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Entries in Road Trip (7)


Dry Run

It had to begin somewhere, so let’s say it began with the elastic blare of a horn on a rain-smeared night. 

I peered through filthy sheer curtains and saw only the bleary motel sign. The word motel aspired to perfection, stacked vertically in neon blues and reds. The balance of 




atop the teetering



As if everything was priming itself to fall, rightward, like the overreaching goodness of the world.

Aurora slept through the klaxon din. I envied her that, at least. Since we’d murdered her husband and indulged our inner Thelma and Louise, sleep had been an elusive ghost for me for weeks. Karma, no doubt, for my grubby hands-on part in the drama.

The horn came from a single car parked in the motel forecourt. I could see no one inside it, although the lighting was bad—two weak posts at either end of the lot, and the neon from the sign. Occupied or not, the car’s message was clear: time to leave again. When one’s freedom is imperiled, auguries come in bunches, and all signs and omens are there to be read.

I knew Aurora would want to shoot up before we headed out, so I shook her awake, tore her from her sleep funk a little too gleefully. She took a while to swim through the layers, but as soon as her eyes opened and focused somewhere beyond me, I could see the feral need in them again. And I knew she could see the disappointment in mine. 

Things hadn’t quite worked out the way we’d hoped. But we still had each other. And the raw, wounded, anonymous night.

She winced and I smiled. She didn’t smile. But heading for the anemic yellow bathroom, she drew on enough decorum to close the door behind her. 


Hours driving south, keeping to state routes. We were someplace that felt like the South. Arid expanses and weird industry. Huge dry lightning skies. Last night’s rain felt like someone else’s dream.

Though I could still hear the damned horn.

Out of nowhere, Aurora spoke. 

“A moment will come when I’ll sit on the toilet and shit out most of my organs.”

“Girl, I thought you were asleep.” 

“You wish.”

“Or you do.”

She grabbed at my hand resting on the gearstick, held it like it was a sickly pet, and I could sense her staring at me. I could feel a great distant tremor broadcast through her fragile bones as they clutched my own. Urgent. Electric. I refused to turn my head, watched the next mile and then the next.

At last she released my hand and sighed.

“We know how this movie ends, chica.”

I didn’t say a word.

All day, this endless brooding sky had stayed the shade of bedraggled fleece, putrid like the underside of a dying sheep dragged through watery mud. Less a storm threat than a vast sulk. 

Dying too, the day sank into its dark gray shroud, tolerating a thin band of corpse-light to gleam briefly on the horizon. Stark against that sickly greenish strip was the refinery, bristling like a city conceived by an alien amygdala. 

“This ain’t no movie,” I said.


Photo credit: © Monica Baguchinsky Lunn



Those arroyos outside town, so precious. Their red dirt. The way they breathe so slow, ignoring roads, evoking shadows like the last wispy creeds of dying cults.

"You got a better story?" she asks me.

She ain't never satisfied. I could tell her about Jesus, Beyoncé, and Saddam motherfucking Hussein pooling their resources to solve the murder of a sexually ambiguous alien-dwarf hybrid by a vengeful sixteenth-century teenage Moorish prince in some English stately home, and she'd still ask, "You got a better story?"

Sometimes feels like my life's a constant struggle to tell a better story. It surely can't be, but it might be, after all's said.

So a man was found dead 'neath the cliffs, but there were signs he'd tried to climb them before whatever killed him came along, and he'd gotten two-thirds the way up according to the gouges in the red clay many people attributed to the toes of his boots, which also had remnants of the same red clay stuck to them. Maybe not open and shut, but hardly fucking unfathomable neither.

Braless, she unpeels her shirt and flexes her dorsals, a cetacean back like something lithe and fluid and strenuous you'd only see once in a lifetime of diving in a world of deep. The pendulous hint of her breasts sidelines me, makes me salivate through my answer.

"Yeah, I got a better story." I taste salt, like blood, like tears.

"Tell me."

"You sure you're ready?"

"Yeah, go ahead."

"A'right. This. Fuck you is a better story. How's that, goddamnit? Stop breaking my balls, will ya? Something's wrong here, and even if I only felt a surface ripple when there's maybe some kinda vortex, wait it out, let it fucking breathe, for chrissakes."

