America was a year-round kind of place, Precarious noted. In winter, there was the southern route, a big dip down through the desert and the fields, and in the summer all the roads were passable in the places that weren’t on fire. The West caught fire every summer, so Precarious nibbled at the edges of the mountains and skirted the valleys that made for such pretty pictures. Country was big enough so that it was easy enough to avoid trouble if you’re not looking for it, he thought.
Used to be bigger, though. Everything’s bigger when you have to walk it, Precarious figured. Lewis, Clark? Took almost two years to get from St. Louis to the Pacific. They weren’t going for speed, but that’s still a long time. After a while, we got coast-to-coast time down to four or five months, but then Lincoln pounded in the Golden Spike with his hands, or something, and the railroad cinched itself across America’s belly and it was Penn Station to Union Station in three-and-a-half days.
And that was a good number, at least as far as Precarious was concerned. There were airplanes, obviously, and if you had a few people to share the driving, then you could make the trip in 40 hours straight or so, but if you were alone in the car, then three-and-a-half days was right. Eyesight goes wooly after a while, back starts folding. You could cannonball it, tearing ass like a dipshit all the way, and make it in under 30 hours, but that sounded like punishment to Precarious. He’d pissed in bottles plenty of times when he couldn’t stop, but didn’t want to participate in an activity that had bottle-pissing built into it.
Precarious cruised, and 1973 Chevrolet Monte Carlo is a good car for that activity. It had two enormous doors, and a split-bench seat made from light blue leather the same color as the Landau roof, which was the same color as the jean jacket your older brother gave you, the one with the Zeppelin logo painted on the back. The rest of the car was Tuxedo Black, and under the hood was a Turbo-Jet 454ci engine that for reasons known only to Detroit made just 245 horsepower, but it made a good noise when you eased the gas pedal down. There was power everything, so when Precarious moved the seat back, there would be this faint and guilty-sounding whir, and not the sure, metal KaCHUNK of the slide that used to control the whole deal.
There was a rabbit off to his left as he passed the Continental Divide, and all of the Southwest was to his right, and he thought of Lewis and Clark again. Precarious had been in the army, and a fight or two. Gave himself a couple stitches one time, but that’s not tough so much as dumb. Those fuckers were tougher than he was, and he didn’t think much of the argument that it was a different time: it wasn’t like everyone was walking across the damn country back then, just those iron bastards. It was starting to snow just a little, big wet poofy flakes that made a PWOMP sound on the windshield, and Precarious thought of Lewis and Clark as he adjusted the heater vent so it was blowing outwards toward his arm, which was hanging out of the open window.
Dip your foot in the ocean, and then walk back up the beach to the parking lot where your car is. Point it away from the water, and step on the gas. Hit the brakes when you see the waves again: that’s America. Precarious was thinking about that, and maybe stopping for a cheeseburger, when he saw a grestle out the windshield, and a Menlo Scatback passed him on the left. Up ahead, there was a billboard that read SCENERY and goddammit he was on Route 77 again. No wonder nothing was making sense, and he made a mental note to beat the on-ramp’s ass again, which was becoming a pattern, he further mentally noted.
I’m enjoying the ride, he thought, and put his annoyance aside as his hunger rose. There was the Pioneer Chicken Stand, and Big Kahuna Burger, and Top Jimmy’s Tacos. Route 77 had fast food, and suspiciously fast food, where the meal is waiting on the table when you walk in. There were drive-by restaurants, that shot Chinese food at your car window if you wore the wrong color. There were pizza boys with swords on motorcycles everywhere.
Precarious had always thought of the Interstitial Highway as a rough-and-tumble kind of place, so he was surprised to see foodie culture infest Route 77. One place called Freddy Avlo’s didn’t allow their patrons to eat the food, just post pictures of it on the internet. The Bucolic Pantry took locally-sourced to new heights by restricting the radius of what they considered local to 1000 feet. Luckily, there was a supermarket next door. Farm-to-table was brought to its logical conclusion at The Duck Pond, which was a duck pond. Gourmands and food bloggers would trek for miles to wade into the pond, snatch up a duck, eat it raw, and then work the phrase, “But have you ever had fresh duck?” into conversations once they get back home.
Not for him. Precarious tried to withhold judgment on things he knew he didn’t understand, and he surely did not get obsessing over food as much as some people seemed to, but he couldn’t help himself. There was a difference between bad food and good food, sure, but there was also a difference between good food and fancy bullshit. It’s all left in the toilet the next morning, he thought, and pulled into Tommy’s, which was a 48-hour diner, which is like a 24-hour diner, but twice as much.
To the right, there was a big room with tables, and to the left was the counter and some booths and the kitchen cutout, and in the middle by the door was Tommy, who was not the first Tommy, but was merely the current Tommy. There will always be a Tommy, because Tommy runs the place, and Tommy’s needs running. 48-hour diners were always on the precipice of an all-out riot: it was always three in the morning after a country music concert ended, a rap show finished, all the bars closed, and the local meth dealer just got locked up in a 48-hour diner. Two o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon at Tommy’s would find a drunken brawl between warring tribes of metalheads and bowling teams, if not for Tommy.
Tommy kept the peace. The diner never closed–Christmas, hurricanes, presidential assassinations–and Tommy kept his eye out for troublemakers. Precarious liked him a lot: little guy in a white dress shirt and black slacks, both purchased for their price instead of their style, and a thick helmet of wavy black hair. Tommy couldn’t have been 5’6″, but when the waitresses got turned into giant ants that one time, he beat them all to death with the diner’s massive, leather-bound menu like a man twice his size. He had new waitresses within an hour, with the same beehive hairdos and clompy shoes.
If you were trouble, you got tossed. Tommy would 86 you easy as 1-2-3. Once, Precarious had been lingering over the last piece of bacon when he saw Tommy’s head shoot up from his calculator, like a dog smelling something. Tommy ran out to the parking lot, stopped a car that was pulling in, and threw the entire carload of people out of the diner before they had even parked. When Tommy came back in, he caught Precarious’ eye.
“No good,” Tommy said.
Precarious smiled and threw up his hands in agreement, and a cook called out DING hashbrowns are up, and then two sloppy teenagers were full-on dry humping on top of one of the tables, so Tommy went to deal with that. And something after that, and after that, and it would get to Tommy after a while, and he would start staring at the cakes going around and around, and then he would attempt to burn the place down using himself as the kindling. The kitchen wouldn’t even slow down, and there would be a new Tommy along any minute. Tommy’s was a 48-hour diner, and it stayed open.
Precarious had never seen a Changing of the Tommys, but he’d heard it described in great detail and decided he didn’t particularly need to see one. He came in for the eggs, never had to see the menu, which like all 48-hour diners contained every meal known to man. It had a table of contents, and an index. Precarious knew better, though. You kept it basic at a place where Booth War occasionally broke out.
The bill came to six bucks, and Precarious left a ten on the table. He nodded goodbye at Tommy, who was eyeing the pastry carousel with a faraway look, and walked out to the parking lot, where there were teenagers negotiating things with each others, and a girl was crying in the passenger seat of an Oldsmobile as the cars sped by on. Precarious joined them and hit cruising speed in no time and before he knew it he was halfway home, or maybe halfway there, on Route 77, which is the road to Little Aleppo. It is a hard truck, but God will forgive you the miles.