Neon Moonlight Meat #1

The best part of the trip, the part I try to retain at almost any cost, is when you lose all consciousness as to where you are or where you’re going, and are simply piloting the vehicle down the road, trusting that at some point in the past you had the wisdom to point the vehicle in the right direction and that the purpose of the journey will become clear at any moment, or maybe not, maybe even preferably not, cuz what’s the rush anyway, and when’s the last time you lost yourself, forgot who & where you are and simply went with it, sunny day and all, tomorrow be forever damned?  Approaching light speed, really, of the road trip heart & mind.  If you travel fast enough, it is possible to outrun the hours and transcend the bars of invisible iron that delineate the difference between day and night, hours, minutes, seconds and such, and live simply in the moment.  The experience of time becomes suspended, literally, as in a gelatin.  Of course it helps to not have engine trouble, and to be sufficiently caffeinated.  Indeed, I have found that the efficiency of the operation of my engine is directly related to how much caffeine I’ve had; all my engine problems are psychosomatic, but then again, what isn’t?

And so it is thus we begin our crawl up the inner thighs of outer space, hitting rapid hippie speedballs before emerging from a pile of laundry and clothes all suited & booted for battle, hardcore candystore camouflage, armor always shining.  By armor I mean sunglasses, hairstyles, and teeth.  The time will come when you have to defend yourself against local hoodlum, cop, or creep, and these weapons need to be kept in prime condition if you wish to stand any chance at all against anything except the most determined, psychotic foe.

The show tonight is in Leadville, Colorado, in a concrete room with tall ceilings, and there is a giant heater immediately behind stage left, pointed out over the stage toward the room.  It is a large, industrial heater designed to heat large concrete rooms with 30-foot ceilings in towns with a 10,000’ elevation in January, with a blast zone of at least a dozen feet.  It would kick in intermittently and blow a huge quantity of dry, overheated air directly over the stage, at about the place where the bass player ought to ideally be standing.  Like, a forceful, speeding bulldozer of extremely hot air, four feet tall blowing right at your back.  While we were setting up the mic stands the guy was like, “yeah, sorry about the heater, hahaha,” and I guess it was pretty funny, though it was hard to tell, the heater running at the time, devouring all conversation and sound and drop of earthly moisture in its path, leaving nothing behind but the shimmering visual of the manager making laughing gestures with his body, which seemed to be steadily decreasing in substantiality, until nothing threatened to remain except the spirit of the thing, whether laughter or homicidal mania, it was becoming difficult to tell.  The heater then stopped, and the manager regained his full physical integrity, and something uninteresting was in the process of being said about a sound machine of some kind or another, and with a laugh he said he would turn off the heater for the duration of the performance.

Which turned out to be pretty good, in fact, culminating in an actual hotel room with an actual shower instead of camping in the snowdrifts, parked under a “no parking” sign, waiting for the sun to come up under a thousand blankets in December.  The attendance wasn’t fantastic, but the show was fun in spite of itself, and I walked back to my motel room in the ice & snow, through the little mining town where the citizens once carved an entire palace out of ice to entertain themselves, and lit it up with all manner of candles, lamps, and tealights, at the end of the 19th century, and the moon shone blue & neon white as I walked under the giant looming peaks to the west:  large, intimidating fields of rock & snow cocked at crazy angles to the sky; great, billowing sails of ice that threaten to topple over you at any moment.  I made my way back to my toasty motel room and crawled under my giant quilt, coffee and TV machines standing sentry against the ice, and slept like a baby, which is to say, a human.

The morning never comes, however, as everybody knows, and when I regained consciousness I was no longer in Leadville, but by an act of subconscious driving had relocated to the woods, the woods located just above the kitchen, to shed my own exterior, my serpent-skin in waiting.  I started a fire with a small, abandoned town and watched the fighter jets play ping-pong with the stars, tracer rounds like fireworks, the loud & deadly boom & doom of blooming flowers.  Arizona, somewhere.  Hard to tell exactly.  Alien Valley, perhaps.  Mingus even … trucknose.  At the moment it’s hard to tell, and there is no particular need to.

There was a horrible song with a wonderful message blaring in the men’s room of the truckstop, whereabouts near Denver.  It was an artless coalescence of such grating, disparate elements so singularly & sonically unappealing it was frankly unbelievable, yet the message was uplifting.  I was simultaneously nauseated and encouraged, and wondered for a moment if the quality of today’s sonic entertainment isn’t ingeniously designed to make revolting the very idea of self-empowerment and inspiration, so repugnant was the song, blaring like an elephant amongst the piss-fumes in the men’s room.  My breakfast found the message uplifting as well, apparently, and attempted to express its queasy-religious ecstasy by crawling up the back of my throat and hurling itself over the railing of molars standing between itself and the great beyond.  Fortunately, I was able to quell the uprising, and I left the men’s room quietly & quickly, past the shelves of shot glasses & audiobooks, through the door of greasy hot-dog glass and the sunny, treeless place of eternal unrest between the gates of hell and the gas pumps, to begin my search for a place to spend the night, somewhere with my peace pipe, way up in the mountains.


Peace can be elusive, but as they say, the fun is in the chase.


I found a place on a rough, unmaintained road through a deep canyon with steep walls and a loud, rushing stream that sounded like hissing static, interspersed with birds.  My van is not an off-road vehicle, and dislikes these roads intensely.  Often I am driving very slowly around sharp rocks and other hazards, though I pay no attention whatsoever to anything that might damage the finish or any of the useless accessories attached to the exterior.  My rearview mirrors flop around at the slightest breeze, and various lights and switches and panels are always falling off if I slam the door too hard, or close the door at all.  The paint job, therefore, means nothing to me, and the occasional grating sound of the thorny fingers of a juniper tree scratching up my paint job as I maneuver my way around a cactus is just another way to remind myself that everything is temporary, and not to cling too tightly to the world, and the misery thereof.  When I accidentally back into a tree and leave my bumper hanging there, I don’t bother with it the way I used to.  The bumper wants to stay behind, let it.  It had a good run.  I wasn’t even aware it had fallen off until a hundred miles after I’d left it behind.  I was more distressed about losing the two gallons of water perched on it, than in losing the bumper itself.  Besides, I’ve had vans that look a lot worse than this one, more like creepy little homes for loathsome deviants than vans, weird little van-homes with interiors lined with shag carpet, like the inside of a dry, dusty stomach, carpet that would snow on you if you touched it, an itchy, synthetic snow-dust that got in your eyes while you were piloting the weird mechanical distortion toward anything that resembles an off-ramp, because almost certainly we need to get off the highway immediately, even though we were just now underway, the engine itself nearly impossible to start, a process that required eyegoggles, screwdrivers, and spraycans containing all variety of instant magical engine dust.  Moreover, the new van is very nicely camouflaged with a Jesus fish, making it less likely in the perception of the general public to be housing a hippie sympathizer such as myself, and though the symbol of the Jesus fish does not please me aesthetically, as a practicing Jesus-fish sympathizer in my own right, neither is it to me entirely anathema.


© July 2016
Nathan Payne

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