February 03, 2010

China Rider

By Tenzin McGrupp © 2010

"We're gonna drive all night," I said.

The first thing we needed to do was gas up. Most gas stations sell maps, both locally and regionally. We had nothing. No GPS. Not even a clue how to get out West. But I figured we'd start out with what was in front of us.

I found two maps. The first was a western Pennsylvania map that included a bit of West Virginia. The other map was a Mid-Eastern United States map that covered Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. I bought the second map. Those states was not our target destination but it helped to know what was along the way. I rarely worked outside of the West Coast. Plenty of NoCal to SoCal runs, at least two or three times a week. Sometimes I made runs over to Reno or down to Santa Fe, and occasionally a run to Las Vegas.

We didn't have much in the way of provisions, like sandwiches and beer. Since we were going to be driving all night, it seemed stupid to drink and drive. Not that either of us are adverse to such behavior. But we were technically working and on a tight schedule. We'd have to drive from Pittsburgh all the way to Denver without stopping unless it's for gas or to take a shit. We had a piss jar that would be used when the time came. The optimal plan would be to schedule shit breaks and/or meals during gas stops. Since I didn't have to shit, I stocked up on apple juice, cigarettes, and a bag of M & Ms. I usually roll my own cigarettes, but since I chain smoke when I drive, I knew it would be a pain in the ass to roll my own while driving. Shit, Earl had problems pulling his dick out of his underwear to piss, let alone try to roll me a cigarette in a moving car. Besides, the way we planned it out, we'd drive two or three hour shifts. The other person would take a nap then and we'd change back and forth until we got to Denver.

Earl and I just dropped off a couple of duffel bags in Philadelphia. We didn't ask what was in the bags. I had to assume it was powder. Heroin. Maybe cocaine. Meth perhaps. I didn't ask. That's why I always got hired. I never asked questions and never missed the deadline. We did the Chicago to Philly run for one of Uncle Louie's people that he knew from his time in the joint. For that favor, we got paid $2,000 and a suite in Atlantic City. We blew all the money in one night and got stuck in AC trying to figure out how the hell we were going to get back to California. That's when Earl called up Uncle Louie and asked him if he needed any drivers. Just so happened that one of Uncle Louie's clients needed safe delivery of a package from South Jersey to Pittsburgh. Earl didn't ask about the contents of the suitcase. I didn't want to know either, especially after I took one look at those serious-looking goombas. Cold-blooded killing motherfuckers. We kept our mouths shut and got the hell out of there. All I cared about is that it paid us $500, or enough gas money to get us to Colorado because Uncle Louie had something for us to transport from Denver to San Francisco. Once we finally made it safely home to San Francisco, we'd be flush with a taste of the product and a fat bonus for a prompt delivery. But all of that hinged on if we could get to Denver is less than 24 hours. Otherwise, someone else would get the run and we'd miss out on an easy payday.

I didn't trust Earl. It's not his fault. His ex-wife screwed him up pretty good and he'd often lose concentration. He'd let his mind wander about what his ex was doing at that precise moment. Sex. Drugs. Watching TV. Whatever. He'd always get depressed and fall into a funk. Sometimes it would him take hours to snap out of it. On the drive from Chicago to Philly, he got all twisted up and abruptly pulled over and call her. I had to do the rest of the drive by myself while he constantly texted her. I told the fuckin' moron that the cops can trace us whenever we called known acquaintances. He knew Uncle Louie's rules -- no calls from cellphones -- and he was breaking them. Earl promised that he wouldn't pull any of that bullshit, as long as I didn't rat him out. But I didn't trust him. This bitch put one helluva hex on Earl and he was strong enough to fight it off. If possible, I was going to ditch him in Denver and finish the run out West by myself.

I figure that I'd let Earl take the first shift. Three hours to Toledo as long as there wasn't any construction. The interstates were the fastest way to get where we were going. We were in a rush but didn't want to do anything stupid like get stopped for speeding. As far as I knew, Earl had a clean license. That's why he was a driver. Never arrested. Which shocked me because Earl was such a fuck up with the ladies. He was a decorated vet, so I was told. First Gulf War. Something like that. He killed a few of Saddam's Republican Guard with his bare hands, yet he can't handle his chick problems. All I know is that as long as he focused on the road in front of him, then we were fine. Once those thoughts of the ex seeped into his brain... then we were fucked.

We weren't riding dirty. I made Earl get rid of the few roaches in the ash tray. I told him to hold whatever he was carrying. Sometimes drivers used meth or coke to stay awake. He told me he was out of weed and only had a couple of poppers. Aside from that, the car was clean.

We left Pittsburgh before 9pm and rolled past Toledo around midnight. We found one of those combination rest stops/fast food joints on I-80. We grabbed burgers and fries and switched drivers. My goal was to at least drive to Gary, Indiana before we switched again. About an hour outside of Toledo, I got sick of the cold fries and tossed them out the window. Earl protested and said he would have ate them, no matter how cold. I told him tough shit and to do a better job with the radio. We were in no man's land and it was tough to find a decent classic rock station that came in clear.

I ate two Ritalins to stave off any tiredness. I only ate those pills when I drove. My sister's kid had a problem with paying attention in school. I told her that he was normal because that's what kids do -- they have short attention spans and would rather run around outside instead of sitting inside and listening to some dipshit teacher recite the alphabet to a classroom full of illegal aliens and retards. No wonder he's bored to death. I told my nephew that his teachers and parents were lying to him and trying to turn him into a soulless zombie. He believes me. He's a good kid. He knows what's up. He knows the system is full of shit. He was on to them way before we had that important chat. He agreed to pretend to take the Ritalin every day and stash the pills for me. In return, I would buy him video games. I needed the Ritalin to keep me awake when I drove and he needed to have an adolescence that was chemical-free and not become a lifelong slave to pill manufactured by evil pharmaceutical companies.

