Roadtrip: The ¡Gramango! Edition

|Front Cover|Forward|Preface|1|2|3|Postface|Afterward|Appendix|Back Cover|


Chapter 3
The Road Part II (feat. Virginia)

Mango

A couple days ago when the Fisher family and I were exploring consignment barns and warehouses and the like, I mentioned that I saw all sorts of neat random stuff. Among this myriad I saw quite a collection of gas station signs, including one with a dinosaur on it that said Sinclair. Dinosaurs are a favorite of my college friend Mike, a Navy man who lives in Virginia that you may remember if you read Running: How to Torture Yourself and Enjoy It |The Unvictimized Edition|. I haven’t talked to the man in a phat minute but when I saw the sign, I thought he would get a kick out of it, so I sent him a picture of the thing and we got to texting. I mentioned I would soon be passing through Virginia and that it would be awesome if I could stop for an overnight visit. With zero hesitation he said yes, and that’s where I’m currently headed: a coastal city-town called Norfolk, Virginia.

It’s more than a few hours out of my way, and all things considered this detour will probably pile two or three more hours onto my drive, but to see my old friend? It’s unquestionably worth it. Besides, this means I only have to drive seven hours today instead of a full twelve; I’m all for it.

On the drive down I was just a bumbling bundle of energy; I managed to fill up nearly three full pages on my phone’s notes app with random thoughts and observations, I was singing along to the music coming out of my CD player like I wrote the lyrics myself, at first I even attempted (albeit for about ten minutes) to keep track of what roads I took so I could accurately depict the journey in the upcoming book adaptation… today though, I have significantly less energy.

I suppose it’s because I know what to expect; nothing I can do will make this drive go by in an instant, each passing hour will be more grueling than the next. What I’m really thinking about now is how to ration this food out so I’m not fighting hunger pangs the entire car trip. I have it all planned out: every forty-five minutes that pass, I will eat something. A half a sandwich here, a granola bar there. Some celery after a while. A bottle of water, sure, I can eat the plastic, that counts as food. I have this rationing thing down pat!

Or so I thought; an hour and a half in (after I’ve burned through literally all my food), I realize my confidence may have been more seated in the mental realm than in the physical. Oh well; the important thing is that my body has fuel, it’s not like I’m going to starve to death during the next five hours. It’s a quarter after twelve at this point, at around one or two I’ll stop and get some food at a Taco Bell if I can find one, probably fill up Bessy’s gas tank. Everything is going to be just fine, just have to look on the bright side.

Like I said, on the drive down I recorded a ton of notes to add to the first chapter, but in putting the words to processor, I chose to omit quite a bit, mostly for the sake of avoiding the true depiction of my mid-drive lunacy. One such note was an observation of the massive amount of garbage sprawled along the sides of the highway. Driving down here, the grassy highway dividers were littered with significantly more garbage than the pavement dividers were, but coming back up, the trend seems to be the opposite; the natural grassy dividers, as rare as they are, are fairly absent of garbage while the artificial dividers are like landfills waiting to happen. I mention this because I just passed a couple humans in jumpsuits cleaning up the litter. I’m sure they’re prisoners of some sort, and they’re likely being forced to do it, but it’s still a good thing they’re doing. I certainly appreciate them and their efforts.

Back home I’ll sometimes go out and fill a plastic bag or two with plastic garbage I pick up off the plastic road, although I’m vastly more likely to clean up the woods simply because I’m out hiking far more often than I’m out walking on the roads. It’s kind of fun, in a way, to clean up garbage; it’s assuredly a good deed, as in something you will feel good about yourself for doing, and even though you aren’t likely to directly receive any thanks, you know you’re brightening somebody’s day. When I’m out driving and I see mounds upon mounds of garbage towering over not only the guard rail but also my Bessy, my energy depresses just a little bit. I don’t know why intelligent human beings chuck their garbage out the window; maybe they aren’t aware that the garbage will continue to exist after it disappears from their field of view. Maybe they’re aware of it and they just choose not to think about it, or maybe they just plain don’t care. Regardless of why the garbage is chucked though, if I drive by that same spot a week later and the garbage isn’t there anymore, I take notice. It gives me a little boost, a little hit of faith in humanity, if you will. It makes me feel good to see other humans taking care of the planet; we are the managers here, after all. Hu(man)agers.

