Traveling always gives me an expanded vision of my possible self. I sort-of morph into my surroundings...I become more athletic in California, friendlier in North Carolina, obsessed with espresso at all hours in Oregon. But until I arrived here in Arkansas, I hadn't realized that my identity could be stretched so embarrassingly far.
We're driving west through the night on a deserted freeway, listening to a call-in radio show about alien sightings. This is how we survive a six-week road trip. First, we develop a heightened appreciation for junk food, noting how well sour cream 'n' dill potato chips marry with Diet Dr. Pepper. Then we retell our favorite, most flattering stories. And finally, we lean hard on the radio's "seek" button, listening desperately for signs of life. Alien life, in this case. Callers take turns sharing recent encounters. They all use the same alien-observation lingo.
Someone says, "I saw a black, spongy orb hovering over the Gulf coast. It was truly remarkable and extraordinary."
The host answers: "Why, that is truly remarkable and extraordinary. Things are getting really hot. Let's go to another caller."
The other caller speaks in hushed, reverent tones. "I saw a brain-shaped object floating over Vermont." he says. "It was truly remarkable and extraordinary."
We're laughing, of course, making fun of the truly remarkable and extraordinary number of people out there with too much free time on their hands. And then we see it--a bright white "X" etched clear across the sky. It's huge--like a giant, chalk mark on a Godzilla-size blackboard, stretching for miles over the flat land.
"That can't be from jet steams," I say. "Jet streams fade away, in like ten minutes."
"Maybe it's from aliens," Giles says.
"We don't believe in aliens," I remind him.
"Right," he says. "But maybe it's from aliens.
Fifteen minutes later, the "X" is still hovering, and I'm not laughing anymore. Giles pulls over to get a steadier look. As he turns off the car, total silence descends. It's so quiet, it feels vacuum-sealed. Giles stands in the long, roadside grass, waving his arms and smiling in a neighborly, inviting way up at the sky. I stay in the car with the doors locked, thinking about all those callers. Even if ninety-five percent of them are wackos, what about the other ones? And while it's true that I have never personally seen an alien, I've never seen Morocco, either, and I believe that it's out there. After ten minutes of sitting on the side of the road, I'm knocking on the window, begging Giles to get back in the car so we can get out of here.
Thirty miles later, the "X" is still overhead. Giles decides to use the cell phone to call the radio show. I offer to dial, but suddenly...we're mysteriously out of range.
And then we hear a strange, soaring sound in the sky. It's loud and growing nearer. It sounds a little like...well, like an airplane. And then I see an exit sign for the Little Rock International airport. And then two planes pass each other directly overhead, their jet streams forming a perfect "X."
"It appears that in this part of the world, jet streams can linger for a paranormal amount of time," I say.
"It's truly remarkable and extraordinary," Giles agrees. "Are there any chips left?"
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