You Can’t Go Home Again

On Nov 30, 2001 I finished my first NaNoWriMo effort sitting at Callahan’s, a brew pub in my neighborhood, with minutes to spare. Callahan’s occupied a spot in a little mall that had previously housed Reno’s Cafe d’Italia, a little family restaurant I worked at for two weeks. Callahan’s was better. I was already fairly regular there (they were close to my workplace) when, soon after they opened, brewing equipment started showing up. At the time, there were no other brew pubs in San Diego.

They got the brewery up and running, and after a shaky start while they refined the recipes and got the quality under control, things started to go well. Bernardo Bitter was my favorite, but in the early days it was awful as often as it was awesome. Apparently that brew used a special yeast that was, in brewing terminology, “a little bitch”. But finally they got the yeast under control, and people found the place buried deep in the mall, and all was well.

By 2001, Callahan’s had annexed the next business over and expanded their dining area. The move frightened me, because many restaurants fail when they try to grow and end up ruining what they have.

By the time I was laying the keel of The Monster Within during a later NaNoWriMo, Callahan’s had moved across the street to a larger, more accessible space that had come into this world as a Tony Roma’s rib joint. There was a large mirror on one wall, emblazoned with the logo of Bass ale. I was looking for a name, and in Monster you will find Master Bass.

But people don’t go to bars for alcohol. Alcohol is much cheaper at the liquor store. (Bad Bobby, a friend from another bar and a teacher at Bartending Academy pointed out this obvious truth to me.) People go to bars to take alcohol with friends. Lacking friends, patrons turn to the staff. I had a lot of friends on the Callahan’s staff.

I won’t try to list them all, but there are two I have to mention.

Travis. A really smart guy, well-read, articulate. We weren’t tight, not at all, but in a lot of ways I wanted to be Travis. He felt things strongly, and could explain why.

Rose. My favorite bartender. I have laughingly told many other bartenders that they are my second-favorite, but there is only one at the top. “Rose, you rock,” I would say each night as I left. If she was busy I would point to her and raise my fist. “Am I in your story?” she would ask. Spiritually, she was in many of my stories, but it wasn’t until Worst Enemy, a later NaNoWriMo effort, that I put her quite directly into a story. I’ve never done that for anyone else.

I also never told her about that one. By then I was a nomad.

Occasionally I would pass back through San Diego, and I would visit my friends at Callahan’s. Fewer and fewer of the staff would recognize me, but the faces I missed the most were still there.

Although it has been a long time, and I knew that it was not realistic, I thought that if I walked into Callahan’s today there would still be connections for me.

But Callahan’s, apparently, is gone. No longer can I entertain the thought that I will meet any of my friends, both the staff and the regulars I used to sit next to, ever again.

Bill, Linda, Darlene, Joe, Debbie, Malcom, and all of you, it was a good time. Travis, I know you’re all right.

Rose, you rock.

5

Why Mazda Should Pay Me To Go On Road Trips

Actually, this episode is here to allow me to play with different gallery plugins for WordPress. There are quite a few and so what happens when you click one of the thumbnails below may change dramatically at any moment.

For test photos I went back through my archives and grabbed a few with a common theme, which turned out to be pictures of the Miata during my epic road trip. Hey, Mazda? If you’re watching, I can sell the Miata lifestyle for you, this time with a redhead in the passenger seat. The open road. The byways of North America. People. Adventure. Wind. Freedom. Marketing gold, baby.

Progress Update: A couple of the lightbox options look pretty sweet, but there are none that I found with an option to fit the images to the user’s browser window. Strange. I looked at the source code for one of them and it even uses the size of the page in some calculations. Still, I like letting people see the full-size versions of the images without leaving and having to click the back button, so some type of lightbox plugin will likely remain.

1

I’ll always remember What’s Her Name.

The guy who runs the little café near home is, by all accounts, a jerk. There’s been some turnover in the staff lately, but when I came back from the mini road trip I found the owner’s girlfriend long gone and in her place there was What’s Her Name. I’ve mentioned her before. I have, in my day, exchanged words with more than a couple of bartenders, and often the connection is an illusion constructed to enhance tips, but around here there are no tips.

She looked over my shoulder as I practiced my Czech, something I was awkward with at first, but I quickly got used to. She was practicing her English at the same time, and her advice and expansions were welcome. Somewhere around the time I managed to pronounce Kristina and Kristyna differently, I knew we had become friends. Apparently most people who share What’s Her Name’s name have given up on the distinction. She’s Moravian, though, and they like to get things right. Apparently her speech was a little too formal for the crowd here. That’s the way she tells it, anyway; she never felt welcome.

