The Rogue

 

A storm warning crackled on the radio. I tried to listen, but it cut in and out of white noise. I slammed my hand on the dash. It didn’t help – the speakers were shot. The Rogue, my faithful highway companion, was beat. Not even five-years old, the car had mileage. I let the static be. I didn’t need a warning. I could see the dark clouds on the Kansas horizon.

‘The Wraith,’ ‘Blue Bullet,’ ‘Teardrop,’ – names my high school friends gave it. Nothing stuck quite like ‘The Rogue.’ A sleek blue SUV. My parents leased the car when I was seventeen. A rite of passage, they gave me the keys and told me to be careful. I was. Mostly.

Driving through the corn belt, the stalks swayed on either side of me. The wind was picking up. It’s easy to bash the Midwest, but there’s a certain charm to the American heartland. I watched the maize twist and turn as I cruised through the Great Plains.

There’s an existential pleasure in speeding down a long road to somewhere. Hands on the wheel, foot on the pedal — there’s a sense of control, of freedom, of purpose. A destination to be reached… the zen of driving.

I was headed back to my ancestral home of New York, mirroring the first drive I ever took out west. I clocked-in almost 20 road trips during those 4 years of college, and the Rogue had the scars to prove it. As I drove east through Kansas, I reflected on my past journeys.

Moving into my dorm, I loaded the Rogue with the pieces of my life and made the maiden voyage with a friend. New York to Colorado. The drive rounds out to about 30 hours; 3 days if done responsibly. Sleeping in shifts, we cut through in 25 hours straight. Along the way, we got in an interstate duel, racing a sedan across the 3 I-states. We recognized him by his custom plate: ‘F1END.’ We won, after the highway patrol caught him.

Sophomore year, I took my girlfriend down to the Grand Canyon. We were halfway across the Rockies when the accelerator died. Even with the pedal to the metal, the Rogue couldn’t clear 40 mph. Something was bunk with the transmission. A mechanic suggested the problem might be elevation – my sea-level car wasn’t meant for mountains. It didn’t stop us. The Rogue pushed on.

The summer after, a car accident left a massive dent in the rear bumper. It took 15 hours to reach Vegas, our vacation destination. Across the barren sun-beaten roads, I drove. Up and down the desert plateaus of Utah and Nevada. The Rogue handled the journey like a champ. When we arrived, a minivan slammed into us in the hotel parking lot.

With Boulder as a base, the Rogue took on America. National parks, canyons, mountains, and coastlines. Nevada wastelands to the Dakota badlands. The scorched earth of the Mojave, to the pristine lakes of Yellowstone. Flagstaff, Moab, Omaha, Missoula, Amarillo, Sante Fe. All notches on the dashboard.

3.

The windshield was pockmarked where pebbles had crashed against it, kicked up by trucks along the asphalt arena. Sometimes when it rained, this made it hard to see. Despite the current deluge, I saw the tornado touch down just fine.

Roaring gusts buffeted the Rogue. The Kansas sky had turned from an eerie green to black, except when white lightning erupted. What had been a drizzle was now a downpour.

I couldn’t tell which direction the tornado was moving. I estimated it was a couple dozen miles away, but it’s hard to tell on the plains. I thought about pulling over or turning back. I decided to stay the course.

The car shook side to side. Hail pelted the windows. The wind whipped up an ominous howl. Despite the storm, I felt safe. I knew the Rogue would see me through. It always did.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gradually, the intensity waned. The tornado faded in my rearview mirror as we continued on different paths. The clouds gave way to an easy night sky, and the moonlight glowed along the road. I kept on.

I don’t drive much anymore. The Rogue’s retired at my parents’ house. Living in the big city, the subway is how I get around now. New York’s no good for driving. Too congested, too much stop and start.

Still, I remember the old drives. The endless freedom of the open road.

 

by T.K. Mills   |  Feature image by Andrei Lazarev + Photography by Nicolas Ladino Silva

T.K. Mills

T.K. Mills is a writer based in Bushwick, Brooklyn. His work focuses on travel, literature, and art. He runs the art column for OpenLetr and is a regular contributor to The Smart Set and Sold Mag. His full portfolio can be found at tkmills.com. Alongside his freelance projects, T.K. is currently writing his debut novel.