That was reference to Running, the hu(man)agers bit. So sayith the author, “You should totally read Running: How to Torture Yourself and Enjoy It |The Unvictimized Edition|, even if you’re not into the whole running thing. At face value, yes, it’s a running book, but what it’s really about is how to upgrade yourself, how to evolve so you can overcome any hurdle blocking the flow of your life, even those hurdles that seem impossibly tall, even those that drive fear into your heart at the very thought of putting them into words.”

Fear is a funny thing though; a very powerful motivator on one hand, and on the other, a wall marked impenetrable.

I was terrified to release Running, to be honest. The first chapter, called Running From My Problems, is the story of my life up to the point of my publishing [of the first edition of] the book and how running has helped me to overcome certain challenges in life that I wouldn’t have overcame otherwise. I know that doesn’t sound bad at face, but my life up to said point has involved a lot of, shall we say, less than stellar situations. In other words, in telling my story, I wrote about things that make hypothetical readers feel very uncomfortable, such as mental illness, depression, lite psychosis, a neurodegenerative disease here, a severe head injury there, and to wrap it all up, a healthy dose of shamanic mumbo jumbo.

After that first chapter though it’s all uphill; I wrote about why running is good for the mind, body and soul, I give the reader a training regimen to get them started, I give them tips and tricks for training and competing, some examples of workout ideas. I even interviewed a couple handfuls of runners to get their perspective on the sport, it’s all great. That first chapter is dark though; so dark that I feared, upon reading it, one would throw my book down and not give the rest of it a chance. So dark that I feared, upon reading it, one will decidedly never read anything I’ve written again. It almost stopped me from publishing it.

But of course the wall incarnation of fear is marked impenetrable, that’s exactly what the fear wants you to think! There’s nothing to fear but fear itself, take it from me – I’ve danced with the devil under the pale moonlight more than once and at the end of the day, it’s not even death that humans are afraid of. It’s the feeling of fear. The best way to eliminate that feeling is to dive into it, to face it with your teeth showing and either drive it off or strike it down altogether. So, I published the book, and not a lot of humans read it, but here I am writing another book that not many humans will read. And I’m happy doing it; some may say that I’m wasting my time, but to them I say, “Time is an illusion, bucko.”

Besides, it’s not like I’m really wasting my time. I could be, I don’t know, a prisoner sitting in one of the two inmate transfer buses I just drove past. Now that would be a waste of time!

At this point I believe I’m about three hours in, maybe I’m still in North Carolina, maybe I’ve crossed into Virginia. Who even knows anymore; everything is just atoms anyway, I’m essentially a hamster running on a treadmill with a repeating background scrolling past me. Well, technically the background isn’t really repeating, but… oh, you know what I mean. My back is aching to shreds, I’m bored, and the rappity-rap music isn’t even helping me anymore. I’m about to pass an undercover police officer who’s parked on the center divider now, he’s facing the other side of the highway.

Knowing there’s no way he can possibly hear me, I cockily say aloud, “Come on motherfucker. Cross over the grass, come get me. I know you want to give my long-haired ass a ticket. Let’s get some.” Hah, what a punk.

Then, the funniest thing happens. He does exactly that. The guy pulls right onto the road, my side of the road, throws his lights on, and starts to pick up speed. I shrink down to the size of a grain of rice-shaped pasta and my heart skips a couple beats. Although my hands are shaking and I have that weird, staticy anxiety attack feeling coursing through my nervous system, I try to keep calm and maintain a respectable speed. I’m going like twenty over the speed limit, but like, so is everybody else. I’m just keeping up with the flow of traffic, that’s all.

I try to chill but my mind is racing at one thousand miles-per-minute imagining up different scenarios of me getting pulled over and what the outcome would be. Maybe the cop’ll be in a good mood and I’ll just get a warning. Maybe she’ll pretend he smells drugs and force me out of the car. Maybe he’s not even a cop, just a serial killer and she’ll force me to take a ride in his cruiser with her. Maybe he knows Mother and she’ll tell Her about the incident before I can!!!!  I’m literally sweating as I speak this into my phone’s Notes app. I feel slightly light-headed.

Little do I know, I’m not even on the officer’s radar. He pulls over an SUV that’s driving three-to-five cars behind me. All that worrying for nothing. I think I’m just a little overtired.

After another hour of driving, I pull into a Papa John’s that happens to be in the same plaza as a gas station. At first, I think that the gas pumps are going to eject tomato sauce instead of gas, but I quickly return to reality and realize how silly that would be. I fill the tank, pay with my card, and waddle inside the Papa’s to ask the lady at the counter if they have a bathroom. Unfortunately, the sheer bulbousness of my bladder makes my voice come out at a very high pitch and she gives me a weird look, but nonetheless points me in the right direction.

