Author's Note: This is very much an autobiographical piece written at many rest stops between Portland, OR and Bellingham, WA. I was stuck in traffic, headed North on I-5 when I started having flashbacks to my childhood, wondering what it must have been like for my family to take such frequent trips with me in the backseat, bitching about my need for a McDonald's #2, or my little brother poking me, and so on. The stop and go traffic was a bitch, but when I stopped and saw the gentleman holding the sign, things became less annoying and I felt more fortunate. I immediately called a friend of mine, who suggested I get it down on paper immediately. The drive normally takes 5 hours; I managed to take twice as long as I wrote during the drive, but felt great about the experience and how the piece turned out in the end.
There used to be a giant neon sign around here that often caught my eye as a young boy.
I remember being excitedly confused every time we came here...
waiting for it on the freeway, doing what any 6 year old boy would do on random trips across the Columbia Gorge...
Counting headlights and license plates.
The sign read,
"Eat at Joe's"
It had a giant clock on it, if I remember correctly.
I used to watch Looney Toons at my grandparents' house.
Every restaurant was called "Joe's Diner" and often had that same motto
flashing in the window of what looked like a double-wide trailer.
They made me want to visit Chicago, even though I wasn't sure that's where the cartoons were taking place.
I wanted the hustle and the bustle in separate instances because I didn't want to overload my senses and kill myself.
I didn't realize that many of the cartoons were drawn
when people were nicer to each other.
When cars looked like space ships.
When cigarettes didn't kill you.
When the lights were beautiful.
I was born 30 years too late.
Approaching the exit, my heart jumped with some instinctual excitement as I saw the sign in the distance...
That excitement was quickly replaced with tremendous disappointment.
Joe's has been bought by Hooters.
Shaking my head in disbelief, I continued on my journey.
As I crept up on the bridge which separates Washington from Hell,
the soon-to-be I-5 traffic halted my progress in front of a half-breed metalhead/80's goth
tightly gripping onto a cardboard sign which read:
"WON'T KILL YOU"
His thumbs were not vertical.
His eyes were rested.
He was smiling.
"WON'T KILL YOU"
My brain suffered from momentary lapse.
It was as if everything I'd learned in elementary school about talking to strangers
and good touch/bad touch
and looking both ways before we cross the street
became null and void.
I wanted to believe this man.
I wanted to believe that he was merely on a peace keeping mission,
preaching the gospel of anti-murder and trust to the masses stuck in traffic with his cardboard sign of truth.
With outstretched arms he whispered
"I love you"
into the windshields of passerbys
hoping that one day,
one of these strangers will return the favor.
I wanted to believe that he was the only ray of sunshine in between Portland, Oregon and Bellingham, Washington,
while the Pacific Northwest was on Storm Watch.
Then the Fox News side of my brain-matter issued an Amber Alert.
What if this is what he wanted me to believe?
What if he was locally known as the "WON'T KILL YOU" KILLER
and I was to be one of his reverse-psychological experiments?
His only desire... to wait for me to throw up a peace sign,
like my hippy mother often taught me to do at smiling strangers,
then he would approach my barely moving vehicle
and shoot me in the facial region of my head.