shop. No caffe latte. No espresso. The place is called "Vi's." It's just perfect.

Vi herself is standing at the counter pouring. She's the quintessential gal. Fiftysomething, harlequin glasses, a beige checkered uniform with a folded, pressed handkerchief fanning out above the pocket, which is embroidered with the letters V and I.

"Vi, you sold my jelly doughnut," says the guy in the Tyner's Feed Grain shirt.

"McCoy, you eat one more doughnut and you'll bust your jeans," laughs the guy in the John Deere cap who's lapping up his egg yolk with a bit of toast.

"Just coffee . . . black," I say, and grab the Independent Press Gazette. If I couldn't hide out in a newspaper, I would die.

Vi pours the coffee so slowly that I have to look up. "Go home, honey," she says. "Go home to your family. They're all you've ever wanted. There's nothing out here but people sadder and more bored than you."

I leave Vi a $2 tip. I'm home by noon. Enough time to live out my life.

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