The Cannonball Run

Submitted into Contest #134 in response to: End your story with a character looking out on a new horizon.... view prompt

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Adventure American Coming of Age

Wednesday

              A few hours after dinner, Ashley barged into my room without knocking, as usual. At this point in our cohabitation in the tiny two bedroom far East Village apartment I couldn’t even be upset, she correctly assumed I wasn’t doing anything private or interesting. She flopped down on my bed with a dramatic sigh, demanding attention. Turning away from the biochemistry I was reviewing for my midterm the following morning was not a great sacrifice on my part.           

              “I just got off the phone with Kristen, and she’s freaking out,” she began. I expected an update on her older sister Allison’s ongoing suspicions that her pilot husband Matt was sleeping with a flight attendant on his Fresno route, but the conversation veered in a different direction. “She finally found the rescue dog she wants, a super rare purebred Dandie Dinmont Terrier, but it’s at a shelter in Missouri. It was listed as a terrier mix but she’s positive it’s a Dandie Dinmont.”

              “What the hell is a Dandie Dinmont Terrier?” I asked as I spun my chair back around to my laptop to Google it. “Oh wow they’re super cute! Awww.”

              Allie pressed on, “She applied with a fake local address saying she just moved to the area and got approved, but she has no way to get the dog. She’s still on parole from that incident last year and can’t leave the state, and Matt can’t change his schedule because they’re so short staffed. I feel so bad, the dog is going to be killed, and she wants it but just can’t get it.”

              The combination of the weather and my lack of disposable income meant we had been spending a whole lot of time in our apartment in the preceding months. Many of our favorite cheap restaurants and dive bars hadn’t reopened yet after COVID, and my daily run was doing less and less to stave off the claustrophobia. Unlike my classmates, I hadn’t been on a lavish vacation over the holidays, and certainly wouldn’t be jetting off the Caribbean for spring break. By midterms, I was so restless my internal organs itched. At least, I think these are the reasons I made the suggestion, “We should do a cannonball run and bring her the dog.”

              “A what?” Ashley looked intrigued. If she was a terrier, her ears would have perked up.

              “You never saw that movie?  With Burt Reynolds?” Maybe only my father had thought watching Burt Reyolds movies counted as parenting.  Ashley shook her head, and I continued “It’s when you drive from this specific garage in New York to a hotel in Redondo Beach, like outside LA. Without stopping. Or I mean without stopping to sleep, you obviously have to get gas and go to the bathroom.”

              Ashley nodded sagely, “Missouri is on the way from New York to LA. But we don’t have a car.”

              “We also don’t have money. I’m totally kidding. But wouldn’t it be perfect? Get out of here for a while, get your sister her dog on the way. God it would be so good.” I put my head back and let myself imagine the Pacific Ocean for a minute, beautiful tan men and Barbie-like girls riding longboards on perfect waves with a cloudless sky behind them. The exact opposite of the gray drizzle outside our window with a view of the wall of the building next door. Bringing my head down, I recognized the determined look on Ashley’s face.   She couldn’t be seriously thinking about driving across the country.

              “Tomorrow is your last midterm, right?” she asked, ticking the boxes of the invisible checklist in her head. This was the Ashley who had been captain of the Illinois state champion soccer team, valedictorian at the fancy Chicago private school she attended on scholarship, and written a poetry anthology in her free time her senior year. She presented as a laid-back girl who always had time for her friends, but when she focused on a goal, she was a steamroller. 

              “Yeah but you have one Monday,” I pointed out.

              “Monday afternoon,” she said, as if that mattered. “We could be back by then. It’s communications, I don’t really have to study, I just have to show up and take it.”

              “Ashley come on. We cannot drive to California and back by Monday afternoon, it’s not physically possible. And we don’t even have a car!” The more objections I raised, the more I wanted to do it. We were sophomores in college, this is when we were supposed to do things that made no sense. 

              Ashley had everything figured out. “We don’t have to drive back, we can fly. Kristen can book it with miles, she and Matt have a million and she literally can’t go anywhere anyway. Hunter can get us a car - I think his dad has some corporate account that he uses all the time to drive out to the Hamptons. I haven’t had actual sex with him yet, so we’re in that phase where he’ll do anything for me.” I didn’t doubt that part, having seen the way he looked at her.

              A thousand other reasons not to do it rushed through my mind – it was dangerous to drive so long without sleeping, how would we convince them to give us the dog, what would we eat, what if the flight got cancelled – but they were swatted away by an affirmative subconscious roar for adventure.

Thursday

              My biochemistry midterm was easier than I expected, and while I was taking it Ashley had raided the dining hall for provisions. The night before she had easily convinced Hunter to rent a car for us, but he agreed only on the condition that he could come because he “wanted some of that Cali weed”. Although I had envisioned a girls-only trip, there was solid logic to having another driver in the rotation, not to mention the safety net of one person with access to his parents’ high limit credit cards in case of an emergency.   

