October 1998
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Shucksters On the Road, Part 3 of 3

Fiction by Adam Bresson

Read Parts One and Two first!

Albuquerque is just a road with a town surrounding it, fashioned in the mountains like some sad afterthought meant to harbor white trash life. You drive into the city on one of the six major interstates that feed the local commerce and it feels like Vegas without the flash. We thought we'd succeed with almost anything.

Our first stop was the Route 66 cafe. By now we felt like casual kings. We saddled up to a payphone, rattled off the prepackaged speech and got ready for cafe food and a thousand guides to the Mother Road. The road of kings and queens, of driving late into the night, of violent deaths and violent fortunes.

We didn't even wait an hour. We arrived twenty minutes later ready to eat some down home cooking. I introduced myself with a smile and flashed my laptop (an old, bulky 1988 NEC) and were immediately seated at a table. The owner came over to gush about her restaurant. She tossed off words like "authentic" and "in the spirt of" none of which Jeff or I thought particularly described this diner. I had a hot turkey sandwich abused by milky hot gravy and crowded by processed potatoes. Jeff feasted on a Reuben dripping Thousand Island dressing with fatty meat and smelling of salt.

No bill and we left. Albuquerque seemed drab. Clouds hung over it. The skyride into the mountains was closed because of wind. Cars trudged down the road like they knew this was the town they'd die in. It was.

We drove out for the high life of Santa Fe to the north. A short jaunt. Jeff felt the food in his stomach as we jumped over each bump. We talked about our real selves--back at home. It was a relief to call each other by our real names. Jeff talked about a girl he had met, he was in love with her eyes. He'd drive her out every night and away from her ex-boyfriend who fooled her with his rage into thinking it was complexity. I was in a long relationship soured by the years and the distance. I still thought about calling and saying hi. Not from the road. Just keep driving.

Amazing how the mountains followed us. I never felt lonely. Jeff was getting sick of them, though, and wanted to see some people or manmade rocks. We pulled into Santa Fe and picked out dinner. We wanted to eat Southwestern food. I grabbed a person who looked like a local.

-Scott: "Buddy, what the hell's Souhwestern cooking?"

-Dirty Man: "Fried, greasy sopapillas dripping with butter."

Dirty Man convinced me.

-Scott: "Best sopapillas?"

-Dirty Man: "At the Junction."

Easy enough. Dirty Man walked away into the shadow of the bells in the central square. Jeff was already thumbing through the phone book. Nothing under "J". But there was a Tortilla Junction. Fine old name. Anyways, Dirty Man said so. We phoned them up and asked for the manager. They gave us the owner. Jeff knew the story had to be elaborate. He made up an article about all 50 states and the food that made them special. He came up with a title. He told her to tell the hostess to watch for two well-dressed men.

Our mouths watered. We smelled raw like the road. We had to clean up. Our clothes were in Round three by now. We found a bathroom and shaved close to the skin and watched the speckled foam fall down the drain. We combed our hair back with water. We washed our armpits and scrubbed our chests. Everyone who came in the bathroom was too polite to notice.

Tortilla Junction was an entire block big with high ceilings, swirling fans and the smell of beans and rice in the air wafting to the rafters. I strode up to the desk with fake business card in hand. The host Harmony--real name--batted her eyes at us. She picked up the phone and typed in a secret code (extension 247) and told the owner we were here.

The owener personally greeted us with a warm welcome. She escorted us to the best table in the restuarant overlooking everything. She sent strawberry margaritas over. A basket of sopapillas with garlic butter. We had tacos and enchiladas. We sipped Iced Tea. Harmony came over and asked us all sorts of questions about Los Angeles. I let slip that we were going to sleep in the car that night or maybe the campgrounds. On purpose of course. Jeff bet I couldn't win her heart.

After we went over the same things as always with the owner, Harmony came back over to the table. We were eating a very special desert, something very sweet and messy but heaven sliced and served.

-Scott: "What's cool at night in Santa Fe?'

-Harmony: "Well, there's the Edge downtown. Pool and dancing."

-Scott: "I can't dance. Born that way."

Nihilist bullsh*t at best.

-Harmony: "You guys want to crash on my floor? I'll take you out to the clubs. Come on, you can dance!"

Ah well, I guess. We finished up and puttered around Santa Fe. Half-past nine we met Harmony over at her apartment. I slipped and called Jeff by his real name. Caught myself and spun it into an almost believable tangent. She was bouncing around though and didn't catch it. Here apartment was tiny but the floor looked okay. We tossed our sleeping bags down and got cleaned up. Harmony called a few friends and we left.

A Santa Fe club seems like it is doing everything in its power not to play Garth Brooks. It was ultra-exclusive hidden upstairs in the main square. Pool up front and dancing to techno in back. Jeff and I wanted to sweeten up the evening so we set goals for each other: I had to convince everyone that Jeff was a champion kickboxer in Cambodia (very, very tough) and he had to say I've eaten at over two thousand restaurants including ones in Africa (a bit easier). The trick was he had to describe Africa to our club-going pals. We played a couple of games of pool and I sprinkled the conversation with wild things about Southeast Asia. "Jeez, you haven't played so well since Cambodia". I pulled Harmony close and told her, "Jeff has the most powerful legs on the circuit. He's broken a man's neck, you know."

She probably wondered what the hell I was talking about. We went in the other room and danced. Everyone kept buying us drinks because we weren't from there. Harmony sat enraptured while Jeff told her about Africa.

-Jeff: "Big animals. Best food on the continent is, surprisingly, in Ethiopia. Scott wrestled a baby rhineoceros. He cuddled a monkey in his lap."

