We set out on this trip one Tuesday, at the worst time to set out on a trip, late afternoon. I should have seen this is a sign this trip would make me feel like Marlow in Heart of Darkness. It was hot and rainy and we were filling a U-Haul with all of her belongings. This was the end of a seven year relationship, and I was going to help her move back home. I was responsible for what would seem like difficult tasks like pulling a washing machine and dryer up stairs through a spider web and God-knows-what infested bulkhead out of the basement up into this U-Haul truck. I had this horrible pain in my upper back for a few days before this and all of this moving actually made the pain go away. I was slightly disappointed in this as I had kind of grown to live with being in pain every day of my life, at least when it comes to my back. My arms and shoulders felt nice and worked from all of this lifting as well. I immediately was reminded of how great it feels to have arms that feel like rubber from lifting heavy objects.
We would be driving from Massachusetts to Oklahoma City, OK. We would also have her two cats with us, which is a whole other world of shit; if you’ve ever driven with a cat in a car you know it’s probably the second worst thing to have in your car while driving long distances. The first would be another person. Driving with another person on long distances is definitely a test. A test I know I will always fail at. Like a test I didn’t even take a class for let alone study for. I think the only people you (well, me) could travel long distances with in a car is a person who just died and their body is stowed away somewhere and you are basically just transporting the body. I hate having to stop when I don’t need to stop, and thankfully she isn’t one of those people that need to go to the bathroom if a drop of water is ten feet from her. You ever meet one of these people? Every time they take a sip of a drink they have to visit a restroom immediately after. I couldn’t travel with one of these. I like to push myself and try to do things like drive seven hours without stopping.
I drove the first night. Of course it was raining, hot and we had cats making all sorts of noise in the car. Traffic in Massachusetts was for the most part a hot miserable rain soaked mess. At one point a person pulled next to me yelling and pointing at the car we were towing. Oh yeah, we would also be towing a car on the back of this U-Haul truck. I have never been able to back up anything with a trailer. From time to time one of those know-it-all types will say something snide like “Well all you have to do is turn the wheel one way and the tires go this way, turn it the other way and they go that way” This couldn’t be further from the truth. You’re looking through these giant oddly shaped mirrors so everything is backwards. There is noise and sun in your face and the whole thing is a horrible experience. This situation would rear its ugly head the next morning. Back to this guy yelling at me to pull over: I pull over and can’t figure out what is wrong with the car we are towing. A few miles later another guy pulls up, this time I can actually hear him. Not sure if you know this but when you are going any speed over say….20 miles an hour and yell to someone at a car next to you they can’t hear you like in the movies. Now that I think of it I can’t think of one movie where this has happened. I hear “your ramps are down”. Turns out we were dragging a ramp. This was fixed. Six or seven hours later we arrived in Syracuse, NY. I would not drive this truck again until a day after we arrived in Oklahoma City because I apparently “follow people too close” to which I let her know “well, you drive too close to shit on the right”
I didn’t have a laptop at the time so writing for this trip would have to be by hand, which at this point in my life is not fun. I learned to enjoy it once I was on the train coming back. Here is what I wrote night one:
“Depressing motel, area of country and situation I am in right now. But with all things negative a positive always comes along and fixes that straight away. This kind of travelling where I am not relaxed isn’t really my idea of fun but, eh… The fun comes later. When I think of back home, and when I say back home I don’t mean ‘back home in Massachusetts’ I mean where I have spent ‘time’ the last few months and felt happiest, like myself. It’s nice to have people in my life that don’t owe me anything that I can feel completely comfortable around. I actually feel like myself. This feeling crossed with that mysterious feeling of the unknown and distance is an oddly satisfying feeling I’ve been spending time with for the last few months. I like this feeling much better than the uncomfortable feelings I sometimes feel in reality. I keep thinking I want to write a letter but then realize just living and being is good for right now. I have too much in my head to think about anything else, especially if I am happy the way it is now”
Driving through upstate New York, I have done it so much in all parts of it…well, all parts off of Route 90, which isn’t much. I like it up there. Some of it, when you start moving more west anyway, feels like it is five years ago, or even twenty years ago. There is this lonely and sad feeling of claustrophobia and emptiness that appears late at night there driving past orange lit parking lots for hours at a time. I love it and hate it up there at the same time.
