March 20th, 2001

conan pc

Road trip day 4

I am flying down Scotts Valley drive. Huge oak tree branches hang over the road, shading the entire four lanes. There are few cars, but plenty of people walking alongside and in the road.

My boss is crawling on her hands and knees straight down the center line. She's wearing a business suit, and going somewhere on business. I swim through the air above her, and land on a thick, crooked branch. In the afternoon sun I see the south end of town ahead, where people bustle in some kind of holiday celebration.

I don't want to be spotted by my boss; that would be embarrassing. So I drift higher and then propel myself to the right, up Mt. Hermon road and towards a shopping center. Now cars rush back and forth beneath me.

I swim higher to avoid the air currents of the cars, and knock my shoulder on a power line. It wobbles and I jerk my shoulder back, pushing my arms out to shoot away. I look over my shoulder and see that the broken end of the power line is lying in the street, vibrating slightly. Cars are already backing up.

I fly out over the shopping center and see crowds below. There is a movie theater at the far end of the parking lot. I land on my feet in front of a large brick wall displaying a sign. Movies are listed on the sign, but these movies are the potential academy award winners, not the ones currently playing at the theatre.

I am at a loss to find out when the movies start, or even what they are. Perhaps the theatre has a second entrance. I start backing away from the sign and notice that a high-school age girl is also backing away from the sign, and looking at me. She is trying to get around me, but I keep blocking her progress by backing up. "Whoops!" I say. "Pardon me!"

She smiles and walks in front of me. She is wearing a dress and has long blond hair in curls. She looks vaguely familiar.

Her mother walks up next to me. She asks when the movies start. I tell her they might be listed in the front entrance of the theater. Several other people appear behind her, and we all decide to walk together to reach the front entrance. We catch up with the girl, and start walking down Sawyer Circle, with forest all around us.

I pass by the pathway leading up to my house. We're all going to meet there, but I tell the mother that I'm going to take a shortcut. She says goodbye and I fly up into the air, up over the chicken pen and the twisty honeysuckle vines, and grasp the porch railing. Below me is a loose sliding door made of a lower glass pane and an upper pane, which I kick. It rattles in its frame and the top half of the door breaks loose and falls into a wooden cart, where it shatters. I climb down into the house.

Though I've climbed in downstairs, I find myself upstairs. My cat Tuna is here, resting on a shelf. Her eyes are very wide, like she's feeling paranoid about something. Perhaps nobody has been here to feed her. I pet her on the head and pick up some money. Then I run outside to the porch and dive off the railing.

I pump my arms under me and sail over the treetops. I can see the road below but there's no troop of people waiting for me. I continue flying along.

After a while I am resting in a park. Carolyn and I are sunbathing along with a large party of girls, all wearing bathing suits or bathrobes. Some are lying on towels.

A tall girl with pale skin and black hair, wearing a bathrobe, is talking with a friend of hers, who is on a towel. As Carolyn and I watch, she bends down to kiss the girl and her robe falls open, revealing her large pale breasts.

I elbow Carolyn. "Now's your chance. Go for it!" I say. She hesitates for a second, then gets up off her towel and walks over to the woman.

Giggling, she embraces her. They are both naked now, and I ogle them as they hug. They kiss and Carolyn giggles some more. She has found a playmate. The girl escorts her to the back of a large truck, which she owns. They are going to drive to her house. Before she starts the engine I tap her on the shoulder, and attempt to whisper so that Carolyn can't hear what I'm saying through the open window of the camper shell.

Carolyn can still hear me, so the girl and I get out of the open-air cab and walk partway into the woods near my house. I tell her that Carolyn and I are friends, and that contrary to her suspicion, I am not angling to make this a threesome. "Carolyn gets you all to herself" I say.

The woman tilts her head and smiles, and then says in a rapid-fire way "Well I was thinking that in the back of my head, but now that I see you don't want to do that, I think I'll let you do it anyway as a reward. Come on, get into the truck. You're a lucky man."

I notice offhand that she reminds me of Zog. Something in her stance. "No," I say, "I meant what I said."

I walk to the window of the cab and ask Carolyn how I'll get home, since she drove me. Never mind the fact that I appear to be standing on the hill outside my house as I say this. I ask Carolyn for the key to her car, and tell her I'll pick her up tomorrow. She gives me the key and I start her car, which is parked at the top of the hill. I drive off, down the road.