Under the incandescent light of the bar she was not what you might term a classic beauty. Whatever that means. There is the beauty her boyfriend has captured with his camera, and let me just tell you, hoo-dang somewhere between the eyes and the lips, with a side order of wild hair, I’m sold on the photographs. Wow.

But my What’s-Her-Name is not the beautiful, passionate woman in the photos. Those photos remind me of just how much I’m not an artist. I see them and I know I’m just a hack, some guy spewing words, and I’ll never be able to match that expression in that photograph, the one when she’s looking straight into the camera and there’s only one word (the other 999 unnecessary) and that word is yes.

She is leaving now. She’s worried that her boss is going to rip her off on the way out the door, but overall glad she won’t be working for him anymore. It’s a pity. She had an almost American-style friendliness, and she responded well to my American-style humor. Now, she will join the legion of bartenders I’ve met, connected with, only to have one of us (usually me, given my wandering ways) move on.

Will I see her again? That’s a tricky thing, isn’t it?

Happy Road Trip Day!

I sit now at Cheap Beer Place, sipping not-so-cheap tea, pondering doing something that could be interpreted as productive before the hokej play-off game starts. (Interestingly, Czech for “play-off” is play off. You’d think they would have grown their own word for it in the centuries before the ubitiquization of English.)

It was a good Road Trip Eve celebration last night, going long past the traditional midnight toast. At one point in the festivities I found lined up on the table in front of me beer, whiskey, and slivovice, and I knew that some brain cells weren’t going to live to see another sunrise. Today, as the survivors grow accustomed to having a little extra elbow-room, thoughts are moving slowly and wandering off course, like a sloth with attention deficit disorder.

It’s the kind of day televised sports was invented for. Today the Beers play Slavia. The Beers are down in the series one game to two, so this one’s important for the team to continue their cinderella run for the championship. This is their first trip to the semifinals since 1951. Go Beers!

Road Trip Eve

Yes, tomorrow is Road Trip Day, the day we commemorate the beginning of Jer’s Homeless Tour — the epic journey fabled in legend and song, which began two years ago tomorrow. This year, since Road Trip Eve falls on the weekend, the celebrations promise to be even bigger than usual. Here in Prague, fuego and MaK are taking advantage of the fact that this is the one social occasion of the year that I cannot shirk, and they’re throwing a bash. If you’re in the neighborhood, drop by!

For those new to the ranks of the muddled, April 2th, 2004, was the day the sale of my house in San Diego closed. I spent the night before that first day at Callahan’s, sitting at the bar, talking to Rose. I was watching the clock, and when midnight rolled by I said, “Wish me happy birthday.” Purely by coincidence, the first road trip day was also my fortieth birthday.

That afternoon, big chunk of cash confirmed, I packed up all the stuff I could fit into the Miata and drove away to look at the US for “two or three weeks” before moving to Prague.

Late that night found me in a little beach town in central California, hanging with friends, sipping good wine and eating good food, tapping out my first blog entry from the road. In two weeks I had made it as far as San Jose, and week three saw me (if recollection serves – sticklers for the truth can go look it up) at Lake Tahoe. Not really that close to Prague. Weeks passed, miles rolled by. Months snuck through there somehow as I trundled around North America, hanging with old friends, reconnecting with family members, falling in love with pretty bartenders, thinking, and writing. It was me, in my ideal environment: ample solitude, new places, new adventures, old friends.

Hopefully I can get back out there again someday — ideally as a book tour, but you have to publish a book first for that to make sense. It would be fun to have book signings in all the bars I wrote in along the way. Fun but not terribly profitable; I have been forgotten in most of those places by now, and the clientele in many of those places didn’t strike me as particularly bookish.

So wherever you are tonight, at a quiet little private celebration or the giant beerfest in Times Square, the tribal dances on the plains of the Serengeti or the wild street parties of Rio de Janeiro, mark moment with a toast and make your first words of the new year “elevator ocelot rutabaga.” It’s good luck.

The soul-sucking power of Stuff

I have met many people who are owned by their possessions. I married one. (Before you get too carried away figuring names, you should know I’ve been married twice.) I watched the spirit be enslaved by atoms and I vowed not to fall under the same spell.