From upstate New York to Oklahoma City, the trip was pretty uneventful, long stretches of road where neither of us talked for hours, I dozed off for a good chunk of the time. Other times we had the radio tuned to talk radio and everything there is right wing and/or religious. One show we listened to in Missouri had a show talking about how bad video games were. The woman prefaced the story with “Video games, like other horrible things like abortion, pornography and homosexuality…” The people calling in were worse. I briefly thought of calling in but realized even trying reason with folks down there is probably not even fun.
“I trust no emotion
I believe in locomotion
But I’ve turned to rust as we’ve discussed”
I caught a train out of Oklahoma City early Tuesday morning for a brief four hour journey south to Ft Worth, Texas. The night before I left, I slept about two and a half hours. Monday night. The next time I would go to sleep would be Thursday night/Friday Morning around 3:30 AM.
The double-decker train was an empty train, a pleasure compared to the rest of the trip which was back to back full trains. Arriving in Ft Worth it was hot as piss outside and although as the case with most train stations it was a shady area of town, I only got approached by one guy asking for change to “buy an ice cream”. I hate having tons of change in my pockets especially if I am going to be sitting for long periods of time. I handed him a handful of dimes and pennies and he made his way into the train station and did indeed come out a few minutes later with an ice cream. Who doesn’t love an honest beggar? I would also meet an honest beggar in Chicago who asked for money for “The Jack Daniels Foundation”, I of course gave him a crisp dollar bill. I did quite a bit of writing on the trains, and since I didn’t really have a full night of sleep over three days some of it made no sense. Here is some of it:
“6. If enemies are not close. You will automatic win any battle. For I will move far from.”
“When I reach California I will burn this book finally. Words in here from 1992. Some guy in 1992 wrote about long forgotten women. Such messy writing that I purposely used so no one could read it if they found. Who knows who all of these spirits are in here, I can’t imagine I will ever need to refer back to this to improve anything in my life. I will throw this book in a barrel. Like in Repo Man when they have the ‘Plate-o-shrimp’ conversation. You know, like dudes under bridges in Los Angeles burning shit in barrels. Having a couple of beers”
“Feel like I will start seeing things any minute now. I haven’t had a proper night’s sleep in whateveramountofdays now. I feel like ripping this map in front of me into a trillion little pieces. I stare at it and the schedule for hours. Not minutes, hours. This is all you can do here sit and wait sit and wait sit and wait. People are off sleeping, sweating and smelling up that car back there. This thick warm bad breathy hospital silence lit by a thin strip of lights on the ceiling as you sway to the back of each car trying not to bump heads and legs spilling into the aisle. You get good at this acrobatic feat by the end of the trip. Even in the shape I am in, like if I tried to operate heavy machinery, it would not be pretty. I can’t believe that this trip take 24 fucking hours to get from Chicago to Boston. It sounds like some sort of trap the Gods of confusion set. Let’s make this guy think something is true that isn’t true. Wait, what? Some moments here I blink my eyes but they don’t re-open. I enjoy sitting in these cars writing even though I just saw stars while writing that last sentence. I saw an Amish woman at a pay phone at the Chicago train station”
The first half of this trip was pretty depressing for the most part. The second half I met a number of people that I spent a good amount of time with and as painfully tiring the trip was I felt like I was having a good time and was able to keep my mind in other places other than where it actually was. This first group of people I saw for a couple of days walking around and hanging together. A young man about 22, but maybe younger. Big tall, could be menacing, but a baby face. At least 6’ 4”. Also, had one leg and was on a crutch. There were two other girls, around the same age. One was a nerdy looking girl, glasses with a jeweled chain on them to hang from her neck whatever those are called I have no idea. Other girl seemed young and sheltered, kind of an unfortunate look that I won’t go into but let us say she kind of looked like this bass player from a Canadian rock band I won’t mention the name of. I kind of got the vibe that this girl was sort of a pain in the ass and these other kids did not like her. When I did meet the three of them, at the end of my trip to Chicago, or about four hours left in that journey they were mean to her. Right to her face. The young girl did not understand sarcasm and was getting ruined and not knowing it. I felt kind of bad and then remembered this is how young kids are, they judge and judge and pick on and pick on until they eventually settle in on some set of standards which is: Be a dick. Don’t be a dick. I picked the latter when it was my time. On the other hand, these other two, the nerdy white girl who did in fact know things about Star Trek and asked me “is that Gandalf?” regarding a tattoo on my arm seemed to have been around, and this kid with one leg. He was writing in some little notebook. At first when I saw him I said to myself “jeez, fucking trench coat mafia over here”. Same sort of reaction you have if you see like a Juggalo. This kid though, here I am judging him the second I see him, meanwhile I looked like an even bigger asshole on a number of occasions from age 10 to say age….39 so yeah. He was a nice kid, the nerdy girl was nice but I could see was a little too “oh my god I am in art school, check me out” for me.
