The Road – Roadtrip: The ¡Gramango! Edition #3

Chapter 1
The Road

Flavored Seltzer

The dawn is swathed in eerie twilight as I walk out the front door of my parents’ house. The cold is abrasive, bristling, it feels like a brush is being dragged across my skin but not a brush with metal bristles; no, more like a brush with plastic bristles. My skin is certainly getting scratched, but not aggressively enough to draw blood. Just enough to remind me that, yes, Jack Frost is drawing a brush against the skin of my arm, and no, the ambient air temperature is not going to make me feel like my being alive is even remotely acceptable this morning.

G-Mah rolls over to the freezer and removes a frosty bottle with a cork in its mouth instead of a cap. Captured within the glass is a thick maroon potion – at least, that’s what I assume it is. I’m not sure whether or not grandMother is still into alchemy these days.

“It’s time to take the pills,” grandMother sings as the glass clanks against the tile surface of the kitchen table.

While G-Mah realigns herself in her spot directly opposite the TV I turned off before I started reading again, my Uncle Bill gets up to fetch her a bottle of flavored seltzer. Then, he sits right back down when he sees his mother pull one out from within the box of tissues between her and my laptop.

The cold follows me into my whip as I sit down and shrieks with horror when I push the start button and Bessy roars into life. I crank up the heat and get rushed by frigid air – the shriek was clearly just a distraction tactic, a ruse to lull me into a false sense of security. The cold would never give in so easily. As I sit in my car shivering, doing absolutely nothing to block the flow of the acerbic air conditioner, I run a spot check to make sure everything on my mental list is in the car with me.

“Keys, check,” I tell Bessy. “Luggage, check; box containing no less than thirty Cee’Dees, check; signed Running: How To Torture Yourself And Enjoy It for Zak, check; cabinet, check; wallet, che–… wait… shit, where’s my wallet?”

‘I swear I left it in here last night,’ I think to myself as I madly search the front half of my car like a Dungeons and Dragons player who hit a few potholes on his way to the biweekly and can’t find his game pieces, but alas, no dice. I’m forced to do the unthinkable: go back inside after I’ve announced to the whole house I was leaving.

‘Oh well,’ I think as I walk back up the steps to the front door, ‘it won’t take that long.’

Forty-five minutes later, I finally locate the wallet. It was hiding underneath the box of CDs. The one occupying all of Bessy’s front seat. Yep. That one.

So now it’s finally time to go. I’m about an hour behind schedule but that’s all right, I suppose. This is a vacation, after all. There’s not really a time limit, no predetermined schedule I should feel pressure to stick to. I have twelve hours and change of vehicular travel ahead of me regardless of when I start, so I might as well take my time. On the other side of that coin though, the sooner I begin, the sooner I will be done. So I should probably just put my phone down and get going.

 G-Mah reveals to me that her potion is liquor by asking me if I want to taste some. I tell her, “No thank you,” and I ask if she should be taking her medications with alcohol. She answers me in the form of asking me to fetch her a small drinking glass.

Twelve seconds of driving later, I decide that I need breakfast.

I pull up to the Montane Deli, a quaint little staple in town that’s been around since my father was a wee lad. The owners know me as a regular and they prep me a THC – that’s a Taylor Ham and Cheese sandwich, the ultimate breakfast in New Jersey. If you’ve never eaten one… yikes; you’re missin’ out, homeboy. You should do something about that.

I tell the local breakfast deities, an old German pair with the last name Montane, hence the deli’s name, all about my upcoming trip and they wish me well, a safe drive and all that. They’re kindhearted, when I come in at lunchtime they always know exactly what I’m going to order: one of their timeless frikadellen sandwiches, an out of this world amalgam of beef, onions, and secret German spices with a light hint of mustard all slapped together between two untoasted halves of a freshly baked Kaiser roll. Untouchable. I should have gotten one of those this morning, what was I thinking? Anyway, the second song off Ces Cru’s Constant Energy Struggles album is already over and I’m still sitting in the parking lot. Time to hit the road.

Now that I’m on the road, allow me to outline my goals for this trip. I have three missions to complete:

1) Hand-deliver the twenty-dollar cabinet

2) Present to Zak the autographed first printed copy of Running: How To Torture Yourself And Enjoy It

3) Eat me some Taco Bell

High hurdles for sure, but by the will of the Universe I shall leap them all, preferably not in the above order. Yo quiero, if you smell what I’ll hopefully be leaking in the near future.

grandMother uncorks the frosty phial and fills a quarter of her seltzer bottle with liquor. Not half a second after she puts the booze down, my Uncle Bill grabs it and moves towards my side of the table. I go on the defensive and flip my glass upside down. In retaliation, Uncle Bill flips the kitchen table upside down. The glass lands right side up at my feet, empty with thirst.

Uncle Bill says a quick incantation and wills the liquid out of the mouth of the bottle in a stream like a snake charmer does a snake, sans flute. Just as I’m about to start throwing hand signs to focus my chakra, Mango rushes in and grabs the glass in her teeth, taking off for the litterbox. The metaphysics pause and Uncle Bill and I share a look, a knowing look, a look I’ve only seen on his face once but a look he’s expressed many, many times at grandMother’s house.

