The only other patron left in the diner was a middle-aged man and I took him to be Mr. Woody, the driver of the station wagon. I had sat with my back to his seat, so I really never got a good look at him, except to say he was largish. He never took his jacket off that I saw though, so his size could have been an illusion. He could have been forty or forty-five I thought, my age, but that was a very rough guess. I did notice he looked like a working man, calloused hands and all. I saw this as he retrieved his wallet. I saw one other thing too, but it was quick as he walked past me. He was ugly, had something wrong with his face. I only got a quick glance though, so it was mostly a gestalt just then.
It didn’t become a fact until later.
Elvis was on the radio again when I got back on the road. Like always, I could only get two stations out there. I favored Elvis and some occasional news over country. I dunno. Sultry over twang I guess.
Darkness had come full on by then. The snow was already starting to drift in the headlights. If you don’t live where it snows, you may not know you don’t need to use your wipers in light snow. I dunno but it wasn’t five minutes before I had to turn on my wipers and never could turn them off after that. The woody had only left a few minutes before me and it wasn’t long before I fell in behind him, moving along at only about thirty miles per hour. I thought about passing him a few times, but I didn’t think I was gonna be able to make any better time riding point than taking up the rear. I couldn’t see a hundred feet, but I could see his tail lights and that was something. Riding point in a real snow storm is hard work if you ain’t never tried it. I suppose I already knew that, but I learned it again later that very night.
I sat behind the wheel listening to Elvis until the static got so I couldn’t think no more. After that, it was just the thrum of the tires on the frozen road. No ipod or satellite radio back then; just me and a ton of Detroit iron against that straight, desolate, ice-laden Dakota highway. I turned the heater up some, not too much cause I didn’t want to fall asleep. I dunno but it’s a funny thing how the combo of driving and heat can put a man under in seconds. More than a score of us traveling salesmen bought the farm just that way.
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