Cold night on the pavement. Awake and sit down by the peaceful lake and get a timelapse of sunrise, along with some spinach dip and bread.
Redrik entangled amidst wires as I drive over to Jesse James’ childhood farm and grave bearing the inscription “murdered by a traitor and coward whose name is not worthy to appear here.”
Drive around looking for some farm pictures. Trespass to get a shot of a barn with a pentagram (nice symmetry with the Jesus barn back in Ohio – just as Jesse James’ grave draws a parallel with the one from Billy the Kid, New Mexico).
Redrik awakes, needs to make some phone calls, head into Kansas City.
Kansas City. About to take off. Have had it. We’re midway and things don’t seem to have shaped up. To the contrary. Redrik apologizes.
Another short, intense argument (started with an issue related to the lost credit card). We’re on the brink.
Sip some whiskey cokes at a bar downtown – what you gonna do…
Keep a head straight, and eyes open, that’s what.
Talk to S, who’s in South America.
Loving her time there, can’t imagine returning to the US, to an un-travelled life, at the end of summer. I wish I could say the same.
“You know, it’s weird. This time around, we’re just about halfway, and I’m actually looking forward to the end of the trip.”
An older guy parks his car near the bar. He proceeds to wrap a plastic bag around the parking meter, then duck tapes it.
“That’s a nice trick. Had never seen that one before.”
“I tried putting a quarter in but the meter doesn’t work.”
Have no idea if that’s true or not, seems more like a fine way not to pay for parking.
Lots of street art, beer ads, tattoos. Impressed by the airy cleanliness of KC. We head to Westport, bars, people bask in the sunlight, have more drinks.
Later we park by the Crown Center, and both of us sleep at the foot of the mother of adventurers statue, in the heart of Kansas City.
Cool morning, wind picks up at 4am and makes the end of the night uncomfortable. Too bad. I think this turns Redrik off from sleeping outside for good. Move the car downtown, walk around, have some tuna and chips. Redrik asleep. Decide to lug backpack and go for a hike.
Walk across town to Westport, through Latino quarters, the Boulevard Brewing facility. Interview with the receptionist, who lets me have a look at the machines.
Get to the Westport Flea Market. An impressive burger.
Redrik joins. I’m tired. Exhausted – from the long walk under the noon heat.
Park the car under the arcade of a hotel. The staffer kindly obliges. I nap.
One of Redrik’s friends, who studied at Kansas University, gives us a ‘frat code’ (ie: the blackberries are getting ripe) which supposedly guarantees wild extravaganza should we contact one of his brothers. We do.
“The blackberries are getting ripe.”
“What blackberries? Who are you?”
No, the contact actually responds positively. But can’t do much for us, has work, is busy, and so on. Fraternity? That was a while ago, man.
The blackberries don’t do much good.
We stop by a liquor store. I’d like to get a timelapse of Kansas City from the Crown Center, which should take a while.
Chew some fat in the afternoon sun, sip away.
Sit by the monument. Cops spot the beer bottles and stop us. Redrik fakes a believable European accent: “Nut E-vun Een parks?”
The cops watch my camera as we toss out our beer bottles, after chugging them.
Leave KC after sunset to make it to Lawrence. Book a motel. What is it, the fourth time? It’s been over a month on the road. A long month.
We’re both tired but decide to go out. Redrik’s got his research down. End up on an on-campus off-campus bar. Dollar drinks, two-buck doubles. Lawrence is a major college town – a major party college town. Drunk girls feeling stupid and guys hoping lucky, heavy-handed drinks… we get wasted.
I lose Redrik in the crowd.
Dude slaps me on the shoulder.
Just got off the phone, he’s wearing a good-natured, inebriated smile, as he says, half awe and half disbelief:
“I get so-oo much ass.”
Walking away, he repeats, more to himself than to me,
“You wouldn’t believe, I get so-oo much ass…”
Later, as the bar starts clearing out, I spot Redrik necking with an Asian girl. Lustful kissing. Skin sucked off her neck and saliva out of his throat.
Cool. This should do him good.
The girl’s friends are lingering near the nascent couple, appropriately concerned. They’re about to break up the party.
I step in.
“How you doing?”