My first destination is Gringo Hill Wine & Beer, a liquor store in Charlottesville, Virginia where I am to drop off the twenty-dollar cabinet. I “own” an illegitimate resale company that I operate out of my bedroom, meaning I buy old stuff and try to resell it on Fakebook so I can afford to write books and eat at the same time. A few days before embarking on this roadtrip, some random lady living out near Chicoteague, Virginia contacted me on Fakebook inquiring about the cabinet. I told her I would happen to be passing through Virginia within a week and I could drop off the cabinet if she was really trying to buy it. A few days later, she made arrangements with a friend who works at Gringo Hill Wine & Beer to intercept the cabinet and take it the rest of the way. Seems like a lot of effort just for her to exchange her money for my material possession, but the way I figure it, nobody really knows the meaning of life. Efficiency may not be all it’s cracked up to be, spiritually speaking. So why not?

The sound of liquid filling a glass rumbles through the air. Uncle Bill flips the table right side up before making way to the litterbox. grandMother rolls off laughing and asks me if this is Roadtrip yet.

I cruise through Ringwood, taking Skyline Drive to I-287 South, inhaling my breakfast as I go. I love these sandwiches but fuck are they salty, saltier than an emotionally stunted man-child any time he’s mildly inconvenienced. One must chug two and a half literal gallons of water just to get back to baseline after eating one of these things, but I swear on my cat’s pyramid they are worth it.

As I’m taking my last breath of greasy melted cheese, I notice myself passing the old wooden Welcome to Ringwood sign standing tall atop Skyline Mountain. Aw, see ya later Ringwood. I’ll miss you, specifically the trees on the mountain where I hike every day, but I’ll only be gone for a week; by the time I get back, they probably won’t even have realized I’ve left.

Because they are trees.

As I transition from highway to highway, I quickly lose track of which road I’m on, written as if I was paying any real attention in the first place. Eventually I find myself on the NJ Turnpike and the first of many tollbooths approaches from the distance, looming over the road like the shadow of a dragon over a medieval village. I squint my eyes to read the price of the driving tariff, but all the sign says is take ticket. ‘Take ticket?’  I think to myself, ‘What kind of sorcery is this? I’ve never had a toll ticket before.’  I slow to a halt and lean half my body out my driver-side window to take this ticket everyone’s making so much noise about, and you know what it is? It’s just a list of exits off the turnpike and how much it’ll cost to take the one I need. Great, can’t even drive on a road these days without having to pay the US Corporation Government a share of the take. Oh well, I digress.

When I’m ready to drift off the Turnpike I get buck-deer’d with an eight-dollar toll, which in hi–

“Eight dollars?!” G-Mah roars, nearly flipping the kitchen table again but stopping herself, as to not spill her potion.

“Yeah,” I calmly confirm as I adjust the cushion tied to my seat. “That wasn’t even the most expensive toll I had to pay.”

“You know, hun, back in the old slaughterhouse days,” G-Mah begins, grabbing some thread so she can spin me a yarn, “I only got paid two dollars and thirteen cents an hour.”

“It’s true,” Uncle Bill says with a mighty flap of his newspaper. “She brought us there – Mother, myself, your other two uncles – to beg her boss for a raise.”

“Once, I even brought all my kids into the office to beg my boss for a raise!” G-Mah repeats, drumming on the table and completely ignoring my uncle. “He decided to lower my pay!”

I look from a nodding Uncle Bill back to G-Mah. “Wow, that’s really fucked up, Gee-Mah. What’d you do?”

“Well, hun, he told me he would give me a raise if I gave him a blowjob.”

I fall out of my chair upon hearing grandMother drop the word blowjob so casually in conversation. The floor is carpet, at least, so I don’t bruise myself. Mango comes over and starts licking my right foot within seconds of the impact. I look up at an unphased Uncle Bill; his concentration is evenly split, one half on his newspaper and one half on the bottle.

“Oh get up honeybun, be a man,” G-Mah growls whilst sipping her homemade hard seltzer through the plastic straw she grips in her arthritic hands, the bends and curves in her bony Caucasian fingers resembling terrific white claws. “Everybody knows what a blowjob is. Look, I said no, but I do regret it. If I had said yes, I could have bit that dusty asshole’s little friend right off!”

“I’m… uh…” I say, struggling to formulate a response. “Is it cool if I just keep reading my book?”

grandMother, ditching the limp straw now, downs the rest of her hard seltzer in a single hard gulp, then slams the bottle unto the table. Another!

When I’m ready to drift off the Turnpike I get buck-deer’d with an eight-dollar toll, which in hindsight isn’t all that expensive. But, I’m hours into this grueling drive at this point; my back is aching, I’ve eaten through all my food, my ears are ringing, and every little thing, every tiny extra variable that gets introduced into this malfunctioning equation I’ve got going on here is driving me functionally mad. And I haven’t even left New Jersey yet, GAAHHH!

