Precarious Lee could sleep anywhere, a hotel bed or pulled off to the side of the road with America nestled around him like a blanket. If you’re going East, then you sleep from sunrise until noon. Going West, you take your break from midday until evening. There were 18 hours a day the sun wasn’t directly in your eyes, Precarious figured. Might as well work around the facts instead of being stubborn about schedules. This leads to a lot of night driving, when there was no world at all beyond the pocked roadway and his headlights, and in the morning everything would be 500 miles newer.
Sometimes he would get a room, always a motel. Precarious wasn’t principled, but he wasn’t paying for a hotel. Shower was the important part of the transaction, he thought. He had long ago had his fill of truck stop facilities, and he wasn’t in a hurry, or broke. Certainly wasn’t cheap, but he’d be damned if he’d check himself into the Four Seasons. Shave, shower, shit, and shuteye, plus a door that locks is worth ponying up for, Precarious thought.
Or he would drop in on friends, never uninvited, and less and less lately. Precarious stayed on Route 77 for longer these days, farther, and he noticed that others were doing the same. Drivers he saw once in a while, now every hundred miles, it seemed. There was a line at the gas station for one of the pumps, which was odd, but the vehicles in the line were a Boston Duck Boat driven by a wereduck who had stolen it for political reasons he will not explain to anyone and a living bio-bus made from a humpback whale, which is fairly normal for Route 77.
He did not remember getting on 77 this trip, but it was billboard mating season along the shoulder of the road and fast food joint ads fought with motel signs for the right to hump the mile markers, so Precarious did not doubt that he was on the Interstitial Highway System. He tried to redrive his steps, but couldn’t place his entrance, and then he remembered a conversation he’d had with Alice Who Isn’t From Texas. The on-ramp, she said, had learned hypnosis and was making folks forget things, and also dance like chickens. Precarious lit a cigarette and made two mental notes. Listen to Alice Who Isn’t From Texas more, and get a bigger car and run that fucking on-ramp over next time around.
The Plymouth wouldn’t do it, he figured, not even a 1971 Road Runner with a 440 cubic inch engine that made 370 horsepower, and still not even if that Road Runner came out of the factory dressed in something the brochure called Sassy Grass Green. It was just a matter of weight, Precarious thought. Obviously, he could have used the band’s truck to do it, but he wouldn’t even consider the thought. Truck wasn’t his. Can’t kill an on-ramp with it, at least not on purpose.
Besides, the truck didn’t belong on Route 77. Had no business there, Precarious thought, and he chose his words carefully. The trucks were for business, and you could do business on the Interstate, or you could do business on the Interstitial, but not both. It was a dangerous idea to do business through the Interstitial, draws attention and the money gets all screwed up, books mistranslated. Precarious had known a couple dealers who thought the Interstitial was the Northwest Passage of dope. Forcade got away with it for a while, but not forever. You can’t get away with anything for ever.
Precarious wondered if Route 77 was infinite, and then he wondered if it was exfinite, and then he decided exfinite wasn’t a word and lit anther cigarette that he drew from the soft and crumpled pack with his lips. Almost out, and a look in the passenger seat showed the carton empty, and he wanted to stretch his legs, so he pulled in to The Biggest Truck Stop In The World, which was not, but the owner had copyrighted the title and slapped it on billboards up and down the Interstitial. He had also armed the billboards, so people had stopped arguing the name.
The parking lot was the size of a glacier, but not a huge one, a parking lot-sized glacier. Precarious always liked to see who was traveling: there was a ghost truck in the far corner, the Marie Celentano, which was found driver-less, but with the frozen pizza still piping hot. Big Daddy had parked his dragster in the handicapped spot again, and Precarious looked around for that monster-mouse creature that hung around with him. Precarious wasn’t prejudiced, but that thing was a menace. There were several buses of Japanese tourists.
The pumps were to the right, and there were picnic tables and a hedge maze with a demon in it to the left. No one went in the hedge maze, and Precarious figured that was the difference between Route 77 and, say, I-80. Back on the Interstate, you could post a million signs and put up a billion fences, you wouldn’t be able to keep people out. Someone on 77 tells you there’s a demon in the hedge maze, you believe him. The Biggest Truck Stop In The World was in the middle, and it looked like a truck stop, only very slightly larger, but not all that much.
The Biggest Truck Stop was based around a simple organizing principle, which is that people become exponentially stupider the farther away they are from home. It actually followed the inverse square law, one of the cashiers figured out. The souvenir shop is large enough that it contains its own weather, and occasionally shoppers are killed by lightning strike while looking at t-shirts, but there is a pair of sunglasses that fits perfectly, and a novelty license plate with your name on it, no matter how fucked up your name is. There is a Bandana Republic, and they only sell one thing.
The bathrooms were past the food court, which featured well over a dozen Orange Juliuses, all of whom were in active late-stage Capitalist War with each other, which mostly entailed setting each other’s stores on fire. Down along Chicken Row, KFC, Church’s, Popeye’s, and Roy Rogers were side-by-side. They were also constantly setting each other on fire, plus the trash cans have begun openly and racistly berating customers who dump their trays along with their garbage. Much of the food court’s problems can be attributed to poor management.
Precarious got a haircut at the barber shop every once in a while, and a professional-grade shave. It was truck stop barber, so it wasn’t fancy, but it was a truck stop barber, so he knew what he was doing. Precarious would let his beard grow out for a week or two, and then let the guy cut ridiculous stuff into his face: Fu manchus, and tight little romantic mustaches, and sloppy muttonchops. When he got home, it would come off, but for a while he would have a road face.
There was a dentist, and a notary public. There was also a notary private, but no one know who he was. All the way in back was for the truckers, the real truckers. A lounge with relatively few angry spiders. Personal bathrooms, or you could pay extra to have people watch you poop. Prostitutes are available if you know what to look for, which is a person walking up to you and asking if you’d like to purchase sex. There were also drug dealers, and not the pleasant kind, the kind that got into the business for the stabbing, and had been awake since their birth. Precarious thought the whole section was a damn free-for-all, and not the pleasant kind, and stayed up front. He didn’t mind being a customer.
He pissed, and then stopped at the taco stand that had not been set on fire and got two fish tacos and ate them standing up, ten feet away from the register, and as he walked across the parking lot to the Plymouth Road Runner that had left the factory Sassy Grass Green he put on his new sunglasses, and wiped his hands on his pants. On the way back out onto the road, he passed an incoming bus of Japanese tourists and whapped a soft pack, the first from a new carton, of Camels onto the back of his hand three times and ripped off the cellophane and put it in his pocket.
The first cigarette is tricky from a soft pack. Precarious steered out of the parking lot with his knee, and held the pack in one hand and finger-flicked its bottom with the other, and Pop! there they come, there are always two and never parallel. One above the other, and Precarious lights it with the Road Runner’s lighter and rolls down the window and throws the pack onto the passenger seat, where there is a fresh carton of Camels, and a novelty license plate that says “Precarious” which he will have for the rest of his life.
Precarious thought he saw the on-ramp in the distance, and he had a new pair of sunglasses. He stepped on the gas, and the car made whatever sound you think it made, and then he was on Route 77, which is the road to Little Aleppo. It is a hard truck, but God will forgive you the miles.