Chapter 13: The Punch Card

“It’s 12:50. She explicitly told us 12:47. Where is she!?”

“I don’t know, baggage claim maybe?”

“Well she’s taking her sweet time then!”

“She’ll probably be out soon. Just circle around one more time.”

“We’ve already done that—three times! We’re going to be late! What are we going to do??”

Bill took a deep, long breath, in through the nose and out through the mouth. “CALL BETH!”

Thanks to the technology of blue tooth, a dial tone sounded through the car speakers that eventually led to an automated voice telling me to leave a message for Beth’s number. “Beth, it’s Zack. It’s taking a little while longer for us at the airport, and uh… well…” I took a deep breath, then a deeper breath. It’s just… I can’t…” I began hyperventilating.

“Zack, just calm down. Breathe, nice and slow—“

“I can’t! I can’t do it man! I’m sorry, but I’m not going to put up with this. She thinks she can just lollygag about like we’re on her time? She’s already making us late, and now she’s going to ruin the whole wedding for everybody! This is an important weekend, especially for Beth and Blake, and I’ll be damn—I’ll be DAMNED if she spoils it!” I exclaimed, my fist slamming hard on the dashboard. “Look Beth, I’m sorry. I am sorry! We’re trying, we just have some set backs, and we’re getting a little stressed out… We’ll be there as soon as we can.” I ended the call. “What time is it?”



“Hold up, I just got a text…”


There she stood next to her suitcase, waving excitedly with a giant smile on her face under the concrete overpass that housed the MKE loading zone; the sheer arrogance on display absolutely insulting. “Did she bring her entire wardrobe or something? How are we gonna fit that monster in the car?” asked Bill.

“Hi guys,” She said as we exited the car, her voice sweet and filled with glee. We didn’t fall for it, not for one second. Bill took on the grueling task of loading her suitcase, having to make multiple rearrangements in the trunk and the backseat. A million thoughts scrambled through my mind of things I wanted to say, a log jam of words that couldn’t seem to straighten out, even with the roaring current increasing behind it. I stared and opened the back door, until a lone phrase left the madness in a calm, straight manner. “Step into my office…”

She slipped into the backseat and I shut the door behind her. Bill and I looked at each other from opposite sides of the car, both shaking our heads in disappointment, “Let’s try not to make a big deal out of this; for Beth and Blake’s sake,” he said. I nodded and entered the car.

“So what’s up guys? You ready to party and stuff?”

I couldn’t take it anymore. “Listen Gretch,” I started, whipping my body around, my eyes impeding and face stern. “This whole trip isn’t about ‘partying’ or getting drunk or ‘blasted’ as you kids say these days, or any of that juvenile stuff. It’s about our friends Beth and Blake coming together and professing their everlasting love for each other. We’re talkin’ the holy sacrament of marriage.”

As a simultaneous act, Bill whipped his body around, his eyes impeding and face stern, and I whipped mine back to the front, a cycle that would continuously repeat itself. It was his turn now.

“This is the big time; sacred vows, powers invested by the Holy Spirit, people in dresses and tuxedos, and definitely not the Canadian kind.”

“That means we’re on our best behavior at all times. No screwin’ around!”

“We traveled over 2,000 miles to pick you up, and already we’re off to a bad start. We’re behind schedule, and we have a lot of work ahead of us!”

“This isn’t like Idaho. You can’t just walk around like you own the place! This is Wisconsin. This is my turf!”

“Your history of tooling out in Boise won’t fly here; not in Wisconsin. Getting 86ed from a bar is not an acceptable practice.”

“I don’t want to get kicked out of another Applebee’s! It’s embarrassing!”

“You can’t just start cussing out the bar tender just because they don’t have Steel Reserve on tap. That won’t be tolerated; not in the Midwest.”

“And no—and I mean absolutely NO Caitlin Jenner jokes! Understood?”

There was a brief moment of silence before her reply. Bill turn his head back around to the front.

“…You mean Bruce—“


The name reverberated through the car like a loud shriek making its way through the depths of the Grand Canyon. Both of us turned, our faces taut, using every muscle in our bodies to keep our mouths shut. We gave her a cold, threatening stare, as if blood was coming out of our eyes—Megyn Kelly style. She stared back, mouth agape and eyes widened and overwhelmed. She remained quiet; a smart move on her part.

“Bill, find the directions to the nearest Wal-Mart. We need some booze.”


A giant load of anxiety fell upon Bill and I the moment we entered Wal-Mart on the edge of downtown Milwaukee. So worried was I during the car ride with explaining the delicate process of making an Old Fashioned, that the demographics of the superstore had totally slipped my mind, and mixing Gretch’s behavior in that type of environment—talk about a catastrophe!

“First you add ice to your glass,” I told them. “Then pour some Jim Beam about half way. Next you add a little 7-Up with a few splashes of bitters. Now here’s the most important part—you take your Old Fashioned Mix and you give a good pour into the drink. I ask for these at the bar and they screw it up every time, putting orange peels in them and crushing cherries and sugar and all that crap. You stir it all up, and presto, you got yourself an Old Fashioned. Understand?”


Gretch looked at me like I had just tried to explain to her Quantum Physics. Bill didn’t look any better, his countenance not providing any confidence of comprehension. “Ok, let me explain one more time. First, you pour some whiskey…”


It was far too late now. We were in the heart of the beast, and all we could do was fervently pray for Gretch to remain on her best behavior. The odds however, were still very much against us, for even that was a tall order way out of the big man’s hands.

“Ok, we came here for one thing, and one thing only. Follow me to the liquor.” Keep em’ on task, that always keeps em’ out of trouble. “Bill, grab some 7-Up. I’ll get the whiskey and the bitters. Gretch, I want you to look for the Old Fashioned Mix. And remember, get the ‘Jero’ brand. It’s the best. Understand?”

“What about beer?” asked Bill.

“Yes, we can get some beer too, but let’s just focus on one thing at a time.”

“But the beer aisle’s right here.” Yes, Gretch did in fact provide a factual statement, if nothing more. It was an aisle, and it had beer, but any store that has six packs of Rolling Rock tall boys in the “Premium Beer” section constitutes grounds for concern.

“Look, we don’t have to get beer here. If we get the liquor now, we can—“

“Are you freaking serious!” blurted Gretch; her eyes brightened as if she had just realized the potential of Kanye West’s rap career. “A 30-bomb of key-light for $11.50??”

“C’mon guys, let’s just stick with the—“

“No way!” interrupted Bill. “You’re practically stealing the beer at that price!”

“You guy’s, we have—“

“Gretch, call mom!”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. All this hype for an abominable beer substitute called Keystone Light? I tried reasoning with them, but it was no use, and frankly, it was starting to annoy me—big time. “Yes, it’s cheap, but seriously, there’s much better choices for beer out there, especially in Wisconsin—“

“Mom, it’s Gretch. You won’t believe it. They have a 30 pack of Keystone light for guess how much… $11.50! I know right! Hold on… Bill, mom says to send her a picture.”

“Right on it.” Bill whipped out his camera, as if he had only seconds to capture the amazing shot—a price tag that read “KEYSTONE LIGHT – $11.50”. “We gotta call Meagan Mills, ASAP!”

“Dude, screw Meagan Mills, we’ve got to get some—“
“Excuse me?” snapped Gretch with a sass so over the top you would’ve thought I had just poached an animal on the endangered species list. “Don’t talk about my best friend like that!”

“Oh c’mon Gretch! You know I didn’t it like that—“

“Zack, that’s my roommate you’re talking about! I’d appreciate it if you showed a little respect!”   You gotta be kidding me?

It was total bull crap. How dare she use Meagan Mills against me, and what was with Bill, giving me attitude all of a sudden? The Gretch situation was spiraling out of control. I needed a different approach, something big. This could not stand.

“All right look, I’m sorry, it slipped. Can we just grab the beer and go? We can even stop by the sporting goods section on the way out so we can play beer darts later.”

Gretch led the way, focused in on the mission, as I knew she would. Any game that involves shotgunning beer is nearly impossible for her to resist. Bill followed, but his progress was thwarted. I snatched his arm and furiously swung him around to the next aisle out of Gretch’s sight, my pointed finger thrust into his face.

“What’s the big idea? You totally screwed me back there throwing me under the bus like that! It hasn’t even been an hour and you’re already siding with her. What’s wrong with you?” Bill remained silent, staring a blank stare back at me, a combination of anger and shame forcing his mouth shut. “We had a plan. A PLAN! And now you’re willing to throw it all away?”

“Don’t put this all on me. You’re the one that disrespected Meagan Mills! Don’t act like I’m the one throwing everything out the window after careless statements like that!”

“You couldn’t just let that go for once? I mean, c’mon, I’m trying to keep us on task here!”

“Look, you know she’s just trying to pit us against each other.”

“Well it looks like she doing a pretty damn good job!”

“What, you thought this was going to be easy? We’re dealing with a professional here, and suddenly it’s all my fault?”

“Whoa, let’s just calm down and think this through. I’ll admit I was a bit ill prepared, but all we have to do is get her really good tonight.”

A smirk grew on Bill’s face. Whatever it was that was circulating through his mind, had to be good. “Remember that Tim and Eric episode where they go to the haunted house and they keep falling down the steps?”

“You mean the ‘Oops I forgot my suitcase’ part?

“Bingo. We take the stairs, we drop the suitcases, and then we keep falling down the steps.”

“It’s perfect. She’s gonna go nuts! But… I need your word.” A great sense of importance filled the void between our stare, as the next set of spoken words could very well have been among the most significant of our entire lives. “Promise me… on our friendship… that if we do this, we go all the way. No bailing out, under any circumstance. Kapish?”

“You have my word.” He sealed his word with a handshake. a beautiful gesture that nearly brought a tear to my eye. “Just one thing. We can’t act too suspicious. She’ll fish us out at the first sign of suspicion.”

“I have a plan. Just follow my lead…”


We drove away that afternoon to meet Beth, Blake and friends with a car full of the essentials: Beer, darts, and all the ingredients to make an Old Fashioned; and miraculously, all in one piece. We tried to convince Beth to let us bring more goods before picking Gretch up from the airport, but she was pretty adamant that we just stick with the booze, no matter how much I insisted.

“BETH, just wanted to give you an old update on the ol’ road trip sitch. We’re about a half hour outside of Milwaukee. Is there anything you need us to bring, food, snacks or anything? How about we bring over a few orders of triple fried pizza dough with a giant can of Velveeta to put in the nacho cheese dispenser? We can grab some appetizers, a container of French onion dip or two—and you have GOT to try my homemade ziti! Just stick in the oven for 40 minutes, get it nice and piping hot and serve it up, ready to go! And if it’s not the same to you, I got some cold cuts that I need to get rid of, maybe a pound and a half of black forest ham, OH, and what about some of those cheese sticks with the marinara sauce? You know what would be a hit with the guys is if we brought over a nice German chocolate cake. I’m talkin’ key lime pie, ‘a la mode.’ That’s what the French call, ‘ice cream on the side.’ And it wouldn’t hurt to get a bag of sour cream and onion, just as long as they’re RIDG-ED chips…”

“You know Gretch, I think we all started out on kind of a rough footing, but I gotta say, you handled yourself well in there.”

“Not a single outburst. I’m proud of ya sis!”

“So here’s the deal. We’re on vacation, we’re here to have a good time, but we know we’re gonna have to make a few adjustments here and there, which means we have a couple slip ups every now and then. Case in point, the Meagan Mills incident.”

That’s why we’re giving you a ‘Punch Card’.”

“That gives you 10 free obscenities to use whenever and wherever; in front of kids, old people, minorities, whoever. If it comes out, nobody can give you a hard time. We just clip a notch in the card, no questions asked. Understand?”

Her head lifted with a jolt of energy running through her body as though she had just been told she could cut to the front of the line for Space Mountain.

“In fact, all of us are getting punch cards, just for the sake of it. I don’t expect us to use them up of course, not even half way! It’s just more of an insurance policy, just in the case of an emergency or an accident.”

“And we’re doing this because we trust you. We’ve come a long way, and we believe you’re ready… for this… this responsibility.

We handed her the card, an emotional moment felt in unanimity. The graceful concord, the sense of belonging—maybe things were going to be ok after all…


Bill found himself in a violent shake, unable to control the sweat pouring out from his pale face or the bodily convulsions in the form of dry heaving, barely resisting the urge to vomit and foul the interior of my new car. The Benz was sent to the shoulder of the road, parked diagonally, having barely avoided a head on collision or two as my mind was sent into a sudden shock of paralysis. A heavy dizziness overcame me, overtaking any and all forms of motor control; I swear I could feel a solid stream of blood pouring out of my ears, a dire consequence of the utterly despicable, ineffable anathema they had been subject too…

Gretch had used up every single one of her punches. Not even a minute had passed…

My God. What have we done? What have we done…

Chapter 12: Enter the Motherland

Bill’s eyes widened at the sight of four F/A 18 hornets screaming across I-94, the heavy roar and air compression from its jet engines so close to the ground it nearly brought the Benz to a shake. His fascination with airplanes has been no secret, having walked into moving traffic nearly a week and a half before just to get a glimpse of a 747 flying over his house, making the impromptu Blue Angels air show a wonderful welcome to work off the joyous, yet costly obscurity Minnesota had dealt our bodies the night before. The ecstatic feeling remained onward over the many ripe green pastures lining both sides of the highway, each with its own set of silos set at the back corner of the field.

A large water tower greeted us at the onset of each passing town with it’s name plastered across the tower’s circular surface, as it was the first visible sign of civilization between the miles of agriculture during our drive through America’s Dairyland; an unusually unique sight for natives of the Pacific Northwest. Friendly faces and refined manners greeted us at each pit stop, whether it was for food, gas, or beer; a community ever so eager to welcome foreigners (of which we clearly were) to the lovely place they call home.

“You know, Wisconsin is exactly how I imagined it to be,” said Bill with a modest smile on his face. I had a strong inclination that he would feel that way. Yes, this was it. We had made it, our 2,00 mile mission complete.

We had finally reached the motherland.

“If only I could just see some cows…”

Sure enough, within a mile of his words, there lying to the driver’s side was a pasture full of Holstein Friesian’s, your stereotypical spotted cows exactly like the ones pictured on the milk cartons at your local supermarket. Again, he looked onward with approval, his first impression growing more favorable by the minute. We continued down a county road that eventually became flanked with a light packing of forest, where to the passenger side laid a strange wooden building behind a scatter of trees, its empty parking lot seeming very unusual for an afternoon.

“That’s odd. Why would they have a strip club in the middle of nowhere?” asked Bill. The sight was baffling to me as well, the pink pillars and exotic lettering on the door being a dead giveaway. “Wait, it says… Xavier’s Supper Club… What the heck is a Supper Club?”

“I’ve heard of those before. It’s like a place where you eat food and hang out and stuff. They serve you drinks and then they give you dinner.”

“So it’s pretty much a restaurant then…”

“No, not exactly.”

“Then what’s the difference?”

“Well, a restaurant will have… well they just… you know… I guess I’m not exactly sure…” The mystery of the supper club would leave us in wonder all the way to the unincorporated sections of the Fox River Valley where my Aunt and Uncle resided.

“Well, how ya doin’!?” said my Uncle Mike as he greeted us at the front door, using his best, most welcoming and full Wisconsin accent, the zenith of Midwestern courtesy; one I’d been waiting for since our departure.

“C’mon in, make yourselves at home!” said Aunt Chris following the friendly, Midwestern drawl of Uncle Mike, more than excited for the chance to provide hospitality, as is the standard for all Wisconsin Natives. “Grab yourself a beer and c’mon out back. We got some burgers and brats waiting for ya! And you gotta try my sugar snap peas. I just plucked them from the garden today. They’ve been growin’ like crazy!”

With a cold, frosty PILS-ner in our hand, we walked across the wood-stained floor of a living room decorated with early 20th century artifacts and into to the backyard, a half-acre long haven for flora and fauna where Audrey, her son Dino, and a grill full of burgers and brats awaited us. Dino greeted us with reluctance at first, not an uncommon reaction when two strange hunks show up in your hood. “Hey Dino, you wanna give Bill and Zack a tour?” asked Uncle Mike. Dino’s eyes brightened and he popped right out of his chair, reacting to the sudden rush of blood through his legs. A tour meant a chance to cruise the golf cart around the compound, an opportunity no 8-year-old can ever pass up.

“Follow me!” instructed Dino with an enthusiastic stride towards the cart. We obeyed his command and hopped in with the promise that we’d be back by the time dinner was ready.

“Go ahead and give it a little gas,” said Bill, a phrase that prompted Dino to permanently slam the pedal to the floor, turning a momentarily peaceful garden tour into Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride—Bill’s famous last words. Dino’s narration was exceptional, provided the speed we approached each planter, shed, tree and every other yard object that was barely averted as we skid across the lawn. It was a nicely landscaped garden from what we were able to observe, and would’ve given the scenery much more appreciation, if only we weren’t already busy holding on to dear life.

Dino received a lecture upon our return about his reckless driving, something we learned that he had been punished for in the past. Little did they know Dino was merely the victim of provocation, urged to break the rules by a couple of dinguses that should’ve known better. We kept silent through the scolding, for all would be well the moment a ground up mixture of burger, brat and bun entered our bellies.

…A moment later, a mixture of burger, brat and bun entered our bellies, and all was well.

“…So we were driving today, and came across this place called a ‘Supper Club’,” I mentioned after biting into a big chunk of brat.

“Oh yea, supper clubs!” Aunt Chris jumped in. “They got a real nice one in Menasha that we used to go to all the time. Great prime rib!”

“So are they like restaurants?” asked Bill.

“Well, you go to a supper club, and you can sit and hang out, talk to your friends and meet other people,” explained Audrey, having spent time in the service industry.

“Oh. So it’s a lot nicer than a restaurant then, like a restaurant/bar mix?”

“Not exactly. You see, you go and order your drinks first, and after a little bit, you order your food.”

“So I take it you have to order whatever they’re making that night, like home-style?”

“No, they have menu’s at supper clubs.”

“Alright… I take the drinks real special then.”

“Well… we’ll put it this way. Either the drinks are good and the food is bad, or it’s the other way around.”

“…Oh… ok. I think I’m starting to get it…” Bill and I nodded at each other, our secret signal of understanding. Under the guise of our stoic faces was a harsh reality that couldn’t be hidden having spent nearly a week together in a car—we were left even more confused about supper clubs than ever before. Even a later Wikipedia search failed to provide clarity, leading both Bill and I to the dismal conclusion that we may never truly understand what a supper club is.

“Look, at dem orioles up in da tree there,” said Uncle Mike, his observance causing a head scramble with Bill and I, for orioles are not common birds from our neck of the woods. “They like to come visit every couple days or so with a few humming birds. See em’ up in the tree?” He pointed to a small opening in the tree branches, taking Bill a minute, and I two just to focus in on the yellow bird. “We don’t mind em’ really. It’s the deer that we can’t stand though. Dem bastards come in da middle of the night and eat all of the rose heads! That’s why we hang a sock with a bar of soap right next to em’. It’s supposed to keep em’ away, and its done a damn good job so far!” Bill and I shook our heads in agreement, impressed with my Uncle’s wealth of knowledge, one gathered not from reading textbooks and studying, but from years upon years of hard work, trial and error, and honing in on his trades ever since his days as a young bachelor; an old art-form that has gone lost to the Millennial generation. “How about we c’mon back? Let me show you my shop.”