I see on my GPS that the end of the state is coming up. Bessy’s gas tank is down to a few gallons, so I make the decision to fill it back up. Shortly after this, the Universe offers me the perfect opportunity: I see signs for a rest stop with a gas station coming up in a half mile. I pull into the driveway, bobbing and weaving between semi-trucks and cars that were obviously parked by blind humans who lost their hands and feet fighting whoever’s currently topping the United States Government’s bad guy list, and get my gas tank filled for me for what will likely be the last time until I get home.

This is a special feature of New Jersey – gas stations here hire in-the-flesh humans to pump your gasoline for you. At some stations, management will literally get angry and raise their voice at you if you get out of your car and even try to operate the pump yourself, if you even dare to make the attempt. You’ll also get the slimy sole of your foot tickled by a governmental fine because Surprise! it is actually against the law to complete this mundane task for yourself in the Jerz. I don’t know if Jersey is weird or if all the other states are weird, but regardless there are pros and cons to this, like anything else. On the bright side, you get your gas pumped for you by one of three flavors of human: a high school or college student or dropout who does not dress up for the weather; a middle-aged human who’s exercising the last resort of their capitalism by working for wages at a gas station; or some guy in a turban. On the dull side, they’re pumping your gas as a job, simply going through the motions of being told Fill it with <fuel tier> and duly replying Cash or charge? before going dead-eyed like roadkill and haphazardly ramming the drippy metal nozzle into your poor defenseless car. When your tank is full, they’ll usually overfill it to the next dollar (sometimes Gasp! without asking if it’s okay first) and carelessly remove the drippy nozzle, more often than not spilling gasoline on your car’s paint in the process. I usually tip the attendants a few bucks anyway, regardless of splatter; it must really suck having to stand outside pumping gas all day, especially in the wintertime and especially at one of the infinite rest stops along the innumerable and indifferent New Jersian highways.

“Ah-hem,” G-Mah ah-hems, arms folded tight. I look up from my book and catch her leering back and forth between me and her seltzer bottle which is now so empty there aren’t even drops sticking to the sides. I look at Uncle Bill (he avoids all eye contact) then back at G-Mah. She still hasn’t blinked.

“What’s up, Gram?”

“The amount of air in my bottle, tell you what. How about you top me off, sweetie?”

Mango hops up on the chair next to G-Mah, but all I can see is her ears and eyes poking over the table. Her stare is loaded with great expectations.

“Gram, please, never ask me to top you off,” I say innocently. “Besides, I’m reading you a book I wrote! D–”

I know! she says in a voice vaguely similar to my own, almost as if she was mocking me. “That’s why I fuckin’ need it!”

After the reup, I decide to park and stretch the ol’ legs. My back pain dissipates faster than I can comprehend after I remove myself from Bessy. Once outside, I lock eyes with a vending machine filled with cans of Red Bull. It’s standing there on the curb without waver, gut full of cans and in desperate need of a dollary laxative. After eight rejected attempts to feed the thing a bill I decide the Universe doesn’t want me to have a Red Bull right now. Defeated, I climb back into Bessy and hit the road once more.

“Hah.”

I cross through Delaware and then Maryland, I think; they were both basically just cityscapes and all the gray blended together in my mind. Eventually I find myself in Virginia and, I have to say, it looks exactly the same as my New Jersey – East Coast Suburbia genetically spliced with Strip Mall O’Rama. Charlottesville is still roughly one hundred miles away, though; so close, and yet so far.

The road is endless. It grows longer with every roll of the tires. I look around at all the vehicles accompanying me on this journey, all the cars and the trucks and the semis and the semi-trucks carrying their loads of cars, all driven by humans with whom I share this road but will never meet. They all have lives just as complex, intricate, and vivid as mine, they all have their histories and futures and individual identities and anxieties. For a moment I pretend there are no walls between us, no cars either, just human beings floating down the road at high speeds whilst holding an awkward and uncomfortable sitting position. The distance between myself and any other given driver on this stretch of road could reliably be measured in feet; if we weren’t moving so fast, I could easily walk over and pick that unsightly little green spot out of the woman who’s driving next to me’s teeth without breaking a sweat. Yet inside my car it’s as if they aren’t even there, and inside their cars, I’m not even here.

My mind wanders and I begin to contemplate simulation theory; what if I am the only quote-unquote “conscious” one and those who surround me on this road are all harboring an artificial intelligence? What if life is an illusion meant to deceive me, to isolate me further from the “real” world while a cabal of advanced beings and/or twisted supra-corporate humanoids harvest my lifeforce for monetary gain? What if the simulators are doing what they do for more benevolent reasons, what if we all actually live in the “future” and a planet-wide contest of Who’s Got The Biggest Phallus Nuclear Warhead? went apocalyptic and the last flicker of humanity remaining on the planet voted to put everybody who’s left into a simulation machine that lets us live out the rest of our lives if the big mistake didn’t happen whilst our real bodies wither away to dust? Worst of all: what if our reality is true reality and the only simulation is the global economic society we’re entrenched in, and all these rules we follow and cultural norms we casually abide by are just an attempt by a small group of humans to control the rest of the humans because of psychological issues the aforementioned cabal of controllers picked up during childhood and never resolved?