The annoying young girl would be on my next train from Chicago to Boston. She was going to Ohio somewhere with her mom. These people looked like they stepped off the set of Little House on the Prairie. The girl may have been annoying, but was 18 and probably never left the little town in Arizona she was from. She sat with me on the next train in the lounge car while a line of folks waited for food, coffee and drinks. She was very loud and told me a story of some young kid who ran his car into a metal fence at her school and blah blah blah eventually winding her way to September 11th somehow telling me in an un-ironic way “now that is a day I will NEVER forget”. I replied, “well yeah, you’re not supposed to forget that day”. She mentioned they had it on the television at her school when it happened and I told her we had a similar situation when I was in high school when the space shuttle with Christa McAuliffe blew up. She said “was that Apollo 13?” Ouch. The whole time the line of people can hear every word of this painful conversation until finally she leaves and people stop looking at me and having eye-rolling contests with me. I never saw her again.
I met some interesting artists and musicians later in the evening, a tall pretty girl from Portland, Oregon originally from New Hampshire. We both thought we looked familiar but I think she was much younger which leads me to believe we probably do not know each other at all. I talked with her and these two artists from the Oakland area, one also played guitar and trombone with Citizen Fish. Very cool down to earth people I enjoyed shooting the shit with for a few hours.
The last day of the trip my head and body were gone. I spent the better part of the day dozing off for a few seconds here and a few seconds there. I probably looked like I was on drugs. The last time I felt semi-normal on this part of this journey was for my long layover in Chicago where I left the station, went to the Sears Tower, shot up the elevator but the lines were too long for the deck so I just went back to the lobby and had steak and some sangria before heading back to a Starbucks to charge my phones and then back to the station to wait. It was nice not moving back and forth on a train. Had a couple of good phone calls and then back to hell.
The evening is when I met these folks above. The next day, the last day where I never even attempted to go to sleep until I eventually reached the critical/best point of being exhausted the “now I’m completely wired and don’t even know what it feels like to be tired”. From around noon on the last day until we arrived in Boston around 10:30 PM I was wired. I spent about three or four hours with this African-American woman maybe in her early 50’s. She was a writer and also a minister. We talked about life for a long time and it was great. She was an intense person and we connected on all sorts of subjects. One of those people you meet along the way that gives off a cool vibe. She has a book available online that I am going to check out. One thing I enjoy about taking these trains is you are trapped on this thing with these people and you are kind of forced to talk to them for hours at a time as long as they are willing to do the same. Most of the time it turns out to be a great conversation. As I was saying to the woman “everyone’s story is interesting on some level. If they have the gift to tell a story then that story is even better”
I spent the remainder of the day with a guy named Dennis. He was from Milwaukee and was heading to Dorchester to see his mother who was sick. Dennis, turning 50 drives a tractor trailer, and has been with the same woman for I think he said twenty-six years. He kind of looked like Snoop Dogg, which I’m sure he would take as an insult as he told me he didn’t like rap music. He had some great stories of driving trucks in different parts of the country. We both mentioned different parts of the country we enjoyed seeing. He clearly has more miles on me and more states but I feel like I have enough road experience to talk about a number of places in the US anyway. One thing I really like with sitting with some of these strangers for hours is how much you can learn about people if they are willing to tell stories and are as bored as you are with just sleeping in your seat all day. So hanging with him until the last few minutes of the journey was great as we were still swapping stories about areas of Massachusetts. Good times indeed.
There were a number of other people I spent some time with but most of them weren’t as interesting or were kind of messed up.
Best part of this trip was probably the last couple of days. It was a long mentally and physically exhausting trip that I still haven’t fully absorbed. If anything it was an exercise in patience and a preview of the lengths of road I would travel by myself a few weeks later. I forgot how long some of these drives get. A three hour chunk of driving through nowhere has the feel of a five hour chunk of driving. That second trip had an ultimately happier ending for the most part, and had a laptop for documenting that trip as I go with hopefully less stream of conscious than this. But for now, here this is.