The Release of “Mud Foot”

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Purchase Mud Foot

The Release of “Mud Foot”

After months of traveling, writing, rewriting, editing, reading, rereading, and editing even more, I’ve finally completed my first polished collection of work.

And with generous donations from a lot of you and support from friends, family and other writers, Mud Foot: Highway Prose & Poetry is now a tangible book!

You can purchase a copy of Mud Foot at The Book Patch, an online bookstore. Click the cover to the right if you’d like to purchase my book, and after you’ve read it, please post a review.

* * *

In two days I fly across the Caribbean Islands to Puerto Rico where I’ll jump on a ferry to a small island called Vieques to live in a cabin within a wildlife refuge. I’ll have no electricity, running water, internet, or telephone, so I’ll be out of touch (mostly) for the month of May. During that time I plan to read a dozen books, write letters, catch mangos and fish, practice yoga, and write about solitude and island life via typewriter and pen.

So, please forgive my absence during that time, and know my appreciation to all of my readers exceeds any words I could ever muster.

Thank you all for you support with this project!

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The End of Fundraising

Dear readers,

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Photo: Ellie Burton New Zealand 2013

With the help and generosity from friends, family, acquaintances, poets, and fellow writers I have exceeded my goal for fundraising Mud Foot! 

Thank you to all who contributed! Your dedication, kindness, and support warms my heart and feeds my pen. I’m over the moon psyched for this project and continue to work hard towards producing it these last days.

There are still a few more tweaks I need to make, so, for now, hang tight.

Mud Foot will be published by the end of April. . . in time for my leaving for five weeks of solitude on the island, Vieques, off of Puerto Rico where I intend to do nothing but read, breathe, garden, fish, and write about solitude on a Caribbean island.

You all inspire me.

 

 

 

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Fundraising for “Mud Foot”

Dear readers,

I’ve been contemplating the various methods of fundraising a short book I’ve written called Mud Foot: Highway Prose & Poetry.

New Zealand 2013Photo: Casey Hartman

New Zealand 2013
Photo: Casey Hartman

 

What in hell is it?

Mud Foot is a fictional narrative of experiences based on my life as a traveler.

It’s a collection of short stories and poetry that I’ve assembled by picking through journals, notebooks, napkins, receipts, and pant-legs during the past few years of my hitchhiking around the States.

Aside from another session of edits from my editor and finishing the cover, Mud Foot is basically complete.

 

Fundraising…

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this.

I’ve considered using platforms like IndieGogo and Kickstarter to raise money (in the quadruple digits) to pay expensive “professional” freelance cover designers, copy editors, interior designers, indexers etc. whom I found online but didn’t know personally… and offering “perks” (like books, bookmarks, stickers, post cards, etc.) to those who contributed.

I’ve also considered not fundraising at all and paying for all of the above myself.

Now, with a handful of obstacles and months of thinking and rethinking about how to do this morally, with integrity, and my own way, I’ve decided to create (in addition to writing) the feel and life of this book myself.

Aside from my editor (a friend from Wisconsin) and a cover artist (a friend from New Orleans), this is a very personalized and unique project.

Mud Foot will be printed using a small independent publishing website called TheBookPatch.com.


What I ask of you…

To pay my two friends and for an ISBN, I need about $350. If 30 people donate $10 – $20, we’ll reach the goal easily. I’m really not asking for more than that.

If extra money is raised, it will go towards my traveling and writing another book or collection of stories. 

A modest donation will make me smile just right. If you don’t donate, I do hope that you’ll read it.

 

Paris, France 2011

Paris, France 2011

What you get…

“Perks” (like on Kickstarter) cost more money and use a lot of materials that I’d rather not put into landfills (like paper, plastic, packaging, tape, etc.). These “perks” usually grow based on the amount of money you donate.

In my case, instead of offering more or less, I’d simply like to include your name in my book as someone who helped produce Mud Foot. Whether your donation is $1 or $100, I will include your name below a poem of gratitude written for those who supported the project.

 

How to Donate…

You can send a check made out to Cameron Lovejoy to 118 Steeplechase South Columbia, SC 29209 or send it through Paypal to cameronlovejoy@gmail.com. Please also include your full name (or how you’d like me to acknowledge you) so that I can credit you in the book.

* * *

I plan to hold the final copy of Mud Foot in my hands by April 20 and have it on sale at www.thebookpatch.com soon after that.

Click here for an excerpt so you know what you’re getting into.

