Part 2 – Continued from last time:
Let’s see now…where were we?
Oh, yes…I was just leaving the Chevron gas station about 11:30 PM on a bitterly cold January night lugging a 2 gallon gas can up an on-ramp to I-40 East a few miles outside of Flagstaff in 1974. This would make me 23 years old and dumb as hammered mud.
At the top of the on-ramp, a few big rigs sped past ignoring the gas can and my plaintive thumb.
Standing in one spot wasn’t getting me any closer to my car so hoofing it was the order of the day…or night as it were. Besides I was freezing my little Test-Ickles off and some exercise to coerce my molasses-like blood flow and warm the extremities seemed a pretty solid notion. So off I went.
A wee bit of highway lore:
At this time in I-40’s genesis, as a smoothly paved 4 lane highway, the roadway was relatively young – a mere babe in the asphalt jungles. The 3rd longest east-west roadway in the nation, for about 1,000 miles it follows the general route of the Beale Wagon Road from Arkansas to California. The Beale Wagon Road was built in 1857-59 by Lt. Edward Fitzgerald Beale and his men using a team of camels as pack animals.
Route 66 was formally established on November 11, 1926. Known as the Will Rogers Highway, Main Street of America and affectionately the Mother Road this slice of true Americana was removed from the national highway system officially in 1985 as the last stretches of Interstate 40 neared completion.
Alright…alright…. back to the story.
I decided to walk down the highway center line because gas was sloshing all over my hands and clothes. I thought this offered a more balanced approach to my efforts and might help lessen spillage. Plus, any toothsome thing charging out at me from the brush would have to cross an entire lane to reach me, thus affording me a couple more fleeting moments of terror.
I mean there was that big fat full moon illuminating virtually everything. But, you know, with light comes shadow… And if you are familiar with the high desert then you know there are lots of cacti, scrub pine and junipers to shelter and hide all manner of beasties. And I had not forgotten about those escaped convicts.
For comfort I considered singing and whistling, but that’s rather like hanging a neon sign around my neck proclaiming “FREE LUNCH”! I tried talking to myself, but I was too busy shaking to respond. I prayed…not sure what for… maybe the usual: “Lord, please don’t let me get killed out here…or raped…or eaten.”
Then I stopped. Right there in the middle of the road . My Moonshadow reaching out beyond me and quaking even more so than I. (For a moment I thought it actually dropped the gas can and took off.)
Do I hear a voice? No. TWO VOICES!!!
It’s the freakin’ convicts! And I’m out here in the middle of freakin’ nowhere. I scanned the foreboding countryside. There halfway between me and the desert horizon. Lights! No, not lights… A fire. A campfire! And at least two guys. How far away? A quarter mile maybe. SHIT!!! It’s the convicts!
I crept along the road hunkering down to present less of a glaringly obvious target. More gas spilled. I’m toast.
But wait…. fear slowly gave way to common sense. If you were an escaped convict, would you be sitting around a campfire laughing, drinking beer and roasting s’mores?
Logic demanded the answer – “That’s a huge negatory there, breaker-breaker. Ten four, good buddy.”
But still…who in their right mind is camping in the middle of freakin’ winter in the middle of freakin’ nowhere? There’s no official park, no KOA, no clear pathway to the little camp-nest among the cacti, scrub pine and juniper.
They could still be “The Hills Have Eyes” deranged “Chainsaw Massacre” killers. Images of a shrieking Valet Boy rear-rammed by toothless banjo picking murderous rednecks ala “Deliverance” flashed through my fevered brain.
“You gotta right purty mouth. Now, squeal like a pig.”
Careful there, Valet Boy.
Silently, I was rapidly putting some distance between myself and THEM and it wasn’t too long before I could breath again.
Okay. That’s better. I’m simply a guy out for a late night stroll on a long, lonely, dark stretch of deserted highway… Just me and the cold winter wind that was freezing my fuel soaked limbs. Yep. Just me and the wolves, pumas, cougars, bears…Oh, SHUT THE HELL UP!!!!!
