It was 8 hours and 40 minutes into our 10-hour drive home from Oklahoma that the bullcrap hit the fanbelt.
Hick and I held it together through the afternoon rush hour traffic coming out of Oklahoma City. Forged an uneasy truce through nondescript countryside and off-and-on construction along I-40 toward Fort Smith. Hick did not want to take the turnpike, and as a non-highway driver, who was I to object? We turned north onto I-49 near Fort Smith, and together marveled at the beautiful Boston Mountains. Still cordial, we joked as we crossed into Missouri after I-49 turned into US-71, because a town there had the same name as my sister the ex-mayor's wife. Even the downpour once we made a right onto I-44 near Joplin did not lead to disparaging words.
We settled down for the long haul. Hick said he was fine to drive straight through. Our ETA back at the homestead was 1:50 a.m. I counted mile markers. It's pretty ridiculous for Missouri to spend my tax dollars to pound a signpost every .2 miles with a shiny green rectangle announcing that I have just progressed another two-tenths mile towards my destination. Seriously. I remember when a mile marker meant just that. A MILE between each marker. Oklahoma and Arkansas are more cost-conscious with their road labels.
It was just outside the city limits of Steelville that the bullcrap hit the fanbelt. Hick thought he should drive 70 mph on the 55 mph two-lane blacktop. Aside from it being against the law, it was 12:30 in the freakin' a.m. Nobody needs to drive that fast in the dark on that road after already driving 8 hours and 40 minutes with a couple of pit stops for gas and potty. I expressed my desire to live.
"You need to slow down. You're driving too fast for the conditions."
"YOU need to lean that seat back and have a nap."
"No. I want to SEE how you kill me."
Just then I saw two green eyes shining at me from the ditch on the left side of the road, with a glimpse of a humpy body as the headlights passed over it.
"Did you see that deer?"
"I saw SOMETHING."
"I'm glad he didn't jump out in front of us!"
"Yeah, which is why I've been telling you to slow down. You don't have time to react going this fast."
"SEE? You're driving over the center line! You're too tired, and it's too dark to go this fast!"
"VAL. I drive on the center line in the daytime."
THUMP-A-THUMP BUMP BUMP
"What was THAT? You just ran over something! It was black. Right in the middle of the road, and you hit it!"
"It was a raccoon, Val. What did you want me to do, swerve off the road to go around it?"
"No. But if you were going slower, you might have seen it and had time. Or it would have had time to get out of the way."
"I'm not going too fast. These things happen. Animals get on the road."
We were about a half mile past the raccoon crossing, descending toward the canoeing campground at the bottom of the valley, when we passed a guy and a girl standing in the ditch on my right. Kind of leaning back against the grassy hill.
"What was THAT all about? That's creepy! Why are they standing there at midnight?"
"I don't know, Val. Maybe they walked up from the campground."
"But WHY? Unless...they were looking for their pet raccoon!"
We headed up the winding road on the other side of the river, climbing out of the valley.
THUMP-A-THUMP BUMP BUMP
"DANG IT! You just did it again! What was THAT?"
"A raccoon, Val."
"You hit another raccoon!"
"I didn't kill it."
"No. Not yet. Now he's going to die a slow, lingering death."
"He was layin' in the road dead, Val. I just ran over him."
"Well...THAT was inconsiderate of him."
"Those were some big raccoons!"
"You're tellin' ME! And the undercarriage!"
"Look! There's another one! At the edge of the road!"
"He'd better turn and run the other way, if he knows what's good for him."
The Pony huffed and threw off the fleece blanket he'd had pulled up to his chin for the last hour.
"Why the long face? You just woke up?"
"No. I've BEEN awake all this time. I was TRYING to sleep."
"Well. I imagine it was pretty hard with that giant raccoon carcass bumping up under your seat."
"WHY DON'T YOU JUST LEAN THAT SEAT BACK AND GO TO SLEEP?"
"I TOLD you, I'm going to see how you kill me. And I WILL come back to haunt you. Don't think that I won't. Death will not silence ME!"
It seems we suffered from a bout of car-cabin fever on that never-ending drive. Though not as much as southeast Missouri's raccoon population.