 
 

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No Milk, Straight Bug Soup

No Milk, Straight Bug Soup

 

“soup’s on!”

i come darting around the corner

to it, ravenous, ready with soup

spoon bulging, plunging into it -

 

khaki colored goop bleeding

orange and mud green from

carrots, broccoli cooked to death,

lentils, barley, runny soppy

bread bathing in the bowl,

buttered and melting,

chunks of tiny vegetables

from cans and farms and dirt -

piping hot like a flower pot

 

I scoop fast spoonfuls into my

gourd, chewing, slurping,

swallowing, dribbling down

my rat-haired chin,

when I notice in the goop

of the soup

little gnat legs, dead

miniature bugs resting in

peace in pieces in

my vegetable soup,

more of them,

millions, like they’re breeding,

but remain dead, unmoving

unless i poke at them with

my spoon or mush them

into vegetable soup mess

 

i stir them in, notice a billion

more, tiny dead wings and things

dead in my soup,

gnat brains explode beneath

the weight of my jaw -

 

i eat the soup anyway

and lick the bowl, clean

 

Written in Asheville, NC 2012

 

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An announcement. . .

An announcement. . .

This blog is a bit out of date.

‘Tis already winter, and I left in spring. Traveling took me around America in a giant rhombus in which I met 8 new states (8 more to go), shook a thousand hands, and got some scars. Montana was the most delicious new state.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that I wrote every day. Clearly, I didn’t publish much here on OWP past getting to Hollywood.

Montana

Montana

But I have been working on a project:

 During the last months of my voyage back across the country from Oregon to Cape Cod, I    schemed ideas for a small book. In fact a few of the ‘Makings of a Book. . .’ posts on OWP are the very first drafts of some of the works in this book. However, it’s far different than ‘Makings. .’

Currently in South Carolina for the holidays, I’ve been hiding in a room at a desk with journals and papers and letters and a computer writing, rewriting and editing this book.

It has a name, but I’ll save that for later.

It’s a collection of short stories and poetry and, if read in order, may or may not tell a small story. Each piece is a different glimpse into the life of a traveler. The character is not necessarily me, however:

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California

Think of it as autobiographical fiction: I travel, and I write. I understand traveling and how it works and feels and smells, so I write about that. But in any given story, six things could happen during one story that, in real life, happened over a span of months or not at all.

I’ve been experimenting with a lot of fiction lately.

The main reason I’m doing this is to polish a work of writing as a young writer. And to have a tangible book to look at and smell. I’ve kept my writing mostly to myself over the years, and I think it’s time to share it, some of it. . .  in a more intimate way than a blog.

I’m mentioning this because I want your help:

For many reasons, I’ve decided to independently publish this book.

Since I’m young, still learning what it is to write, but think I can produce something worth reading/understanding, I want to create it myself, first. I think I can do a good job.

It’s a relatively expensive endeavor to write, edit, proofread, produce, design a cover and interior for a polished book with all the authenticity of a book you’d find in a regular library.

This doesn’t mean I’ll never experiment working with publishing companies in the future, I just want to finish something on my own (with a small team of editors, designers, and other artists.)

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California

So, if you enjoy my writing, this is your heads up. A fundraising campaign will start soon.

For now, hang tight.

 

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Street Writing

Street Writing

I set up a small table and typewriter on Church St in Burlington, VT over the weekend. . . and wrote for people little stories or poems on whatever idea, thought, or experience they provided. One woman wanted me to write about her niece who’d had a still born baby just days before.

Burlington, VT 2012

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The Makings of a Book. . .

The Makings of a Book. . .

 

I spent my first days in Los Angeles with Ashley and Slater, migrating back and forth between Reseda and North Hollywood. I paid for two nights’ sleep at the community house where they both had bought rooms for the month. (The only nights I’ve paid for sleeping in a year or more.) There was a big backyard with a fire pit, hammocks, and basketball hoops above the garage door. Inside the garage was a pool table, radio and paintings of Audrey Hepburn, James Dean, and the New York skyline. That’s where ‘most everyone hung around– all sorts of people occupied the house. A beautiful mix of races and colors.

Venice Beach, CA. 2012

One fellow was a white kid (with some hints of Italian), just older than I was, with a wide, watery mouth and eyes tender from epilepsy. He wore his baseball cap backwards and carried a butterfly knife in his pocket. For protection, he claimed.

“Play pool?” He asked.

I was sitting on the couch below the skyline reading Oscar Wilde. “Indeed.”

We put oldies on the radio and shot round after round of billiards on into the night. People came and went and watched and smoked. He spoke endlessly about his life back in Chicago with a cigarette clung to his lips. The smoke spiraled in the lamplight above the game.

“I use’ ta get caught up in the pool halls in back home. Real sharks play there and they serious. They always be bettin’ money, too. I’d bet, but only ‘bout ten dollars, y’know? To be anybody, though, y’gotta bet four digits or more. And if y’don’t follow through on y’bet, if y’chicken out or scram, y’ll get y’ass whooped! Killed! They get goddamn serious ‘bout it there. I just played for fun, though, y’know’?”