If you saw how much crap I have in storage, you’d know just how well I have done. In my defense, I gave away furniture, books, bags and bags of clothes, and anything else I could bear to unload. On an American scale, I chucked it in. I consider what is left the seed for the next home I own. Yeah, I know I’m rationalizing.

But there’s one thing, one physical object that I really should shed. Atoms. A machine. A car.

I sit here in Prague and extol the virtues of public transportation while clinging to a two-seater sports car. You have to cut me some slack; I crossed continents in that car, saw things, met folks, almost slid off the road and off a cliff in a Canadian hailstorm. And this is how things come to own you. They become containers of memories. Symbols.

Some are symbols of wealth or power; the Rolex doesn’t do much for me. The beautiful sports car that is too valuable to drive, I can do without. Some things are symbols of accomplishments of other sorts – having the largest collection of bobblehead dolls on the Eastern Seaboard requires a great deal of dedication, but in the end, I’ll pass.

There is the One Treasured Thing. Here is a sort of material possession (possession is a verb there) that I can appreciate. I envy people the One Treasured Thing. It is an item of such deep personal significance that it passes beyond symbolism and becomes identity. It is part of who you are. The One Treasured Thing is much more than a simple thing.

The test: I could always buy another car. Therefore it is not a One Treasured Thing. But still I am reluctant to let go. Someday, I conceitedly imagine, that road trip I took in that car will inform the next great American road story, and that particular car will become an American icon. I am perfectly aware how ridiculous that conceit is, but to deny it would be to devalue my one work under way that might actually qualify as literature.

In Prince George, British Columbia, I was waiting at a traffic light, top down to the Canadian summer, car packed to the gills. The guy in the next lane towered over me, and looked down into my packed-full little car. “You need a truck,” he said.

“No, I need less crap,” I wish I answered.

I don’t need a car, I need to believe. And so a thing has become symbolic, unreasonably so, and it has trapped me.

End of the Road

Location: 37,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean
Miles: That particular bit of information is currently buried in the baggage compartment

There are different kinds of road stories, I suppose. The good ones have some kind of transformation take place in the course of the narrative – perhaps the driver has gained some insight into his nature or the nature of the world around him. Occasionally they even get where they’re going. I imagine, compared to actual literature, that this narrative is one of those where you’re getting close to the end but there’s no real end in sight. As you read along you start to realize that there aren’t many pages left, and barring a jarring deus ex machina or a mighty epiphany (“Flossing is the answer!”) you’re going to be pretty pissed off when you get to the end of the book.

On the penultimate page our hero is hurtling across the heartland, thinking deep thoughts. You turn the page, and it just says, “And then he stopped.” You blink at the sentence, feeling gypped. “That’s it?” you ask the book, but the book just sits there, ignoring your ire. “And then he stopped.”

You think back over the stories within the narrative, looking for something you might have missed the first time. Sure, the individual bits are occasionally interesting, but what do they add up to? Is there a motion, a progression of any sort? Is there a grander metaphor? What if the road is life, the car is the soul, and the destination is death? That sounds poetic enough, but then what does “And then he stopped” mean in that context?

And then I stopped.

Not that I ever expected to find anything out on the road beyond a few stories to tell, which will probably make me insufferable in conversations for a while. (“That reminds me of when I was Calgary during the Stanley cup…” Oh, yeah. It’s not going to be pretty.)

The only thing more annoying about getting to the end of a book only to find it doesn’t end is discovering that there’s a sequel and nobody told you. You have to buy a whole nother stinkin book to see what happens next. But what if it doesn’t end there? How many volumes will you buy before you just throw your hands up in disgust?

And then I stopped, and got on a plane to Prague.

To be continued…

Ely (rhymes with mealy) redux

I woke up somewhere in Kansas. The benefit of 25-hour days is apparent, by shifting one time zone per day I have been able to keep up a pretty good pace and still get up reasonably early. I walked across the parking lot to collect my complimentary breakfast and the first thing I noticed was the cloudless blue sky. The second thing I noticed was the cold. I tried blowing vapor rings in the still air, as always without success. The sun shone down like a cold, hard, diamond.

After a pleasant breakfast I hit the road, top up, windows up, and heater on. Before long I was hurtling across the high plains, especially appreciative of the higher speed limit when I crossed into Colorado. The fields were lightly covered with snow, which on the lea side of embankments had formed curvaceous structures. I snapped a couple of pics on the fly and then flew on.

