Austin to Chicago pt. 1: Sweat

Like everyday in Austin, TX, it was hot. Well, the winter months delve below the Celcius “O” mouth once or twice a winter, but being a Yankee even that is warm. I hadn’t worked in a week and had only left home once or twice to share beers with the few that had the short-notice time to grab one. I announced my departure to my bosses and a few people only recently and from there the words spread themselves. Gossip, whether good or bad, is the breaking news update of the human blood.

Now at home (called that only for residential purposes as the box felt more like hot covers that I couldn’t get off in a Nyquil-fueled flu daymare) and surrounded by boxes and bags of trash I put the last few things in the few remaining open boxes. These last few things included, but were not limited to:

  • Widdled figurines of a king and queen that my grandfather had made and given to me at his funeral.
  • Cords to various devices like computer, car battery booster (a need for my car, bless his alternator), miscellaneous stereo equipment, etc.
  • Jackets (which were rarely utilized in the blazing Texas sun)
  • A turtle shell
  • A wooden bowl I use for change
  • You get the idea

I began at the ripe early hour of 11:00am to load the trailer attached to the car with as much stuff as I could fit. Having only a sedan I was limited to trailer size so I knew that certain things were gonna have to stay. Things that I miss. According to the instructions inside the metal, mobile box all the heavy stuff needs to be loaded in first. Okay, then. Record collection, definitely the heaviest dozen or so boxes I have ever carried multiple times now, smack dab in the pit of the trailer/car combo. Already I was sweating and already I was antsy to get on the road, which I planned on the next morning. Lights. Shelves. Box upon box upon box of…mercy, how did I get all this stuff? Paintings, check. Tools, clothes, desk, all check.

4:00pm and I have managed to squeeze everything utterly possible into the trailer, trunk, backseat, and any

"Let's get to work."

nooks and crannies that I could find. I amaze myself constantly how I can tightly pack so many things. I blame the time spent in a touring band; loading, unloading, drawing maps of the equipment layout, it all turned out to be beneficial skills in life. At least my life. Over the years, though, I may have lost some of my niche: I have forgotten to pack my bed. Christ. Emma the hound was calmly sitting on it while I worked feverishly to pack our lives in boxes and then into a bigger box and it just completely slipped my mind.

DING!

I’ll just tie it to the roof of the trailer! And with the remaining rope I can tie my stereo stand (another item I forgot about) to the front of it! Now I just need rope.

I locked up the apartment and drove my weighed down car (really, the rear shocks were all the way depressed) to the nearest gas station and frowned when they didn’t have any. Onto the supermarket and mercy, this car drives slow. The ol’ five cylinder Volvo isn’t made for this kind of weight but what choice have I now? Rope in hand and it is now the task of securing something on top of something that is not made to have anything secured to. I love a challenge.

Sweating and cursing I am now in the parking lot of my apartment complex. A neighbor comes out. A fellow that I had encountered only two or three times but pleasant, nonetheless. Of course I don’t remember his name. All I can remember is he drives a truck.

“Hey, man. Are you moving out?”

“Yeah, going back to Chicago.”

“Aw, man, that sucks. Now there’s no one left here that I know.”

“I don’t really know you that well, man. Sorry, that was rude.”

“No, it’s true, man. You know, I’ve never lived in Chicago. Always wanted to.” This is one aspect of the Austin mentality that I like. Minds drift to and fro in a storm of lackadaisical nonchalance.

“It’s a cool city. Check it out sometime.”

“I like Portland.”

And it continued as such with what seemed like multiple conversations stopped and started, subject to subject. He critiqued my rope-tying-to-the-trailer skills and I attempted to explain myself. When I was finally alone and confident in my Beverly Hillbillies furniture sculpture atop the metal box I went inside to the air conditioning for a cigarette and lots of water.

Emma and I sat on the sleeping bag I set up for the night and I looked around and wondered. Ants build intricate domiciles and monkeys enjoy the trees and here we are. Cutting the trees to make the most asinine structures so as to not get rained on.

I sat and smoked and Emma watched. I wiped my brow with paper towels that I left the next tenant and stared out at the sun. Everyone was expecting me back in Chicago in three day’s time. The shower was dripping. It always did and the guy never, ever showed up to fix it. Besides us it was the only thing alive in there. We were the only things alive in the state of Texas, as far as I knew.

Cigarette down the toilet.

Sleeping bag packed.

“We gotta go, Emma.”

I loaded her in the car and drove straight to the interstate. It was now 5:00pm and I knew traffic would be heavy but hell, the car can’t go that fast anyway. I just need out. I am sure if Emma knew what was actually happening, she would agree.

Now on the interstate and struggling to accelerate and decelerate along with everyone else I noticed in my mirror that the mattress crown was already jiggling in the wind. “Meh,” I told myself, “it’ll be fine.” Ten miles later a truck driver honks and points to the back. I look. The fucking thing is flying in the wind like a mouth telling me to pull over lest I kill someone with mattress blindness.

I am only in a suburb of Austin when I pull off and into a gas station. Luckily there is another supermarket in the plaza and I go in, sweaty and disheveled by my lack of intuitiveness and distance covered.

