January 5th, 2000 at 7:01 PM



so many things are this color in the desert.  joshua and i live near a ranch park something place where we pulled up a picnic table to play chess yesterday, and as we played, chickens and peacocks and pigeons approached us and made funny bird sounds.  there were rabbits, too, and josh said "i wonder why the cats don't try to kill the bunnies," and i laughed and then he laughed, the sun screaming across in parallel from low to the horizon because here nothing grows both tall and wide. the sky maintains a hue of true blue and even as we speak it is sixty-one degrees outside.  bass-heavy cars stream by the front window, tricked out to the limit, without a spot of rust.  hmm, i had better start at the beginning.


This Christmas was the best Christmas I have had in a long time, not exactly the way the holiday used to be when you wake up early and lie in bed paralyzed with excitement, but very satisfying just the same, perhaps hmmm perhaps I wonder if it felt that way because I kept so busy and had to move on so quickly.  This year we gave my sister a sleeping pill so she didn't wake up until seven-thirty.  My big gift was a digital camera that Santa bought me, except Santa is really my dad.  To put it plainly, the camera totally rocks and it it the best gift I've ever received in terms of sheer practicality and neat-o points.  Anyways, my dad knew I would make good use of it and I already have, documenting the Road Trip that I am about to tell you about.  About.  Oh, and my family seemed to enjoy the presents that I bought for them.  Christmas dinner with the whole extended bunch was quite nice the fireside warm fuzziness magic love touch young changing isn't going progress makes older finding who doesn't want moonlight in my wineglass for bear hug wrestle God Only Knows it's all I ever wanted to show you, him, her.  Cold air.  Cinema.  I promise those silly dancing bears keep popping up again.


On Monday night, December 27th, I stayed up really late watching Down By Law with my brother, a movie with Tom Waits and Roberto Benigni and I forget who directed it but it was good film in a simple way. I stayed up really late packing and Mom woke me up at 5:45 instead of 6:45 so I had plenty of time to load up the car, though the reader should here note that I didn't bring as much stuff as I brought to Carlisle and also we had hitched Andrew's parents Sears hamburger travel compartment thing to the vinyl-coated roof the night before so we were able to keep the back seat pretty empty. I drove to Joshua's house and we loaded up his shit then we split for Wollman's. The car sounded good; I had gotten the oil changed the day before and yesterday Josh helped me load all my CDs into the case logic cases Dad gave me for Christmas, so the Stereo was PUMPIN talking bout POUNDIN talkin bout BA-DUM-PUM, brother my man.  Jive man aint got no ...


With both Andrew and Josh in the car I began driving.  We drove and drove and drove and drove.  The sexy 1979 Ford Granada averaged something like fourteen miles to the gallon, or some such comparable figure denoting ridiculous crapiness, but we survived.  The schedule broke down like this: the person driving drives until he glances down to discover that the car may run out of gas at any moment, then pulls off at the next exit to stop at a gas station.  Everyone gets out of the car, unless the person in  the back seat happens to lie unconscious, sleeping. The gas station constitutes our sole interaction with the outside world for another four hours, so we breathe in deeply a breath of glorious gas fumes and have a look around and get some snacks (these gas shacks are always foreign to us, sprinkled and spackled, ramshackled across the country). Twice, Andrew bought a newspaper so we could do crossword puzzles.  We had a sack full of crackers and some kind of horrible summer sausage and some of those Danish cookies in a blue tin, and this can full of pink old-lady candy that suckycracks open to release a fairly substantial treasury of peanut butter crumble.


A shift lasts one tank of gas, or approximately 200 miles, or approximately 3 hours and 45 minutes, unless you happen to be west of the Mississippi, in which case you are legally encouraged to drive 75 miles per hour and can easily get away with 90, excepting if that areas west of the Mississippi happens to lie within the confines of Texas, The Lone Star State of Gracelessness, in which case it thoroughly behooves the driver to obey the speed limit as indicated, because after all the car does contain a bit of contrabban.  We kept rotating right on schedule: When Ryan drives, Joshua rides shotgun, Andrew's in the back seat.  At the gas station someone pays and writes the total on the write-off list.  Join hands, circle right. Andrew driving, Ryan shotgun, Josh in the back. Swing by a McDonalds to fill up the two travel mugs with coffee. Next, Joshua driving, Andrew shotgun, Ryan in back. And so on.


