The Drag

 

After dropping out of art school for the second time, I worked in Yellowstone National Park for a summer as a cook at Lake Lodge. I had driven through the badlands to get there, I remember walking out in the rock formations, getting high, and being chased by a thunderstorm back to my car. I drove through a torrential downpour before stopping at a bar in nearby Wall Drug to wait it out with a beer next to the jukebox. 

    Not long after starting my job, I met a girl named was Case, she was Italian looking, and was working in the Park as some kind of administrator, out of my league. Regardless I pursued her without restraint, and we made love one "Yellowstone Whiskey" afternoon, after going from cabin to cabin in nothing but a white sheet looking for a condom. We spent the next few weeks hiking and camping when we could with the man-eating bears of the Yellowstone backwoods reading zen poetry, drinking whiskey and falling in love. One night we saw a buffalo get hit by a car, killing it and destroying the car. I remember looking down at its onyx black eye glistening but lifeless. Then I told Case that we should quit and take off, hit the road for San Fransisco and be free. 

    I had only been here a little over a month, and the open road was calling my name and my heart asked her to join me. Of course, I would miss the vast wilderness and the mighty dreadlocked buffalo. One night a friend of mine was walking back to his cabin from the pub when he spotted a buffalo in the dark a few dozens of yards away. He began singing to it and slowly approached it, then he gently petted it on the snout.     

    Late the next night, Case and I made our way west. We drove all night through the Idaho wilderness, and the next day swam in lakes and took turns sitting out the sunroof absorbing the sun, the hot dry air of Nevada, and the sense of freedom and essence of flying. We stopped in Reno and sat along the river with the homeless on the Fourth of July and drank Jagermeister. 

    The next morning we made our way around Lake Tahoe, and down the long slope to San Francisco, where we wore flowers in our hair and walked Height Ashbury with the homeless and their shopping carts swerving around the addicts passed out on the street. After the flowers wilted, we went down the coast to Big Sur where Case got high for the first time and we meditated into the setting sun, beside a campfire, on the edge of a 500 foot cliff, huge crashing waves below. 

    Next, LA, where we walked the Walk of Stars barefoot, before heading for Tijuana, where we met a hooker from Peoria, who showed us the way to a dumpy strip bar in the red light district for a beer. It was around noon in the dark bar, and the music was awkwardly loud for just the three of us and the chubby Mexican girl who spun on the pole, thighs squeaking on the brass, just barely inaudible, as the early 90’s hip-hop vibrated the speakers in an unpleasant way. 

    A few shady looking guys occasionally peaked out from a door in the back, once in a while they would sneak in and out, dissolving into the blinding light outside. They looked at the gringos curiously, but there is no doubt they recognized the hooker from Peoria. She asked if she could smuggle drugs across the border for us, I said "no thanks", and she left us to finish our luke-warm Tecates. 

    Then we headed east along the border and stopped at the Cochise Stronghold for a failed attempt to find Peyote. We slept by the railroad tracks and tied the tent to the car during a sandstorm that shut down the interstate for a day just outside Lordsburg, New Mexico. We drove through monsoons to Roswell, and then down to El Paso. We found an old church in a small village called Guadalupe, just outside of Juarez, beautifully whitewashed against the turquoise Mexican sky. 

    We ate eggs and toast in New Orleans, as a toast to surviving the four days we spent in Texas, braving our way across the state you don't mess with, with only three cops messing with us. The first for swimming in a river without a permit, the second for having sex in the driver seat of the car at a gas station, and the third for the infamous "you crossed a little too far over the white line and your licenses plate is obstructed" routine. We ate fried food in small-town restaurants with walls covered from floor to ceiling in framed photographs of varsity players on one knee, grinning from behind a face mask, embracing a football under the arm. Each frame had a little plaque, and almost everyone had the same last name.

    After eggs in the french quarter, we followed the Mississippi north toward Chicago, then across to DC where we visited Lincoln and laid in the grass. A day later I took her home to her parent's house in Baltimore. We had dinner with her parents and then we went up to her bedroom where we had sex for the last time before I would head up to Maine and her on a family vacation. 

  While we were having sex I could hear her father in the room next door playing the aucustic guitar and singing to Case's mother, and Case was louder than usual as though she got off on her parents hearing us in the room next door. Or maybe she just wanted to let them know that she had just returned from a great voyage, and she had returned a woman, and she would from now making her own decisions, even if that decision is to fuck the freak she met out west in the bedroom next door.

    The next day we all went out for ice-cream after breakfast and then a nice hike through the woods, they did a good job of pretending to like me, and then I bid them farewell, and I made my way to a sailors pub a day's drive north in Bar Harbor, Maine. I sat in the fog on a deck overlooking the bay and drank dark beer off the tap. I dreamed of the future and realized that trying to look through the fog into a dark bay was a lot like trying to see into the future, so I ordered another beer to drown my sorrows. I missed her, but I knew our adventure was over. She was on her way into a world I had just fizzled out of.

    I woke up the next morning in a few inches of water to the sound of two women's voices. I was in my tent and I peaked out the zipper to see them walking by in rain parkas with a couple dogs on leashes. They made no mention of the fact I was sleeping in a tent in the middle of their driveway. 

    Their house was beautiful, it was a large Victorian with a wrap-around porch, everything freshly painted white, and the surrounding forest lush and glowing green with moisture and vitality. I took down the tent and threw all my sobbing wet things into the back of my car, and dreamy winded around the coast of Desert Island, imagining the peculiar lives of all the writers who lived in this mysterious fog and then I hit the mainland to Bangor, where I hung out with a few hobos by the tracks, and then I headed reluctantly back to the midwest, front left tire wobbling as one lug nut snapped off after the other all the way to Illinois.

    I ended up at a rainbow gathering in the Shawnee National Forest just south of Carbondale. That was the first place, the first time I saw her eyes. I was walking down a wooded path and I saw her sitting in the dirt at the bottom of a small hill near a smoldering fire, her large brown eyes peering out from underneath a faded orange hand knitted stocking cap too large for her head of hair. She grinned at me and did not look away. Young naked nymphs danced around playing the flute, but I paid no notice, I had eyes for only this girl with the eyes, the eyes I always search for. Large brown almonds, a little slant, and she told me her name was Brit. 

    We laid around in the sticks and leaves for days making love, eating Dahl, bathing in the lake, walking out on the rock bridge at night to see Orion. It was almost paradise, but this rainbow with a missing front tooth kept insisting Brit let him give her a butt massage, and that kind of shit was getting old, so I persuaded her to leave with me, to go on the road, to leave the forest and head for the thrill of the city, not San Fran, but Chicago, and all its wonderments.

     As we left another guy who was in love with Brit wept while hugging a tree, falling to his knees, in my rearview mirror. We drove out of the forest, hours upon hours across great stretches of cornfield, until the lights of the city reflected off the gloss of our glazed eyes. I put my arm around Brit and she took a drag of her cigarette with that far away gaze of hope and despair that she peered into the horizon, the wind sucking the smoke out of the window. We both knew this road was ours to squander, and squander we did, like professionals, wayward and adrift, yet privileged with the knowledge that our bliss was our ignorance, and our freedom was our time.