I chuckle and decide that if any of that is true, if reality is indeed some sort of simulation in disguise, it is a cold piece of work, and it’s not likely I’ll be getting out anytime soon. With about fifty miles left in my gas tank and the soft amber glow of the get gas light illuminating my dashboard, I arrive in the Gringo Hill Shopping Plaza.

I locate the alcohol shop easily and park out front. Stepping out of the car, I immediately notice how much warmer it is down here than it was in Jersey when I left, and even when I got my tank filled. I’m wearing a fuzzy hoodie over a less fuzzy sweatshirt and even with the sleeves rolled up I can feel them both sticking to the skin of my arms, the fibers of the garments are literally fusing themselves to the strands of hair poking out of my dermis. No matter, I’m from New Jersey, and north Jersey at that; I’ll be damned if I change my outfit in the middle of the day just because of some weather. What am I, a south Jersian? Please.

So, where I grew up there are the primary seasons, summer and winter, and then the transitional seasons, spring and autumn. During the primary seasons, the air temperature more or less stays the same throughout the day; it’s frigid (or sweltering) when you wake up, stays frigid (or sweltering) all day, then gets frigid (or sweltering) at night. During the transitional seasons, though, any given day represents an entire year; it’s cold when you wake up, cool during the morning, hot in the afternoon, warm in the evening, and cold again when you go to sleep. See, Jersians are rugged and we do what we want – especially the north Jersey folks – which often means choosing not to dress for the weather; in the winter you will doubtlessly see a man in basketball shorts and a tee, and in the summer you will doubtlessly see a man in a sweatsuit. Today, I am the summer variant of that [hu]man.

I walk in and the store is empty, save for the bountiful bottles of booze and the owner – a man who clearly takes care of his facial hair – at the register patiently flipping through a magazine of some sort. I tell him who I am and he nods, asking how big the cabinet is. I mime it with my hands, assuring him that it’s very lightweight and it won’t be a problem to move. He goes to find a place to keep it for the time being and I head back outside to fetch the piece. When I return, he’s cleared a space between two aisles. The cabinet fills that space like a head fills a hat and we shake hands. I wander back to Bessy. Mission complete. About a week later, after I almost completely forgot about the entire ordeal, I’ll be paid through Paypal.

“A week later?” G-Mah asks, sipping her spiked seltzair through a new straw.

“Yep,” I say, almost proud of myself.

Uncle Bill farts. The flatulent force of his assy gas cloud doesn’t phase Mango in the slightest, but I pinch my nostrils shut. Uncle Bill just smiles and flips to the next page. I look over at grandMother and she’s looking right back at me, waiting for an answer.

“What?” I ask, inadvertently tasting the soiled air. Well, at least it doesn’t stink.

grandMother abruptly cocks her head to the side. “You’re lucky I’m not your manager, boy, because I do not like repeating myself. I asked you why you waited a week before you got paid.”

“Oh, oh uh, uhh,” I stammer, checking my memory files. “I was on vacation, I wasn’t really worried about it. Besides, it was only ten dollars.”

“ONLY TEN DOL–”followed by a fat swig of seltzer and then the realization that the bottle is still empty. “ Only ten dollars? Hun, money is money no matter what, you should be ashamed of yourself thinking that way. Now listen, why don’t you fill my bottle up for me before you start reading again?”

Before I can answer, Uncle Bill slaps his newspaper down and rises both from the table and to the occasion. He shoots me the stink eye when I beat him to the bottle and pour grandMother’s liquor for her.

I look around the plaza for two things: a place to eat (preferably a Taco Bell) and a gas station. There is no Taco Bell, unfortunatado, but there is a pizza joint called The Brick Oven Pizza Restaurant. I could go for a slice, why not?

I walk in and the air conditioner whispers in my ear, letting me know the place is empty. The guy at the front counter smiles big and tells me I can sit wherever I want. I take a booth near the door just in case they make a habit of turning the lone customers who wander in here into pizza toppings. So, the guy hands me his menu and goes to get water. As I look the menu over, I realize I am in a restaurant and not a joint. Just getting a quick slice will not be possible. Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to eat a whole pizza myself. The horror.

Much to my surprise, the pizza isn’t terrible.

“Bullshit.”

“Nope,” I counter.

The two or three humans I told about this trip warned me about eating pizza outside the Sicilian safe zone that is the New York/New Jersey area, that it would not be the same. Originally I thought It’s dough splashed with tomato sauce and dandruffed with cheese, how could a conscious human possibly mess that up? Well, it’s definitely different down here, and New Jersey pizza is undeniably better, but Virginia pizza doesn’t fail the taste test by any stretch of the remaining tastebuds on my tongue. It was really hot, there aren’t many left.

