You see, you know, right, once your head stars a-baking and your whole legs get aching and cranking, then everything gets weird. The, uh, the air’s getting pretty hazy, see those milky puddles of heat on the road up ahead, sweet desert mirages, they must be Champaign…or Decatur…almost there. Brain is boiling, roiling, churning, kind of disintegrated I think. And so now it’s no thoughts, just sounds and perceptions lighting off my now sensitive senses—VROOM—dynamite blue—and it’s not painful, just a trip. Out goes critical thinking, and it’s a wonderful thing when that happens, when you’ve lost the sheer ability to analyze and meditate, just to be an animal for a while, and no more playing god, and being a human is somewhere between the two—VROOM. A car pulls up by.
“You need a ride, friend?”
Sheeit no, no, I’m doing something here. “Nope!”
No, no, no, no. “Yeah, I’m sure.”
“Alright.” A sweet bastard with a comfy buncha seats speeds away—VROO—
—and Illiopolis! The halfway point! right on schedule—
—Boy, oh, boy, ow boy. It’s a good time for some water, no, sunscreen, yeah. Round the corner, hey a turn! and two more hours before the next one. Take a rest. Little highway sign dinky little shade, gives enough shade for just my head, body’s cooking in the hard dead prickly weed grass. No, keep on! Pretty soon I’m singing to myself, singing some crazy ones, making stuff up, then “On the Road Again,” then some modern pop standards “I used to ruuule the world…” Down below the purple witch tits are glowering at me, like, “Have you replaced us?” “Yes, tits, I’m with I now.” And they reach out and touch me with longing knobs, so I just walk pow in the middle of the road, there’s no cars for days, whew. And here now I’m trying accents, talking to myself in Russian, British, Aussie, French, everything I can think of, mixing them up, too—“Vat do you vant, mate?”—and I’m the most ridiculous thing walking down the road sputtering nonsense to myself like a loon. If they saw me I know they’d lock me up, because oh goddamnit I’m crazy.
“Man, I’m going crazy out here!”
I wonder like always what time it is. I’ve still got hours to go, I know that much, but I’m real beat. But it’s okay, I’m running on sensations now, burning along in some crazed frenzy. I take my sunglasses off and the world simply *explodes* with light like a Claritin commercial, yes, just like that. I need cleaner glasses. God, it’s a real wash of light, an electric jolt, and it’s the only way anything changes around here is to put a different color of light on it—the only way anything changes—whoo...
And VROOM—(here goes a movie scene)—goes my friend Eliot’s car past me. He’s on his way back from a trip to Oklahoma right now, interesting place to vacation. Weird he’s out here on Old 36 by Illiopolis, that’s strange. I call him.
“Heyyy, man, how’s it going?....Yeah, I was wondering if you could give me a riiide….Oh……….Oh, okay, yeah that’s fine…I was just thinking maybe there was a chance you’d be driving your car on Illinois Old 36 somewhere between Illiopolis and whatever the FUCK town comes after it, turn your car around and come pick me up!!”
Man that sure rolled off the tongue, ohhh it felt good to say! so I fake hang up the fake call and take my phone back out of my pocket and do it again.
“Heyyy, man, how’s it going?....Yeah, I was wondering if you could give me a riiide….Oh……….Oh, okay, yeah that’s fine…I was just thinking maybe there was a chance you’d be driving you car on Illinois Old 36 somewhere between Illiopolis and whatever the FUCK town comes after it, turn your car around and come pick me up!!”
You see, I’m a movie star, and I have to get this line just right for my audition, and I just can’t get it perfect. It’s gotta be articulate, natural sounding, energetic, with a big crescendo up to the last line, the big cathartic climax, so powerful I thrust my body and swing my arms in a way that can be seen by cell phone satellites and transmitted into the other receiver and understood by the actor who plays Eliot. It’s such a long line, sucks out my breath, and for an absurd half hour here I am in the middle of the universe belting out these sentences over and over and miming my phone to my ear.
“Heyyy, man, how’s it going?....”