               Our bags were packed with a few changes of underwear and four Adderall pills Ashley had charmed from some guy in her political science class she’d never mentioned.   Kristen was thrilled with our plan, not that her decision making could be trusted. She had already booked nonstop one-way flights from LAX to LaGuardia for us on Sunday morning and she was apparently out buying dog clothes when Hunter texted to say he was outside our apartment at 2pm. Ashley and I flung ourselves down the stairs and into the black Dodge Charger in a tornado of anticipation.  As Hunter put the address of the Red Ball Garage on East 31st St into the GPS, it became obvious he had done his research since speaking to Ashley. We headed north, towards the traditional starting location of a cannonball run. It warmed him to me but also made me wonder why I was the only one who had to study for midterms.

Friday

              We had driven through the night, high on adventure and saving the precious Adderalls.   I slept for a while in the backseat before driving through desolate farmland for hours, but Ashley and Hunter hadn’t slept at all by the time we pulled into the animal shelter in Springfield, Missouri, twenty hours and twenty-eight minutes since we had left New York. We parked around back so no one could see the New York state license plates, our exhaustion presenting in a bizarre paranoia around the central mission of acquiring the dog.

              Fortunately, Ashley looked like Kristen’s twin despite the eight-year age difference. The overworked front desk volunteer at the shelter barely glanced at Kristen’s license that Ashley had been using as a fake ID for years while completing the adoption paperwork. The volunteer who brought us the dog didn’t seem to notice our sleep deprived deliriousness and was thrilled to be sending a dog off with such an enthusiastic group, although I’m sure Hunter’s Rolex didn’t hurt either. Kristen had not explicitly given us permission to name the dog, but we started calling him Burt immediately, and it suited him. Burt, bless his traumatized little canine heart, was perfectly calm in the backseat of the car on a makeshift dog bed of our jackets. We pressed on, feeling like cowboys riding off into the sunset as we drove west across Oklahoma and Texas and the darkness above us filled with stars.

Saturday

              I thought no sky could top the sunset we had seen the night before until the sky glowed purple in the pre-dawn desolation of the desert, cactuses standing watch as we zoomed past them. The reservations we crossed in the early morning seemed like a foreign planet. I had never left the northeast before and had no idea landscapes like that existed on earth, nonetheless in the United States. When we stopped to let Burt pee in the red sand, I snapped a photo, imaging him to be famous as the first terrier on Mars.

              Around noon, the sun that we had been craving in the gloom of New York became relentless, and our gas station sunglasses were inadequate to deflect the brightness. After playing every classic road trip game we knew, we had stopped talking hours before, content to just listen to Hunter’s obscure Spotify playlists. It felt like we had been in the car together forever, like there was no border between the hot leather and our rumpled clothes.  We continued west, secretly, desperately yearning for a shower and the opportunity to sleep fully stretched out on a flat surface.

              As we neared the actual city of Los Angeles Hunter insisted on doing the last stretch of driving, which neither of us objected to until he tried to put the Portofino Hotel in Redondo Beach, the traditional end point of a cannonball run, into the GPS. Ashley immediately pulled up Google Maps on her phone and determined that a detour south to Redondo would add at least an hour to the drive because of traffic. They argued for a bit, but Ashley wore him down, and even Burt chimed in with a whimper at the idea of extra time in the car. As the original cannonball run expert in the car, I did support Ashley by pointing out that we were at least twenty hours behind any record given that we had stopped for gas like normal drivers and generally obeyed traffic laws, and there was no official registry of completed runs anyway. Hunter finally conceded, on the condition that we could drive to the actual beach and see the sunset before settling down at Kristen’s apartment for the night. I let him think it was his idea, but there was no chance I would have missed the opportunity to dip my toes in the Pacific Ocean.

              Around 5pm, roughly 53 hours after we had left New York, we parked a block away from the beach in Venice and unfolded our stiff bodies from the car, squinting and stretching in the waning afternoon sunlight.  Ashley picked Burt up, assuring us that people in LA took their dogs everywhere and he wouldn’t be a problem, and we staggered towards the ocean. The boardwalk on a Saturday afternoon was a cacophony of vendors, pan handlers, and shrieking tourists, but after crossing the serpentine bike path, the beach itself was peaceful. Even in the high 70s and sunny, Southern Californians had decided February wasn’t beach season.

              The three of us, with Burt in Ashley’s lap, collapsed onto the farthest reach of dry sand and gazed into the waves triumphantly. As we fought drowsiness to keep our eyes open, the sun dropped in the sky, finally reaching the horizon as a chilly breeze blew in from the ocean. At that time I had no way of knowing about the nights I would spend a few miles south on the same stretch of shoreline when I switched from chemical to electrical engineering and moved to Manhattan Beach to work for Boeing after college, but I sensed a tectonic shift in my future before falling asleep in the sand.  

February 26, 2022 04:09

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1 comment

Tricia Shulist
15:53 Mar 01, 2022

Nice story. I like the goal is to save a dog. Thanks his was fun. Thanks!

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