Blue and Black Highways

27 May

It’s taken me almost nineteen years to realize that, even then, as a young man fresh out of university, I knew fundamentally (albeit subconsciously) that the road—my road—was not a conduit to freedom or a magical escape from the material, ultra-mechanized, polluted world as I knew it; it wasn’t a purist’s or naturalist’s reaction to the stifling, end of the 20th Century American middle class system bifurcated with pitfalls and economic or social traps designed to discriminate and placate one into a certain sociological pigeon hole, a sedentary, television diet coma ultimately. The road for me was simply a jagged line in between insignificant points disguised as cities and towns and communes that would lead me to a circular arrival or a deliverance into the arms of the same subliminal draconian society, only three time zones further west. In essence, I was trading a Joker for another Joker of a different color. I sensed all of that then, and didn’t expect to find the freedom that Kerouac and Cassady and Ruess and McCandless, strangely on a concurrent, but fatal journey of his own throughout the same parts of the country, either professed to have found, or longed for but never attained. I stayed off the blue highways and instead rushed like a madman along the black map lines connecting major southern cities via the long, continental stretch of cracked and uneven pavement that slices the United States at its hips, down below. There were no more pockets of nature un-touched. By the end of the 20th Century in America everything had been spoiled by man, and I sensed that, and so I didn’t bother to follow along Route 66 or veer off into the Petrified Forest or set aside a few days for a solitary kayak ride down the Colorado or head into the Mojave to marvel at the peculiar tree resembling the Biblical Joshua, his hands up to the sky to stop the sun by God’s command. I chose instead to accept my modern consumerist label and patronize Native-American roadside stands, making the requisite purchases of arrow heads and Kachina Dolls. In a naive, innocent fashion, I felt as if that would be the only contemporary, synchronous atonement for being born and raised in the wrong century: purchase history with paper currency.

For my road books I picked:
Travels with Charlie, by Steinbeck.
Blue Highways by William Least-Heat Moon.
The Outsider by Camus.
The Trial by Kafka.
Short stories by Hemingway and Updike.
Four books by Bukowski.
Ask the Dust by John Fante.
Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Nietzsche.
Amerika by Kafka again.
The World as Will and Representation by Schopenhauer.
Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man by Thomas Mann.
One-Dimensional Man by Herbert Marcuse.

The last is a surgical analysis of the fundamental “irrational rationality” of our system. One of Marcuse’s scores of quotable quotes from that book obsessed me: “The fact that the vast majority of the population accepts, and is made to accept this society, does not render it less irrational and less reprehensible. The distinction between true and false consciousness, real and immediate interest still is meaningful.”

You might say I was under-prepared for the actual trip. I had crammed books and clothes and alarmingly well-preserved, vacuum-packed food into cardboard boxes, which were stacked on the back seat of a 1968 orange Karmann-Ghia that had given me all kinds of engine problems throughout the years. All I was worried about, though, was finding enough maintained bathrooms along the way in which to piss. I loathed having to go on the side of the highway. I always had a vision of being taken out by an irresponsible, swerving driver, but merely maimed, not killed. I was deathly afraid of spending the rest of my days bound to a wheelchair, attached to machines and tubes and wires, floating around in a silent purgatory of stiff, unmoving rage. So on my triple-A map I circled in green all the state-maintained rest stops. The trip was not going to be measured in miles, hours, days, or even philosophical musings and epiphanies, which tend to come to one who spends a considerable time alone locked in the cabin of a moving vehicle, but in liters of urine.

Other supplies:
-Several compilation tapes of punk music, including Circle Jerks, Black Flag, Sex Pistols, Clash, Ramones, Buzzcocks, Boomtown Rats, The Ruts, Siouxie and the Banshees, X, Velvet Underground, New York Dolls, Iggy Pop, Blondie, Chelsea, an underground copy of Henry Rollins’ first band State of Alert, The Damned, Dead Kennedys, Sepultura, and one of Jello Biafra’s side projects called Lard.
-1st pressing of Bob Marley’s Legend LP.
-Toothbrush and paste and floss.
-1 small sauce pan.
-1 electric burner.
-1 insulated thermos.
-Road atlas, 1989 edition.
-1 Polaroid photograph of my 9-year-old incarnation (mainly used as bookmark).
-3 chemistry sets (bacteria and fungi / weight and volume / acids and bases).
-Swiss Army knife (deluxe).
-Sleeping bag.
-Small radio transistor.
-1 leather glove (?)
-Day of departure edition of Washington Post with headline: “Keeping the U.S. First; Pentagon Would Preclude a Rival Superpower.” (March 11, 1992)

(Author’s Notes)


9 Responses to “Blue and Black Highways”

  1. Erin O'Brien 28/05/2008 at 3:15 AM #

    This also evoked “No Country for Old Men” for me. And I admit that I’ve not read the book, but coming upon such as scene in the desert …

    Can you write something that includes the word effluent?

  2. (S)wine 28/05/2008 at 3:07 PM #

    Erin, I’ve not seen nor read it. This is just a fragment, so it reads incomplete, as it should.

    As for your request…I’m not effluent enough in the English language to write something with that word in it. Nor am I affluent enough to have the leisure time to write instead of work.

  3. Cliff Burns 28/05/2008 at 10:23 PM #

    As a fragment, it reads pretty damn well. “America/sliced at the hips”. Very lovely. Very evocative. A fellow indie writer tips his battered hat to you. Writing like this is too good for publishers these days. They’re too busy looking for the latest pretty young thing, flash-in-the-pan memoirist. Writing like this has legs and, in the long run, good writing prevails. Unfortunately, in the mean time terrific authors live on wieners and beans while the assholes choke on their fat steaks. Hang in there, mate…

  4. (S)wine 28/05/2008 at 10:34 PM #

    Thanks Cliff. Since I can’t crack anyone else up, I enjoy entertaining me-self with shite like this: “The trip was not going to be measured in miles, hours, days, or even philosophical musings and epiphanies, which tend to come to one who spends a considerable time alone locked in the cabin of a moving vehicle, but in liters of urine.”

  5. Erin O'Brien 28/05/2008 at 11:59 PM #


    The comment I left here was actually for your “incident at Baja” post.

    Guess I was having a brain effluent over your author’s notes.


  6. Slyboots 29/05/2008 at 7:40 PM #

    I figured it out. You didn’t have fun because you were reading too many BLOODY GERMANS!!! They will do that to you, you know. Thomas Mann, especially. Thank god you left Gunther off the list, or we probably would’ve lost you around Kingman. Ditto if you had substituted the Germans with the Russians- that would’ve been even darker and scarier.

    Oh and did you hear that one of the last remaining polio victims to live in an iron lung died this week? It was on She wrote a children’s book about stars. I have to like her for that.

  7. (S)wine 29/05/2008 at 7:50 PM #

    yea, that Mann novel, though, is very un-Mann like; it’s actually quite “light.”

    i read the iron lung story this morning. nice! back-up generator did not work mysteriously. hmmm….Dr. Kevorkian anyone?

    how’s about this story:

  8. Janete Cabral 01/06/2008 at 12:28 AM #

    hey LX

    Great post as always…I like your reading list for the road trip. Mine would be very similar…wow…would love to be on the road again.

    best wishes

    janete xx

  9. (S)wine 03/06/2008 at 6:44 PM #

    Hi Janete, thanks much. Here’s hoping you hit the road soon. Cheers, and good health!

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