Road trips. Everyone has a plan.
I may drink my fair share of Pellegrino and decent whiskey, but make no mistake, I’m a mutt. I’m what you get after generation upon generation unceremoniously overfucks the “wrong” people across Europe and back. My Ancestry.com percentages read like a dishonest actuarial table. My kin didn’t even make it to America until the end of the 19th Century, and by then it was touch and go. All the good shit–land, steel, mineral rights–had largely been scooped. My ancestors certainly didn’t see themselves through Lady Liberty’s eyes as wretched refuse, but they were ignorant peasants and what did they know? We just didn’t want to be serfs. Tolerated but not exactly welcome in the better serfdoms of the old country(ies), we rolled the dice and became Neil Diamond fodder instead, working in steel mills and butcher shops, which as it turned out, ain’t too shabby. All of which is to say, I lack pedigree. Not quite the unpardonable sin in America, even these days–especially these days, but close. Still, we did our part, fought in the wars that came around in our time. Dad got bullied hard, I’ve been told. After Vietnam, he made decent money, but he didn’t have money. I played football and fucked popular girls who came from real money. Dad died broke and sometimes remembered me. I preferred when he didn’t. Seemed easier for him which made it easier for me. Shortly before he went into the coma, I took him out for coconut shrimp. He seemed to enjoy it although I’m pretty sure he cast a few sideways glances at the stranger in the booth grabbing the occasional shrimp.
Pellegrino and wadcutters
Last minute preps on a mid-morning in July, ten months into the divorce and ten minutes away from a five hour drive to a mile high rendezvous in the Smokies with a woman. A married woman. Awaiting me (us) was a cabin on a mountain top with a large hot tub enclosed by a screened porch on a property that itself was enclosed by an area full of black bears and tourists. The cabins were spaced far enough apart that tourists weren’t typically an issue unless you went into town. As for the bears, it was more a less a game of musical chairs involving secure garbage can lids. And the grill. The grill was always the real problem. It sat far enough from the cabin door, a bridge too far. Equidistant from the tree line and the side door, its placement emphasized the need for hyper-vigilant situational awareness while getting liquored up and grilling ribeyes. Dripping globs of melted beef fat exploding on hot coals in the fading light of dusk sent up mixed smoke signals. Up here just about anything might answer that call: bears; tourists; hobos? I was pretty sure we were too high for the latter. Hobos don’t hike. I remembered that there had been some buzz over the area’s increased UFO sightings of late. Hobos, bears, and tourists I could juggle, but the prospect of ETs gave me pause. The timing wasn’t great. I often experience moments of existential dread just before long road trips. I pushed that shit down and contemplated my open gun safe. After some deliberation I packed the nickel-plated forty-four magnum, clipped the Glock to my belt, and hit the road. Came back once for the case of Pellegrino.
Phantasmic Nazi Chicks and the Blackguards Who Love Them
I started out with the usual road music. Clash. Iggy. Ramones. What better than classic punk for riding those initial gas pump fume-driven expectations and jizz dreams. My weekend companion was married but, as she had explained it, just barely. The ink on her divorce was still wet and not quite legally executed by her home state. “It’s imminent,” she would say when I’d phone. Always imminent. But she was stacked (I’m from the 80s) and smiled with teeth so white it was practically racist. She reminded me of Eva Braun for no reason whatsoever. It was a handicap because in fantasyland that made me Hitler. So I edited on the fly. Added storylines. I was a jazz guitarist like Django Reinhardt, some kind of gypsy (kind of am, genetically) who she was obsessed with. We’d sneak off when Der Fuhrer and the inner circle got together at Berchtesgaden for drunken dirty limerick contests or whatever the fuck. It had to be that way. Jazz dudes wore suits. Nazis wore ridiculous uniforms or lederhosen. Because of her ridiculous teeth and my brain riffing like a runaway bus I now also had to be sure to avoid anything resembling fetishized Nazism, real or imagined.
