chapter 4


 - - -  -  –- - – - - -–- road trip -- - -– - - - -   -  -   -      -      -


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I  felt good for about two minutes. then i didnt feel so good.

if she was just a girlfriend, no big deal right? drive to athens, have
fun, we’ll see how it goes when i get back. but this is a partner, with
whom i have created a new person. a life entanglement—

but you gota
watchout for metaphors, theyll take over if you lettem. and i tended to
lettem. now my life was an entanglement, a network of vines, suffocating
me. they even had thorns i think.

So the plan for tonight—

start driving. when you get tired, pullover at a rest stop.

before you go gettin all worried, let me make a few quick points about sleepin in a resstop. one, its fairly safe, as far as sleepin in the car goes, just dont go tellin your mama your doin it, nor your partner-slash-babymama. two, saves money, or in my case makes it where you can aford to travel without breakin into the J-A or even worse the savings acount, which you might as well call the baby acount. and three, you dont waste time sleepin, not nearly as much as you do in a motel. you can drive till two a-m, pull into a resstop, and youll still be up by seven, with the sun and the old people walkin by and all that.

the plan went well excepfor one thing— when i
got tired, there wasnt a resstop. i drove and drove and there just wasnt
a resstop. this is I-20, a major thorofare, youd think theyd have one
atleast evry hundred miles, cmon globecap—

course this was louisiana.

and mississipi.

eventially i started lookin for a
motel6. i might have to break into the J-A, true, but it would put claire’s
mind at ease, it would put us both at ease, it was the responsible thing to
do, it wasnt just me i was takin care of now etcetera, which reminded me
i still needed to make that doctors apointment. i took out my phone and
put in a reminder for monday,  which almost caused me to run off the
road and realy need a doctor.

the near-accident gave me a burst of energy [ adrenalines an amazing drug, i just hope they never figure out how to make it ]  which temporarily putoff the need for a motel.

i kept driving.

in vicksburg i had to stop for gas. theyv got this weird offramp that looks like a regular exit, then it seizes your car and makes you drive a mile down this highway and drops you off at their mall. the mall was closed ofcourse, but there were two mega-gastations. i opted for the biggest, brightest one.

While my tank filld up, i wanderd the aisles of the flying J 



at the array of merchandise. there are some whole countries that dont have this many things for sale. the effect on the highway-hypnotized is that you start grabbing stuff off the shelvs at random. i got a vitamin water, a york peppermint patty [ fullsize ], some offbrand cheesypoofs, a bluetooth headset i thought might work with my phone, a mississipi paperweight that would make a funny souvenir for claire, and a 5-hour energy, maximum strength [ the black one. ] a value was assigned to the items, i handed them my card, hit the green button, and was on my way.

walkd thru the automatic doors with my thankyou bag full of comodities [ anthropologists look no further, its here in this bag ] and when i saw my car, i was overcome.

the geo. had that thing since ninety-six. back when i was still
runnin wild in austin. so many things had changed since then. everything,
it seemd, except the car i drove.

the paintjob faded long ago from gold to desert sand. theres so many dents it looks soft, like hammerd metal. and the way it smells inside, like coffee and old leaves. you have to use your muscles to turn the steering wheel now, the power steering pumps broken.

I crackt open the 5-hourenergy, opend the cheesypoofs, and started driving.

found a resstop outside of Meridian, but by then the 5-hourenergy had taken hold and i was startin to grind my teeth. there was no hope of sleepin now, not in the car anyway, i’d need atleast two drinks but since i dont drink anymore, i’d need a knock on the head, a soft pillow, and some airconditioning.

crossd into alabama around three, just me and the truckers
now. stopt for another 5-hourenergy—might as well at this point—
and kept drivin. it was awsome, i never wanted to stop. who needs
dean moriarty when youve got 5-hourenergy and cheesypoofs?

made georgia by sunrise. then all of a sudden i was comin up on Atlanta [ what a quartermillion confederate soldiers died tryin to prevent, acordinto some dude i cant remember* ]       

the sun was in my eyes, i could barely read the
signs, i just let the city take me into its orbit, I-285, then sling me toward
athens on a highway calld 316 [ as in John, yes ] i didnt realize how
close i was until i saw a sign sayin  Athens  52 . 

holy shit i was gona make athens tonite!
or tomorow, tecnicly. since it already was.

but i needed gas. and there were no gastations.
there wasnt even an exit, just miles and miles of highway.

five miles. ten miles. nothing.

at mile twenty, the geo shuddered, i thought it was gona cutoff but i gave it some gas and it musta found some secret reserve or else it realy was runnin on fumes, cause it kept on goin til i finely saw an exit.

at the end of the exit ramp was a green sign with a red-and-blue zigzag and an arrow pointing left.

i went left.

didnt see a chevron. didnt see anything at all, cept a
buncha pinetrees and a beat-ass country road— cracks and potholes
galore, the shoulder was almost completely crumbled away, weeds
intruded, the forest prest in, it was like driving thru a living tunnel,
or down somethings throat.

dont get too excited, theres no stranded-on-
the-side-a-the-road, almost-kild-by-crazy-redneck stories. somebody
else has those stories i’m sure, but i dont have em. cause eventialy
i did see it, the chevron.

it was an oldschool service station, the kind with one set of pumps and a garage, except theyd converted the garage into a convenience store. the pumps lookd pretty old, i worried they might not work but they did, they even took creditcards.

