Service plazas are thrilling architecture, modern works of art where I can eat slick food next to twelve lanes of humming traffic, lording over a glittering river of steel and glass. Last night, I sat at a polycarbonate table gnawing at a cold cheeseburger, watching my fellow travelers stalk the food court, hunting and gathering, snapping and mumbling while they bumped into chairs, walls, and one another, their faces tanned blue by the screens in their palms.

Munching a cold french fry, I counted the logos flying around my head. Because sometimes it makes me feel rather grand, all these entities competing for my attention: the billboards and commercials, the avatars and pop-ups and shriekers. Please look at me, they cry. Pay attention to me.

A girl asked her mother whether the Bible was fiction or non-fiction. A man in flip-flops yelled “shoot me an email” six times to nobody in particular while he pumped quarters into a candy machine. Five elderly women solemnly examined the offerings at Panda Express, their white hair like a system of low-flying clouds. A monk in a saffron robe paced in front of a cash register, waiting for his tacos. The fluorescent lights granted no shadows or gradation, no mercy. 

A voice ricocheted from the massage chairs: “Don’t push me!” The air felt too tight, stretched thin by the transactional beep and churn, the horror of strangers. My heart began beating in my jaw, my teeth grinding like the time I accidentally gunned the engine while in neutral: the smoke and overheated gears, something close to breaking.

This is the twelfth episode of Interstate Scenes, a fictional collection of homeless paragraphs, remixed and upcycled bits from the past, and bloopers from the stories I’m writing.