I was still one hundred miles shy of Denver when the first snow-capped peaks rose over the horizon. Passing through the city was easy enough (note: I did not have a chance to tell you yet that St Louis drivers are the worst I encountered on this trip) and up into the mountains I went.

Wow! I’ll say it again: Wow! Interstate 70 west of Denver is a minor engineering marvel through some unbelievable scenery. Finally I just had to put the top down. I got out of the car to stretch and had quite a headrush. Who stole all the oxygen? I seems I was almost at Vail Pass (10,600 feet). Heading down the Western Slope I stopped in Vail to put on my jacket. Later I stopped for lunch and couldn’t get my fingers to work. The top went back up.

I’d never been through that part of eastern Utah, and boy does it look cool when the Sun is going down. I took a couple of pictures. Somewhere east of I-15 I left I-70 and headed out into the little-road version of the desert on Highway 50. Once it got dark I only stopped once more, to see what a 30-second exposure of the vast night sky would look like. I’ll let you know, but in retrospect I think I messed them up. I had to turn off auto focus but I don’t recall manually setting the focus to infinity.

Heading out into the desert night, I saw a sign that said “Next Services 110 Miles”. No problem, I had plenty of fuel and the car was running perfectly. An hour later I passed a sign reading, “Next Services 40 Miles.” I had to laugh. I wonder how many people have seen that and thought, “Man, I’m not sure I can make it 40 miles,” and turned back, only to see another sign 30 miles later reading “Next Services 40 Miles.” I mean, sure it’s good to know how far it is to the next gas station, but just what are you going to do about it? Perhaps the sign should have said, “Next Services 40 Miles. If you’re not sure you’re going to make it, pull over while you still have gas to run your air conditioner and get help.”

Now I’m in Ely (rhymes with mealy), drinking with the Lord, as Pants says. The Casinos are close by and the beer is free there, but I have no time for cards tonight.

I’ll put up the photos (and add a couple to this post) later. The top was up and the windshield dirty, so there aren’t very many good ones.

Take Me Home, Country Roads

Location: Grayville, Illinois

I wanted to cover a lot of miles today, but I didn’t want to retrace my steps. I chose a more northerly route through America’s heartland.

Add Highway 52 in Virginia to the list of tops highways in America. It was a sunny morning and the car and I were in fine fettle. I headed north from Winston-Salem with a full tank of gas and a desire to see the world. I flew around the curves, through clouds of leaves, slowing down for pretty little towns with their pretty little churches. I was awash in the smells of the land.

Not far out of the city, before the road got really interesting, there was a smell it took me a moment to place. Tobacco. Sure enough, the next exit was Tobaccoville. North I went. The road got twisty and turny and the air was heavy with the smell of leaves decaying, making the rich loam that would slumber through the winter and fuel the spring. I turned off the tunes in favor of birdsong. Passing through one of the little towns I breathed in the smell of fresh-mown grass as I passed an old man on his tractor.

One cool part about this stretch of highway 52 is that it is not the best way to get from point A to Point B. There is I-77, which is much more efficient. There were stretches of several miles of perfect driving road in which I saw not a single soul. Sure, I’m trying to cross an entire continent, but I wanted to see more of what the east is like. What are their contributions to the new pantheon?

Interstate 77 turns into a toll road in West Virginia. I’m a cheap bastard, and I was having fun on 52 so I decided to stay to the little road. I’ll tell you this, I don’t know what the West Virginia Turnpike costs, but if you’re trying to get anywhere it’s worth it. Highway 52 in West Virginia take you along a rail line, through little coal towns nestled in valleys, strange combinations of postcard views flanked by run-down and abandoned buildings. (According to a political ad I heard more than once today, West Virginia is the only state whose population has declined since 1950.)

As I passed the mines I was met by the acrid, acidic smell of the coal, and in one town I saw a man whose job it was to scrape the coal dust paste from the street gutters.

On this part of the highway there is no alternate route, and people drive at a maximum of 45 no matter what the posted speed limit is. I spent long, long hours watching the ass end of mal-tuned pickup or a Buick with no visible driver. I lost a lot of time, but now that I’m here I’m glad I did it. I’d read about that country, but I’m glad I got a slow view of it, even if it was a driveby. I drove by a lot of photos, but that would have slowed me down just too much.

The final smell I picked up driving top-up in the light rain as I drove through southern Indiana in the darkness. Fertilizer clogged my nostrils. It was worse even than Clovis.