“Me too.”

He went on and on about Chicago as he bent over the table. He was born into organized city crime and had always been part of it in some way or another throughout his life. His father was a top man in the Mob, and his mom was a whore who trafficked drugs and brought women to his father. So he said.

“After m’ dad died it was just me and m’ uncle.” He knocked in the 6 ball cleanly. “He was part of the Mob, too; but he was the only one who took me in, y’know? M’ mom was too strung out and fucked up to notice me anymore; so it was just me and m’ ‘unks. I lived with him for a while ‘fore I scrammed.”

He’d recently fled for LA because Chicago was getting too dangerous for him. “S’a fucked up life, man. I had to get out. Money fell into m’ hands like rain; I was swimmin’ in it. But it was a dirty daily risk to stay alive, I’m telling y’.” That’s why he always carried his knife. “But y’know, now, if it came around it, money and all, I wouldn’t be opposed to being a cop.”

“A cop?” I asked, surprised, knocking in the 13 ball. But I miscalculated the math of the 11 ball, missing the corner pocket.

“Yeh. Special Victims Unit, probably,” he said, lining up his next shot. “Know why? ‘Cause I fucking hate rape.” He paused his stroke to make his opinion clearly known to me. “That is the worst crime. Rapists deserve to be mutilated in front of audiences. Shot, stoned, tortured like beasts.” He was very adamant about this. “But I don’t think I could be a cop that worked against drug crime.”

“Why?”

He smiled. “I got me a soft spot for drug dealers,” he said.

 
 

Written in North Hollywood, CA. 2012

 

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Solstice

Solstice

i spent the first day of summer
in the wintry fog of Frisco
solving crosswords and sipping
cups of hot soup

 

Written in San Mateo, CA 2012

 

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The Makings of a Book. . .

The Makings of a Book. . .

 

Las Vegas is a place that encourages you not to speak of the affairs that take place there, so I’ll honor that and skip forward to the next day.

I intended to stay in the city for a few more nights, hustling some extra money on the streets and in the casinos. But Ashley and Slater insisted that I come with them to Los Angeles immediately.

“We’ll take the bus; it’s not expensive.”

“I’ll just hitchhike,” I insisted. I didn’t have money to spend on transportation when I could get for free somewhere else. “I wanna see some friends in Joshua Tree, anyway.”

“We’ll buy your ticket. Come on, man. Please?”

So, Jerry dropped us off at the Greyhound station on South Main St in downtown Vegas. It was too quick of a farewell to the man that became our uncle for three days. A couple handshakes and a hug from Ashley, and he was off to northern California alone in his loaded van. Larry was off somewhere else, probably in a gutter somewhere.

I helped Slater and Ashley schlep their six bags of luggage across the street and into the crowded station. An hour later we were boarding. I took a seat near the front because I didn’t want to risk motion sickness in the back. I was still tired and ill from no sleep. Ashley and Slater sat behind me, excited and eager to get to the coast.

Across from Ashley was a fellow wearing a canvas work jacket with a hood crawling out of the back and over his head, resting against the window. His arms were crossed, and he’d immediately fallen asleep. His bag was on the seat next to him. I sat in a similar fashion because if you look asleep with your luggage beside you, passengers often bypass to an empty seat, leaving you with room to spread out during the haul.

Facehole. Las Vegas, NV. 2012

But eventually, a woman wearing a Greyhound badge stepped onto the bus, demanding all the seats stay open because the ride was sold out. I saw her shake awake the guy across the aisle.

“Sir, you have to leave this seat open. Sir?”

He woke up in a panic. “Oh, sorry, sorry,” he said. “I was comatose.” His eyes were red.

The bus filled up quickly. A couple walked aboard. The man sat next to the comatose guy, and his cute girlfriend sat next to me. We introduced ourselves, but I soon realized she’d rather sit next to her boy, so I offered to change spots with him. They thanked me graciously, and I moved with my bag across from Ashley and next to sleepy Joe, who wanted more than anything else to sleep.

“I fucking hate buses,” said Joe. “I’ve been on this same one since Denver with no sleep. 24 hours it’s been. Or more? I don’t even know.” He’d left his home in Colorado with a ticket to Claremont, California, to a begin truck driving school. “There ain’t no work up there in Denver, so I decided I could drive trucks. It’s a real great company. They paid for my ticket to Claremont and back, my food, and my hotel for two weeks while I’m out here. But the training is 12 hours every day for those two weeks. I start tomorrow at 5:00 in the morning, but I’ve gotten no sleep, like I said. I wish that bitch who just came aboard would have left me alone at least until the bus left, cause I can not sleep on these buses. All the rattling and shaking and moving. It’s a drag, man.” He pulled out a half eaten gallon bag of beef jerky from under his seat. “This is all I’ve been eating the whole ride. You want some? I got a lot, as you can see.”

