Fear and Loathing on the Road to Santa Fe


You get in the car at 4:45am and start driving to Santa Fe because sometimes the only place you want to be is away and Santa Fe is as good a place as any to do just that.

The night is quiet. It’s Thursday and only the hardcore kids are out and the streets are dark and Austin seems to be sleeping.

The lack of traffic lets you step on the gas and soon you’re in one of those roads where you have to rely on the car’s lights because there’s nothing but night and vegetation around you.

You hit Lampasas and start savoring the word. You let the town’s name dance around in your head and start wondering where it came from, but Googling it while driving is not an option, so you forget the whole thing and decide to start paying attention to the names of the places you pass through while Bill Frisell’s The Intercontinentals plays.

You go through Goldthwaite and think about Bobcat Goldthwait and how you disliked him for a while because in your early teens, back when you were living with your parents and they could afford basic cable, you woke up on weekends excited about the possibility of (re)watching Rambo: First Blood or Red Scorpion or Bloodsport, but instead of those you had to watch Goldthwait in Police Academy.

You drive through Mullin and that reminds you of a woman whose last name was Mullen. One of your best friends dated her and you observed from afar how her damaged psyche damaged your friend’s soul. When he decided it was time to go, he did it in secret because he was afraid she’d stab him. You went to the apartment they shared to get his things while she was at work and halfway through the clandestine move she showed up. Screaming followed. A lot of screaming. You were caught in the middle, cradling and old, black television like a strange, dusty baby. They yelled at each other while you stood there because you didn’t know what else to do. When your arms started aching, you dropped your head and kept moving toward the car. Your friend finally showed up half an hour later and he wasn’t bleeding. You guys drove away with some stuff, but she kept a lot of it because your friend was too scared to get more.

The road twists and turns and there are animals in various stages of destruction. You see dead deer and dogs. You see large birds and possums. You see squirrels and maybe an armadillo. You see animals that are no longer identifiable because they have been turned into dark red, fuzzy smears across the pavement. You see all that death and drive on thinking those smears of flattened animal, those pieces of flesh and bone and puddles of blood that have been soaked up by the unforgiving road are more beautiful and meaningful than most contemporary art.

You drive through Zephyr and that reminds you of that time you and your homies from the tattoo shop became friends with a stripper who almost killed one of them with some unnameable disease. Her stage name was Butterfly and everyone said it was because of the giant tattoo on her chest. That always made you laugh because the tattoo, which featured a long insect with a pair of wings that went over her breasts and another pair that went under, was clearly a dragonfly. People just don’t care about entomology at strip joints.

You drive through Early and smile because it’s actually early and that’s kinda funny.

You drive through Bangs and think about guns with the serial number scratched off. You also think it’s hilarious how folks make fun of Appalachian literature when some of the dirtiest, realest, grittiest, best-written crime fiction is coming precisely from that area.

You pass a whole lot of nothing and then drive through Santa Anna, which reminds you of your godmother who used to teach aerobics until cancer took away her energy and both her breasts. Anyway, her name had only one N, but that’s really all you need, isn’t it?

You slowly make your way through Coleman in the lazy early morning light and think about that name stamped on the yellow water cooler you drank from while working construction and large-scale landscaping. You also think about that faculty member who told you to go teach with your MA and forget about getting a PhD. You think about the wonderful poetry hidden in vengeance and how folks think they’re better people if they just ignore it.

The wheels keep rolling and the emptiness around you gets emptier and the thoughts in your head jump from recent happenings to old memories with an ease that is only achievable on the road and you think that maybe Tom Waits was right when he said “the only place a man can breathe and collect his thoughts is midnight and flyin’ away on the road.”

You see a sign that tells you you’re about to drive through Wingate and you think about how you never really got into fantasy.

You drive through Sweetwater and think about life in small towns in West Texas and across the nation. Football and church and murder all start making sense and you realize why things like meth and Jesus are so popular in places where folks are landlocked and stuck on a perpetual state of agitated stagnation. You try to imagine your life in one of these tiny towns and start driving faster in case it becomes a reality.