She won't challenge that. It's beneath her. I can't ordinarily find the words, but I pitch this just right. Like when you get absinthe just perfect, the thick green, the flame, the melted sugar, the voodoo, everything in its right place. Her name is every state we ever lived in, however brief. Right now, her name is Wyoming. Part of me wants her to stop changing her name and stay Wyoming. It suits her. It sounds like a query asked of a journey, which is everything we ever did.

She's a tall female with wide shoulders. Rangy, I suppose. Like her mount. She looks like someone can only be happy astride that wide-eyed stallion galloping on a spit of glimmering sand; her golden silt hair streaming like a raging creek; its nostrils gaping like cave mouths; her haunches splayed and fulcrumed western style; its shimmering, filmy, velvet skin a platonic dream of musculature; her sweet hive eyelids tight as honeytraps; its citrus-leaf ears backstraining; her lone wild heart one violent stormshadow. 

Wyoming knows more than twice what she lets on, and maybe half of what she don't.

But we're here now. Devils Tower looming like a sly insult from a quiet ground. Striated and dreamlike. Look but keep going. Big Timber. The Crazy Mountains stark and barroom blue against a lemon-apricot sky, cheap real estate, torn pleather booths, the interstate, power cables, smokestacks, the bright rails straight like arrows pointing someplace, some other place.

So, the dead man, right? I truly want to honor his memory, find his killer, but my girl Montana insists we keep moving west.


Tempting Ogres

There are times when I drive across the whole of America and the sky stays that same deep blue, morning through night, Monday through Sunday, behind mountain peaks from fabled lands. Distant clouds bloom off-white and cerebral, unattainable dreams on abandoned horizons. The kind of dreams dreamed by forsaken gods. 

Roxy says, "Tell me you love me." 

"I love you." 

"Now tell me like you ain't just been caught in a lie." 


All those map lines, crisscrossing. The pitiless blue interstates. Broken line borders. The edges. Brimming with need and indifference. Love and embarrassment. The high wretched calls of ocean things. 

Detoured from I-90 aways back, we're lured and lulled into this living postcard of America. 

We head south on the Oregon coast, find some kind of level in a springtime bubble of ocean surge and yellow scotch broom, tadpoles under grey rocks, seals on brown ones. Plunge into spray, follow a monochrome urge, Roxy standing atop the headland, desirous to display but knowing that can only backfire in a world built the opposite of joy. 

Arms folded under those lavish breasts, she won't look at me. 

"Hey Roxy, play some music." 

I can almost hear her eyes roll, a gritty squeak. I can almost hear my heart break too, but I won't describe that. 

When we pull into the motel parking lot in Yachats, a place held like something fragile by parental stands of terrified fir and pine, all we want is to fall down on a soft bed and surrender to the sleep that's been calling our names the last three months. High time we stopped ignoring it. Even Jesus slept. Far as I know, anyway. 

People die in this place. A teen boy once slipped on these rocks and couldn't climb back, struggling like an upended turtle as the surf beat him steadily to death while his friends watched, arms outstretched, impotent. There's a plaque recalling him.

We walk the rocks anyway, explosions of white spray booming and fizzing around us, surging tides shot through narrow passages beneath our feet. Nature's IEDs. So loud we can't hear the gulls cry out their PTSD, their hypervigilance. 

"I was born in a month that rhymes with remember." 

"I can't hear you. Not a single word. Let's go inland, see if we can find trains." 

I hear that. Trains are usually good. We walk as evening begins to gather itself. 

A field, dimming. Sure enough, the eastbound freight draws night behind it like a rough blanket over the land, a sky that catches and muffles its hoarse lament, holds it heavy and tenebrous within its midnight promises and vows of rain, all except for a western strip where earlier the sun dropped while we walked away—impossibly distant, a rarefied airless realm of crimson and gold, like blood and treasure. 

We are blood and treasure. Trash and pleasure.

No, we're worse than that, and better than that. 

The entire world trembles. For a moment, death's-head moths hold the fate of empires between their wings. The train gathers speed for a deep land trek while children are diced unlamented in alleyways and chickens burst like nebulae from rafters in a forgotten barn, dust motes and moths, stars and straw and strands of gold like the lustrous tresses of a fabled princess, cavalier, leaning from the window of her tower, her slender neck arched, waiting. Tempting the axes of ogres. 