The walk through the garden, once traversed under extreme circumstances was now a light stroll, making it possible to take in the surroundings with ease. “Your grandpa helped me build this house years back before he passed. Got most of da lumber as scrap from the ol’ closed down sawmill. Barely had to pay a dime,” he continued as we examined the finer details of his property, strolling through the open lawn filled with an even mix of flora—towering trees sheltering all forms of plant life below it, wild bushes outlining the bounds of the well-maintained lawn accompanied by sprouts of flowers, a garden that laid home to the heavily boasted sugar snap peas, and traces of wildlife who were more than welcome to live in harmony with its providers, as long as they followed the rules.

Bill’s eyes grew in wonderment the moment he stepped into the shop, an adult playground filled with band saws, table saws, drill presses, lathes, compressors—any type of tool that could possibly be useful to a man and his imagination to build. “Let me show my newest project,” said Uncle Mike, leading us to his woodturning and wood-burning benches. “Here’s a plate I just made outa a block of cherry wood. I’d been experimenting with different woods for a couple months. Finally I came out wit something that woks.” He showed us a wooden plate with the etching of a hawk resting on a hard foundation with a sun glowing behind it, drawn from the wood-burning technique that left a dark imprint on the surface of the wood as a hot metal rod pressed against it. “Each type of wood burns a little differently, so you really have to practice and control the temperature just right.” Bill overloaded my uncle with a deluge of questions as the Clint Eastwood character in “Gran Torino” played over and over in my head, a proficient working man who had acquired an accumulation of tools over his lifetime, although I don’t think Uncle Mike could ever be half as cranky as Eastwood’s character, even if he tried (Not even praise of Scott Walker could piss him off that much!).

“I want one of these someday,” said Bill, his eyes still stuck in a state of wonder. “Where do I start?”

“Take it from me. The first ding you gotta do is get yourself a heated floor. By God they saved me from freezin’ my ass off more than a few times in da winter…”

A bowl of the highly touted sugar snap peas awaited our return from the shop, freshly picked by Aunt Chris. The crisp vegetable snapped in half as the name suggested, breaking away at the first sign of tension between my teeth, sending a fresh cut of greens to cleanse my body of any impurities left inside it from the night (and perhaps week) before. For once, I think I could appreciate the simple and refreshing taste of a fresh vegetable, although given the choice, I’d still go with the processed and genetically modified combination of Slim Jim’s and Easy Cheese any day.

As the sun set on our first night in Wisconsin, we gathered around my Uncle’s homemade fire pit, made out of a circular piece of sheet metal 10 feet in diameter that had been cemented into the ground, surrounded by cement slabs pressed with wildlife tracings, another scavenger find from an old mill from a few years back. Flames rose from the ground 20 feet into the air over at its initial lighting, the full size logs providing enough fuel for a solid, sustaining flame into twilight, with many more trunks of wood to be added that would last well into starlight.

There was something peculiar about the moon that night. I can’t remember if it were a full moon or some other phenomenon, but its effect seem to cause a raucous with some of the animals, even going as far as to give Aunt Chris and Aubrey the urge to share a mother/daughter bond by jump out of their seats and singing “The Age of Aquarius.” Us boys remained silent as they fearlessly belted out the tune, adding to it exotic hand motions and flamboyant gestures, neither of them concerned at the prospect of waking the neighbors; our only regret being that we were absent of the song’s lyrics and general progression, therefore unable to participate in such a sentimental moment.

The night turned to black, hinting at the notion that it was near Dino’s bedtime. The glow of fire, moonlight, and a vast splatter of stars left Bill, Uncle Mike and I to think about the mysteries of life and the universe. As each of us sipped a whiskey on the rocks, we discussed the important issues stirring about the world today—The current state of affairs circling around the Green Bay Packers and the overrated legacy of Brett Favre. “He was just a Cowboy,” my Uncle Mike opined. “Mike Holmgren just knew how to control him, that’s the only reason they were any good,” he added; an undeniable analysis I couldn’t have agreed with more. Bill of course added his own thoughts about his beloved Miami Dolphins, and I’m sure we all took our own shots at the Shi—I mean Seahawks.

I couldn’t help but ask about Grandma, part of my scheme of gathering ammunition to give her a hard time. Much was needed, for I planned on a surprise visit at her new retirement home the next day. Of course I was warned not to tease her too much, for it’s well known around the Fox Valley that whenever I’m in town, I’m the most flagrant and repeat offender of torment when it comes to grandmas! It’s not that I mean to, but it just happens… Hey, when you’re good at something, why quit? (Grandma surprise video provided below, heheh).

“Remember that time you took my sister and I fishing and we caught like 20 fish?” I asked him, the conversation of family a natural lead into one of my favorite Uncle Mike memories, one I’ve brought up multiple times in past visits.

“Oh God ya, that musta been 20 years ago! I swear we musta cleaned that pond out! I been to that same spot many times since then, and never caught any other fish. I keep tellin’ my buddies and they never believed me!”

The talk of fishing transitioned to hunting, of which my Uncle was a quite avid participant of the sport. He told us of one of his most recent accomplished of which he nabbed two turkey’s with one shot, and afterwards, I made him promise to show Bill the black bear he had claimed many years ago. I even had to throw in a shameless plug for “Uncle Mike’s Sausage,” made famous during my childhood, as it was always a treat to find my mom pulling out a large tube of his venison from the mail.

We sat around the fire until the early hours of morning, sharing stories, memories, and wisdom while watching the raging flames thin into the atmosphere, a solid streak of vital energy fade into nothing with the contrasting sky. Once the blaze dwindled into sweltering coals of ashed timber, we added layers, myself clad in my newly accrued Surly crew cut sweatshirt, for the state of minds had reached a rare level of harmony worth sustaining, no matter how discomforting the weather may turn.

It had been a 2,000 mile trek so far through some of the best and worst the country had to offer. We had crossed glistening mountain ranges and dipped through pernicious valleys where the vilest of human creations lay. Relationships had been broken and formed, old friends had been reunited, and love had been found and lost, but not forgotten; left to be rediscovered once the fruits of our wisdom had reached full development. And through it all, every up and down thrown at us had been swallowed, taking the brunt of whatever emotion thrust upon us and spitting it back at the world as a means of carrying on, pushing towards that impossible goal that we hoped to someday be attainable.

“You know, I’ve been a lot of places,” said Uncle Mike. “I’ve worked, and traveled, and explored all over da place. But this… this is the best place. There’s no other place I’d rather be than right here… right here…” So we stared up into the night sky, the same familiar sight I had seen 2,000 miles away, yet struck by a comfort not felt in a long time. We had reached our destination after what had seemed like an eternity, home being a place barely recognizable if not for distant memories. The pilgrimage to the motherland was complete, but our journey was not over. It was far, far from over… and there was still much of a story to tell.

And through our pondering into the great reaches of space, thoughts that reached farther than the distance galaxies our eyes gazed upon, a congruency ran through our minds, an improbable thought only met through the miracle of fate.

“This is where we would be someday. After it’s all said and done, we would come back, for this is where we were meant to be… for all time…”

And someday… we were going to find out once and for all what a damn supper club was…

Chapter 11: Young Americans, Part 3

We bolted into the 1029 like a couple of mobsters ready to take over joint, a decently populated dive for a Wednesday night. The bar tender watched as my imposing figure marched to confront him, my new Surly Brewing Co. crew cut sweatshirt of the Boundary Babe’s preference serving as the primary draw of attention, and with a snap and point of the finger, I set my demands. “Surly Furious and an Old Fashioned. Here’s my ID, here’s my credit card. Leave the tab open… it’s my birthday.” Prudent in his drink preparation, the bar tender handed me the ammunition set to aid us on our next mission and sent me to the DJ booth with my next set of demands.

The DJ and I had a blunt, yet cordial conversation, of which we discussed my requests and concerns, and she assured me that she would continue to perform her DJ duties with fairness and balance throughout our tenure. I had full confidence in her, as the importance of this night was clearly conveyed. Minutes later, a beautifully plucked guitar rift filled the room, sparking the attention of the Boundary Babes. They were well rehearsed in the sequence of notes, as it was their official theme song. I stared directly at them, pointed, and then motioned with my head to make their way towards me, a bold move no doubt, but I was in a bold mood and willing to take risks. “We’re up!” Despite a slight hesitation in the response, they willfully joined me on stage seconds later, for there is no challenge too daunting for a Boundary Babe and no duty worth forgoing, as long as it spreads the pure and elegant spirit of the Boundary. So far, the DJ had not let me down.



Jewel – You Were Meant For Me


I hear the clock; it’s 6 AM…

Our voices faded into the opening verse, their soft tones harmonized to create a soothing picture of a calm lake, its surface so still that you would actually consider the possibility to walk across it. On either side is a thick and impenetrable wall of trees only navigable by a specialized individual whose proficiency lays within the familiarity of the landscape, leading to another untouched body of water, a chain linkage of land and lake that spans for 100’s of miles. Through the morning mist rising below, a narrow boat structure slices through the water, sending a subtle ripple across the lake, a gentle greeting from the visitors. They are welcomed to become one with the environment, to be free of the impurities plaguing the modern world, a small plot of Earth where the stresses of work, politics, and drama of life are simply non-existent. If there were ever the existence of heaven on Earth, it would be found within the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota.

I never put wet towels, on the floor anymore cause!

Dreams last, so long… Even after you’re gone!

Together, we rejoiced over its existence, a trio of passionate voices in jubilation from having been immersed in such a pristine atmosphere; having the privilege of setting foot in such a sacred part of the world. A congregation of widened eyes looked upon the display, struck with bewilderment at the picture being painted before them. “How could this be possible? The babes—that makes sense, but how is it that such a burly old hunk in a Surly crew cut sweatshirt be capable of this—the voice of an angel?” The confusion was clearly understood, for the demonstration was indeed beyond comprehension, and not even the most perfect rendition sung by Jewel herself could even come close to mirroring the beauty laying deep in the northern woods of Minnesota. The answers were plotted out in front of them however; all that was required of them was the will to explore.

You were meant for me… and I was meant for you…

Thunderous applause lit up the room, the crowd graciously responding to the battle cries of their courageous leaders standing above them. We looked at each other with satisfaction, knowing that we had created inspiration in the young souls sitting before us. An ignition had been set to venture forth and discover the majesty beyond the Boundary; a performance so well executed that even the likes of Mike Gibson could not resist its call for exploration. It would be a long time before any of us could reunite with Boundary, but guided by the voice of Jewel, we knew deep in our hearts that we were always destined to return.

It is said that the prettiest girls live in Des Moines Iowa. Jack Kerouac obviously hadn’t spent enough time in Minnesota.


Bob Seger – Night Moves

“Bill,” the DJ announced through the loud speaker. Bill strutted his way up towards the stage, shooting me a smirk along the way. He must have had a good one up his—wait a minute? There’s no way he—I made my song requests—how the hell did he sneak—the DJ broke her—what’s the big idea!? 

“Zack!” he hollered over to me with wave of his hand, inviting me to join him as a duet. It was a flattering gesture I’ll admit, partially settling my previous offense, but I stayed back, my pride forcing me into defiance.

“This one’s for you Jay!” screamed Bill at the top of his lungs, his eyes rolling up towards the ceiling and his finger pointing in the same direction. A familiar set of guitar chords entered and Bill lowered his head in preparation for his performance.

I was a little too tall, could’ve used a few pounds,

Tight pants, points hardly reknown…

The classic tune never fails to bring back memories, those of a great man, a walking party, a guaranteed good time, and above all, a friend. This was Jay’s song, his story embedded inside the raspy blues of Seger’s voice, a reminder of the wild nights at Cinco, his down to Earth personality, and how personable the man was after a long and heavy night of partying. He’d want us to show these people what it was like to share a sandwich and talk philosophy with him on a Saturday afternoon. He’d want us to tell a crazy story that involving alcohol of which disaster and jail time were barely avoided. And most of all, he’d beg us to fill them with his spirit, the full embodiment of Moscow, Idaho. He was Jay, a man, a legend… a brother (See the Jay Blog).

The lyrics consumed me like a drug; once I start, there’s no turning back, and now, I had a duty, a yearning desire I could not overcome, no matter how offensive Bill’s actions were. I wanted to resist, for Moscow had been brought to other cities before and the results were devastating, a dangerous mixture of chaos and destruction (Bill can tell you about a little place called Calgary). The experience is almost always overwhelming, and most aren’t capable of handling the behavior. But tonight, something was different. A hand was guiding me, telling me that indeed, this was our calling, to bring to Minneapolis the Moscow experience. Bill held his own for the time being, but ultimately, he wouldn’t be able to complete the task alone; it was much too difficult to be performed by oneself. He would eventually need help, and the only barrier standing between me and the other microphone was my ego.

“Workin’ on our night moves,” another voice came through the speakers. Bill looked over and smiled at a friendly face. The friendly face smiled back and followed on with the tune.

Tryin’ to make some, front page drive-in news,

workin’ on our night moves…

It was the spark of confidence Bill needed to once again bring about the voice of an angel—my Angel Boy. I backed him up as he continued through the song, movin’ and dancin’ and singing his heart out, making it his purpose to for the next three and a half minutes to turn Minneapolis into Moscow. It was his show now.

The music came to a slow, and we both lowered our heads, our voices humble as we sang the bridge, willing to shed a tear for our late, great friend.

I woke last night to the sound of thunder…

how far off, I sat and wondered…

Started hummin’ a song from 1962…

Ain’t it funny how the night moves…

We looked up to the ceiling once again, an unnatural force guiding our eyes upwards and speaking to us. Its power seeped into our eyes, slowly consuming our minds as preparation for the fury that was about to strike down upon the 1029; a fury we were absolutely unaware of.

“…With autumn closin’ in…”

The reprisal of the opening guitar rift built into a climax, where Bill and I stood tall amongst the patrons at the 1029, a crowd who seemed to be frightfully engaged with our progressively intensified number as if a live exorcism was being performed right in front of their very eyes. Our feet subconsciously moved us back and forth across the stage, our arms swinging and heads swaying with the deepened rasp of our voices, building and building as a preparation for the grand finale. The pleasantly rough tone of our voice turned from blues to black, a seamless transition of what would become a harsh sequence of screams and howls growing harder with each passing second, unable to abate the progress that the existential spirit moving inside of us had set in motion—moving, growing, creating a monster so strong it could no longer be held by the physical bounds of his cage!

“LORD I REMEMBER! LOOOOORD I REMEMBER! AHHHHHUH AHHHHHH!” It was a loss of fear, of physical consciousness. The lyrics belted out from the top of our lungs, two young tribal warriors in wild celebration after a great sacrifice, our primitive dance an uncivilized display of carnage and lunacy. The words leaving our lips were those of a long lost language of grunts and screeches, only translatable to those with the same power of spoken tongue. It was official. We had completely lost control of our minds.


We awoke from the dream, or nightmare depending on your point of view at the song’s closing, taking the time for a long peruse around the bar, the banner of obscurity lifted by a heavenly spirit in possession of our bodies, allowing for the retainment of our senses. A shockwave had rung its way through the bar, Pompeii’s volcanic eruption leaving the unsuspecting souls in attendance frozen in time. A full recovery would not be obtainable. Gibson would be proud. Jay would be proud… damn proud. Mission accomplished.


David Bowie – Young Americans


The first two tracks were merely warm-ups for what was to come next. For months I had been preparing for this very moment, ever since the song came on a classic rock mix during a Saturday at work. The once dreadful feeling of coming in on the weekend became a blessing in disguise as the song was repeated over and over again through my headphones, precluding the progress of any work of substantive value ever to be accomplished for the rest of the Saturday. The obsession with the melodious mixture of pop, soul and jazz prompted me to purchase the CD soon as I returned home that day, leading to months of moving and grooving to the song’s beat, foolishly singing and dancing in full view of my neighbors as the freak of 12th Avenue. It propelled me faster and faster through the streets of Seattle on each of my daily runs, a catalyst to liberate my inner Hulk and give me the edge to pump up the 173 ever so daunting steps of Howe Street over and over again, blazing past the rest of the struggling exercisers who watched the freak show with total astonishment. It would not stop, a months long perpetual dream that longed for the moment where I could finally come to an acceptable discharge of the bulging pressure vessel—and the moment was finally here. My months of preparation, a tight mimic of Bowie’s approach with a calm opening and a driving set of lyrics, showcasing his fierce passion (with a masterfully inserted quip from a most famous Beatles song I might add), were to be released in a public forum. And just like Bowie, I would hold nothing back.

“They pulled in just behind the bridge he lays her down… he frowns, ‘Gee my life’s a funny thing?’ Am I still to young—“ What the?

Suddenly, there was another voice, one that was neither David’s nor mine. I took a glance over to confirm my hypothesis that the voice matched an unfamiliar face. I retained my cool and calm demeanor, as I knew better during situations like these, even as my insides sweltered with rage. No. Ah Hell no! Who does this hunk think he is, coming up here, trying to steal my thunder; the one I’ve worked months on, in front of the Boundary Babes, ON MY BIRTHDAY NO LESS? You never do that to another man! And he thinks he can just come up and act a fool during my moment? Not on this day. This will not do. This dingus needs to go…

I began to devise my plan to rid the intruder from the stage and take back what was rightfully mine. I examined his stature—a bit shorter than me, and not as built, though he does look a little rough around the edges; therefore he would be willing to put up a fight, which wouldn’t look good on my part, especially on my birthday, and double especially in front of the Boundary Babes. He does look rather nice however for a Wednesday night at a karaoke bar, a little overdressed if you ask me, and what’s with his cheering section? All these girls in their sequenced dresses, it seems rather odd—holy crap, this cat just got married! But who gets married on a Wednesday night?

A wave of sympathy blew across me for this young fellow, triggering an involuntary flow of second thoughts to creep into my mind. Ok, so I’ve had 30 of these birthdays so far, and chances are, I got a few more coming up in the future. How many times will this kid get married? 3? 4? Maybe 5 tops? I can’t let this happen, not on this day…

I swung my arm around the stranger’s shoulder and embraced his presence, an embrace that urged him to step up the game, raise the stakes—take our karaoke session into a new, rather unorthodox direction.

Articles of clothing began to appear on the ground around me—a coat, a vest; one by one they fell to the floor, adding to the accumulation as the song dragged on.

Alllllllll Night

He wants a young American

Young American, young American, he wants a young American…

The groom lifted each suspender one by one with an outstretched motion of his arm, letting the elastic band snap back under his arm upon its release. Motivated by the attention he received from the bridesmaids, each of the groomsmen made their way up to the stage and followed his lead, each with a special strip move of their own. Whether it was a desperate attempt to make a provocative impression on the ladies, I cannot say, but one thing was for certain; I had successfully turned to 1029 karaoke bar into a Chippendales strip show.

