There is a certain fear about driving. It isn’t the mountain passes that threaten to throw you off into the ocean. It isn’t the semis that head towards you, headfirst barrelling along shouting “breaker breaker” into their ham radio mics, making you quickly choose between losing a sidemirror to the cliff face, or risk them clipping you and sending you off into the wide blue pacific yonder. It isn’t the drunks meandering home driving too carefully and too slowly to possibly be sober, or else to wild and weaving to be safe. No, it isn’t even the deer that leap in front of you, or the stinky skunk that commit hari kiri on the 101. The biggest object of fear on any American road is the cops.
I do not miss The Fear of a cop rolling slowly along behind me on the road, hand to his mouth, barking down the squealer, running the plates, finding a reason to stop me. An out of date tag issue. A blinking rear brake light. A licence plate that never turned up at the dreaded pit of purgatory which is the DMV, or just the sneaking suspicion that the large dilapidated class C camper van might be up to something no good, like people living in it full time. Can’t be having that. That would be illegal under some section of this or that law pursuant to the law being an ass and the powers-the-be being cruel and out of control on their power and control kick.
I don’t think I ever want to get in a car again as long as I live. I mean, I do, but I am scared to. I love the freedom of hurtling down a road into the wild wild country. I love the mountains and I love the bubbling rivers, and the ordered insanity of nature that flips from high desert to swamp, from plains so flat the curve of the earth makes your head spin, to mountains that appear up head in the road, with seemingly no way around until you get right up close to them and realize that you are about to circle their base in a cut out strip of road, that was once the insane idea of an engineer that realized that travellers sure as heck were not going to go over or under it. I do not love the rollercoaster sinking 13 floors in a millisecond stomach floating into your throat feeling of a cop putting on the flashers, voicing the terrible question to your car-mates, “Is he stopping us?” To which the reply is generally, “I would appear so..” I do not love their bow legged pig-walk up to the left side window, hand on the holster, flashlight eyes threatening danger.
You know they are nervous. It is the average citizen’s job to make them be not nervous, but relaxed. Show ’em you are decent sorts. No bodies in the back. No drugs in the glove compartment. No foul intentions. No big deal. Poor, that’s all. But they are not interested in that kind of deal. No. They generally want blood, an arrest for the books or at least to cause The Fear. They need us to know that we WILL respect their ‘authoritah’…Why do these men always pronounce the H in vehicle? It is like code, a secret signal that they are about to fuck you up. Being illegal by virtue of breathing the air on the ground where you sound, your very presence being reason to book em, Danno, makes for some inneresting sensations. The plummeting stomach is followed by a sensation of hollowness in the solar plexus, a tightening of the sphincter, lungs working over-time for breath, and all those good things that signal on an electrical level that they should bring you in anyway, just in case.
In the time it took the Cop to walk from patrol car to driver’s window I would take a few deep breaths, center myself, plaster on a smile and remind myself to keep my hands up where he could see ’em, and to keep my mouth shut if possible. My accent is so out of the ordinary, the curiousness of the average hicksville ‘Murican insists they ask me the age old sacred question of ‘where are you from?’ Now this question can never be answered with ‘I live round here’, because the accent says that was not always the case. It cannot be answered with ‘fuck off, none of your business’, because that is rude and invites suspicion. Sometimes I am from this or that European state, or this antipodean precinct, or that far flung place. Sometimes I am from somewhere that is blatantly ridiculous, and they protest. Well, I think, well well well, if you have a vague idea, why ask? Doesn’t it ever cross people’s minds that I don’t want to tell them? That it is not safe for me to tell them? Of course a cop does not care much about that. They care about The Law, The Truth, and their own undeniable feeling of power and superiority. They can’t help it, poor schmucks. It is just who they are. They need careful handling like an unexploded grenade or a bomb, or a German Shepherd with a bad temper, and now all this fear and hatred is being reflected in the macrocosm of society and the world at large.
We have moved on from fear and loathing of the ’60s and 70s, that Hunter wrote so well about, foretelling the end of civilization and the golden days of freedom, in a series of blistering pieces written for various purveyors of news, sports and words. The fear is entrenched. It is part of the landscape, and it rolls round again and again in it’s old forms and ways. We are back to being afraid of the Russian Bear, and telling our kids that, in the words of Dylan, ‘if another war comes, it is them we must fight’. The ‘hate’ and ‘fear’ that Dylan write about in With God On Our Side, is mirrored by Thompson’s war with the straight rule-bound world. There is a story about Hunter ignoring a sign in a hotel pool that said it was illegal to swim at night, and instead jumping in and taking a dip. Of course the security guard called the cops, and Hunter talked his way out of a trip to the cop shop. This series of events carried on until the hotel manager told Hunter that the sign was not entirely correct and the ban was more about the hotel’s insurance policy, instead of any strange and overreaching city ordinance against nightswimming.