Happy Birthday

I woke up early this morning, due in part I’m sure to the end of daylight savings time. No one else was stirring, but there was evidence that my hosts had been up. I padded around the quiet house for a bit, not wanting to head out to Camille’s for my morning Media Empire session without touching base with them first. On the stove was a bowl of pumpkin seeds, scooped out of Jack-o-Lanterns the day before, waiting to be roasted.

Tara has been fighting a cold the entire time I’ve been here. I’ve felt vaguely guilty about going out with Jesse while his bride lays at home sick and pregnant, and Tara’s been feeling guilty about not being a better host. All the guilt you need, only half price! Yesterday evening we finally all went out together to a really nice Thai restaurant in Raleigh. The place earned high marks from all of us.

This morning I settled in and read for a while, but I had a hankering for broadband. I was just getting set to leave when Jesse came downstairs, looking tired. After obligatory “good mornings” and whatnot Jesse said, “Tara’s in labor.”

I’m no expert, but I suspect the Panang Beef. There was something about that delicious curry that probably set things off. Pregnant women, take note.

Jesse and I discussed plans for a while and then I headed over here. The roads were empty early on a Sunday morning, and the low sun brought out what color was left in the leaves. The grass lawns around the churches are silvered, heavy with dew. The air is still, as if the world is holding its breath. There is anticipation; change is coming to all of us, and this Indian Summer day is a chance to look back at the good times, to feel the reverberations of the season past, but also a chance to look ahead.

Apparently there’s a chance that the labor is a false alarm, or that things will go slowly, so today may not be the day. I am standing by, prepared to offer what help I can, but in general I think I can be the most help by staying out of the way. I had already planned to head out tomorrow morning, ready to embark on the last leg of my tour, one that may not really qualify as being part of the tour at all, as it will probably not involve any exploration of the continent. I simply need to get to the same city named on my plane ticket—San Francisco. I’ve got a hankerin’ for that Rice-a-Roni.

So, happy birthday, <name to be determined based on gender of child>, welcome to the world, whether today as a goblin or tomorrow as a saint.

Camille’s

Location: Camille’s Sidewalk Café, Raleigh, North Carolina

Accelerated regularization does not apply exclusively to bars. Having spent two consecutive mornings at the same place, I am already recognized by at least some of the staff. “Back at the office?” one woman asked me today. Yesterday she had asked whether I was getting a good wireless signal. When I was leaving around noon today she asked, “On your lunch break?”

“See you tomorrow,” I answered.

It’s a nice enough place to spend a few hours, sipping tea and presiding over my media empire. There’s no easily accessible electricity there, which is probably a good thing, because the Internet is there, and that means I’m in constant danger of spending more time farting around than actually writing. Yesterday the discipline was good, today not so much. The media whore had to be appeased.

* * *

Now it is tomorrow, and I am back here. As I walked in the door the woman behind the counter said, “Tea?” even before I reached her. I think that makes me a regular, in only three days. Not bad. I wonder if they’ll miss me when I’m gone.

A V of geese just went by outside, heading south. It’s getting colder here—last night I even wore long pants. Leaves are falling, pushed in restless swirls by aimless breezes. There are pumpkins on doorsteps and the corn fields are brown and dry. It seems appropriate that my trip is also in its autumn. The summer of Jer is coming to a close, turn, turn, turn, and all the leaves are brown.

Went out to a bar last night and watched the baseball game while sipping Old Speckled Hen. A darn fine beer, I assure you, and good conversation to go with it. I haven’t had a chance to just hang out with Jesse for a long time. Jesse’s is a good place to end the tour, talking with an old friend about what this whole adventure has done to me and for me, and talking about the road, the journey, and the destination. Jesse’s much-better-rounded education gives him lots of interesting things to contribute, and his natural creativity leads to interesting jumps.

That’s about it for today; I’m concentrating on a nonfiction piece that I will be submitting for publication if I can get it to not suck. There’s also a couple of bugs in Jer’s Novel Writer for me to fix, and a pacing issue in the final confrontation scene in The Monster Within. If you’re pining for more words from me, I suggest you go back and reread The Cowboy God. I’m pretty happy with that one, despite its warts.