(I heard the news today oh boy)

I got a suite and you got defeat

Ain’t there a man you can say no more, and

Ain’t there a woman I can sock on the jaw, and…

The situation was beyond my control at this point, with limbs and articles of clothing flailing about. “How did it come to this,” I asked myself, contemplating whether to put a stop to the whole thing, or if that was even possible. My boisterous song and dance only seemed to encourage the unnecessary removal of clothing, a terrible decision deemed favorable probably with the assistance of excessive liquor. None of this was in any way a part of my original intention, thrusting me into a position of dire straits. I could walk away, wipe my hands clean of any wrong doing. I was young, I was an American, and damnit, I still had my freedom… the freedom to choose…

Ain’t there one damn song that can make me…

Break down and cryyyyyy—hhyyyyyy…

“Ah, screw it.” A drum solo kicked in the last chorus, and I seized the moment.

Alllllll night

He wants the young American


“Why throw away all I’ve worked hard for just over what might be a minor offense in the city of Minneapolis, Minnesota?” Every ounce of passion left in me gathered for another grand finale, full of unruly dancing, stripping, and singing, everything a mother would despise, but had to be done regardless. The bridesmaids threw up their arms and screamed like a bunch of wild animals responding to a string of mating calls. The whole incident seemed to make quite the impression, and who knows? Maybe by the nights end it would lead to one of these lads getting lucky? Maybe it would lead to love…

As the song faded out and my singing came to a soft end, I was surrounded by a congregate of undressed men; all of who proceeded to honor my part in the performance with an inundation of hugs. Though somewhat of an uncomfortable exchange, I gladly accepted the adoration, for respect is a hard thing to come by these days, especially for an out-of-towner, then headed to the bar for another drink. I think I deserved one.

“Can I get a fine “PILS-ner,” I asked the bartender, a request that was immediately upheld. I leaned over the counter and twisted my head to the left, realizing the presence of another man. It was none other than my new friend the groom, of whom I had become very close with over the last 5 minutes.

“Hey, man thanks for coming up and singing with me back there… I can’t believe you all started stripping like that! You all are crazy… I tell you what, when I get married, I hope I’m able to come to the 1029 and party just like you guys do… You’re an inspiration man… never change…”

If you haven’t guessed, I’m a very happy drunk. In fact, get me sloshed with a serial killer, and I could probably find a way to agree with 90% of what comes out of his or her mouth. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case for the groom, as I later became a witness to a physical assault on one of his own groomsmen. He thrust the boy’s head into his arms, something he said apparently striking a nerve, forcing him into the headlock situation with a continual series of threats. Luckily for all of us, his newlywed wife quickly swooped in to diffuse the situation, reminding the groom that he would later be involved in some unrepeatable greasy acts with some “sexy ass bitch” (her exact words, not mine). I happily walked away from the diffused situation, content that nobody was going to get beat up and that we were to remain acquaintances for the rest of the evening, and nothing more. Although we didn’t say much to each other afterwards, I wished him the best of luck. It looked like he was set for a match made in heaven.

My voice started to give way by the time Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” began, a song that Cambray somehow just happened to convince me to sing along with (who knows how that happened). It further took a noise dive when Bill and I followed up our Jay tribute with Boston’s “More than a Feeling,” the abundance of falsetto really taking it’s toll on my ability to carry a good tune. Cracked voice or not though, I soldiered on with the classics such as Ludacris’s “Get Back,” and even going as far as to dance like a fool to a bridesmaids butchering of “Baby Got Back,” an exhaustive effort that required a copious amounts of beer consumption at the song’s conclusion. I made my way back to the table, grabbing the first seat I could find, conveniently placed right next to a Boundary Babe, who had a full pint of PILS-ner waiting for me.

“You know, you had some interesting dance moves out there,” she said.

“Thanks! I’ve been practicing a little bit,” I replied, sobriety a long ways away from forming any sort of regret towards my decision. “And thank you so much for coming out tonight. It really means a lot to me.”

“You know, I told myself I was only going out for one drink, and now look at me! I might even have to cab it home tonight.” There was a slight pause, a contemplation on whether or not I should apologize for the fact that she had drank more than she had planned to, something I was more than culpable of contributing to. I bought some time by taking a large sip of beer, and she did the same. “But I have to say, even though I might regret it when I get up for work tomorrow, this has probably been the best night of summer so far.”

“Well, let’s cheers to that,” I said full of flattery as I lifted of my glass, gladly accepting the honor I hardly knew I was deserving of.

“Cheers,” she repeated before we touched glasses and took a gulp of beer. Behind Lauren was Cambray, sitting there starring at us with a sheepish grin, like she had an ace up her sleeve or some other sly trick she was ready to deal. I don’t know if it was the liquor or what, but it was evident that she had been eavesdropping and had something of importance to add, something that would probably never be mentioned in the absence of alcohol. So we waited as she mustered up the courage to speak whatever prudent matter was on her mind.

“Ok, I’m just going to come out and say it. I could really see you two getting married, and having the perfect family someday. I’m just saying…”

Holy Moly—WOWZERS! Way to drop the bomb Cambray! Marriage? To a Boundary Babe? It was great—what a dream! But marr—I couldn’t even process the idea at a time like this, given such a short notice, at least not coherently!” Gosh, my heart was beating faster than a jackrabbit on the run, for the next words out of my mouth could very well determine the rest of my life! I glanced over to John and Bill at the other side of the table, each flashing me their own fully comprehendible look of advice, a solemn bond only understood between the boys.

Play it cool brotha. Play it cool.

“…Yea, I think I could see that,” I said in a calm matter after a sip of beer and a cool, subtle nod of the head, as if I had rehearsed the line thousands of times before. Bill and John responded to my response quite favorably with nods of their own.

Well done lad… Well done.

“I’ll tell you what,” she started. “Let’s meet again in fifteen years… if I’m still single, and you’re still single, we’ll tie the knot. How about that?” It was a good deal… It was a great deal, and I had it in the bag! I was going to marry a Boundary Babe! Talk about a confidence booster!

…But she was high balling me, big time. I knew it, she knew it… fifteen years? I could do better than that. Much better.

I looked her straight in the eye, my face void of any emotion, masking the overwhelming urge to grin. “10 years.” Her loveliness was her weakness, her kind spirit her Achilles heel, and sad to say, I was going to take advantage of it. There’s no other choice in this dog-eat-dog world, and as a firm believer in fierce competition, I set the rules. I controlled the negotiations; I was the one who—

“15.” Oh my God, what the hell just happened? There was no hesitation, even less emotion than my emotionless reply seconds before! Oh God, I had overplayed my hand, big time! I knew it, she knew it… and she saw right through me!

Bill lowered his shaking head into the palm of his hand, disgusted by my blatant display of arrogance. Cambray let out a deep gasp, for her hopes and dreams, everything she had prepped and worked for in her adult life was within seconds of obliteration. My mind spun out of control. My heart pounding out of my chest! This should be over. I should be a dead man, thrown into the fatal pits of despair. Toast! Destroyed! No hope of recovery, ever! But by some miracle, some inexplicable act of God, I was still standing, still in possession of a slight fragment of working mental capacity, still in control of the heavy beat of my heart that remained invisible through my Surly crew cut sweat shirt. I was still alive, I was still fighting—there was still a chance.

I stared right back at her, my mouth flat and closed, my eyes narrowed with steady, sustained breaths entering and exiting in and out of my nose, neither one of us budging; there was no room for weakness. Out of the corner of my eye there was a glimpse of John, and man did he look pissed! His eyes beamed with rage, a telepathic translation of a pep talk…

“Zack, you fool… you FOOL! How could you forget the cardinal rule? This is a Boundary Babe we’re talking about, not some bridesmaid pushover who can’t sing Sir Mix-a-lot worth garbage! Man that was awful, a complete abomination, a disgrace to the human race! My intelligence has been permanently diminished because I bared witness to that anathema of a karaoke performance. But you think you can just come in and run the show, talk to a Boundary Babe as a replaceable being? Take it from a guy who married one, not only is the Boundary Babe irreplaceable, but also the best damn negotiator you’ll ever come across, a used car salesmen on steroids, but twice as shrewd, and even worse, 10 times as honest. It takes time, patience, hard work, and dedication—and LOTS of it for even the slightest consideration of a courting, and don’t even get me started on gaining her trust! Now we did this for you… WE DID THIS FOR YOU, AND YOU’RE ACTING LIKE AN ANIMAL! We gave you a golden ticket, and I’ll be damn—I’ll be DAMNED if I see it go to waste. Not on my watch. Not on this day! Now you get out there and get this done. NOW!”

“Deal.” I stuck out my hand, letting her know full well I meant business. She stuck out hers and we shook, both of us sincere in our efforts. John gave me the nod of approval while Cambray and Bill exhaled a huge sigh of relief as if they had just watched the disarming of an atomic bomb. I indulged in a relief of my own with a massive intake of beer, followed by a final “cheers” for our accomplishment. “C’mon Bill, let’s take a birthday shot.” Frankly, we all needed one after that.

The Boundary Babe left that night, back home to a normal life, where the obligations of pets and work awaited her return. Jewel’s famous words lingered through our heads, never to forget the deal we made; a promise that began to feel like a dream as the night went on, waiting for the day it would become a reality; a day I was certain would eventually come.

It was near last call, yet I still had one more song left in me, one quite fitting for the occasion, causing the re-emergence of late 90’s memories as the song’s orchestrated intro came into play.


Aerosmith – Don’t Want to Miss a Thing


I could stay awake, just to hear you breathin’

Watch you smile while you are sleepin’

While you’re far away I’m dreamin’!

I was in jeopardy of losing the very voice that had produced flawless renditions of Jewel, Bob Seger and David Bowie earlier, but it didn’t matter. Ravaged voice or not, there was more at stake at this very moment, something I was willing to give up the voice of an angel for.

Every moment spent with you, is a moment I pleasure. YEA!

I don’t wanna close my eyes!

I don’t wanna FALL asleep, cause I miss ya baby


As my vocal chords blew at the cry of graceful lyrics crafted by Steven Tyler, my mind faded, as the consumption of alcohol had finally done me in, the song’s chorus being my last memory of the night; one last coherent thought coupled with a deal permanently engrained in my head… a promise… a fate I was eternally bound to…

15 years… half a lifetime… Well worth the wait.

Chapter 10: Young Americans, Part 2

“Gretch? Gretch who?” Bill and I looked at each other half-bewildered. The mentioned name was of a foreign dialect as a mixture of melted cheese, ground beef, and deep-fried pickle seeped into our taste buds, sending signals of ecstasy to cloud our minds. It was an overwhelming amount of grease and fat, far more than our bodies were acclimated to, but a risk we were more than willing to take nonetheless. The heaven we were experiencing now would far outweigh the potential hell that our stomachs would suffer and the carnage it would produce later down the road, for this… this was how a birthday was supposed to be spent. I had Bill, my traveling and crime companion, Cambray, our certified Minnesota representative, and John, a fine English lad recently adopted by the state, and we were gathered at the Blue Door Pub, a local favorite according to the Food Network enjoying the simple pleasure of my long, sought-out Juicy Lucy.

The waiter stopped by our table as I took my final sip of beer, making his arrival a timely one in order to sustain our state of euphoria. “Can I get you guys anything else to drink?” he asked.

“Do you have a nice ‘PILS-ner’ on tap?” I asked back in a half-sarcastic manner, parodying an obnoxious character created by the comedy duo Tim and Eric. Being that it was my birthday, not only was it an excuse, but also an obligation to act like a dingus.

“Yes. Yes we do.” he replied, his dry facial expression obviating the fact that he wasn’t the slightest bit amused with my question. “It’s called Hamm’s.” Well, crap. That sort of backfired on me.


“Uh, heheh… ok, I guess I’ll have the PILS-ner,” I said in a sheepish manner, slouching my chin into my chest. Shamed by my own immaturity, accepting the cheap imitation of PBR was my only means of recovery.

“Don’t worry, we’ll take you to a place where you’ll never have to worry about beer ever again,” said Cambray. There was a spike of sincerity in her soft tone, bringing true meaning to the words she had just spoken. She was a loyal and trustworthy friend, her word at least equal, if not great to that among my other best friends, including Mike Gibson. I wholeheartedly believed her, and chugged my beer to prove it.

“Tell me more.”

“It’s called Surly, a local brewery that’s been gaining in popularity lately, especially in the Midwest. They just opened a new facility this year too,” said John.

“Surly… I think I’ve heard of that before. They have a Furious or something… That might be something worth checking out, and you know it’s no secret that I like an occasional beer or two, even if it is a PILS-ner.”

“And if you’d like, I’ll even be the designated driver, being that you are the birthday boy.”

“Yea, and get this. If you’re lucky, you might even see a…” Cambray leaned in close, her inside voice turning into a whisper. “…A Boundary Babe.”

“Boundary Babe?” shouted Bill.

“Check please!”


SURLY BREWERY—The sign glowed bright into the fading summer sky around a sculpted foundation of stone and rebar, the gateway to a 50,000 square foot complex. It was clean, it was open—it was in all forms of the word stunning, a textbook example of how all breweries should be built, and a true monument to the beer gods. We walked along a path of brick and fire, behind us a large gathering of beer-drinking patrons spread across a beautiful landscape of cement and green, decorated with meticulously placed art sculptures, trees, and walkways lined with bench level ledges. At the center of the master-crafted courtyard was the main attraction, a large mound of finely broken black stone with fire spitting up from its core that each section of the campus built towards, blending in to become one with its atmosphere, as if its presence were merely just a simple reflection of Mother Nature. As an aspiring architect, my sister would be thoroughly impressed.

But as striking as it all was, its beauty could not preclude us from moving forward onto our ultimate goal, to the indulgence of another sense; the trigger for further euphoric satisfaction. The freshly built brew hall stood before us, serving as a modern day Parthenon for beer worshipers everywhere. We drew closer to the entrance, our excitement reaching the bounds of containment, like Ridley Scott’s Alien seconds from bursting out of our bellies. Our pilgrimage was nearly complete.

I swung open the double doors into the brewery a man on a mission. To my left was a gift shop, its immediate vicinity drawing captivation over the rest of the brewery’s attractions far beyond the focal point of my faded eyesight. I took a sharp turn to a clean spread of pint glasses, clothing, accessories, and much more paraphernalia with the Surly logo plastered about, giving each carefully placed item a quick peruse, but unable to stop my legs from kicking back and forth in a scissored direction that propelled my body in a steady circular motion around the shop, over and over again. It was the best and only control I could provide to an over-stimulated body, a puppy parading around his personal candy store, his tongue hanging out the side of his mouth, drooling over everything that could potentially be his.

The sound of heavy metal blasted through the gift shop’s other entrance, reveling unto me a large dining hall filled with rows of long, solid wood tables leading to an industrial style bar lined with 20 different types of craft beer. The gift shop was merely a distant memory now, for my deficient attention span had drawn me towards a new majesty, growing more majestic with each aggressing step.

At the end of the bar was a 4-story glass wall that spread the length of the dining hall, a showcase of industrial ingenuity. Inside it was home to a state of the art system of pipes, boilers, rows upon rows of hoppers, and various other stainless steel structures, all for the purpose of producing a large quantity of a quality beverage we call beer, and doing so in a logical and efficient manner. Every square foot of the grandiose facility was spotless, a valid sign that they took pride in their craft, a craft of which I was about to show my upmost appreciation for. As an engineer whose expertise is in piping system design, I was thoroughly impressed.

“Yes, I would like that one, that one, we’ll go with a Furious just to be safe, let’s try that smoky one, and maybe a nice ‘PILS-ner’ if you have it,” I told the bar tender, pointing to random beer taps left and right with faith that they would all be up to my sophisticated standards for beer. Bill, Cambray and John grabbed a pint and joined me at a table I had snatched a moment later, as it was a struggle keeping up with my rabid excitement.

Seconds later, our tattoo-clad waitress walked up to us with a look distress, although my up-spirited mood left me unsuspecting of concern. It’s probably just been a busy night, that’s all. She began talking, my mind trying to focus on her speech, but distracted by the other elements in the room—friends, babes, the augmented reverberation of distortion pumping through the beer hall, the variety of beer sitting in front of me—I can’t understand what she’s trying to—now she’s looking at you and nodding her head! Focus man, focus!

“Oh yea! No problem! Sounds great. Thank you very much! I appreciate it…” I went on and on, adding to it a heavy nod and a giant smile with raised eyebrows and two forceful thumbs up before she walked away, foregoing any future eye contact. She was just busy, that’s all, and wanted to let us know that she would be with us soon like all waitress do. No big deal. Bill, Cambray, and John all whipped out looks of unease, as if they had just witness daddy hit mommy. “What?”

“Zack, you do realize she just yelled at you, right?” replied Cambray.

“What do you mean?”

“I think her exact words were, ‘um, just to let you know, this isn’t open seating. You’re supposed to see your hostess, before you grab a table, ok?’ She looked pretty upset about it too, like you cut in front of a bunch of people…” Whoops!


I guess it’s a good thing crabby waitresses never brings me down! And despite the same grumpy look she gave us each time she walked past the table, our mood never seemed to sour, each pass having quite the opposite effect to be exact. The simple fact was, I had beer, I had friends, and I had a beautiful evening to spend with both, and nothing could take that away from me. And at that very moment inside the Surly Brewery, I felt no anxiety over turning 30 like I had anticipated, no feeling of discontent, and certainly no concern over compromise. There only was wisdom, maturity, and resolve. So I rose my glass, and prepared a toast, a rite of passage to the rest of the 20 year olds around me, for as a 30 year old, I had lots of knowledge to give.

“You know, I wasn’t sure at the beginning of this day how I was going to feel going forward, especially after the H&M debacle.” I shot a look towards Bill, who responded by darting his head towards the ground. “But as I sit here in this brewery on this wonderful Midwest evening, I realize it’s times like these when we realize how lucky we are to be alive. And to have you here as friends spending this special day with me… gosh, all I can say is, life is good, and I honestly don’t know how this day could get any better! So from here on out, I’d like to make a pledge. No more distractions. No more excuses, and no more silly games. From here on out, I won’t let anything keep me from becoming a strong, independent, and contributing member of society. I would like to announce that starting now, at this moment forward, I will—“

“Whoa,” Bill interrupted. His jaw dropped and his head slowly shifted towards the entrance, my words of kindness long forgotten. “What is that?” he asked, running out of breath as the words left his mouth.

