June 01, 2011

June 2011, Vol. 10, Issue 6

It's June and the summer hath arrived. Oh, and Truckin' is now nine years old. Wow? Nine.

1. Cusco to Ollantaytambo to Augas Calientes by Paul McGuire
People were streaming in all directions from all areas. A group of Peruvian guides, all short men around 5 feet in height with reddish brown skin in alpaca hats, had disembarked from what looked like a cattle car and two Peruvian rail workers at the train's doors hurled backpacks into a pile on the platform, where the guides hovered to retrieve their gear. Meanwhile, hundreds of tourists were getting off the train, while hundreds more were scrambling to catch the train before the doors closed. The train from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu ran on the same singular track. A couple of times a day it transported tourists and supplies back and forth, back and forth... More

2. The Chosen by John Hartness
But it's still annoying. I'll grant that visiting a box that hasn't been touched in 25 years might raise an eyebrow or two, but I'm still blaming the attention of the lummox in the off-the-rack suit on my unwanted companion's unabashed card-counting. Either way, the brutes in suits might have had a few questions for me that I wasn't fully prepared to answer at exactly that moment, so I looked at my old pal Lucky.... More

3. Isn't It Good?
by Kent Coloma
I once asked my mother if I could change my name to Jesus. I used to quiz my friends and they all wanted to change their name at one point in their youth. I have a stage name now. It's not Jesus. The usual Hollywood pseudonym. My friends and I used to intentionally mispronounce "pseudo" like "suede-oh" for our own amusement... More

4. Zen and the Art of the Frijol by George Tate
Being able to focus and enjoy the simplicity of everyday things is the joy of living. You're asking yourself where this bullshit is headed. I believe there is a Zen return to the Art of making a pot of beans. Breathe deeply and pour a fine glass of wine. Savor it and its flavor for the moment....More

5. The Beatles and I by Wolynski
To a child growing up in communist Poland, the Beatles were everything. There was Lenin, Marx and Brezhnev staring grimly from posters everywhere, promising a life of desolation, but just beyond the horizon, there was John, Paul, George and Ringo. We couldn't buy Beatle records, but they filtered in anyway.... More

What a Long Strange Trip It's Been...

From the Editor's Laptop

June is upon us, which means Truckin' would make a great addition to your summer reading pile. So print up this issue and bring it with you to the beach, or the pool, or into the bathroom with you.

The contributors at Truckin' are passionate souls and they write for the love of the written word, which is a fancy way of saying they write for free. True passion. What can be more genuine art than writers exposing their souls to you? And that's what Truckin' authors do month after month. I'm inspired by the tremendous amount of courage that flows through the writers. It's not easy to spill your guts for others' amusement.

So, please help spread the word about Truckin' by any and all means necessary. Email your favorite stories on any and all forms of social media possible. Many thanks in advance for your help.

Contact us if you'd like to be added to the mailing list. Or, if you're interested writing for a future issue, then please check out out submission guidelines and drop us an email.

Before I go, I want to thank you, the reader, for supporting us every month since 2002. Nine years? Wow. The long-form written word is slowly dying off, but each of you keep the spirit burning alive with your unwavering support for Truckin'.

Be good,

"The more I see, the less I see for sure." - John Lennon

Cusco to Ollantaytambo to Augas Calientes

By Paul McGuire © 2011

The wake-up call was set for 4:30 -- that's AM, in the fucking morning -- a time when I'm usually winding down the night and going to sleep. I passed out around around Midnight after chewing on a Vicodin to help ease the throbbing headache that accompanied altitude sickness after my abrupt ascent into the 11,000+ zone.

Our caravan had to ship out of Cusco no later than 6am if we wanted to catch the 8am train out of Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, which was at least a 100-minute drive away. The breakfast buffet started at 5am and I was still in bed at that time, although I heard the shower running in the adjacent room where Sos and Shirley were staying. I assumed the former military man in Sos was up and at 'em before the wake call echoed in the room. I skipped a shower in favor of checking the previous night's scores from the NBA playoffs via wifi that was a step quicker than dial-up, before I made my way downstairs to the dim dining area.