Roxy fixes me with one of her eyeslit glares. "It's all your fault," she says, as jackbooted tyrants, charcoal-suited fascists with cruel smiles and flickering lashes, frogmarch us inland, indifferent to our renewed seaward yearnings, while amid the descending darkness great fat raindrops play free jazz over the thirsty fields, syncopated and toxic, and we pretend not to cry with terror as funnel clouds gather and we're mocked and jabbed by soldiers demob-giddy and lustful with the very last war's end, knowing they'll show us no mercy once the touchpaper's lit. 

"You're right. It is. My fault, I mean." 

"Yeah, well, checkout time's come early, my darlin'." 

And she reaches for my hand and won't ever let go. Sleep be goddamned.



Devil's Tower May Have Caused My Lover's Furrowed Brow

It was for you. All of it. Every mile of every road. Every beach combed, whether by boardwalk or by driftwood trails. For you. And it will never truly be enough, each tousled feral cat, each dripping cedar bough, each hardy tadpole in a mountain creek, each fake surfer, each dry phantom tree inundated by wetland, each misspelled signpost, each prairie dog gone tame by tourist handouts, each sidewalk busker, each sheer crag imposing, perched above a plain, a precarious god surveying the gathered armies of a vast but gentle beast.

Sunflower miles and clock-face windfarm dials. John Deere greens gold-misted by evening's haze. The mockery of crows.

Screaming eighteen wheeler mayhem on a submerged interstate, Akron or Toledo-dreams of West Texas or Florida sunbelt vanquished by the hammering of an eternal deluge.

You and I. The dew still glistening as we ride glorious into morning, the freshness of the world threatening a heartbreak toll for its sheer clarity. A purity tax. The world is not going to go away. Only we will go away. One day. But not run away, no. As someone said once, "I won't be no runaway, because I… won't… run," and yes, I can still smell our commingled scent from the night before, as we move forward once again. We will go away as one, joined, in the manner we wished to move in this world. Touching and touched; hard, warm, wet. Animal. Trembling with need.

You become me and I you. We enter a lobby, you talk to a concierge, we smile at the decor, whether through joy or familiarity, alarmed at a rickety elevator, charmed by someone's dog. Hands held on dusty trails, picking berries, chalking our names in yellow on railings. Delight at the very air each other breathes.

And breathe. Take in the possibility we could have it all, do it right, win the prize, earn the reward, achieve the accolades, grab the spoils, hand in hand still and laughing like fugitives high on the very threat of their freedom's fragility.

And yeah: we cross the giant beast of America, marvelling at a sky so large it might belong to another world entire. A sky world with lands of cloud, grey-white accumulations tumbled between expanses of blue, an ocean made of air exhaled by a freedom god. A vision. This world, though, is both tawdry and noble, glowing and tarnished at once. It is our world, the one we were marked to move within together, bonded as two humans could ever be, hungry for more miles, more moments within the finite lifetime of a world as ugly-beautiful as we could hope for, raw with the love and pain of it all.

Unraveled cattle ranch cloth strips, freight cars like beads strung across the world's largest rug, a mildewed rug dotted with apple seeds, black cattle, Canadian trains like prayer flags flapping over a Tibetan meadow, all perspective and reference points gone, the impossible horizon a few feet distant yet a thousand miles away.

My love for you is fierce. My woman.

Fierce and stubborn as the clapboard walls of nondescript motels bracing for the raging gales of prairie winters, unprotected, abandoned. Stubborn as beauty in a world that seeks its own annihilation. Stubborn as life clinging to a tiny rock while nebulae swirl and supernovae detonate in cataclysms of lambent violence.

I had a dream of you, long before you coalesced from the woods and beaches of your own dreams: I was alone in a cabin, fixing kindling for the stove, my fingers numb in January's vice, a body of water rushing away nearby, towering conifers bowing their laden heads in sorrow at the elegiac loss I had just encountered, stricken and arrested in my tracks. And you beckoned, from the future, called me through Dostoevsky fever-shades and Radiohead desolation, Russians and Englishmen, whispered of a time to come, of joy and discovery, of warmth and hope. And my insect mind began to follow the breadcrumb trail you set, one day catching up to the future as my brittle present fell away in chitinous strips like the shedding of a needless carapace.

Seagull sounds. Little wing. Gratitude. A river gorge, its waters the strangest and most exquisite shade I've ever seen, not jade, not turquoise, simply an indescribable blue.

You are my little wing, you help me fly. My pigeon camera, circus mind.

Brick shorelines, purple starfish. Cormorants and detritus. Shallow water crayfish rendering a giant fish head to nothing.

Jazz chords, Coltrane. Irish bars, Guinness. Blood Alley, history.