John and Cambray followed his lead with similar expressions, the effect seemingly growing on the rest of the bar, bar tender’s included. Even the scorching sound of heavy metal had softened, as if we were about to witness an old Wild West style stick up. What’s going on? What possibly could be so intriguing as to make my own friend stop me in the middle of my birthday toast? I turned my body to investigate. “Whoa…”


Her radiance cut through my heart the moment I laid eyes on her, ripping it my from my chest and taking control, all without making an incision. The room lit behind her with each graceful stride, as if an angel’s aura left it’s blessing over the sacred ground she walked. It was quite evident she was out of her natural environment, a beer pub not exactly on par with the serenity of lake and forest, but her elegant stride did not falter, only enhancing the pristine surroundings of the finest brewery I had ever set foot in, her beauty incorrigible to even the most repulsive of surroundings.

For days I had tried to prepare Bill for an encounter, just in case we happened to be lucky enough to be graced with such a sight, but no matter how concise I made the definition to be, no words could ever come close to describing the ineffable symptoms one experiences when coming across your first sighting. And though it was a sight I had been fortunate to see before, its presence once again struck me harder than I could have ever imagined, as it always does, capturing me under a hypnotic spell that I was doomed to bear for the rest of eternity. The next set of words barely left my mouth, her presence leaving me dumbfounded, hardly able to complete the most elementary of sentences… and she was walking right towards us.

“Bill… that my friend, is a Boundary Babe.”

We exchanged hugs and a few kind words of to each other, as was customary after any extended absence, for a Boundary Babe never shies away from a polite greeting. “Hi, I’m Lauren,” she said to the unrecognized face across from her.

“Uh, I um, well… gee, I am… oh boy…”

“Sorry, this is my friend Bill,” I jumped in for the save, having witnessed the speechless effects a Boundary Babe can have on a person from previous experience. “Would you care to join us for a drink?”

“How about we have one on me! It is your birthday after all. What would you like?”

Wow, I actually don’t know what to say… But say something stupid! “Uh, I um, well, I like, um… gee, I guess uh—”

“Sorry, he would love a Surly Furious, if that’s ok with you,” Bill jumped in for the save, having witnessed the speechless effects a Boundary Babe can have on a person from previous experience.

“Surly Furious would be great,” I added. She called over the waitress, which for the first time that night, caused a smile to grow across her face as she took the order, as if she were eager to be of service to us.

“Ok, I’ll be back in a minute with your drinks!” And sure enough, within a minute, she was back with a fresh round of brews, another good quality of the Boundary Babe. “Cheers!”

Cheers!” we replied, satisfied with her newfound alacrity.

To be fair, for I believe in full disclosure in all of my writings I must say that Cambray is a Boundary Babe as well, for she embodies the same characteristics as mentioned above. However, being that she was (and still is, so don’t get any funny ideas guys!) married to John, groveling over her would not only be awkward, but also inappropriate. But as for Lauren (and all other boundary babes for that matter), nothing could stop my devotion, a succinct representation towards one of the few unadulterated locales left on this Earth, tucked away in the Northern wood and water of the Minnesota/Canadian border called “The Boundary Waters.” It was a beauty and presence I did not deserve, but regardless, was given the pleasure of her company along with a beer to share, for within the spirit of a Boundary Babe to provide to others, undeserved or not.

“You know, there was a nice crew cut sweatshirt I saw in the gift shop when I came in. I think it would look really nice on you,” said Lauren.

“I saw the same one,” added Cambray. “You have to get at least SOMETHING to remember the Twin Cities by.” It was by those word that I was prompted to pound my beer and all others lying on the table and venture back into the depths of the long forgotten gift shop… on a quest for the perfect crew cut.

“I love it!” I immediately said after pulling the sweatshirt over my body. It was black, and that was all I really knew. It didn’t matter however, for the Boundary Babe has an impeccable eye for style. I wasted no time with my purchase, the cashier scanning the sweatshirt as it was still attached to my body, for I had complete faith in the Boundary Babe’s choice of attire. “What now?”

“I have an idea,” Cambray popped in, her eyes gleaming as if she had just had a Godly revelation. “What if we did a little karaoke tonight?” the question was framed in what seemed like random fashion. I however knew better, as did she. She knew full well karaoke was my strong suit, the one area where I unequivocally outshined the rest, no matter the crowd, and she was rooting for me, as a true Boundary Babe would.

Lauren gave her a nod of approval, and then Cambray looked at me, waiting for a similar response. A grin grew across my face, for I was unable to hold a straight face, as was the intention.

“I would love some karaoke.”

To be concluded…

Chapter 9: Young Americans, Part 1

Bill watched me enter the bathroom as nothing but a sophomoric representation of the millennial generation. It wasn’t just a relief from the ordinary build up of bodily fluid I was looking for. No matter how hard we try, the clever front eventually unravels, and behind the sophisticated tools of social media are the timid souls of a lost generation, the ones longing for an escape, but too damn proud to admit it. Here I was in the nicest hotel in Des Moines, still holding onto an immaturity of potty jokes, chasing after women that I would never have a chance with, and silly grudges that never provided the fulfillment I was looking for. It was an adolescent comfort that prevented me from truly experiencing life, and there was no end in sight. My blessings were my curse, one that could easily be discard, but instead would hold onto for a long, long time. I entered that bathroom, a boy, a statistical product of the 20 year old demographic, and yet, just another hopeless case of desultoriness.

Then within a minute, a flush of the toilet, a quick splash of running water, and a turn of a doorknob, my life changed forever. Bill’s whole face widened, taken aback at the sight. In front of him was a man, an acute image of resolve and wisdom. An intense purpose filled the eyes that were staring back at him, combined with a grin that resounded confidence, and my face thickened with a steady complexion, years of knowledge accumulated over a lifetime of trials and tribulations. I stepped out of that bathroom 30 years old—a new man. It was at that moment, that I vowed to change my juvenile ways, to go forth and conquer the world… to fulfill my destiny as a man, and to never look back…

Well, that only lasted about a day…


“Ok, 15 minutes. We’re in, we’re out, and then we eat some Juicy Lucy’s,” I told Bill, throwing my arms around in swift, short motions, matching each beat of the sentence. I was a little exasperated at the fact that H&M was our first stop in Minnesota, not a planned endeavor by any stretch, and I let Bill know it, for it was still unclear of why he was so insistent about going to that particular establishment vs. a Macy’s or a Nordstrom, stores much more equipped for wedding apparel. It was my birthday after all, and I felt like I deserved to know!

The drive from Des Moines to Minneapolis was short, a purposefully planned four-hour trek with an even distribution of Ben Woodward, Gretch, Rush, and then silence. We had a BIG day ahead of us, packed with old friends, your typical Minnesota delicacies (aka any edible substance you can cover with batter and fry), breweries, and most importantly, the search for the boundary babe (see my former blog post The Boundary Babe). That I would not miss, and there would be little room for error, so 15 minutes was all that was allowed, as dictated by the parking meter.

We walked up the escalator to the upper level of the store, supposedly the men’s section, but more a cluster of articles placed about, a jungle of textiles barely traversable. Bill froze at its sight, overwhelmed at the unorganized chaos spread before him. A worker brushed passed him, a wavy, blond haired hunk in a thin-sleeved, nipple exposing tanktop, twisting his torso parallel to Bill’s as if his presence was an inconvenience to his prudent mission to restock clothing, of which he was doing a terrible job. A moment later, another worker passed, this one with scruffy, poorly groomed facial hair and a bundle of curly hair bunched together in the back with one side of his head shaved, a rather stupid look if you ask me, especially paired with his thick-rimmed glasses (sorry, I’m not always down with these non-symmetrical hair styles that seem to be the craze of the hipster crowd lately). No eye contact was afforded from any of the workers, only indirect looks of annoyance as they passed.

Bill looked as though he were about to hyperventilate. Everything was getting to him; the overwhelming pressure, the humiliation from the workers, the disorganization, the time constraint thrust upon him—this was going to take much longer than 15 minutes.

“Follow me,” I commanded. I had too as a natural instinct, for the severity of the moment called for it. “Try these pants on, and these… Are you 32, 34? Slim, Regular? Well, let’s just grab them all and find out.” I was grabbing pants left and right, not even looking at the style or color. It was a total crapshoot at this point, but it didn’t matter, as long as we got the job done. “What about shirts? Short sleeve? Long sleeve is classier, but it’s going to be hot. Medium? Large? And how about a jacket? I got one, you might as well have one too…” The clothes kept piling, I kept commanding, and Bill kept following; it was the only thing he could do.

Years of childhood suffering at various department stores had finally seemed to pay off, assimilating into a type of leadership role I never knew existed. As a young boy, my mother was fervent that I try on outfit upon outfit whenever there was a sale at the Gap, a day long event of which my resistance was quite vocal and my rebellion on full display—every time. Each outing was a set of demands that brought about a long string of pouting, hiding in shirt rings and pants racks, being dragged by the arm, stern scoldings, pointed fingers, tense faces, more pouting, yelling, dirty looks, embarrassment, and at the end of it all, after 100’s of outfits, I’d come out with a couple articles of clothing that I loathed, but was forced to wear by decree. And with 1000’s of hours of experience under my belt, I was now the one barking out orders unto my friend, whom followed obediently as he carried a pile of clothes under his arms that towered over his head. “Ok, go to the dressing room. Try all of these on. Report your findings. I’m going to refill the meter. By the time I get back, you should be done. Understood? Now go. GO!”

I swiftly added 30 minutes to the meter and rushed back into the store; didn’t want to keep Bill waiting. And the sooner we got out of this catastrophe, the sooner we’d find ourselves surrounded by a variety of fine, deep-fried Midwest dishes, the one’s I’d had a hankering for ever since we passed the first of 10,000 lakes. Oh how I had longed to sink my teeth into the hamburger contraption indigenous to Minneapolis called the Juicy Lucy, a conglomerate of cheeses stuffed in the middle of a burger patty. An uncontrollable release of saliva filled my mouth every time I thought about the creamy ooze of melted cheddar pouring out onto a collection of fried cheese curds, pickles, and spam bites each time I sunk my teeth into the succulent burger patty, making it that much more crucial that this unscheduled deviation run as smooth as possible. And wouldn’t you know; Bill was already waiting for me, clothes in hand.

“Alright! Which ones did you like?”

“Uh, I haven’t really tried any on yet…”

“Wait…” I closed my eyes and shook my head side to side in swift, succinct movements as a means to process the statement. As my eyes reopened wide and stared directly into his, I was ready for the real answer. “What?”

“Nobody’s given me a room yet.” I looked back. Sure enough, all those workers, aka “dingleberry’s” were pre-occupied, walking around with a sense of self-importance and their own stacks of clothing, the line of customers at the dressing room non-existent. “Man, they must really suck at restocking clothing if that’s all they do,” I thought to myself. I couldn’t imagine that it was that hard, but then again, who am I to say, being that I’ve never worked retail.

A man walked out of one of the rooms, the door quickly coming to a close, only to lock behind him and prevent anybody else from its use; such a waste of valuable real estate. “Quick Bill, an open room. GO!” I pushed him towards the door before it shut and locked us out forever, Bill running at the mercy of my direction, blinded by the stack of clothes in his hands that was flying off piece by piece during our mad dash to the dressing room, of which we barely got in. “Don’t forget these,” I said, throwing each article of clothing dropped on the ground over the door with full confidence that they were all being caught by some appendage of his body.

I sat on a bench next to a large pile of clothing tangled about, one of many garbage heaps lying around in the dressing area. The weakness from the lack of sustenance grew within me, the cravings sifting into my cranium and swallowing the working portions of my brain. “Snap out of it!” I told myself as I whipped out my phone to check my social media standings, anything I could do in the few spare minutes to get my mind off the hunger, the omelet eaten at breakfast hardly sustainable for the amount of stamina required.

“Holy crap, 15 notifications!” It was an exciting reaction, for that hardly ever happens on Facebook. “Wait…” Upon further inspection, it was the typical inundation of Happy Birthday posts one always receives on a yearly basis. “Oh great, now I have to respond to every single one of them. Let’s see, who in the world is—oh yea, we played basketball with him in Jr. High. I guess that’s cool. And God, I haven’t talked to her in ages, but that was nice of her. Nah, don’t really want to respond to her—but I’ll feel like such a piece of crap if I don’t… Well, she invited me to her wedding, so I gotta respond… Great, Didi’s gonna throw a fit if I don’t say something back, especially since I responded to Jill. Gotta make her feel nice and important. Wow, Gibson hasn’t wished me a happy birthday yet. So much for that friendship… Really Bill? You couldn’t just say happy birthday in car? You had to go on Facebook to make a statement—Oh God, my sister wrote a freaking novel! Man, that was super nice of her, and she deserves a novel back, but that’s going to take at least 10-15 minutes! I don’t have time for that, not now at least! God, she’s going to suspect something wrong if I take too long though. Jesus Christ, I haven’t even responded to a quarter of these, and they keep popping up! What am I going to—“


A dense presence hovered in front of me. I looked up at Bill, standing before me as if he had just laid eyes on Medusa. I was afraid to speak, but did so out of a sense of duty. “Did you like anything?”

“…No.” It was the only word he could muster before receding back into his petrified state. The blond bombshell squeezed in between us; again, no eye contact, signaling a raging urge to yell an obscenity at the top of my lungs. It was quite evident now that Mr. Tanktop Nipples wouldn’t be caught dead out in public with guys like us, just a couple of squares in his book whose lack of style was an unoriginal combination of a t-shirt and a pair of jeans. The feeling was mutual.

“Well, I better put another hour in the meter,” I said, using everything in my power to prevent an outburst. I had to… for Bill’s sake.


“Oh my gosh, I actually like this shirt,” said Bill. What a miracle! “Do they have it in Medium?”

“Let’s see. Small, small, large, XL, XXL… nope, no mediums. This one isn’t bad, and look, here’s a medium!”

Bill examined the shirt then shook his head in disapproval. “It’s regular fit. I need a slim fit.”

“Well crap. Can you fit into a small regular?”

“Not anymore! I drank too much beer!”

“Well c’mon man! You have to pick—oh, here’s a medium slim right here. Try this.”

“Uh… no, can’t do it. It’s too dark. I’ll sweat right through it!”

“Well how about this one? It’s stylish isn’t it?”

“It doesn’t even have a collar! I can’t wear a tie with that! Why would anybody consider that acceptable to wear?”

Oh my God. I stepped back and took a deep breath. “Don’t freak out, you know you can do this, you’re good—“ no you’re not, you’re a bad boy—“No, I’m good, I know I am…” Acquiescence is the key. Just go with it, and it’ll all be over soon. “Bill, you’re right. What in the hell? What were they even thinking? Why would they even make a shirt like this? Here’s a short sleeve, medium slim. Try this one on.”

“I guess, but I don’t know want to wear a short sleeve—”

“Screw it. We’re looking at some pants. Let’s see, 30 slim, 32 regular, 32 slim. What was yours again?”

“34 slim.”

“Here’s a nice pair. Do you like these?”

“Uh… not ideal, but I guess they’ll do.”

“Great. Here we go. 30 slim, 32 regular, 32 slim, 33 slim, 33 regular, 34 regular, 34 relaxed, 36 slim—Ah c’mon!”

30 minutes later we found ourselves back at the dressing room with a new pile of clothes, none of which were to Bill’s preference, but a selection that was clawed and dug through to find some form of a presentable outfit, the loathsome combinations being the best we could do with the limited resources provided. I sat next to the heap of clothes again, my body parts a string of wet noodles weighed down a gravitational force growing proportionally stronger with the worsening effects of starvation. “I’m so weak… I… I cant… no, must resist…” I turned my phone over, my eyes drooping and my body wavering, exposing a series of apps with one obtruding over the others. The giant F inside the blue square pulsated in front of me, offering its fix. “You’re delusional. You don’t need this,” I told myself while shaking my head. “Don’t do it… don’t do it.” My thumb hovered over the square, the trigger to send the needle deep into my veins. “…I guess a little bit wouldn’t hurt. All I need is a quick peek. So maybe just a little…” In a subconscious effort, my thumb made contact with the glass and a screen opened to a long scroll of updates. “15 more notifications? Oh God please. No… no!”


Bill walked out of the dressing room, all droplets of life evaporated into the departmental hell we had been sulking in. A set of clothes was in his hands; clothes he detested, but accepted. The will to care had long been eviscerated, coupled with his will to live.

“Oh, can I help you guys with anything?” asked an unfamiliar voice. Both of us turned our disturbed faces towards the sound with repulsive confusion—it was the kid with the stupid haircut.

Gee, yea, we really could’ve used some freaking help the first time you passed us, or the second time, even the fifth time for that matter. I’m so glad you found it necessary as part of job description to interact with your customers, to ask them a question, to once acknowledge their existence after an hour and a FREAKING half of scrambling to find a couple articles of clothing. Yes, we could have used some help to find a nice set of freaking clothes. A pair of freaking pants, a nice freaking shirt, and a freaking coat with a freakin’ tie! Thank you for taking the time out of your freakin’ day to FINALLY ask us for freaking help. Did I mention that it’s my FREAKING BIRTHDAY TODAY!?!?


“Let’s just get the hell out of here,” said Bill in a basic, disgusted tone.


We crawled into my car, the air dead silent, much worse than it was after Rush Limbaugh. “Why in the hell did we have to go to H&M Bill? Why did you drag me through nearly two hours of hell on my birthday, when we could’ve easily gone somewhere else and would’ve been well into our Juicy Lucy’s by now? Don’t you see that 30’s a big deal! I’m not a little kid anymore! I can’t be playing childish games like this! Maybe you’re all good at 27 years young, but for me, it’s time to grow up! So please, I’m begging you, help me to understand. Why Bill? Why H&M? Why…”

“I… I just had to, ok?”

“Bull crap. No, it’s not ok. After all of that, I deser—I demand an explanation! A damn good one at that.”

“I… I just can’t, ok.”

“Bill… I’m only going to ask you one last time… There’s a perfectly good mall that has everything we would ever need with great customer service. I’ve been there, so I know. And it’s big. So big they called it the “Mall of America.” Now tell me, why in the world did we pick this store, when we could’ve went to a place that had everything we could have ever wanted… and more? Please Bill. Help me understand… on my birthday…”

Bill took a deep breath, bracing himself for the destruction he was about to cause by following through with my request; his character was on the line. “It’s… because… ok, I’ll tell you… just please, don’t freak out.” I remained silent. I dare not make a promise I know I can’t keep. “Each year for Christmas, for past three years, I’ve been getting H&M gift cards. I never use them, but they keep on coming, so if I didn’t use them soon, they’d… they’d worthless.”

“…So you’re telling me that somebody bought you a gift card one year, and even with the knowledge that you didn’t use that gift card within the span of a year, and had no intention of ever using it, they still thought it would be a good idea to buy you the same exact thing for you the very next year, and the year after that?”

“That… yes, that is correct.”

“Who in the world would ever do such a thing? Why would they buy you the same present, year after year if you never would use it? It just doesn’t make sense, unless this person secretly wanted to bestow as much misery upon you as they possibly could. It’s like they were planning this all along, just for a very moment like this. But again, I don’t know anybody who would be capable of doing such a dastardly—“ I stopped. I had answered my own question right as the words fell out of my mouth. It all made sense now. “…It was her, wasn’t it?”