I took a handful.

“Jerky on the road is good,” he said, “but after a whole day of it, it makes me sick. All I want is an In-N-Out burger. Oh shit, how I love In-N-Out Burger.”

“Ah man, me too,” I said. “Best burgers in America. One reason I come to the West Coast,” I said, chewing tough meat.

The bus left 20 minutes after it was scheduled to. . . 4:30 in the dry afternoon. The city was sad, rolling by us like a film, shining in a lonely desert light. The bright lights of the city glowed even in the afternoon, trying so hard to be noticed. Advertisements for strip clubs and magic shows were plastered on the sides of buildings. The mini mirage of New York, New York stuck out of the downtown as its own sad city; the Luxor pyramid glistened blackly in the sun like an Egyptian spaceship; and the red and yellow sign for In-N-Out passed by the windows of the bus, just out of Joe’s reach. He was irritated, chewing painfully on his jerky. The bus rushed out of the sleazy city of Vegas and into the empty desert on Interstate 15. Casinos still sprouted out of the sand, then disappeared. But traffic slowed us down in the valley. We tugged along for hours behind lines of cars and trucks and automobiles alike. Purple mountains and baby blue skies surrounded us, not moving.

“At least we ain’t in Nebraska or something,” I said. “We have something pretty to look at.”

Joe agreed but wanted more than burgers to get to California. He was immediately fed up with the traffic. And to make matters worse, an In-N-Out truck showed up beside us. It remained in our pocket of traffic for the whole ride, taunting Joe.

“Ah, come on!” He said with his mouth gaping and watering. “That’s fucking torture!”

But the tension was eased as the two of us paid attention to the bus driver. He was a short, round man with a bristly mustache who resembled the Monopoly man. He clearly had rage for meaningless traffic, which was an entertaining thing for everyone in the bus because his hatred was a hilarious sight to witness. Joe and I quietly laughed at him from behind the seat as he drove through the unexplained herds of traffic.

He’d say, in his whiny, baby-like voice, unusual statements like, “Don’t get in m’ way or I’ll drive over you and your kids, dame it!” and “Who in their right head would give you a license to drive, Gramps!” and “Don’t make me go Army on your wheel whealding arse!” He’d murmur to himself throughout the entire ride about the condition of drivers in America. It eased the tension.

Joe and I just sat back and laughed. Sometimes, the traffic cleared; and we thundered on.

At one point, where in the desert the Joshua trees stood like tarantula legs, the traffic was getting heavy again. The driver was aware of it but was still going close to 70. Then, in a swift and uncontrollable moment, the car directly ahead of us slammed down on his breaks, causing our driver to curse hysterically, punch the air breaks, and cut the wheel sharply to the left to swerve and miss the red taillights of the car below our snout.  His quick reaction shot all the passengers forward and blasted the bus into the sandy ditch between the highways. It shook, rumbling over shrubs and coming close to tipping over; no one could find their breath. Dust erupted between the highways, but the driver reacted so smoothly that we were back on the road as quickly as it happened without tipping or sinking into the sand. Everyone laughed and clapped for the driver with relief. We thundered along as if nothing happened.

I tired to sleep after that, but couldn’t.

Night fell slowly. In Barstow we stopped for a 15 minute break for food and cigarettes. I bought a sandwich.

Joe talked about books endlessly, saying that Hunter Thompson was the only writer of this generation that people 100 years from now will read. “He’s up there with such classic writers as Oscar Wilde and Edgar Poe,” he said. “Poe is another of my favorites.” He insisted I read The Gold Bug. “I’ve read it over 12 times.” Red and serious were his eyes when he said this.

We crossed into California and arrived in Claremont around 11:30. The Greyhound station was next to a hotel. I spotted holiness was across the street and pointed it out to Joe. “There’s your In-N-Out, Man.” It stood glowing in the night like a savior. The neons fed into his eyes. He lit up like fire, and everything was okay for him after that. He could see his meal in front of him; sleep would come soon enough. We shook hands, and he blasted out of the bus and shot down the street with his bag slung around his shoulder, legs prancing.

I spread out across the two seats as we hit the road again. Ashley and Slater were asleep.

The lights of Los Angeles peered from behind the mountains like the last pages of a book. The road was ending, and I had nowhere west to go any longer. I felt cheated. The second half of the continent had slipped away from me. Somewhere in the middle of Texas, I’d entered some kind of highway vortex that spit me across the desert like a tennis ball and into Los Angeles without a thought to stop or sleep.