For every tank filled one must too be emptied, and now all things rest in equilibrium. I still haven’t had my Taco Bell but I’m not worried, I’m sure I’ll get my chance. I go to order a slice for the road but the lady’s spirit seems to have disintegrated from this reality, she’s nowhere to be found. I take that as a sign from the Universe to pass on the highway fast food pizza and get back into the car.

Then, the pizza joint explodes, bursting into a gigantic ball of black smoke and red fire, incinerating employees, patrons, seagulls, and everything else in a thirty-foot radius.

Just kidding, the next two hours of driving are extremely uneventful. I’m on one road that goes up and down a hill over and over for easily a hundred miles, and with a speed limit of only forty-five miles per hour, it drags on like the opossum in the novel Ravens that I read a month or two ago. Good book.

Anyway, two hours of unchanging scenery pass and I finally pull into the wrap-around parking lot of Mike’s apartment complex. I find a parking spot that only slightly blocks a driveway and call up Mike on my phone. The unit number he gave me is three digits and all the numbers around me are four digits. For all I know, I’m on the entirely wrong side of Virginia. Fortunately, I don’t know shiitake from a mushroom, and moments later, Mike comes walking around the corner. He greets me with three words: “What’s up Jesus!”

Other humans occasionally tell me I look like Jesus. It does wonders for my budding god complex.

A cackling laughter grabs my attention away from my laptop screen. I assume it came from G-Mah but she’s still dead asleep, face pressed flat against her tiled kitchen table, the grouted grooves imprinting a raised grid on her face. Mango, on the other paw, is sitting on Gram’s head now, claws dug in, ready for more.

We walk back to Mike’s place and even though years have passed, it’s like I just saw dude yesterday. He takes me inside, introduces me to his girlfriend Brenna and his two cats, Cali & Kiki, and shows me around the apartment. It isn’t massive, as he told me before we got inside, but it’s a nice spot, leagues larger than the front room of that multi-store boutique in Hendersonville.

“This place is great, man!” I tell him as we all pop down on the couch, “You guys have your own space, it’s way better than my dusty attic in Mother’s house. This is an absolute win.”

After a few minutes of instigating the cats with a laser pointer, the three of us make a run to Walmart to grab some essentials: potatoes (both sweet and bland), moving boxes (because they’ll soon be moving into a much bigger apartment), some alcohol for Mike & Bree and, of course, the new Spiderman movie on BluRay that just happened to have released today. I’ve been dying to see that new Spiderman movie too; the timing is impeccable.

I’m not sure how I notice, but Mango rolls her eyes at me as I’m reading. I look up just in time to watch her hover back into the air, pulling with her the hearty amount of grandMother’s hair she has tangled in her claws. She turns towards the cabinets, the ones over the SodaStream, and opens them up, grabbing a bag of green stuff with her teeth before shutting the cabinet with her tail.

“Mango?” I ask with hesitation because I am speaking out loud to a floating cat. “What uh, whatcha got there?”

Mango floats over and drops her bag in front of me; thankfully she thought to seal it up so the contents don’t confetti about. I open the bag and take a sniff – definitely doesn’t smell like the stuff the dude was selling in Hendersonville. But I feel like I know this smell… I sniff again… oh shit, it’s a bag of catnip! I used to give this stuff to Milkshake, he adored it.

“Word!” I exclaim literally a half second before I find a pad of rolling papers buried among the leaves, the same ones my Uncle Skylar uses to roll his left-handed cigarettes with. Before I can comment on the rolling papers, Mango grabs the whole bag in her teeth and vanishes; her body and the bag o‘nip literally fade into the air and she’s gone, like she was never there.

“Huh,” I say to myself.

The Walmart we go to is a Walmart on steroids. One could fit two or three Jersey Walmarts into this one, I don’t even mean that hyperbollically, and they sell alcohol here! I feel like a stranger in a foreign land.

The place is packed too; maybe it’s because I’m exhausted from the drive, but I keep finding myself standing in the way of other humans who are trying to get their groceries for the week. At one point, as Mike and Brenna are water boarding an employee because he refused to disclose the location of the Spiderman BluRay, a guy dressed in a black business suit with a purple tie who smelled like a particularly happy skunk grabbed me by the shoulders, lifted me straight into the air (no bullshit) and displaced me on the other side of him. As he was taking something off the shelf I was once blocking, he said to me, “Christ, kid, you probably get in your own way.”