Bill lowered his head and closed his eyes, pushing the shame back into his head. As he lifted it again and opened his eyes, the shame had transformed into rage. My eyes matched the fury of his while hard breaths went in and out of my nose, the sound effects more fierce and chilling with each succeeding breath. I gritted and grinded my teeth against each other, caused from a violent shake of the head, the same violent shake that nearly caused my carotid artery to explode right out of my tensed neck. My question had been answered.

“…She planned… this whole thing… from the very beginning… Three years… She bought you those stupid gift cards… because she knew it was going to cause pain… It was going to cause misery… She knew… all along… and she purposely made us go the that stupid store… On my BIRTHDAY!!!”

“The nerve… The FREAKING NERVE!”

“GRRRRRREEEEEEEETCH!!!” A loud cry left the car before I stepped on the gas. We sped off 20 feet before coming to a screeching halt. Thanks to her, it just so happened that our time-consuming shopping excursion had landed us smack dab in the middle of rush hour.

“I rolled down both of our windows with the Smashing Pumpkins blasting through the speakers and piercing into our ears… “Intoxicated… with the madness… I’m in love with… my sadness…” The lyrics inserted the fear of God into the innocent and well-mannered folk of Minnesota, sending them a strong message of hate that radiated from our perturbed faces. “We’re from Washington. We’re from Idaho. And we’re pissed off!”


Intermittent screams left the car, matched word for word with a series of honks, a combination of sounds that hugged the line of receiving a disturbing the peace citation. We were hungry, we were stuck in traffic, we had no clothes of our liking, and we were sick in the head! And the worst part, there was nothing we could do, nothing except vent; vent and pass on our frustration to the innocent souls walking the streets of Minneapolis, Minnesota, not an ideal representation of the Pacific Northwest… not at all.

I—hate—Grecth—I—hate—her—so—much— I—hate—her—so—baaaaaad—She’s—so—stu—pid—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…”

To Be Continued…

Chapter 8: How about a Cocktail? How about a Conversation?

“So I rushed past the pretty girls, and the prettiest girls in the world live in Des Moines.”

-Jack Kerouac, from “On the Road”

AJ’s dreads swung across his shoulders as his head darted back and forth at each of us, unsure of how to approach the next question. He did his best to remain cool and confident as any young professional in the hospitality business would, but there was no doubt that there was a hint nervousness in his delay, an effect wearing all of us.

“Uh, so… are you guys looking for a single bed for the night?”

“Double,” both Bill and I promptly replied.

Ah… all right, cool,” he said shaking his head up and down as if he were satisfied with our answer. I have to say; he handled the situation rather well, leaving the customer un-offended (unlike SOMEONE we know…), especially during a time where the subject of certain political topics can be a bit touchy.

It was a well-graded first impression of the Econo Lodge, their professionalism fully intact even at such a late hour of the night; one that continued throughout the tenure of our stay. In the morning when I informed the front desk that the waffle maker wasn’t working, not only did they promptly fix the situation, but the lady at the front desk also saw to it to make and serve me a waffle herself! Talk about service! Not to mention our room came equipped with a working air conditioner, flat screen TV, and get this: shampoo, conditioner, AND lotion, of which Bill kept for himself upon our departure. I couldn’t blame him; that stuff comes in handy from time to time.

The Econo Lodge may only have a 2.5 star rating on, but it will certainly hold a 5 star rating in our hearts, preferring it 10-fold over the debacle called Motel 6. That being said however, we were on to bigger and better things, to a little place called Des Moines, Iowa, where according to Jack Kerouac, author of “On the Road,” lived the prettiest girls, a proclamation we were hoping to be true.

The drive started pretty much like all the others, a few hours of ripping on Ben Woodward with a few more of plotting our revenge against Gretch. Bill and I seemed to be in total concert over our thoughts and humorous anecdotes, working and feeding off of each other’s insults like we were shooting fish in a barrel (apparently, according to the old maxim, it’s easy to shoot fish in a barrel, but why you would ever want to shoot a fish after it’s already caught and in a barrel is beyond me). It was as if our minds were in perfect sync, and every thought that went through my head matched his, life, people, wisdom, you name it!

“Oh, it’s 11:00, one of my favorite radio programs is on!” I quickly changed the music playlist to AM radio, Bill eager to find out what was to come, for if I said it was good, it must be good; that he could trust. After an opening drum fill, familiar base line, and a swanky guitar solo, one of the greatest voices on radio came out of the gates swinging. Rush Limbaugh spent little time getting into his intended subject matter, talking up Donald Trump’s game, ripping on Hillary Clinton, and bashing the rest of the Democrat Party along with all of its policies. And man, he was on fire! “Yea, you tell em’ Rush! Bill, you hearing this? Bill?”

Bill all of a sudden became very quiet. His lower lip curled under his teeth and he sat back in his seat, looking forward at the road ahead as if he were basking in a world of fury. I couldn’t figure out what came over him? I mean, he was in such a good mood earlier, and I certainly didn’t say anything that offensive. And I thought the accommodations at the Econo Lodge were beyond adequate. What was the big deal?

Then it hit me. It had to be Gretch. I guarantee she gave him another stupid text that got him all upset. God, what is her problem? I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody who enjoys inflicting as much misery on innocent people as she does. It makes me upset just thinking about it! Regardless however, I decided to keep my mouth shut. Talking about it would only infuriate the both of us further. Needless to say, it was a pretty quiet drive the rest of the way to Des Moines from that point forward, thanks to her.

Feeling as though we deserved something with a little more class after Motel 6, we booked a room at the Des Lux Hotel, coined appropriately as the premiere lodging establishment in the city of Des Moines. It certainly caught our eye on the website as a 4-star romantic getaway with a ritzy-looking bar, so of course I thought of it as the logical choice for Bill and I.

First and foremost, the weight room was above and beyond superior, particularly for hotel standards, equipped with a large range of weight machines, treadmills, ellipticals, personal TV’s, a sauna, whirl pool, locker rooms, and a bunch of other crap that nobody else was using except for some sweaty, hairy dude hanging out in nothing but a towel. His choice of outfit was probably considered inappropriate for the setting, given that his towel was borderline see-through, but I couldn’t blame him—he probably felt like he owned the place! The biggest shame in my opinion was that nobody else was taking advantage of such a nice facility, especially Bill! He was all too busy pouting in the room like a sucker! Not my problem though (I still couldn’t understand why he was so bummed out).

After a nice workout and a quick shower, I showed Bill a funny clip on YouTube, which seemed to get him to stop moping just enough to put on a nice collared shirt and join me for a drink at the bar. “Just one,” I told him. We were headed to Minnesota the next day and had a birthday to celebrate, so getting ripped tonight was out of the realm of possibilities.

“What would you boys like?” asked the bar tender serving the dimly lit establishment held together by wood-stained cathedral-like foundations, a rather fancy place, something you’d expect in New York City or one of those places where all the yuppies like to hang out in. Her style was sleek and sophisticated and her poise lean and proper. She was a master of her craft you could certainly tell; a skill set that served her quite well. And I can’t lie, she looked good… damn good, and the black dress she was wearing together with her years of experience only increased her attractive nature.

“I’ll have an old-fashioned,” my go-to drink, one that fuels the passion towards my Midwest bloodlines; a classy selection, one that you can never go wrong with, and that nobody would ever give you a hard time for ordering.

“I’ll have a Martini,” said Bill—wait, since when does he get a Martini? He’s into those bull crap drinks like Keystone light or whatever! I knew what he was doing. He had the hots for the bar tender—I knew it, that son of a B! She was a good-looking babe, especially considering she was at least 20 years older than us, so I can’t blame him, but still… no respect.

“With Gin or Vodka?” Bill froze; he didn’t know what to say!

“Uh, I guess both… or, well… whatever you prefer…” he replied with slight embarrassment. Serves him right!

“Yea, I remember my first one,” I told her. I couldn’t resist the quick little jab.

A growing smile grew across her face as she began prepping the Gin and Vermouth concoction. “Aw, that’s really sweet. I’ll make it extra special just for you.” Are you kidding me? I guess that backfired.


“Yea, it’s not my usual, but I just like to try new things every now and then.” Bill turned his head, shooting me a look of dominance. Is he knocking my Old-Fashion? How dare he—whatever, he’s just being stupid right now.


We went through the whole small talk routine, each of us hitting the topical questions of “what things are there to do in Iowa,” or “what brings you to Des Moines,” providing a brief tell all of our journey to the motherland and all of our adventures along the way so far.

“So what do you guys do?” she asked.

“Well, I’m an engineer, but also an aspiring writer,” I jumped right in before Bill even had a chance to answer. “I have a long-standing blog,, and I’m currently wrapping up one the last revision of my first book.” Let’s see you top that Bill?


“Well, I’m an artist. I do a lot of abstract work that some people don’t always understand,” he said with a quick jerk towards me. Yea, nice try Bill. “But I’m sure you would. If you’re interested in any of my work, here’s my card.” A card? Oh give me a break!


She gave his card the nod of approval. I mean, it doesn’t mean much, at least it shouldn’t. It’s what everybody gets, so who cares? “You know, I’m working on a book myself,” she said after her thorough card examination.

“Oh really? By all means, tell me more,” I replied, this time giving Bill my own little look of dominance.”

“Oh, but first, may I have another Martini please?” Really Bill? How rude.


“I guess I’ll have another Old Fashioned as well.” If he’s getting another one, I might as well too. “And I would still love to hear all about your book, you know, writer to writer.”

“Why sure. I’m going to call it ‘Cocktails and Conversations,’ about all the bands and supposedly important people I’ve met bartending, you know, politicians, lawyers, doctors, the such.”

“Like, um, which bands?” Bill asked.

“You name them, they’ve been here. As a matter of fact, Dave Matthews band was here last night. I hung out with them for a while. All of those guys are really awesome and down to Earth. A bunch of sweethearts really.”

“Whoa,” pretty much summed up Bill’s and my reaction. This was going to get good. “I think I might need another drink soon.”

“So who was your favorite of all the bands?” Bill asked.

“Well, all of those older rock bands are pretty cool, but the Red Hot Chili Peppers were probably my favorite. Those guys are all pretty chill now that they’re older, a couple of ol’ wine guys for the most part, not so much the partiers I imagined they were. Their driver even let me hang out on Anthony Kiedes’s bus for a couple hours to watch movies. The place was immaculate, nicer than my own house. It even had marble floors!”

“No kidding! That’s pretty rad,” said Bill

“Who were some of the biggest turds you met?”

“Well, Michael Bublé refers to himself as Michael Bublé, and his wife kind of sucks too, always telling him what to do and where to go, expecting the world to drop to their knees and tend to her wherever and whenever.”

“Oh man, I know exactly what you mean.” What are you even talking about Bill? You don’t even have a wife!


“And then there was Snoop Dogg. I mean, I guess he wasn’t that bad, if you could ignore all the loud music and pot smoke coming from his room, the endless parties, the crowds of half-naked women hanging all around the hotel and doing greasy stuff with the bus drivers in the back alley, and the members of his entourage who think it’s ok to drop their pants and whip out their ding-a-lings in front of me.”

“Man, I would never do anything like that. I for one, treat women with respect.” God, this was just starting to make me sick. Bill was straight up sucking up now!

“Yea, since then, Snoop Dogg and his crew have been banned from the Des Lux. But as bad as they were, they aren’t as creepy as some of the politicians that stop by from time to time, especially during primary season. They all think they can get away with anything!”

“Like who?”

“Well, I’m not at liberty to say for the policy of the hotel, but you’ve heard of the names I’m sure, definitely some high-level members of congress and such. And you’d be surprised at the number of mistresses some of these people have. This hotel has been known to host its number of scandalous affairs.”

Man were we intrigued, getting the inside scoop into the dirty details of the Iowa elite. Both of us gazed into her lovely eyes as she spoke so eloquently of the high-profile executives who met their lovers in the very same bar stools we were seated in. Inside that slender figure of hers was a maturity foreign to us young adults still stuck in our late 20’s; a maturity that became most captivating combined with the wealth of discreet knowledge locked away under her shiny, golden locks of hair.

“We should exchange information, just so we can keep in touch about each other’s books. I’d really love to read yours when it comes out, and I can send you a copy of mine when it’s finally done.”

But Bill just couldn’t help but butt in. “Oh don’t worry about it man, I already gave her my card. Cheryl, just get a hold of me and I’ll pass on the word.” Oh what in the hell? What does he think he’s doing? Since when are they on a first name basis?

“Haha, sounds good boys. Let me take care of these ladies over here. I have a feeling they’re going to be bad tippers,” she whispered into Bill’s ear with a slight brush of his shoulder. Bill blushed. I sat in silence and pounded the rest of my Old Fashioned. Bill tried to make small talk, but I wasn’t having any of it.

She came back a minute later shaking her head in slight disgust. “Just as I thought. They decide to order the girliest drink they can. Sorry guys, this may take a while.”

She decorated the cocktail glass with stripes of chocolate syrup and poured in a shaken mixture of milk, Kahlua, vodka, and a couple other obscure liquors we’d never heard of from an ice cold strainer, a process that took nearly 5 minutes with all of the preparation and intricate ingredients involved, including shavings of chocolate and whip cream, a drink that no sane person would ever go through the heartache of making. “Isn’t that the same drink you order a couple days ago Bill?”

“Oh c’mon Bill. You’re a bartender’s worst nightmare! Please tell me that’s a lie,” she said in addition with a grin on her face.

“And what’s worse, he even thought those lady’s were ‘hott.’” She threw her head back and let out a giant laugh. Bill suddenly got tense again and his face turned beat red. She grabbed the ladies posh drinks and headed back to the ladies table, but not before she gave my arm a nice little brush. I tried to make small talk with Bill, but all he seemed to want to do is pound his drink. Who knows what his problem was.

“Well, I think it’s about time for us to retire, it’s getting pretty late and we have a big day tomorrow, so I guess we better grab the checks,” said Bill upon her return. Wait, we didn’t discuss this? Sure, it’s getting late, but hold on just a minute— “It’s been lovely meeting you, but we must be on our way.” Well, if he’s going to be all pouty about it, then I guess that’s the end of that.


I provided a pretty modest tip for her that evening. What can I say; she deserved it, $10.00 in addition to my $28.00 bill. I took a glance over at Bill’s final tab just out of curiosity. “Huh, $28.00 as well. That’s funny; maybe she gave us both a good deal—wait, are you serious? An $11.00 tip??”


We walked into the elevator, Bill still silent from earlier. “You had to one up me, didn’t you?”

“…I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Oh, really, an $11.00 tip? Really?”

“What, she did a good job, what can I say, she deserved it.”

“Yea, I’m sure she did deserve the random amount of $11.00, which just so happened to be $1.00 over mine!”

“Like I said, I don’t know what you’re talking about, so how about you just shut up and get over it!”

“Geez, somebody seems a little moody tonight.”

“Dude, you do this every time. Every time!”


“What the heck are you even talking about?”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Bill quite sarcastically. This was going to blow up, I just knew it. “Look at me, I’m all goody-gumdrops excited. Maybe I’ll tell everybody you thought the old dude’s at the end of the bar were ‘hott’ too, and you can be just as happy as me!”

“Oh calm down, dude. I was just joking around—”

“Dude, you totally Jonesed me back there! You knew I had the hots for her!”

“Dude, she was way out of your league! I was just trying to help you out!”

“Yea, a lot of help that did, dude.”



“TING!” The elevator rang and the doors opened, our mouths shut instantly and our angry demeanor ceased. In walked two teenage girls with Dave Mathews Band shirts on.

“Oh, you guys just get back from the concert? Oh cool… who, us? Oh no, we didn’t go, we’re just stopping through town. I hear they play an awesome show though… No kidding, three hours straight? Wow, that’s awesome. I’m glad you liked it. ‘TING.’ Oh, well, I guess this is our floor. Nice meeting you guys, enjoy the rest of your night.”

We exited the elevators and watched the doors close behind us, waving goodbye to our new friends. “Dude, don’t even start all of this talk about ‘Jonesing’ anybody. We were hitting it off just fine back there when you had to butt in with your whole ‘art’ stuff.”

“Yea, at least my ‘art’ is actually worth looking at, unlike some of your blogs.

“Oh that’s a new low Bill. That’s quite the new low you son of a B—”

“Oh please, like you had a real chance with her.”

“Dude, a better chance than you! Besides, there’s nothing wrong with a little competition. It makes you stronger. It’s the capitalistic model for success!

“Oh yea, did your friend Rush Limbaugh tell you about that?”

“Wait a minute, you’ve been all pissed off this whole time because we listened talk radio earlier haven’t you? Now it all makes sense.”

“Gee, I glad you finally figured that out, genius.”

“God, I can’t believe somebody would get all that butt hurt over a guy giving his opinion. Here’s an idea, why don’t you grow up and grow a pair?” I swung open the door and stormed in the room. Bill did some storming of his own after me.

“I got an even better idea. How about I just pack my bags, and go home right now. I’m sick of this crap.”

“Ok, and you can listen to your sissy NPR garbage on the way out of here too, because as far as I’m concerned, the way you keep acting, we’re done.”

“We’re done? Let me rephrase that. I’m done. You hear me? I. Am. DONE!”

“Well that’s just great, real great. We’re in the middle of the damn country, and you’re treating me like trash and throwing a fit, and it’s MY BIRTHDAY IN A HALF AN HOUR!”

“Dude, maybe I don’t give two craps about your birthday!”

“Dude, maybe you should shut up right now if you know what’s best for you.”

“Dude, why don’t you make me!”

“Dude, maybe I will with a knuckle sandwich!”

“Yea dude, you would, because you DO THIS EVERY TIME!”

“Oh yea dude!?”
“Yea dude! I’M WALKING HOME!”

“Go ahead Dude!”





“Dude. Dude…”

“…Ok, ok, look, maybe I got a little jealous back there, and I might’ve pulled a Jones or two on you. If I ever did, I’m sorry dude. To be honest, I think she kind of thought that you were cute. Besides, she wasn’t really my type anyway.”

“Look dude, I think I just got a little stressed out back there in the car and I took it out on you and Rush. I mean, we really need to get Gretch good. She can’t get away with what she’s done, and she’s not going to play nice. We know that, and I just want to make sure we bring our A-game when the time comes.” It was true. I knew she was behind this all along.

“I think maybe all of this driving has just gotten us a little worked up. You know how it goes. So how about this dude, I got all of this liquor out just for you. Let’s relax a little bit, and I tell you what… I have some Third Eye Blind on my computer we can listen to, we’ll have a nice Pilsner, some Absolut on Ice, and we can just take it easy for the rest of the night. Like you said, we have a BIG day tomorrow. Because dude, it’s my birthday.”



We hugged it out, drank a little more liquor and listened to some Third Eye Blind, just like we said we would. I guess times like these are expected when you’ve spent thousands of miles in a car with somebody, which is ok. It’s healthy for humans to vent from time to time, especially when girls and talk radio are involved.

And maybe there’s some truth to Jack Kerouac’s words regarding the women of Des Moines, Iowa. They certainly had an effect on us that day.