Odds and Ends

Shreveport to Chattanooga was mostly freeway. I saw the white stripe flash past in a hypnotic rhythm mile after mile, and wrote stuff in my head. I’m still working on getting the chapter of The Fish written as I felt it within my skull, but it could turn out to be really cool. The rest of the stuff I thought up I can’t start writing until November 1, but my 30-day novel is starting to take shape in my head, and I’m pretty stoked about it. More and more I feel confident that when people ask me what I do I can say, “I’m a writer.” That’s true enough, anyway, even if it does imply that I get paid to write.

Meanwhile, I crossed the 15,000-mile mark outside of Birmingham, Alabama. Safety Dance was playing on the radio. During the day I had been searching for a decent radio station as I moved along from state to state. I heard Turn the Page twice—once as a cover and twice the original version. Here I am, on the road again…

Speaking of radio stations, the best one I know of on this continent is 91 1/2 in Chattanooga. It’s a college station. “We guarantee sixty minutes every hour!” They played some good, good stuff, and quite a variety. I was sorry to pass out of range as I passed through the Appalachians this morning.

Lots of other things happened, the kind of mindless details I do my best not to burden you with. Raccoons should learn to look both ways. I didn’t hit any, but I think I was the exception.

It’s getting harder and harder to keep my hair from blowing in my eyes as I drive. Perhaps a mullet is in order.

On the way over to Asheville today the storage thingie on my fancy camera filled up. I guess that means I really do have to do something about processing all those pictures you guys have been moaning about not seeing. I’ll see what I can do in the morning. I think I got some pretty nice ones today. Highway 64 in Western North Carolina has to go on the list as one of the best drives ever. Honestly, though, I’d recommend driving it on a weekday. Once the camera was maxed out, I wanted nothing more than to enjoy the sinuous asphalt as it wound through the late October headless horseman forest, sending leaves flying in my wake.

Alas, much of the time I crept along behind people doing well under the conservative speed limit. These drivers had no clue whatsoever that they should pull to the side, even when they saw other drivers doing the same thing. I relaxed and enjoyed the drive anyway, but the rare taste of real driving left me yearning for more.

Reading over the last episode I posted, I see a serious omission. The sleeipes caught up with me before I finished, I supposed. I was in the lounge at the hotel, which almost had wireless Internet. No matter, really, I could post when I got back to the room. The bartender was Shelly, who was back after a month and the regulars were all very happy to see her. Slender with long straight dark hair, she had a ready smile and a sense of humor. I sat at the bar where I was advised the signal was strongest with my laptop open and lamented the intermittent, weak signal. There were a couple of other friendly regulars and overall the quiet bar was most congenial. Eventually I was the only customer, and after I talked to Shelly for a while I headed back the room with one last beer. I was enjoying the chat, but I’m in love with enough bartenders already. I decided to get out while the getting was good.

Now I’m at Jesse’s house, and it’s nice. I’m in the nursery, so I better be ready to get the hell out of here if the baby arrives.

A Long Drive Over a Short Distance

Location: Roadside Inn and Suites, Shreveport, Louisiana
Miles: 14540.7

The day woke up before I did, Friday somehow, Thursday missing. Sneaky little Thursday, slipping past without notice, a skunk of a day, a cowardly, conniving little day afraid to show its face when Real Men are checking their calendars. Now it’s time to move on. Past time, really. I wake up antsy. I need the road. I turn down the bike ride so I can pack up and get going.

First, of course, I have to dial in and see how my media empire is fairing. I haven’t been doing that regularly while in San Angelo, but now that I’m returning to my uproots I’m getting back in synch with the blog. It’s funny the care and feeding required. While I am at Bill’s computer the day gets darker and darker. Soon it is dumping rain. Oh, grand.

Rain in San Angelo I’m still not sure what route I’m going to take. Louisiana sounds good, but I need to check a map. The car is at the curb, so during a relative lull I dash out to grab the atlas. No time for shoes, and even had there been time, I don’t think I would have put them on. Splish, splash, out to the car. Open the door, grab the atlas (luckily in plain view) stop to see if the water in the street is going to come up higher than the door. Looks good, so a soggy dash back to the house.

The concrete on the front porch is much slicker than the the walkway. I slip in true Three Stooges fashion, feet sailing up into the air. Luckily I don’t get my arm down to break my fall, or I would have broken my arm. I land hard on my hip and my back. Saying a few choice words I lie on my back, catching my breath and taking inventory. And getting wet, but that’s not important now. The hip is the early contender for being a problem, but seems to be working out. My left little toe hurts. Apparently when the rest of the foot let go, it tried to hold on. Poor, brave, little toe. The world was going to shit but that toe held its post to the very end, trying to stop the inevitable 165 pound disaster.

