Thursday, January 22, 2009

CHAPTER 3

The drive from San Francisco to Las Vegas is a long and strange journey. We’d chosen to take the 5 down to the Lost Hills exit and then head east from there, eventually going through Bakersfield and taking the winding ways of highway 58 through the Mojave desert until we met up with the 15 around Barstow, making a beeline for Nevada from there. It’s about a 8 or 9 hour drive, and there are a lot of points where you stop and go through odd desert towns that seem like they should be in Mississippi or something, and you drive on some two-lane highways where semis won’t let you pass. It’s a strange country of hicks and unimaginably squalid liquor stores and one-pump gas stations in places with unpronounceable names like Tehachapi. Chet bought a model Cadillac at one. The bathrooms were all hot, humid, and fetid, stunk-up like the plumbing had had a heart attack many years before and nothing had ever recovered. After standing in line for the crapper under the hot sun for way too long at one of these sorry-looking filling stations, all three of us went in at once and just pissed all over the place. The obese gentleman who had been using it before us had stunk it up to high hell in there, and we all had to hold our breath while we wildly micturated like befuddled clowns in the clouds of brown steamy gas. But we drove on. Leroy broke out the cocaine and started doing lines off a cheap plastic ashtray in the back seat, and I drove and drove into that desert heat. I kept seeing motorcycles crashing on the road in front of us, skidding out in wavy blurs against the macadam—nothing but mirages fooling my eyes in the sun. Chet did a few lines after a while and those two started jabbering on wildly. Leroy kept blowing his nose like a out-of-tune trumpet every five minutes into a waded up old handkerchief that was caked with old dried snot. He’d shove it back in his pants pocket when he was done. The thought of it made me nauseated so I tried to ignore it.

I’d met Leroy through and ex-girlfriend of mine a few years earlier and we’d become fast drinking buddies, staying up all night many times running from bar to bar and through the streets of San Francisco howling, crashing hipster parties, getting kicked out, one of us trying to balance on the handlebars of a bike while the other drunkenly pedals away, hanging out in his garage playing records, smoking many cigarettes, falling down stairs, starting fights and running from cops, watching the sun come up from a barstool, losing what was left of our inhibitions and our minds. We both liked hanging out in dark bars during the day, and we both liked our liquor a little too much. We got along swell from the get go. Leroy ’s the kind of guy that will do any drug you put in front of him. He’ll even get high on the nitrous oxide in an aerosol can of cool whip if you leave it out too long around him. There’s a robust and deeply unaffected confidence in him, a feeling that everything’s okay, an eternal rhythm of some sort that keeps you ticking right with the primordial it of all things when you’re around him. A kind of intensity seems to emanate from him and surcharges the air around him with a kind of importance and excitement, like a chainsaw’s buzz of perpetual and frantic locomotion. He is also the most flexible person I’ve ever seen. He can contort his wiry limbs in all kinds of fantastic ways, and walks as if he were playing a game of Twister on a busted, torn trampoline. Sometimes we’ll be hanging out in a park and I’ll look up at a tree and see Leroy hanging there by his legs, his shaggy head lobbing back and forth like a metronome. He climbs up telephone poles, balances himself dangerously between barstools and walls, rolls himself up into a ball and goes barreling downhill on crowded sidewalks, and he is a damn good arm wrestler to boot. But mostly he just smokes cigarettes, closes bars on weeknights, and growls a lot. He usually sports a large black mustache and black glasses, along with an ever-changing array of bandages and scars on his face. He sure is a damn gritty sumbitch, as my grand pappy used to say.

Leroy was growling and twitching in the back seat. “This coke is barely keeping me awake, I hardly slept and it’s just making me feel like I’m just sinking into my seat back here, look really, like I’m just slowly slipping and melting into the fucking seat. My eyes. Everything’s wide open you know. Shit. That Gina girl. She’s built. So I don’t care about trying to dangle around with this one. I’ve got to cut out somebody, can’t keep doing this, but I don’t care, so, I’m gonna keep with her I think. It’ll help me do less coke, you know, because she’s got a heart murmur so I can’t really do it around her anyway, well, I guess I could, but she couldn’t, so that might stop me from doing it so much. Ahhhh. I’ve gotta stop, but I can’t keep staying awake like this all the time. We’re going to make it not too late of a night tonight, right? I mean I want to go out and fucking go wild and all, but we can’t stay up all night. I need to fucking sleep! At least some. But, I mean, Saturday’s another story. We can go all night Saturday. Or, fuck it, whatever. Why limit ourselves? Shit, did you see that guy in the liquor store back there with his shirt all unbuttoned and he’s walking around smiling with his gut hanging out and those fucking shorts on like he’s Tom Selleck or something. Shit people around these desert towns are fucked-up. Anyone got a snack or something or some gum? I’m going crazy back here. I need another line. You guys want some? Oh shit, I love this song. Turn it up. You guys seen my lighter? I need a cigarette. Ahhh. Shit. Can I roll the window down? Ahhh. It’s fucking hot out there. Hot fucking wind. Arghhghghg!!! Shit. I need a beer. We should really stop and get some beer. Should I have more alcohol right now? Ah. Yes. Yes that’s what I need. Pour a little beer over all this shit in my stomach. You guys wanna stop somewhere? Get us some beer or something?”

We did stop, to get gas, and Leroy bought a 16 oz can of Budweiser in a paper bag at a rundown little liquor store in some arid, dust-covered place off of Highway 46 called Wasco. So now Leroy was sitting hunched over with the brown-bagged Budweiser in-between his knees while he continued his garrulousness and inveterate smoking. I started thinking about slowing down, I’d been keeping the Mercedes around 90 the whole way, just in case a cop came creeping around flashing his lights at us, as we did have a lot of illegal substances in the car, now including Leroy ’s opened beer, and even though Leroy said he’d take the rap, and I was completely stone sober at this point, I still didn’t want to push my luck too far. I lifted my foot slowly off the accelerator right in time to blow by a speed trap just above the legal speed limit. I kept checking the rearview for lights. Luckily they never came.

