THE DASHBOARD CONFESSIONAL –
GHOSTS OF ROUTE 66
The following is a true story…. Well, in so much as I can accurately remember anything from my past enough that one might call it true.
A couple of weeks ago I was driving my mom back down old US 231 to see her sister Liz and my cousin Mark and his lovely wife Tamara. They’d just put in a new pool and we wanted to be among the first to sully and despoil it. Well, I did anyway…Mom at 92 has not been in a bathing suit since the Honorable Senator from NC Sam Ervin called H.R. Haldemann a liar on national television.
So, we’re driving along and I guess it was the fact that I recalled one of Valet Boy’s more popular stories concerning previously driving his Mom down this same roadway (See “Driving Miss Peggy” http://wp.me/pSQ1C-aH It’s a favorite Valet Boy episode of my pal Dan) that got my normally super glued lips to start wagging. (I’m usually very quiet on these jaunts with Mom. She’s half deaf and it just requires so much energy to fling myself across that auditory threshold time after time.)
But somehow I got to talking and recounted this story to dear ol’ Mom…..
It was sometime during the 1970’s – ( Here things get very iffy. My friend Moose and I have been trying to bracket the exact dates in which this story occurs. It seems that during this decade neither of us were consistently “all there”. The end result being that entire years are a fog. You just have to trust me that it was sometime during the enigmatic ’70s. Unfortunately, that’s as close as I can pin it down! However, I seem to think it might possibly have occurred in 1974…or maybe 1976.) – I was returning to California on my way northward back to Mendocino from a family Christmas in Monkeytown.
Some stretches of I-40 were still under construction and there were – thankfully – still some heavily trafficked stretches of old Route 66 left to be traveled. Normally, during my winter cross-country journeys, I would have taken I-10, the southern route. It doesn’t take a Rhodes Scholar to know why….
Once while traveling cross-country with my fiancée (affectionately called Beth Alien by my young cousin Mark because of her bright shocks of green, pink and blue hair – I know right! I just don’t seem the type.) we hit a blizzard along the very same route Valet Boy is recounting here today. We were in my little ’82 Honda Civic and she was certain we were going to die. In all seriousness, she turned to me and said, “You’re going to kill us both…so, I’m going to sleep. Wake me up if we survive.”
Back to our regularly scheduled program already in progress…..
How I came to get the scraggly hairy 6 foot plus Lincoln-esque hitchhiker’s frame into my puke yellow 1973 Mercury Comet with the two tone blah brown interior remains a mystery we may have to chalk up to short and long-term memory loss.
(Here again, Moose and I are at odds as to how this happened. One version requires so damn much “coincidence”, and we all know how VB feels about that, as to make it seem like the stuff of a novelist’s fiction – while the other makes it completely probable, if not a much more plebeian story.)
Nevertheless, there he was. He was not a disagreeable chap and this was after all the 70’s – in practical chronology, if not in spirit – so the “Freaks Code” was still very much in evidence among our ilk. I think the exact line of the code was something like: “No murdering or maiming a fellow long hair hippie brother or sister who gives you a ride over the holidays”.
After all he DID have POT! So, there was that going for him.
Now let’s set the stage even further. It’s night-time. It’s winter. There’s snow covering the ground and I-40’s broad shoulders. There’s a really bright full moon that allows you to see the high desert very clearly – (weird how I remember this though, huh? But, you’ll see why in a bit.) – and a sky brimming of stars that glisten with a crystalline electricity one only sees in a desert night sky. We’re just outside of Flagstaff. The time is somewhere between 10 PM and Midnight and…
… And the ol’ Mercury Vomit runs out of gas.
I’ve done some pretty stupid things in my life, but one thing I continue to do is gamble with my car’s gas tank. Especially on these long haul drives. I just do not want to stop for gas until I’m damn good and ready…. quiet often, however, the car will have other thoughts.
This was one of those times. Dammit! Just a few measly miles outside of Flagstaff, AZ and the old girl poops out on me.
Well, my fellow passenger ( who we have since come to re-discover was named Steve Zelezic ) made it very clear that I was on my own here. He lit up a joint, bundled up against the cold, handed me $2 and said, “I’ll be here when you get back.”
Of that, I had no doubt. Though I was beginning to question the “Freaks Code”… What if he robs me while I’m going for gas? I wonder if I have anything worth robbing? Fuck, it’s cold! I guess he was a cheap SOB, but remember gas was only about 50 cents back then.
So, off I went wrapped up against the elements. My plan was simple. Hitch a ride to the nearest gas station and hitch a ride back. How hard could that be right?
Luck was on my side. Shortly after stepping onto the roadside a Big Rig Trucker stopped and picked me up. I was forced to put aside all the fears of being molested, beaten, robbed (there we go with the robbing thing again) or kidnapped and graciously accept his kind offer.
We were not that far from the next exit and a big Chevron station. But the Truck Driver cautioned me, “You might have a tough time getting as quick a ride back. ”
After a few minutes and about 5 miles later, he dropped me off near the exit ramp and I stumbled along to the brightly lighted and welcomed oasis that was the Chevron station. It was warm and comforting inside and I explained my situation.
They were all very sympathetic.
I didn’t have a gas can, so I had to buy one. It held 2 gallons of gas and I got some free advice along with it, “Not much traffic heading east. Truckers don’t like to stop at this exit if they don’t have too. Might be hard getting a ride…there’s a big weather front moving in. More snow.”
I’m sure my facial expression hinted at my desperation as I paid for the gas and thanked them. The woman at the cash register gave me some additional thoughts to chew on, “There was a prison break today and two convicts are still on the loose.”
As if to put a fine point on it and to dispel my look of incredulity, she indicated the TV anchored to the wall across from me and the local 11:00 news in progress. The crawl beneath the anchor’s talking head read: Troopers search for escaped killers in Flagstaff area.
HOLY MARY!!!! Folks, I could make this stuff up but I’m not.
I looked around at the somber faces and haltingly stammered in my most masculine falsetto, “Anybody here…heading out that way?”
I suddenly had the queerest feeling that they maybe thought this would be the last they’d ever hear of me. Mustering all the bravery and gumption I possessed, and hefting what was becoming a pretty heavy gas can, I trudged out into the cold black darkness to reluctantly embrace my fate.
To be continued next time with:
“Are You Really Trying to KILL ME?….
…. Arthur Murray Had Nothing on the Mendocino Shuffle”
As a side bar: Mucho Congratulations to former “West Side Story” cast mate Billy Magnussen on the Tony win for Best Play of 2013 – Christopher Durang’s “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” in which Billy plays Sigourney Weaver’s studly young playmate.
Thanks for reading!