I worked myself into a lather and picked up the pace. Spillage be damned, I’d had enough of this crap. Where was I? What mile marker is it? Hell, I’m even on the wrong side of the damn highway!!! What if I already passed my car? What an idiot!
Now, I cannot tell you why I did this, maybe I heard something…Perhaps I sensed it… But, I eschewed the I-40 center line stripes and returned to the road’s shoulder. Within seconds it was upon me.
Before I could even turn around the barreling whoosh of a huge dark sedan blew past me! Speeding at 100 miles and hour…. with its lights OFF!
That damn car nearly turned me into “Don’t Cook Tonight – It’s Highway Deelight” Roadkill! Literally! SHIT SHIT SHIT!!!!
Brake lights came on. Tires screeched.
The car stopped.
The car started backing up.
I started backing up.
Swerving left to right to left again the approaching tail lights were a harbinger of either good or ill…I figured there was a 50/50 chance of getting out of this alive…
The big brown and Bondo’d gray Cadillac slammed brakes and sat idling beside me. I was frozen solid. Nothing was working. Nothing was moving.
The Caddy’s window slowly creaked open. Still no headlamps came on.
I bent to look inside the car in order to present a clearer target for the .357 Magnum that was doubtless preparing to blast me into the netherworld.
The interior light came on. I see – count ’em…One…Two….
Two guys. Uh oh…. I feverishly thought: They’ve stolen a car and they’re out cruising for hostages and victims!
Scraggly. Bearded. Long hair. Hmmmm. I don’t know….
Maybe a good sign…but could go either way. Aren’t convicts supposed to be clean shaven? I mean so they can’t hide shivs in their beard hair?
Mr. Passenger Seat leaned out. “Need a ride?” (It took a beat for me to respond because I was trying to determine if he’d actually said “You gotta right purty mouth”….)
“Uhhhh…Mmmmm…” (I was eloquence personified)
“Th…thanks.” I opened the back door and pushed mounds of detritus out of my way, though I’m pretty sure I sat on an old Snickers and a half munched bag of Fritos.
Passenger Seat looked over at Driver and then back at me. “Ran out of gas, huh?”
I nodded haltingly.
“We saw your car on the other side of the road. Your buddy said you’d gone for gas.”
OMG!!!! They killed him too! What the hell am I doing here? Can I make a break for it? Let them keep the damn gas.
“Got any cash?”
I still had those 2 dollars that theprobablylatewhat’shisname had given me…”Sure here.” I handed over the crumpled bills, “….Sorry it’s all I got left.”
Passenger Seat eyed me suspiciously and held it up for Driver, who apparently’d had higher hopes for a fatter score, but would settle for what was readily available. Besides, they’d be rifling through my pockets after I was cold anyway.
Driver studied me in the rear view mirror. “Sorry we almost ran over you. Gene here wanted to drive without lights since the full moon was so bright. Kind of fun. Sometimes we take all our clothes off too…and drive naked.” Gene smiled toothily.
UH OH….. (My brain’s sound track was adding piggy squeals to the dialogue.)
I think I chortled nervously…or wet myself… perhaps a combination.
Driver extinguished the interior light, slammed the Caddy into “D” and shoved his foot hard on the gas. The Detroit behemoth lurched forward continuing its perilous Twilight Zone journey. Windows down the brisk wind whipped at me and tossed the junk around in the backseat. I think a few Fritos flew into my mouth. The Caddy was going so fast and the wind noise was so loud that my vehicular saviours had to shout to be heard.
“We’re going to hit a hundred!”
I was screaming in my head but laughing hysterically – kind of like the stoned piano guy from “Reefer Madness“. At least I was sitting down and making good time…And so far I hadn’t been murdered, raped or eaten.
And then in a blue cloud of peace…Everything changed.
Gene turned to me and offered the joint. How ever did they manage to light it? Soon all my fears, cares and woes drifted away – replaced by the serenity of an idiotic grin.
Life was pretty damned good.
To Be Continued:
Stay Tuned for Valet Boy’s Epilogue on this highway of adventure –
Next time VB answers the question: “Who the hell is Arthur Murray and what has he got to do with the Mendocino Shuffle.”
Til then, Thanks for sticking with me Dear Readers!