I made it to Gary in record time. The armpit of Indiana. I drafted behind an SUV the entire way and didn't see any cops. We only stopped to gas up and piss. Earl said that he could drive, but I was feeling good and wanted to keep driving while it was still dark. I figure I'd let him deal with the morning rush once we cleared Illinois.

After arguing for a half hour about the fundamental difference between country and western music, we sat in silence for most of Illinois. It was dark. I couldn't see the endless plains which was the bonus of driving through boring and flat part of the state in the middle of the night. We weren't missing anything. I sort of wished that I had satellite radio, but then I remember what Uncle Louie told us about the DEA being able to trace you through your receivers. Under no circumstances did he want you to drive with a GPS, satellite radio, or even a cell phone. He wanted you to go old school and only use payphones to make calls. He let me use a burner phone. I usually brought three with me. One for the way. One for way back. And one for an emergency. That's what the mob guys in New York do. Al Qaeda too. I bought the burners for cash in Chinatown. Most of the time I used it once then tossed it. That was the best way to prevent that you weren't being traced. It was pricey, but a small price to pay in order to be safe.

I couldn't believe the time we were making. We passed Davenport by sunrise and cruised into Iowa. We stopped to switch drivers at McDonalds. Earl ran inside for Egg McMuffins. He ate all three within the first fifteen miles of his shift. He must have been hungry. Me? The Ritalin killed my appetite. I drank apple juice and smoked cigarettes. That was it. We breezed through Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and now Iowa making excellent time. We had to be in Denver by 9pm local time, but still had 800 plus miles to go. If my math was right, we could probably do that in 13 hours if we continued to drive straight through. That gave us a two hour cushion to factor in traffic and stops for gas and food, oh and just in case Earl had one of those ex-wife freakouts.

Earl boasted that he could get all the way cross Iowa without stopping. We had enough gas and I bet him $100 that he couldn't do it. He was up for the challenge and was going strong until we got halfway between Des Moines and Omaha and got caught up in a slow down due to a wreck. He had to shit. Badly. I had used the piss jar twice and emptied it out both times, but we didn't have anything for Earl to shit in. I told him that's what he gets for eating three Egg McMuffins. He was determined to win the bet and didn't stop once traffic picked up again. Earl held his urge to shit for almost another hour. We were 23 miles east of Council Bluffs when Earl finally gave up and pulled over to the side of the road. He didn't even bother pulling into a gas station. He dropped his pants and shit his brains out for five minutes. Luckily we had plenty of napkins from McDonalds so he had something to wipe his ass with. Once he finished his bowel movement, he told me that it was my turn to drive.

We had about 550 miles to go. That would take us about eight hours. It wasn't even noon and we picked up an extra hour with the time zone change once we passed into Mountain Time. We were still ahead of schedule. I drove for four hours before we had to stop and gas up in North Platte in the middle of nowhere special Nebraska. We switched drivers and I considered stopping at the Denny's to eat cherry pie, but I knew we still had four more hours of driving ahead of us.

Once we crossed the Colorado border, Earl said, "Awwww shit!"

I knew that he saw lights. Red. Blue. Red. Blue. He slowed down.

"I wasn't speeding... much. Awwwww. Shit!"

A state trooper blew by us and pulled over a speeding Mercedes instead. That was our only close call. By that point, the Ritalin wasn't working anymore. The scare sobered me up. I convinced Earl to drive the rest of the way. I took a nap and wanted to make sure he was dead tired by the time we got to Denver.

We reached the city limits a couple of hours ahead of schedule and celebrated with steaks and beer. I knew a diner on Colfax that served cheap steak and eggs. We chowed down and waited to meet up with one of Uncle Louie's people. They would call us and we'd have to drive to the pick up spot. In the meantime, we had to sit... and wait. Ninety minutes passed. Earl spent most of the time calling his ex on a pay phone in the diner. I knew I couldn't trust him.

I finally got the call. We were supposed to pick up a batch of LSD from one of Gaya's people, but I lied to Earl and told him that Uncle Louie was sending us to meet up with the German. Earl hated the German even though he knew that Uncle Louie and the German were old friends from the Brotherhood days. The German used to be a Nazi scientist, at least that's the rumor that Earl told me. Earl was half-Jewish and hated Nazis for a good reason. However, the German was too young to be a Nazi. What I did know, was that the German was a renown chemist and one of Uncle Louie's trusted cooks. I told Earl that the German whipped up a fresh batch of crank for Uncle Louie, so we had to buy the German two bottles of Jagermeister as a nice gesture. Sort of a thank you gift. Earl grumbled. I told him if he went inside the liquor store, then I'd deal with the German. He agreed.

I stopped at a liquor store and handed Earl the money. I sent him inside for the Jager and waited ninety seconds before I drove off. I had a good five to ten minute head start before Earl figured out what happened. I knew that Uncle Louie would understand why I ditched Earl. The delivery of Gaya's liquid sunshine was far more important than getting busted due to Earl's stupidity and compulsion to stalk his ex-wife.

The pick up from Gaya's people was quick and seamless. When I got back on the highway, I popped two Ritalin. I had almost 1,300 miles to drive to get to San Francisco from Colorado. That would take me 20 hours if I didn't stop.

Tenzin McGrupp is a writer originally from New York City.

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