A toe toast is in order. Tooooooast!

Limping, shambling, I load the car, bid Bill a fond farewell, and off I go, into the teeth of the storm. Actually, I don’t know about teeth so much, but it sure as hell drooled a lot. Maybe the lightning was the teeth. There was plenty of lightning.

The speed limit was 70, I was doing 50 on average. Out there on the highway, rain positively bucketing, windshield wipers largely ineffective, I crept along. As the wiper blade passed in front of my vision I had for the briefest of instants a view of the highway ahead. I could see the tail lights of the cars in front of me, however. That is, until I meet some numb-nuts idiot driving a silver (rain-colored) minivan with no lights on. I start getting the feeling that there’s someone out there in front of me, and I peer extra-hard through the rain to try to get a fix on the stealth vehicle. Sure enough, someone’s out there, poking along at a safe-and-sane speed but completely hidden from his fellow drivers. Once I think I have a fix on him, I follow so no one else would ram the guy assuming no one would be so stupid as to drive in those conditions without tail lights. When the rain gets particularly peltilicious, I wonder just how much the guy will slow down, and if he stopped on the road, would I see him in time. He seems like a stop-in-the-road kind of driver.

Finally we reach a town. Dearly I want to pull up next to him and catch his attention. I want to get him to roll down his window despite the conditions so I can scream at him “Turn on your lights you f%#ing stupid m#%^@ f!#$%!! Turn on your lights before you f&#%ing kill someone, you dumbass [email protected]%*head! (I like cartoon swearing.) I am not to be satisfied. Instead I pull over for gas and brunch. Getting out of the car reminds me that I am not in top shape. I drag myself up, standing in an inch of water, felling my socks saturate, to discover that the gas station is closed. I don’t figure this out right away; the pump is still powered up. No gas comes out is all. Painfully I climb back into the car and move on to the next place.

Suddenly the rain has stopped. The dumbass is somewhere up the road, unaware of his fuming guardian angel, placidly going on his way. Motherfucker.

The delay puts me in Fort Worth and Dallas at the peak of rush hour, compounding my behindness. Somewhere along the way I had managed to put the top down, but in the stop-and-go I must put it back up to keep the now-gentle rain out. Not a problem. I find a radio station that sucks less than the others and creep along, thinking about the New Pantheon and how the pain in my toe is shooting through my foot now.

I leave Dallas behind and as the night closes in I get the feeling. The road feeling. The air is heavy and damp, and the moon shines down. All around me the frogs are singing, punctuated by the occasional rasp of a cicada. The trees are real trees now, the forests dark and mysterious places in the deepening dusk. I interrupt the Mighty Mighty Bosstones covering “Detroit, Rock City” to listen to the night. This is why there are convertibles. I am in the night, smelling its pungency, hearing its raucousness, tasting its mystery. This is the South. A South we didn’t invent, but must come to accept. I am here now.

My good fellow, I tell you what

After Lil’ J’s Sports Bar, I headed back over to the Lone Wolf Pub, known forevermore as Shae’s bar. Shae was behind the bar rather than waiting tables, but she recognized me and welcomed me back. It didn’t strike me right away, but tonight she wasn’t as touchy-feely as she had been. First thought: she’d read my blog. She wasn’t as physical with anyone else either. Second thought: she was sweet on someone in the bar (besides me). Probably none of the above. Maybe she was just too tired, or too busy, or she just approaches bartending differently than she approaches waitressing. I didn’t ask. After writing a little bit at a table I packed up and moved over to the bar. Most of the stools were taken, but there was an empty stool between a tall, slender elderly woman and a snow-bearded man.

Shae was pretty busy, so I was not basking in her radiance the way Bill and I had the night before. No matter, there was Marjorie. She sat with ramrod posture, and when she spoke it was with a patrician English accent. Patrician because along with her excellent diction and hard-to-pinpoint accent there was a world-weary tone, as if she had seen damn near all there was to see. She asked me how I was, and whether I had been in the bar before. I answered, but after that I was struck by some random thought or other and I missed the point when I should have asked the polite counter-question. Silence ensued. By the time I realized my faux pas it was too late. Silence stretched.