The majority of the lights were shut off in the lobby with the exception of a few stray lights illuminating the dining room. I peeked into the metal buffet tins and didn't see much edible fare to my liking. No bacon, instead, they offered up what looked like mini-hot dogs as their breakfast meat du jour, the Peruvian version of nitrate-riddled breakfast sausages. I skipped the dogs and scooped up two spoonfuls of runny puke-yellow tinged scrambled eggs, then tossed a couple of hard rolls on my plate next to a couple of slices of fruit. Along with a glass of orange juice and a cup of coca tea -- that might have been my only fuel to carry me atop of Machu Picchu. The runny eggs tasted as expected -- like runny eggs. I just prayed that the eggs wouldn't run right through me with a two hour ride in the Peruvian countryside ahead of me. I'd really hate to have to shit on the side of the road and I made sure I took some extra TP with me -- just in case.

By 5:55am, I checked out of my room and waited in the lobby with Sos and Shirley for the little old lady with the limp who spearheaded our entire tour. Two large groups of other travelers surrounded us, one American and the other Brits, where the median age was anywhere from 15-20 years old than us and everyone looked like wealthy retirees of the adventurous sort, spending a portion of their savings on a trip of a lifetime. I felt a tinge of luck because I got to embark on the same trip at a much earlier juncture in my life and sorta got paid to do it because my client got me halfway there -- I was already in Peru, all I had to do was figure out how to get from Lima to Machu Picchu in order to cross off an exotic destination that appeared in the Top 5 on my bucket list. That's where the little old lady with the limp came in.

Two huge buses idled in front of our hotel, but we were not on neither bus. The little old lady with the limp waved over to us and we followed her to a white station wagon parked behind the buses. She arranged a private car to take us from Cusco to Ollantaytambo. Our driver, Joseph, spoke passable English and cranked up a mix of reggae songs on his car stereo. I stuffed my bag in the back and slid into the front seat. I was gonna be riding shotgun all the way to Ollantaytambo and hoped that I didn't have to shit my pants.

Our route took us up to the outskirts of Cusco up into the hills and we quickly passed any of the big buses on the way. We reached a valley surrounded by rolling hills and farmland that was flanked by the ominous Andes Mountains in the background. At one point, Joseph stopped the car and parked on top of a vista for us to snap a few photos. After an hour or so of driving, we reached the town of Ollantaytambo, located in a valley, and we made our way down from the mountain. We drove through the main part of town, the only route to the train station on the outskirts. We got caught up in traffic at the end of one square. A clusterfuck of small vans and buses filled with tourists were trying to force themselves into a one-way cobblestone road. An exhausted solider with a rifle slung over his shoulder acted as a traffic cop, but there was nowhere to go. We had about ten minutes before our train left the station. At some point I wondered if we should start walking...but then the traffic miraculously subsided and Joseph dropped us off in a parking lot adjacent to the train station.

Vendors as young as six years old swarmed us as we walked down a hill to the depot. It reminded me of Shakedown Street in the parking lot of a Phish or Grateful Dead show -- minus the spun-out wooks slinging drugs -- instead locals were hawking hats, sunscreen, bottles of water, and batteries.

We found the toilet, but it cost 1 soles (35 cents) to get in, and an old lady on a stool front handed you two squares of toilet paper -- hardly enough to clean yourself if you seriously busted ass. The runny eggs were rumbling inside of me and I rushed for one of the two stalls. I was greeted by no toilet seat and the toilet itself was rather small, only a few inches off the dirt floor. I had a false alarm, which was good, because I wasn't prepared to shit in a hole in the ground.

We approached the platform and got caught in a crossfire of mass confusion. People were streaming in all directions from all areas. A group of Peruvian guides, all short men around 5 feet in height with reddish brown skin in alpaca hats, had disembarked from what looked like a cattle car and two Peruvian rail workers at the train's doors hurled backpacks into a pile on the platform, where the guides hovered to retrieve their gear. Meanwhile, hundreds of tourists were getting off the train, while hundreds more were scrambling to catch the train before the doors closed. The train from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu ran on the same singular track. A couple of times a day it transported tourists and supplies back and forth, back and forth.

Sos found a Peru Rail worker who pointed out our exact train. We had less than a few minutes to spare when we boarded what appeared to be a "first class" car. The little old lady with the limp arranged us passage in the "vistadome" car which had windows partially built into the ceilings to view the Andes on our two hour trip to Aguas Calientes.

I had a window seat and noticed that a Japanese guy sat in the aisle seat in my row and his girlfriend sat across from him in the aisle. With the few Japanese phrases I knew, I excused myself and asked him if they wanted to sit together. They were extremely grateful for the gesture and continuously thanked me as the train pulled out of the station, even offering to take a photo of me. Sos gave me a little guff for becoming their new best friend and a celebrity in Japan.

