We were just outside Eureka when the laxatives began to kick in.
Pretty soon our car would be filling up with foul, dark, evil matter and I’d have to wait there until the whole filthy episode ran it’s course. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be…
When I first got the idea to recreate famous books, Kerouac’s On The Road was the novel I most desperately wanted to inhabit. I jumped on a plane to America, my lungs bursting with the Beat Generation’s themes of spontaneous, road-trip freedom. A car was hired, a Buick. I pushed the hammer and drove that engine down, searching for passionate friendships and revelation.
Searching for America.
And you know, it was good following this blueprint for the great Cosmic lifestyle, floating through jazz parties in Williamsburg, burning up Denver highways, meeting strangers in the Valley of Fire Nevada and finding out that the road is life. A have-a-nice-day, crazy fun torpedo, you betcha!
And totally rolling with the randomness of it all, I picked up a thirty-year old hitcher called Cally, Cally from California, thumbing his way to Oregon in pursuit of a woman who upped sticks after a disagreement. A true eco-soldier, Cally lived in a tree-house with no running water or electricity, his toilet a hole in the ground facility shared with a bear and a family of raccoons. Yes, the warning bells were clanging – the missing girlfriend, the disdain for practical civilisation – Cally was a Jenga tower two blocks short of collapse.
Ah, but I’d been seduced by Kerouac’s idea of leaving all the old prejudices behind and entering a new unknown phase of things. This also caused me to ignore Cally’s hypochondriac tendencies, the seriousness of which could be measured in the cornucopia of pharmaceuticals he carried in plastic food containers. There were tranquillizers for his nerves, sleeping pills, uppers, downers, anti-fungal agents, calcium-blockers, Zyloprim to combat excessive uric acid build-up, Zelboprenil to make his heart beat faster, Atorazone to make his heart beat slower.
And of course those vile laxatives…
We chatted amiably, the Pacific on our left, giant Redwoods to our right. But four hours in a Buick strips away a lot of social pretence. Cally stripped his teeth when I wouldn’t stop at a gas station.
‘What the fuck man, can’t you see the fuel gauge is in red?’
His voice was the voice of all neurotic Americans – nasal, intimidating, the aural equivalent of being battered over the head with a bag of haemorrhoids.
‘I know, but let’s see if we can make it to Eureka on the rest of the tank – it’ll make the drive more exciting!’
This was the kind of crazy, freewheeling lunacy my Catholicism usually kept suppressed. Not any more, not with On The Road holidaying in my central nervous system. I felt brave enough to push towards this Zen sum game of living totally in the NOW – enlightenment, spirituality, call it what you will – this journey was all about being in the moment. And believe me, few things hotwire your senses like driving on a near empty fuel tank with no idea where the next refill is coming.
Jesus Man Buddha and Shining Christ! The road is life, pure adventure, bust out of your comfort zone and find the real America and if the real America is at the bottom of a Buick’s empty fuel tank, then so be it!
Cally wasn’t buying it though. His eyes narrowed to slits and his face took on the grim expression of an anaconda.
‘You’ve got to go back to the gas station and you’ve got to do it now!’
His shouting got me excited so I slammed on the accelerator, hitting 140kms. Cally’s rivets began to pop. ‘You can’t do this! You can’t! Now stop the fuckin’ car!’
Nothing as dangerous as a hypochondriac who feels they aren’t bossing the situation. I was about to pull over when he screamed –
‘You stupid Irish prick-mother!’
His hybrid insult startled me to the extent where I let go of the wheel. The car skidded off the highway and spun around several times. Cally screamed like a frightened Dutch girl just before his head hit off the dash. His collection of pills went arse over tit, spilling around both our seats. The car bucked to a stop, steam coming up thick from under the bonnet. I looked at Cally, who was struggling in this dual state of being both drowsy and agitated, kind of like a wasp in September.
‘Quickly…my… pills… please…’
‘From the box with the blue lid…’
Uh-oh. There were candy-coloured tictacs all over the shop.
I grabbed at two white pills lying on an upturned lid and gave them to him. He drygulped them and started massaging his head.
‘Cally… I’m really sorry. We’ll go back to the gas station, okay?’
He nodded. We drove for a bit.
‘I’m sorry…for shouting at you,’ he said eventually, his voice coming from around his ankles. Then his hands went from his head to his stomach where a noise gurgled. It sounded like a crow caught in a chimney. His face dropped into horror.
‘You gave me the wrong pills…’
I pulled over.
He reached to open the car door but the bang on the head must have been too much. He passed out in the seat. A brutal whoooshing sound came from Cally’s innards. It didn’t take a genius to know what was coming next.
I was in the moment. I had found America. The last time I saw Cally, he was in my rearview mirror loping towards a gas station toilet and I was thinking, next time I try and recreate a book I might go for something a little less…you know… Pooey.
Bridges Of Madison County?