The girl’s friend, a Thai freshman (two other dudes standing back):
“You know this guy?”
“Yeah, he’s my friend.”
“Did he go to * College?”
I’m taken aback by the question but recover quickly enough.
“*? Of course he did.”
“Did you go there too?”
Damn Redrik. Chose to give the name of another school, as had been initially crafted. Obviously telling the story from my perspective, his was crunchier and undoubtedly more enjoyable.
“I know him, he’s a good guy. Looks like he and your friend are having fun so why don’t we let them?”
Smooth-talk the friend, she chills, do the wingman bit – offer to drive them home, or wherever they may wish. Redrik and the girl are gone, clutching each other as they walk out in the street.
I fetch the car along with the Thai girl. Sober enough but don’t like driving in this altered state of mind. Especially not in a college town. More on this soon. Huh-oh…
After some deliberation, it’s decided that we’ll be dropping them off at their dorm. Redrik’s hook-up has classes or soccer practice early in the morning. Disappointing outcome.
We chat at the foot of the dorms. College students stumbling past us, full of the night’s adventures, listing the shots and alcohols that trounced them. We part.
“Sorry man. Well, you got her number. You could give her a call tomorrow.”
“Nah. She said she was a virgin.”
Rest at the motel. Go into Lawrence after check-out, spend most of the day working on my job in a coffee house. Presumably an old bank, judging by the massive wheel-lock door to the storage room.
“I could see myself living here.”
“You gotta be kiddin. We’ll see how you feel a week from now.”
Later. Another burger, chicken and vegetable medley this time. Turns out tasty.
Am tired, Redrik wants another night out. As we drive by last night’s bar, we’re lured by festivities on a nearby basketball court. A dodgeball contest!
Redrik steps out to check it out while I rest in the car. In just a few minutes two security guards are scribbling down the plate number. The un-heady leader is not easily humored. Turns out we’re on a private lot, so we readily agree to move.
“I’ll go get a few pictures while you park.”
Get some pictures. The contest ends. Cheap beer cans litter the court. I walk away.
“Where should we meet? At the bar?”
“Nah, wait for me at the court.”
As I head back to the basketball court, the two lards catch up.
“That’s it. Stay right there.” says the Lard Meister.
“Stay right there. Do you have your ID?”
“It’s in the car. My friend went to park it. But why?”
“On the grounds of suspicious behavior.”
“Suspicious? There’s nothing suspicious about this. You asked us to move the car so he’s parking it, I came out to get some pictures.”
I guess that does sound suspicious.
Call Redrik so he can bring over my license.
He doesn’t pick up the phone.
The Meister says he’s gonna go get a police officer, orders his minions to sequestrate if needed.
Redrik strolls in.
“What’s going on here?” I explain. He doesn’t have my license. He’s also rightly offended by the current turn of events.
“Let’s make a move.”
We edge some steps towards out.
The grunts shadow these, disinclined to let us go.
To the contrary of the police officer, who after a few minutes of articulate explanation – Meister standing to the side uselessly – but not prior to completion of a routine name-check, releases us.
We curse at the Meister as we walk away.
I guess it’s also reassuring. Nobody likes creepers creeping on campus.
“ ‘ Course.”
The bartender pours two stiff whiskeys. Maybe he can tell we’re older. I sure feel older.
The atmosphere in the bar is unlike the previous night.
It reeks of skunk beer. The floors are sticky. There’s a sadness to the groups of congregated people, who are fewer, perhaps because drinks are $2 instead of a buck. We go downstairs. There’s a dancing area, which I hadn’t even noticed the previous night.
As luck has it, this bartender pours us two lousy drinks.
Linger around and sip. Later, as a girl walks away from Redrik after an attempt at conversation:
“Come on, let’s get out of here. Enough of this.”
It’s gonna be a long drive through Kansas. I’d like to make some headway. I’d also like to make it to the Geographic Center of the 48 contiguous states, which is about midway in northern Kansas.
I think I’m OK. Damn. That’s not good enough.
We stop at a gas station to purchase snacks.
Been driving off the freeway since Arkansas – it is well worth it.
Step on the gas as we exit town, and the fateful blue gyrating lights appear in the rearview mirror. No. Not now.