I liked to imagine that walking is like running…cyclical…where you wear yourself down to hurting and if you keep at it you’ll eventually circle back to 0 and hit your second wind, your runner’s high. In reality, walking is just a straight vertical line, a constantly depleting line, and when you hit 0 it’s not the start of something beautiful anew, you just stop walking or go into the negatives. It doesn’t ever get better as I’ve been telling myself repeatedly since noon.
(((There is one truly rejuvenating grace in the world, and he drives a pickup truck, stops next to me coming from the west, and blesses me:
“I saw you when I drove by earlier, I thought you needed some water. Got a couple ice cold ones right here for ya.”
“What! Wow, that’d be incredible. Thank you so much, man, you’re a lifesaver!”
“No problem, take care,” and oh for a moment I believe in god or at least his guardian angels. I take down a whole bottle of Aquafina right away—my own water has looong since run warm—till I think I’ll puke. For the next five minutes I must say “wow” fifty times out loud in wondrous gratitude.)))
And then the cold water is gone, it was only a moment in time. In another half hour the water man is a memory, a dream, a hallucination. Perhaps something that happened in a past life. ……
This is the longest I’ve ever gone without anything to send my undivided attention to. For once I wonder if that is not some modern industrial age trivial dependency, if that is really some inherent animal need. I don’t know. I don’t know I DON’T KNOW. But it hurts now, I’m starting to hurt a lot, and there is that to focus on…
So I’m not crazy anymore. You go crazy when you don’t have anything to focus on. Now there is unimaginable pain. Every part of me is on fire from the sun. My legs are a different color. My calves are burnt. My muscles and joints are screaming. My eyes don’t open all the way, my body is soaked. Every step is an entire day’s workout; I feel freshly horrible with each one. There isn’t a moment I don’t think that my body will collapse at any second. Crumple to the ground. Die. Blow away with the sand. I am obliterated. My pack is heavy, very heavy now, and it’s killing, cutting, drilling into my shoulders. The water, the food, the supplies, it’s too much, too heavy.
My friend Bridget once told me that torturing small-brained sentient creatures is worse than torturing a healthy human, because the mental capacities of those animals is such that their entire beings, everything they know and believe in and understand, is searing unending pain as long as it envelops them. There is no dream of escaping, no family to think of, no god, no happy memories—it is a universe of pain.
Around me is all this horrible, twisted land, world of mirrors where you never know where you are, because you’re never anywhere at all, just in the double reflection of the place you were before. I look back and see a water tower that was there an eternity ago, slightly larger. I see ahead a cell phone tower that has been there as long as I’ve been alive, always the same size. On this kind of trip you will learn to hate tall things. There is no way out of it, the mirror shoots forever. Decatur is no more than a knot in my throat. Champaign may as well be somewhere I go when I die, I will never reach it elsewhere. By now I’ve abandoned the notion of it entirely. I came out here for solitude, which apparently is no better than any other drug in excess. I sit down in the grass and let out a whimper. I am miserable. The ground is hard.
I decide to hitch home. I try thumbing in both directions, because I don’t care which direction I’m going, as long as I’m somewhere where there are buildings and shade. Of course, now that cars see that I’m clearly in need of a ride—I’m limping, or sitting down, thumbing—they avoid me like I’m breathing an airborne HIV virus. Eventually I have to give up, and I straggle on in the sun looking for any kind of shade—a gutter, a culvert. I have to stop every 10 seconds or so to sit down, so the progress is brutally slow, but, dragging my feet through the purple chicory weeds, I eventually after some agonizing time reach the next little town, just a few houses as far as I can tell—Harristown, just 5 miles outside Decatur, where I would’ve rested the night and made it to Champaign tomorrow. The first one on the right has a lawn, a real lawn, and a mid-size oak in the front yard. From down in me comes a little choking sob. I’ve done it. I sit down by the oak, make some calls, “Come pick me up.” Looking east, I can see the shimmering mirage of light dancing and refracting on the highway, and I let my head fall back, and I wait for a black Nissan to appear through the haze…almost there.