Spanakopita, souvlaki, classic rock, the world's most endearing waitress. Outside, a sunset, and a grey cat on warm cobblestone, diffident and wary.

I step outside the featureless motel, a bruised and dying sky darkening, air so breathable it almost induces panic. My woman is inside, drinking something sweet and potent, laptop typing, perhaps contemplating the dubious shower. It's as if the landscape is darkening while it quietens down, sound and light linked, the hush itself a dim new world hugging the hunched shoulder of a familiar one. Someone might even be dying out there. A farmhouse tragedy, a grim domestic tableau. Here, I can discern a day shrunk to a dog bark and the subsonic growl of the I-90 night shift. Somewhere a life ends in horror. Elsewhere, one begins. We fret too much.

We will drive and become temporarily lost on grey-mist Wyoming county roads tomorrow, until late afternoon the clouds begin to break and red earth arroyos emerge, all mere precursors as we head into something astonishing: an abrupt wedge of land, vertically striated rock, a truncated peak scored and topped from above, rising above sleepy stands of trees and untroubled fields, a land that has closed its eyes and forgotten its ancient ones though this one still looms. I can't breathe. I'm reliant on the world breathing for me. And my woman breathing for me, but she does that already, has done many times over. And we stand, rapt. This is something worth standing rapt over. Not because of mother ships—or not necessarily—but because we have moved far beyond that in such a short sliver of time, beyond the mashed potato modeling, beyond the earnest search for something that might prove we're not the lonely hearts we always suspected… our new knowledge far deeper and more forlorn.

And we do leave. And the sky rewards us with burnished gold and amassed cloud bunched like the awful fists of heaven, a land so utterly given over to its fantasy of beauty that it actually achieves it. And we drive. Rediscover the interstate. Factory-silhouetted refugees, passing asthmatic through an impassive land. And we keep on driving. And we cry. And laugh. And we love each other yet more, while each mile we consign to an awkward history behind our rubber aluminum revolutions.

But don't forget the boardwalk. We can always go back to the boardwalk. Even if it has to be rebuilt and is not the same boardwalk. No matter. It will always need to be rebuilt. Giant slices of pizza dripping scalding cheese, foamy mugs of amber beer, SALAD, WRAPS, in neon, and Julia from right here on the Jersey Shore with her raw glint of an English future urging us to commit, too. Real as this Elvis-haunted land, this vast and vulgar mystery. The great circle of life is revealed as a night time ferris wheel leaning over the Atlantic, metal on metal squeals, the pause at the apex all the more precious for that.

All I ever wanted, all I ever needed…

Drive till the rain stops, keep driving...

All those songs, drifting over twilit fields, their words torn to orphan strips and rags by the world's indifferent winds and scattered to the lonely horizons.

Death may come, invisible...

Well I'll be damned, here comes your ghost again…

This is now. Do it now, all of it, again, again; before we all become phantoms wandering dusty yellow backroads in search of the appalling beauty we let slip when time was young and hope dared to be born and we recklessly believed that was how it would always be.

This is the place all our hungers will meet, where needs go to be quenched, where we find each other again and stop time in order for it to be forever. Brand it with our need. Here, on some lost highway, in some dim motel room, the grey-blue glow of predawn painting us with spectral planetary light, your finger raised to touch my lips and trace them, like an artist, before another tentative question can emerge, saying shhhhh… shhhhh…

Outside, angled, the car waits quiet beneath a single bare bulb.


What is this Kinship of Which You Speak? Pt. 2

Part Two of a longer post. Part One is here.


Over time, we became street fixtures ourselves, and this is where trouble can start.

First, it is easy to begin to over-identify with the street lifestyle and see the "normal" world as the enemy, as a cold, insouciant planet of hypocrisy-peddlers from manicured suburbs or hostile downtown business owners clearing their precious doorways, customers with wallets relentlessly prioritized over these troublesome urchins.

And second, it's even easier to bond with the youth themselves. For all their outward bravado and feral smarts, street kids are still kids, and once they trust you, their loyalty is fierce, as it must be in return if we were to be effective. For they have first survived and often been further hurt by a system that regularly ignores their specific needs, or that judges them unfairly, or that contains workers who once genuinely believed in "helping others" now turned cynical by a job that shackles them to a desk and forces them to fill out endless forms largely designed to protect their supervisors from lawsuits.

