"…And that's why my vacations always end in jail." Micah finishes his story while I am taking my last bites of breakfast.
"Yes, well, that's not something I generally do on vacation," I say.
"Really? Then how do you know when it's over?"
I have a few hours to come up with the answer. We spend the early morning driving through Joshua Tree National Park. I'll let someone else describe in detail all the alienness and wonder of this place. For me it is enough that the Joshua Trees, which are tall and branched and twisty—but not really trees at all—are the dominant life form in this one desert stretch, and so no other place on earth is like it. The rock formations by themselves are worth seeing, and climbing on, and falling off of (as Micah demonstrates), as are the birds (worth seeing). We see Ladder-Backed Woodpeckers, the western subspecies of Loggerhead Shrikes, and Black-Throated Sparrows.
On the highway to LA, we talk about our favorite parts of the trip. I say I liked eating boudin and crawfish etouffe in New Orleans, and hanging out with Frenchy in Austin. I liked the cranes, the flock of White Pelicans we saw in Louisiana, the Loggerhead Shrike. I liked seeing the waterless places, and the caverns. But who am I fooling? I liked it all. "What was your favorite thing?"
"I liked the things that went wrong," Micah says. "You know me. When stuff goes right, it's boring."
I know vacation is finally over when I have to drop Micah off with his grandparents in Los Angeles. This part is hard for me. Constantly moving around gives me a certain kind of freedom, but it also means that I am in a perpetual state of saying goodbye to people. Kidnapping might be an option here, but only if I want to end my vacations like Micah does. We disentangle his belongings from mine. "If you find anything more of my stuff," Micah says, "burn it and laugh."
I continue on up the California coastline for some hours. The full moon floats up over the cliffs, lighting the ocean to the left of me in choppy sparkles. I turn a corner, and the moon dips behind the mountains. Another corner, and the moon appears in an unexpected part of the sky.
The water jug in the passenger seat says nothing. It cannot read maps. It does not make screwy facial expressions with its restive nostrils. It does not tell me jokes about clowns and cannibals. I feel as though I got a puppy for Christmas and then had to give it back a week later.
I stop for the night, somewhere.
I think about sending Micah an email with subject line: "Wanted: Navigator" that reads, "I am lost without you." But although I do not know where I am any better than I might hit my location on a map of California with a dart while blindfolded, it is only in the most literal sense that I don't know where I am. I make up a map like the one Micah pulled out when we were stranded in Texas without gas, and get on with mentally preparing for whatever the future holds for me.
Maybe it's a dog.
Music: Long Gone Lonesome Blues, Hank Williams Sr.