In 2022, years after Hunter took his own life and his ashes shot by a fantastically good friend (Johnny Depp) from earth into the heavens in a gigantic and exorbitant rocket, year and years after Bob Dylan gave up on the protest gig and started recording Frank Sinatra covers, we have all accepted The Fear. We are scared of war, we are scared of disease, we are scared of global warming, we are scared of the Government, agents of destruction, and the by-products of capitalism and the money grubbing obsessions of rich men who don’t give a fuck about living, or babies, or the future or anything other than their collection of useless money and the empty feeling they must have inside when they realize they have nothing left to strive for. That is why the uber-rich are looking at pleasure trips to outer space, or at least as close as they can get in these plague years. There is nowhere else to go. There is nothing else to spend the excess that they have while sad legions of unhoused, without access to medical treatment, to food, to life scrabble around in the gutter in order to perpetuate a system that allows such extremes of excess. Fuck em. I hope their rockets explode before they can upload their diseased, greed-ridden consciousnesses into the metaverse.
These are days when Fear and Loathing are the easy level shit, the given situation. Everyone has someone from an opposing viewpoint to hate on. Vaxxed…unvaxxed….right, left, toilet paper hanging from the inside or the outside of the roll….Who cares? We are all being pitted against one another in an atavistic duel to the death of freedom, and mutual peace, love & understanding. There is no tolerance left. We have been reduced in these post 9/11, and now post-covid days to an orgy of intolerance, violence, danger and correctness. I just can’t hang with it all, it is all too correct. These are the days of a steady slide back into authoritarianism and inflation, to mandates and inaction, to governments not working for the people, but instead against them and for their own agendas forced upon us as ‘in our best interests’. ..and that includes these useless lockdowns that have driven so many into a downward spiral of despair and isolation.
The Fear has taken on a new quality. We are now all fearful of being cancelled. Only shows and subscriptions used to be cancelled, now it is just about the worst and most devastating thing that can happen to a person. Cancel culture destroys livelihoods, leads to erroneous and bizarre legal actions. These are the days of giving with one hand and taking with the other. The Fear and Loathing has not changed, not gone, not left and not dissipated. It has merely metamorphosed like some metallic winged insectoid creature of the night, and become something altogether predictable: Control and Authoritarianism. Herd mentality. The death of the individual. Which is all well and good, except back there on the road, the Cop headed towards my window, wondering if they were going to check if I was legal, thankfully a passenger, not the driver who was legal and had a licence, I got the Fear and Loathing bigtime. I got it bad. I hated the control mongers, the gatekeepers, the guards who keep the little people out of the honey pot. I feared and I loathed them in equal measures, and I still do. Except the list of people added to that list is growing.
Perhaps we need a little less fear and loathing, and a little more Resistance and Acceptance. Love and War. Rage and enforced nightswimming in pools that have fascistic signs that lie that it is illegal to stop us doing what is convenient to those who have all the control. My wars have been non violent ones, at least for my part. I have fought the path of most resistance and come out battered but still in possession of my soul, the company of my child, and my dignity. At least I think I have.
I do not miss the fear in my chest that was always there when I saw a cop on the road. The elation of seeing them pass. The terror of surviving their questioning, even though the only thing I had done ‘wrong’ was to run from a super-violent husband after failing to be protected by the law, and ended up undocumented. I am happier to be on foot, it is safer. Less likely to be accosted, even if it has meant that my wunderlust has been curtailed. This is not a free world. It is not a world ruled by love of anything. It is a mealy mouthed steel fist in a velvet gloved wolf in sheep’s clothing of a paradigm.
The ‘cop’ has grown to immense proportions, and has insinuated itself into areas of our lives we could not have envisioned thirty years ago, all in the name of safety and care. We all like to be safe. Safe is the salve of fear. We wanted to be safe from the terrorists back in 2001. We want to be safe from the covid virus. We want to live, even if that safe life is curtailed, restrained from the outside, and the parameters of how it is allowed to be lived defined by Big Brother and the holding company of doom. We are now told, instead of encouraged to think for ourselves. We obey out of fear of a severe cancelling, leading to certain economic ruin, which in these last gasps of bloated capitalism about to explode, is akin to death, anyways.
Fear and Loathing. Sanction and Obeying. Love and War. I keep on thinking I should push an end to war and the start of peace, but how can we secure peace when the other side want to fight? I know that much, if someone wants a fight, they are gonna take it, whether the other person wants peace or not. Mr Putin looks like he is going to play cat and mouse in his pursuit of the Ukraine. He will do what he wants to do, and fuck the rest of us who do not fancy 8 buck a gallon gas and food that is priced out of reach, even if it does make it onto shelves. Make no mistake, I hate these purveyors of death and destruction, of greed and capitalistic cruelty, of laws that worm their toxic way into areas of life they have no business infecting with their life-withering poison. I loathe them and I fear them. I love people and I love freedom, and caught up in this fear trap I rarely put it all on the line and just say it, damnit. It is a war, and those of us who are clever are living to fight another day in total silence.
~ Detroit R