Otherwise, the Maine coast was as peaceful as a postcard. Thick black-green seaweed moss glistened in its tidal exposure, clinging to the seawall, every exposed rock and the underside of the floating piers, reminding me of the smothering kudzu along the highways in the South, turning woods and abandoned country homes into green fairylands. Objects which are so totally transformed by the encroaching nature that they look unnatural at first glance.
The last morning in Maine was ending in a late afternoon in New Jersey. After driving all day in heavy turnpike and interstate traffic mixed with construction and rain, I was ready to stop. The October afternoon was dwindling down. There reaches a certain atmosphere in a car of tired people when now becomes the absolute. As we pulled under the covered drive of a large motel, an older couple with keys in hand, stepped from the lobby and got into a parked car and drove around the back of the motel. With all of his energy, Daddy went inside, returning with a map and directions to our room.
Driving past a side entrance, I noticed a young, blonde woman wearing shorts and a halter top standing with the door partially opened. She was on her phone, leaning out the door as if looking for someone. I didn't mention it. Truck cabs lined the back lot at our entrance. A nice trucker held the door open as I brought in the bags. Thankfully, the room was just around the corner as my traveling companions didn't have many steps left to spare.
The room looked lovely, twenty five years ago. The shiny, polyester spreads were rust colored, coordinating nicely with grey accents in the room. They had worn well, but not out, during that time period. The bathroom looked clean enough, which can be deceiving but sometimes that's all you can go by.
The only requirements for this way station were its immediate location in time of need and the proper news station for the last weeks of an election year. And a couple of beds. Too tired to venture into town, Mama and Daddy unpacked the picnic bag which was beginning to run low on the cocktail hour feast of good mixed nuts and Vienna sausages. Add crackers and condiments and dinner was complete. With the t.v. blaring, they were set for the evening.
The front desk recommended I try the chicken strips at the motel bar. As I turned towards the bar, a woman, trying to look younger than her years in a fur trimmed jacket and tight jeans, walked into the lobby. A pattern was developing.
In its halcyon days, this motel had offered the best accommodations along with a large two story lobby, a restaurant with meeting rooms, the bar, and an indoor pool. A Rotary International circle hung by the restaurant door which was closed for the night. The place was not seedy or dirty, just past its prime but still fulfilling the purpose of welcoming the weary traveler. Everyone was helpful and happy.
The disco era was over. I had never walked into a bar unescorted but there is a first time for everything. Everyone was gathered at the bar. Every piece of furniture in the room was constructed from oak and soaked in a heavy coat of polyurethane. It was clean and tidy. A Budweiser beer light hung on the wall, spotlighting the famous Clydesdales. Various crews and OTR truckers had stopped for the night but were not loud and rowdy.
I climbed up on a glossy stool to assess the situation. The couple I had seen earlier coming out of the motel, walked in and took seats at the end of the bar. They looked older than my parents. My immediate read was New England Prim and Proper but not too proper for a glass of wine before dinner. The gentleman was not remarkable except for the fact he was the only one present wearing a coat and tie, an informal khaki.
His wife could have been related to Katherine Hepburn in her carriage and peculiar hairstyle. I don't remember what she was wearing because I was trying not to stare at her hair. Every bit of her grey blonde hair was pulled up onto her head and secured in four or five places, each with a small narrow barrette with green velvet bows. Although odd, it was neatly done and there were no strays. This was a style of many years practice and I'm sure a wide assortment of coordinating bows. She was a graduate of the "Get Your Hair Out of Your Face" school of thought.
Standing next to Prim and Proper was another interesting couple. I saw them greet each other by sight but there was awkwardness in their conversation. Both were dressed as if they had taken the time to freshen up after work, before meeting at this bar for their date. Going on past observations, I suspected an affair or a high class working date. She was very attractive in dress and makeup and her well-enhanced endowment.
I ordered a Coke and chicken strips. A woman's laughter turned my attention back to my side of the bar. She was seated five seats away, surrounded my men. Once again, her youth and beautiful suede halter top seemed to indicate she might be working for a living.
The young man sitting next to me was probably my daughter's age. When he spoke, I knew he was from New York City. He asked me if I was from the South because of my accent. He and his cousin had saved up money to take their family to Memphis, the home of Elvis. Touring Graceland had been his personal highlight. He loved talking to someone about the jungle room and the huge room containing Elvis artifacts, treasures that represented a lifetime of fame and fortune, Presley under glass. Presentations of jeweled jumpsuits with matching belts and scarves, arranged as if Elvis had just stepped away. A wealth of things he had possessed with no mention of things that had possessed him in the end.
For my new buddy, Memphis was a dream destination. From the Beale Street Blues to Barbeque, he loved the South. While I lived a couple of hours west of Memphis, New York City was one of my favorite places. I was there when I heard Elvis had died.
Buddy talked about his grandmother. He probably thought we were contemporaries. He seemed like a good guy and a hard worker, delivering rolls of paper to newspaper presses which kept him on the road three nights a week.
I told Buddy I had been on the road with my parents for over a week but we traveled well together and I loved to drive. Our goal had been to see my father's sister and now we were heading home. Daddy had been a trooper but he was worn out. You don't know what you don't know. This would be our last road trip.
We were headed back to the South, where the kudzu disguised trees with smothering vines and green leaves. Branches, trunks and the surrounding grounds were draped in a brilliant verdant green like a rhinestone jumpsuit reflecting light, hiding the limbs now weakening under the blanketing weight. The cruel beauty of nature was destroying the surest and the strongest in the woods, felled by weight and lack of sun, at random. Once an emerald emblem of the South planted for erosion control, kudzu was now an invasive, hardy weed. Growing a foot a day, it was best not to tarry by these tangled woods where life was slipping away.