You can’t lighten your load. Drop a pound and pick up a year. Life will always match you. It’s hard enough to keep a constant bearing working at cross-purposes to time’s tide, Precarious Lee thought. Moderate what was once excessive. Pare what has overgrown. Stop eating so much shit and smoking so many cigarettes. Take the easy line through the curve, he figured, in hopes that there would be another curve in a mile or two. Attack the turn and it bites back, eventually.
Precarious had been living out in Stinson Beach in some rich friend’s guest house. He walked down to the beach when he first moved in, and didn’t see the point in it. You stare at it? Great, now lemme stare at the next thing over the horizon, Precarious thought, although he would freely admit that the sea smelled good. Then the whales started beaching themselves every day and nothing smelled good any more, and Precarious knew that he needed an open window, one that was doing 70 mph and with an eye out for cops, and other undesirable road companions.
The scientists couldn’t explain the whales’ behavior, and tow trucks foundered in the sand. Bulldozers were needed, and still the whales came, and they began to pile up into a blubbery beachhead, three or four whales high in places. Toppling was feared. Several lions were imported to eat the carcasses, but their introduction into the situation caused more problems than it solved. Ambergris was discovered within the body of one of the creatures, leading to an economic boom, but the crash was enormous. It hit suddenly and then instead of dead whales on the beach, there were dead whales on the beach with their insides hanging out and no one had any money.
Precarious was not a religious man in any sense, but he couldn’t figure any way to interpret what was going on other than as a sign from God to skip town for a bit. Maybe that was what faith was, he thought: the ability to see the Lord in the small things, in the cup of coffee, in the Tuesday afternoons. Anybody could see God when whales are mass suiciding themselves on your doorstep. That’s just blatant, he figured, and he had a 1972 Ford Thunderbird in Copper Fire, which was only available as a Glamour Paint option, and a 429 cubic inch V8, so he was equipped to light out for the territories when God gave him the high sign.
The Shoreline Highway to the Panoramic, and across Cataract Creek to the 101. Mount Tamalpais out the driver’s window, and Bobby I think I can see your house from here. Precarious always told himself that joke when he passed the mountain, decades now, and he always laughed. North, around the city and catch SR-37 at Novato, which goes to I-80, which will get you to America in no time at all, any place you want to go.
He drove for hours, and then all night, and then all day, and when he had lost track of the calendar and his eyes turned into headlights and his ass into fine Corinthian leather, then up ahead he saw the on-ramp to Route 77, shining and brand-new, freshly lain in. The top was so damned black, and the mac had been tarred with a jeweler’s precision. Bright as a smile, and twice as inviting, and Precarious slammed his foot on the gas and sped off. He knew a trap when he saw one, and the on-ramp chased him down the highway for several miles, screaming racial epithets and shooting at him. Precarious found the real on-ramp tied up and stuffed into a gas station bathroom stall a little bit down the road, and untied it, and got on the Interstitial.
Precarious never stopped at the attractions on Route 77. He was pretty sure those were traps, too. Tourist attractions were for tourists, and there were no tourists on 77, at least not for long. Tourists are legally considered game on the Interstitial, and if they’re in season and you’re under your limit, then happy hunting. Precarious never indulged, but he also wouldn’t drive too close to the Nuclear Family Trucksters. It was like standing right next to a gazelle on the Savannah. Should never let the circle of life encircle you, Precarious thought.
Don’t go where you’re not wanted. Trust the signs that say “Beware.” Be fucking aware. People ambled into situations, Precarious noticed, like a broken nose wasn’t even an option. When he was a kid, his father nudged him and motioned to a fellow walking down the street rather proudly. “Like the doctor vaccinated him against an ass kicking,” Precarious’ dad said and he had always remembered that. Precarious also remembered that his father was a petty little prick, and that proud fellow was likely a decent sort. He still liked the line, though.
Route 77 had all kinds of roadside attractions for the tourists to see. There were fly-by-night zoos, and swim-by-night aquariums. There were many water parks, but there were many more half-filled Mr. Turtle pools that could be rented for an hour, and Precarious did not see the appeal in those at all. The Romero Mall parking lots were always full at the outlet stores, which sold slightly-defective merchandise, and the inlet stores, which sold wildly-defective merchandise. Precarious bought a hoodie at one of those places and it tried to strangle him using its own drawstring as a garrotte. After that, Precarious stopped clothes shopping on Route 77. Ernie was gonna fondle you, but his clothes didn’t come to life at all, let alone murderously.
The World’s Smallest Ball of Twine seemed like an obvious scam to Precarious, and when it turned out that the owners had been kidnapping tourists and making art out of them for years, he wasn’t all that sympathetic. Authentic Indian villages, and lone bison in cages outside gas stations, and ghost towns, and abandoned railroad stops, and places people used to live, but now can be visited. There was a freak show, but the freaks pooled their savings and bought a sandwich place. Mom Mum, the Silentist Lady in America, bakes the bread.
Battlefields limned the highway, and misplaced pilgrims emptied out of their mini-vans, and they walked down into a grassy field, well-kept and plain, and breathed in deeply, these pilgrims, and were able to imagine the deaths of young men so much more vividly than they could if they were back safe at home, far from a battlefield, and Precarious hated those pilgrim fucks. Grief requires ownership, and they were bystanders. They were tourists, not pilgrims. All pilgrims are tourists, he thought.
In the Low Desert, there was Panamint Castle. It was constructed entirely from the surrounding rock, and by one man, and over the course of forty years, which was impressive until you saw it and realized how small it was. Maybe the size of a one-bedroom apartment. Not forty years work, Precarious thought when his back hurt bad enough to pull over one time. The masonry was acceptable, at best. Somewhere near the water, there was D***** W****, which was the Happiest and Copyright Lawyeriest Pace on Route 77.
Alternate history buffs zipped up and down the Interstitial. Precarious didn’t mind them. Buffs kept their car interiors immaculate, and had state capitals to see in Westylvania, and Shasta, and Kanawha, and Lincoln, and Jefferson. Postcards to be stamped with a Cascadian mark, and mailed to the Cimarron Republic. Pick up your own postcard, make your own souvenir. Ain’t that America, Precarious thought. So little history that people insist on making some up.
He had nothing to see but everything, and America, and the road which ran rudely over the horizon and away, always away, but he had a V8 engine and nothing to do and a front yard full of dead whales, so Precarious Lee turned down the radio, which was playing an advertisement for something he did not want, and lit another cigarette even though he had promised himself to cut down. There was a curve ahead and he took the easy line through it, and tried not to look like a tourist on Route 77, which is the road to Little Aleppo. It is a hard truck, but God will forgive you the miles.