Between August and September, I unwillingly volunteered to drive an oversized Hot Wheels car across the second notch on the Bible Belt. Without time to spare or plan accordingly, at four in the morning, I packed several peanut butter sandwiches, a bag of trail mix, a six-pack of Jolt, an extra pair of just-in-case jeans and a kitten named Jello. I found her two months earlier in my yard, stalking blades of grass scraping against her white chin. The black fur on its back was almost covered by eager weeds, as it fearlessly overcame the terrors in a rarely mowed front lawn.
In the middle of Kentucky, the Appalachians began to peak and radio stations consist of banjos, static, and angry white men convinced God truly hates us all. I needed something to alleviate the boredom of driving solo for ten hours, since Jello was fast asleep in her kennel. In my car before I embarked were two CD’s stuffed between the console and the passenger seat. The funky, cold-hearted, straight-up sounds of Paula Abdul’s hit album Forever Your Girl and Dinosaur Jr. – Where You Been. By the time J. Mascis took a break from banging a jagged riff to mumble and howl, my Dodge Daytona was dragging itself up a monstrous hill, leading to a cluttered mess of shanty homes, where shotguns replace pens and whiskey takes the place of baby formula. The further I drove the staler the scenery became. Even roadside attractions failed to appear slightly attractive. Coasting through a steady stream of non-descript, nameless towns, I realized how much I would prefer traveling back home, to the brick ranch house nestled on a cul-de-sac, where I spent most of my teen years. Too pretend those 300 miles and last few years never happened, however, is quite difficult considering odometers are as tamper-proof as they are unforgiving.
Jello woke from her most recent nap between night and day. With one hand in between a Camel Light and the steering wheel, I reached in to the backseat to open the plastic pet carrier, allowing her to scamper in to the passenger seat. After giving her the contents of 5 for a dollar kitten chow, she clawed her way on to the dashboard, imitating a troll, gazing at the lack of scenery.
Once the Daytona barely accomplished the highest point it will ever know, filtered beams of sunlight crashed through gaps in the forest. In the driver’s side window, I caught a slight glimpse of a spectacular view, gracefully pouring across a modest prairie. Without second guessing myself or my motives, I abruptly stomped the brakes and wandered to the edge of the road, beside the astonishing sight.
Two states later in the middle of Northern Alabama, J. Mascis, Jello and I continued the road trip, only stopping to drain piss or fill gasoline. On an odd numbered stretch of road, a navy blue Ford pick-up truck lay motionless on the shoulder. Feeling compassionate, accomplishing what I wish someone would do for me, I pulled over and unclasped my seatbelt. Once I verbally offered a hand, I noticed the driver was laughing.
“Naw, bro.” He replied in a Southern Fried Accent. “We all right. My boy just had to puke up a fifth of Turkey. Thanks, tho’. He climbed in to the vehicle with a Confederate flag in the window, blasting Tupac and shuffling through the glove box. When I returned to my car, Jello was missing. In the 100% humidity, no air condition, egg frying temperature, the passenger window was open just enough so 1 small kitten could squeeze through and take its chances in the sticks. Needless to say, I was devastated by the incident and the morbid thrill of curiosity. My desperate search was pointless with so many unfamiliar hiding places. I had no other choice but to move on, which seemed like a recent trend.
Picking up where I would much rather end than leave off, I navigated my way to a highway, truck stop within five miles of a Waffle House and a Wal-Mart in any direction. This was the pre-determined meeting place where a pair of journeys should have joined together. Unfortunately, this never happened. Blame it on bad weather, miscommunication, or faulty planning but who I was supposed to meet never arrived. To make matters worse, many of my worldly possessions were crammed in to the rear of a moving truck. Within a few hours of waiting and watching daylight rear its ugly face, J. Mascis and I drove home.
As for the recently released “Beyond” album, reuniting the original line-up and the same disagreements, personally, doesn’t hold too much meaning to me. Maybe I need a Dodge Daytona, a tragedy or two, a reliable odometer, a thrilling Appalachian landscape to appreciate this unspectacular mess of sound and memories.