I’m on a road shaped like a figure 8. I’m going nowhere but I’m guaranteed to be late.
It was a late start getting out of Denver that Monday. We were paralyzed, lying in a state of comatose and unable to register any type of action within our immediate vicinity, no matter how severe the disturbance. Upon our eventual rise from our deep slumber well past noon, our bodies further rejected the substance abuse thrust upon them the night before, some of ours harsher than others, requiring more than one trip to a bathroom. They were on one setting, one mode of existence—survival. It was the price we knew we had to pay; tooling out certainly takes its toll on the body.
And come to find out (much to our surprise), being hungover doesn’t make an 8-hour drive across the state of Kansas any easier either. And while wheat and corn are important staples crops for the American farmer (I mean, what would we do without all of that high-fructose corn syrup?), they get pretty monotonous after the first 100 miles. I wish I could say otherwise, but doing so would be lying.
At least the folks in Kansas have a good sense of humor about things. We got a kick out of the bug-eyed cutouts of Jesus peaking over the corn stalks, a solid reminder that he’s always watching us. There were also signs celebrating the birthplace of former Senators Arlen Specter and Bob Dole, of which I really hope that one was a joke; Bob Dole lost to Bill Clinton in the 1996 presidential election—big whoop! And Arlen Specter’s giant claim to fame was just saying, “Wait a Minute” 20 times in a row at a town hall meeting. What a turkey!
Aside from dull geography that makes up flyover country however, it was actually not a bad drive at all, and to be honest, quite far from it; then again, no drive is bad whenever you have a solid playlist consisting entirely of Modest Mouse, perfect road trip music for reminiscing, each album bringing a new dynamic of thought during our drive across the everlasting prairies of Kansas.
“The Lonesome Crowded West” gave face to the genre of indie music, its sound and associated themes serving as a great critique on the culture of the Pacific Northwest, of which I would go as far to say its definition is quite acute. I think all of us in one point in our lives can relate to the character created from the frightening, yet intriguing and driving beat of “Cowboy Dan,” and I can still hear Thor’s voice and see his lovely long locks in front of the snow covered wheat fields surrounding Grangeville, Idaho whenever “Polar Opposites” plays, as the CD ended up getting stuck in my dad’s Nissan Xterra on the way back from a snowboarding trip to McCall, Idaho, leaving us no choice but to listen to the album 5 times in a row (not exactly the worst thing that could ever happen).
“The Moon and Antarctica” honed in on the unique sound produced in The Lonesome Crowded West by further sharpening their skill set and broadening the scope of their musical capacity, creating a thought provoking album that delved into the topics of life, death, and mental instability while masterfully conjoining them in an eerie sentiment that explored the wonder and mysteries of the universe; all doing so in a way where the music speaks for itself and the lyrics themselves become seamless and brilliant compliments to the sound, creating a touching masterpiece that still leaves me in awe more than a decade after its release. Soothing and pensive tracks like “3rd Planet” and “Life Like Weeds” easily stand out as ideal road trip songs, bringing much relief and wonderment to any situation, much like my father and I felt as we passed Keechelus Lake on the eastern slope of Snowqualmie Pass during Christmas vacation, 2004. The treacherous route through the Cascade Mountain Range, although quite beautiful, is one dreadful experience that every Northwesterner becomes accustomed to at some point in their life.
Even “Good News for People who Love Bad News,” their appeal to the mainstream had its own identity, which surprisingly became the most meaningful for us growing up as skate rats in the Lewis-Clark Valley. It showed listeners that the band could be original and continue to espouse their creativity and still reach out and relate to the masses, exposing many new faces to their brand of music while at the same time keeping their longtime fans engaged and satisfied with the band’s direction. And all the while, they remained successful at increasing the range of their musical variety, mixing ballads like “The World at Large” and the intense and heavy blasts of hard rock in “Bury me with it” with a unique blend of banjo, horn, and guitar throughout the album. Each song flows smoothly into the next, leaving you with the sensation of leaving the CD in the player after it plays through and returns to the title track, gleefully willing to listen to it again.