Chapter 7: This is a Long Drive For Someone with Nothing to Think About…

I’m on a road shaped like a figure 8.  I’m going nowhere but I’m guaranteed to be late.

Isaac Brock

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!”



“That pisses me off. That pisses me RIGHT OFF!”

“Believe me, it pisses me off too!”



“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!”




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!”

“I know!”

“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…”

Chapter 6: Sell me this Watch…

He descended into Hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; he ascended into Heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God, the Father almighty;


                                                                                    -The Apostles Creed

A golden haze reflected off of the Anheuser-Busch brewery, the gateway into Denver. It had been a wonderful ascent into Colorado, abetted by a helping of processed cheddar and roast beef sitting in our stomachs. Neither Bill nor I could resist the opportunity to over-indulge when the billboard for Arby’s came into view, our mouth’s salivating and our eyes widening upon its initial viewing while we passed through Laramie, Wyoming, and like always, it did not disappoint.

Yes, it can be said with total confidence that our spirits were on a constant up and up the moment we left Rock Springs, though being dragged any lower would’ve been a nearly impossible, yet impressive feat. Even the crazy lady on the freeway with her SUV covered in corn stocks and plastic soda cups with her hazard lights in a continuous flash seemed comforting! But aside from the fact that Rock Springs and its Motel 6 can make the city of Detroit look like Beverly Hills, we couldn’t imagine in our wildest dreams the elegance that we were to be blessed with upon our arrival into Denver.

To say we were thoroughly impressed with the city of Denver would be an understatement. Its streets were clean and its people friendly, people who seem to take pride in residing within the spread of the Mile High City, ensuring the beauty behind its skyline remains intact along the edge of the Rocky Mountains. As immaculate, gorgeous and amiable as it is however, its eclectic nature can many times go unnoticed, for the most intriguing aspect of the city sticks out worse than Donald Trump’s toupee. It takes hold and sucks you in, its presence un-ignorable to the point where all resistance is futile; where you have no choice but to accept and engage…

Beer. It’s everywhere.

Our first major landmark after passing the strategically placed Anheuser-Busch brewery was Coors Field, laying home to the Colorado Rockies MLB Club with the “Blue Moon Brewery” serving as a significant appendage to the sports complex. “It’s still early, let’s take this easy for now,” I suggested to Bill while passing the ball park, assuming the thoughts running through his mind were the same as mine.

But it was impossible to escape, and the temptation was pulling us from every direction. “Wynkoff Brewing Company… Rock Bottom Brewery… Falling Rock Taphouse… The Great Divide Taproom… Breckenridge Ball Park Brew…” Literally every block we walked down was a new bar, local microbrew, and taphouse daring us to get wrecked, drawing us closer with their tactical product placement, and working as the enabler to indulge in the deadly sin of getting ripped. “C’mon, just a little drink, that’s all… You can tool out here… Everything will be ok, I promise…”

“Let’s just get to Eric’s before it’s too late,” I told Bill, my heart pounding with both excitement and anxiety. I had to get away, channel my inner tunnel vision and make it to his apartment in once piece, to lay low for a little while before the alcohol takes control and forces me into directions and decisions I would deeply regret down the road.

“What’s up dingus!” said Eric, greeting us outside of the Ballpark lofts with a big hug upon our arrival. I was glad to see that his tank top still formed tightly around his pecks, a close resemblance to me and my wifebeater and a sign that he was doing well, still in good shape, and still the hunk I grew to love during the Fall of 2012 in Seattle when we would cozy up on the couch and watch Gagnum Style over and over again before strumming on our guitars late into the night. “What are we doing tonight?”

“Uh, I don’t know, we can take it easy for a while, and go from there.” It was the cliché “non-response” response, but it was the only thing I could say. I mean, yes, I wanted to drink, and I wanted to have a good time, but the amount of beer consumption mixed with the altitude could lead to big trouble, and whenever you’re in a strange city, you have to watch out for that type of stuff, especially here in Denver! It’s a nice place, and I would really like to come back again, and if it goes bad this time, well, who knows if we’ll ever get our opportunity ever aga—

“Well, there’s a local brewery down the street. You guys wanna get a couple round—

“YEA!” The instinctive reaction came out of both of our mouths.

“Uh, I mean, yea… sure.” I followed up with; a close save. “Only if you want to. I mean, I don’t know about Bill, but it doesn’t really matter to me. I can drink now, drink later, whatever.”

“Ok, let’s do this. Follow me!”

We followed Eric into the River North Brewery, not even a block away from his apartment. It was definitely the place where all of the cool kids hung out, people with flannel shirts, wild hair cuts, thick-rimmed glasses—hey, they even had a couple cats riding around on rollerblades, which was a bit impressive considering the size of the joint! The crazy corn lady came around again as well, driving/meditating while pumping a hip electronic beat from her SUV! It was wild. It was crazy. It was great!

I stepped up to the counter, innocent and ignorant with ebullience. There were so many choices, and it was all fresh and local with all of those organic ingredients that all of the tree huggers love. And it was such a neat little place! Why can’t I have something this close to my house? I would go there every day—

“What can I get ya?”

“Um, uh… let me see…” Oh man, this guy was a big dude with a big old beard—your stereotypical brewmaster that you just don’t want to look like a jackass in front of. But I couldn’t decide! There were so many choices, even stuff I’d never heard of before! Ok, let’s see here, there’s a triple, or a tripel, whatever you call it. Then a J. Marie Imperial Saison. I didn’t even know that those could be imperial! The Avarice Imperial Stout, the Rivernorth IPA—hey, I know what an IPA is! But a Witbier—what the heck is a Witbier!

“Excuse me sir, what would you like???”

Oh God, all these cool locals around, and all these beers—I don’t know what to get! Get something tho—but what! Think!! Anything! Just get something! Say something stupid, say something!!!

“…I… I would like… all… the beers…”

And just like that, the brewmaster gave me all the beers.

And then we drank all the beers. And then we drank some more beers. And they were good; they were damn good. And then we started telling dirty jokes. And then talked about girls and drank more beers. And then it started raining. And then we made fun of the turkeys on the rollerblades. And then—

“Hey, you guys hungry?” asked Eric.

“Actually, I’ve been working up a little bit of an appetite since Arby’s,” said Bill.

“Good. I know a great sushi place…”

“Then lets go!” I shouted while shooting out of my seat, unaware of the effects that elevation has on the body until I wobbled around our table, nearly knocking over the beer glasses scattered across it. “Let’s get some shushi!”


“Yes, I would like to order three sake bombs,” said Eric to our waiter in a polite and sustained manner, all of us acting on our best behavior in the middle of the iFish Sushi Bar.

“What’s a Sake Bomb?” asked Bill.

“I’ll show you.”

Moments later our waiter returned, holding up a tray with full of Japanese beer and Sake, setting one of each in front of us. Per Eric’s instructions, we set each shot on top of a glass filled with beer, held up by a pair of chopsticks lying in a V across the rim. Eric started off the salute, commanding us to answer the call.

“Ok, when I say Sake, you say bomb. SAKE!”


Each of us banged our fist against the table, loosening the chopsticks and causing the shot of Sake to drop into the beer. A loud crash sounded through the restaurant, startling most of the restaurant’s patrons while we each picked up our glass and chugged the Sake and Beer fusion, un-phased by the commotion we had just caused. Bill and I shook off the rough experience, not exactly regretting our decision; just glad it was over with.

“I think we’re ready to order,” said Eric while waving the waiter back towards us. “We’ll take an order of potstickers, the Yellow Submarine Roll, a Spider Roll, a couple lettuce wraps, and how bout a couple California Rolls.”

“Yes sir, coming right out.”

“Oh, one more thing; three more Sake Bombs please.”

“Whoa, Eric, heheh… are you sure that’s a good idea?” I whispered, nudging him on the shoulder.

“Oh yea, good call! Just give us three of those big ol’ 24 ounce bottles of the Sapporo and with our own bottle of Sake.”

“Wait, what’s going on?” Bill asked, his inattentiveness on full display.

“You got it, I’ll have those right out for ya.”

The waiter quickly returned, providing us each with our own bottle of beer and jar of Sake. Eric proceeded to set the example by pouring a half glass full of beer, mixing in a shot of Sake, then quickly downing the concoction, much before the mixture had time to settle. We followed his example by taking a Sake Bomb of our own. Eric poured another glass of beer, mixed in another shot of Sake and joined us. He seemed to have a handle on his Sake.

“Another Sake Bomb?” asked Eric.

“Well, if you say so,” I replied and Bill agreed. And down went another Sake Bomb.

“Ok guys, here is your California, Spider, and Yellow Submarine Roll.” The waiter set each plate down across the bar table, creating our own personal, Asain feeding trough, of which we took no shame and exposing our animal ways. “Is there anything else I can get you?”

“Yea,” replied Eric with a mouth full of Spider Roll. He held up his empty beer bottle with his right, the jar of Sake with his left, and then lifted up three fingers. The waiter seemed to understand, and quickly brought out three more bottles of beer and Sake with the rest of our order.

“One more Sake Bomb?” Eric requested.

“When I say SAKE you say BOMB!” Bill seemed more than eager to answer.

“SAKE BOMB!” I yelled in response and drank to his chant.

“Lets eat!” said Eric, reaching for a piece of the California Roll.

“Hey, that one’s mine!” I followed, reaching for my own piece before dousing it in a pond consisting of half soy sauce and half wasabi.

“I’ll give you the rest if you take a Sake Bomb with me.”

“SAKE BOMB!” We drank again.

“Hey Eric, try some of this Yellow Submarine Roll. It’s like the Beatles!” said Bill, excited for the contraption, especially after the Fool on the Hill incident.

“Ok, but you have to take a Sake Bomb with me.”


The two ate their Yellow Submarines and took their Sake, and the meal continued, each of us groveling in the fish, rice and seaweed creations presented before us.

“Eric, you haven’t even eaten half of your Spider Roll yet,” I teased.

“Oh yea, I’ll eat it all, don’t worry. But first, SAKE BOMB!”

“SAKE BOMB!” Bill and I replied and joined him in another. Soon afterwards, Eric finished off his Spider Roll, washing it down with another Sake Bomb, this time all for himself.

“Hey, we’re done with the Yellow Submarine. How bout another Sake Bomb?” Bill suggested.

“Yea, a Sake Bomb!” I replied. For some weird reason, the more Sake Bombs we took, the easier it was for us to drink.

“If you guys say so,” replied Eric, joining us in another toast, followed by a couple lettuce wraps, then another Sake Bomb.

“Oh, we still have the potstickers left,” said Bill.

“We’ll work on that. Eric, you take care the lettuce wraps. Sake bomb?”

“SAKE BOMB!” yelled Bill.

“Eric… Eric?”

“Hold on guys, I don’t feel very good.”

“Oh, you’re fine!” It was true. He did look ok; his demeanor hadn’t changed since we arrived, as he took on the role of host seriously.

“I need some water,” said Eric, taking the full glass of water in front of him, coated with condensation from the melted ice and pressed it up to his mouth. The rim of the glass touched his lips and the water disappeared.

“We good?” I asked. Eric hovered over the pint-sized glass, his lips curled as if he were using he cup as tobacco dispensary. Instead, a thick-brown substance seeped out, leaving a layer of film at the bottom of the glass. He paused for a moment, leaving time for his stomach to settle before returning to the cup. He leaned into it, and a smooth and solid stream of dense bodily fluid flushed out from his pink, curled orifice, quietly filling the glass completely full as if he were dispensing a Jamba Juice smoothie from his mouth. He set the glass down on the counter, where we sat; three boys, five empty plates but for a few spreads of lettuce and potsticker, six near empty bottles of beer, a bunch of Sake, and a pint of vomit at a sushi bar.

“I’m good.”

Eric’s reply was calm, as though he was unaffected his body’s recent rejection, but behind the cool figure, he was struggling. Sooner or later, someone would take notice and act unfavorably to a glass full of puke on the counter, hardly a sanitary situation to say the least, starting with Bill. He kept his face forward, acting like he didn’t know us and sipped on a glass of water, his attempt to alleviate his sudden paleness and preclude himself from undergoing a similar event. It wasn’t working though, for his eyes kept drifting towards Eric and the glass, turning his stomach closer to failure. He was fading, and fading fast. Something had to be done. I brainstormed and perused the restaurant—the bathroom was down the hallway, just between a few tables and seated guests, and there was something very peculiar about this collection of throw-up… almost like I had been here before… like I had seen it in a place, long, long ago…

September 4th, 2014: Opening day of the NFL season. Mike Gibson and I are eating Subway Sandwiches in a shop in Seattle. I’m cautious, for a Packers shirt can be cause for contention amongst a swath of Seahawks fans, especially on game day, and the green and yellow shirt is a sore contrast in a sea of blue jerseys. “Just don’t do anything stupid,” I tell myself, an easy enough thi—“Uh oh.”


It was at that moment that I realized I wasn’t as accustomed to smoking cigarettes as Mike Gibson was, and that perhaps matching him cig for cig until 4 in the morning while talking about the good times wasn’t the best idea for me or my un-acclimated body. I ran to the bathroom. “OUT OF ORDER” it says. I ran to the trashcan—I don’t make it. Puke goes everywhere; Seahawks fans stare at this Packers fan causing a mess, in THEIR Subway. It’s bad… really bad. I look over to Mike for help, desperate and hoping he is most merciful for my mistake. “What do I do?”


Mike takes a good, hard swallow of his sandwich, wipes his face with a few napkins, and gathers some more, his stature strong and stoic. No eye contact was necessary. “Pack it up.”




“Pack it up,” he says to me again. “We’re leaving.” He points his thumb hitchhiker style to the doorway and gathers what’s left of our sandwiches. His words linger, as I was still frozen in a panic, but Mike took control, commanding the situation towards safety. He walked and acted swiftly, and I stood next to my puddle of up-chuck, the words circling my head… “Pack it up… Pack it up… Pack it—“


“BAM!” My hand slapped down on the table and I rose to my feet. “I got this!”

“Wait, what?”

“I got this!” I repeated and reached for the glass of vomit, my eyes on nothing but the restroom in the distance.

“Excuse me, comin’ through! Oh hey miss, just let me squeeze by real quick… can you scoot your chair in just a little—oh, thank you. By the way, that’s a very lovely dress you’re wearing tonight. Oh hi, how are you doing—oh crap, sorry, didn’t mean to spill, I’m trying to—wait… oh my God, you look kind of like my friend Jimmy… No, you looke exactly like my friend Jimmy! Hey Bill, come over here, it’s Jimmy… Yea, Jimmy, Jimmy! Come over here and let’s get a picture—uh, hey, you don’t mind if my friend and I… just one… Awesome! Let me just set this down real quick… Alright, cool. 1, 2, 3, cheese! Great, thanks man, I hope you all have a wonderful evening! By the way, may I suggest the Yellow Submarine Roll? Yea, it’s delicious, well worth the price; the Spider Roll though, uh, er… not so much, for obvious reason! Well, nice meeting you. Cheers guys!”

I made it to the bathroom, the last five minutes blowing by in what felt like a matter of seconds, first going for the stall—occupied. Quick, don’t think, just act. The urinal was vacant, the coast was clear. With one swift motion I emptied the contents of the glass into the urinal with a minimal amount of spray splashing back onto my shorts—nothing I can’t handle. I set the glass on the bathroom counter, the smoking gun left at the scene of the crime, taking my cues from the Godfather, just as Michael Corleone would’ve done, and walked away as if nothing happened.

“What happened to the glass?” asked Bill.

“What glass?”

“Oh, what the Hell!” screamed a man from down the hall. By his tone, I assumed he was a restaurant worker. “Somebody barfed in the urinal again!”

“Check please!”


The night ended with a DJ session that Eric was so gracious to put on, showcasing his talents to us and to the rest of the residents of the Ballpark lofts, where we continued our mischief well into the night. The lack of oxygen in the air struck me at the edge of Midnight, leaving me in an unconscious state by the time we got back to Eric’s apartment. I slept heavy and dreamed hard; a dream so vivid, so lucid, and its characters and settings so familiar, that it became something more; two men conversing, knowing they want more in this life, and searching, deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole, down into the dark depths of inhumanity, and refusing to come out until they get what they’re looking for. There they sat, and searched… and searched…

Eric sits at a table with Bill. Bill says he is tired, his eyes strained and weary. Eric agrees to let him sleep, but he stares into him, requiring him to accomplish a simple task.


“Bill, do you realize the amount of potential you have?”


“Well, I guess I’m pretty—“


“That’s what I mean! Here.” Eric throws down a golden device, a round face with three hands, each with different lengths, moving at different speeds, and pointing in different directions. Bill is far too intoxicated to know what he’s supposed to do.


“What is this?”


“Sell me this watch.”


Bill stares at the mysterious device, unable to compute a logical explanation of benefit. He does not understand.


“Wha… What time is it?”


Eric looks over at a digital clock on a microwave. “It’s 2:30 AM.”


Bill’s palms get sweaty. He complains that he cannot sell such a device. He says he is far too tired. Eric’s mind strains, his search for a watch worth purchasing yielding no constructive results.


“I can… I can’t do it—“


“No. Bill… Sell me this watch.”


Bill drives himself into a world of tick and tock, becoming one with the mechanics of timepiece.


“It’s a gold watch, fine quality, beautiful steel—“


Eric tries to instruct him, but he cannot…


“Are you right or left handed, Bill?”




“I just sold you,” replies Eric. Bill knows this to be true, and knows what he must do to sell the watch, but the words cannot escape his lips. He grows weary as the time passes, the intensity of the each tick and each tock of the watch increasing, drilling into his head with a maddening desire to escape!


Eric stares at him, his head spinning “sell me this watch;” his arms swinging “Tick and Tock,” much like the hands of the golden device. Bill stares back in hopeless failure, crying the tears of a watch-less man.


In his mind he screams! It is raining a combination of hands pointing towards a relevant interpretation of time; he has “Sell me this watch,” engrained in his left temple… and he does not understand. Eric weeps in the corner long into the night. He is starving…


“Bill, please… sell me this watch…”


…Starving, for the watch…


“Sell me this watch… Sell me this watch… Sell me this watch…”

Chapter 5: Motel 666…

***DISCLAIMER***  I hate using that number combination in any circumstance.  Even the thought of it gives me the hibbie jibbies.  However, to remain true to my literary integrity, our experience must be described as such…



“America’s Best Value Inn: Free Hot Breakfast with Every Stay!”

It was the latest in a string of billboards looked upon with our dreary eyes, further shaming us on our drive away from Rock Springs that Sunday morning.

“Almost Home, Come Stay with us,” read the signs for Little America plastered across the interstate, of which a wrong turn onto I-80 West deepened the ignominy of our punishment; one wrong turn to double the amount of signs, staring down at us in full mockery over our brash decision.  “Little America, Didn’t we stop there last night?” asked Bill.  I just shook my head; another harsh reminder of a paradise lost, all in the name of frugality.