You drive through Roscoe and think about that kid from Facebook you’ve never met but whom you’ve seen grow up because his mom posts pictures of him and that’s kind of cool. Then you start seeing the windmills of the Roscoe Wind Farm, which is the state’s largest wind farm, and you think about Don Quixote and how the fact that your father gave you that book when you were 11 years old or so made you into a reader. That thought stretches. It grows tendrils. You’ve stared death in the face a few times, but you’re sure that literature saved you. The windmills reach the horizon on both sides of the road and make you think of giants and alien invasions and recklessness.

You drive through Hermleigh and think of nothing.

You drive through Snyder and think of an evil sorcerer.

You drive through Dermott and think about nothing again because the music is too good and your brain likes to take tiny vacations on the wings of notes thrown together perfectly.

And you drive through Justiceburg and think about the plethora of times you’ve been extremely violent in the name of justice. Then you think about Beetlejuice for some reason.

You drive through Augustus and think that it’s kinda sad that you can remember that Augustus is considered the first Roman emperor and that his full name was Imperator Caesar Divi Filius Augustus but you can’t remember to pay your internet bill on time or to get milk when you need it or your friend’s birthdays or how to talk to people without saying horrible things.

Then you stop in Post for gas and coffee. The coffee place is inside a theatre, which is nice. The inside of the place is covered in religious messages and crosses decorated with flowers and that’s not so nice. The barista has more piercings on her face than you care to count before the coffee kicks in and a red shirt with big white letters that read NOT TODAY and you agree with the sentiment. As you exit the town, the whole stop/Post thing hits you and you smile a little because words are awesome.

A lot more miles happen. You see names like Slaton and Southland and Pleasant Valley, but you don’t pay attention because you’re now obsessed with the dilapidated houses by the side of the road. They’re like skeletons of lives that used to be. Families lived and loved and dreamed inside those houses. They cried and made love and had meals and watched TV and made deals with their god at night when the weight of everything was a little too much. Now those houses are empty and you want to see ghosts screaming from the gaping windows but all you really see is rotted wood and missing doors and deterioration and nature reclaiming her space.

You drive through Shallowater and think about Joe Lansdale novels and bodies left in shallow water because someone wanted to keep a secret a secret.

You drive through Littlefield and think about desolation.

You drive through Sudan and obviously think about Africa and then about how you completely ignored the fact that there was a microscopic town in West Texas named Sudan.

You drive through Muleshoe and you think about agriculture.

Then West Texas ends and you cross into New Mexico and the first adobe house shows up soon after and you look inside you for that small change that travelling brings, but it’s not there yet or it’s so small you can’t see it yet.

You drive through Clovis and think about strange cigarettes and strange men in strange cities.

You drive through Taiban and think about terrorists and politics and old songs that don’t have anything to do with anything but they live in your head forever and pop up once in a while and demand a few moments of your attention.

You stop for lunch at Fort Sumner. A double cheeseburger with fries. This is where Billy The Kid was killed on July 14, 1881, so you think about guys with guns writing the story of a young country with nothing but guns and a desire to survive.

You drive through Santa Rosa and think about saints and devotion and heartbreak.

Route 66 swallows everything and buildings become an impossibility from another dimension and you think about your crimes and the times you got away with it and about the miles ahead and about the changing topography.

You pass more signs and more dead animals and some trucks and you see many trains coming and going to places unknown and the music keeps filling your head with emotions, some yours and some borrowed, and Santa Fe looms closer.

Finally, after almost 700 miles, you reach Santa Fe. The trip is over except for the fact that it’s just starting and you will drive back to Austin in three days.

You’re stopped at a light on Cerillos Rd and see a white man with wild hair, a long, white beard, and yellow eyes full of fear and loathing. That’s when the title for this comes to you. It makes sense because fear and loathing are everywhere there are people, everywhere you are. You think about Hunter S. Thompson and how he was right about many things.

You think about a perfect ending for this thing you want to write, but endings are just new starts and grand finales are for silly attempts at the Great American Novel and not short nonfiction pieces you write in second person because maybe the long drive to Santa Fe touched you a bit and you’d rather not write it in first person because an extra layer of separation feels nice.

Then more things happen, but that’s another story and you’ll tell it somewhere else…won’t you?


Image via Creative Commons.

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