I kept my camera out of sight. I shot a few minutes of video en route to Ollantaytambo, but didn't want to shoot my load taking photos/videos of the mountains along the Urubamba River, an uniquely dangerous waterway where no boats could traverse the narrow river because of all the jagged rocks underneath the water that created rapids that were unnavigable, even for the most astute class five rapids adventurers. I understood why the Spanish never conquered or reached Machu Picchu, because it was in such a remote place, then boats could not get in and the only way to reach the spiritual center of the Incan empire as by foot on the Incan trail.

The railroad had been built at the turn of the 20th century and it followed alongside the Urubamba River, which I nicknamed as the Chocolate Milk River because of it's milky brown color. On the other side of the river, you could see the infamous Incan trail, and a few brave souls were in the middle of their arduous hike.

Our first class car was filled with tourists from all over the globe, which I quickly learned from the variety of languages spoken. A teenager next to me was from Argentina. In front of Shirley and Sos were Germans. A few Brits were in front and a horde of Brazilians were behind us. They went a little loco when the train pulled out of the station and made its first turn through the mountains. Everyone with a video camera or professional camera went berserk in the narrow aisle of the train, elbowing each other for a shot of the mountains. At first I was perplexed -- it was just mountains and not Machu Picchu -- why the fuck was everyone going apeshit trying to get a few seconds of videos in the mountains?

That frenzy died down after twenty minutes and it felt good not to have someone's sweaty ass in my face trying to steady themselves to snap photos of cloudy mountains. I ignored the vapid jackals and settled in with my iPod and mentally prepared myself for the eventual summit at Machu Picchu.

An hour into our voyage, the crew served us a snack in baskets comprised of cookies, fruit, and a roll with a slice of ham and cheese. I skipped the cheese and ate everything. I ordered a coca matte to drink because I needed another injection of Incan Red Bull before we reached the end of the line.

As we inched closer to Aguas Calinetes, the rolling hills and farmland gave way to thick, jungle canopy cover. The mugginess set in and the train grew eerily quiet as we inched into the station. Aguas Calinetes had hot springs at the edge of town, but the mood seemed somber and intense. The lush, green mountains shot up all around us like New York City skyscrapers, but it was surrounded by puffy white and grey clouds, which blocked out the sun and gave the air a smoky, dreamlike quality to it.

Paul McGuire is the author of Lost Vegas and Jack Tripper Stole My Dog.

The Chosen

By John G. Hartness © 2010

Chapter 1

I sensed him before I saw him. I always do. I was just sitting there, minding my own business, playing a little blackjack when I felt his presence over my right shoulder.

“Hi, Lucky.”

“Big A.”

I hate that. He always has to go there right away. And he’s supposed to be subtle. Ass.

“Been here long?” He asked.

“A while. Playing a little cards. You?”

“Well, you know me, Big A, I’ve got a place here. I love this town. Everything about it just calls to me.”

“Yeah, I think I heard that somewhere.”

I finally glanced over and gave him the satisfaction of a look. A new look for him this time around – red riding leathers, no helmet of course, black boots, black hair tied back in a ponytail and sunglasses. The sunglasses were kind of a given, I suppose.

“Nice outfit. You look like one of the cavemen in that insurance commercial.”

“Thanks. You, as always, look well put-together.”

I’ve never been sure how to take his compliments, and I wasn’t in Las Vegas to think, so I just went for face value. I was wearing a worn t-shirt I’d picked up at a roadside store somewhere in Montana sometime in the past, and a thrift store work shirt with the “arry” over the left breast pocket. I don’t know if it used to say “Larry” or “Harry.” Neither one was my name; I just gave Goodwill $2.99 for the shirt.


For once he didn’t press the issue and stopped talking, just sat beside me and slid the dealer a hundred. So we played blackjack together for a while. Me playing green chips, him moving quickly from green to black to purple all the way up to the yellow $1,000 chips in a couple of short hours. He lost just enough hands to keep from getting thrown out, but not quite enough to keep the eye in the sky from getting suspicious.

“A, looks like we’ve got company.”

“You got a mouse in your pocket? I’m not the one that’s been sitting here counting cards for three hours.”

“Yeah, but I’m not the one who took twenty grand in chips out of my safe deposit box this morning. Chips, I might add, that came from a casino that was demolished a couple decades ago.”