“Give me that piece of gum.”
Remove the key from the ignition and put it on the dash. Both hands on the wheel. Bright-eyed open smile.
“Good evening officer.”
She does not look inclined to kindness.
“It’s deputy sheriff.”
“Smells like alcohol in here. Have you had anything to drink?”
“He’s had some. I just had a drink though. Was about three or four hours ago.”
“You were at 60 in a 50 zone.”
“I just realized that as you pulled us over. As you can tell, we’ve been driving a long way.” That softens her a bit.
“Where you headed to?”
“Across the country, deputy. We’re shooting a documentary.”
The deputy sheriff returns to her car, insurance and license in hand. Another police car soon joins.
“You think you’re over the limit?”
“I have no idea.” Two doubles. One tight. How long ago was it? Not that long. Maybe we’re off the hook. Maybe not.
The deputy sheriff returns.
“You seem like you’re alright but since the vehicle smells like alcohol I’m gonna have you run a few tests.”
No! “Of course.”
It’s the first time I do these tests. Apprehensive, not to say terrified.
I don’t condone drinking and driving. In fact I resent it (and have gotten into a physical argument about this before). And yet now I find myself to be its hypocritical preacher, in the worst possible case scenario.
“Have to warn you, recently sprained my right ankle, so I might not be very stable on it.” That’ll buy some credits.
“We’ll see about that.” Not many.
Shivers from the wind – and nervousness.
She has me walk down the line and back. I stick to the line but am slightly off-balance.
She has me raise one foot while looking straight ahead and reciting the alphabet. I first forget to look straight ahead. Then do fairly well.
“Count backwards from a 1033 to a 1011.”
Can’t be that hard. It turns out to be harder than it sounds. Many syllables.
Please let me off the hook. I think I’m OK.
“You said you went to *. How is it over there?”
“The academics are really good. I enjoyed my time there.” Is she softening up?
“What’s the documentary about?”
“We’re going across the country asking everybody the one and same question, and that question is: ‘What’s your philosophy in life?’. We’re asking everybody we meet this question, all kinds of people. And then we’ll try piece together the answers to make a movie. To give those people a voice.”
The deputy sheriff and her bystanding colleague seem touched by the description.
“Okay, sit on the hood of the car with your back turned.”
I don’t understand the point of this but do as told.
I’m shaking. The other officer looks upon me benignly. I don’t think he really cares either way, as long as everyone stays safe.
But when the deputy returns, she throws a curveball:
“You seem like you’re alright, but if like you said you’ve just had one drink… have you had one drink?”
“Yes.” Straight eye to eye.
“… then this shouldn’t be a problem. Do you agree to take the breathalyzer?”
The breathalyzer. Just say no. Win some time to the station. It’s a pain but you’ll keep your license. Or take a gamble. Have I had that much to drink? Two drinks. One tight. How long ago was it? It takes an hour after intake for the alcohol level to reach its peak. The first drink was, let me see… Just say no.
As I’m sure everybody in doubt instinctively does, I approach my lips hesitantly and give the tube a weak peep.
“You have to blow on it hard.” Doesn’t sound right but do as told.
It’s over. Flash-forwards of lives upheaved by a single, crucial mistake.
The seconds tinker like swaying brass bells, resonantly.
The numbers appear on the gauge. The deputy sheriff’s blue eyes dig deep into mine. Stern as ever.
“You’re at 0.45” Over, over, over…
She shows me the display. I’m tumbling down galactic rabbit holes.
“As long as you haven’t had a pitcher of beer in the last hour,” she adds preventively.
In retrospect, I’m guessing the counter actually read 0.045 (g/l?). As I return to the car I’m filled with the excitement and adrenaline of petty thieves. The deputy returns: she’s written off the ticket and hands me a warning. She actually smiles:
“Good luck with the documentary.”
Wheel through Kansas ecstatically, full of appreciation for the renewed gift of life. Redrik slumbers.
Listen to the same electro album three or four times as we fly in the night, till exhaustion. Finally stop near Nebraska, not too far from the Geographic Center.
Nothing around. One thing actually:
We’d awake next to the National Midget Auto Racing Museum.
‘Midget’ refers to the vehicles, not the drivers.