I take what I can before the sun goes down. Of course I focus on my art. Paintings, sculpture, sketches, and photographs crowd the ‘86 Volvo station wagon from the tail right up to the driver’s seat. Into the empty spaces I wedge brushes, cameras, pencils, tubes of paint, heavy tools. All the rest of my life I fit into a backpack that I throw on the passenger seat, with a bottle of water and a book of poetry. I hit the fast lane out of Southern California and bolt to a cheap motel in the Mojave for a couple of days, to smoke cigarettes and catch my breath.
Having settled my nerves and made certain that I am alone, I hit the highway east. I try to avoid being seen by sticking to the packs of cars and rigs that bunch together on interstate travel. Those groups are also on the slower side of the speed limit and I am totally not interested in allowing this trip to take any longer than necessary so I stick with the pack until I feel safe or impatient, then bust out and race to the next group.
I have a couple of cities in mind as large enough to be a safe place to stay but the adrenaline is getting to me, and I am feeling super in-tune to the rhythm of the road, so I don’t stop any longer than it takes to fill the tank and grab a cup of cheap black coffee. An hour before midnight I finally catch a speeding ticket. 92 in an 85. She wasn’t even out clocking cars, just happened to be the car behind me leaving the gas station. Getting sloppy, I should probably sleep now.
I keep moving because I am a damn fool, but I know that already.
Just a few hours into that dark space between Arizona & New Mexico, all the other cars having fallen away with the moon and the rigs having run off with the coyotes, a dusty dime-shuffle car speeds up from behind with its fucking lights off. I don’t even know how I see it coming among the vast field of stars.
Now, not that I thought even for a moment that I would make it out easy. Maybe that’s how I see it coming, so yeah, what else is there to do? Hit the fucking gas already but like I said this is an ‘86 Volvo station wagon. She’s a real beauty. Solid. Gold paint and turbo. Never let me down. Never won a race on speed either. The shuddering dark horse glides into the lane next to me and keeps pace. I can see it better now, it’s one of those early ‘90’s Mustang GT’s, all shabby rust and loose around the edges. We keep pace with one another at like 90 for a while, side-by-side, my lights are on and their lights are off.
After some time, they flip their lights on, slow down, pull into my lane a few car lengths back. Half an hour passes, they jump into the left lane and take off until their tail lights disappear. When their tail lights just about blink out, they drop into my lane and slow down until I am a few car lengths behind, keep pace for another half hour. Then, they bounce back into the left lane, slow down, and pull into my lane a few car lengths back. Half an hour passes, hop back into the left lane and take off until their tail lights disappear. When they are just about out of sight, they drift into my lane and slow down until I am a few car lengths behind, keep pace for another half hour. Jump back into the left lane, slow down, pull into my lane a few car lengths back. Keep doing that until 3am, a lullaby, rocking me in the cradle, lulling me to sleep as they swing back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. They let me float away until they are almost out of my rear view.
Now, here they are again, figure they must be hitting 120 jetting by like a slick bad dream. When they are just about out of sight, they fall in front and slow down until I am a few car lengths behind, keeping pace for some time. Then, they bounce off into the left lane, slow down, and pull into my lane a few car lengths back. Half an hour passes, they hop back into the left lane and take off until their tail lights disappear. When they are just about out of sight, they slip into my lane and slow down until I am a few car lengths behind, then keep pace. Time passes, a frozen river.
I think it’s almost 4, I don’t even know but I wake up real quick when the car hits me from behind, tap tap, nudging me as we enter a narrow canyon. Then they are beside me, keeping pace, maybe I did fall asleep. I try to look into the car but the tint is only peeling around the edges and the interior a flat black mirror reflecting nothing more than fear. But they don’t know me. I’m ready.
I let my car drift left, slowly, imperceptibly, like a new moon’s shadow, to a point that the side mirror begins to grate on the Mustang, nails on a dirty chalkboard. Then, hit the brakes so hard I have paintings overhead and burnt rubber in my nose. I find a good spot on the side of the road, like the same spot highway patrol might use when sighting speeding cars, with the nose tilted into the highway. I smoke a cigarette and wait. The canyon is draped in the folds of imperceptible shadows and bathed by the amber glow of highway lights. I can hear the barking of coyotes in the distance, undercut by the low rumble of a freight train.
Nothing happens. I eat a sandwich, find nothing on the radio.
Nothing happens so I smoke a cigarette and wait.
