“This friend of mine, let's call him Dan, he used to wear this shirt all this time that was written across the front of in huge sloppy letters: **** happens when you party naked.
“He insisted that it had some sort of higher meaning, he would spend hours trying to explain to us that once you reached a certain level of out of control in your life, then **** would start to happen. He used to yell at those of us who lived with our parents still, we laughed him off because he was drunk and truth be told so were we.
“Besides, he was there with us wasn't he?
“'**** happens when you party naked,' he used to say one last time, taking a sip from his beer.” The other man just listened as I poured out this story to him, it's important to tell the true stories to strangers so you can save the truly fantastic for when they matter. I get up from my stool at the bar.
“Dan died in a hang gliding accident a few years ago, ****, I haven't thought of him in forever.”
Don't ask me how I know, but something like thirty hours from now I'm sitting in my car still, dim red lights flashing across my face, lighting it and then immediately abandoning it, leaving me alone again.
That's only a few minutes before the squealing tires and all of that, don't mind me, I don't really know the future.
But in thirty some odd hours I'm wondering what sort of world this is and why I even pay attention to it's laws.
There are far too many explanations for why I think I know whats happening thirty-something hours from now, it's probably just the drugs and beer I tell myself, and for a moment there's nothing magical left in this world.
Except, of course, for how sure I am that sometime in the next couple of days that this is happening, it's the sort of thing that maybe occurs to you when you've had way too much to drink, but maybe it shouldn't be this vivid, the vision of me trying to give in to the cold, merciless world all around me.
The cold is killing the pens, I know that much, frozen ink isn't much use.
But these people don't seem to notice or care about the cold, had their bodies somehow adjusted? Were their coats made of some mystically warm fabric I hadn't even dreamed of? They must surely be thinking I'm a savage, wandering out in this weather wearing nothing but this. Pitiless bastards don't mention it to me.
These people are also totally oblivious to my own journey, this flight and what it means, it means nothing to them. Have they traded some part of their humanity to better endure the cold?
Hell, sitting here I realize that what this journey means is probably lost on me as well, why I went, where I'm going, it was all so unclear, but defiantly so, maybe thats what it's about... you know, not knowing what it's all about. It's easier to find things in my car, I guess.
Maybe the cold just makes everyone forget about all the journeys and plights going around, I know I can't even think about my own journey for too long before I get distracted and spend hours in some sort of trance state when I know I'm in the middle of nowhere and that I don't know where I'm going.
I don't even really know what I'm running from, maybe nothing, maybe I'm just crazy. This is the sort of thing you ought to think about before doing any sort of running, but I guess I just felt like maybe I was running out of time and that if I stopped to give a reason I'd never go.
Reasons are just better rehearsed excuses anyways.
Bare trees and icy roads, of all the places to go. Corporate parks erect statues on every slab of turf to frighten away the superstitious natives or just so everyone can pretend to be more sophisticated than the natives.
What a goddamn ridiculous place to run away to. Nobody wants to be here.
But everyone ends up here, judging by the traffic, maybe just to look around, maybe just to put it on cruise control for a couple of years on the endless road to whatever they think they want. There are so many other cars on the road that maybe there's some sort of soul to this place that I can't connect to, something you can't see from the highways or rest stops.
But if I really thought that, I'd probably stop.
I leave the cruise controls alone.
“I wish I could make this rational for you, I wish I could make this what you know, what you want it to be. I wish I could give myself some goddamn excuse for my actions.
“But thats not how this world works.
“I wish I could assign some meaning to my behavior, explain it in relations to some higher power, make you really understand why I started driving away but it always just comes back to 'sometimes there isn't a reason.'” I'm grabbing the man's arm at this point and he's looking at me like I'm some wild eyed hobo, but he and I both know I'm far too young and well shaved for that.
“Not that I ever wanted a reason, not that I wanted some higher purpose to cling to and to hold my faith, far from it if there is a reason let it be this, if there were a reason for everything we do, if everything we do is just a reaction to external stimuli then I see no reason to pretend we are free.
“If we only do what we want to, if we only do what we think will make us happy, are we really either free or happy?” He doesn't dare disagree with me.
“Obviously if thats my reason then the whole trip is a failure from the start, but I prefer to think of it as my excuse, of course though reasons, meanings, excuses are always being imposed afterwards, but I'm not here to subject myself to that sort of fairy tale inquisition.” I realize that I'm probably drunk.
“To be honest there were problems that were there when I started driving, but I didn't start driving to get away from problems, maybe to ignore them, but not to get away from them, but everyone has problems and most of us don't disappear one night into the dark, cold promise of snow.”