I tip the place a few bucks on top of my bill and head back to my car, body fed and ready to fuel up. When I pull up to the pump I’m hit with my first major plot twist that I saw coming hours ago but momentarily forgot about because of the driving-induced delusional state I’m in: I have to pump my own gas. Evidently, three hundred miles of road has a way of boggling the mind to the point that one forgets that only in Jersey are humans paid to pump your gas for you, even after I wrote a whole page about it. The task at hand really isn’t hard though, I quickly pick up on the ways of the rest of the country and before I know it Bessy’s had her sip and I’m back on the road.

“Wait, you call your car Bessy?” G-Mah asks, a weathered smile on her face.

“Sure do,” I say. “With two eSses.”

“Well how else do you spell it?” Uncle Bill asks his newspaper in a mumbly voice.

I place fingertips on my temples and close my eyes. Honing my focus, I pyrokinetically burn the letters B, E, S, S, S, and then Y into Uncle Bill’s newspaper, showing him exactly how else one may spell Besssy.

Proud of my work, I look over to grandMother with vibrant eyes and she just kind of stares back, as if she’s used to these metaphysical antics. Then she says, “I named my first car Bessy, too,” with a grin. “A long, looong time ago.” A moment of silence is spent reminiscing about the past. Then, “Oh, sorry. I interrupted. You can continue.”

“Continue on I-Eighty South for tw–”

“What?”

“Hm? Oh, that’s how it continues, it’s like my Gee’Pee’eSs said the words.”

“Ohhhh. Oh-kaaayyy.”

“Continue on I-Eighty South for two hundred and forty miles.” Ouch. Ironically enough, for a guy embarking on a seven-hundred-plus-mile roadtrip, I vehemently hate long car rides. A firm believer of my own phrase If you drive more than thirtyish minutes to get to work then you’re doing it wrong, I’ve never had a commute that was longer than ten, fifteen minutes max. Even saying fifteen minutes is a stretch; if I had to be at work at seven o’clock I could leave home at six’fifty-five and get to work with time to spare. The one and only instance in which I would have to drive a full fifteen minutes was if my particular stretch of the county road was closed for unforeseeable reasons.

When I was a younger lad I would constantly get carsick during long drives, regardless of my sitting in the back seat, front seat, trunk, roof, whatever. Being in the driver’s seat alleviates the carsickness, but I just don’t like being in the car, and this drive is only reminding me of the reasons. It’s boring, utterly monotonous, and the constant rumbling of the road being not quite drowned out enough by loud and obnoxious (albeit essential) rap music is giving ringing in my ears a whole new synesthetic color. I’m at the point where my eyes refuse to stop autonomously darting back and forth between the road, the clock, the GPS map on my smartphone in the cupholder, and then to the speedometer (with an occasional pit stop at the gas gauge), and I still have more than five and a half hours left until I hit the Fishers’. I’m in desperate need of a distraction.

I turn my head to look out the window and on a silver platter I am served my distraction. The mountains, the glorious mountains! Back in New Jersey I live in a valley caught between two mountains, one is called Board and the other is unnamed because it is small and it has houses and asphalt all over it. Board is one of three mountains in the Windbeam mountain range, one of a small many of mountain ranges that inhabit Ringwood (a small many specifically).

When I said Ringwood was mountainy earlier, I meant it; there are more mountains in my town than there are individual and unique last names amongst the townsfolk. But the mountains down here in the VA… these are just different. They’re massive, mountstrous, they tower over the landscape, they roll like rogue waves over an ocean. Ringwood’s mountains aren’t nearly as tall as the ones down here… hah, I hope Zak’ll be in the mood for some hiking!

Even if he isn’t tonight, I’m sure we’ll go at least once during this weekend. The last time I saw him was… I don’t even know how long ago it was, a year or so maybe, but it was when his parents came up for his brother Tate’s wedding. I picked Zak up with another guy we used to run cross country with and we went on a nice hike together, then got some food at a local diner Zak frequented when he lived up here. I think I took a picture that day, I’ll have to see if I can find it.

Anyway, that was the last time I saw Zak, when he and his family drove up this endless road just to step foot on New Jersian soil. Now I’m returning the favor in a kind of but not really sort of way. Cycles, cycles I tell you!

“Did you find it?” grandMother asks as she strokes a purring Mango.

“Did I find what?” Uncle Bill and I ask in unison, both of us all too eager to answer G-Mah’s beckoning call.

“The picture,” she says, ignoring Uncle Bill’s attempt at direct communication. He buries his head deeper into the news printed on his paper.

“Oh, yeah, I did. So, I’m doing two versions of this book, one that’s publicly available and one that’s just for the friend I stayed with during the trip.”

“Oh-kaayyyy…?”

“The public one isn’t going to have any pictures or anything, but the Zak one is going to be kind of like a scrapbook in that, in addition to the text, it’ll have pictures printed in it too. Kinda neat, huh?”

“Well that’s nice! Do I get a copy of the Zak one?” G-Mah asks with a twinkle in her eyes.

“Oh, uh, no. I was just going to print the Zak copy for Zak so he can share it with his family and friends and stuff.”

grandMother doesn’t say a word, although Mango continues to purr like a diesel engine. Uncle Bill, from the depths of his printed mainstream media, smiles a triumphant smile.

