Road to Nowherebymynameisben©
It was long ago, before the Internet had a name. I was headed north on the Pacific Coast Highway Route-101, on my way to see Oregon, Washington, and wonders beyond. As I was nearing the northern California border, a road sign caught my weary eye. "Junction East, Yreka 115 miles."
I have been obsessed with wordplay and the quirks of language for as long as I can remember. When I read that town's distinctively spelt name something snapped inside my head like a plucked guitar string. I sat bolt upright behind the wheel. "Yreka!" I exclaimed to my less-than-amused travel hostage. "We must go there!"
"What are you . . . nuts? That's 115 miles out of our way. And another 115 miles back. We'll be driving for four hours in total darkness before we make it to Portland, now. At least." She put the road map down to look over at me and examine my head for loose parts. "What the hell's in Yreka, anyway? I've never even heard of it."
And off I went on a numbskull adventure to seek a business establishment I only suspected had to exist.
"Why are we going to Yreka?" she asked for the one hundred and fifteenth time as we rolled into the city limits.
"You'll see," I said with much bravado and hoping like hell my intuition was right. It almost always was. I had a gift.
We'd been on the road for nine hours without a stop, and we were starving. I pulled into a Denny's as soon as we saw it, convinced that in the gravel-road town of Yreka it would be the closest thing to food we would find. Our waitress was slow, rude and ugly as a butt sore. I left her an abysmal tip, but that's another story. When the check finally came, I asked her, "Could you tell us how to get to the bakery in town?"
Summoning a politeness only years of professional waitressing can perfect, she graced us with her answer. "Our dessert menu not good enough for you, city punk?" punching that final P so hard, it loosed spittle three days in the making from her nicotine-stained lips.
"It's not that," I said, suppressing the urge to abandon civility in favor of a more simian response. "I need to find a bakery. A real bakery, here in town."
The woman stuffed in a dress snorted, and then she wiped something off her hand with her armpit. "No bakery here, sonny. Nearest one I know's in Montague, eight miles out on Route Three. That's where we gits our pies from." She gestured at a showcase half filled with limp-looking pastries in dire need of a dusting. I made a face and she stomped off to her cave somewhere behind the kitchen service doors.
"Can you tell me what this is all about now?" my travel mate inquired, batting her eyes in that special way that always says, "you idiot." She knew how I got when I was obsessed, especially when it was over something stupid like visiting the World's Largest Chicken Sculpture made out of real chicken bones or any other great quest of cultural moment.
I did not answer. I still wanted it to be a surprise. A surprise I only hoped was real—had to be real—or the entire universe just wouldn't make sense.
We left the diner and I spotted a telephone booth. Yeah, that's how old this story is. An actual, enclosed glass booth, complete with the Yellow Pages chained to a metal ledge beneath the phone's coin box. My spirits were buoyed the instant I saw it.
I was walking briskly, not wanting to take my eyes off the booth as I approached. "Is there any film left in the camera?" I asked, extending an arm and waving in her general direction.
"This is the first stop we've made since we bought film. Remember? What do you think—I leapt from my chair and snapped off thirty-six shots of a dump-water diner the moment you ran off to the men's room?"
I stopped in my tracks and turned to face her. "Would it have killed you to just say yes?"
I pushed myself into the booth, grabbed hold of the Yellow Pages, and scanned through the B's. Bakery, bakery, bakery . . . come on, dammit!
"Shit." The old crone was right. There is no bakery in Yreka. I let the phone book fall out of my hands. It crashed hard against the glass wall with a loud thump. The dead weight of the tome swung on its chain like a man held freshly aloft by the neck on a gallows. And then I, too, assumed the posture of the dead and damned.
"Now are you going to tell me WHAT THIS IS ALL ABOUT?!" She was glaring at me, sharpening knives with her eyes.
Telling her what it was all about, now, was the last thing in the world I wanted to do. I was young and proud and searching for a dignified way of taking the secret to my grave.
"Yreka Bakery," I mumbled to myself. "It had to be. It just had to . . . be." I looked at my watch and then off into space. The sun hung low in the sky. Tears were forming in the corners of my eyes.
"And why does the Yreka Bakery just 'have to be?'" Her arms were folded tight across her chest. She cocked her head askance at me and slowly turned into stone.
My shoulders slumped. I knew that look of hers. She would die out there in the dirt and be picked apart by buzzards before she'd ever let it go.
Breathing a heavy sigh, I tore a page from the telephone book, a page near the back with lots of blank space. "Give me a pen," I said, holding out a hand as if waiting to be cuffed by an officer of the law.
She unfroze herself to dig through her oversized purse. I knew she'd have a pen; she had everything in there. If I'd asked for a transmission clutch plate from a '67 Buick Skylark, I'd have been surprised if she failed to produce at least two.
I took the pen from her hand and wrote "YREKABAKERY" in big capital letters, all as one word.
"Read it backwards," I said.
She did. And then she kicked my shin so hard, I felt it for almost a month.
- The End -