For a while I started daydreaming. It must have been all those barren hills going by with all those jagged rocks jutting out like tumors on the desert’s skin, or maybe it was just the sun burning my eyeballs, or more likely it was the influence of my rancor at being stuck behind Big Rigs, but I somehow got to thinking about some odd things. I began wondering about what it would be like if I were somehow to invent a way to run vehicles without gasoline, or maybe invent isn’t the right phrase, maybe more like buy, and at this point I had to explain to myself in a vague but not impossible kind of way how I would come across this ridiculous sum, though thinking about Vegas always gives you a kind of gambler’s delusion of the big win I really wasn’t too big on getting my hopes anywhere near what someone might refer to as “up” before heading out to the cash burning town in the desert, and instead I contented myself with the even grander, though blithely less realistic fancy of winning the Lottery or some such thing, even though I know it’s about a thousand times more likely to get struck by lightning when there’s not a cloud in the sky, or to randomly punch seven numbers into a phone and get the Vice President’s daughter on the line, than it would be to actually win this imaginary sum, that I had for some reason settled on, of $332 million. In my oneiric sunstroke sapped head it seemed like a good place to start from. So I would take a bunch of money and invest in this new alternative power, maybe something like solar power but way more efficient and completely pollution free, or yes, maybe just a really super powered kind of solar power, like taking 10 minutes of sunlight and turning it into enough power to make a large Mercedes run at 90 MPH for 8 hours. After getting all this technology together I would then start a trucking company. Chet had been talking earlier about trucker unions and how they had a lot of power in keeping a large amount of trucks on the road, clogging up the freeways, causing a majority of the traffic accidents, sucking up gas, and causing much air pollution along the way. I don’t know even the first thing about starting a trucking company, but that didn’t stop the fantasy. There’s a point you reach when the reality of things starts to matter less and less, and you don’t sweat the small stuff, when you’re getting involved in this kind of stuff. It’s mostly just a nice distraction from life. Anyway I figured I could undersell all the other trucking companies because my truckers would never have to stop for gas, and my company would never have to spend a dime on fuel. I figured I could pay my guys more and reap profits at the same time. Pretty soon truckers everywhere would want to work for me. At least that’s what I told myself. Like I was some munificent God trying to free men from the bonds of wage-slavery and oil dependency, or something stupid like that. I was pretty sure I’d have to take on the trucker’s union, who I took to be some pretty badass thugs of some sort, but I figured I’d just hire bigger goons to protect me and let my money do the rest. At some point I would start to buy out other trucking companies that were going under because they couldn’t compete with me and my line of NoGas 18-Wheelers. Soon I’d own almost every truck in the state, somehow keeping my new solar technology a secret from everybody else. Maybe the hired goons would guard it with machetes and crossbows, hands clenched and ready to squeeze the life out of any spy sent to purloin my “solar papers.” These things would just work themselves out. After I’d cleaned up the trucking industry I figured the whole oil industry would go into a tailspin. Just think of how much money these long haul truckers spend on gas. Gas prices would have to leap so these damn oil companies could keep reaping profits, and this in turn would really piss-off consumers. With gas prices soaring over 5 dollars a gallon and drivers all over the nation ready to look anywhere for relief I would then unveil my NoGas line of cars. Somehow, again I overlooked many things I didn’t know about, like the causes of gas prices rising and their relation to oil prices rising and probably the relation of the free market to less demand for gas, but somehow I would figure out a way to start manufacturing all of these solar vehicles. It seemed simple. And because they didn’t require gas, and you could drive them as far you wanted on just a little sunshine, people would pay a little more for them than the average gas-powered car. Now I started to worry about the government coming in on the side of the oil companies, but I figured with all my money and my goons, and with people buying these cars in droves, that I’d be able to win that fight. So my little company is now growing into a behemoth, a gargantuan of sunlight if you will. I started to think that I would then somehow, after investing much of my profits in new technologies that would turn any regular car into a solar-powered one, start to open up car converter shops all over the country. Maybe just start out with a couple here, a few there, maybe buy out a few auto body shops, train the mechanics to retool any car into a brand new “Heliocar” at a three-week camp where they’d learn all they’d need to know about this new field, and get to cook hot dogs and sing by the campfire too, like some kind of new age heliolatry or something. Then people would start to come in and get their cars redone, for what I figured to be a reasonable price, I mean considering the savings of never having to purchase gas again. With oil prices rising higher than ever this would appeal to pretty much everyone, and soon I’d have thousands of the converter shops running day and night just to try to keep up with demand. I would then, after pretty much dismantling the way we think about driving, start to invest a lot of my profits to use my new and always improving technology in the mass transit systems of every major city in the country. Imagine a solar powered subway, or a bullet train that could run from Los Angeles to New York on nothing but the sun’s juice. The possibilities were endless. What about putting solar panels all over Las Vegas? I dreamed of solar-powered slot machines. And what about Taxi cabs? How could I have forgotten about all the cabbies? Shit, they’d be broke with gas prices that high. So I’d start a cab company too, and put all the other guys out of business because my cabbies would never have to pay for gas, and they’d make much more working for me than anyone else. After a while I’d start buying out other taxi companies too and, well, the same thing as with the truckers, I’d own every cab in the city. Or something along those lines. It all started to get a little fuzzy around that point, as I was swerving in and out of traffic and madly stomping down on the gas, probably drooling a little bit, and Leroy spilled some of his beer when I hit the brakes to avoid running into the back of a pickup truck, so I had to flip back to reality.