Out on the Road, the wandering stranger only has he, himself alone, and his story. Throughout the ages though, these meandering gypsy-rogues, hermits and lost hobos would need sustenance to survive that lonely and volatile road. In 21st century San Antonio my friends, the local 7/11 is where the scavenging hunter meets his prey.
I pulled up outside the 7/11 on South Zarzamora around 9pm and pretended like I was checking my tire pressure. I looked on inside to stake the place. It wasn’t my local.
The clerk at the checkout was of South Asian origin. He had no moustache, and his haircut was stylish. Strange, I thought. Was this to throw me off? Men from that area of the world can be shifty fuckers, not to be trusted in precarious situations. I would need at least all six senses, maybe seven, to make it out alive; they would require a vigilance cut from diamond scalpels. I filled my gas-tank up first. Here goes.
I made my way across the courtyard briskly, head down. The glass panels of the entrance door were colder than what they should’ve been in May. This was my first red signal. I entered anyway.
The lights inside were especially bright, even for a 7/11. Like a Guantanamo torture room. They burnt my retinas unforgivingly. I had my shopping list scrawled on the back of my left forearm, written with a ballpoint from the glove compartment in nurse’s car. These were the key provisions I would need for the Road, enough at least to get me a way into Mexico. It read like this:
Gasoline bottles – 2
Cinnamon Toast – 4
Milk – 2
Bread – 3
Toothpaste/brush – 1
Butter – 1
Soap – 2
Water – 3
Carton of Rothmans
Bourbon – 2
These provisions would be my life-blood for the coming days and nights. Should I lose but one item, then so-help-me-Shiva, I’d be done. I’d have to cut up my credit card after this transaction.
I loaded my stuff at the checkout and store clerk Raj met his eyes with mine. They were most intense brown eyes I’d ever seen: a potent and murky fog of enigma and mystery, choking me with their noxious fumes. I got lost in their gloom, wandered aimlessly through their virulent smog, spitting up blood as the sepia smothered me. I soon found myself at childhood, the pale voice of a boy saying faint, unintelligible words; mocking me. He had no face, but in his aura, he hated me. He was insane.
A blind-side fist to my face woke me up: “Gas?” asked Patel, the store clerk.
“Did you want gas?” he repeated, confused by my confusion.
“Yeah. Sorry. Pump seven.”
“That’s three hundred and forty nine dollars and fifty eight cents.”
He swiped my card and I signed. I wanted to fake my signature but I had no choice. I needed these provisions. “Thanks.” I said.
“Have a nice day, sir”.
One more glance at those eyes. And I left.
I sat around in the car a couple minutes after the transaction, watching in, watching him. Who was this guy, and what did he want with me? These were questions that needed answering but not just then. It was a time for a new mood. The Road was ahead of me.
I hit the highway hard, loaded on bourbon, cigarettes and sugary cereal, 80mph with the window open and a middle flying in the face of my automobile coevals who chewed fumes in the quake of my exit. I clenched the rubber steering wheel, the nurse’s rubber steering wheel: a shining thing no less symbolic than my last steering wheel, now wrecked. I felt free for the first time since birth.
10:05pm: Route 16 was quiet at that time of night. Route 16 was always quiet. I chose it so I could drive at high speeds with liquor, so I could watch the dirt, and the dust, dance in solemn moonlight from my wing mirrors as I scorched the Texan soil with my tires. A song was playing on the radio, it was the same song I was humming in the kitchen a few days prior, when I was making my strawberry-celery sandwiches. I shouted along to it as loud as my lungs would let me. It went like this:
“And you may find yourself, living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself, in another part of the world
And you may find yourself, behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself, in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself
Well, how did I get here?
Letting the days go by
Let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by
Water flowing underground
Into the blue again
After the money’s gone
Once in a lifetime
Water flowing underground”
Once in a lifetime. Once in a lifetime.
I stopped off for the night in Hebronville, a small town fifty miles off the Laredo border. Nurse’s tires had had enough traction for the day. And I was tired, too.
The first motel I came across was another identical sister to the thousands, millions of moribund motels that litter and hue America’s many interstates. The name of this particular motel was caricatured, and fit it near perfectly, like the sequined jacket squeezed over the man-tits of a doughy Las Vegas Elvis impersonator. It was called the Texas Armadillo Inn.
There was a pretty 18-or-twenty-something blonde type at the motel reception desk. The innkeeper’s daughter, I deduced. Although, I gotta say, for a pretty 18-or-twenty-something motel receptionist at in the middle of the dessert, she didn’t seem too receptive. I hovered bourbon-blooded, and hit her with my best lines, “You know you’re pretty pale for this time of year, don’t you go outside? Are you one of those people with a UV allergy?” I said it with suave conviction.
“Excuse me?” with a frown that could tame coyotes.
“Hey, you know real Armadillos sleep for sixteen hours a day in these burrows?
“Wish I could sleep for sixteen hours a day. In burrows.”
“Sir, you’re spilling alcohol all over the floor. Open liquor is not permitted in the motel lobby.”
I decided call it a night.
I woke up the next morning with a black taste in my mouth. It was time for me to go, to make my way to Mexico. But for some reason it didn’t seem like such a good idea anymore. Nothing did. I closed the curtains of the wide motel windows, and turned off all the lights. I wrapped myself in the duvet and stared at the rusty stains in the corner of the ceiling. I lay like that for twenty-four hours.