It’s 2:45 a.m., and I’m driving through Smiley, Texas.
I’m tired, grouchy, and just trying to get through this unexpected, unwanted late-night drive. The thought keeps running through my head that I should be sleeping. I should be dreaming about the Come and Take It Festival. I should be dreaming about past girlfriends. I should be dreaming—period. Instead, I am having a nightmare drive and suffering from sleep deprivation.
I am driving the back highways of south central Texas in the wee hours of the morning. I am the last available option in our newspaper operation insuring the Gonzales Inquirer is delivered to all the local post offices in Gonzales and Caldwell counties overnight so that our readers get the paper on time.
You are probably wondering: “Why was he doing this?”
I was asking myself that all night long. The reason is simple: the paper is printed at Granite Printing in Taylor, Texas and for the second time in two months they had a catastrophic printing press malfunction. That meant they had to ship our paper to College Station to be printed, brought back to Taylor for inserting and processing, and then we would have the privilege to pick up our paper at midnight and drive 90 miles back to Gonzales in the dead of night for distribution. Thank you, Granite.
I’m trying to stay awake. I am dodging critters all over 304 and 97. I saw a fox. I saw a big cat. I am hallucinating that there are deer on the side of the roads.
What’s that: a feral hog rooting on the side of the road? No, it’s just a clump of bushes swaying in the wind. I am a human mess at this point. I rub my eyes to stay awake. I stop in Elgin to get some coffee. The store has its lights on. The front door is locked. Dang it. This nocturnal nightmare continues on a southbound course towards Waelder. Then Luling. Then Belmont. Then Nixon. Now Smiley. Critters and wildlife are everywhere on the roads on this evening.
I turn on the radio in the van and the Piña Colada song is playing.
“Nooooooo!” I wail. All to no avail. No one hears the despair. No one cares. Heck, no one is awake.
I am in a bizarre and blurry state of mind. I am driving on a catatonic course to my final delivery—the Gonzales Post Office. I am moving into “another dimension—a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. I’m moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas.”
I’ve just crossed over into the Twilight Zone.
The van is pointed north, so I must be headed in that direction. I am hoping the next song on the radio is better than the Piña Colada song. Suddenly, in front of me in the headlights, there is a dead skunk. I think of Loudon Wainwright III singing “You’ve got your dead skunk in the middle of the road, dead skunk in the middle of the road, dead skunk in the middle of the road stinking to high heaven. Come on and stink!” All of a sudden, the Piña Colada song doesn’t sound so bad.
I swerve to avoid the nefarious creature when suddenly out of the weeds two more skunk varmints dash onto the road. I hit the brakes. One turns and looks at me. I am stopped in the middle of the road. The skunk starts doing a dance, like John Belusi in front of the administration building in the movie Animal House. He is literally jumping from one leg to another. This way! No, that way!
“Get the hell out of the road!” I yell. He sits there. I toot the horn. He lifts his stinky skunk tail and vamooses.
I let out a sigh of relief. Only a half hour to go. I get to Gonzales, drop the remaining papers off at the post office, and then drive to the newspaper office to drop off the van. I bring the papers inside, write some notes to the staff on getting papers delivered to the stores that were closed on our normal delivery route, and prepare to go home to bed. It’s 4:45 a.m.
I walk out to my car in the dark. Just as I open my door, something runs out from under my car and over my feet. I shriek like an excited school girl at the top of my newfound soprano voice.
“What was that?” I ask myself.
It was a cat.
I went home to have more nightmares.