And repeat itself it did over and over again, not only in our cars and in our rooms, but also in our hearts every night as we worked on passing out after a long day at the skatepark, of which you could count on somebody blasting it through their crappy car speakers during a typical evening in the Summer of 2004. Listening to it through the cornfields of Kansas that day provoked a plethora of memories from the original (and best) Lewiston Skatepark. Whether it be sticking a frontside flip off the back of the hip and onto the crusty asphalt (or in Bill’s case, a kickflip nose manual across the box), watching an unfortunate soul try to prove himself by boardsliding Big Red (a foolish endeavor all of us suffered through at least once), watching Collin Morlock go full throttle and crash a motorcycle into the wall, or the simple pleasure of sharing a good conversation with a friend (which usually led to a dirty joke or an immature prank), we’ll always be grateful for that little sanctuary shoved off into the sketchiest corner of downtown Lewiston, the ugly duckling of the city, somebody’s cruel joke turned to blessing for us societal outcasts, a place where each of us could escape day after day and release our inner Holden Caulifield.
As the albums progressed, we remembered our friends that had shared the coming of age journey with us; friends, old, present, and some who had departed this world long before it seemed they were supposed to, decisions from a higher power that we may never understand as mortal beings. “We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank” brought about many laughs over our adventures in Moscow and the amount of trouble college kids manage to get away with. I even made Bill tell the story of how Mike barreled through the automatic sliding doors at Winco more than a few times over, the result being a constant chuckle that lasted through two towns. The way he described Mike busting into the doors like a cannonball (the doors apparently didn’t open fast enough for him while his inertia proved to be too powerful for him to overcome) made it impossible not to laugh, for I could perfectly envision the deafening boom that sounded throughout the grocery store, the permanent deformation to the door’s frames, and Jay abruptly turning his head upon impact, quickly separating himself from the rest of the group, utterly embarrassed and disgusted to have any affiliation with the culprits until he made it out of the store unrecognized. When it comes to calling shotgun, some people will do what it takes, no matter the consequence.
Perhaps the best part, every story and every album led some way or another to us ripping on Ben Woodward! It came so natural, and there was so much material to work with! And the jokes we were coming up with were so fresh and original that you would’ve thought you were listening to a Dane Cook and Larry the Cable Guy brainstorming session! This was certainly becoming the best leg of the trip by far, and Ben Woodward was single handedly making this once dreaded Kansas leg go by extremely fast, and before we knew it, 4 hours had already passed!
“Oh man, remember when Ben used to look like an alien?” I asked.
“Haha, he still does look like an alien!”
“I know right!? What was that name we used to call him, Asteroid something or another?”
“Yea, it was… let me remember… oh yea it was—wait, hold on.”
“What is it?”
“A text—oh great… it’s from Gretch.”
“God, what does she want?”
“Let’s see… wait, what!?
“What is it… What is it!?”
“…um, you better read this for yourself…”
I know texting while driving is bad, but this seemed really important. I read each word out loud, nice and slow as to make sure I understood the underlying themes of such an important message. What could it possibly be that is so prudent that Gretch had to interrupt such a thoughtful drive? Let’s see here…
“Lol, now that gay marriage is legal in every state, you guys shouldn’t have a problem being accept— WHAT!? ARE YOU KIDDING ME!? ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME!?”
“NO! I’m not kidding you! That’s what she said!”
“NO! THAT’S A BUNCH OF FREAKING BULLCRAP!”
“I know! I KNOW! I’M JUST AS APPALLED AS YOU ARE!”
“That pisses me off. That pisses me RIGHT OFF!”
“Believe me, it pisses me off too!”
“I MEAN, WHO THE HELL DOES SHE THINK SHE IS? THIS ISN’T THE 20TH CENTURY ANYMORE! WHO SAYS CRAP LIKE THAT STILL?”
“Me neither! And I hate to say it, but to be perfectly honest; she’s acting like a grade schooler. A juvenile delinquent!”
She’s acting like Kevin James in the King of Queens!”
“SHE’S ACTING LIKE AN ANIMAL, THAT’S WHAT SHE’S DOING!”
“IT’S NOT FUNNY! IT’S AWFUL!”