I hate that he always has more information than he rightfully should. I suppose, to give him his due, that he does have people literally everywhere in this town. But it’s still annoying. I’ll grant that visiting a box that hasn’t been touched in 25 years might raise an eyebrow or two, but I’m still blaming the attention of the lummox in the off-the-rack suit on my unwanted companion’s unabashed card-counting. Either way, the brutes in suits might have had a few questions for me that I wasn’t fully prepared to answer at exactly that moment, so I looked at my old pal Lucky.


“Might I suggest California? I hear San Francisco’s nice this time of year, and you know how much you love seafood. Why not check out Fisherman’s Wharf, visit Alcatraz, you know, see the sights a little. My bike’s out front. You’ll know which one. You owe me.”

“We’d have to be even for me to owe you. And we’re not even. This doesn’t even come close. Nowhere near to close.”

“You really know how to wound a guy, Big A.”

“Bite me.” With that, I grabbed Lucky’s keys from the table, tossed a green chip to the dealer and headed for the cage. I spotted another security goon between me and the cage, so I decided on discretion as the better part of valor, tossed a couple grand in chips into the air and used the resulting pandemonium to make my less-than-subtle way to the exit. As I glanced back towards the table where I had left Lucky, I noticed that he and the two guards were having a beer and yukking it up like long-lost frat brothers. Which for all I knew, they might have been.

He was right; I picked out his bike right away. It was a big, loud ostentatious black thing with flames painted on the gas tank. Subtle. I swear the thing looked hungry. I put the key in the ignition (an apple key chain? Really?) and headed South down the Strip, putting California firmly behind me as I remembered Lucky suggesting it. I’m not a contrary person by nature, but I learned a long time ago that it was a pretty safe bet to do the opposite of anything that Lucky wanted me to do.

Okay, so looking back on it, maybe opening a 25-year-old lock box wasn’t exactly the most under the radar move I could have made. I know that people take out safe deposit boxes in this town all the time. But not all of them pay the rent on those boxes with automatic debits from numbered accounts. And I just had the bad luck to run into the same security guard that rented me the box the first time, on his first day of the job 25 years ago. Little bugger had a good memory, that’s for sure. And I guess I hadn’t changed much since then. Ok, make that not at all. But I’m still blaming Lucky. After all, he’s been taking the blame for things for millennia now, so what’s one more little incident?

Maybe I should back up a little. This is as good a time as any for introductions. My name is Adam. No, I don’t have a last name. Yes, that Adam. No really, you can feel for the rib if you like. But it’s better if you don’t. I’m ticklish.

John Hartness is a writer from Charlotte, NC. He's the author of The Chosen.

The Beatles and I

By Wolynski © 2009

The Beatles are back, not that they ever went away, it’s just that there’s new, expensive Beatle product to be flogged to aging baby boomers.

To a child growing up in communist Poland, the Beatles were everything. There was Lenin, Marx and Brezhnev staring grimly from posters everywhere, promising a life of desolation, but just beyond the horizon, there was John, Paul, George and Ringo.

We couldn’t buy Beatle records, but they filtered in anyway.

In 1969, my father got kicked out of Poland for being Jewish - this was such good fortune, that suddenly everyone was scrambling for Jewish ancestors. We had to spend ten days in Vienna. I remember going to a record store and looking at the latest Beatle album “Abbey Road”. Little did I know that within 6 months I’d be living at 40 Abbey Road - visible on the cover if not for the trees.

All these Americans tourists would descend on Abbey Road, posing for pictures on the zebra crossing and holding up traffic. I laughed at those silly Americans - well, we’re destined to become what we laugh at, because I’m a foolish American myself now.

On Dec 15th, 1969 John and Yoko were giving a charity concert the Lyceum (I found snippets of it on You Tube). My friend, Kasia, a popular composer in Poland was visiting, and we decided to go. Other acts on the bill I remember were Blue Mink and Delaney & Bonnie. Then John and Yoko came out with their band: Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Keith Moon of the Who, Billy Preston and others. Wow.

The first number was fine, if unrehearsed, but then Yoko started screaming. Kasia, also a voice coach, said she’s projecting correctly (if unpleasantly) and protecting her vocal chords and she could go on for hours. And indeed she did. The place practically cleared out. It was December 69, before the Beatles had officially broken up and people were confused - what was Lennon up to with this dreadful woman? What about the Beatles? They were having none of it - they’re not hanging around for this shit, some Asian woman yelping like a cat in heat. Lennon was not exactly popular in 1969.