- - -

Then I wake up. The Motel 6 shower is dinky and the water is barely warm. I hang out in there for a while anyway, wrapping my brain carefully around the fragile clutter of my dream, until the memories stick in place.

Ken gets up and takes a short shower, and we pack our things. He does a tiny bit of filming and takes his luggage to the car. I finish my writeup, and we get on the road. It's actually after noon by local standards.

Ken and I set off from Amarillo after a chicken sandwich breakfast. We pass by a dozen graveyards, each just off the side of the highway. Outside of some podunk town a very serious officer pulls us over and warns Ken that he should be wearing his seatbelt. Ken raises his left arm to show that the seatbelt is buckled, just misaligned. The officer gravely informs him that it's illegal to wear the seatbelt any way but the proper way, over the shoulder. He lets Ken off "with a warning."

As the trooper cruises away, the phrase "Don't mess with Texas" rings around my brain, like an echo from a firearm.

We stop in some nameless southern town with a convenience store, for gas and snacks. The woman with bleached hair greets us in a very heavy southern drawl, heavier than any other accent I've heard, and will hear, on this entire vacation. There is a brown paper sign stuck inside the window reading "Warning: Microwave oven in Use."

I assume the houses we pass must have contained children at one point or another. I wonder what it's like growing up in a tiny place like this. I pass ten separate billboards advertising for the Navy, and realize where all the recruits that drive our military come from. When you live here, with no local income, and no friends beyond your county line, the offer of college money and paid transport must be a lifeline of escape. I wonder how many discharged officers actually return to their hometowns, if their hometowns look like this.

It's a crude lesson but an effective one. I've spent time worrying over the difference between 25 and 50 dollars an hour. I may as well have been worrying over my horoscope, or a fortune cookie, or inspecting tea leaves. It's a trifle, in the grand arena of possibilities. I can shoot through this town on other business, having already forged enough memories to stand against the life's ambitions of some of the hapless individuals who toiled here, and a lot of my own ancestors' tales as well. And I'm traveling for the fun of it.

I've already flown this distance, and what would my ancestors think of that? I've flown over the country in eight hours! And seen the actual land, spread naked below, whispering past like a dream. I saw these midwest cities as dots. I felt like I could have pushed my hand out the window, and pressed my thumb into the earth, grinding each city out like I'd crush a stray spark thrown from a fireplace. After sitting in that chair, with the planet miniaturized before me, how could I not acknowledge the staggering newness of the perspective? And the way that perspective shapes every new thought I have? And it's like this for everyone...

25 dollars an hour, or fifty? Why kind of idiot am I being to obsess over it? Look at this place!

We eventually wind our way to Austin after searching unsuccessfully for a roadside graveyard to take pictures of. Austin is like Las Vegas - the air is putrid in the extreme rush-hour traffic, and there are very few trees to absorb it. There is no coastal wind, being 300 miles from the seashore, so the cloud you're under in the morning is the same cloud you're under when you go to sleep, unless the dusty desert winds heave it aside.

The drivers remind me of San Jose, though they're a touch more polite. The billboards advertise technology and frivolous goods, like any up-and-coming tech city would. Though the rent is cheaper in this place, I would soon go insane pondering the isolation - there is nothing outside Austin except flat scrub and disapproving local hicks. No forest, no mountains, and no coastal breeze. Anywhere that isn't nowhere is 150 miles away. There may be tech money in Austin, and cheaper rent, but there is a high price to pay regardless. I would never move here. I would feel like I was being exiled to Siberia.

Ken and I circle around the city and continue south on highway 20, passing up some yuppies at 110mph just to irritate them. The road quality worsens as it threads through several more Texas towns. Everything, it seems, is under construction. Even the construction sites are under construction. As night falls we see police officers parked all around us, giving chase to people who break the 65mph speed limit by more than 10mph. A couple times, cars just ahead of or behind us get picked off as they're trying to pass.

Ken and I make up a story about Marshall Marshall, the Marshall of Marshall, as we pass by the town. It ends up being pretty good radio-show improv, probably inspired by the Tom Lehrer we were listening to earlier.

Just as we cross the Texas border, the police vanish. We pull up at a Mexican restaurant and get sit-down food, defying our compressed timetable. We pull in to Shreveport at 11pm, and spend a few hours reading before setting an early alarm.