We followed the heat radiating off of Manhattan. We just arrived – funneled onto the streets where 9 million words jolted through us, one for every New York soul! We fancied ourselves coffee in front of a big window, and found just that on 29th and 7th. Nameless America passes right by, a fashion show, a guessing game, a zoo.
This journey has reached its denouement. This point in eternity will be chiseled into the alabaster stone of my soul! What it is to be young.
Last night we made a dozen fleeting friends on a porch in West Philadelphia. We drank in the night and made a cacophony with a ukulele, a digeridoo, a giant drum, a piano, a trombone, a trumpet, and the roaring laughter of midnight vulgarity. For childish reasons, I hopped on a bike and joined an excursion to the liquor store. The breeze was intoxicating.
Today we took the Megabus from Philly to NYC and here I am, in love with every waking moment. No expectations, just freedom. I have this moment, which has already passed, and only vague dreams of tonights and tomorrows. All I knew last week was that I would drive north through the mountains. I didn’t have any particular destination in mind – all I had was the knowledge that the fates would greet me in every town.
The Butterfly Effect – a sensitive dependence on initial conditions. It started with a peculiar travel suggestion and a complete stranger from 2,000 miles away and it’s evolved into the total satiation of my wanderlust beneath the majesty of the New York skyline.
The road burns fast! We made it out of Atlanta without a hitch, slightly behind schedule but yearning for the vastness of America. Asheville was, as usual, rife with twangy goodness and rich beer. Our host was a beautifully enthusiastic soul who danced with Marie and I, effortlessly, to Girl from Ipanema – on vinyl, no less! We twisted with the night.
The Blue Ridge Parkway loomed before us – jagged and ancient and endless mountains – they oxygenated us. We made a bedroom of the Milky Way Galaxy and were serenaded by the wild. In the morning, we baptized ourselves in mountain streams and bathed in the lakes that fed them.
The mountains became sparse – boiling hills interrupted by dilapidated farmhouses from the times before rust reigned. We found a pristine and empty church in the middle of a field where we danced atop bales of sepia hay.
Then we found Roanoke, a quiet town that held within it the life of a sad man. Within this sad man there was a happy dog (with a penchant for shredding doormats) and a glowing memory of the time he jumped from an airplane.
We drove through the weathered glory of south Baltimore before we got to the marble part, wherein we found a million arabesque brushstrokes of ancient fables. We drove south to my Aunt and Uncle’s house for the night, and I slept on the couch that was inherited from my grandparent’s apartment. I remember falling in love with the couch as a child, but it was out of place without the nostalgic musk of Wisconsin.
We came back to Baltimore tonight to drop off Arnaud and revelled in upturned bottles and rooftop opera in a house with a spiral staircase.
Five days worth of poetry are making their way up my spine.
Says Kurt Vonnegut.
It is settled, etched in stone, demanded by the gods! The Blue Ridge Parkway beckons. I will carry with me enough to sustain me for an indeterminate period, plus one (1) ukulele. I will pursue the horizon.
Arnaud returned from New Orleans Sunday night with Marie. The two of them hitchhiked from NOLA to Atlanta with a Columbian truck driver who, upon his departure, gifted them (and by proxy, me) with spoils readily available at any fine Bankhead truckstop. Last night, we nourished ourselves with home-cooked goodness (banana coconut chicken curry with cumin lime chickpea salad, if you must know) and cheap wine, desserted ourselves with an apple-cinnamon pastry, and nightcapped ourselves with the banter of our collective profundity.
And tomorrow – tomorrow! If I can somehow finish my exams with the taste of the mountain air just out of reach – phantom pleasure just teasing the olfactory glands – I’ll embark with a wildfire burning blue beneath my itching feet.
I don’t know where I’m going after the Parkway. We are dropping Arnaud off in Baltimore so that he may pursue doctorly things at Johns Hopkins – but then what? Where to from there? Keep driving, turn around? Left, right? To the seas again? Do I taste salt water? or do I feel the heat radiating off of New York City?
When Arnaud and I decided to go to the bar next door for a couple of weeknight drinks, we weren’t expecting to be confronted by a man who would embody the kind of raving insolence that I feel is unique to this country – the strain that is fertilized by lofty ideals of God and Glory and incubated behind white picket fences.
“Fuck the French!” he said with a violent flourish.
Arnaud shot me a look that conveyed the marriage of amusement and mild horror before returning his gaze to the white-knuckled beast before us. Mike glowed red with the kind of reckless buffoonery of someone who’s been imprisoned within himself by the twin demons of loud stupidity and an MBA from an SEC school.
Mike regaled us with tales of his journey to Paris with his girlfriend.
“I felt discriminated against for being an American. How much is a fair price for a sandwich? Like 8 bucks max, right? This motherfucker tried to charge me fifteen euros for a piece of shit sandwich with one little piece of prosciutto. I told him he could take that sandwich and go fuck himself. I gave him 10 euros, which I thought was a fair price, and this asshole chases me out of the fuckin’ restaurant into the street.”
Incidentally, we were being graced with Mike’s presence as he awaited the return of a waitress who could remedy yet another injustice served to him in the form of a subpar sandwich. Mike hadn’t asked for this sandwich. Mike hadn’t asked for any of this.
“Seriously, I’m never going back to France. Place sucks. Why do you think they changed the name of french fries to ‘freedom fries?'”
Arnaud managed somehow to maintain his placid demeanor in the face of this roaring brute and answered in his sibilant English, “Actually we call them ‘frites.'”
Mike finally got his sandwich. In fact, he plucked up a take-out box from beneath the nose of another bar patron, rifled through its contents and decided that this was the sandwich he would rather have, leaving his speechless victim with the scraps that had triggered his rage. He slowly backed away from us while continuing his monologue and left the premises, where his humanity would surely be debased by future sandwiches.