We went backstage, just walked in - John and Yoko were holding court, totally out of it, glassy-eyed, wishing everyone peace and understanding. Yoko sat there like a malevolent squaw. Kasia and I exchanged pleasantries with the Lennons, John signed Kasia’s album and they wished us peace. I guess if you become the most famous person on earth at a young age, it’s OK to crack under the strain.

On Dec 8th, 1980 I was doing a gig at Beefsteak Charlie’s on 8th Ave & 45th St. I was on stage when suddenly the audience lost all interest in me and I heard loud whispering. John Lennon had been shot, forty blocks from here. Early the next day, I had to go pick up my green card - 9th Dec 1980 is when I became legal.

Just think - they’re selling music now that was popular over forty years go. In 1965, nobody bought music from 1925. Nothing much has changed since the 60s, except for the Internet and cell phones. And as long as the baby boomers are still around, nothing much will change. Hip hop only exists to remind us we’re old farts. On the bright side, women in their sixties are becoming the most powerful demographic.

Actually the Beatles got remastered for the Cirque de Soleil spectacle “Love” in Vegas - they had to do something to play it over a few hundred speakers. I hated the CD “Love” - it concentrates on the late era, psychedelic Beatles and is pretentious and pompous, sucking the simplicity and joy out of the band.

I’ve listened to a few of the new remasters - the sound is fuller and lusher, the instruments more separated. But, hey, maybe the Beatles wanted their guitars squished together. The old recordings are just fine - it‘s not like you listen to the remasters and can‘t go back. In fact, you can‘t wait to get back - I like my Beatles gritty.

Wolynski is a photographer and former comic who lives in Las Vegas.

Isn't It Good?

By Kent Coloma © 2011

My favorite Beatles song is Norwegian Wood. I’d always liked it, but then I heard the song that one night at the UCLA party where we ran into Mike Fortner quite unexpectedly. His name isn’t really Mike. It’s David. His older sister was there too, and I can’t remember her name for some reason, even though she was one of those older girls that was always very sexy and memorable and unattainable, because girls never date their younger brother’s friends in the same way Victoria’s Secret models don’t date regular humans. Hers was and old fashioned name, 1920s or so, but she was calling herself something different that night at UCLA, something more feminine.

It’s weird I can’t remember her name. That’s one skill I have, though it wasn’t always so. I’d meet people and wouldn’t listen or I was drunk or I just didn’t care what their parents called ‘em. Now I’m really good and like to call people by name when I know they’ve forgotten mine, which is a dickish little move, but if I could change they could too. My parents named me “Edward,” but nobody ever calls me that, except bill collectors who call on the phone. They think they’re being clever sometimes and say, “Hey, is Eddie home?” but nobody ever calls me that, either. Marlo, from “The Wire,” says “My name is my name!” He’s lucky that way.

“Sorry,” I say when the credit card people call. “He doesn’t live here anymore.” It’s a short-term solution. ”No, I don’t have a forwarding address.” Sometimes, I tell them there might be an Edward or an Ed or a Ted or a Neddy, but I’m not sure since the number they have reached belongs to a commune of sorts, lots of people hanging around, coming and going, lots of people without names or with made-up names. I live alone and drink Jameson with one ice cube.

John, Paul, George and Ringo. Always in that order. First name basis. Hierarchical ranking. We had climbed into an upstairs room via the roof, via the window and Norwegian Wood was just starting to play. “I once had a girl or should I say she once had me.” There were speakers mounted in the four corners of the room and I fell into a beanbag. Mike Fortner. Here! We called him “Mike” because a high school English teacher mistakenly called him that more than once. It was an easy class, independent study mostly, and we sat in the back and sang Simon and Garfunkel songs or went to the cafeteria for chocolate milk and sugar cookies.

I once asked my mother if I could change my name to Jesus.

I used to quiz my friends and they all wanted to change their name at one point in their youth. I have a stage name now. It’s not Jesus. The usual Hollywood pseudonym. My friends and I used to intentionally mispronounce “pseudo,” like “suede-oh,” for our own amusement. I call them Don and Brett. Always in that order. Scott wasn’t there that night, the night we were really high and listened to Norwegian Wood in a strange room you entered via a window, but if he was there, I would have said Don, Brett and Scott.

There are names you can’t use anymore for your children. O.J. Adolph. Yoko. Judas.

Norwegian Wood was originally called This Bird Has Flown, which is what John Lennon ultimately decided to use as a sub-title. He wrote the song about a brief affair he once had and tried to make the lyrics as opaque as possible so his wife wouldn’t know. I closed my eyes and the song massaged me from the four speakers mounted in the corner of the room. The older Fortner sister—I remember the younger sister’s name, Catherine—poked her head in and saw us all laying about and shook her head as she closed the door.

