I was off work that late summer day in 2006 and had decided to drive up highway 169 out of Tulsa and see where it took me. In those days I was ruminating over the idea of buying a house and wanted to check out Owasso to the north of Tulsa which I had heard good things about. I had only been in Tulsa and driving in the US a little over a year. I hadn't yet explored the region outside of the city so I thought, hey, what the heck, today's as good a day as any. So in true American spirit, I turned on the ignition of my car and set out on a highway unknown to me. The sun was still in the sky and it would be a few hours before it retired for the day.
Highway 169 took me farther than the farthest I'd ever been on it until that day, that is, beyond 15 minutes from my apartment to the airport. I drove away from my cozy suburban apartment complex with its WalMarts and family restaurants. I drove over the deserted part of town with its dilapidated auto shops and industrial stores. I passed the eastbound highway that would take me to the Tulsa International Airport. I drove past highway 244 that would take me to my office in the west. Then the city fell away as the highway took me through the rolling Oklahoma plains that sometimes dawdle into hills. Tulsa is located in a county that's been nicknamed Green County for good reason. The land here is almost virginal. You can drive for a hundred miles someplaces and not see a soul in the windswept farms you pass. My windows were up but I knew that the ancient prairie breeze was happy to see me.
The strange feelings started after I had left Tulsa. I didn't notice it as first because I was enjoying driving with no particular aim in mind. That is how I had discovered the various regions of Tulsa when I'd first moved there. As I drove further north towards Owasso, however, I began to feel like the highway was gradually taking me higher up towards the sky. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that for miles all I saw was empty flat land around me and an endless sky on top. But I've taken various roadtrips since then and I've never felt that sense of levitation or even any sort of panic, even when I was driving long-distance by myself. There really was no reason for me to feel that sense of horror that day. I was having a great hair day, I wasn't feeling bloated, the sun was out, the breeze was just right, and I had my favourite music rocking my car like the perfect dance club. I was hardly alone on the highway; it was the middle of the workday.
The strange feelings steadily grew to full-blown panic. Twenty-odd minutes after I'd left Tulsa, I hadn't even made it to Owasso but I knew I had to stop. I pulled over at the next exit which happened to be a giant intersection of highways in the middle of the plains. The rest stop at the exit was huge; it had a few shiny gas stations and a bunch of fast food joints. The atmosphere was lively. Young people, families, and truckdrivers were pulling in and out the place giving the intersection a feeling of renewal and life. The sixties still seemed to be in full swing there.
That didn't change how I felt.
I parked my car by a Dairy Queen. It could've very well been a Burger King, I can't really remember that detail. I got out of my car and stretched my legs, trying to breathe out the feeling of sick dread that had blackened my lungs. I was almost in tears. I went into the restaurant and bought myself some food. I still didn't feel better after the chicken sandwich, fries, and drink, and I sat in the restaurant by the window for a while, looking out at the expanse of land and the beautiful looping highways outside. It should've taken my breath away but it just made it hard to breathe. I felt separate from everything and everyone. All I knew was that something felt wrong about this place. Something menacing lurked beneath the surface of the harmony in the ambience. I felt like something was close to spinning out of control. I kept seeing a savage tornado roaring through this place, madly swallowing everything in its path like something out of hell.
A current ran through my body. My back shot up straight and I immediately made my way out to the parking lot where my car was waiting for me. I paused in the middle of this great region of the Earth to fully absorb what was happening to me. I had seen this place before. But it had been dark and it had been in a dream.
Almost a year ago I had had a dream where I saw myself driving north on a highway that involved the numbers six and nine. I had dreamt that I was driving in the dark in the middle of nowhere and had got off an exit at a coffee shop. I was carrying the manuscript of a book I was supposed to have written. I remember sitting in the coffee shop and looking out at the huge highway running north and south. It was dark and I had felt afraid, so I decided to take the highway south back to wherever I had come from. I remember feeling terrified and small at the vastness of the land and confused already about where I had come from.
Out there in the parking lot, I took one look around at the great expanse of land all around me and the looping highways in front of me. I felt like a great weight from the heavens was descending upon me, pushing my shoulders into the ground. I slipped into my car before the sky got any heavier and sped off towards home on 169 South faster than you can say deja vu. A few-month-old book manuscript, my first, awaited me at home.