There’s too much of America, Precarious thought sometimes; no man could hope to know it all, but the roads were finite and his back did not hurt too bad, yet. Beyond the mountains, there were plains, and beyond them were more mountains, and then the ocean. In between that were freeways, cars, and trucks.
When it was time to work, Precarious drove the truck; when there was no work to do, Precarious drove his car. The engine was a V8 and the cylinders fired in a Bo Diddley beat and his tires left track spelling out the Tao–The true traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arrival–and if Precarious read Chinese, he would have agreed.
He wasn’t a Buddhist, or religious in any sense. Precarious’ mother had dragged him, hair parted with spit, to church on occasion, but there were too many words. Yak yak yak, Precarious always thought to himself. Prayers and hymns and homilies. No way to God, Precarious knew in his heart. The Lord was found, he figured, through shutting the fuck up and doing your job.
1971 Pontiac GTO hardtop with the 455 engine and four-speed manual: there was an automatic version, but Precarious drove manuals. He told the transmission what to do, not the other way around. He wasn’t some luddite, though: he’d never drive a car without power steering again. There could be a healthy balance between control and comfort, Precarious knew. The car was bright yellow, but the brochure said the color was Orbit Orange™ and he liked that; the car became the Orbiter immediately.
Precarious always named his cars, but privately. He and the car had a joke, a secret, an agreement; they needed to keep it between themselves. Just as he knew that religion wasn’t for him, but still thought loving thy neighbor was a pretty good way to spend an afternoon, Precarious thought all that occult bullshit the band was always yakking about was bullshit, too, but still believed that naming something gave it power. He kept their names to himself. Precarious was good at keeping things to himself.
He would meet other Drivers, sometimes. He capitalized the word in his head and kept a running tab of them: Station Wagon Sam, and Fat Shep, and Alice Who Wasn’t From Texas; they drove like he did, relentlessly. Precarious thought they were weirdos, but all of them were always intersecting and ricocheting amongst themselves; he was always polite. At least one of ’em had to be a serial killer, he figured, but he couldn’t decide which one(s), so he was always polite.
They were compulsive, though. Notebooks filled with miles, routes, yak yak yak. People felt compelled to drag math where it wasn’t needed. Sure, you needed numbers–first, second, V8, 66–but arithmetic was unnecessary. The point of the drive was to get beyond specifics. That was work: this many volts or someone dies; that many tons or many die. On the road, what mattered was whether there was enough. Gas, cigarettes, joints, miles to go, miles behind. Was there enough road? So far there seemed to be, Precarious thought. He hadn’t run out yet.
Not Memphis, though: Precarious liked that one, but he only saw him on Route 77; Memphis took the backroads and 77 was the backest road there was. He boomed down the highway in the newest Cadillac available, and when you asked him where he’s been, he would mention some city two hundred miles away; the car was spotless. The headlights on Memphis’ Cadillac shone even when they weren’t on. They were like spotlights.
Sometimes they’d meet up, and pull in, and get something to eat; Route 77 was pocked with 48-hour diners, which are like 24-hour diners, but twice as open. The shortest order cooks work there, and the waitresses call you “hon.” Pies rotate and the world spins outside, faster than ever, but there’s always a booth in a diner with coffee in a cup heavy as a brick and almost as clean.
They talked about the trip. What they saw, or what they passed, more rightly. Memphis had just seen Old Unfaithful, a geyser that erupted whenever the fuck it felt like. Precarious had spent an hour the previous night doing 115 when he accidentally got caught up in a race car driver’s funeral procession. There were always Death Races and Cannonballs zipping this way and that; amateurs, they both agreed. It wasn’t a contest, and not in the golf sense that you’re competing with yourself: it simply wasn’t a contest. Driving was like eating or fucking; you couldn’t win, and believing that you could ruined the experience.
Memphis was a big eater, and liked his jacks flapped and his cake panned; he would accept other varieties of cake, however. Southern food, and picky about it, but Southern manners and charmed the waitresses into assembling his precise demands: the bacon had to be burnt to hell, and the coffee scalding. Precarious had a cheeseburger and black coffee; Memphis would finish the burger, but he always insisted on paying, so Precarious didn’t much mind. There were multiple deserts.
Sometimes they would talk, really talk, about God and Meaning and Life and other capitalized words, and when Memphis got going, really got going, the waitresses would freeze in mid-pour and coffee would slosh all over the table; the drunks in the back quieted down, and the phone knew not to ring. Precarious figured he must have been a preacher or something, but preachers didn’t generally drive Cadillacs and pay the tab with hundreds, and another hundred for a tip.
Memphis had never volunteered that information, though, at least not to Precarious, so that was that. He was just another Driver on Route 77. Once, he mentioned a daughter and changed the subject and Precarious didn’t run into him for a few years. Their cars would pass each other and they would flash their high beams in greeting, but that was it; they ran into each other at Miss Rosa’s place one night, and sat together and talked about other things.
After some time, Memphis palmed his drink and you could hear his rings against the glass upstairs in the bedrooms. He laid four hundreds on the bar and asked Precarious which way he was headed. Home and then back out again, Precarious told him. Same as always. Memphis told him to be safe, and that he was thinking about heading South, and then he left the building.
The sun was coming up, or going down, or overhead: the sun was doing something, and Precarious watched the Cadillac kick up American dust as it took the road, and he thought that was a good idea; he squealed the tires just a little as he got on Route 77, which is the road to Little Aleppo. It is a hard truck, but God will forgive you the miles.