I don’t have no gimmicks. I don’t have an electronic parrot that talks, or a siamese cat that sits on my shoulder as I ride my motorcycle down route 66. I don’t have no robot aspirations, no metal machine music inspirations. I have no affinity to technology. I have no amphetamine interventions. I have no desire to stop thinking, or feeling. I don’t want to stop writing. I have no desire to wage a war against reality: I am too busy with inhumanity to start a war on two fronts. There is no direction home. For years, the only direction that meant anything was ‘to the coast’. The coast represented cooler weather, which means quite a lot when living in a tin can. The coast meant freedom, it was an inexorable pull towards the pacific ocean, towards the cliff faces, the water to quench the fire of my life, my possibilities going up in flames, to salt any lingering desire for more children and leave my life barren and empty and full of loss instead of gain.
To be frank it is hard to explain, but there is no need of directions when you are on the road.
I looked out of the window and saw a cop. He was there with his mini cop piggy clown car, and his cop face and his cop threats and his cop ways. I wanna draw the curtains, i wanna close the windows. I cant concentrate with the Law outside. Please make him go. This is the road. Do I get up and close the window, or does that seem suspicious. Do i draw the curtains? Do I turn on a light and play some Jeopardy sounds with Trebek nice and loud with canned laughter. Is he coming here? will he knock on the door? Did he hear me playing Jim Carroll loudly for a moment? Does he care? Will he arrest me for crimes against normality? What is that banging downstairs? Is there a problem? Is he stopping for donuts down the road? Why is he there. I will go and check and close the windows and look for the source of the banging. I will return. The gate clangs shut. Is he going to shoot someone. Will it be me? Should I pretend I am not home. Damnit he probably saw me at the window. On the road I would be counting down the moments until i can leave this spot. This is my hill to die on, my castle to keep, my spot to defend. I chose this as my final battleground. I am staying. Staying with the electricty and the water, the bed and my little speaker. Staying with my lump of petrified wood. I am petrified. I am a stone person, frozen in time, frazzled by pressure, transformed into something stultified and silent and shaking in fear. This is what it means to b e outside of society, not some patti smith getup where she says a few bad words and stalks around stage emaciated and gurning, speed-wise and turning in circles barefoot, headed for a spin out, this is my life. My life. This is my life.
The road provides movement. The road provides anonymity. I am just a poor wayfaring stranger. I am Townes Van Zandt’s Caroline. Not the daughter of a miner, but a miner myself, not for a heart of gold, like Neil Young, not for diamonds like Cohen, not for a different more sonorous key to play in. No!
I looked outside again. The Boy had to go down and collect a food delivery. Amazon are cheap peddlers of necessities. They had spring water. No one has spring water but amazon. They have a monopoly on commercial life. My heart was in my mouth, not because of the drug dealers, not because of the mentally unwell, not because of anything other than that man in blue that had stopped opposite. The fear is real. He strolled down, picked up the bags from the delivery man, and brought it back, like there was no danger at all.
The cop has left. He had gone when I looked out the window. The Boy returned. I hugged him like a woman who might never see him again. He understood. The existential threat of standing still. Understanding that threat explains the road and the draw of it. Forget these dull route 66 intellectual meanderings. That highway was Dylan’s. That highway is dead now. That route has been claimed. Get yer kicks on route ’66. I got mine on 101. I borrowed it from the beats for a few years. I had to give it back. The road cannot be owned. It is borrowed. It gets leant by some unquiet ghosts that live in the tunnels and under the rushing rivers, that stand solemn sentry on the cliff faces, that hold out hands on those lethal hair pin turns. The fact that anyone drives these dangerous crumbling roads still is a triumph of belief that nothing bad ever happens, that the government won’t let us fall off the cliff face and tumble into the oceans and the rivers, dying dying dying. I don’t trust anyone, not blue, not red, not right, not left. None of them. I can’t. They let me fall. Every time I tried to climb up my fingers got stepped on and my legs got broken. I trust no one but myself, and I barely do that. I trust the freedom of the road, even if the ride is over and cannot be reclaimed or reconstructed by any means.
If people asked me where I was, I would get all haughty and tell them ‘on the road.’ The simple fact of it, I was being hip. I was being pretentious. The romance of the road does that to a grrrl. Perhaps it wasn’t just hipness. The partial truth was I didn’t want to be found, and didn’t want to tell anybody where I was. It defeated the reasons for being out there. What they didn’t know couldn’t be tricked or beaten out of them. No one could get mean and rat me out for some personal spiteful reason or another. All that corn, all those crops, all those sides of walking mooing meat, a sea of food, but none of it to eat. America’s bread basket is a food desert. The rats nibble on the plenty, while the road travelers live on granola bars and cans of coke. The trucks zip the finished product past, running in relays along the ups and downs and lefts and rights of the roads, the rights and wrongs of it all. Travelling light. Travelling fast as light, travelling slow as the news without an internet connection. Travelling.