While the gas pumpt, i headed inside. for further caffeine
i guess. or maybe just to briefly experience humanity. sory if this sounds
like a lucinda williams song, but there was a sign on the the door that

worms for sale

. The cashier was laughing to himself.
i dont know what tickeld him so. he was lookin at his lap, but i’m
not gona go there.

well letim ignore me. i’ll just use the bathroom and not buy anything.

the bathroom was the size of a closet, basicly just a hole for
mechanics to piss in. but somebody had attempted to remodel it by
going to the clearance shelf at homedepot and buyin some vinyl tiles,
imitation italian marble, which they glued to the floor and also to the
walls, mosta the way up til they ran out of tiles, then it was just flaky
old cinderblock.

i was gona head straight back to the car, but then. . .
i have this habit i get from my dad—

when in doubt, ask a stranger.

i approachd the register and waited for the guy to
lookup, which he didnt do, not right away. he was watchin a video on
his phone i think, tho i didnt get a good look since it was in his crotch.

just when i was gettin ready to clear my
throat he lookd up. i decided to give conversation a try.

What’re you watchin?


you can watch teevee on your phone?

if the 3-G’s workin. sometimes it dudnt,

bein so close to athens.

whada you mean?

they jam it.

they jam 3-G signals in athens?

4-G too.


their comunist.

i see.

if you were to do a demographic study
of conspiracy nuts, i bet youd find convenient store cashier the
number one profession.

so do you go ahead and ask directions?

like i said, i get it from my dad.

i’m actualy on my way to athens, ive never been there...

[ hopefully that put me clearly in the noncommunist camp ]

...but, so, is it best just to get back on that big highway...?

[ what was the number? somethin to do with the bible ]



well you can go that way.

is there a better way?

now you come this far, might as well keep comin on twelve,

thats what your on now. hit athens inbout eighteen minutes.

so which way do i turn outa here?

[ a stupid question. but my sense of direction is almost as bad as my memory ]

keep goin the way you been.

he checkd to see if i was gettin it. my expresion
was i’m sure as blank as any ive ever seen on a college freshman
tryin to interpret literture.

make a left.

As you may know, conspiracy nuts tend to be good at predicting how
long it will take you to drive somewhere. in eighteen minutes on the dot,
i saw a sign—

Athens shitty limits

shity limits

or thats what i thought it said, but

i was basicly a 5 hourenergy-zombie

at this point, so who knows?

i rolld down the window to let in the
morning, it was a nice one, the birds were up but nobody else was
movin. reminded me of some other morning, i thought it was dejavu
at first  but then it came to me—


i drove up there once, to visit a friend
who went to gettysburg college. i drove all night, got there just before
sunrise. we drank robitussin, threw our stuf into a backpack [ cigarets,
journals, a copy of the last gentleman ] and headed for the battlefield.

as soon as i climd over the
split-rail fence, i was overwhelmed. by history. not as in the channel,
but personal histry. i had been here. somethin happend to me here.

i dont believe in past lives or
anything, and my sober mind was later able to write it off to the
combination of dextromethorphan hydrobromide and walkerpercy.
especialy since it never happend again. unless you count now. which
i wasnt sure i was ready to do that yet.

the speed limit dropt to thirtyfive, and the road [ it was calld
odd street ] got residential. you started seeing old clapboard houses
with sagging porches— millhouses probly. the yards were patchy,
but they had good trees. water oaks i think, or pin oaks. with some
age on em.

judgin from the yards and mildew and the peelin paint, i’d say it was a student neighborhood. or a student getto. lota the porches didnt even have railings. thats against code, bytheway. in just about any place that has codes.

there was a guy on one of the porches playin banjo
with his eyes closed. i could hear it long after he was out of sight,
it was prety bucolic.

then the trees cleard out and odd street turnd
comercial— a traffic light, a goldenpantry, a donut shop calld the
taco stand [ dont ask ] then finely at the top a the hill, like a beacon
like a flag—

Super 9 sign

I had never been so happy to see a super 9 in my life. i didnt know you could be this happy.

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pulld up to the office.

put it in park.

stept outa the car.


it felt good to be outside, aloose in this beautiful morning.

i took a deep breath.

comforting, familiar

like walkin into the house

of a childhood friend.

i had the sudden thought—

i’m gona like this town.

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the thought was less than a second old

when the geo’s engine shudderd once

then died.