Route 77 is the road to Little Aleppo; it is a hard truck, but God will reward you for the miles.
This is the shortcut; it’s 50 miles longer, but shaves an hour off your time. There are no billboards, and all the road signs are riddles. Terrible place to get lost, but if you do, there are free public showers every ten miles. No one knows who put them there; no one has ever seen them get cleaned, but they are always sparkling. Locals tell stories about the Night Janitors.
All the hitchhikers are the Buddha.
Only one radio station comes in, but Wolfman Jack is on the air. Your phone won’t work, and the AC dies; you must roll down your window. Route 77 has an understanding with the sun, though: do not fear burns and melanoma. (For the best that your devices are useless: trying to find the road on Google Maps causes your phone to bite you on your favorite nipple. No one knows what would happen if you looked it up on Apple Maps because no one uses Apple Maps.)
The exit onto 77 is only open to some cars. Hyundai won’t make it. Now, you got yourself a 1971 AMC Matador station wagon, you can come on in. 1987 Buick Grand National will do fine. The guy in the 2011 Ford Fusion has to find a different route.
Precarious found it first. Between tours, he would drive. Sleep in the car in a parking lot, window cracked and pistol between the seats. At dawn, Precarious would say “I’m gonna cross the Mississippi,” and then at dusk he would.
Precarious Lee believed in God, and that He had given us the world. And to show our gratitude to the Lord, Precarious thought, we had built the highways. His grace was in the smoothness of the blacktop, and His protecting hands were the rumble strips and guardrails.
He disagreed with Neal Cassady. Precarious had been a passenger of the Holy Goof’s, and it was a blast, but Neal thought top speed was the right speed, and Precarious did not: Precarious thought the right speed was the right speed. Sure, sometimes the right speed was 100 mph through the middle of the city at noon, but most often the right speed was between 70 and 80, and way the fuck out of town.
Precarious didn’t count the hours, and he didn’t count the miles; he marked his progress by fuel stops.
On the road, he could think. On the road, even better, he could not think. Nothing could be done; the to-do list had been suspended. Precarious saw the road linking here and there as not a bridge, but an entirely third place. An interstate interregnum. The road doesn’t link places, he thought: places bloom from the road.
Others would ask him if he liked to drive because he was his own boss behind the wheel, and Precarious didn’t know what the fuck they were talking about: he was a working man, and had had a boss since he was 14. Sometimes the road was his boss, but it was the best one Precarious had worked for. No nitpicking. Let him do his job like a man.
Precarious Lee was due back at Front Street in 19 hours; he was outside of Galveston in an 1972 International Harvester Scout; Precarious was an optimist, but he could also do math. He had never missed a show. He would never, and he called on the spirit of Lady Bird Johnson:
“Beautify my journey like you beautified this Interstate, Ma’am!”
On the shoulder was a sign. Precarious knew it was a sign because it was square-ish, and green, and on the side of a road. It was also a Sign, and Precarious knew that it was a Sign because it was galloping alongside the car cursing at him in Flemish. That’s odd even for Texas.
The sign pointed to an exit off the highway. It was a jughandle mixed with a cloverleaf plus a high-speed merge out of nowhere and then a hairpin turn for absolutely no reason. Route 77 had an open-door policy, but its door was a lethal weapon: if you were meant to drive the road, then you would.
The Scout ate up the road; the odometer spun wildly, and the clock froze; Precarious Lee raced the clouds across America. Another gas station, another film of dead bugs, another piss. Precarious was making great time.
He wasn’t the first one at the warehouse to load the trucks, but he wasn’t the last one. The Scout’s engine seized in the parking lot, and Mickey made drums out of it years later. His back was screaming and his eyeballs danced like popcorn kernels in their moment of becoming, but he got to work. Precarious Lee didn’t miss shows.
Route 77 is a hard truck, but God will reward you for the miles.