I always look for it, no matter the weather or time of day. Cruising down the freeway, due West, I could be headed to Memphis if I had a mind, but instead I’ll be taking the next exit and driving another eight blocks home. As I put my blinker on to change lanes and exit stage right I see it, The Little House on the Freeway, sitting in the shadow of a billboard advertising the Cracker Barrel down the road. The faded yellow, long and narrow, one-story dwelling looks like the love-child of a mobile home and a shanty, the product of a bygone era. Truth be told, there’s no way it should be standing where it is, all alone like a dateless prom girl in an ill-fitting dress. It’s the last house to leave the party and the only remnant of a neighborhood that was whole and thriving once upon a time; before the freeway sliced it in two.
At night, the porch light is on and in the daytime, the thing shines just fine on its own. Perched on a hillside, just a few yards from the freeway, it sits, placidly facing danger every minute of every day with nothing but a low, concrete wall and short chain-link fence standing between it and oncoming traffic. Who lives there? I’ve wondered aloud for year. And then, late last fall I saw a woman standing on the front porch (which is really more of a stoop) cleaning the windows of the glass and metal storm door and I nearly crashed into the low concrete wall as I craned my neck to see her. She was real! I think I had a feeling akin to a birdwatcher spotting a rare species in the wild for the very first time, and believe me; it was just as thrilling Why does she bother to do that when it will be filthy again in a matter of minutes? I wonder aloud. She really must love that house, I decide. Why else would she take such pride in its appearance? And man, does she take pride!
Despite the fact that the Little House is sitting one blown tire away from oblivion, the front door is decorated faithfully, no matter the holiday. Valentine’s Day welcomes a shiny, red, heart-shaped wreath while Christmas is a more traditional affair. For Memorial Day and July 4th, they hang a tiny American flag from the door as well as red, white and blue striped ribbons and for Halloween, a plastic, lit-up Jack-O-Lantern grins fearlessly at the rush of oncoming traffic, as if daring just one car to jump the wall. Two white, plastic chairs stand guard on either side of the front door, and I wonder why they’re even there. Does anyone actually deign to sit in them? “Ah, come my dear,” the window-cleaning woman’s husband would say. “Let’s sit on the porch and watch the terrifying spectacle of eighteen wheelers speeding towards our heads. Shall we?” Can you imagine?
I can’t help but think about what life must be like on the other side of that perpetually-decorated front door. I imagine the constant vibration and searing hum of unrelenting freeway traffic is probably loud enough to rattle your teeth and the entire place must shake like Magic Fingers on overdrive, as if you’re forever trapped on top of a 1960’s motel bed. At least you’d get the same effect without putting quarters in a slot. But is this really a plus?
If nothing else, The Little House on the Freeway is a testament to the survival of the fittest and the human race’s talent for making pâté out of mincemeat. But I wonder if the inhabitants of the house-that-never-sleeps have found a way to block it all out; the noise, the tremors, the belching fog of carbon monoxide and the real possibility that at any moment a Semi Truck gone awry could wipe you off the face of the map in one fell swoop. Do they have a choice? Is it either live there or under a bridge? Obviously, I haven’t a clue but that doesn’t keep me from wondering. A lot.
After all is said and done, the curious Little House on the Freeway never ceases to amaze me, even if I happen past it several times a day. I long to drive over, walk up to the porch, turn to face the belching onslaught of West-bound traffic and try not to pee in my pants. And if I succeeded in that feat, I would turn and knock on the front door, which, when not honoring a holiday, is festooned with bright, plastic flowers, and introduce myself as a curious neighbor, who wonders aloud every day, “Who the heck are you? And why in heaven’s name do you live in this place?”