“Been Camping, Have You?”
With the rolling green hills and overcrowded freeways now behind me, I found myself driving in the early morning hours along an empty two-lane highway with the sun barely peaking over the distant mountains. The landscape was vast, like that of the moon, and I had packed up my tent only hours earlier.
Having just spent four more days along the eastern Sierra in efforts to be reacquainted with my own company I was now feeling like the king of the road. I was living off pasta, eggs and soup, and my clothes were beginning to smell. My hair was turning dark from dirt and grime. My last shower was four, maybe five, days ago. The smell of campfire lingered on my clothes and I had a stupid smile upon my face. I was back in my element and the comfort of my own company came around quicker and easier than I thought it would. I had room to stretch out in my car with only my own gear stashed in the back and Sienna was riding shotgun with her head out the window.
I was headed toward the southwest, as California was being slammed with storm after storm. I’d had enough of the rain and was ready to get back into the desert during the best time of the year, spring. Avoiding the main thoroughfares and in need of gas, I drove for miles through open eastern California high desert before finally stumbling upon a lone service station surrounded by abandoned buildings.
Suddenly feeling transported into a terrible B-rated horror movie, I pulled off the highway and onto the shoulder of the road before pulling up to the gas pump. I can spend days on end out in the wilderness without a problem, but now I was afraid to pull into a decrepit gas station. Looking back at Sienna for reassurance, she was snoozing in the backseat and completely oblivious. I must have sat on the side of the road for ten minutes and not a single car drove by; my gas light flickered on and I was really in need of caffeine. The decision was obvious, I was going to face my (ridiculous) fears and pull into the gas station.
Slowly pulling up to one of only two gas pumps on site I scanned the area for signs of life. Starting to wonder if the station was even open, I crawled out of my car and walked towards the glass door that sat ajar. I peaked in looking for an attendant, the station was dusty and the shelves were stocked with supplies that looked as if they had been sitting there for centuries. As I made my way toward the cold drink section, the sound of a deep, raspy voice made my heart stop and my entire body lunge forward.
“Can I help you?”
Now stopped dead in my tracks and no longer focused on the Coca-Cola that was within grasping range I turned my head towards the counter to see a large man with a scraggly beard now standing behind the cash register.
As I opened my mouth, a squeaky voice I had never heard before came rushing out.
“Good morning, just need to get some gas and a cold drink.”
I awaited a response but all that I got from the man was a grunt. Grabbing my drink, I hurried to the counter and slid some cash in his direction. I attempted to make small talk as he rung up my purchase but all that I received in return was a glare. That was until he handed me my change and receipt. As I put out my hand to pick up the five-dollar bill that he slid across the counter I once again heard that deep raspy voice that had stopped me dead in my tracks moments earlier.
“Been camping have you?”
I lifted my eyes to look at his face that now had an impish smirk.
All I could utter was “uh huh.”
As I turned to scurry out the door, I could hear him utter only a few more words:
“Well, it certainly smells like it!”