As driver, one must keep the car moving eastward at an adequate velocity and avoid crashing into things. The gentleman riding shotgun must do whatever needs to be done to help prevent the driver from crashing into things.  The person in the back seat would do well to sleep, because he's up next and lord knows we don't want him nodding off and crashing into things.


Aside from crossword puzzles, we kept busy looking out the windows, listening to Simon and Garfunkle, REM, the Beach Boys, Phish, Portishead and The Cure, fiddling with my GameBoy, enjoying old personal jokes and discovering new long-running gags, complaining, talking shit about whoever just farted, staring into space, talking about friends and jobs and beautiful girls and what-if-this and I-forgot-about-that, staring into space, feeling the hum of the car, an All-American 8-cylinder fuelbuster.  Throwing around catch phrases like "what-the-fu-Christ?" and "I think it was a Pony!" 


Look, you don't need me telling you this stuff.  The three of us know each other quite well, so just imagine yourself in a car on a long trip with your friends.  It was just like that, except it was us.


The country spreads forth beyond the hood ornament and just keeps going and going. Once you leave the coast and cross into Pennsylvania you realize that America designed itself for cars, it demands cars, it prefers the 10 and 2 westerly strafe of a four-stroke engine to the rustling dapple of covered wagons, prefers automobiles even to the shotgun vector of a steam locomotive.  The boys came home from France, grabbed sweetheart wives, and settled down with plans to buy Pontiacs before the machines even had a chance to feel comfortable parked in the too brightly lit car-lot. Even before the war, the mid-west imagined billboards and smelled the coming of neon, and the Great Plains knew that soon Billions and Billions would need to be served, somehow.  Trucks will arrive and pass by, continuous chains of tractor trailer trucks pushing thousands and thousands of pounds of products over hardtop throughways to urban destinations with an amphetamined anticipation.  On the interstate, outside of Akron, signs advertising GAS and GIRLS rise higher and higher, competing for the same airspace.  You can't drive past them without stealing at least a passing glance, wondering if skyhooks will materialize to pull them higher, or a deity will reach down to scramble the symbols.  Conifers give way to maples give way to cornfields give way to truck stops give way to dairy farms give way to porch-bound rocking-chairs give way to wheat gives way to sage brush gives way to sand gives way to the patriotic luster of sunsets. In Ohio, Joshua completely lost sight of the road when a snowstorm rolled through at midnight. In Oklahoma, we rolled down the windows just to keep from burning up.  The sheer amount of open space mocks you, it barely notices you.  Tolls are a bargain. There is a traceable line of pavement that connects your driveway to every drive-thru, every shopping plaza, and nearly every other residence in America.


Old Beat Jack wasn't just fucking around and making it all up.  Forty-eight of our united states ask for these kind of sixteen-lane sentences: phrases filled to the brim with glorious memes of faith, eyes turned skyward, stuck together with flypaper syntax. After forty-eight hours of non-stop travel we landed in Phoenix, a broad-shouldered sand-city created during Keroac's prime, following the arrival of a new messiah, the air conditioner, as America finally entered its adolescence.  We rang in the new Millennium quietly, gathered around a campfire in the desert hills to the north.  At midnight we could hear the whole city let out a sigh of joy, and we hugged, and we looked down to see casual fireworks popping up, and somewhere nearby a group of Mexicanos shot their guns into the sky.  No big catastrophe, just a big number.  It was disappointing in a way.


You can float on the surface of this open-road American vision for quite a long time: lying on your back, staring up at the recently-strung Christmas lights, eating SweetTarts, listening to Otis Reading.  The theory of it all will tan you from the inside.  But you can never quite forget that there are bills to pay and that it's about time to find a jobby-job, maybe even a career.