Eventually, of course, an opportunity came to hit the reset button and strike up a conversation. She has been in Texas for forty years, and I had to laugh when she said, “I tell you what.” She likes the old songs. Something came up that started her singing one, and I helped her finish the verse. She slapped me on the back with surprising vigor—the point of impact tingled for several minutes. “I love those old songs,” she said again, and I knew she was drunk.

Snowbeard came back from the bathroom and wanted a part of the conversation. He had a way to measure age that he needed to share with me. “I remember when I could pee ten feet,” he said. “Now I just hope I don’t hit my shoes.” We discussed the technical details for a while. I liked the measure; I can still pee for distance.

Marjorie had been waiting for a friend, who finally showed up. Where Marjorie was regal, her friend was overpainted. Where Marjorie was poised, her friend was sloppy. She had just come from another bar. Marjorie introduced me. “You can call me Foxy Roxie,” the friend said. “Hello, Roxie,” I said. She turned out to be all right, but I knew the gentlemen would all be going for Marjorie.

It was soon time to go home, a point where staying will just lead to trouble, and cab rides, and who knows what else. I don’t cross that line without a safety net, and there was none that night. Shae was gone (I caught a shitty picture of her; I’ll try to fix it up and put it here), so there was no longer any reason to stay. Out the door I went.

Bars are full of people like that. For all the ones I’ve met, I’ve missed ten. I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing.

Boy, I Tell You What

Location: A sports bar somewhere in San Angelo
Miles:

You know, this is a nice enough town. Bill has settled right in; he’s even becoming part of the Establishment. Coming up will be his third campaign for mayor. He’s a Rotarian. He volunteers in the community. Yep, Bill is becoming one of them. It’s a large enough town that there are the amenities and while perhaps there aren’t the same cultural opportunities here as in other places at least there is a university to soften the, uh, West Texas Cowboy *cough*redneck*cough* influence.

There are lots of elderly drivers in this town, creeping from light to light and making left turns with agonizing care. The landscape is dotted with small towns, but when people get older and want to be closer to care, shopping, and other old folks this is where they come. I can’t blame them; this would be a good place to be retired.

There is also a wide variety of bars. Bill has shown me several, from the Lone Wolf Pub (which I now call Shea’s bar), which is a fairly divey place but they take their darts very seriously, to the newly-remodeled Oasis which would fit in just fine in downtown San Diego. Not swanky, but nice. Lots of wood paneling, trendy light fixtures turned down low, and whatnot. The modern version of the fern bar.

Those bars all have one thing in common. They don’t open until 4 or perhaps even later. What’s a boy to do? Well, this boy headed to the the mostly-dead downtown. I figured since the government buildings were still down there that there had to be at least one bar. Bureaucrats gotta drink, after all. I went down the main drag, witnessing the destruction wrought by the big box stores and strip malls, a side effect of the automobilization of America. If I was Bill, I would come up with a plan to lure businesses back down there and make that my Mayoral platform. I doubt Bill would agree with the government getting it’s fingers into business’s business.

I found no bar. There was a restaurant that probably would have sufficed, but I was looking for a bar. I drove on, and was suddenly surrounded by giant churches. After the congregation finished praying for their teams, where would they go to watch them? I kept driving.

I don’t know where I am now. I saw the sign for something-or-other Sports Bar. It didn’t look happening, exactly, but there were a couple of cars in front. I pulled up right in front of the reflectorized glass front door and read the hours. Open at 2 p.m. I looked at my clock. 2:05. Pay dirt, baby! I secured my car and went to the door. Locked. With a heavy sigh I turned back to the Miata when I heard the keys rattling in the lock. Praise Jesus. “Sorry about that,” the guy said as he opened the door. “We just barely opened.”

“Dang,” said I, “It’s tough finding a place to drink at two in this town.” The guy sitting at the bar, reading his book and sipping his draft beer, laughed. There is a group of three at one other table and that’s it for the patrons so far, so the bar is not yet smoky. I am currently the only person in here who does not speak Spanish, although everyone speaks English. Televisions surround the bar, while two pool tables in good condition dominate the center of the room. Beer propaganda covers the walls, broken occasionally by Halloween crap. The ceiling is festooned with streamerrs and banners for competing NFL teams and competing beers. The beer selection is limited, but not too expensive. I don’t think they have booze at all. It’s a beer and wine bar, without the wine. As I was typing that, the bartender came over and told me they have free hot dogs. I’m getting to like this place. Lil J’s Sports Bar is the name of the joint. I’ll tell you this, it’s the best bar in town before 4 p.m. on a weekday.