Rope. <beep>. Money. And we are off again.

Modern ingenuity to bypass poor planning.

Ten more miles and the same goddamned thing.

I need a ratchet tie. But where?

I go to a truck stop and the conversation inside between the attendant, a portly, sun-faced blonde and a customer, a young twenty-something bro with fake bling, grabs my ears as I look at their wares.

“That’s when I told him, ‘Y’all don’t come into my gas station and talk to me that way,’ and they still thought they could be mouthin’ off. I mean, nuh-uh.” I think she was flirting in the tough-girl way, but am not sure. A misconstrued feminist outlook, perhaps?

“When I lived in Chicago there were dudes that you just didn’t fuck wit’, man. They wear gang sings on their wrists, an’ shit.”

“What, tattoos?”

“I’on’t know, but you just know not to cross ’em.”

I smiled at them and frowned at their lack of ratchet ties. “”Scuse, me. Do you guys carry those ratchet ties like truck drivers put on flatbeds?”

“No,” she turned and said in a surprisingly helpful way. “I don’t know anyone around here that does.”

“Okay, thanks anyway.”

I returned to the heat and car to a waiting Emma. (No worries, windows were down and I was parked in the shade and she had a full bowl of water.) Before I could get in, though, the fake thug approached the car and exclaimed, “Hey! Hey, man!”

“What’s up?”

“I just remembered there is a truck stop right up there just over that crest that carries things like that. Go there. I think it’s a Shell, or sumpin’.”

“Thanks, man.”

“Nice guitar,” he said as he motioned to my bass pressed against the back window like a child making a face. “You play?”

“Yeah. Sorry, I can’t chat. I gotta go. Hittin’ the road, you know.”

“Well, have a safe trip.”

Southern hospitality was something that I instantly fell in love with upon moving to the south. However genuine it is (and I feel that it really, truly is), it just isn’t me. I am from the north. Chicago. I miss the crazy people yelling and shitting themselves on the train, throwing things on the ground out of laziness, and lying to your face why they need money. His well-wishings, though appreciated, retreated my body into the shell of my car quicker (not without a thank you and goodbye, mind you) and off to find this truck stop.

Now found and with a $50 set of ratchet ties in my hand I fastened the mattress securely (not without both confusion and cussing and water breaks) and it was the road again. No stopping this time.

Everyone always talks about how big Texas is and they are not wrong. (Alaska, I have to say, is significantly larger but the drive across is seemingly shorter just from the beauty that surrounds you. Desert is not beauty unless one is suicidal.) I have driven in and out of the state multiple times for various reasons and am always in awe at the distance and lackluster scenery one has to travel through just to get to a less interesting state like Arkansas or Louisiana.

The hours pass and the music blasts. The air conditioner had gone out a few days prior to leaving so all windows had to be open. I work the manual transmission hard. Downshift for the hills and neutral for the descents so as to give the poor thing a breather.

It is always a wonder to me where everyone else is going on the highway, and I am well aware that that is not a

Whenever I think of eating on the road I can only think of these and I instantly want to soil myself.

very original thought. Kids visiting home from college? Men leaving their wives or going to. A warm dinner, whether alone or with family, I just know, awaits these fellow drivers. For me, none. I can’t eat on the road. I simply see it as a precaution for less bathroom breaks.

This state that I mesmerized so much upon entering into it for the first time now seemed like a final test upon actually leaving for good. The warm air was now a curse and it is now the cold that I am fascinated by. The dashes in the road that mean it’s okay to pass simply put my eyes in a trance as the sun now falls hopefully forever on this place.

Now no music but the silence of the night. It is a Thursday and there are few people on the road. The night air does wonders for my mind; it slows, or retards if you will, and I am left with ideas and plans. My eyes focus on the pebbles that are lines in the headlights and my heart hopes that nothing runs out in front of me. It is the thoughts of familiar hugs and stories that keeps me going, the updates in lives that are taking the intended path, or so it seems.

It's twice as nice as waking up in a pool of your own sick.

I recognize the Arkansas/Texas state line. Along the bridges and signs Texas has placed so many stars to, I think, both remind drivers where they are and that they should regularly look up at night. Texarkana is a real place and one that I can never bring myself to stop in despite my want for a “Texarkana” shot glass just to prove to people up north that it actually exists. A town in two states. A Tale of Two Cities populated by people that don’t want to talk about Dickens.

Eyes weary and body catching up I vow to get off at the next exit. Okay, now the next one. Hell. Okay, this one.

I am in the middle of nowhere but a sign advertises a gas station and nothing else off the next exit and I take the opportunity. Five or so miles down a country road and I see the beacon of light that hopefully has a dark corner that I can rest in.

There it is.

I turn off the car and it sighs with relief. Settled in the middle of the Arkansas woods and underneath a gigantic billboard that changes with swiveling slats I make my bed in the quiet night. The billboard wails metal against metal the sound of a slow bomb alarm that says nothing but reads ads for an injury lawyer and some sort of new soda.

It is 3:30am and nothing, not even lies, can keep me awake now.

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Comments
One Response to “Austin to Chicago pt. 1: Sweat”
  1. Amber says:

    Ah man, it’s good to have you back!

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