The road narrowed as we headed into the mountains.
What thin lip-service of a shoulder there'd been disappeared completely, and the edges of the pocked and pitted and pothole-patched pavement visibly crumbled under the weight of a badly faded white line.
The tires made a fast ripping sound on the roughening road surface and the heavy darkness of a late-night-early morning seemed to tighten the headlight beams as I practically yanked the car into a tight curve. When the road straightened, I have to admit, I wobbled just a little.
One F pretended not to notice. He took a swig of his Molson Canadian and asked, "So where are we going?"
He probably frowned at me. I don't know that for sure, because I kept my eyes on the road, but he probably did. From the speakers, Buddy Holly sang: "...in the valley of tears..."
I took one hand off the wheel and turned the stereo up a notch. The tire-ripping sound seemed to be getting louder, you see. Besides, I knew "Ready Teddy" was the next song. Then, having boosted the volume, I paradoxically raised my voice and said: "You know, this is the actual album Buddy Holly
, from 1958. I mean: It's a CD, but it's the same song line-up. It was his second album."
"I know," One F said. "My dad and I went on a road trip together last year, and his Buddy Holly
CD was the only music we could both agree on."
"So you've heard it," I said. "You know something? You're no fun."
He didn't say anything to that. He took another swig of beer. And maybe another. After a short while, he asked: "So where are we going?"
I careened through a couple more curves and then the road ripped and soared, steep and sudden, to the top of the ridge. I took my foot off the throttle as we reached the summit. I know from experience how all those narrow, half-assed California mountain roads tend to buck and dive and twist when they crest a ridge. I for one did not want to experience that stomach-dropping, adrenaline-shot, endless-second parabola, we're-going-to-die feeling. Not just then, anyway.
Buddy Holly sang, "...you're so square... baby, I don't care..."
One F didn't spill a drop.
We flew down the other side of the pass, ripping and roaring through the night. Eventually, the road dropped us down to a relatively flat plateau, nested among the peaks. The pavement got smoother and wider and the tire-ripping sound diminished. I whispered a silent prayer to the Creator of the Cruise Control, and set it.
A few miles further on, we approached a stoplight. The gods that govern traffic signals must have seen us coming, because the light --which had been green for, I'm sure, about four hours-- turned yellow and then red, for no apparent reason. There were no other cars in sight: We hadn't seen another car since we'd left the Interstate.
Buddy Holly sang, "...take your time... I can wait..."
A few miles beyond that, we came to another intersection. I pulled over onto the shoulder and put the transmission in Park. We were about 20 miles from... well, from anywhere, anywhere at all. The intersection was shaped like a large Y that was trying to make something of itself-- specifically, a T. One lone streetlight on a close-set utility pole hung its head like a tired old man and spilled a dull, half-hearted orange glow over not very much of the area.
I turned down the stereo and swept an index finger from left to right, indicating the highway that crossed in front of us: It came sliding gently down a ridge from our left and swung through the junction on a curve and disappeared into the darkness to our right, at an angle that took it directly away from us. "That," I said, "is State Highway 46. Fifty years ago, it was U.S. 466."
I looked at One F. He was frowning. It was his quizzical frown. I took that to be a good sign. From the speakers, Buddy Holly sang, "...you're gonna miss me... early in the mornin'... one of these days..."
I pointed to the left again and started my story: "He came flyin' over that ridge doing, like, 75 or 80 down the hill. He was driving a 1955 silver-colored Porche--"
"James Dean?" he interrupted.
I felt my shoulders sag. I'm sure he enjoyed the disappointment on my face. "You know something?" I said. "You're no fun."
He smiled and shrugged. "You shouldn't have said 'silver-colored Porche'. It was a dead give-away. No pun intended."
I told the story anyway, albeit with less enthusiasm. After all, here we were at the actual spot where the actual James Dean had actually died... so I told the story anyway. I told him how Dean had come barreling west down the hill at something like 80 miles per hour because he'd been either too stupid or too lazy to leave L.A. the night before; how some poor sap in a Sherman tank of a Studebaker, coming the other way, had pulled up to the intersection looking to turn left; how Dean's supposed last words to his passenger were, "He has
to see us... He has
to stop"; how the poor sap didn't stop but instead turned directly into Dean's path; how Dean's real
last word was probably a high-pitched "Shiiiiiit!" as he slammed his foot down on the brake pedal far too late; how the guy in the Studebaker and the German mechanic who was riding shotgun with Dean in the Porche both survived, but Dean was pronounced dead at the scene.
One F chuckled. "It amuses me that he called that guy his 'mechanic'. The guy probably serviced Dean's Johnson rod more than he ever worked on the car."
"Well, anyway," I said as I put the car in gear, "The guy died in a car crash back in Germany sometime in the 80's. I heard it was 'alcohol related', although I don't know if he was the one who was drinking or if it was someone else." I pulled up to the intersection and made a left. "Legend has it, the Porche sat here in the field near the junction for, like, years
afterwards. Some people even think it's still here, but it isn't."
"Where is it?"
"I don't know. But I've been through here in the daytime, and it isn't here."
The CD was over, so I hit Eject and told him to pick something. He reached into the glove compartment and selected a Stephen Lynch Special Mix that he'd made for me. Then he twisted around in his seat and reached into the back, where we had the cooler.
"Need a Coke?" he asked.
"No, I'm good."
He sat back down and I heard the kiss-hiss of the cap being twisted off another Molson. He took a long drink and said, "I can't believe you brought beer."
I shrugged. "Just don't drink all of 'em. I might want one when we get to L.A."
There was a pregnant silence.
"That's the last one, isn't it?" I asked.
"Um..." he said, and I felt him regard me with that look he gives you when he's trying to think of something to say but wants you to think it's just a dramatic pause. "Maaaybeee?"
"Seriously," I said, sparing a full second to look him in the eye, "you're no fun!"
I looked back at the road. He said, "I wouldn't worry: I'm sure Holly Would will have beer when we get there."
"Yes... but it won't be Molson Canadian," I pointed out. "Did you notice the labels?"
He looked down at the bottle he was holding. "What about 'em?"
"It's part of their marketting campaign. They're not just selling beer; they're selling tiny conversation pieces. The back label of every bottle has a different bad pick-up line."
He reached up and snapped on the dome light and read aloud: "Ask me about my all-over tan." Then he sniffed. That was his way of saying, "I'm trying to be amused, but it isn't working very well."
"Every bottle has a different one?" he asked.
"Well, probably not every bottle in the world, no. But usually every bottle in a given six pack does."
He reached under the seat and brought out one of the empties: "I may be your best option." He replaced that one and grabbed another. "Hey, this one says 'Bud Selig must go'."
"No, not really."
Labels: Blasphemes Convention, just a story