I was almost offended, to be honest, but then I saw that he was wearing a fedora that matched his suit and I chose to focus on that rather than the fact he was able to lift me three feet in the air without showing any signs of strain. Mike and Brenna come back a minute later, Spidey in hand, and Mike asks me why I look so disheveled. I tell him some suited man that was just standing here a second ago told me I get in my own way. This garners a crooked look and not much else.

Eventually we fight our way out of Walmart and load up the car. I’m just about to suggest we get some Taco Bell, but before I even get the chance, Mike announces that he’ll be cooking a full steak dinner tonight. All cravings for locos tacos promptly vanish from my system. I didn’t even know Mike could cook, this should be interesting.

I hear a coughing coming from the porch. I look up, assuming grandMother went out for a smoke, but she’s still here at the table with me, knocked out and hardly breathing at all. I get up to stretch the back & legs and once I’m feeling limber, I tiptoe over to the bathroom and knock on the door. Through the crack under the door I can see that the lights are off, and I don’t immediately smell anything that would burn the hairs out of my nose, but I decide not to disturb Uncle Bill while he’s in there. Dude’s fighting a war most will never know anything about.

Stepping on the air above the floor so I don’t wake the grandMother, I peek out into the porch and see Mango, sitting like a human in grandMother’s spare wheelchair that she keeps outside, with a hand-rolled catnip cigarette impaled on her singular extended claw. She knows I’m there, I see her ears twitch when I say her name five times in a row, but the cat refuses to turn around and acknowledge my presence in her porch.

As I sit back down at the kitchen table, the glass of liquor stares at me so hard that a picture frame hung next to the bathroom door falls off the wall.

Mike and Brenna start on dinner right when we get back. I offer to help, but there’s not really much I can do, so I find that laser pointer and play with the cats while my hosts work their kitchen magic. Sounds of steak sizzling and bacon popping dominate the atmosphere, I’m satiated by the aroma alone. As Mike smothers our steaks with pink sea salt and pepper, I ask Brenna how she and Mike met. She tells me an adorable story of how they became friends early on in their Navy careers, then best friends, then suddenly they were living together, and it’s been very wonderful ever since. I’m very happy for them, they make a very cute couple. Oh, and by the way, very.

Before I know it, we’re all sitting on what might be the comfiest couch in the world and I have a plate topped with steak, a fried egg, strips on strips of bacon, a buttery, flakey biscuit, and another steak sitting in front of me. Mike throws on Spiderman and we get to work inhaling our food. Now I’m not normally an egg guy, as you know, but I’ll be damned if the steak, egg and bacon sandwich I throw together on that biscuit isn’t the greatest tasting thing I’ve ever eaten. No offense to the Fisher family, to Mother, to myself, to anybody who’s food I’ve eaten lately; this is the best tasting meal I’ve had in months. My boy can cook!

The Spiderman movie is fantastic and afterwards, Mike & I stay up way too late shooting the shit and watching graphic animated shorts about robots that love and die on Netflix, just like old times. Around eleven o’clock, Mike mentions that he has to wake up at 0500 hours for work, and that we should probably be getting to bed, because when he leaves, I have to leave too. Very well; it was a short visit but a good one, I’ll definitely have to come back again soon. I spend both the remaining hour of night and the choice few hours of pre-sun morning on the couch, drifting in and out of unconsciousness while the cats take turns walking across my body. I guess this is revenge for the laser pointer, so be it. Do your worst, felines, I raised a Milkshake.

The next morning is a groggy one, but I push on regardless. We say our goodbyes and go our separate ways. I’m actually amazed at how functional these two are at this most ungodly of morning hours; I can hardly muster the strength to fully open my left eye! My friends have about a forty-five-minute ride to work and I have about seven hours until I’m home. Best to get moving, droopy eyelid or not.

Oh, and lastly, “Thank you both for your service.”

The first leg of my drive home is shrouded in early morning darkness. I drive alone over the expansive Chesapeake Bay Bridge, the flickering street lights the only barrier between myself and the shroud of inky abyss, and then I meet up with Bessy and we drive through the accompanying tunnels; for the most part, I don’t see any other vehicles until daybreak. I bet the view of the ocean from the bridge would have been spectacular too, if only I could have seen it. Oh well, I care about nothing except not being in this car right now.