But at the same time, I was eager and ready to be in the greatest land of America. The Golden State.

I pushed Ashley and Slater awake, and their eyes got big. Our thoughts got wilder. The night got brighter. The road got wider. The end of the road was nearer. . .

Outside the station, we piled their luggage into a taxi bound for North Hollywood. We sat forward with eagerness as it climbed into the hills out of the city. Palm trees stood tall, and the freeways expanded like spider legs. The Hollywood sign glowed to the north. Everything was big. The night vibrated with unseen excitement. I wished with my heart that the boy from the Grand Canyon could have seen it.

 
 

Written in Los Angeles, CA 2012

 

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The Makings of a Book. . .

The Makings of a Book. . .

 

Out of San Antonio, I was picked up by a rusty, black 15-passenger van loaded with luggage and four strangers who didn’t know each other. Larry, Ashley, Slater, and Jerry — the driver who was picking up everyone he saw on the road until there was no more room. I was the fifth and last eligible contestant.

Greatest ride of my life. Texas to Nevada. 2012

Jerry was a big guy. An ex-trucker from Michigan with rotted teeth and stringy gray hair. He was ditching his unfaithful wife and home in San Antonio to start a new life in Northern California. He bought all the gas and said he would pass through Albuquerque and over through Las Vegas to get to where he was going. From there, I could easily get to Los Angeles on my own.

Ashley was a bisexual girl with a mermaid mane of curly red hair, shadowy bedroom eyes, and teeth that slanted inwards like a cute, confused rabbit. Her friend, Slater, was a 20-year old gay guy with tan skin who resembled Dave Grohl with the goatee of an ancient Arab wizard. He was a young, handsome, seemingly naive fellow who was forgetting his life of internet and Bank of America. “I want that life never again,” he said. They thrived on the idea of life. They had their whole life in six duffle bags and suitcases and sacks of socks, heading to LA to start a new life like Jerry. “Basically your body will no longer do what your soul wants to do,” said Ashley about living a life you hate.

Larry was a dirty bum who didn’t have a life to change, but just went with the tides. He was a grungy train-hopping kid with a lazy eye, crunched up brows, and burn scars on his arms and legs from when his mother threw bacon grease on him as a child. He carried a pair of clothes and an Army backpack with what appeared to be only a big blanket inside. He was quiet until you talked to him. . . too stoned to speak.

The van could not hold another person or suitcase. It was a mobile dump of luggage, toolboxes, rifles, scuba gear, barbells, trailer hitches, poker chips, halogen work lights, camping chairs, tents, cots, cards, coonskin caps, and two bikes and a generator that hung on the back over the license plate. Plus $3,000 worth of pools sticks in a black gator-skin bag. Jerry was a poker and pool shark.

The van had no seatbelts or AC, and the back doors were blocked by big black bags, so we all had to crawl over all the seats to exit out the front. I had fun after stops to pee or eat, climbing back in through to the back like a monkey in a cave and plopping down into my cubby with a sigh for the road.

It was the greatest ride of my life. Larry relaxed in the passenger seat next to Jerry; Slater and Ashley were in the middle bucket seat; and I was sprawled out over the suitcases in the back. The windows were open, and Texas was yelling through them. I sat back and set my mind on the winds of the west. The Smashing Pumpkins pounded through the luggage jammed against the speakers. It was a loud party. None of us had anywhere to be. We just drove.

10:13am: We passed through Welfare on I-10. Small hills slowly started to emerge. Halfway across Texas.

11:00am: The cacti started sprouting, and the air slowly turned yellow. The crosswinds spit harshly, pushing the van with great vengeance. The trees were still green, only shorter; and the sand looked drier. Jerry tugged us along.

12:15pm: We passed the exit for Del Rio where Ashley and I tied bandanas to our heads to calm our wind-beaten hair. The fat van growled through the hills near nothing. Shrubs screamed for water. Buzzards circled the sky with cocked eyes aimed at prey.

Crammed in the cubby in the back of a crowded van. Texas. 2012

Everyone was getting to know each other, talking over the seats and pushing forward with the road. I, in my cubby, leaned forth with my arms on the seat listening to Ashley and Slater. “We are passionate people,” they said. Extraordinary things came out of their watering mouths.

“I love all the little things people don’t notice. Like counting the freckles on someone’s body,” said Slater. “You have a lot,” he noticed.

“I love watching old people share food with each other,” revealed Ashley.

They were authentic, happy people, hungry and ready for anything in this world, with heads over their heals for what awaited them in LA. “I feel like my body is writing lyrics!” yelled Slater in the wind. He giggled and shyly batted his hand over his eyes.