I finally stop shaking the other man, let him back to his barstool.
“There are no notes behind me, I thought about leaving one to try to explain something, but I couldn't. All I could have told anyone was that it was a thing beyond my understanding, and that I can only really say 'I dunno' when people ask why. There's no need to be melodramatic.”
Miles of road peel away beneath me as my cigarettes leave orange sparks in their wake.
I have the eerie feeling that I keep talking even when there aren't any strangers around to hear me.
Signs on the side of road remind me that even though I'm driving, I'm not going anywhere.
The ink is still frozen in the pens.
There are a lot of reasons not to be lost in the middle of Washington, but they don't really matter, places like this not even the natives are here on purpose.
The gentle popping of distant gunshots breaks my concentration.
The ink is frozen in the pens, and I don't know where I'm going or why.
“A car of mine broke down once a few miles from my house, too late and too in the middle of nowhere to get any help I decided to walk home.
“Miles never seem like a big deal in the planning stages, hours never seem all that long until you're stranded in the middle of them.
“I remember a black dog that I saw that night, glaring at me from across the street, teeth scrounging up moonlight and whatever else pierced the night so they could sparkle. I've met dogs before, and it's never been too big of an event, but this beast, hair raised to alert all along his back, every primal animal instinct aligned against me.
“And I realized I was alone.
“At his absolute mercy.
“I saw myself laying writhing under the beast on the road, him gagging on my flesh as it was torn from my neck, I saw all the terrors that this beast could visit on me.
“And when I looked around and realized all the terrible things that could tear me apart at any moment, and I knew that if I wanted I could always feel their snarling breaths on my neck.
“So I ignored the growling dog and walked on into the night, following the cold black pavement home.”
The night follows me out of those Washington streets, and as the gunshots faded to the distant memories of echoes I slide onto the highway to huddle with the other cars.
Radio lights are a beacon in the carpeted tomb of the car, the noises pounding out of my speaker would be enough to kill an honest Mennonite, commercials cut in and the sound fades back into oblivion.
Billboards outside advertise erotic entertainment in 12...11... whatever miles.
Trailer parks are set up like graveyards in this city that nobody will remember as anything more than a place for a trucker to bust a nut.
And at the five mile mark I start to consider it.
I mean, for scientific purposes at least, let alone the fact that I couldn't even remember the last time I got laid.
At the two mile mark it's a sure thing.
I mean nobody's gonna know.
At the one mile mark there's no way I'm doing it, I was kidding that whole time.
And the car still pulls loudly into the gravel lot, the dim fluorescent bulbs on the porch throwing light across my hood.
I mean, nobody will ever know.
When the bell rings to announce my entrance a fat, tattooed man behind a counter motions to me and takes my license, “North Carolina?” he asks.
I nod, and try to look cool, but I'm in the middle of some sleazy porn shack in the middle of nowhere.
There are booths with flimsy plastic curtains, the sort of thing your superman cape was made out of when you were a kid and you can imagine naked men standing side to side in the stalls, plastic flapping up and down barely covering what must be mutilated horse meat, warts and huge inexplicable blisters.
The thought is enough to make a man realize what sort of sleaze joint he's rolled into in these hours.
The fat man puts in a video and plays it on the television in the middle of the store, dividing shoddy white wooden shelves stacked with videos.
And on the screen two young girls begin doing unspeakable things with a goat.
This must be the drugs, I realize, which is odd because I only remembering smoking a little pot today, a joint in front of the white house,
The fat man behind the counter laughs while he studies my shocked expression, I remember that I need to ask him for my license back but it's all going too fast and I can't get a grip on it. I stumble outside and remember the tabs of acid a friend had hooked me up with before I had begun this journey. I had eaten one of the hits earlier, I suddenly knew.
It occurs to me that I have no friends wherever I'm going, and for a moment sadness drags my heart to slump down into the drivers seat of my car.
I think back for a moment on the times before I left it all and I tell myself I don't shed a tear, I'll miss the friends of course and maybe one day I'll go back and visit, but then I'll have escaped their lives of mindless labor in the pursuit of their grandparents American dream, building enormous replicas of their old doll houses around themselves and filling them with **** until none of it means anything to them. By the time I go back I'll have finally made something of myself somehow.
Not even the dim blue moon hides the tears, and as I blaze into hell knows where to do hell knows what I suddenly realize that I don't know why.
As four in the morning comes on cold and boring, I huddle tight, my car's gentle metal arms enfolding me, and pray that there is something more out there.