And my word is this road endless. I’ve been on it for thirty-some odd miles now and it just keeps going without any semblance of an end in sight. I still have more than two hundred miles to drive on this stretch alone, and I know I’m not tackling the entire thing right now. How many workers did it take to build this bad mother? How many years, how many dollars? How many human lives were sacrificed so this road could be built for me to drive on it and later complain about it in a book, how many children’s birthdays were missed? How many human births were missed? The real question: if one could take all the asphalt used in the roads on this planet and smush it into a ball, would that ball be bigger than the moon? No matter, it’s just another obstacle for me to overcome, another barrier for me to jump.

As I hurdle further down my endless road, I’m embraced by the unshakable feeling that I’m officially in the south. Wait… Virginia is technically the south, right? Well, even if it isn’t, during the span of the last two minutes I passed not only a car with a Texas license plate, not only a grassy knoll sporting a Confederate flag on a flag pole, but also a barn with a VOTE TRUMP 2020 painted on its rusty roof in big white letters. Plus, there are more farms and crop fields on the sides of the road than there are cars on the road with me. Major southern vibes. If the VA isn’t the south, it gets honorable mention for highest, tremendous, and utterly supreme southitude.

It’s about four o’clock now as I speak these words into my smart-phone’s Notes app. The road seems more unending than it did, but I think I’m getting closer. I guess. I’m not really sure. My GPS could be leading me to the wrong place for all I know. I’m pretty sure I put in the right address, but what if Zak’s dad mistyped it when he sent it to me? What if my phone miscopied it before I pasted it into the Maps app? What if the overlords of the simulation are trying to mess with me and at some point this road will suddenly drop into a lake?

Yikes, this drive is really getting to me.

With seventy miles behind me I still have a meaty one hundred seventy to go. I have never fallen asleep at the wheel once in my life, but it almost happened quite a few times today. You’d think it would be easy to stay awake, what with all the rhythmic noise and the bright lights and everything, but there’s that sleepy feeling, that warm, fuzzy sensation of soft weight right behind my eyes, the sudden heaviness of my arms so desperately wanting (and trying) to fall off the steering wheel. Even my phone is tired, I’ve drained the poor thing to fifteen percent battery. Now, I don’t know that you’ve ever wrestled a phone charger out of zipped travel bag packed inside a zipped suitcase and then plugged it into the USB port hidden inside your vehicle’s center console compartment and then finagled the charging end into your phone while maintaining ninety on a highway as overpopulated with cars as New Jersey is with human residents, but it’s no simple task, and if there were any cops at all on this road with me I am positive I would have been pulled over by now.

I kind of wish that was the case, to be honest. I won’t let myself have a break unless my car’s gas tank is about to bottom out because I want to be done driving. I am in need of rest but I’m delaying that gratification in return for what I hope will be a bigger payout… but if a police officer pulled me over, I could stop driving. I might even be able to get out of the car for a couple minutes after he/she is finished scolding me. All I have to do is hit the floor with the gas pedal, shatter the speed limit, cross the one hundred miles-per-hour threshold, and weave through everyone else until I’m caught and forced to stop. I could even get a lil’ sloppy with it, knock a few drivers off course, kill a few of the fellow humans on this road with me. I bet they’d realize I was there if I started vehicularly manslaughtering them all…

Christ, this drive is definitely gett–

Tinkle Road

I’ve just entered Tennessee.

“What the fuck?” Uncle Bill demands. “When did you get to Tennessee?”

“Well I just got there!” I say with a passive giggle. I then feel the presence of an orange cat on my feet. grandMother looks at me like I have seventeen heads, so I say, “Let me just keep reading, it’ll make sense.”

“Oh-kaaaaaay,” more sung than said.

I’ve just entered Tennessee. With about sixty or so trillion miles left on I-80 South, my smartphone died. Apparently being used as a GPS and as an outlet for the voices in my head requires more power than Bessy’s charger was capable of supplying. That such could even happen would have been good to know before I left but hey, we live and we learn, right?

A rapper I listen to, Joey Cool, he once said this in a song: The biggest lesson in life is life is simply a lesson. I think there’s a lot of wisdom in that; making mistakes is vital to life, the only way you will learn something and better yourself is by making a mistake. Take my habit of selling stuff, for example: at one point, I would pay out my ass for my stuff. The more you pay for something the more you can sell it for, right? Well get this: one day I got a call to clean out a house that was going up for auction due to a foreclosure – the folks who no longer owned the place claimed to have a bunch of antiques, really nice pieces, yadda. So, my father and his pickup truck and I went to the nasty house and weaseled through and picked out what I wanted to sell.  We moved it all outside, too. All the stuff had water damage, rust, grime; it was really gross, as I would come to find out later when I properly examined it. The relatives of the once-owner of the house charged me five hundred dollars for my loot, and like the optimistic bugger I am I paid it in full. Now, a few months later, I’m out about four hundred on the buy. Oh well, lesson learned.