“Exactly!” yearned Ashley, “But it’s like we can’t quite read them!”

There were times during the ride where they would both would turn around and look at me with big, lustful eyes, curious to know everything I knew. They craved deep conversations and eye contact, and asked me question after question about life through my eyes:

“What’s the saddest you’ve ever been?”
“What do you love to do most in another person’s company?”
“What do you think about regret?”
“What are you scared of?”

Ashley said I had pretty eyes.

As he was driving, Jerry would look back for long moments to tell us stories of his life. “When I was 13 and lived in Oregon, I went deer hunting about every day. One afternoon I came across mountain lion footprints cut out of the snow. Intrigued, I started to follow them, right?” He looked right back at us and drove as straight as an arrow. “The tracks lead through the forest and over the side of a small cliff. I noticed the tracks led down and into the darkness of a cave cut out of the mountain. But only in. There were no tracks coming out. I was scared shitless, kids!” His small blue eyes pierced our own.“I pointed my rifle at the cave. I crept, crept step by step away from the cave until I could no longer see it, then I ran back home.” He turned back to the road and kept trucking. “Thank God the lion never came out. Damn scary for a boy of 13.”

He stayed glued between the road lines. But for a truck driver, he’d tailgate like a maniac. Trailers, trucks, and even wide-loads were so close to the grill of the van that the entire back end of said machinery took over the whole view of the windshield. I just sat back and trusted his skill. Eventually, he’d roar around them and gunned straight for the coast.

We passed through abandoned Texas ghost towns and old trucks rusting in the sun and an oil rigs that had caught on fire. It blazed up in the distance. We all looked at it with interest. Then it was gone. In other small towns, standing in the sand were rusty oil pumpjacks with long necks, dipping their noses into the ground and up again like those plastic Drinking Birds you find on workingmen’s desk. I wanted to pass through El Paso just to see it, but the van cut up 285 before I could say anything– a quicker route out of Texas and into New Mexico.

“The day is turning hot,” I said near Fort Stockton around 3:00pm.

“We could ride into Vegas naked,” said Ashley.

We crossed over into New Mexico at 4:40pm, but the time zone had changed, so it was an hour earlier. In Carlsbad, Jerry insisted on paying our way into the Carlsbad Caverns. We was driving us for free and buying some of our food and drink already, too. We started calling him Uncle.

An elevator (built in 1931 with ten tons of dynamite) took us 750 feet down into the Earth where the air was cold and the ceilings dripped. The caves were massive, the kind of eerie hole where Gollum would live. Everything echoed. It was dramatically lit with white and yellow lights to reveal what was naturally hidden in the darkness of the underworld. Bats slept in caves, scheduled to erupt into the sky at dusk. Bulbus stalagmites jutted out of the floor like columns of bubbling popcorn and soda straws. Thin stalactites hung from the ceiling like icicles and stakes you’d use to attempt the murder of a vampire. The base resembled petrified flows of ribbons and bed sheets. Some looked like cauliflower attached to endless stems which climbed up the walls like snakes. It was all a beautiful mess of stone and what looked like solidified water. Secret coves and dark caves loomed above us. I expected goblins to scuttle from across the puddles and pathways and fairies to flutter around the crown-shaped chandelier drips. We walked about a mile in a loop through the whole ancient den.

Cauliflower in Carlsbad Caverns. New Mexico. 2012

Back in the light of day, unexpected rain was pounding the ground. A storm had risen. We darted to the van and roared on down the highway. But, as quickly as it came, the rain ceased. In the distance beyond the world, silent cracks of lightning shuddered down from the sky. We drove away from it all, pushing on.

Jerry turned around and told more stories. “I knew a guy once who bought a whole sheet of acid one day (that’s about 100 hits, you know), and stuck it in his pocket without wrapping it in anything. No plastic bag or tin foil or nothing. And it was such a hot day that the mass amount of the drug soaked into his skin, killing him instantly dead.” He didn’t swerve once.

At 7:40pm, we passed a dump of a place called Pink Slippers Gentleman’s Club in the middle of the New Mexican desert. Only one car was parked in front of it. “They probably still use glory holes,” joked Ashley. We all laughed.

At 7:53pm, the bulbus orange sun saturated the clouds with warmth and slowly dipped into the desert, the final sliver of it vanishing behind a cluster of trailers to the west. What was left were residual purple burns in the sky. . . a violet halo ten times the the size of the sun. It led us on.

The whole drive, Jerry had been talking about aliens. “We gotta go to Roswell! We gotta! I have to see these aliens they speak of there!” Legend has it that Roswell, NM, is a headquarters for extraterrestrials. Locals claim to have witnessed UFOs and martians in the quiet desert town. We rode on through after dark. Everyone was excited. We wanted to find a secret spot in the desert that was rid of light pollution and stare at the big, dark universe alone.

