licensed freebilly
Tacoma to Portland in Two Hours
by Leah Mueller

Uncle Sam billboard near Centralia
hovers above I-5 traffic,
a hose of relentless verbiage
spraying letters at passing cars.

Xenophobic word balloons:
rants about Democrats, immigrants,
social program funding. I should
look away, but instead I crane my neck,
read every word at 70 MPH.

Settling back against my headrest,
I scan the crowded interstate.
Everyone wants to go to Portland,
or San Francisco, or perhaps all the way
to Los Angeles. I pass the remnants
of the Winlock monument, with its
sad discards of spiritual tokens.

A gargoyle once lit the way,
crouched inside its glass case,
eternally glowing beacon.
now darkened. The owner dead,
hubris scattered like litter to the gods.
Metal shards still point towards gray sky.

I can’t roll by the Winlock exit
without remembering the defunct motel
I stayed in with my ex, when
our van broke down on the freeway.

Illuminated sign flashed “TEL” as
we bickered about our flat tire.
Long night spent with our light on,
fearing an attack by roving maniacs.
Motel since razed, broken
sign permanently extinguished.

Behold the splendid Mattress Ranch:
gaudy, dancing barnyard animals
advertise beds for humans.

Vancouver Hooter’s clock once read,
“Waddles, time to eat.” There was always
time to eat at Waddles, until there wasn’t.
Old neon now replaced by cheap replica.

Finally, the iron bridge
and welcome to Oregon sign.
Red Lion on my right, $69.00 on Priceline.
Paul Newman partied in the hotel bar,
gazed out at the Columbia River
while clutching a cocktail in one hand.

I plan to follow suit, after a shower.
Portland extends weird but loving arms,
as it has so many times before.
Neon deer sign glows in the distance.

PHOTO: Portland, Oregon, downtown and Mt. Hood at dawn by Free Billy, used by permission.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Pictured above, Mount Hood is a potentially active stratovolcano located about 50 miles east-southeast of Portland, Oregon. The highest mountain in Oregon, Mt. Hood offers the only year-round lift-served skiing in North America. (Source: Wikipedia.)

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NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I’ve made this trip from Tacoma to Portland more times than I can count. I always enjoyed passing the time on road excursions by taking stock of landmarks along the way. They reassure me of how far I have gone, and how many miles still remain. These objects are always waiting for me in the exact same spot. The sense of permanence is comforting, even if I don’t care much for the actual landmarks. Recently, I moved away from the Pacific Northwest and bought a small house in southern Arizona. It’s disconcerting but exciting, because I have to assemble a whole new series of familiar sights whenever I travel anywhere.

PHOTO: Portland’s White Stag sign at dusk. Built in 1940, the sign was designated a landmark by the city’s Historic Landmarks Commission in 1977. Photo by Steve Morgan, used by permission.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Leah Mueller is an indie writer and spoken word performer from Bisbee, Arizona. She has published books with numerous small presses. Her most recent volumes, Misguided Behavior, Tales of Poor Life Choices (Czykmate Press), Death and Heartbreak (Weasel Press), and Cocktails at Denny’s (Alien Buddha Press) were released in 2019. Leah’s work appears in Blunderbuss, Citron Review, The Spectacle, Miracle Monocle, Outlook Springs, Atticus Review, Your Impossible Voice, and other publications. She won honorable mention in the 2012 Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry contest. Visit her on Instagram and Twitter.