 Anyway, I’m currently pulled over on the shoulder typing the Fisher’s address into my car’s GPS so I can get a move on. My next challenge is going to be finding a ripe opportunity to pull back onto the highway that won’t result in Bessy and I getting utterly decimated into a trillion pieces by the flow of traffic.

It’s funny, as soon as I spoke that into my phone, a large trough opened up between the crests of two vehicular waves and now I’m back between the lines. I only have two more hours ahead of me, the sun is setting, and dark gloomy clouds are brewing over the horizon. If my life was a video game and the developers knew what they were doing, I would have just hit a checkpoint.

Like a fool I forgot toget up out the car when I was pulled over earlier and dull, throbbing pain is beginning to erupt inside my neck, my lower back, my hips and my legs. Driving in a car for more than twelve hours in a day is just… this is just asinine. Truly absurd. To be locked in this sitting position with the constant rumbling of the road and the blaringly necessary music and the stiff angle I need to keep my neck perched at and the constant switching between hot and cool air because my car’s temperature control goes from one extreme to another instead of drifting in the middle… this is too much. I know in my head that today wasn’t wasted, but now I feel like it was.

That’s the worst feeling, isn’t it? When you’re watching the sun set and you’re swamped with the overwhelming feeling that your day could have gone differently… could’ve gone better. Or maybe that’s just a me thing. I always find something to complain about.

“That’s just an us thing, dear. If you could turn complaints into books, everybody in this family would be an author.”

“Really?” I say, thinking back to all the times Mother asked me Why you complain like lil’ bitch, Nesbeau? back home. Then, I say, “You don’t say. Even Uncle Bill?”

“Bill? It’s Will, dear. But yes, especially him!”

I look over at Uncle Will. He’s wearing a nametag that says Bill on it, probably didn’t get a chance to take it off after work. He works the graveyard shift at the rusty defunct garbage dumpster up the road from grandMother’s house; today he finished work at around eleven in the morning. That sounds great, I know, but he started at two.

“Ohhh you should hear him complain about his childhood and how the kids would hang him from the doorknobs by his underwear. Ahhhhh, shit!

With Mango still on my feet I’m immobilized, but I wasn’t going to get up anyway. I look over at my poor Uncle Bill. He’s chomping on his bottom lip. Although he still holds the newspaper as though he was reading it, his eyes are closed; he seems to be holding back a torrent of tears.

“Really? Uncle Bill was bullied in school?”

“School?” G-Mah spits, reaching for her bottle. “No, stupid, by your mom and your Uncle Skylar! Never your Uncle Brob, though.”

My good ol’ Uncle Brob, a Bob’s Rob if ever there was one.

I finally make it past the two-hundred-forty-mile stretch of road, and what’s the very first thing I hear? Continue for seventy miles in a computerized voice that, after this maddening drive that isn’t even close to finished yet, sounds almost feminine. No rest for the wicked, I suppose. Or the psychologically insane, either!

Side note: I just forgot that I was in Tennessee, that I was even in the United States in general. It’s not like I thought I was driving in a different country or anything, but all semblance of my awareness of the larger world around me and the overall state of things kind of disappeared for me, it was like a mild fugue state without the hysteria. Well, I’m definitely hysterical right now, but that’s only because I’ve been trapped inside a capsule all day with creative humans shouting in rhythm with a beat at me. What snapped me back to reality, you ask? My gas tank telling me I have twenty-five miles until empty.

Wait… twenty-five miles until empty… more than an hour until I arrive at the Fisher residence… something here doesn’t add up.

Luckily, I just passed a sign that read Tinkle Road, 1 Mile, and shortly after that I passed a sign that read Rest stop, 1.5 miles. The last rest stop I hit was in Jersey and it had a gas station, so obviously that means every single rest stop that was ever built in the other forty-nine states will also have a gas station. Whoop!

As Bessy pulls into the rest stop, all hope and color drain from my face. I come to realize there is no gas station in this place. I park, turn off the car. My head is spinning. My ears are ringing so loud I can’t hear myself think. A pale-faced monster with elongated canines is tapping at my window with fingernails he hasn’t clipped in years. The Universe Herself is trembling at a molecular level and I can feel it in every fiber of my immortal being. After I take a deep breath, I do an internet search on my moribund notiPhone and learn that the nearest gas station is only eightish miles away. Suddenly my thoughts are clear again – I start Bessy up, backtrack about ten minutes, and finally get out of my car to fill the tank.

After Bessy gets her drink I wander into the mini-mart, which is more of a mega-mini-maxi-mart now that I recollect it proper, and attempt to use the restroom. I’m stopped by a woman armed with a bucket, a mop, and a plastic wet floor sign. She doesn’t say that she’s cleaning the bathroom, she just grips the mop like a bo staff and tells me, “It’s occupied…” and that I, “…need to come back later.”

My bladder audibly pulsates in answer. I walk away and peruse about for something to eat. Nothing in the entire store has a price tag on it, which I don’t love, but southern is as southern does, I guess. Whatever that’s supposed to mean.

