Friday, May 10, 2013

The Darkest Gas Station in America

The sky was black when I drove through the Wyoming night. Clouds blocked the stars and there were no street lights to illuminate the way. It was just me, the reflectors on the road, and the occasional truck to pass. My original plan was to pull over in Laramie for the night. I could get a room, make it to Sandy the next afternoon, and hit Snowbird on Friday for the first ride of #OperationMonthOnTheMountain.

That all changed when Matt called.

"Hey Rosler. How's the drive?"

"Going good," I replied. "I'm about 20 miles outside of Laramie. Gonna grab dinner and crash. Will probably get to you sometime mid-afternoon tomorrow."

There was a moment of silence where I could hear the wheels turning in his head.  "Laramie is only six hours away. You can make it here by 2, go to sleep, wake up, and come riding on Thursday."

"It's been a long day, man. I don't know that I've got another six hours in me."

"Ok," he was disappointed. "I'll see you tomorrow."

We hung up and I started wondering if I could make it to Sandy. I was a day behind schedule because of the shomit-induced delay to my departure, but if I pushed through the night I could start riding on Thursday like I had planned for the past number of weeks. Besides, I thought, college Evan never would have considered stopping when he was so close. Older Evan could channel that spirit. I pulled into Burger King and grabbed some dinner to go.

"Matt," I said when he answered the phone, "I'm coming tonight."

I made good time once the call ended. It was hard not to on the stretch of I-80 after Laramie. The speed limit was a posted 75 and there were no cop cars to make sure I was sticking to that number. Slight bends in the road made me keep both hands on the wheel, but there was nothing so major as to make me take my foot off the pedal. Trucks stayed in the right lane, I passed on the left, and their headlights disappeared quickly in my rear view. If not for the need to stop and fill my tank, I don't know that I would have hit my brakes once.

My general rule for the drive was to start looking for gas stations once the tank hit a quarter full. The system worked across the country but I started to wonder if it would fail me. The first station I saw, a Sinclair about eighty miles past Laramie, was closed. Thirty miles later I saw a sign for a Shell station. Also closed. I cursed under my breath and looked at the gauge. Getting too close for comfort, but enough to get me to the next open pump.

I hoped.

Maybe if I want it bad enough, I thought, a station will just pop up and save me. Then the gas light went on and a mild panic set in. Being stuck on the side of the road was a headache I wasn't prepared to deal with. What would happen if I ran out of gas? How long would I have to wait on the side of the Wyoming road before help arrived? Would a truck pull over to lend a hand, or would they just shake their heads in disappointment and disgust as they passed?

Just when the worry started to overshadow my rational thoughts, I saw another sign for Shell. I pulled off a mile later and cursed my luck. There, on my right, was an abandoned station that looked like it hadn't seen a customer in forty years. The Shell sign featured a logo I had never seen and there were no pumps to be found. I smacked the steering wheel and let a few profanities fly.

That was that. It was only a matter of time until I ran out of gas.

I kept going on the service road and let out a whoop of triumph. I saw a sign in the sky for another Shell station a few hundred yards further away from the highway.  Everything was going to work out. The system came through once again.

My elation turned to curiosity when I pulled closer. The sign was illuminated, the pumps were turned on, but there were no other lights in the station. It was dark as the night.

There was an abandoned station wagon parked against the fence. The sides were rusted through and the windshield was broken in two places. I wondered if someone was hiding in the backseat with an ax, but I shook off the thought and slowly rolled over the unpaved dirt and gravel to what I hoped was a functioning pump.

The debate over keeping my car lights on was short. They went off. If there was someone waiting in that car, let him try and get me in the dark.

The black night
The camera flash barely cuts
through the darkness.

The ground crunched under my sneakers when I stepped out of the car. I was tentative. I looked in the direction of the station wagon and listened for someone else's footsteps. The cold was starting to work its way into my hands but I didn't rush. After thirty seconds I stopped letting my imagination run the show. I grabbed the pump, slid in my credit card, and began to fill the tank.

I leaned back against my car and watched the numbers on the pump tick by. I felt a familiar sensation and looked down at the ground. Gravel, I thought and looked around at how alone I was. There's no reason I can't just pee right here. I started undoing my fly but stopped. I looked towards the station wagon and shook my head. That's just what he was waiting for. As soon as I started to pee he would pop out and attack me at my most vulnerable.

"Nice try," I said into the dark and re-zipped my fly. "I'll just hold it."

When the tank was full I replaced the pump and stepped back into the car. I blew into my palms and rubbed my hands together. The snow was waiting and the mountains were calling. I turned on the lights, left the derelict station wagon behind, and returned to cruising speed on I-80.

There were only four more hours to go. The drive was nearing its end, but my trip was just beginning.




Tuesday, May 07, 2013

My [this]


“What is your [this]?” Dan Fletcher recently asked, referring to the person/position you aspire to be, instead of the [that] that you currently are. He explains what he means when he examines one thing he misses about living in New York City:
 …the phrase, “I do [that], but I’m a [this.]” is heard way more often than, “I do [that],” e.g. “I do accounting, but I’m an avant-garde thespian with a bi-lingual singing style and wings.”
So when he asked “What is your [this],” he really wanted to know where you see yourself when you close your eyes and travel to that world where life has taken you down the perfect path. To me, it’s an interesting question because the answer has always been so fluid.