The next five hours of my drive are truly grueling. I don’t eat anything, I don’t drink anything, I don’t even record anything on my phone. I just do my best to zone out for as much of the drive as possible, and to my own surprise, I’m successful. I only come out of it when my gas light turns on, and as I begin to look around for a gas station, lo and behold, I find a Citgo. And what’s right across the street from that Citgo? A Rite Aid. And what, pray tell, is a single parking lot over from that Rite Aid?!? A Taco Bell. My time has come!!

I excitedly pull into the Citgo and pump my own gas with an exhausted smile on my face. I can almost feel the crunch of the taco shells, taste the cheese powder of the locos tacos. I’m right there, I’m staring at the door, reading the instructions on how to open it. All I have to do is push.

I damn near leap across the street in my car and park in the Rite Aid parking lot to use the bathroom before I venture into Taco Bell. I love their food, but I’m not gonna sit here and pretend that Taco Bell bathrooms are a happy, lovely place. Hard pass on that.

After walking out of the Rite Aid feeling a couple pounds lighter, I come to a startling realization: there’s a chain link fence between the parking lot that I’m currently in and the parking lot the Taco Bell reigns supreme over.

‘That’s all right!’  I neurotically scream inside my head. ‘I can just hop the fence! No biggie!’

So I do just that, I waltz myself over and vault the fence in broad daylight before circumnavigating the drive-through side of the Taco Bell until I find the front door. It is at this point that death herself stares me in the face and snickers, the dust off her rotting teeth polluting the very air I breathe: the Taco Bell doesn’t open for another hour and a half.

I am overcome with despair, tossed into a dead world of dashed hopes & dreams and crushed into nightmare powder to be snorted by Mephisto and his demonic little cohorts.

Hauling myself back over the fence and sulking to my car, I take one last look at the glorious Taco Bell before starting Bessy up and getting back on the road. Only three-ish hours left until I’m home, there won’t be any more rest stops. No more detours. My next stop is Mother’s house, my home. It looks like I won’t be getting my Taco Bell after all…

The back and neck pain rear their grotesque, snaggle-toofed grins almost immediately. A couple miles later, my stomach begins to sing the song of its ancestors. My CD player keeps skipping on my favorite song off Wrekonize’s The War Within. I’m about ready to pull my Galil out and make Bessy feel it, bonus points if you caught that reference. (It’s a song on the album, my favorite song to be exact. (The one I mentioned just now, the one that kept skipping. (Without this background info the reference kind of sounds like sexual innuendo, so I felt the need to put this here. (This is more of a reflection of my mental state when I was driving, I don’t actually think those who read this are going to assume I’m having sex with my car, that would be inane. (This is a reality book, not reality TV. (How many monkeys does it take to close a parenthesis?))))))

On top of all this nonsense, I’m about to cross over the Delaware Bridge, which of course means I’m going to have to pay a toll. It really drives me insane to be forced to pay the government to drive on certain specific roads and bridges, roads and bridges one must drive on to get to where one’s going. It’s quite obvious to me that the government is a corporate ass-licker only out to pay its members, its in-crowd if you will, and not a benevolent ruling body who loves its subjects. I mean really, any and all interaction with the government, with any governing body, should be one’s choice! It should be voluntary. You think the government’s doing a good job? Great, pay them some taxes, make the choice to donate some of your money to them. You think the government is doing a terrible job? Great, don’t give them a dime, let everyone else pay their salaries. You’ll probably have to do whatever they’re trying to do by yourself, but chances are, you’ll do a better job than they will. Especially when it comes to fixing roads – in New Jersey, the public roads are utter trash. Littered with potholes big enough to swallow up a station wagon, if you’re not careful, you will literally break your car trying to pick your kids up from school. The workers the government hire to fix the roads usually aren’t even affected by them, they just give the job to the lo–

~WE INTERRUPT THIS RANT TO BRING~
~YOU A BOOST TO YOUR FAITH IN~
~HUMANITY~

“Huuuuh??” G-Mah rumbles as she picks her sleepy head up from the table. The right side of her face is slicked in drooly grout lines and her seltzer bottle, empty, is knocked over in front of her. Mango, still busy smoking some catnip out on the porch, hears her mommy wake up and comes right in, not even closing the door behind her.

“Well good afternoon, madame!” I trumpet, trying to be funny or polite or something, I don’t even know.

“What?” Gram says, looking at me as if she didn’t know who I was. “Oh, honey, right, you’re visiting me today. And you were reading… RIGHT! Is the book done? Was that Roadtrip?”

