America by mile-marker. Paint by #, connect the dots on a map—touch every state. Take highways, waysides, down and arounds, detours. The horizon goes on forever, each cloud looks somehow like the state you’re in. Silver rivers, blue mountains. Mud. Wet tree limbs sag heavy. Walls of green suddenly end, get replaced by concrete columns, sidewalks, bridge foundations, sheets of steel, glass, antennas aimed at the cosmos—then, that shrinks, the green springs back up out of the earth, it’s all a blur out the window of the sky blue Fairmont.
Stop in truck stops, browsing cassette bins; Creedence Clearwater Revival, Simon and Garfunkel, golden oldies from back before you were born. T-shirts and coffee cups with logos of the nearest city hanging off metal hooks in white Formica pin board. The register girl drums her nails on the counter. Bleached blonde hair, a streak of green, mouthing the words to Sister Christian, “...motoring … what’s you’re price for flight?” Sustain yourself on beef jerky and wild cherry Pepsi. Gift shops. Everywhere is a gift shop. They can’t help themselves. Gotta survive off the traveler. Plaster casts of everything possible; magnets, key-chains, snow globes with the close proximity National monument trapped inside, waiting for you to shake them. You never do.
Eat eggs sunny side up. Fried hard. Over easy, whatever you want. Hash-browns and corned beef hash, sausage links, glistening. Make eyes with the waitress, always try the waffles with a fruit cup. Refuse the whipped cream. Diners. Little luncheonettes. Restaurants advertised on billboards beginning 100 plus miles away. Counting down … counting down … 95 Miles til Peggy Lee’s Diner! 60 miles til Peggy Lee’s Diner! 35 miles til … oh … you just passed Peggy Lee’s Diner. Turn around. Open faced sandwiches. Whatever the special is: Meatloaf, Salisbury Steak, Chicken Fried Steaks. “I’ll have the lemon pepper chicken with wild rice” “Honey, it’s Tuesday. That’s Thursday’s Special.” No matter, it’s all good. Just don’t order the pizza. You’re too far from the ocean now. Tip well, take the leftovers with you in Styrofoam clam-shells, slide out of the booth, make your way back to the parking lot, a toothpick in your teeth.
See dusty flat top plains. Mauve sunsets. Stars coming into focus over ravines. The valleys where the prayers gather; underdeveloped, unable to float like balloons up into the sky. Power-lines sagging between generating stations. Windows lit up golden, smoke coming out of a chimney, a rail-thin dog running along a mile of net wire cattle fence, barking at the Fairmont, us yelling at it so that it keeps trying to jump the fence and get into our car. We don’t care. If it can get in, the pooch can ride. Cows, horses, semi-trucks, beat up tractors. A red barn busted, decayed, and probably housing zombies. Pee in the thorn bush, an eye on the barn door, if it moves an inch, sprint back to the car. They’ll eat you, guts an all, pull your gizzards out like taffy.
Seek entertainment: drive-in movies, semi-pro wrestling matches at the local high-school, roller-skate rinks, lemonade and some kind of poison in a Dixie cup. Fireworks popping over a football field but, “I don’t think this is football season? Is it?” “Got me.” Ferris wheels in the distance getting closer, small green lights and screams from roller-coasters, the smell of popcorn, hay, funnel cake, mules and horses behind wooden gates, corn dogs, peppers and onions, the cotton candy machine. Dawn comes like a surprise, still sitting on the hood of the car, talking about what’s right and wrong. Bullshitting. Lying. Chewing on a long piece of wheat. At least, you think it’s wheat. You’re not sure.
Gasoline. All the gasoline in the world. Burn it. Blue bug windshield fluid. Oil by the gallon. The engine shudders. When it rains the Fairmont gets washed. Sometimes a stray dog pisses on the tires, that helps too. Take turns driving. Take turns sleeping in the back seat, avoiding that sharp spring that pokes out. Seat belts. Her hair whipping in the wind. No air conditioning. No power steering. Iffy brakes. Watch out for potholes, these shocks are fucked. Add rations to the trunk. Cooler with ice. Beer. Lunch meat. When she pumps gas, she leans with one hand on her hip, the other holding the handle and she stares off into space, until the safety clicks off and stops. Once though, the safety must have been busted and fuel sprayed out all over the side of the car and all down her stocking. We laughed, she took them off, we burnt them in the fire later. She rode barefoot, her feet on the dash, her thighs looking good as I shifted and listened to the radio go from clear transmission to total static and then back.
Stay in motels. Dumps. Sleep in parking lots. Find campgrounds, no quarters for the pay showers—wash your sweat and gunk and worry in crystal clear rivers. So cold you’d think you just died and from this point on you’re just a ghost. Random roadside neon signs advertising vacancies and free HBO, magic fingers beds, carpet that looked good in 1977, thin mattress, yellow smoke stains on the silver and orange wallpaper.
Drive. Drive. Drive. Lakes reservoirs, junkyards, sports bars. Small town cops, State troopers, cowboys in Levis, girls driving trucks, talking tough. Always scouting for bathrooms, find surprising and useless vending machines for flavored lube, mints, cologne. Convenience stores with Pac-man, Galaga, nudie magazines, fuzzy dice everywhere. Casino machines. Digital poker. Blinking lights. People leaning against brick walls outside, saying to her, “You ain’t from around here.” Even they laugh when they say it, because they know that they’re just playing along with some role in a movie they’ve seen. My Cousin Vinny probably.
Then, these strangers shake your hand, and say, “You’re on the road, really? Traveling America? Really? I always wanted to do that!”
“Then you outta come with us!”
“Oh … I wish I could.”
“So do we,” we say, climbing back in the car, waving as we pull back out onto the road.
Jack rabbits sprint across the black top. Play the game of spotting strange license plates, “Oh! That’s Oklahoma, I think!”“No … it’s Nebraska.” Speed up, cross another state line. America reveals itself to you. Everything leaning in close whispering in your ear like an electric secret that you can never properly share.