The troublesome things that a wayward traveler sees on the road are not there to shake his psyche or even put pits in his stomach, however, they are there to be seen, and, once they are seen, it is the wayward traveler's duty to report what he has witnessed and how it has made him feel.
Recently I drove around the United States with two of my best friends, Winston Churchtree and Frederick "Falling" Rocks. We dubbed the voyage "The American Loop" — drive through the northern half and then swoop down through the South, with more than 8,000 miles of driving in three weeks.
I am not going to take you through the entire event because that would take far too long, and frankly I do not have the energy for it. However, like a broken-down, dirty presidential candidate, I would like to tell you about some of the specific people I met and shed some insight into some of the places I visited. Be warned, in embarking on this trip, we did not seek out the normal, the healthy or the privileged. Our ship, which was a 2009 Honda Fit, was steered in the direction of the strange, the indecent and the misunderstood.
The first place that really shook the hinges off my understanding of the United States was Shippersburg, Penn. Some 20 miles off the I-80 we found ourselves in the dark, unknown world of Pennsylvania. The streets were lined with large, boxy, white houses displaying a single candle in each window. There were no streetlights, and we did not see a soul, but we had a feeling that everyone knew we were there. Our destination was the Lakeview Motel — we did not know much about it, except that it was cheap and we had driven as far as we could for the night.
We finally pulled up to the motel. The broken-down, unlighted sign looked as if the place had been abandoned. There was no office or front desk, only a closed restaurant and an attached bar that appeared to be open. We entered the bar to find, what seemed like, the entire population of Shippersburg. As we walked in all eyes immediately turned to us — we were outsiders, and they could smell it. We were committed, though, so we dealt with the looks and took a seat at the corner of the bar near the exit.
I sat next to a short fellow, with a patchy gray beard, a sweaty cap and Coke-bottle glasses. He would rip shots of whiskey every five minutes or so, and then, with his tiny, thick fingers he would wrestle a Pall Mall cigarette out of his pack sitting on the bar. There were bikers clad in leather, hunters wearing their camouflage and truckers wearing whatever truckers wear. A karaoke machine was set up, and a large woman was belting out some Avril Lavigne.
The man sitting next to me was called Jim, and he finally broke his silence when a man starting singing karaoke.
"Ah, not again!" he yelled.
He told me that the man's singing sounded like two cats making love behind a pile of wood, which surely must not be a pleasant sound. He laughed his hissing, smoke-driven laugh. And like that, the floodgates to Jim's life had been opened.
He said he had not bought beef in eight years because he prefers to hit deer with his truck. He laughed about the time that he cut a deer's throat with his knife instead of shooting it with his gun so he would not wake the neighbors.
Covered in blood, he swore that he, then, went to his son's basketball game at the high school. He spoke of trucking, the military, terrorism, his children and his God-given right to wield a gun — he was packing right there, I'm sure of it.
All of these topics were fine. I could surely understand them and hold a simple conversation with Jim, really just asking the right question so that he would continue talking. However, he then dropped a bomb that no one was expecting. Although, given the eerie feeling of the town and strange characters in the bar, we probably should have expected something like this.
Witness to two murders
As nonchalantly as you can imagine, Jim told me that he was a witness in two murders. It was one incident with two deaths, and he declared, ever so simply, that he was the target. Further, the murders had taken place in the very bar where we sat.
Jim had taken the job of his ex-lover at the bar, and she, disgruntled, grabbed a pistol and went to the bar for revenge. She entered the bar and shot two people dead. Then she turned her sights on Jim. She pointed the gun at his head, and a scuffle broke out. Jim did not speak clearly because, as he was telling me this, he ripped three or four more shots and sucked down at least five Pall Mall cigarettes — but, one way or another, Jim escaped the attack and was still working at the bar.
While Jim was telling me his murderous tale and declaring that, if he saw the woman again, he would put her in the ground without a second thought, the large woman who was singing karaoke had taken a liking to Winston. She was putting it on very heavy. She had revealed, rather quickly, that she left her husband yesterday because he was addicted to crack cocaine and had tried to murder her.
Well, that was about enough for us. We had no intention of waiting around for her husband to walk into that bar, which was surely the only bar in town, and take his drug induced jealously out on us. So we retired to our small room with one bed and paper-thin walls. We did not sleep well that night.