I feel unanchored knowing Billy has gone on another road, the fork being taken taking him down another rail road, into somewhere else. Like a tumor being cut off, like a limb being lost, the gone bad part of him ditched into the eternal pit. My road partner. See the road demands a partner, a driver or a co pilot. The road is an interstate interplay. It is requires conflict and resolution, the heave and the pull, the push and the shove, the burning of fuel. The engine of one soul touching the other to ignite the adventure. “Goodbye mama shrimp, papa take my hand, he comes the shrimp boat to take me to Louisianne”…I can hear Billy’s voice singing me Van Zandt lullabies, as my face presses against glass, and Montana passes darkly by my windowpane. My socks stink. My world was small. Me. The cabin. My sleeping children. My window. The voice of my oldest friend singing about shrimp boats and Creole girls. I woke up as we went hard over a pothole. “My starter won’t start this morning, my engine won’t even turn turn!” I replied. No hound dogs howled on the crossroads. No dirty blues about fast women and clean machines and bad gasoline could stop those wheels from turning. Still the road went on. Still the wheels turned. Still the world passed by on the right, and the scenery blurred to the left.
I’ve heard it said that the road is a kind of time travel. It is not true. Time doesn’t rewind or fast forward: it stands still. It halts. It pauses. Leave the light on, those on the road are always coming home. The pandemic put a stop to it all. Get to where you belong, get to home, get to a staging post, everyone back inside. Everyone return for census or face censure. The road was put on pause. The adventure turned into survival only. I am not being lavish in my expression. It was sink or swim, live or die. Time to get out of dodge, and hole up for the duration. My highway boots hung up, preserved in aspic and put on a pedestal in my mind.
Paranoia is only paranoia to those who have the privilege of believing that people don’t want to kill you. People have a need to believe in absolutes. There is nothing as unsatisfying to me as the comfort of knowing that who could have known. I won’t be caught out that way again. No. Like I said, I am Caroline. I came out from the other side of the valley, sent out of my home the other side of the mountains. She was sent by a man who loved her and wanted to save her from winter. I was running from a man who wanted to possess me, and wanted to destroy me. Our ways were free. Sunshine never walked beside me, like it walked beside Caroline. I had my oceans to cross. We both ended up fleeing the snow. I went looking for work on the road, but ended up seeking favors. My job was looking after yet another man. My hands grew gnarled. Caroline wanted to go back home to her father, and saved up enough money to take the road home there, but her ‘pa had died’. My man lived. Ain’t it always the way on the road! The breaks never go the ways of Carolines like us. Men lay beside Caroline. I lay beside men. All the lust in the world won’t keep those wheels of need turning. She died. I lived. The name I gave was not Caroline. I was a miner. I dug out words. She dug a grave. The only way is free. The only way is down another road.
Freedom. I admit i am not good and free. Neutral perhaps. There is nothing I wouldn’t do to protect those I love. Nothing. As long as my freedom doesn’t directly impinge on others in a harmful way, I really don’t care what they think of my ways and means of survival on my own terms. I only ask that no false hope be given. Hope is not something I have to spare. We are all just trying to avoid death. To me that means being ready to run, but desiring to stay still. Defending our own survival gets vicious. Before the road I used to be eloquent, I’ve been accused of being charming even. At this point, I can barely find my voice. I can’t talk. I can’t speak. I cannot communicate in spoken words. I blamed the road. I blamed hiding. I blamed my accent. I blamed grief and sadness and fear. I worked it out today. The road is not to blame for my verbal silence. It is sobriety. I am totally sober for years now. I do not know how to be a social animal sober. I cannot speak. I am gobsmacked. Silent. Shut up. A little shot of booze might thaw me out, but at what cost. The more people congratulate me on my sobriety, the more I long to drink and get high. “Oh you are SO good! Oh no, don’t drink!” It makes me want to run down the road to the little liquor store and grab a bottle of brandy and pour a large shot over some ice. Heathen. I like Courvoisier on the rocks. I like swirling it in a highball glass. I can’t drink whiskey because of the gluten issues, it is the closest thing to smoky earthy whiskey in the jar-o.
Everybody wants to be a killer not the killer. A drinker but not the drunk. The traveler but not the bum. The road-bound but not the homeless. The hip without the finger snap of the come hither of addiction. The enlightened without the devotion. Artists missing the art. Everything is to be shared, everything to be stolen. Let the devil take it all. The value is in the guiding hand towards something better. The value is in the disguise of better days.
I don’t believe things are getting better. I don’t believe we are on the cusp of happiness. I think we are all in desperate danger. Desperate danger of inhumanity winning, danger of war, danger of spiritual and artistic death. Danger of ego trumping community.
The road can’t save us now. It might save me. But it is not the path for everybody. It might not even be my fate at the pin prick point in time. It might not even save me.
Don’t ask me what will save us. I fly the flag of freedom, I don’t have the answers. I don’t even know the right questions. I can’t even talk anymore.
Stay safe out there,