Driving to the oil patch

First two flames, one on each side of the road, like sentinels. Bright, 10 or 100 times brighter than any streetlight and wavering like a living thing. You feel naked and speed past hoping to escape notice.

Then fog. White soup fog so thick you can only see the center yellow dashed line right against your front tire if you squint. So thick you wonder if it will ever let up, if you will never make it out, run off the road or hit another person before you even see them. So thick you almost pull over but think of the danger from passing cars and think surely it can’t last much longer. Right?

Twenty, 30, 40 miles later you are justified and the white soup fades to patches, a veil of gauze on the world. Then it is gone altogether, leaving pitch black. No streetlights in western North Dakota. Then the lights again, bright, sputtering orange lights silhouetting the rolling prairie where there should be no light. Naked again, you speed on.

Sixty miles out the hotels start to speed past, neon light after neon light spelling “NO vacancy.” No vacancy in rural North Dakota, population none.

And then, over a crest, there it is. Mud-covered (from what? There was no mud – unless it was in the air, permeating everything to remind you why you’re really here) and breathless from brushes with death in the form of California, Alaska and Tennessee drivers, you see it. Destination: Oil Patch.

Destination: American Dream?