There isn't any scenery, only yellow-green grass in the median and tall pine trees on both sides of the interstate. Tina has driven behind and stared at the back of her husband's truck for two hours. And it will be another four hours before they reach Atlanta.
The truck's tailgate says TOYOTA, and Tina wanted Jason to paint over the TO and the TA to just leave YO like she'd seen on other trucks, but he thought it was a silly idea. He didn't say so, but he didn't even smile when she told him.
The edges of the tailgate are rusting, and Tina tries to see shapes in the rusted spots like she used to do with clouds when she was a child. She wonders how Jason remembers his tag number, TSW 152.
Tina rocks in her seat to the rhythm of the thumping as she hits each crack in the old interstate. She settles into the drive. She stops letting go of the wheel to see if it pulls - to be sure the thumping is the road and not a flat. Sometimes she still glances twice at the temperature gauge's white pointer thinking maybe it's moved a little toward H.
She wanted a cigarette, but it disappointed her. She'd smoked so many that her mouth was already full of the taste of smoke, so the new cigarette bored her.
Jason drives in front of her at a steady 60 even though he doesn't have cruise control.
"Yankees aren't as emotional," Tina's mother had told her. "He'll make a good husband and father. Better than any of the rednecks from around here."
And Tina wondered why her mother didn't realize they were from around here, and didn't that make them rednecks? But she didn't say anything.
Jason isn't a redneck even though he went to high school with Tina. His father was transferred from Vermont. Tina was the first girl Jason dated at Oconee High. And the last. She's known him 10 years now, and she can hardly remember when she didn't know him.
The thumping of the interstate seems never ending, and Tina thinks this must be what keeps Jason driving at such a steady pace.
She imagines the road was made by men she can only picture in black and white. Back in the '40s or '50s, men in work clothes unloaded slabs of concrete from a truck and laid them one after another like tiles. The men probably thought they were creating a masterpiece - an interstate. And 40 years later everyone hates it.
Jason won't need his truck for getting firewood anymore. There's no fireplace in their apartment in Atlanta. It's on the sixth floor. Jason always walked outside in his socks to get firewood, or the mail, or move the sprinkler. And Tina always complained about his dirty sock bottoms on the coffee table. Till she realized that he ignored her.
It's the only good thing she can think of about the new apartment. That Jason won't have dirty sock bottoms. He'd wear his socks out walking down the long hall to the elevator, then across the lobby to get outside - where there isn't even a yard. Just a parking lot.
"I've never not had a yard," Tina's voice seems quiet to her. Her thoughts have felt loud, almost bouncing off the insides of the car.
"What will I do without a yard to putter in while he's eating hot dogs with his mouth open so wide I don't ever want to kiss him again?
Without a porch swing to read in while he's flipping back and forth between games on TV on Sundays?"
Tina breathes hard thinking about not having a yard. She wants a cigarette, but she's tired of cigarettes. Maybe another radio station. But nothing comes in clear. They're sort of nowhere. She pictures the map and sees their path from Myrtle Beach toward Columbia over to Georgia. She wants to change the path and go see her mother in the mountains. Veer to the right onto 26 and go to the Upstate.
The first sign she's seen in a while reads: Columbia 32. People like Columbia a lot because it's the capital of the state, but Tina's not impressed. It's just another city without mountains or the ocean.
She grew up in the mountains. The beautiful foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. When she married Jason he'd gotten a job in Myrtle Beach, and she didn't think about there not being any mountains until she got there. She'd look off at the horizon and be surprised not to see mountains surrounding the town. But she fell in love with the ocean and the beach.
Every day she found more to love. High tides, low tides, shells, driftwood, porpoises, seagulls and wave after wave. Always another wave. And she liked the scary things too. The jelly fish, the undertow, the sudden wave that knocked her down. She liked the ocean being there. She didn't know what it was, but the power of nature that close seemed to point out that there was more to life than paying bills.
Tina doesn't remember falling in love with Jason. She dated him through high school. They dated other people while he was at Clemson studying engineering and she went to beauty school.
She started working before he got out of school. And they still dated. Did she think she'd marry him eventually? She can't remember.
