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Look Up At the Stars
By Travis Cannell

If you ever find yourself attempting to get to San Francisco from Missoula Montana, you have two options. The first is to go west, over the great divide in the Northern Rockies through the plains of Eastern Washington and down into the Columbia river basin, through Portland and then it's a straight shot south on the 5. It's a mountainous affair, where the weather could turn on you in an instant and you are constantly either gaining altitude or loosing it. The other option is to go south from Montana. To go south is to escape the mountains by going through a chink in Northern Rockies armor and right into the rolling hills of southern Idaho where it is an easy shot into Salt Lake City where you can then head west along I 80, through the great desert of Nevada where you might not see a thing for 400 miles. Then back into civilization at Reno which is a stone's throw away from the great lights of San Francisco. Blake decided to take the former route to San Francisco and use the later route to get back home to Missoula.

It is hard to leave Missoula, Montana for any reason. It is purgatory, where you don't have any compelling reason to stay nor do you have a compelling reason to leave. Blake found himself caught there in his early 20's, playing in the rivers and lakes during the summer and hunkering down during the long winters. And winter was well on it's way when Blake decided that he needed something more. The small town mentality was starting to get to him; he yearned for a better life. Sure he had found work in Missoula, but it didn't pay well and too many of his friends were excited by the prospect of $10 an hour at a bar. Something had to change. Through an old friend Blake heard of a job in San Francisco, and after doctoring his resume with his friend's address and passing the phone interview he was off, his diesel Mercedes pointed due west, ready to tackle the continental divide and whatever lay beyond.

Storms pounded the car during multiple mountain passes. Visibility dropped and then came back, the temperature constantly fluctuated on the dashboard from 15 to 0 to -5. It was, after-all, in Celsius and Blake knew to watch out when the temperature dropped below 0 as ice could then start forming on the road. His white knuckle grip on the steering wheel lasted until he finally hit the 5 and everything settled down, right as he crossed the border into California. He'd been driving for 15 hours at this point, straight through the night. The sky had turned and day break was upon him. As the first rays of light hit him, he realized how tired he was so he pulled off the road in a small town called Red Bluff and parked in an empty lot, near a series of hills and an open space next to a train track. As hawks circled overhead and silence filled his ears, Blake laid back and tried to rest his body although his mind was still racing. He felt like he was on the verge of something great, something big or at least something different. He contemplated his life up to this point and was determined to make something of it. As these thoughts of grandeur drifted around his mind, he slept.

He awoke when the temperature started to get uncomfortable and checked the time. It was another 3 or so hours to San Francisco and another hour to San Mateo where the office was located. He had to leave, so he exited his peaceful train track resting place, filled the car with diesel and headed south. The golden gate bridge was impressive, and Blake struggled to hold his camera steady on the steering wheel and he snapped bad digital photo after bad digital photo. The gates rose up out of the ocean and beckoned him, welcomed him. The sun shone down on the city and it was so bright. He knew that crossing over this bridge was what he was yearning for and had propelled him over eleven hundred miles. The Mercedes purred as Blake entered the city, the five cylinders firing in perfect harmony. This was it, Blake thought.

The job interview lasted all of an hour. Before Blake could even take his tie off he had already fired up the Mercedes and traveled 3 hours East. He parked at a truck stop outside of Reno and finally took off his clothes from the job interview. He was exhausted and so he curled up in the passenger side of the car with the seat fully reclined, the doors locked and used his jacket as a blanket. The interview hadn't gone well. He wasn't going to get the job.

Blake awoke in the middle of the night, restless. He jumped into the driver seat and turned the key of the Mercedes halfway to warm up the glow plugs of the diesel engine. After waiting he turned the key the entire way and the car fired up with a bang. He got back on the 80 and headed east, towards Salt Lake City. To keep himself company he turned on a book on tape, Fight Club, and chain smoked a pack of Lucky Strikes to keep himself awake.

As the Mercedes hit a stretch of road in the middle of the desert, a phrase from the book came through the speakers- “For this moment, nothing matters. Look up into the stars and you're gone.“ Good idea he thought, so he slowed the Mercedes to 55 using the cruise control, turned off the book and opened the sun roof as far as it would go so he could look up. He looked around him and in all directions there was nothing. He was on an empty stretch of desert, the road forward was straight as an arrow and there wasn't anything around. Not a car nor even a light; there was a nothingness as far as he could see in every direction. He looked up at the stars and they were so bright. They filled his view. He could make out the entire milky way and for a moment he realized how small he was, on this road in the desert. The universe certainly was infinite and he was just a spec of fluff floating over the ocean, a meaningless insignificance in a vast universe of infinite space and capacity.

Yes, look up at the stars, and you're gone.