So when—as happened in my final year in the job—you lose two boys and one girl, all to some dire yet sly breed of violence, you tend to take it badly. And when the system is so broken that I am double-teamed by my own supervisor and a child protection worker and instructed to ignore a local 13-year-old girl—who is right now claiming physical and sexual abuse in another city—for the sole reason that she is now in an adjoining province and therefore no longer "our problem"; while that same week I'm thwarted by numerous drug rehab centres—after an 18-year-old girl finally relents and asks for help for her crack habit—on the grounds that she is too old for the youth facilities and yet won't qualify for the adult detox centres, it can all come to a head very quickly and very starkly. So when that third child, a 14-year-old girl this time, was found hanging in her basement by her 10 year-old brother, I simply walked away. Ostensibly a medical/stress leave, but I knew I wouldn't be going back.

Now, I'm not saying this was entirely the work. There was some stuff of my own I'd been carrying for far too long and which needed lancing before it ended up seriously ruining me—and that's not hyperbole—stuff that would take at least another decade to work through, but basically, I had begun a career which was not sustainable over the long term, and unlike other acknowledged high-stress occupations, there would be no twenty-year pension for me. No gold watch. No one to recall your deeds, heroic or otherwise. Nobody quite spells out to you at the beginning of all this heartache how truly corrosive to your happiness this work can be. No one mentions the eleven-year-old daughter of newly arrived Central American immigrants performing fellatio on a sick old man in the back of a local limousine. Or warns you about the fatal overdose in an alley on "Welfare Wednesday" that won't even make the local newspaper. Or prepares you for the rage of a twelve year old boy with a Christian cross seared into his torso from throat to navel by, presumably, some glowing and righteous cigarettes.

So, now we're at the point where I realised that world was gone from me, perhaps forever. A couple of confirmations by mental health types that I was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and clinical depression (wonderful how they always like to hit you with two diagnoses, as if you're not reeling enough) later, and I entered 2001 on antidepressants. Which explains why I felt nothing and to this day remember almost as little of the first half of that year. I think I hiked in the mountains a lot.

It was some time during the summer that the idea of the road trip occurred to me. It became an idea I couldn't shake, and the combination of an understanding family and conveniently located friends along the potential route from near Vancouver, BC to New York City, made it not only possible but feasible. Late August, and a thought appeared unbidden: "I want to leave on a Tuesday". No idea why now. Could be it was the day my Employment Insurance cheque arrived. But however I arrived at it, "Road Trip" was entered on the calendar next to Tuesday, September 11, and I waited.

Monday, September 10, 2001: My bags were packed: camping gear, cassette tapes (yes, my '91 Civic only had a tape deck), clothes to last a few weeks. The drive itself would take at least a week each way unless I drove like something being pursued—not out of the question given the odd fluttery feelings drifting through me like eels through kelp, that might well have been me trying to wean myself from the Celexa—but I would also want to explore as much of New York City as I could, having never visited before. So I was estimating at least three weeks, perhaps as much as a month.

Which brings us to where the story begins. The story in my book. Perhaps many other stories. Those harrowing moments everyone can recall with pinpoint accuracy. For us, it went like this: I woke very early to a beautiful clear dawn. My partner told me something strange was happening, and a certain tone in her voice made me sit up and pay attention. I heard something on the radio that turned out to be inaccurate: "Up to nine planes are currently unaccounted for." We turned on the TV and watched the second plane hit the South Tower. Shortly after, we saw jumpers. I don't think the news people even knew what they were showing at first. We watched the buildings fall. We walked our son to his elementary school. I said "I can't go on my road trip." My partner said "first, find out how your friend in New York is doing". Nobody could phone New York. But I found him online. He said "everyone is leaving, it feels like a war zone. If you can, please still visit." I talked to my partner and watched the TV all day, the appalling endless loop. My son came home from school. I talked to my family and they were okay with me going. In the immediate future, at least, the United States border was closed, so Winnipeg became my new destination. I left late afternoon and barely even recall the eight hour drive that found me in Canmore, Alberta by midnight.

I know this was a familiar media refrain, but it felt like everything had utterly and irrevocably changed and would never go back to what it had been. And that the potential for that to be a good thing hung in the deceptively still Rocky Mountain air that night the world inhaled and awaited its next breath.

So, the kinship of which I speak? It's us. Ours. To make of it what we will.

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also writes for Indies Unlimited and BlergPop. Be sure to check out his work there if you like what you read here.