She was cutting his hair in her mother's kitchen. He caught her eye in the mirror she held up to get his reaction to the trim, and he said, wI love you." Other men had said they loved her, but she knew they were trying to get her in bed. She didn't think Jason was trying that in her mother's kitchen so she said yes when he stood up and asked her to merry him.
Now the sun shines through the tall pine trees making shadows like a strobe light at a disco. Tina hasn't been to a disco since they were called discos. Jason won't go. Period.
Never, "Well, okay, if you really want to." Tina can't remember the last time they went out just to be together. They used to go to the Waffle House and sit on the same side of the booth. Just the two of them. And not talk very much. Quieted by the bright lights. Feeling shy about the great sex they were having. Embarrassed, even though there was no way the waitresses and other customers could have known what they'd been doing.
On her last day at the shop Tina's customers and co-workers gave her a party. Mary, her Wednesday at 10 shampoo and set, was still in curlers, but she didn't care. There was a lot of hugging and crying, but Tina knew the tears were more for their hair than for her.
Tina doesn't think there will be many women wanting shampoo and sets in Atlanta. Other beauticians bitch about shampoo and sets. That they're boring and dated. But a shampoo and set woman knows exactly what she wants and there's no matching to some picture of Cindy Crawford or Julia Roberts. Shampoo and set women don't turn to their friends and say, "What do you think?" Or run their fingers through their hair and grimace.
Mary read out loud from an article in Cosmo as she sat under the dryer on the last day. "Know what you want!" Mary screamed loudly so she could hear herself. "What you're looking for in a man! And what you won't tolerate!"
Jason gestures to Tina. She can't understand him and exaggerates a shrugging of her shoulders and holds her arms up. He tries to talk to her in his rearview mirror. Tina knows he is saying Wendy's, not McDonald's. It's his turn to pick. Their worst fights are over fast food.
On that last day, Mary screamed all 99 of the "99 Things To Do Before You Diet" listed in Cosmo. "Have someone feed you peeled seedless grapes! Spend Christmas on the beach drinking pina coladas! Stay out all night dancing and go to work without having gone home - just this once! Buy your own home and decorate it the way you want to!"
Tina had tried to explain to Jason why she didn't want to move. She tried to be specific and non-emotional. She tried to be logical. He took a logic class at Clemson. She didn't at beauty school. "Without the mountains or the beach there's not a natural reference point in a city."
Jason assured her there were parks, yards, trees, and rivers and lakes nearby.
"But the landmarks are mostly man-made in a city like Atlanta," Tina went on. "You learn your way around by the street names and buildings - all man-made except for some hills or trees or rivers or ponds. And man can change them. He can dam up the river and drain the ponds and cut down the trees and level the hills with a bulldozer in no time at all. You could go away for a month and come back and not know your way around."
Jason only rolled his eyes.
"But the mountains and the ocean can't be destroyed by man. Even if you can't see the beach when you're in the city you use it for direction. You know where it is. The breeze, the smell, the salt in the air. The beach is always there. And mountains never move."
"That's exactly right, Tina," Jason stared, ending the conversation. Mountains don't move, but people do. This is a good job and it will lead me to even better jobs on down the road. "
And Tina thought right then of the roads that would take them to Atlanta. That's when she started picturing the map. At least she'd be closer to her family. But Jason didn't want to stop there on the way.
"We need to get settled in." When he said, "we," he meant him. Like after she called her mother to tell her they were moving, "We won't have room for a lot of company in the new apartment. We are not the Atlanta Holiday Inn for all your country relatives to come see the big city." Tina hadn't thought anyone would want to see the big city. They'd want to see her.
They wouldn't like Atlanta either.
Jason is driving 65 now. He passes a truck. Knowing it makes her nervous. As Tina drives out of the truck's shadow and back into the sunshine she sees the exit for 26 West, to Spartanburg, near her mom's. Jason wants to pass it before they stop for lunch so she can't suggest they take it.
She moves into the right lane to be behind him again. He doesn't look back to be sure she passed the truck, too. She blinks her bright lights. But Jason is fiddling with the radio and doesn't notice. She waves out the window, but now Jason is busy lighting a cigarette. She dangles her arm and the air blows through her fingers.
The Steering Wheel.
T. Dean Adams is a free-lance writer who leaves Charleston this month for a new life in Boulder, Co.
© Copyright by POINT, 1995
Last modified 8/8/95