I chuckle. “Almost, Gram. You fell asleep for a little while, but you didn’t miss much. We’re almost to the end of the last chap–”

“Woo-hoo!” G-Mah bellows, clapping her hands together and doing a little jig in her chair. She goes to turn herself around, then spots the bottle of liquor on the table and stops herself. Then, “I’ll drink to that! Great job hun, I loved it, it was very good. Are you ready to drink with Grandma yet?”

“You didn’t let me finish, Gram!” I say as I turn the laptop around.

I show her how much is left of this chapter, then I show her the Postface. The smile fades from her eyes as she pours straight liquor into her seltzer bottle, filling the plastic thing up to the lip and capping it shut. She even removes the label before uncapping the vessel and drinking more, which I think is kind of neat.

“Are you ready to keep goin’, Gram?” I attempt.

grandMother, instead of answering, takes another drink. Mango moseys back out to the porch to roll up another left-clawed niparette.

The guy ahead of me payed my toll. And the toll for the next four cars behind me. He just… he gave the toll booth worker a large bill, said, “Pay the rest of these peasants’ tolls,” and went on with his life. I’m so absolutely overcome with joy, with love for my fellow human, that I don’t even remember what I was writing about before. Happy day! I don’t know who that guy was, but whoever you are, if you happen to read this book… thank you. Sincerely. God bless you. I’m not going to pay it forward in any recognizable way, but god bless you.

I can feel an energy shift as soon as I enter Jersey. Down South, everything moves an octave slower; the air is more mellow, the denizens aren’t so quick to judge, everything is just more peaceful. But up here, everything moves fast; you can literally feel it when you cross over state lines. Or, at least I can feel it as I cross the state line. Maybe I’m just anxious to be home. Maybe I’m just stir crazy from sitting in this car all day. Maybe I’m just regular crazy and my mind is playing tricks on me… or maybe I’m just tapped into some metaphysical plane and I can sense things that others cannot. Who’s to say for sure?

I hit Jersey’s southernmost toll booth, get my toll ticket, and cruise the turnpike up the body of the state without making a single stop. My toll is nearly fourteen dollars by the time I get off the blasted highway, but I’m so ready to be out of the car that money isn’t even real to me.

Slowly, the roads regain familiarity. Route 23, 287, take the next exit for Oakland, then… wait, Oakland? Oh my gosh, I can’t believe it’s taking me through Oakland!

Oakland is one town over from Ringwood, on the Bergen County side. Along the New Yorkian border of New Jersey are three counties: Sussex, Passaic and Bergen. Sussex is rural; lots of farms, they have a county fair every summer, it’s very homey. Bergen is where the wealthier of the Jersians live; McMansions, privilege, exotic foreign sports cars as far as the eye can see. Passaic county, where my home lies, is caught somewhere in the middle; we’re not all farmers, some of the Passaiians have money and big houses, but there’s a good chance that those very same Passaiians hunt and eat squirrels. Do with that what you will.

Anyway, the reason Oakland sticks out to me right now is because nestled in the heart of the town is the very place I’ve been trying to go ever since I departed on this road trip. Right off the side of the main street, standing proudly at the end of a small shopping center, is a KFC/Taco Bell. Both of the restaurants, if you’d be kind enough to call them that, combined into one store front. Home is only twenty minutes away and my fuckit bucket has been empty for quite some time now.

You know what that means, hypothetical reader?

I’m getting my god forsaken Taco Bell.

The line is long, but I don’t care. The wait is tenuous, but I don’t mind. All the tables inside are full, but that’s all right. I’ve been in the car for more than twenty-four hours over the past week, I can eat one more meal in here without keeling over.

And eat I do – usually when one eats Taco Bell, the innards of the taco spill out of the shell, but not today. I eviscerate that delicious mystery meat, I destroy the Baja sugar solution, I fill my stomach so quickly that I feel it expand further than the Grinch’s heart after he discovered the true meaning of the spirit of Christmas. I can happily say that I accomplished all my missions for this road trip. Hallelujah.

The next twenty minutes go by in the blink of an eye. I cruise over Skyline Drive, take County Road 511 (aka Greenwood Lake Turnpike for the motley fools who don’t know) to the Monksville Dam, soak up the view of the reservoir where everyone fishes but nobody catches, and finally I’m home. I unload my luggage and plop it all in my room, change into a different pair of jeans dotted with more holes than a slice of swiss cheese, and set off for the woods.

After a fatiguing drive I’m finally home. The road trip is complete. Sure, I need to write the book yet, but I’ll climb that mountain another day. As for right now, the trees are calling out to me – I have a much more physical mountain to climb.