I was six months into a quest to find some kind of counterculture–any counterculture–to attach myself to. Anything that wasn’t the suburban dad weekend beer and baseball blitzkriegs I’d been heading up for two decades. That’s not a complaint. I enjoyed that shit. Pro tip: Always pick one kid with a hot mom and one who had a pool for the little league team you’re coaching no matter their athletic ability. Everyone enjoys having something to look at and my ex received her fair share of eye fucking and was no worse for wear. Now, with two grown kids and one ex-wife, the sky had once again become the limit, the world once again my oyster. Always an overthinker, I took my time, started slow, ran through the possibilities. Drugfests and the music scene? Swinger parties at lake houses owned by fat doctors and their fatter wives? Digital pimping? I was good with tech after all. Surely not all of these cam girls were frustrated geniuses working their way through college. “Surely a few would be hot and talentless,” I told a married friend one afternoon over Cohibas and bourbon. His name was Francis Laughlin Couch, but we’d called him “Couch” since eighth grade for obvious reasons. Now a rich attorney with a cute wife running to fat and three daughters, he struggled with business cards. He hated his given name but “Couch” drew too much fire from clients when he traveled. So he went with Frank for business but I always called him Couch, as I did now trying to calm him down. It had been a mistake to say anything. Dude was a crack addict for thinking out loud, for schemes. Upon hearing my jest, Couch sprang to his feet and offered cash in exchange for points in the enterprise. Just like that it had become real to him.
“Look!” he said crossing the room and waving a wad of cash at me. “These are hundreds.”
He’d jumped at that a little too fast, I thought. This was getting out of control. “Shut the fuck up, man, and give me the bourbon,” I said in a low growl. I snatched the crystal and slammed it down on antique walnut. Even that sounded like wealth. “Your wife will hear and then she’ll ban you from road trips! She already refers to me as, That fucking guy.”
“Sometimes,” he said. He returned to his chair and slumped like a defeated little leaguer.
“Just act normal,” I said. “For the time being. Say nothing and I’ll get back to you.”
I finished his glass of Pappy with one boorish gulp. No counterculture here, I thought. Just a defeated middle-aged lech gliding in for a few more landings before lap blankets and soft cookies. It didn’t have to be this way. I knew his wife still fucked him. He showed me the video. Tried to surprise me when I was looking elsewhere. Doggy, sure, but where was the style? I once quipped then headed for the bathroom.
“You’re missing the best part!” he shouted after me.
I was going to have to figure this out. The back nine of my life would need to be a largely solo enterprise. No unreliable wingmen and no friend zones. Sole proprietorship or get the fuck out. The dudes my age were all beaten, and the ones coming up were all taking pictures of runny eggs on burgers and posting that shit online. I was pretty sure they fucked like dickless puppies if they fucked at all. I would start slow. Yeah, methodical with a lot of A/B testing sounded right. Build. Pivot. For now my moves would be to continue offending society with minor league debauchery like barely married younger women with impossibly beautiful smiles. It had its merits and I was already in progress. Rome wasn’t burnt in a day.
The Routine and Self-Banishment.
I’d spent a good bit of my twenties hanging out with musicians and artists, and while I was usually the most conservative of the group, bohemian culture–or whatever you call its southern country cousin–was what I enjoyed when I wasn’t off in the woods or on the water. As my 50s neared I began drifting back toward a less predictable, edgier lifestyle. Not quite rock and roll, but something on my terms, so I was going to need to find some kind of counterculture, some “weirdness,” to combat The Routine. The Routine can get you through things like marriage and raising children but it’s not great for long periods of silence or road trips. But what does counterculture, or individualism, even mean when entertainment has morphed into some kind of distributed virtual greed monster sporting offers of fake self help and girls graduating from high school straight to aiming their buttholes at a web cam for money? “Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll” seems downright quaint against such a backdrop. It’s practically a retreat. Voluntary self-banishment. What used to be countercultural has become white suburbia through some bizarre transmogrification. So I was determined to find something or, if need be, create the motherfucker in the vast stretches of new space and freedom that now presented itself like a staff dancer in the VIP.
New opportunities and rarified air. Hiking above the clouds. Peace and quiet. The first two hours are always easiest. I’d reveried myself all the way to my first pit stop.
COMING SOON: Travesties and road food. Some elk. Nutters, busters, and nut butters.