The crowd's eyes sparkled with magic. Jeff told stories well. As long as he stayed the straight and narrow and didn't veer off into the touching or emotional stuff. I put my arm around Harmony because the alchohol made me flush with courage.

Sometime around very late we got back to her place. Jeff was sauced. He slid into his sleeping bag and said we should leave early. I whispered in his ear we will before sun up. He dozed off. I went to Harmony's room to say goodnight.

We left early in the morning. We snuck out before she awoke or her roommate. I felt pangs of guilt. I left her an address on the dresser with a thank you letter. It was the address of a jerk I knew in high school but the thought was as true as could be.

We headed for Flagstaff. Passing Gallup on the interstate I remembered travelling cross-country with my dad. He and I talked about so many things I can't remember them all. We ate Mexican food across from the Best Western and I felt like an adult for the first time. It was about a year earlier. I kept a secret log of every restaurant and hotel we stopped at along the road. My Dad had laughter and dark eyes. You knew he knew everything and fortunately some of it he would laugh at. Jeff wasn't introspective like my father was on the road. He didn't tear himself open. He didn't talk about the tough things. In fact, conversation with him was like circles. We'd begin and end at the same place filling in a bit but never stepping off the path. We'd didn't know what we'd grow up and be.

From Flagstaff, we went to Sedona. A mystical town in the middle of Arizona. A drive south on the 17 over a hellish road. It was dirt--I didn't think it wouldn't be paved. For thirty miles over the hill we grinded over the rubble to U2. When we arrived in Sedona we had to find a meaning for it.

About ten years ago, over three thousand people adventured to this little town. A rock on the outskirts shaped like a bell was the reason. Well, rather, their spaceship. Each person believed so right in their hearts that the moutain would take off into space. Right into the ether zipping past the birds, the clouds and the last gulp of oxygen. This town was truly crazy.

We ate at a local pizza restaurant for variety. The guy who ran the place served us like forty buffalo wings and I could feel them eating away at my insides. He told us that the city contained five official vortexes that center energy. We should buy a crystal and go to each one and charge it up. This energy would bring us good luck forever.

What the hell, we'd sightsee. We went to a local giftstore in a house. We shopped for a crystal and got a map of the vortex points. Scavenger hunting for the New Age crowd. Jeff and I jumped in my Tempo and drove to the first one. No problem. A little hike. On the ground lay fifty stones. That's it. No otherwordly sensations or flying dogs. First I stepped into the circle. I sat in the lotus position and closed my eyes holding my crystal in my palms in front of my body. I muttered something about not getting caught. Okay, charged. Jeff was less dramatic. A quick close of the eyes and in and out like the Hokey Pokey. Off to the next one. We were determined to make them all by sundown.

The next one was a hike. We walked about a mile-and-a-half up the side of a hill. No vortex. We looked around. We saw a man to the left standing on one leg massaging the air with swift arm motions. That must be it.

Scared of the man, Jeff let me lead. I walked over and saw the familiar stones. I didn't know if I was allowed to join a person in the circle. I waited until the man stepped out. He was smallish and pudgy. Dark curly hair and a scarf although it wasn't that cold. I called him Miyagi.

-Miyagi: "The center of yourself is called your Chi. It's right here."

He pointed at a spot about one inch below his bellybutton. Jeff shot me a glance like we were going to disappear for a very long time.

-Scott: "Got it. Right here. See, I'm touching it. Yesiree, I'm touching my Chi."

It didn't feel like the spiritual and physical center of my body. I got in the circle and charged my crystal. With my eyes shut, I could hear Miyagi talking to Jeff.

-Miyagi: "I live in Venice beach, California. Sedona is the center of energy. I bet you can't push me over."

I opened my eyes. Mr. Miyagi was set firmly on the ground. Jeff tried to topple him but no matter how hard he pushed he couldn't budge him. It was because of the special place down there he told us. We ran back to our car.

The next vortex was right off the road. Like the cheapo hole at the miniature golf course with only a couple of hills but no giant windmill, it wasn't challenging and left you only half-fulfilled. We hurried to the next one. The sun was setting.

The final one was on Bell Mountain. We parked the car along the embankment as we headed out of town. The sun was scorching the desert for the last time ringing every little bit of moisture out of it. We only knew that on the mountain was the last vortex and that if we didn't charge our stones there, the energy would leave them. I began to run up the hill with Jeff following.

We were way up there. Really high and we turned and looked out over the city. Most of it was hidden in the trees except for a quick glance here and there of a house or a storefront. We couldn't find the vortex and now there was the moon's glow on the rocks. Things were getting steeper. I went up ahead of Jeff and reached out for the final vortex. I shut my eyes as a rested my hand on the crest and inside the circles of stones and suffered a little peace.

It was broken by the animal sounds. Crazy animals. I don't know what it sounded like. But maybe it was something squeezed real hard and very mad and maybe even sick in the head. I was scared out of my mind. I slid down the lip of the mountain after Jeff and we ran the last fifty yards as fast as we'd ever ran in our lives. I clutched my crystal--now dizzy with energy--and took off for the car. I didn't look behind for fear that the whole mountain had lashed out at me. We slammed the doors shut and locked them.

It was seven hundred miles home to Los Angeles. We didn't mention the sound we'd heard. In fact, there wasn't much talking. Jeff slept some of the way and I munched Hostess cupcakes and drank Gatorade. We wanted to get home. After the kind folks, the hot afternoons and the yellow road lines slapping the car endlessly, home seemed like a place to be real and still.

Of course, Jeff and I stopped telling these stories years ago. We talk occasionally, maybe hang out and do something on the weekends but nothing could ever approach travelling through those Southwestern states and the nasty oblivion of those two thousand miles.

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