When I was in fifth grade, students were asked where they thought they would be in the year 2000. My answer was featured in a yearbook pull quote:
 …I will be at the 50 yard line, hunched over center, throwing passes and handing off for the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XXXV.
I still believed in the “You can be anything you want to be” mantra at that time, but there were some clear problems with that particular [this]. The first and most important was genetics. With a mother standing tall at 4’11”, the odds of my reaching football player height were not good. Another problem was dedication. I just didn’t have it. I played in Pop Warner, but I didn’t like going to practice and only half paid attention to what was going on if it didn’t directly involve me.

So that’s one [this] that died before it even had a chance to get moving. You want some others? Lord knows I’ve got a bunch. I was [a rock star piano player] before I was [a rock star guitar player]. These days I’m neither. I’m also not [SportsCenter’s next big announcer] even though that’s what I was planning when I got to college.

Mine is a life that has gone with the flow, and maybe that’s why I can’t really say “I’m a [this]” with confidence. Actually, that’s not true. The flow has changed direction a number of times, but after #OperationMonthOnTheMountain I can say with confidence that I’m a snowboarding writer whose smile widens when the mountains unfurl before me.

Thanks for asking, Dan.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Welcome to Omaha


Interstate 80 carried me across the entirety of Iowa. It was a delight of a state to drive through during the day. The sky was cloudless and calm and it kissed the road at the horizon. Traffic was light, mostly trucks, and the songs coming over my Spotify playlist were hitting their marks.

Still, Iowa was long and I’d yet to forgive her for turning snow into ice the night before. Shutting me out of the three hotels sitting on the western bank of the Mississippi wasn’t cool, either. That’s why I got excited when the highway changed from two to three lanes and I started seeing signs for Omaha. 311's Omaha Stylee popped into my head and, at 3:06PM, I was welcomed to Omaha by a train sitting on a trestle that welcomed me to Omaha.

Traffic was moving at a steady clip when I entered the city. The speed limit was a posted 60 but at 64 I was keeping up with the middle lane and getting passed on the left. We approached an overpass and I spotted a cop car camped out on the other side. I checked my speed. I was a few ticks over the limit but there were other cars going faster. They would get pulled over before me, so I just maintained my pace. I was feeling good.

I passed the cruiser and kept checking the mirrors to see if he moved from his spot. He did. He showed up in my driver’s side mirror and started closing the distance between us.

There’s no way he’s after me, I said. I wasn't close to being the fastest car on the road. Then, it hit me. 

Out-of-state plates.

He was behind me and we shared a few long seconds of tension before he turned his lights on.
Welcome to Omaha, I said after pulling into the shoulder. I killed the engine and radio, double-checked my seat belt, took my sunglasses off, made a mental note of where my license and registration were, put my hands on the wheel, and waited for him at my opened window.

He walked around the passenger side.

“Going somewhere?” he asked when I got the window down. He had what I picture as a typical Mid-Western cop’s haircut with the sides tight and the top short and shiny. He was looking back at the bags, blankets, and boards in my car.

“On my way to Salt Lake for some snowboarding, Officer.”

“Snowboarding, huh? Well, I pulled you over because I caught you going about eight or nine miles over the speed limit. Now, that’s not a lot, but here in Omaha our speed limit is sixty miles an hour.”

“I’m sorry, Officer.” Eight or nine miles over the limit? That's not what I saw. “I was just trying to stay with traffic and my GPS had me at 65.”

 He looked back down the road and bit the inside of his cheek. He turned back. “Are you coming through Iowa?” 

“Yes, sir. I started yesterday morning in Brooklyn.”

He tilted his head forward a bit and smiled. “Well, it’s 65 in Iowa, but here in Omaha it’s 60. Don’t think we need to do anything because of your GPS, but can I see your license and registration so I know who I’m talking to?”

“Of course.”

I grabbed my wallet, pulled out my license, and handed it over. Next came my registration. I prepared myself to wait while he walked back to the car to check me out.

“Can you come join me in the car?” 

I paused and played the question over in my mind. Did he really just ask me to get out of my car and go sit in his? Cops don’t have you sit in their car while they run your information. They just don’t. Right?

He raised an eyebrow over his sunglasses and I nodded. The officer walked back to his car. I looked around mine and picked up my sunglasses before putting them back down. I took my wallet, put on my jacket, and closed the door behind me with my key in my hand. Cars drove by. Most were avoiding the right lane to give the cop some room, but the occasional one ignored that courtesy and slowed down to catch a glimpse of what was going on.

“You’ve never been arrested,” he said when I sat in shotgun and closed the door.

“Never once,” I confirmed. “Mom’s happy about that.”

I looked around. It was my first time inside of a cop car and, to be honest, I always assumed I’d be sitting in the back if I were to get into one. His radar gun was sitting on the dash but there were no numbers for me to read. There was a laptop computer where a center console would normally be. I tried took a nonchalant glimpse to see what it said about me, but the tilt and screen protector made it impossible to see from my seat.

