For days the British headlines screamed warnings of a snowstorm, freezing temperatures and icy roads. They urged people to say home, but where was home for us? We were on the road and still had gigs to play.
Maybe we died a few weeks ago in New Jersey, in the parking lot of that rogue Alamo car rental office out back of the Renaissance hotel on Route 1, and were now zombies doomed to criss-cross the highways and motorways and autoroutes of the world with a van full of battered equipment, loading in to bars and clubs and beautiful homes and even Boy Scout lodges at 5 PM for all eternity. That might explain the fact that we drove from the south of England all the way to the north of England, then traveled east to Norfolk, then back south to Kent and over to Dover and barely saw a snowflake.
It might also explain why the roads were practically empty. Like Bruce Willis in the Sixth Sense, we could only see the other zombies? Those rosy cheeked other customers in Costa Coffee – all dead? (The employees too, but that’s nothing unusual.)
Occasionally we’d pass a car covered with snow, panic-stricken driver gripping the wheel inside, peering out through frosted windscreen. Meanwhile we cruised along in a ray of sunshine.
At every stop along the way, we were greeted with concern: “How was it out there? Was it awful? Can’t believe you made it!” and we shook our heads, wondering what everyone was talking about. Eric’s mother called, frantic that we were stranded somewhere. She’d been so worried we wouldn’t make our gigs, she’d tucked some money in one of our bags, just in case.
The fact that we’d left our mobile phone behind somewhere in America only added to the drama/Sixth Sense scenario – people trying to get in touch with us got a mysterious “not available” message. And every time we stopped at a services and looked for a payphone, we’d see another rack of newspapers shrieking of certain peril for anyone on the road and we’d rush back to the van to try to beat the snowstorm that was coming from…everywhere.
When we reached the ferry and were ensconced with the lorry drivers and other zombies in yet another Costa Coffee, drinking our espressos and reading of Heathrow passengers stranded for days and driving expert Jeremy Clarkson having to ditch his car and walk 11 miles in the snow to Oxford, they made an announcement that our departure would be delayed: they had to board three busloads of foot passengers who’d been stranded at a train station in London due to weather.
When they finally let the weary hordes onto the boat, hollow-eyed, lugging their rolling suitcases, looking like every banished contestant from every reality show ever broadcast all brought together in one mismatched bunch, we had to chuckle at our good fortune.
No passport check at Calais, to prove we still really existed. That’s not so unusual – they generally can’t be bothered. And for hours through the frozen French countryside, as fog swirled and trucks sprayed, we held on to the idea that we were the only people, living or dead, left on the earth. France has that effect sometimes, especially after England – where did all the people go? Through empty towns with boarded up gas stations and eerie Christmas lights blinking on and off, until the snow had run out and we pulled up in front of the house.
I walked up to the supermarket, the air wet with rain and warmer, much warmer. Complete silence – maybe we had come back to our final resting place, a small village in rural France.
When the door slid back, I saw mounds of gift-wrapped foie gras and stacks of fancy chocolate boxes that would no doubt sit gathering dust in the recipients’ houses until they were passed on next Christmas. I heard Ace of Base, who are always playing in some supermarket in France, as if the last twenty years never happened.
And there, in the glow of the cash register, I saw the beady eyes of Rat Face – evil checkout girl. Nothing had changed. I was still alive.
Or maybe that piece of candy I stole from the Giant Eagle when I was six had finally caught up with me and just like Sister Mary George warned, this was how I was going to spend eternity?