“So, how’s the drive going?”
“Well, it’s been an adventure.”
Mama could not have said two words that more perfectly expressed the lump of clay feeling pulling from the center of my chest down to my knees.
There was a time, as a kid, that I had anger, like a black hole, pulling all of me to my center. Anger was the tendons that held my bones together. Anger kept my muscles coiled tight, pulsed in my spine.
But I had dealt with that. My adolescent devotion to stoicism had won out.
But not right now.
Right now I’m sitting in the parking lot of firestone tires, in Sheridan, Wyoming, trying to find $325, or someone who will loan it to me, or pay me to whisper dirty things in a dark alley (introverts make bad prostitutes). To get context for me and my car’s subsequent breakdowns, we have to go back a few thousand miles.
I have, for the past eight months or so, been living a proud dirtbag existence. I live on milk, eggs, peanut butter sandwiches and discounted food from work. Every month, when the bills come in, is an immediate crisis, followed by a semi-confidant sigh of relief. I regularly play chicken with my gas tank. I’m proud of this life. It’s as hard an existence as I’ve had in my white, middle class, mostly trouble free time on this earth. It’s dusty and exhausted and beautiful. So when my roommate’s dad gives me a less worn set of tires to replace my very worn tires, it’s like I’ve fallen into the lap of luxury.
A gift of tires is especially wonderful, as my broke ass is about to drive 4,000 miles to Denver to Kentucky to Denver to Missoula again. It’s about to be an epic saga for a college student with no money and a poor sense of planning ahead, so any and all handouts are welcome.
There’s just one particular knot in my already knotty rope. I just changed my oil two weeks ago, and I’m way too lazy to go back to the shop to get my tires changed. Also, nothing in life is free, because free tires or no, they still charge to switch those things out. Money is preciously thin.
So I leave Missoula with tires that are balder than my Papa’s head, and less of a care in the the world than I should have.
I make it to Denver–tires fine, eyes a little bloodshot. I get to see Hannah, Rachael and Jeremy for the first time since September of last year. I have now forgotten about my balding tires.
After a day of rest, Han and I make our way to Iowa City. I brought a tent. I did not bring tent poles. At two-thirty A.M., it starts raining. There was a point where I enjoyed night driving in the rain. Right now, though, I’m driving on a few hours of sleep, gas station coffee and those goddamn tires. Hydroplaning is the realest thing that’s ever happened to me. Also, Hannah is sleeping in the passenger seat.
But I two and ten that shit at sixty-five miles an hour through the rain and lightning and past one of the most gorgeous sunrises I’ve ever seen.
Hello, Cincinnati. Hello, Kentucky. Five days go by like the last year and a half never did.
Goodbye Kentucky. Goodbye, you beautiful Queen City.
Back through Denver, no problem.
A few short hours with friends I haven’t seen in two years. Ice cream, city cruising, walking by the Platte. Regeneration.
I should be in Missoula by eight P.M. tomorrow.
Wyoming is gorgeous, a little desolate and hot. The thermometer on the dash says ninety-five degrees fahrenheit. I’ve already plowed through two nalgenes. I keep the speedometer at seventy miles and hour in an eighty mile an hour speed zone. Partly I don’t trust my engine, partly my car is packed heavy with everything I’ve collected over the years–reunited with me after a short separation. Me in Oakland and Missoula, they in Grants Lick, Kentucky.
I have about eight hours to go when I hear a bang, then a flapping that pulls me over to the shoulder. I can already feel the fist sized hole in my tire without looking at it.
This is when I lose it just a little. I know I have a spare. I also know I have no tire iron or jack. That ten year old, my life is falling apart, anger beats it’s way out of the compartment I’ve made for it, barely cracked for even a peek all these years.
For a moment, I’m a cliché I’ve never been a part of–a man with car trouble, fist slamming the roof, fuck flying every which way.
I pop the hood, pull half my shit onto the side of I-25, find my spare and sit next to it, hoping someone takes pity on a twenty year old in cut offs and a sleeveless shirt who is obviously incapable of changing a tire.
They do. Two of them. Separately. A man and a woman. Both road workers, who know each other. They hand me a powerade and go about changing the tire, while I sit and watch. I feel a bit like a child, but I’m too grateful to be embarrassed.
“You’re from Kentucky? Are you moving?”, asks the woman.
I explain where I’m from and what I’m doing.
“So you’re a forestry student. I guess that makes sense. There’s not much else in Montana.”, she says while standing in the middle of nowhere Wyoming.
I have to try and not laugh.
I ask her if my other three tires will make it home.
She doubts it.
It’s now twelve-thirty P.M.
I pack back up and drive off, conscious of every bump on the road, every noise from my car.
I never got their names, but they left me with that powerade and a strong handshake.
Sheridan, Wyoming has several tire stores. I check two of them. I already know I don’t have the money to pay for new tires, and when I walk into firestone, I’m as close to praying as I’ve ever been in the last two years.
The salesman, Jim, or James–something like that–listens to my story and does his best.
“I have to make some calls, see if I can get the money,” I tell him.
“Do what you need to do,” he says. “We do have a credit card offer that we can sign you up for, if you don’t have any luck.”
I walk back in five minutes later.
“Credit card. Let’s do it.”
I’m approved. Privilege is on my side.
Now I wait till my car is ready. I call Mama, for some sympathy, and I get it in those two simple, beautiful words. We talk. I walk a mile down the road for some Subway, which a stranger pays for. I walk back, smoke a cigarette with the mechanic, and finally I’m back on the road.
It’s four-thirty P.M.
I have to work tomorrow afternoon, or I’d alleviate my stress with an impromptu day in Yellowstone. I do, however, stop in Bozeman for the night. I get a few hours of sleep in the passenger seat of my car, pulled off at a rest stop, two jackets balled into a pillow, bandana blindfold to keep out the streetlights.
Finally, at nine-thirty A.M., I pull into my driveway. I’m dirty and I stink. I have no money to pay rent, which was due yesterday, and I have brand new tires on credit. My eyes now have red spots that don’t look good, and my finger is swollen and purple from slamming it in the car door back in Illinois.
I feel more like a dirtbag today than I have in the past eight dirtbag months. And I love it.