Later, on an empty stretch of Nevada highway, I open it up. At about 94 mph, the L82 kicks out a spurt of torque that presses me into my seat. I drop back to 75, mainly because I'm not anxious to go deaf. There's not much noise insulation between me and the engine in this old Vette.
South of Lake Tahoe, we hit miles and miles of steep, twisting mountain roads. The fiberglass body barely leans as it swings through the curves. The T-tops are off and Rosie's nose is an arrow into the wind that whips back over the windshield. After we coast through a valley, we do it all over again, climbing to 10,000 feet over Tioga Pass before dropping down into Yosemite. I can't think about anything but the road and the wheel, it's just me and the car, a mind clearing blast. By the end I'm high on adrenaline. Rosie grins and pants. The Vette didn't even break a sweat.
I guess this is why I'm on this trip. I have no control over where my husband goes or what happens to him. But with my hand on the wheel, my feet on the pedals, deciding where I want to go as I go-it gives me the illusion that I control my life.
By the time American jets start dropping bombs on Afghanistan, we're floating south along the cliffs of the Pacific Coast Highway. Fog rushes up the cliff sides and curves over the highway like a breaking wave, so that we shoot through a pipeline of clear air. By the time people start to die of anthrax, we've turned for home. Approaching Hoover Dam, I pass an electronic sign:Passenger Cars OnlyHoover DamThen I Pass Another One:All Trucks,Cars With Trailers,Exit Now.
I watch the car ahead of me pull its trailer right on past the exit, headed for the dam. Red alert sounds in my head. I wonder if I am witnessing something. I wonder if I should grab my cell phone and dial 911.
It turns off on a side road.
Suspicion. Hysteria. According to the radio, I'm not alone in this. It's a not-so-brave new world.
There was a combat chaplain in Vietnam who would crawl out on his belly under fire to get to the wounded and dying. Then he would raise himself up on his elbows to speak or pray with them. Someone asked him why the hell did he raise himself up like that and make himself a target? Because, he said, he had to look those boys in the eyes and make sure they saw the love of God. He received the Congressional Medal of Honor, posthumously.
On my husband's ship, a few of the young Marines write letters to their families, bring them to my husband. He agrees to keep them in his safe with a note saying that if he is killed, too, only the letters of others who have also been killed should be sent home.
These days, thanks to my Vette, I'm able to let that go. Driving past the eerie flames of petrochemical plants in east Texas, I can zone out like the dog, enclose myself in the white-noise bubble of the present moment. I leave brooding and worrying behind. I'm not where I was and I'm not where I'm going. I live in this moment, where the miles roll away and the passing scenery soothes or astounds.
The last stop is the Corvette assembly plant in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Gleaming Corvettes glide past American flags and union men and women, some in jeans and t-shirts, some in clown faces or witch's hats. They'll turn out 135 Corvettes on this, the last day of public tours "due to the present situation." It's Halloween, and after six weeks and 12,000 miles, Rosie and I are almost home.