“Let’s get some rum!” screamed Ashley.

So we drove to a liquor store past all the wood carvings and cardboard cutouts of alien visitors in cafe windows and comic books stores to buy a bottle. The lights from the town slowly vanished as we pulled off the highway several miles out. We rumbled over a cattle grate and down an abandoned dirt road to the eerie end. A lightless house sat crookedly below a tree with old trucks and cars parked out front, but no one was home. Ashley was frightened, so Jerry turned the van around. He drove halfway back towards the cattle grate and parked in the middle of nowhere and shut the engine off. There was silence. The wind was cold and faintly howling outside the van, shaking the shrubs and cooling the rattlesnakes. The stars were blazing with alien mystery. The Cheshire Moon stared straight at us with a curled smile. It pointed to the west, directly towards California. The van pointed west, too, the glass and metal glowing in the moonlight.

We all passed the bottle of rum below the night. It warmed our frigid bones. Jerry pulled out a strong MagLight, and we all stood together in a cluster, signaling aliens with intricate movements of the beacon. It shot straight into space — a thick beam of white light like a tractor beam. It almost pulled the visitors to us.

It remained a party. We shared the bottle, sat in the dirt, and talked for hours, getting to know each other even more.

Larry and I stood in the desert away from the van and talked. He told me about his life. He had two kids somewhere and an ex-wife whose parents thought he was scum. He was an old street kid, bumming around the country and finding comfort through drugs and booze and beaches. “I’ve been to San Jose, Oakland, Stockton, Sacramento, San Francisco, Oceanside, San Marino, Los Angeles, Colorado, Idaho, Bozeman, Kentucky, St Louis, Kansas City. . . all those middle states, man — they’re so cool dude. Fuckin’ Georgia, Florida, all the way up into the Carolinas. . . dude, I’ve been all over the fuckin’ place, man.” He went on and on in slurred speech, happy as the free bum he was, and told me all about train hopping per my request.

Later, I joined Ashley for a romantic picnic of drink on top of the van. We sat in the cold night air, and I pointed out constellations. She asked me to read her poetry. I read out loud in the light of the moon. It shined through her hair, distinguishing each strand like vines. The wind made musical hoots in the mouth of the rum bottle.

Visitors. New Mexico. 2012

Jerry pounded on the roof to signal us it was time to get back on the road. Life was perfect, and I was glad for humans and aliens and our lust for the road.

It was after midnight. As the van pushed on, I noticed the moon grow redder and thicker as it sank into the blackness below the Earth. She grinned wearing lipstick, vanishing before my eyes. I felt like Forrest Gump: I didn’t know where the Earth ended, and the sky began.

Talk petered out, leaving room for the wind to speak again. Some of us tried to rest, but sleep was difficult all cooped up in the van. Jerry stopped at a gas station to try his hand at it. He slept on a pillow that I’d spilt coffee on earlier and woke up two hours later because it was dripping on his knee. But he only needed a couple hours before he was ready to go again. I slept maybe an hour.

Somewhere outside of Albuquerque at 5:00am, we turned into a truck stop. Jerry bought Larry some food. The vast sprinkley spread of lights near the city’s outskirts twinkled and hummed. The soft sun slowly rose above the mountains beyond the glimmer, framing them in a deep orange silhouette with pale blue space inching towards the defeat of the navy sky. I went into the truck stop washroom to wet my face. The reflection revealed my ratty hair and bloodshot eyes that puffed out like I had conjunctivitis.

At 6:00am, the sun reached out to touch all the land. It was rough on the eyes. 900 miles into the ride, the territory turned jagged and red. Telephone poles lined the highway like fences. There was nothing. Until a freight train chugged along parallel to us, 300 yards out below the hills. Larry turned to me from the front seat like an excited dog and continued his talk from the night before, reeling off every fact about trains he’d ever learned in his day.

“There’s your train right there, Leroy. Take a gander. . .” I looked at it. It was long and racing to beat us. “Okay, see here’s what you need to know, dude, listen up: Those there are box cars. See ‘em? They’re my first choice, you know, okay? And there, there’s grainers– that’s a grainer there. Sometimes, you know, you can find a perfect spot in those and just roll along and do whatever the fuck you want, man. Free.”

We all looked out of the window, fascinated by the drunk professor in the front seat.

“And you know what an engine looks like, right? Sure. Right there. See, sometimes, if it’s a long trip, they have lots of engines connected to each other, right, okay? And fuckin. . . the ones in the back, they’re usually empty, kay?. If you can get into one of those, man, you ridin’ first class, man, I’m telling you, dude. I’ve found food, WiFi, and even liquor in them engines, man. It’s crazy!”