Eventually a packet of beef jerky springs off the shelf and hits me in the face, knocking me to the very clean floor. Once I’ve dusted myself off, I approach the register to pay. I mention to the cashier that I recently wrote a book and that I’m traveling from NJ to NC to give my friend a signed copy and she says, “God bless your heart.”

God bless your heart. That’s something I rarely hear in Jersey, probably because I don’t go out much. I’m not a religious man but I am very spiritual, and the existence of god (not God but god), of the intelligence and conscious energy interwoven into Existence itself, is something that I think about quite often. I don’t really know where I’m going with this, I suppose it’s just nice to hear somebody say God bless your heart to me, even if I don’t subscribe to the specific deity’s dogma. It’s a whole lot better than the standard slightly sarcastic and snooty Wow, good for you I usually get back home. Anyway, as I’m walking towards the exit, the bathroom lady calls out to me and says I can use the lady’s room and she’ll stand guard to make sure nobody walks in on me. If either of those women ever, by chance, read this book, I just want to say thank you, from the bottom of my now-empty bladder. God bless both of your hearts.

At this point the dusk is swathed in eerie twilight, because cycles, and I still have forty-five minutes left of my journey. I am currently driving over a hill and I can see ranges upon ranges of mountains in the distance complete with a hazy dressing of fog reaching up towards the peaks. It’s almost spooky, looks like it’s straight out of a horror movie. Maybe the simulation is about to take a dark turn, maybe I’m the main character on my way to meet some friends at a cabin in the woods. Little do I know, there’s a sadistic tribe of bigfoots (bigfeet?) just waiting to turn us all into sacrifices to the Foot Gods.

My word is this drive getting to me. If there were any bigfi in these woods, I doubt they would have evolved to the point of having conceptualized a god for themselves, let alone gods. Or hey, maybe that’s devolved, who really knows?

The first photon of light beaming through the end of the tunnel has breached my pupil – I just saw a sign marked Hendersonville. I should be there in approximately twenty-three minutes. I’m so close I actually can’t believe I’m here. I didn’t even notice myself crossing into North Carolina to be totally honest, but that’s just fine.

Unless the next time I go to blink I open my eyes to find myself back home. It would kind of suck if that wound up being the case.

The sky is covered by a plume of blackish-gray clouds, there’s a slight drizzle pattering against my windshield, more cars are suddenly populating the roads, and yet none of that matters to me. I’m almost through with this treacherous escapade. I can almost rest my aching back. Most of all, I’m only twenty minutes away from finally reuniting with my good friend Zak.

The feeling of my journey coming to an end absorbs me when I pull up to the gate my GPS has led me to. I was told the gatekeeper would be a grizzled old codger dodger who doesn’t like conversation, but much to my surprise there’s a happy and smily young lady sitting at the post. She asks me who I am visiting. I tell her the Fisher family, quipping a quick, “You know, twelve hours ago I was in New Jersey. It’s kinda weird.” She laughs and buzzes me in. Arrival.

“Was that Roadtrip?” G-Mah asks earnestly.

I close my laptop and slide it aside, reaching for my throat with my free hand. “That was the first chapter, yeah. I still have the entire time I spent in North Carolina and the drive back home to read you about.”

“Oh…” grandMother mumbles as she searches for something.

I look at Uncle Bill. He’s holding the newspaper upside down but reading it nonetheless. I notice all the sudoku puzzles are filled out on the back page. He must be some kind of genius or something.

“If you guys want to take a break we can,” I offer. “My throat is kind of sore anyway, I could use a couple minutes.”

grandMother and Mango share a look. I can’t tell who is more excited. Finally, they look back at me and G-Mah accepts the break with tremendous supremity.

grandMother wheels around and gazes at the empty wine glass sitting in the sink, all sparkly and clean and free of civet-smelling cat urine. Reading her mind as she rewashes the glass, I can sense that she wants me to try the alcohol, but I don’t want to – I’ve been sober as a gopher, word to Krizz Kaliko, since I was born. I didn’t even try any beer when I was seven and my dad let Jarome have some, why would I try it now?”

G-Mah shouts, “Because you’re at your Grandma’s house and I want to drink with you!” over her shoulder, probably so I can hear her over the running water. I guess I said that last bit out loud, oops. Oh well.

¡Gramango!


This has been chapter 1 of the book Roadtrip: The ¡Gramango! Edition. Here is everything you need to know about it:

Roadtrip
The ¡Gramango! Edition

  • A satirical travel novella about an author reading the actual travel novella to his grandmother
  • Book stats:
    – 202 pages
    – 37,117 words
    – Spiral: The Highest One Writing | Arc: II
    – Series: W-63 | Entry: 2
    – Revision Date: June 10, 2021
  • Click here to read the book for free
  • Buy from Amazon:
    eBook: $2.50
    Paperback: $5.46
  • Buy from The Hillside Commons:
    Signed Paperback: $14.00

I’ve written a few other books, too. Click here to see the list.

The Hillside Commons has a Facebook page, too. Here’s that.

If you’re there, hypothetical reader, thank you for being there. From this day on, we move forever forward~

2 thoughts on “The Road – Roadtrip: The ¡Gramango! Edition #3

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