The Weather

Westward, ho!

I pack my dad’s Camry and ramp down the long driveway on my journey out to Bunker Hill, West Virginia, where the sun is just setting and I’ve landed another gig with that cover band, The Five Hour Energy Band. The gig is a Halloween party at the bar the bass player owns, Bogey’s, and I’m going as Sharkosaurus—the titular monster from a bogus History Channel doc about a hypothetical amphibious hammerhead that may or may not have been responsible for checking Chinese imperial expansion in the 12th century. I found a rubber Jaws mask at Party City, which I’ve now got pulled over the passenger seat headrest, and I found a dark green Russell sweatshirt and matching sweat pants in my father’s closet and detailed them with scales and gills and a brown saurian belly. The mask should also do wonders for my haircut, courtesy of the aspiring cosmetologists at Northern Virginia Community College.

At this time of evening, Route 7 West is a clogged artery, the red brake lights backed up like blood cells headed for a fat and weakened heart that can no longer hack it—but it also occurs to me that they’re all headed home. Westward, the wagons! This time tomorrow they’ll be stuck here all over again, but not me. No, I’m not heading home, but heading out—West Virginia, Wild and Wonderful, so say a few license plates in this backup. Those license plates accompany me as we press on and the NoVa sprawl thins out, most of the light in the sky now from the recently vanished sun, Fairfax County just an orange halation in the clouds behind us, like a frozen flash of detonation, and we’re twisting into the dark foothills of the Shenandoah, passing brand new subdivisions, streetlamps lit, the blue/white of eco-friendly halogens, most of the houses dark, empty, awaiting sprawl. This westward thing of ours. The American once took a risk, once leaped without looking, but not anymore. Now we leap out here. 45K, plus benefits. Some leap. The suburbs are a moon bounce. But the kids here aren’t having fun, not tonight, not this Halloween—the doorbells to these new houses work, but there’s no one in them yet to summon, and maybe the kids dressed up as young Jeters and LeBrons and Disney Princesses are now staring into their empty plastic pumpkin buckets and questioning for the first time the value of victory, and maybe next year when these neighborhoods have filled up they’ll want to be something else, to wear a more fitting mask. Maybe they’ll want to be something like ol’ Sharky here, gobbling up candy corn like it was Chinese sailors gone overboard, no threat of dentists when you’ve got unlimited teeth, rows and rows of them, white, gleaming and new, on the march, upward, forward—westward, ho!

We weave through the mountains and ramp down across the Shenandoah River, a flat black strip between forested banks that lets of no moon, and the first thing that greets us is an enormous cross made of metal bars, all lit up by a rainbow of floodlights—red, blue, green, yellow, purple. Disco Jesus. And after all the bedroom communities, all the kids with their own cell phones and great haircuts and store-bought costumes, Disco Jesus is a relief. The shark mask on the headrest beside me grins skyward, thankful as I am to see that this is still a weird world.

Roger is a composition teacher at Georgia College in Milledgeville, Georgia. He's working on his first novel, and would like to tell you all about it.