I cut myself in the morning, not on purpose or anything, but I gash my thumb's first knuckle and it swells up black when I pull it back from under the seat where something I forget to pick up has fallen.
The cut doesn't look so bad, but I stare at it as it darkens and swells, I consider cauterizing it, but when the fire gets close I decide it's not that important.
There's nothing like waking up at a rest area, it's never a depressing experience, there's always someone there worse off than you, waking up in their cars at eight or nine or whenever they told themselves last night they had to do or else they'd never make it wherever. Panicked parents, children quoting lies or asking questions to force them, guys who hadn't quite made the plunge to totally becoming a bum, just bear this in mind, nobody sleeping in a car in a rest stop and absolutely nobody sleeping in one of those caravans piled high with kids and worldly possessions was on vacation.
I worry about the cut while I go inside to change and put on deodorant or whatever would pass for hygiene on this highway, maybe get a cup of coffee and start driving, no need to waste any more time than necessary with this collection of fathers trying to coax their young into participating in their awkward, clumsy sponge baths.
“I used to have this friend who couldn't close a door to save his life, we all called him Mike and asked him if he had been raised in a barn, he would just laugh.
“'Sorry, I was home schooled,' he'd always explain, 'So my parents never taught me anything.'
“I was raised anonymously by the system though, to save my parents the effort, so I don't even have anyone to blame.”
I had to make it at this point, flee the country altogether if I had made it this far. Otherwise they would probably institutionalize me, send me away to be examined, but this I resolved, could not be, I would only be terribly bored by the process.
But I didn't dare speed, not in this den of morality with it's evangelical hobos that God doesn't give a **** about.
Goddamnit man, this is Pennsylvania, home of the Quakers. They'd love to catch me in some car my parents had probably reported stolen, with an impressive amount of alarmingly potent cannabis and that other hit of acid. They'd subject me to a piss test of course and then frame me for a DUI. The image of some glassy eyed southerner blazing his way across their beloved town would be too much for their sensitive minds and they'd only react in the most primal and brutal way they could.
I don't even have my goddamn license, but I'll be damned before going back to that place.
They'd eat me alive in a place like this, best not to speed.
People ignore the signs that tell them not to pass me.
They expected me to navigate some hick town where they had appropriated the US Highway to set up the sort of main street that you see memorialized in theme parks, but which otherwise now seems finally dusty, unloved and abandoned.
So they sent me on a detour, expecting me to treat their streets with the same desperate lost perspective that the streets of Washington had forced on me.
Back on the highway signs promised some future, more navigable superhighway under construction, but I doubt that will be enough to lure me back.
At twenty after four I smoke some pot, and immediately regret it.
Speeding through some abandoned New York highway, filled with potholes and bumps I smoke a bowl and totally loose my composure.
I don't scream or anything, I don't really hyperventilate, I just realize that this whole disaster is happening to me, I know finally that I'm in the middle of New York on some piece of **** road, trying to make it somewhere in search of whatever.
I don't hyperventilate but my breath picks up while the adrenaline is forced into my blood.
Everything around me is so far away and I know I couldn't ever really touch any of it, not that I wanted to. It's the moments of desperate loneliness that always make you want to quit.
I start to sweat, I have to wipe my hands off on my pants so I can still drive.
I try to keep my breaths spaced, try to keep everything under control and it all falls apart and I realize that I don't even have control of my own body.
Despair isn't pretty.
My fingers and then even my arms begin tensing up and twitching.
I realize that this sort of road doesn't go anywhere, that it connects nobody to nowhere, that I'm probably totally lost, I won't even be able to find my way back home or even be wanted if I got there. This isn't a road so much as a strip of pavement, you want proof that this world is a clock without a clockmaker then look at this random collection of asphalt that we drive on on our way to nowhere anybody really ever wanted to be, no, if this road went somewhere or came from anywhere then maybe I'd believe it had been built.
Every muscle in my chest is so tense that it's killing me.
Deep breath. Deep breath. Deep breath. I'm drowning myself with air.
Even if anybody had built it they didn't care about it anymore, on this road to nowhere that nobody ever wanted I cannot find peace.
Thinking in the long term is a waste of time because in the long term we're all dead, but when you're alone in the middle of nowhere you can't help but do just that once you realize that there are no more answers left in the short term.
Except to maybe pull over and take a deep breath or two.
Maybe have a cigarette, to at least put my mind at ease while my body rages totally beyond my control.
My breaths don't slow down as I pull my car into the gravel lot off the exit ramp.
And for a moment, my posture totally changed so I could relax, I can hear tiny gnomes disassembling my car and for a couple of hours I totally collapse into sleep.