top of page
field - Madelyn Helford_edited.jpg

Seminole Heights

We came in overnight, through the rain and the fog and the darkness of the interstate. A semi ran us off the road outside Lake City. It came up on us and caught me from behind, half asleep at the wheel. At first I thought I was dreaming, because the sound it made was like a fog horn on a ferry and the patter of the rain reminded me of the sound the wake of a boat like that makes. We hit the guardrail hard and the whole right side is dented and scratched up, with long patches and streaks of gray. And it’s a shame, really, because I liked the shade of red I had it painted. And I don’t have the money for the paint job. But I am lucky that there’s nothing wrong with the car now, because fixing that costs a hell of a lot more nowadays than the paint job.

We eventually came to a stop on the shoulder and it was a pretty rough one at that, because we were going 50 and came in at a sharp angle. And I sat there completely still for a few seconds, thinking about what just happened and where the truck came from. I had slowed down because the rain was pretty heavy; the limit was 75 because that particular stretch of road is perfectly straight for miles. You can’t see anything but oak trees lining the road until you get down around Gainesville. My dog was still asleep in the back seat. She can sleep through just about any noise and rain and, apparently, just about any car crash. The second there’s thunder, though, she freaks. We’ll have to deal with that in a while, once the road gets to going along the water, and the Atlantic and Gulf sea breezes end up fighting each other. That’s where they have the big thunderstorms every afternoon. I guess what had happened with the truck was that it was holding at the speed limit and didn’t see my lights until it was too close to turn, and it didn’t want to risk rolling over or skidding out. There was already a shiny film of water over the road. I know I couldn’t see more than 30 feet in front of me. And I guess I’m sitting so low to the ground, with the car overloaded, and he’s so high up in that cabin that he couldn’t see me. Maybe it’s good that I got out of the way, even though I think it was his fault. An overturned semi like that can block the whole southbound side and, depending on how it lands, mess with the northbound too. And most people are headed south this time of year.

After I had gotten out in the rain with a flashlight and checked everything, I got back in and wiped all the wet hair up over my eyes. The semi kept going. Never stopped. And the dog was still asleep. Looking back at the road I didn’t see anyone coming, so I pulled into the right lane and got up to 50 again. I could see back further now and didn’t think I’d have another close call on account of the visibility.

We almost spent that night in Ocala because I had been up a day and a half straight and was starting to fall asleep at the wheel. I didn’t want to kill myself driving that night, not after coming so close earlier. I pulled into the lot of a Red Roof Inn because they take pets. The dog wouldn’t have had a problem in the car overnight, because with the rain and all it wouldn’t get above 70 and it would be overcast in the morning; but I still didn’t much like the thought of her alone and cooped up all that time.

But just when I came in, the receptionist went back into the office. I rang the little bell a few times, but she didn’t come out. I can’t blame her; she looked like she really didn’t want to be there at that hour. Neither did I. I just wanted to get down the coast and be done with the drive. I sat down in one of those huge leather chairs that they have in every hotel lobby, the kind that looks like it should be far more comfortable than it turns out to be. I could have overcome how unnaturally upright it was and how much pressure it somehow managed to put on my tailbone, and fallen asleep right then and there. But they had the People’s Choice Awards playing really softly on the television up on the wall, and Adam Sandler won an award. And the dog, she hates Adam Sandler. It’s because I once dated a girl and we watched this really bad movie he was in when we were in the less terrible phase of our relationship. And after she left me, I watched it over and over again not really thinking about how good we once had it, or how bad it turned out, or how much I missed her, but just laughing my ass off at the one dumb Hawaiian guy who serves as the main source of comic relief. But I guess the dog watched it with me about every time and just took a strange disliking to Adam Sandler. I mean, you can’t really blame her. He’s not that good of an actor.

So anyways, Adam Sandler wins this award and the dog starts barking uncontrollably at the screen. It woke me, and it must have disturbed the receptionist, because she comes out just screaming about how she hates animals, and hates having to check in all these stupid tourists from up north, and telling me to get the hell out.

We kept driving south down 75 because the whole ordeal kind of amused me and kept me going. I thought to myself, as we passed into Pasco, that 75 is a really underrated road. Everybody gives all the credit to 95 because it runs down the Atlantic from the Canadian border to Florida and it hits Boston and New York and Philly and Washington, and because it runs into Miami. But 75 also runs from the border through Detroit and Cincinnati and Atlanta and it also runs into Miami, albeit throughout the Everglades instead of the beaches. But the swamp is a plus for some people. I sure don’t like the traffic coming through Daytona and Fort Lauderdale. And aren’t Detroit and Cincinnati and Atlanta really the Bostons and New Yorks and Philadelphias of the Midwest?

And once I got through Hillsborough and into Tampa, while I was thinking about how many people live in Detroit and in Michigan as a whole, and whether or not you could really fairly compare it to Boston and Massachusetts, I drifted into the right lane by an on-ramp, and one guy in a low riding white Camaro who was coming onto the road hit me gently from the side and I spun out into the Jersey wall. The dog flew off the back seat and I heard her clunk against the passenger seat. She didn’t yelp or make a sound, and at first I thought she was ok.

The sun was barely coming up now and I looked out into the dim and pale skyline. The taillights of the Camaro sped farther and farther away from me and slowly shrunk into oblivion. He was blasting music, I thought, and maybe he didn’t notice since we barely touched. It’s just that my tires were worn and the roads were wet, that’s why I spun out. Or maybe he stole it.  Or maybe he didn’t have insurance, and didn’t want to get into so much trouble. Maybe he was running like I was. Maybe he was just as tired and didn’t want to deal with it. Why the hell don’t these people stop? But he was gone now, and I can’t drive anymore. And the dog’s on the floorboard in the back. She’s not moving, is she? She should have said something, made a sound. The dog’s on the floorboard in the back.

So then I’m sitting in the lobby of the veterinarian’s in Seminole Heights and the walls are all painted this dismal pale blue and there are pictures of cathedrals on the walls. This time, the chairs didn't even look comfortable. I rubbed my eyes, and I wanted badly to sleep. But I couldn’t. At first it was because I felt so damn guilty and sad that I put her through all this. But she wouldn’t have wanted to stay. She was a hell of a dog. So I read the New Yorker from three months ago that they had out just to keep my mind off it all. The words blurred into each other and I wound up reading every page word by word and having to go back. The same as it always happens when you don’t actually read for meaning, you read for the words without realizing it because your mind is somewhere else.

And when I did start to doze off, a man came out through the double doors with a bad look on his face. And I knew I shouldn’t have brought her and I should have had her in a seatbelt or cage or something and I should have got the car looked at in Lake City and I should have stopped somewhere else in Ocala and I shouldn’t read the New Yorker because I don’t understand the cartoons no matter how much I try. But I really should have gotten some sleep, because you can never do anything of any use or value or significance without sleep, and more often than not you just screw things up.

bottom of page