IT’S AN EPIDEMIC!”
Our teeth grit, our mouths tightened, and our anger intensified so severely, that the only audible sound that could be forced was the intermittent honking of my horn down I-70, my mind so worked up that the simultaneous act of driving and screaming could not be accomplished together.
“…It’s really just disappointing. Embarrassing really!” Thankfully, Bill broke the cursed silence brought forth by such a blatant display of inconsideration.
“Well, I mean, I would certainly never say anything like that. You just don’t kid around with that stuff anymore!
“Not if you consider yourself a civilized person.”
“She’s gonna get it. I mean, She’s gonna get it… BAD!”
“…You know, I hear they’ll have a blob at the wedding…”
“You mean one of those giant air tubes on the lake that people jump on to launch other people up in the air at summer camp?”
“Exactly. So what we do, we get her to go on the blob. We both sneak up to the top, and when she’s not looking, get this… we both jump down at the same time!”
“Ah dude, she’ll go 50 feet in the air! she’s gonna lose it!”
“It’ll make her poop in her pants!”
“Mid-flight too! It’ll fly right out of her swimsuit! And everyone’s going to see it!”
“And when she rides on the waverunners, I’m going to whip around so fast and make her fly off!”
“And after that, you can go back around to act like you’re picking her up, and but actually splash her with water!”
“Oh, get this. When we get to the hotel and walk up the stairs, I’ll be like ‘Oh gee, I forgot my bag.’ I’ll walk down and trip over your bag and fall down the steps! Then I’ll get up, and you trip over me and fall down the steps. And when Gretch tries to get up the stairs, we both fall and knock over her suitcase, so she can’t get up!”
“That’s gonna drive her bonkers. We have to do it!”
“We’re going to do it!”
“And then, we’ll prank call her from the next room and tell her that she has a $200 of room charges on her credit card.”
“Holy crap, that’s gonna get her going with the vulgarities. Her potty mouth’s bad enough as it is!”
“But first… the moment she steps into this car from the airport, I’m going to yell at her so bad… So bad! She has no idea what she’s done.”
“This is war. This is the big time… This is show business… We’re gonna get her…”
“We’re gonna get her alright, just you wait and see…”
“We’re going to get her… We’re going to get her so good! We’re going to get her…” Bill repeated the incantation over and over as “Everywhere and his Nasty Parlor Tricks” attacked us through the car speakers. The album usually sends off good vibes, reminding us of rolling up to Josh Ulrich’s for a good ol’ fashioned summer pool party at his parent’s house and how he made Little Thorton clean his pool every time whenever “Night on the Sun” plays through. But as soon as Gretch opened her insensitive mouth, a sour mood turned the car dark and cold, and the music churned a production of malevolent thoughts, thoughts of which culminated into one goal…
The drive was long and hard from that point on, which was more than disappointing considering we were doing so well making fun of Ben Woodward. But now, nothing could rekindle our passion for ragging on the Asteroid. There was only one that consumed our minds now…
“We’re gonna get her… we’re gonna get her…” continued Bill well into the night, his arms folded, his head shaking, and his body rocking back and forth in his seat; it was the only phrase he could muster. Even the country-fried steak at the local diner couldn’t satisfy his madness.
I kept my cool for as long as I could not to provoke Bill’s fury any further, but eventually, at some point between Junction City and Topeka began my long and drawn out ramble of words. Hateful words, that may not have made sense coming out of my scrambled mind, but nevertheless matched each honk of the horn as each syllable left my mouth.
“I—hate—Grecth—I—hate—her—so—much— I—hate—her—so—baaaaaad—She’s—so—stu—pid— she’s—so—duuuuuuuuuumb—I—am—go—ing—to—get—her—She—is—bad—I—hate—or—ga—nic—I—hate—As—ter—oids—I—am—so—mad—I—could—scream—Bill—how—much—far—ther—to—To—Pe—ka—I—hate—Greth—She—will—pay—I—hate—Gretch—I—hate—Gretch—I—hate—Gretch…”
“We’re gonna get her… We’re gonna get her…. We’re gonna get her…”