Get back in the car and start driving through the canyon. Just a few minutes in, a dusty dime-shuffle car comes speeding up from behind with its fucking lights off. I don’t even know how I see it coming among the vast field of stars. So, yeah, I see it coming. I see it with it’s fucking lights off and I know I have not made it out easy when it slams full speed into the back of my ‘86 Volvo station wagon. She is a real beauty. Solid. Turbo. Gold. Never lets me down.
The hit hurts them worse. I mean, damn, this car is full of heavy duty art, all wood, wax, marble and steel, even a bronze. The Mustang wobbles up beside me, front bumper flapping in the wind. I can see their passenger window start to descend but I don’t wait to discover their intention and use the confidence of my golden Volvo to pull slightly ahead and drift left fast until our bodies collide. The weight of my art and the solidity of the car suggests their body into the opposing lane, the sound of grating metal super intense, my teeth gritted and I am expecting something dramatic like we both crash and spin off into the canyon walls or traffic finally appears in the oncoming lane so head-on collision or I don’t even know, damn.
But it is much less dramatic than all of that, it is a detour sign. Highway closed. Flashing lights. Our cars relent and separate. Follow the detour signs off the highway and onto a two-lane road. Suddenly there are hundreds of cars, all in a line, going both ways through a poorly lit desert town, shepherded by detour signs. I think it is snowing. I might be in Albuquerque. I don’t really remember the other car even disappearing, all I know is that by the time the sun is rising and I see Santa Rosa, I check into the first cheap motel I find and fall asleep until the sun goes down, damn.
When I check out and take off, the Mustang pulls out from the motel parking lot behind me.
The traffic is heavier, maybe it’s the weekend now. I take it slower and stick to packs of vehicles, maneuvering between rigs and traffic, always with the Mustang in the corner of my eye. Every once in a while it gets a little dicey as a pack dissipates so I use these opportunities to exit and fuel up or get a cup of coffee. I don’t know where the Mustang goes when I am at a gas station but they pull in behind me as soon as I get back on the ramp to the highway.
We arrive in Dallas right as day breaks and morning rush hour begins. I am in my element now, a big city boy, I know how to shimmy through traffic and I quickly get to work losing my shadow. I engage in a mean-spirited campaign of cutting off cars at the lost possible moment, drawing more than a few horn blares and flipped fingers. An increasing amount of space grows between the Volvo and the Mustang. I exit the highway downtown and utilize the grid of one way streets to lose them long enough that I can turn unseen off of Pearl Street and bury my car in the parking garage beneath the Dallas Museum of Art. I hang out with Mondrian, O’Keefe and Kahlo until closing then find an anonymous parking lot and sleep in my car.
Keeping one eye over my shoulder, I move into a small studio apartment and get a job stocking groceries on the night shift. I enroll in printmaking classes at Brookhaven College. I get pretty good at woodcuts but lithographs are definitely my favorite. When I am carving the wood, I feel like I am working. When I am working with the lithograph stone I feel like I am making love. The rhythm of life settles in, stop looking over my shoulder as often, find a sweet girlfriend, go out for drinks with friends on Friday nights.
Working on a woodcut in my anonymous apartment near Brookhaven College.
Walking home half drunk one night, I think it’s almost 4, I don’t even know but I wake up real quick when the dude hits me from behind, tap tap, I feel hot blood on the back of my neck as we fall into the narrow canyon between two buildings. The alley is draped in the folds of imperceptible shadows and bathed by the amber glow of street lights. I can hear the barking of stray dogs in the distance, undercut by the low rumble of a freight train. Then he is in front of me and I try to look into his eyes but his pupils are opaque and the interior a flat black mirror reflecting nothing more than fear. But he doesn’t know me. I’m ready.
I am by no means the fastest dude stocking groceries at night but I am quick. I keep my box cutter in my back pocket and open several hundred boxes a night with sharp, reflexive motions, not even thinking. He is barely pulling the slim black pistol from his waistband as I snag the box cutter from my back pocket and slice a thin crimson ribbon across his abdomen. He shoots himself in the foot (dumbass) and doubles over so I kick him quick in the head with my knee and sprint home.
I take what I can before the sun comes up. Of course I focus on my art. Paintings, sculpture, sheathes of prints, sketches, and photographs crowd the ‘86 Volvo station wagon from the tail right up to the driver’s seat. Into the empty spaces I wedge brushes, cameras, pencils, tubes of paint, heavy tools. All the rest of my life I fit into a backpack that I throw on the passenger seat, with a bottle of water and a book of poetry. I hit the fast lane out of Dallas and bolt to a cheap motel in Louisiana for a couple of days, to smoke cigarettes and catch my breath.