The important things need to be done right. But you never know which things are important until afterwards. So, Precarious figured, you should do it all right. You aimed for the first time around, but sometimes you need a second pass. Have a plan and pay attention and you’re ahead of 90% of the rest the world, he thought. Making it up as you go was for the guys onstage, but if that stage was going to be there in the first place, then there had to be a checklist, and Precarious believed in the checklist.
You keep a little notebook and a pencil in your pocket, you write down the shit you gotta do, you cross it off as you go, and that way there’s no mistakes. Precarious was astounded everyone else on the planet didn’t do the same, and occasionally thought that if given unlimited power he would implement that rule first. The other guys on the road crew made fun of him for it sometimes, and he would accuse them of not keeping checklists because they were illiterate.
But Precarious never had a plan when he drove. When he stepped down from the truck and into his car and drifted through America. The Chinese were laying blacktop from Beijing to Katmandu and building new cities at a furious pace. The paper said one a week, but the paper was The Little Aleppo Pennysaver and Precarious only read that publication for the car ads. And the Germans had their Autobahn, which was a beauty of a road, but Germany was the size of Texas’ left nut. It just didn’t have the tonnage, he thought. America wore the highways like a crown.
And for a moment, Precarious felt like a jewel in the brim, in his Mercury Cyclone, which was Competition Green. He liked that, and wondered if there was some sort of contest among colors, and this was the shade that the green family had put forth as their champion. Sometimes it took Precarious a hundred miles before he could clear his mind enough to wonder something so silly, but the Cyclone was Competition Green and had a 429 cubic inch V8 engine that he listened to, or there was the radio, or the wind rushing outside the window that he had rolled down when he got into the car, and will roll back up when he got out.
There was a mountain, some mountain, in the distance and a light rain was falling. Precarious watched the wipers, and felt bad for them. They would never catch each other, he thought. Then he looked in the passenger seat, and the on-ramp to Route 77 was sitting there, and even Precarious had to admit that he did not see that coming, but he rolled with it and soon he caromed through America on the tidal roads, and the valley loopways, and the Great Western Skypike.
His pocket, the pocket on his t-shirt, had his notebook and a pencil and his current soft pack of unfiltered Camels. The cigarettes were in front of the notebook, so the cloth bulged out creased like a ziggurat. America has ziggurats. Pyramids, too, except they’re made from dirt and timber and there’s no stop on the Interstate for them, but there are billboards for Monk’s Casino in Cahokia for hundreds of miles in both directions along the Interstitial.
Ideas move along Route 77 just as sidelong as the cars, and as best Precarious could figure out, pre-Colombian natives had opened up a gaming establishment. It was like Atlantic City, but with the occasional blowdarting. Monk’s had the loosest slots in town. They also had the loosest chair legs in town, and a lot of people fell. The dealers belonged to a maize-based culture, and had to hit on soft seventeen. The drinks were free, and mandatory.
Precarious only stopped in once for every hundred times he drove by the damn place, but Route 77 being what it was, you might drive a thousand miles dead straight and pass it six times on either side of the road. You can only pass a neon sign so many times, he figured. You could not valet park at Monk’s. There was a valet service, but when you’d pull up, the valets would fight each other for the keys and then the blowdarting would begin and it was just much easier to park the car yourself. The parking garage did contain an American Sphinx, but the riddles were very easy.
“What swims in water, and then hops on land, and is green, and has a long tongue?” the American Sphinx intoned.
It sounded very impressive, as they were in a parking garage and all the concrete made for a pleasing echo. Precarious guessed that it was a frog, and the American Sphinx kind of mumbled something and let him by, and Precarious felt bad for the Sphinx, but also annoyed. There was surely something more productive it could be doing with its day, he thought. The American Sphinx had lost its way.
Everybody comes to Monk’s. There are women who know your future, and men who know what you did. Diamond Jim Brady is at the buffet, yelling bets at the nearest dice table for his man to lay down, and making back his losses in shrimp. Titanic Thompson is at a poker table, and he will profess to not know any of the other men at that table, and there is an open seat if you would like to play. Precarious wasn’t that dumb. There was a man at the bar with human teeth on his cuff links. Precarious got a table, instead.
They hadn’t stopped serving at Miss Rosa’s at Monk’s Casino since the place opened and they hadn’t changed the carpet, either. Miss Rosa asserted that the licensing contract stated that carpet replacement was the casino’s responsibility, and the casino rebutted by blowdarting her, and the whole thing is now in the hands of the lawyers. Even on Route 77, there are lawyers.
Miss Rosa had had to change some things about how she ran her place to open up in the casino. There was no Upstairs, as Monk’s wished to brand itself as being, while not family-friendly, wholesome and forthright. So there was no Upstairs. There was, however, a Second Floor, and Miss Rosa and her girls and the new batch of orphan boys she bought to run the place are all up to their usual tricks. Precarious had noticed that left to their own devices, people would get up to their usual tricks.
The jukebox was free, and only played 45’s from the Girl Groups, and some forgotten beehived trio harmonized about Johnny, who was a dream, and an angel. The Chanticlettes? The Carousels? Rhonda and the Rubies? There was a show, with a comic, and a band, and dancers. There used to be acrobats, but then several of them shimmied and slurped their tiny rubber bodies into the count room and robbed the place blind, and now there are no acrobats. A magician was booked once, but he seemed beside the point on Route 77.
Precarious knew the band, and liked them, and he knew the comic, and liked him, and his relationship with the dancers was no one’s business but his and theirs, he figured. Precarious did not think of himself as a drug dealer, but he also didn’t think of himself as a fool, so he may have sold a little acid here and there at Miss Rosa’s. Casinos were more fun with a little acid, Precarious thought.
Because he never gambled, that wasn’t the reason he pulled in. It was for that quick burst of man at his most human, something to think about for the next five hundred miles, during the next four states. Casinos, Precarious figured, were where all humanity’s nasty bits hung out and dragged along behind them on the carpet, which Miss Rosa refused to replace. There is a discrepancy between the dice thrown thousands of times, which is predictable, and the single toss, which is random. From that fact comes casinos, Precarious thought. Greed was there first, he also thought.
A few hours was all Precarious could ever take of Monk’s Casino in Cahokia, which wandered up and down Route 77 looking for the next big winner and never finding him, and he walked out towards his 1970 Mercury Cyclone, which was Competition Green, stepping over several dead valets and avoiding the American Sphinx, who was weeping in the corner next to a motorcycle, and the Cyclone had a V8 because Precarious did things right because he didn’t know what would be important.
The Sun and the Moon were both in the sky, but not talking to one another, and the Low Desert glinted like quartz in the West. Precarious took the pack of unfiltered Camels from the pocket of his t-shirt, and shook it towards his mouth once, and a single cigarette emerged and he lipped it from the pack and lit it with a match, and then he put the pack of unfiltered Camels back in the pocket of his t-shirt, and he does not touch his notebook at all because there is nothing on his checklist. All there is to do is drive through America along Route 77, which is the road to Little Aleppo. It is a hard truck, but God will forgive you the miles.