The beatings continued.  Days Inn, Comfort Inn and Suites, La Quinta Inn, Holiday Inn… each one with its own picture of a family in all smiles, partaking in some exciting hotel activity: lounging in the hot tub, playing in the pool, watching a thrilling show on the flat screen TV—they were relentless!  And they went on…

The evidence was stacked against us, our mistake obvious.  I knew it, Bill knew it—hell, even Gretch somehow knew it, and God knows she wasn’t going to let it down!

The worst though, was that they knew.  They all knew, their billboards unceasing with disgrace in order to make their points loud and clear.  We were to pay for our ignorance, our decision to stay at Motel 6 for a long, long, tim—

“KOA Campgrounds.  FREE WIFI!”

“Oh come… freaking… on…”


All of the warning signs were there, slapping us across the face the moment we walked in.  The wait staff was hesitant to serve; the patrons quick to eye us upon entry, an innate sense inside of them suggesting that we were indeed not from around here.  Our presence wasn’t the least bit welcome, like we were a couple of nerds setting foot in the roadside bar of a notorious motorcycle gang.  But of course, in typical, Hollywood fashion, common sense was ignored.

We wasted no time making our way into the bar section of Applebee’s upon our arrival the evening before.  It had been nearly a full day since the last time we tasted a brew, and we certainly deserved one, especially after such a long day.

“Howdy miss, I’ll take a tanker of your finest beer!” I told the waitress, my personality strangely chipper for the late hour.

“I’ll do the same,” said Bill.

“Okay.  Two Blue Moons coming right up.”

As soon as the beers arrived, our orders were placed.  Much like our beer drought, we had been without solid sustenance since we feasted on a half-cooked pizza from lunch, and if either of us knew anything, it was that a large variety of battered cheese and deep fried vegetables was required if we were to remain functional.  We ordered accordingly.

“Hey, I recognize this song!” I shouted as if I was a man of the cloth, professing the word of God on the street corner.  “Isn’t this the superman song?”

“Kryptonite I think, by Three Doors Down, except I can’t really tell.  All those bands start to sound the same after a while.”

“Haha, true!” I replied before taking a good sip of beer and peering out into the background of the Applebee’s dining area.  “Man… this takes me back to the year 2000.  What an awesomely horrible time for rock and roll.”  Bill and I shared a chuckle, and then a good swig of beer.

“Oh God, I can’t believe I actually liked some of those bands.  Creed especially.”

“What do you mean used to?  I still do!”  Bill laughed while I readied myself for my best Creed impersonation.  “Hold me naaaahaaa.  I’m six feyt frum di edg— an I’m thinkinn—an,” I sang, my voice deep, raspy, and barely comprehensible.  Both Bill and I broke out in a solid laugh, and again we took a good sip from our tankers as Three Doors down faded and a new song emerged through the restaurant.  “Wait, they aren’t—this can’t be…”

“…I think it is…”

“Freaking Nickelback???”

“Yep, I think we’ve officially reached the epitome of suck!”

“Ha!  God, it’s like we just so happen to stumble into the central hub for awful music.”

“No wonder Gretch likes Applebee’s so much!”

Mysteriously, Bill stopped mid-laugh and looked to the side, taking a large sip of beer with him.  “Hmm, that’s weird,” I thought to myself.  I brushed it off and continued with the banter.  “Oh man, that reminds me of this one time, my sister and I were visiting relatives and Nickelback came on the radio when we were on our way to pick up some Hardee’s for breakfast.”  I couldn’t help but chuckle during my own joke.  Bill remained quiet.  “Hmm, guess I’ll have to just be a little funnier then.  So anyway, that one song comes on, you know, ‘…The women come easy and the drugs dirt-cheap… and I wanna be a rock star…’ you remember?  Bill..?”  Bill shrugged his shoulders, barely a sign that he was half-attentive before looking off to the side again.  “…I mean, it was probably one of their worst songs, but she’s just belting it out, bobbing her head, getting into it, singin’ with so much passion!”  Bill gave me a quick glance and motioned his finger quickly across his throat in a peculiar way.  “What’s his major malfunction?  Man, she was looking like a big ol’ dork, thinking she was all cool cause that’s what all the kids were listening to at school.  You know, all the hicks and stuff, listening to total crap…  Bill, are you even listening?”

“…Oh… sorry, I was just—hey, check out the TV behind you.”  I turned my body to witness a bunch of basketball bloopers playing.

“So what? It’s the same thing that’s on the other TV.”

“…No, the one right behind you…”  Bill’s voice was much quieter this time, his nod more dramatic, not even making eye contact.

A glimpse was all I needed.  He was staring at me, a rough around the edges type of fellow, looking as though he had just come off a 16-hour bender at the oil refinery, most likely with the help of a few hits of meth.  He sustained a cold hard stare, and I’m not talking about the “I can’t keep my eyes off you,” type of stare—that I can handle.  It was more of an “I’m about to slit your G-D throat” type, enough for Bill and I to refrain from any sort of Nickelback jokes for the rest of the night, or even conversation for that matter.

“Here you guys go, mozzarella cheese sticks, beer battered onion rings, french fries, a patty melt, and a triple beef sandwich.”  The pace she set each item down on the table created a litany of tension, unbeknownst to her.  “Is there anything else I can get you?  Another beer maybe?”

“Just the check please.  ASAP!”


Our exit from Applebee’s was cautious and cryptic, taking every precaution to avoid a potential stabbing.  Neither one of us dared to take another look at the meth head; even the slightest indication of eye contact could induce agitation, and I for one wasn’t willing to find out the results.  And at 12%, we made sure our tip was above and beyond modest; no need to cause overt objection from the waitress.

“Dude, why are you running?” asked Bill.

“I’m not running, I’m just walking briskly.  Why are you running?”

“I’m running because you’re running.”

“Well it’s kind of cold out, and I’m only in a tank top!”

“Then let’s get to the car, quick!”

It was an all-out sprint the rest of the way and a swift entrance into the car, both of us scrambling to shut our doors and click our seatbelts in a timeliest fashion.  “Why are you changing the music?” asked Bill.

“I don’t know?  We listened to this album a bunch already.”

“Who cares?  We’ll change it later, just go!”

“Why, did you see that meth dude?”

“You mean the one who loved Nickelback?”

“Yea, that guy.”

“…No, I didn’t, did you?”

“He wasn’t at the table when we left… or was he?”

“I don’t know—oh no!”

“What if he follows us?  What are we going to do?  He might kill us—“

“Wait.  What was that?”

“What was what?”

“Didn’t you hear that?”

“I don’t think… unless—you mean… that?”

“GO!”  His words set an ignition, off into the desolation that was the industrial district of Rock Springs, which strangely seemed to expand across the full length of the town.

“Boy, there sure are a lot of semi’s around,” I mentioned to Bill.

“Yea, it’s like the whole town’s one dusty truck stop…”


“…I know…”


Our search for the ideal hotel was much more scrupulous than originally planned.  It was imperative that we find a lodging establishment that had a fair rate without sacrificing standard of quality, criteria that seemed to be quite discriminatory in the Wyoming trucker’s hub.  Lucky for us, the selection turned out to be rather plentiful, considering the size of Rock Springs.  “They must expect visitors like us passing through often.  It’s a wonder why they aren’t as friendly towards them.”

The Hampton Inn: our first prospect.  Always a decent stay, and in fact, one of my favorite hotel chains.  But their treasured amenities, usually consisting of a workout room, hot breakfast and pool would not be taken advantage of at this hour of the night, nor in the morning before our next leg of the journey.  Thus, the $136 price tag was out of our range.   We continued on.

Quality Inn, $79.99 a night. “They have quality written in the name…”

“Yea, but we can do better,” I suggested.  Bill acquiesced.

Days Inn: 74.99.  “Let’s keep going.”

Econolodge: $69.99.  Super 8 Motel: $64.99.

“Let’s try one more spot.”  There was something even better out there, there had to be.  I had a good feeling about it.

“What about quality?”  We’re sort of bottom feeding now, aren’t we?”

“This is America we’re talkin’ about man!  Everything is quality!  It’s not like we’re some third world country, like Detroit or something.”

“I heard they don’t even have an Applebee’s there.”

“God, it must be horrible—“

Motel 6: 59.99 per night. “DING DING DING!  I think we have a winner!”

The Benz was to be sent into hibernation for the night in the scarcely populated parking lot of the Motel 6.  Bill and I sat in solitude, settled by the still darkness surrounding us.  “You realize once we do this, there’s no turning back, right?”

Bill thought long and hard for a few seconds.  He knew, as did I that a no-go decision would result in further contemplation, and to the weary traveler, an extra ten minutes of hotel searches can seem like an eternity.  He nodded his head in concurrence.  “Let’s do this.”

We passed through the lobby, a narrow hallway consisting of tiled flooring in need of a decent mopping, three vending machines, an ice machine, and the exhaust of an air conditioning unit strategically placed to turn the room into a makeshift sauna, of which I’m sure they shamelessly advertised on the brochure. “Ding,” rang the front desk bell, followed by five more before catching the attention of the concierge, a middle-aged lady, hair greased and shirt stained with two heavy bags under her eyes.  Clearly, you could tell that she took pride in your work.

“Welcome to the Motel 6,” she muttered behind a heavy yawn, her breath reeking of fresh tobacco.  “Smoking and non-smoking available.  Single is 59.99 a night, double is 64.99.  Parking is any available spot near your room.  Coffee is available from 5 AM to 10 AM in the lobby…”

Free coffee?  What a deal!”  Her monotonous tone gave us the indication that she had repeated those words several times; a phrase memorized many long shifts ago.  Bill shared the same look as I, trying to play it off as if we were expecting this type of behavior.  I knew Bill however, and Bill knew me, and I knew that he knew that I was just as disgusted as he was.  He would never express it though, not publicly anyway.  Neither would I.

“Yes, we’d like a room for the night,” I said to the lady in a casual manner.  “Double please.”

“I need a driver’s license and a credit card.”  No enthusiasm was displayed in her response.  I pulled out my wallet, my mind and body pulling on opposite sides of the hesitancy spectrum.  “This is a bad idea… this is a really bad idea…”  Similar words ran several times through my head to stop the pull of my hand across the counter.

“Is it possible to split the bill onto two credit cards?” asked Bill, a noble attempt to show courtesy.  A heavy sigh left her mouth, sending a heavy gust of a stale, cigarette aroma directly into my face.

“Well, technically yes, but it’s a pain in the butt.”

“Uhh…” Bill shifted his eyes and face, unsure of how to appease both my pocket book and the lady’s cryptic desires that translated into shear laziness.  “…I mean, is there a cash machine—“

“No worries Bill.  I got tonight,” I jumped in, an extra $30 dollars well worth foregoing the trouble of dealing with a less than competent hotel worker.

“Ok, you guys are in room 217.  Exit the lobby and take a right.  Walk all the way down to the end of the building and up the stairs,” she told us before handing us the keys.  It wasn’t until after the exchange where the thought of identity theft crossed my mind.


“Dear God,” cried Bill as we walked into the room, a sub-conscious reaction to a dire realization… it was an actual possibility that we were standing at the gates of Hell.

A discharge of AC cranked all the way up to full blast pumped out a high volumetric flow rate of air equivalent to the temperature of the room—roughly 20 to 30 degrees hotter than the outside temperature.  “…I think the air conditioner’s broken…” I blurted.  If Bill were a lesser man, he would’ve shamed me in a mocking tone for making such an obvious observation.  Or perhaps he was still in utter disbelief over the decrepit conditions, so much as to keep him from mentioning another word for the time being.  Whatever the presumed motive for his sustained silence was, it couldn’t deter me from my own, prompted by our “less than ideal” situation.  “Might as well make the best out of this…” It would be the first of many attempts.

I threw an innocent shrug at Bill and turned my attention towards the TV, leaving him to toy with the AC unit all by himself.  Nothing but static filled the black box, a full 20 inches of CRT wonder.  I probably shouldn’t have expected anything more from such an antique, a purchase made during the hotel’s grand opening circa 1990.  After a few technical adjustments, techniques that spawned from years of fine-tuning the settings on my Sega Genesis and Nintendo Entertainment Systems, the static settled on a local station airing a title belt bout of two professional wrestlers from a small, Midwestern market.  “I can work with this,” I thought to myself, satisfying my strange penchant towards watching grown men in tight spandex pound on each other in the middle of a ring.

The commentators went on and on about these guys like they’ve been studying their styles for years.  “…He’s such a technical wrestler, he can just pin you with so many different maneuvers…”

“Man, what kind of crap are these guys spewing?  None this guy’s moves are even working.”  The commentators kept going on and on though, as if everybody watching knew as much as they did about the two wrestlers in the ring.  And what’s worse, they expected us to take their opinions seriously.  “What a bunch of turkeys!”

Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen my fair share of bad wrestling (see Bremerton Wrestling Blog), and these guys weren’t half bad, but let’s be honest, they were no John Cena.  But perhaps past my annoyance of a couple dingus commentators was the real story, a true underdog, presented right in front of us, the real reason to watch.  He wanted it so bad, a technical wrestler up against a titan whose skills were beyond his in every asset.  Yet, he pressed on, maneuver after maneuver with the heart of a lion, a Rocky like determination in real time, each attempted pin reaching closer to the three count needed to secure victory.  His opponent was wearing down beyond recovery, his body woozy and his head spinning.  This belt was his, and he was going to fight for it, no matter what it took.  Nothing could stop him, nothing could disrupt his spirit.  There was no way he was going to lose, barring an absolute miracle—

“Oh my—reversal—he’s setting him up for a powerbomb—Oh my God!  What a devastating finisher!” The commentators screamed, their excitement overly exaggerated just to piss me off.  Wait, what the hell just happened—

“One, two, three!”

“Ah, screw this!”  I shut the TV off, hoping to make a slamming of the door effect, or at least as much as I could with a firm depression of the power button.  I couldn’t believe it.  “It was like the guy was faking the whole time!  Both of them!  15 minutes of my life wasted!”  I retired my desire to watch wrestling that night, a little bit sweatier, and a little bit wiser.

“Well, I’m gonna grab a couple of Gatorades.  Do you have any change?”  It was a trick question.  I’d heard Bill’s hands rifling through his pockets mere moments before to empty its contents, trying to act as though he didn’t care for the sport of professional wrestling.  “Too bad.  His ignorance is no match for my keen senses.”

Bill stuck his hand in his pocket unwittingly as if he didn’t know what to expect.  “Uh… let me see…” His fist bulged out of his jeans, jerking about and trying to force out a pocket full of gold like it was trying to give birth.  “I think I may have some change—“

A swoop of an open fist shot out, followed by a sudden gasp of muggy air, an honest reaction before a clattering of metal hit the ground.  Bill’s eyes followed the path of coins as they dropped, rolling on an inevitable path under the bed well beyond our line of sight, deeper into the mystery that was underneath.  Bill stared at me, sending me a solid look of apprehension well beyond the moment the rolling actually stopped.  “Well, what are you waiting for?”  It was his change for cryin’ out loud!

It was a slow and hesitant maneuver, but Bill eventually found the courage to lower himself down to the floor and positioned his head under the bed.  One second later, the head whipped back up and Bill was back on his feet.  There was no emotion, no sense of panic.  He looked at me, shaking his head, his brow creased, squeezing the beads of sweat from his forehead and onto the floor.  “Nope.”

“It can’t be that bad,” I teased and jumped down to take a look myself. “There was at least $1.25 in cold hard cash!”

My hand pressed below the mattress, sinking into a mixture of dust and crumbled foam at least an inch thick.  I slowly turned my head and stared in horror.  There was a large build-up of debris adhered to my hand from the bond of sweat coating it.  “Don’t do it… don’t even…” The phrase ran through my mind over and over, an attempt to keep my eyes from wandering farther into the abyss.  But the feeling was too much to overcome.  It beckoned me, closer towards the disaster that laid ahead.  I had to look, that repulsive curiosity overcoming, much like Obi-Wan Kenobi’s when he wanted to watch the tape of Anakin slicing all those Jedi kids in half.

I suppose in the minds of some, it could be considered a gold mine, though I’ve yet to meet the bum with so little self-respect to subject himself through such degradation.  There were coins, lots of them… among other things, both legal and illegal; ancient artifacts from the early days of the hotel’s erection.  My eyes darted from piece to piece, all covered in a coat of dust, much like an old Egyptian tomb that had been freshly rediscovered after 1,000’s of years of dormancy, with Bill’s $1.25 being the latest of donations to the museum.  Among the exhibits were candy bar wrappers, food particles, playing cards, jewelry, keys, bottle caps, needles, and various other fluids, stains and items that… uh… let’s just say I find in the best interest of the reader to omit; items left over a span of years, decades perhaps, their owners coming to the same realization as us.  One: the motel’s policy to clean underneath the beds had either never been implemented or was non-existent.  Two, retrieving one’s items, no matter how precious and sentimental, wasn’t worth the risk of contracting a venereal disease, and with one simple look, I had become induced with a sudden urge to cleanse myself over fear of terminal illness.

In reality, I had been looking forward to such a cleansing the moment we woke up in Shaun’s apartment, as the 40’s we downed the night before still reared their ugly heads.  Besides, with a long day of hiking, driving, and going to the bathroom over and over again driving the desire for a warm shower, the catastrophe under the bed served as icing on the cake.

For a moment, as I felt the lukewarm water spray over my hands before it fell onto the yellow-stained porcelain, I was able to overlook the hotel’s deficiencies through the prospect of a thorough shower awaiting me, something I hadn’t had since Boise.  I stepped in and let the water pour over my head, choosing ignorance over the potential dangers of fouled water, knowing that the bar of soap graciously provided by the motel would work to eliminate most bacteria from the source, as long as every square inch of my body was covered.  I ran my hands through my hair, dried and sticky from a punishing two full days of heat and sweat, and I reached for the shampoo— “Wait a minute, where the hell…?”  The curtain swung open and my head turned back and forth in a frantic search for a means to wash my hair; to the counter, to the sink, to the floor, back to the shower, again to the counter, to the sink… “Son of a B!”

Upon suffering yet another disappointment, I exited out of the shower, the blistering heat proving that the time spent cleansing myself was simply a giant waste.  Bill stared emotionless at the moving image of two grown men dressed in tights, grabbing at each other in different positions with a river of sweat flowing down his shaking head.  In an unprecedented move, Bill had sunk to a new level of deplorability by turning the TV back on, but not even the male fondness for professional wrestling could shake the current heat index of our room. “Something’s got to give.”  I took his marching orders with full seriousness by letting Bill lead the way back to the front desk.

We stormed in with a mission in hand, having soaked in the cool 80-degree air as much as possible before walking through the Sauna to confront the gatekeeper once more.  This couldn’t stand. We deserved better… much better, especially for 60 bucks!  “What’s the deal?” asked Bill.

“Well, the air conditioner either works, or it doesn’t,” she told us, her eyes drooping ever more slightly, having added another coating of sweat and cigarettes to her scent since our last meeting.

“What do you mean?” asked Bill, baffled at her response.