Behind us was a cage, and behind that cage was a big German Shepherd. He was interested in me when I first opened the door. He had since lain down to catch some rest while matters were tended to up front.

“What’s his name?” I asked, nodding back.

“That’s Voss,” the Officer answered. “But he’s not named after the water. So don’t ask.”
We sat in silence. He typed on the computer and I tried to look busy.

“So is this normal?” I asked. “Do you always bring the person back into your car when you’re running their information?”

“Lots of cars out there,” he said. “Figure the highway is 60, 70 decibels. It’s hard to talk to someone in their car with that sort of noise in the background.”

“I bet.”

He picked up his phone, hit a button, and brought it to his ear. I thought it was a little unprofessional for him to be making a call while I was sitting in the car, but I kept the opinion to myself.

“That’s Rosler,” he said. “Romeo, Oscar, Sierra, Lima, Echo, Romeo.” There were a few moments of silence where I wondered when cops started making calls on cell phones instead of CB radios. “That’s right. I-80. So,” he turned to me but kept the phone up to his ear, “have you been snowboarding long?”

“About 12 years or so.”

“Really? It’s been about 12 years since I last went. Still have the board in my closet, though. What kind of board do you have?”

“I ride a Burton.”

“Those can be expensive.”

“A bit. But so can other brands. I like how they ride and my last board was a Burton that lasted about 8 seasons. Pretty good value.”

“I don’t remember what mine was. It was a skateboarding company.” He scrunched his lips and looked out the window. I turned and smiled at Voss who was licking at his paw. “Who made skateboards back then?”

His attention shifted and he spoke to his phone again.

“Yes, a Toyota… No,” he looked at my registration, “he’s had it for a few years.” He listened for a couple sentences more before signing off and hanging up. He handed back my license and registration. “You’re clean. I won’t give you a ticket, but remember that we only drive 60mph here in Omaha.”

“Thanks, Officer. I’ll watch my speed.”

We shook hands and I nodded to Voss. I opened the door, stepped into the shoulder, and walked back to my car. The engine started and I pulled right back onto I80. Traffic grew thin. After fifteen minutes, the highway turned back into two lanes and the horizon regained its empty identity.

There was a lot of Nebraska to go.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Winter is Waiting

Every morning I woke up and checked the weather in Brooklyn and Manhattan. After all, those are the places I live and work and dressing for the conditions is tantamount to making it through the day with dry nipples and a positive disposition. Lately, however, I've given up on the local info. I no longer watch NY1 or have 11215 set as default on weather.com. If a look out the window doesn't tell me what the day will bring I simply pack an umbrella and hope for the best.

These days, the only weather that matters is out in Utah. With less than two weeks separating me from Operation Month on the Mountain, my eyes are turned west towards the Wasatch. And why shouldn't they be? Snowbird has received 243" so far and they're rocking a base depth of 73". That's all well and good, but I'm not overly concerned with the snow that's already on the ground. I'm happy it's there, but I want to know about the snow that has yet to fall.

Heading west is all about chasing the fluffy dream. I want to carve at least one line in untouched pow each day I'm on the mountain.That's not really too much to ask, is it? It's the least the winter gods can do after blessing me with winter after craptacular winter out east.

Thankfully, my days of granular and loose granular surfaces are being put to rest. I leave for Snowbird in twelve days and meteorologists say the next seven should look like this:


The mountain is making its final preparations for my arrival.

My winter is waiting.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Go West, Young Man

I was at Edelman Digital for just over four years when an old boss came calling. His siren's song tickled me. "Leave your gig," he crooned, "and I will give you your own department that you will have the authority to build from the ground up."

"And the support?" I asked.

"The support of the entire agency," he promised. "This company recognizes the value of copy, and you have the personal assurances of myself and the CEO that no obstacle will stand in the way."

The honeymoon was short-lived. Things didn't quite go according to plan and, after a year of attempting to make the doomed relationship work, we both decided it was best to go our separate ways. I was to go searching for my next gig while they were to continue going down the path they followed before I arrived - a digital department that relied on clients and account people to write copy.

It didn't take long for me to get over it. I was upset with myself for ignoring the warnings of people who said I shouldn't go work for the boss, but I did pull some positives from the experience. First off, I learned to take every unwritten promise with a grain of salt. Hell, even the written ones can easily be broken with words like "resource allocation" and "budgetary restrictions." Second, I learned that freelancing can be pretty damned alright.

Working as a freelance writer has afforded me the freedom to come and go as I please. I've worked from home in my boxers with a dog at my feet, and I've worked in an office with friends I know from previous gigs. I took two weeks to travel. I'm taking another six weeks off soon so I can spend an entire month on the mountain in Utah. While it's true I won't get paid while I'm gone, I also don't have to worry about getting my manager's approval to take the time off. Which is nice.

I'm hoping to get back to writing more on this upcoming trip. I was debating whether or not I should start a new site called "Thirty Days in Utah," but I've decided to keep everything here. I used to post regularly and I'm hoping I can do so again. After all, if thirty days in the Wasatch doesn't inspire me, then perhaps nothing ever will.