He was excited, but not as excited as I was, watching this beast roll through the world as free as a ghost.

“Now, you know already, right, that if you can’t easily count the bolts on the wheels as they turn, it’s going too fast and you’ll kill yourself tryin’a get on, right, yeah? And fuckin’. . . when you want to get off, man, you gotta strap your pack tight around your waist and jump and go, go; and you gotta start sprinting like a lion, man, ‘cause the fuckin’ ground ain’t gunna be movin’ with you, you know. And it ain’t soft ground neither, man, so you gotta book it to prevent crashing y’ass into the ground and breaking yourself. Not to mention getting trapped under the mercy of the tons of steel that you’re on top of, man.”

He went on and on until the train was gone.

At 7:00am, we crossed another time zone into Arizona. The morning was slow and crept along at half time as the sun stole our hours. Unusual humps and hills bloomed out of the earth with no explanation, as if God had dropped the end of a bitten candy bar. . . or stubbed his toe, causing contorted erosion.

In the midst of Navajo Indian territory, everyone decided to go to the Grand Canyon. We kept going, excitedly pushing on and talking, sleepless and wired on coffee and smoke and rum. I felt woozy, and my eyes burned in my head. We were all strung out on no sleep and the residual effects of intoxicants. Jerry looked fine. I felt ill.

Grand Canyon. Arizona. 2012

He paid our way into Grand Canyon National Park. We drove through the woods along the South Rim. I was the only one who’d seen the canyon before, but I was just as excited as they were, despite my unwellness. Ashley and Slater, who’d never seen the wild west, were infatuated. Their world was expanding and changing with each breath of the wind, each mile we drove. The canyon was opulent with the same green river that had carved the rainbow stone hiding at the bottom in a winding turquoise ribbon. It was like the Earth one day decided to be soft and let water manipulate it for a million years. The canyon was a pale red painting with orange and white and pink layers of earth stacked upon one another in an miraculous sand sculpture.

Jerry shrieked a battle cry that echoed throughout the canyon, vibrating all the souls around. It was endless, then grew silent. A hawk allowed the wind to steer him through the air in effortless flight. The sky was wide and blue.

Ashley and Slater climbed down to a cliff below the rim with a red balloon inside which they crammed two letters of passionate poetry about living a grateful life, and sent it soaring off the cliff and into the wind. They hoped someone would find and open it. Who knows. . .

At another corner of the South Rim, we entered a realm of tourists taking pictures and staring off into the cavity. There was a family there with a young boy, about 6, who was really very excited to be there. “This is the Grand Canyon!” he said. “We’re here at the Grand Canyon! This is it — the Grand Canyon! I’m here with my family, and we’re here at the Grand Canyon! The Grand Canyon! . . . Where is the Hollywood sign?”

Everyone around laughed. “That’s in Los Angeles, Honey,” said his mother, chuckling.

Out of the Canyon, pushing on towards a main highway, I tried my hand at sleep again. My legs were sprawled out over the suitcases on the seat. I tucked my head into my shoulder. I was almost out cold when Jerry slammed on the brakes in a rush. He pulled off the road and into a ditch among the redwood trees.

“There’s a big, dead bull elk down against that fence over there!” he said, fascinated by the sight behind us.

A deceased bull elk. Arizona. 2012

We piled out of the car and walked down. I was last, struggling to stay awake as I stumbled out and down the ditch towards the others. There it was: a dead bull elk with thick antlers covered with khaki velvet fur. I touched them. They were softer than they looked. Its eyes had been eaten out by flies and maggots– only bloody sockets remained. Somehow they stared at me. Coyotes had ripped the flesh from its backside, and in the center of its head was a bloody bullet hole. Jerry suggested it had been hit by a car then shot to end its misery and dragged here off the road. One of its antlers was skinned back, folded over the barbed wire fence at which it lay, revealing rugged bone beneath. The air was thick with the foul stench of rotting meat and rigor mortis. It was strangely beautiful.

We piled back in the van and kept driving. I couldn’t sleep. 4:50pm, Arizona still. I saw the first jagged erections of mountains in the distance through pale pollution of day. It loomed, immovable. The west was getting closer.

At 5:10pm, we cut right up 93N toward the Hoover Dam, 100 miles from Vegas. At 6:17pm, we crossed into Nevada, only the time changed again, deleting an hour from an already slow day. The Dam was huge and industrious, causing an interruption to the empty land that had surrounded us for two days. The sun set softly to the west. . . a gentle golden welcome to the coast that was soon to come.

 

Written in North Hollywood, CA 2012

 

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