“I mean, it either pumps out hot or cold. We can’t control which one. We’ve been having problems since February.” February… well, great. That would’ve been good to know ahead of time.

“Do you have any fans we can use?”

“Not tonight.  There aren’t any more fans left.”  Bill and I looked at each other in disbelief.  There was no doubt in our minds that she just pulled that out of her ass, though neither of us had the audacity to call her out on it.  The longer we lingered amongst her presence, the more we feared that our stay could turn an even darker shade of gray with the wrong phrase mentioned.  And the longer I thought about it, the thought that the motel’s deficient customer service record coupled with an overwhelming amount of disgruntled customers requesting fans for their rooms, so much that they had run out of supply seemed not only logical, but plausible.  And even if their supply was only one fan, technically she wasn’t lying to us.  “But sometimes, if you leave the window open, you can catch a nice draft…” Oh boy, a draft. That’s exactly what we want, a wide open window in the sketchy side of town, where Rock Spring’s finest have free rein to murder us in our sleep and take all of our stuff.  At least we have a draft though… too bad there isn’t any wind!

There was much disappointment in our lowered faces, one that siphoned down through our shuffle back to our room.  At the top of the concrete stair case outside our room, I took one final look back at the desolate cityscape that was Rock Springs, Wyoming.  Out in the distance, a shining light illuminated across a hill, just like the beacon of hope that Ronald Reagan was always so fond of.  It was so beautiful, so precious, and so close, yet so far away… There it stood, the Comfort Inn in all her glory, her patrons sleeping comfortably in their soft bed and air-conditioned room like the name suggested, equipped with shampoo and conditioner, and most likely a flat screen TV.  It was the girl of my dreams, the same one once within my grasp, but let go; and for what? A measly 15 bucks? I moped back to into our designated unit of the communist compound, for I couldn’t stand the sight of her, a shattered dream I gave up… one I’d never get back…

“Looks like we’re gonna need some of those Rockstars for tomorrow,” said Bill in passing before fiddling with window, seriously contemplating the advice the lady at the front desk gave us.

“Yea, too bad they’ve been sweltering in the back of the car…” My words faded and my body froze, my head cocked mid-turn.  A white, plastic bucket, originally gone unnoticed during our initial battle with heat exhaustion sat next to the TV unattended, its sole purpose to hold modest portions of ice.  Grandiose ideas flickered through my head, spinning and filtering from the very moment my eyes caught sight of the bucket.  “Wait a minute… we wake up by 8… 9 perhaps.  Ok, probably 7 with this heat.  I fill the bucket full of ice and put a Rockstar in there.  At this temperature, the ice will surely turn to a puddle of water by the time I wake, leaving the Rockstar chilled and condensating upon daybreak…  But there’s only room for one… Screw it, Bill can fend for himself…  An ice-cold Rockstar the moment I wake up, smooth consumption waiting for me, pouring all the way down my throat, soothing my esophagus on its way down, that blissful taste of sugar and chemical agents and… Oh… my… God…”

I snatched the bucket and headed down to brave the sweltering temperatures of the lobby one last time, now with a skip in my step having just received second life, life that was further replenished with the miraculous discovery of a fully operational ice machine.  Hope remained, if not but for a small glimmer within the few remaining hours of night.  Within the clutches of disappointment comes the potential for wisdom, even if it was at the expense of a good night’s sleep.

Many thoughts circulated through my mind that night as I laid in bed.  Was it the inadequate thread count of the sheets that kept me awake?  The steady development of rashes across my skin surely could’ve been a contributing factor.  Of course we were under constant threat of our Nickelback loving friend coming in and murdering us, as Bill decided it was best that he sleep next to a wide-open window.  The risk of suffering a heat stroke greatly outweighed the chance of any Nickelback loving meth addict snatching him through the window and performing terrible acts of cruelty.  If he were to come, I’d at least have a few seconds to plot my escape before he had a chance to come after me.  Bill, unfortunately, was doomed sitting in his current position.  It’s a wonder how he found the will to sleep with a surefire death sentence laying over his head.

And the evil pact I made to get passed the Tetons, all the rage and carnage brought about and consequences that followed, leading us to this God-forsaken place.  Man, the mind really is capable of doing dangerous things when Pink Floyd’s blasting in the car…  Was this really God’s way of punishing us for our actions? It couldn’t have been, for it was what we asked for—well, what I asked for… Bill was just a victim. I couldn’t understand how one person could be so forgiving, especially after putting him through an out of body experience and a night in Hell.  Lord only knows how Jesus did it for three.

Anticipation became the ultimate insomniac in the end.  My eyes periodically drifted over at my Rockstar, with small pebbles of water beads forming on the outside edge of the plastic ice bucket.  It was soon to be mine… all mine.  Only a few hours separated us.  I laid in that bed, under the ambience of stale air and passing traffic, thinking of the moment that liquid mixture touched my taste buds.  The harder I thought, the longer it would be, reliving my past childhood like I was awaiting the plunder of wrapped gifts on Christmas Day.  Out of all the madness and cruelty of such an abominable place, justice still existed, if only under the mercy of God.  I thought and looked forward to the moment, until the thoughts overcame the heat index, threat of death, itchy bed, and all other forms of stress, and I drifted into a soft slumber.


I rose from the bed the next morning, leaving several damp ovals where my body had once made contact across the sheets.  Nestled in the crook of the bed across from me lay Bill, his mouth hung open and eyes sealed shut as if he’d been shot with a tranquilizer gun.  Apparently, he had forgotten all about Nickelback man.  Either that or he killed him, so quickly and quietly that I hadn’t had time to notice.  Whether Bill was actually alive or not was the least of my concerns however; much more prudent engagements were on my mind.

The blurry image of a white cylinder pulsed next to a square, black box, images that slowly came into better focus with each hard swipe across my eyelids.  There was a prize in there, waiting for me, something incredible and tasty, a refreshing treat that had the ability to both quench my thirst and rejuvenate my dreary senses.  I rose and hobbled over to it, smiling, eager, ready for consumption.  It was so close, I could feel it’s cool touch radiating from the chilled water that had been left—wait a minute, where’s the water—why is the can still warm?

The horrible feeling of an uncontrollable sweat excreting from my pores reared itself back into reality as my hand clasped around a warm can.  What… in the hell… is going on—the cauldron of rage inside of me turned my head a darker shade of red as my next step soaked my foot in a puddle of water next to the dresser; a head already boiling from overexposure inside an insufferable oven.  Only a few explanations existed for this phenomenon, and with one phrase, I was about to eliminate most of them.  “BILL..?!”

Silence.  Complete silence.  Unconsciousness?  Ignorance?  Death…?  Murder?  Great.  One more stupid thing I have to deal with…”  Purely just another annoyance at this point.

I examined the room, looking for signs of intrusion, anything set out of place, anything out of the ordinary.  Hell, at this point, I’m not ruling anything out.  My head shifted and my body jerked about, desperate for reason.  This was all a complete joke, brilliantly executed by Bill—it had to be.  My ice cold Rockstar is hidden somewhere in this room.  He’s just faking he’s dead, that’s all… Well, he better quit faking pretty soon, cause all this faking is really starting to piss me off— My eyes glossed over the bucket and I froze, my explanation finally revealed.  The bottom had been punctured the whole time, long before we had arrived.  “Son of a B—”

“Huh?” said Bill, conveniently waiting after the onslaught of curses to lift his head and speak.  How could one motel in one town be the source of so much inhumanity?  What kind of evil must exist to produce such a perturbed establishment?  Why must we be subjected to such punishment?  Why God… why?

“Let’s just get the hell out of here…  As fast as we can.”  They were the only decent words I could muster without the use further foul language.


Miserable is being a meth addict living in Rock Springs.  Miserable is calling Nickelback your favorite band.  Miserable is consciously choosing to watch professional wrestling on TV to pass the time (I’m talking the small stuff, not WWE, which is actually pretty awesome).  The Motel 6 in Rock Springs was not miserable, it was not that ineffable feeling that was but a few short steps from a total anathema; it was something much worse.  Our drive out of town that morning wasn’t far off its mark.

We watched with humiliation as each hotel’s billboard sign pass, promoting total elation and rubbing it in our faces, brutal tools that facilitated the complete evaporation of our passion of life into the dry and rugged Wyoming landscape we had once adored.  Their words gradually faded into obscurity, a bully’s perpetual pounding, voiding us of any further feeling, and coldly accepting submission.

On the edge of town, though barely legible through my blurry vision and lack of my daily morning Rockstar, the message from the final billboard struck past my peripherals, reading loud and clear across a backdrop of a large 6…

Thank you for visiting Rock Springs, suckers!  Don’t come back… EVER!!!

Chapter 4: Careful With That Benz Zack…

In Wyoming, nobody can hear you scream…

“Oh no!” cried Bill. The tone of his voice combined with the amount of driving already accomplished created a high probability for an unbecoming scenario. He’s going to say we’re going the wrong way. I just know it.

Theoretically though, anything could come out of his mouth. But I knew better. I didn’t have to ask; yet I would anyway. For some foolish reason, in a silly attempt to hold onto some non-existent hope, I’d ask; that maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t what I thought it was… I would ask, but I already knew—He better not say we’re going in the wrong direction… He better not say it…

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“We… we made a wrong turn. We’re… we’re going in the wrong direction.”

I knew it. I freaking knew it.

“Well, where do we gotta go?” There I go again with another question I didn’t need to ask. Bill stalled for a second. C’mon dude! Daylight’s burning and we’re wasting time! “Bill…?” He better not say back to Jackson Hole… No way I’m going back. Not this time… He better not say Jackson Freaking Hole…

“Back through Jackson Hole.”

Damn it!

“Nope. Not doing it.”

“But Zack, we got to—“

“That’s easy for you to say! You’re not the one who looked like a dingus in front of every— what?” I didn’t like the look on his face; something wasn’t right, I could smell it. “…You knew the whole time didn’t you?” Bill lowered his head, unwilling to utter a sound. “We’ve been driving for 45 minutes, and you wait until now to say something?”

“It wasn’t that long ago—“

“Then when was it?” Again, Bill countered with silence. Who knows how long he’s been sitting on this information? Was it since we put on “Don’t Fear the Reaper?” Cruisin’ down the road with the sun setting over the Tetons and all that cowbell blasting through the speakers sure made us feel stellar. Or what about when we stopped to get gas and a Mountain Dew? I bought him an entire 1-liter! It was so good, I pretty much forgot about the whole moose incident, until now! I guess Bill never heard the old adage, “Bad news doesn’t get better with time.”

“Look, there’s a highway 189 south, but I don’t know exactly where it leads to,” said Bill while perusing the pixilated map on his phone, poorly generated from the spotty cell phone coverage provided in rural Wyoming. It appeared that my unnerving tone had forced Bill to reevaluate his proposed route.

“What about this dot?” It was the only point of relevance shown, a point unbeknownst to us would eventually dimensionalize into the hellhole known as Rock Springs.

“But we don’t know what it is, or where it leads to… And what if it’s out of our way? Do we have enough gas? We already lost 45 minutes! How much longer? Another 45 minutes? Hours? Days??? I don’t know if we can risk…” Only words. That’s all they were; too many of them, drowning in Astronomy Domine and its succession of lowering pitches that opened Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma. The looming decision drilled into my skull; beating, pounding, attempting to take control; sending me into a state of madness, one of which I was desperately working to stay afloat. Each second of delay marked an exercise of exasperation. Bill went on and I sat, forced listen and watch… watch the remaining pigments of light waste away from contemplation.

I stared… I stared beyond the walls of the canyon that enveloped the isolated highway; it stared back with a shot of smugness, a confrontational smirk of superiority. “Come. Come and see what’s inside…” The rocky landscape set a tension on my soul, urging me towards her, inviting me to discover the secrets hidden deep within the heart of the beast. “Come… I dare you.” It was a challenge to drive, a bet that we wouldn’t make it out alive. I set the car into drive.

“Zack, wait—“

Too late. Hard contact between my foot and the gas pedal sent the Benz speeding off into the south, leaving behind Jackson Hole and all of its self-imposed misery. The madness, however, lingered, concentrating deeper the further we traveled down the rabbit’s hole.




The sun pressed down on the canyon walls, sending a sharp and sudden chill into the car; a most rotten chill… the presence of death. It would be our only company.

“Maybe we should slow—“ Bill came to an abrupt stand still, silenced by the soft, yet commanding Wah pedal augmenting the tone of the guitar coming through the speakers; a tone that altered my perception of reality. We were under its control now, our destiny purely dependent on its mercy. Bill’s arm hair stiffened from the thousands of beads along the surface of his skin, formed within a matter of seconds…

Alone in the heart of Wyoming, the most sparsely populated state in the country, nobody can hear you scream. He knew it. He accepted it. He fully understood it…

…I did not.

My eyelids narrowed, beating into a nature that I was in contest with; a nature that had taken me into consumption, all driven by an eerie organ solo, now in harmony with the existing guitar procession. Bill watched from the corner of his eye as the speedometer rose with steady inclination. “69… 70… 71…”

For a short moment, I came out of my meditated conscious. Logic prevailed for that short moment, one last-ditch effort to save me from myself. It presented me with a choice; a stark contrast of reason and madness, a choice between good and evil, one last chance to turn back before becoming one with the darkness taking over. I turned to Bill and smiled. “75… 76… 77…”

Bill lowered himself into the crease of his seat, playing out a variety of possible death scenarios that could culminate in the lonely patch of the Wyoming wilderness. It was the only thing he could do. He dared not speak, not for the time being, for any uttered syllable would do nothing but exacerbate the situation. His words would simply be of no use… he was talking to a ghost.

“Hopefully we’ll drive off a cliff and the car will explode on impact. It’d be the quickest, and definitely the least painful. But what if we flip over into a ditch—God I hope we don’t flip over into a ditch… I wonder how long it takes for somebody to bleed out? Even if it’s an artery, that still takes a long time, I think… Are there wolves out in Wyoming? What if we’re stuck and get eaten alive, or have a group of vultures slowly peck away at my skin—Oh God, not the vultures…”

The centrifugal force caused by the sharp turn on the highway knocked Bill’s concentration and shifted his body towards the center console. The swift force went unnoticed by me, as did another glance at the speedometer from Bill, his curiosity only a vehicle to intensify his anxiety. “85… 86… 87…”

One by one the bugs gathered, mosquitoes, dragonflies, wasps, moths, entire arthropod families, accumulating onto the surface of my windshield, a newly designated insect burial ground; It was distinct life, a conglomerate of free spirits roaming the earth one second, and an indistinguishable mulch of blood and guts the next, all with no warning whatsoever. The mass genocide was horrifying, fuel for my decent into darkness. It was total power, an evil pact with Mother Nature bestowed upon me, to control, to live… to destroy. Bill’s heart was sent into a furious tremble; I could feel it. “90… 91… 92…”

Bill’s knuckles turned white as he gripped the side handle of the door and turned whiter as the music built into an anticipated climax, anything he could do to hold onto dear life. My knuckles turned white as I gripped the steering wheel, unwilling to give up the power I had just inherited. “No one man should have all that power,” wise words from the great philosopher Kanye West proving all too well to be accurate; wise words that had vanished from every crevice of my intellect.

Bill’s breaths turned heavy and rapid in a panic; mine turned heavy and rapid—in through the nose and out through the mouth—to focus in on the task at hand, a task forced upon me by nature, void of its internal meaning. “100… 101… 102…” His eyes widened with fear; mine with rage. There were veins—horrendous veins, bulging from my dilated pupils, doped with an extra dose of adrenaline, waiting for their moment to burst.

The music’s tension was heavy now, a bomb seconds from detonation, a bat on the verge of making its run out of Hell, an axe murderer ready to snap, ready for destruction, ready to release carnage—complete carnage on a population! Victims, all innocent and unsuspecting! Seconds from the end… the end… the end—

Then, the words entered my head, softly, subtly, with no hint of its origin but for the dying sun, bleeding out a dark shade of red across the barren desert. They existed as its last words, a catalyst for annihilation. The last words my conscious recognized…

“Careful with that Benz Zack…”

“107… 108… 109… 110—”


The cacophonous cry matched the growing roar of my engine, an ugly farewell to the last traces of forested life. Thousands of more bugs met the speeding deathtrap, joining the growing number of its kind. There they laid to rest in several deformed pieces, turning into a thick film as the windshield wipers swung back and forth, inciting my sick and twisted pleasure; one that I wanted, one I needed… one I just couldn’t get enough of.

Bill brought the car to a violent shake, unable to calm the senses triggered by the kamikaze mission he had foolishly joined. I joined in his tremble, unable to calm the excitement from the kamikaze mission I had foolishly accepted. My bloodshot eyes beamed at the changing road and landscape moving back and forth against the winding blacktop.   I crossed over solid white and yellow lines, a combination of colors and shapes whose significance had been forgotten in my fit of fury. Any wrong move meant instant death, a concept that could not be acknowledged, not to a full-blown crack head, his habit fulfilled for the time, yet still in demand for more of his fix, and getting exactly what his heart dangerously wished.

There was darkness now, darkness that encouraged—demanded our intense push forward! Deafening screams continued to howl through the car, challenging my sustained psychosis. “Please… stop!” I couldn’t tell whether it was the Benz or Bill crying out for mercy; both were subjects to the cruel and unusual punishment.

The rocky landscape, changing ever so rapidly with the increase in speed, became one solid streak of brown stone, seamlessly turning a darker shade as dusk turned to twilight, and twilight to starlight. Air, country, and road had become one with each other. The thick film of permanently deformed insect parts continued its build with each stroke of the windshield wipers, worsening the field of vision again and again until it was non-existent.

Then, there was nothing… nothing but a solid black piece of metal flying down a black road at intense speeds, the operator’s mind blacked out with rage, made to traverse the blackened countryside against the black of the night. There was no trace of our existence except for the constant scream inside and out of the car, dragging on and on until there was nobody left to utter a scream, their silence commenced by the parched and swollen throats that had expensed the remainder energy required to make a sound. The music continued on; the developed fury unabated, even in the absences of screaming. The drug had accomplished its deliberate effects, lasting well into the night. It was the last thing I remembered… the last resemblance of a coherent thought…




We pulled into the gas station of Little America in the middle of a line of semi-trucks, having survived a roller coaster that had intentionally been blotted from memory. The car was in one piece, puttering into the gas station with less than a gallon of gas and a solid streak of organic bug compounds across its windshield.

“Hey dude, we’re ahead of schedule! How about we stop at this place called Rock Springs for the night? I saw a sign for it a few miles back… It looks like it’s only about 30 miles from here… I’ll start pumping up and get us a Rockstar or two. Maybe you can start wiping the windshield down. It’s gonna need it big time, and it might…” I stopped. Bill sat in the corner of his seat, permanently lodged in the small crease between the seat and the door. His body was emotionless, completely frozen except for the constant vibration sent throughout his whole body and cold droplets of sweat pressed out from his brow and down his bug-eyed, pale face, dripping into his mouth held agape.

…It was simply no use. I was talking to a ghost.