:: FALL 2017 TRAVEL WRITING CONTEST FINALIST ::
Fireworks, warrants, chicken barbecues, golden bullets, Craigslist, bubble coats, dead bodies, roll-your-owns, the Bay, breakdowns, buried weed, SoCal losers & Austin.
W e had to get the fuck out of Texas. Besides getting kicked out of the apartment we piled up in, most of us had warrants out for our arrest and we had just spent the last of our collective money bailing Luke out of jail.
It seemed every hasher from the cold and frozen Northeast landed unemployed in Austin that winter, looking for a nut. No one worked. Some people had food stamps to support chicken barbecues in the dusty backyard of the Comal house, where Drew rented a room. We began camping outside a cave in the Greenbelt. I spent the hot days kicking rocks around the sidewalk, hoping for something to change.
At the library with a guest pass, I signed on to Craigslist, searching for a come-up.
“Drive my bus from TX to SF,” the ad read. I responded and a reply came from Robinsong: “Pick up the keys from my friend. Save receipts. Drive to San Rafael. I’ll send you money.”
People piled on, some who were planning on it and others who couldn’t say no. We managed our way onto the highway and took a left out of Texas.
Sparkling, sundrenched images of a plush hippie bus and beautiful women roped in smoke flurried through my imagination.
We talked on the phone. I faxed a photocopy of my ID and picked up $400 at the Fiesta Mart Western Union. In a full-sized orange cheese-wagon, we rolled up to the front porch on Comal Street. People piled on, some who were planning on it and others who couldn’t say no. We managed our way onto the highway and took a left out of Texas.
We drove and drove and drove, stopping only for gas. Long shadows of mountains and mesas stretched out in front of us and shrunk as the sun climbed higher, as the day got on. The windows caked in icy frost then thawed like hot breath while descending from New Mexico to Arizona’s Painted Desert.
The bus broke down in the Petrified Forest in sweltering heat. Riders climbed on and off and kept busy reading, rolling cigs and drawing in Sharpie, covering the white ceiling to the rivets.
When we finally broke through to the Pacific, we ran in the sand at the base of towering cliffs. I felt tiny like a mouse and jumped in and out of the freezing-cold water. We drove up the 101 along sheer rock faces, past beaches studded with packs of elephant seals, and shot fireworks off the pier in Santa Monica.
A college kid was fixing a dryer on the street when a dumpy truck pulled up and I saw those gelly spikes glinting like glass. He stuffed a freezer bag full of weed under John’s arm and said, “Don’t be shady!”
By the time the radiator blew in San Luis Obispo, we were ready to get rid of the bus. I called all the numbers I had until finally a guy answered, said he was Robinsong’s boyfriend and told us where to go.
The fantasy hippie babes we had imagined turned out to be a handful of bona fide SoCal losers. No money or jobs — one asked if Connecticut was in Delaware. The one with spiky gelled hair and a bubble coat told us in hushed baby tones that they “don’t have money, but have…stuff…acid, mushrooms, weed…”
Tyler was along for the ride seeing the country for the first time and had put up everything my meager unemployment check didn’t cover. His stutter kept him from joining the military the way he wanted, and he wasn’t interested in “stuff.”
Weed seemed the most marketable. A college kid was fixing a dryer on the street when a dumpy truck pulled up and I saw those gelly spikes glinting like glass. He stuffed a freezer bag full of weed under John’s arm and said, “Don’t be shady!”
The place was caving in and the walls were draped in mold. We pissed in the back and shat in a hole in the floor.
We beelined for the tracks to smoke a cig and strategize. A trimmer friend in the Bay thought they could help us peddle the stuff if we came and stayed with them. So we bused up to Oakland. The first thing I found walking on the sidewalk in West Oakland was a tiny gold bullet. Kids banged on the trash cans and sang “Fuck the Police.”
We waited on the corner, doing our best to look regular, until we dipped one by one behind a sheet of plywood into a dilapidated old house, where Carl and Ashley were squatting. The place was caving in and the walls were draped in mold. We pissed in the back and shat in a hole in the floor.
Carl and Ashley had a street-rat swag that got us in and out of trouble from Oakland to San Francisco and back every day for as long as it took to pay back Tyler. We stayed with them until a dead body was pulled out of the back yard.
On our last night in the Bay together, John and I slept behind the bushes in the Safeway parking lot. I still had a decent chunk of weed left, so I buried it in a Funyuns bag, in case anyone bothered us. Months later, once I was back on the East Coast, Carl called asking which bush I had buried it under. I described it to him and he dug it up and sold what was left.
Michael Boushee lives in Woodstock, New York, where he works as a gardener and occasionally writes.
Lead image: Luke Porter