June 29 - July 1
Max’s friend Matt volunteered to make the trip from Maryland to Texas with Max and me. This was a great relief, since we had been contemplating mournfully all the beloved belongings we would have to leave behind. Matt had already made many long road trips, having driven several times from his home in Pennsylvania to graduate school in South Dakota.
The three of us would each travel in a separate car. Matt gave us each a walkie-talkie, so we could stay updated on our locations and keep our little caravan intact.
I arrived at Max’s house Friday, June 28th, around midnight. He had asked me to bring packing tape. I was under the impression this was just for some last minute packing touch-ups.
When I got there, Matt was waiting on the curb. As soon as I got out of the car he said, “Do you have any room in your trunk?” “No, not really.” He opened my stuffed trunk and poked around, sighed, and stomped resolutely back to the house.
“Um, hey, how are you?”
“I don’t have time for that shit," he replied.
I went into the house to find Max’s belongings littering the living room floor. “Bags. We need to put things in bags,” Max explained. Matt and Max had deduced the packing problem as one of too many rigid corners.
I was immediately under fire for bringing duct tape instead of packing tape. Max was despondent. I had forgotten there was a difference.
I started to shuffle through the loose items. Tambourine, indigenous drums, a rain stick. “Can we get rid of this rain stick?”
“No way! I use that rain stick all the time!”
I drove to Fed Ex at approximately 1 a.m. to stuff all my clothes, towels and linens into cardboard boxes and ship them to myself in Austin. The woman behind the counter was excited for my upcoming move, and eager to share information about her gallstones, which was not very efficient, time-wise. While I was there, I purchased packing tape.
“We don’t need packing tape anymore,” I was informed upon my arrival back at Max’s house. They had made good progress. All they had to put in my car were odds and ends and some paintings of cartoon squid from the Cartoon Network series the Squidbillies.
Sleep commenced around 2:30 am. Max got up around 7:30 to do some last minute trash runs. We departed Maryland at 9:30 am.
We drove through Virginia to Tennessee, over the course of about 10 hours, passing Graceland and Loretta Lynn’s campground.
Arriving in Tennessee, we decided to get dinner and peruse a book of hotel coupons. Having consulted Yelp, we chose Hattie B’s, a fried chicken establishment that gives you the option to have your fried bird dressed in spicy sauces, ranging from Mild to Shut the Cluck Up. I was feeling feisty, so I got Damn Hot, the second spiciest.
Soon after my first bite, tears spurt from my bloodshot eyes. My lips began to go numb. Max chivalrously offered to trade me for his less spicy chicken. After I switched, I was able to appreciate the succulent texture of the meat itself, although my face still flushed with raging spice fever.
We picked out a hotel just outside of Nashville, in Fairview, Tennessee. Our decision was based on cheapness and lack of online reviews reporting bed bugs.
On the drive to the hotel, I threw up in a handy grocery bag, my stomach weakened from hours of not eating on the road, unprepared for the onslaught of Hattie B's. I thought about pulling over, but I was exhausted so I made the choice to drive to the hotel with a hot bag of puke on my lap. I informed Max and Matt of my vehicular gastrointestinal mayhem when we arrived. They were suitably impressed.
In the morning, we got breakfast at Dunkin Doughnuts, filled up or cars with gas and left at 9 a.m.
The driving usually looked like this.
And sometimes this.
Not being all that familiar with farm animals, when I saw this I initially suspected it was a camel.
We drove through towns with silly names, like Arkadelphia, and Texarkana.
We stopped at a gas station that had these beautifully re-purposed pay phone booths.
When we arrived in Texas, we drove for miles without seeing a posted speed limit. I tried to get to 100 mph, but I couldn't quite make it.
My friend Theresa allowed us to stay at her apartment in Dallas for our second night on the road. After some post-travel yoga, we decided to go to a taco restaurant she recommended, Velvet Taco. I got the taco du jour, a duck taco, and a fried catfish taco. We sat outside, under large shower-heads that emitted mist continually.
Here is a terrible picture I took to capture the moment.
The Velvet tacos were beyond superb. Sadly, the sauce was drippy and soon enough, duck juices splattered Max’s shirt, which I was wearing since almost all my clothes were in the mail.
The next day we get up and went to Henk’s European and Black Forest Deli, in celebration of Max’s German heritage and our shared love of sausage. To our delight, sharp imported mustard and horseradish came along with our entrees.
After admiring the imported canned products at Henk’s, we made a stop at Dealey Plaza. Tourists flocked happily to pose on the “x” marking the spot on the road where the tragedy took place.
Conspiracy theorists flitted from grassy knoll to book depository, excitedly speaking into recording devices. One such man wore a shirt that says in bright letters “END THE FED.” Another set up an easel on the infamous grassy knoll, affixed with an array of old newspaper clippings.
We only stayed a couple minutes, then drove on to Waco. The town of Waco looked like every other dull little town we had driven through, home to a Cracker Barrel and a few other traveler amenities. We had discussed stopping to go look for Branch Dividian memorabilia, but by the time we arrived we felt impatient to get to Austin, only an hour away.
First stop was my house, where I have a 1-month lease. I was please to find myself parked next to a giant cactus, and a giant aloe plant.
After we unloaded my things, we went to Ruby’s, the first place Max and I visited when we came for our New Years' vacation earlier in the year. It was still delicious. The sauce is so tangy, so sweet; it bounds across the taste buds like a deranged child on a moon bounce. Unlike every barbecue I’ve had in Maryland, the food at Ruby’s is served on butcher paper, alongside cheap white bread that serves to stymie the moisture from pulled pork and the sweet, vinegary coleslaw.
We unpacked my things and then went to Max’s house. His new roommate, a photographer, tells us about a protest going on at the capitol. We wanted to walk around the capitol anyway so we headed over. People supporting women’s rights wore orange shirts.
There were also pro-lifers, holding up the usual enlarged photographs of butchered fetuses.
Felicitously, we got tired of following the parade right near The Elephant Room, a jazz venue also visited on our New Years’ trip. There was no cover that night. The band plays, presided over by an urn decorated with miniature plastic saxophones, labeled “The Remains of Tony Campise.”
While we sat listening, it sunk in all it once that the trip was over and I lived somewhere else. I tend to only think about one thing at a time, and while we were travelling, all I had considered was how to fill the hours before the next stop. Suddenly overwhelmed, I drank several more beers and thought about how much I would miss my friends and my parents. I haven't had to make new friends in a long time. I cried beery tears in the bathroom and felt hopeless.
But the music was good, and free.