I was in a play once and my name was Joel in the play. I’ve always liked that name. It’s strong and close to ‘Joe’ which is a good name, a common name that people recognize and you don’t have to say it four times for them to get it. But it’s “Joel” and different and every time I meet someone with that name, I envy them, even though the play was terrible. I thought I was okay in it, but my phone isn’t ringing much these days, except for outsourced operators calling for Edward, so I guess not.

After the song was over we weren’t really sure what to do and we didn’t do anything, except maybe smoke another joint, until later when that guy from Don’s dorm got too familiar with some girl and she had her boyfriend come on over to wipe the smirk of the guy’s face with his elbow first and then his fist. We kind of stepped in to stop it, but not really because the guy from Don’s dorm spit when he talked and couldn’t hold his liquor, so when he got thrown out of the party we walked the other direction.

When I was little, my Mom’s friend asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I said, “Famous.” Oh, you want to be rich and famous, she said, and I said no, just famous and I practiced signing my autograph, which is full of flourish and decidedly feminine in a loopy, non-angular sort of way. I write it still, sometimes, when I’m drinking Jameson with one ice cube and I call you on the phone to see how you’ve been.

Kent Coloma is a writer from just outside of Los Angeles, CA.

Zen and the Art of the Frijol

By George Tate © 2011

Pinto beans are the Mexican equivalent of the staple of life. Breath is the staple of life. Being able to focus and enjoy the simplicity of everyday things is the joy of living. You’re asking yourself where this bullshit is headed. I believe there is a Zen return to the Art of making a pot of beans. Breathe deeply and pour a fine glass of wine. Savor it and its flavor for the moment. Drink it down and take a breath. Find the bean crock, spoon, and jalapeno, two cups of pinto beans, onion, minced garlic, seasoning, and chorizo (Mexican sausage). This is simplicity. Take a breath.

Wash the beans in a bowl. Do this gently as the wine takes its effect. Watch the water as it turns from brown to amber and then clear. Turn off the water, take a breath, and pour another glass. Reach in the bowl with both hands and squeeze the beans gently once or twice and pour out the water. Have another breath, savor the wine and fill the bowl with water again. Repeat the complete process while continuing to breathe deeply and savoring the wine.

Heat a pan of water, pour the beans in the crock and add minced garlic and seasoning to your taste. Have a breath and a glass while the pan of water comes to a boil. Cover the beans with the hot water to four inches above the top of the contents, put the top on the crock and breathe deeply in meditation for about 12 hours.

Find the wine and a glass, take a breath and one more, pour the wine and savor it. Find your cutting surface, a good knife, onion, jalapeno, and chorizo. Mince the onion into very fine pieces. Take the seeds from a large jalapeƱo and dice it into very fine pieces. Wash your hands with soap or your meditation will be on the pain in your eye for the next thirty minutes.

Take a breath, pour another glass and find the comal (or frying pan) and chop the chorizo into fine parts. Simmer the meat slowly in the pan until it gravies and turns brown. Take a breath, move the crock to a medium flame and add water to cover the beans at least two inches and put the top on the crock. Savor the wine and the kitchen aroma for a few minutes while breathing. When the pot is boiling, take the flame lower until you find a simmer point.

Add all the ingredients at this time and cover the pot.

Pinto beans let you know when they are done. After four or five hours check the pot and stir it gently. Breathe in the aroma and look for different colors that rise as you stir. Cooked pintos caramelize and throw off their sugars into the water making it a milky brown. When the beans are done turn off the fire and allow them to cool in the pot. Set a place at the table and pour a glass of wine. Enjoy the flavors of the wine and pintos slowly, breathe in and meditate on chewing.

Clean your table and wash the dishes. Sit and meditate for a while, breathe out, BUT don’t breathe in.

George Tate is a former over the road driver of fourteen years that love's travel, wild wimmin', Pisano Wine, and Omaha 08. When they are a package, watch out.

May 03, 2011

May 2011, Vol. 10, Issue 5

Welcome to the May edition.... better late than never.

1. Cusco by Paul McGuire
The tiny lady with the limp handed us cups of light greenish tea -- the infamous coca tea or coca matte. Instead of chewing coca leaves to help adjust to the altitude, we sipped the bitter tasting green tea. I eventually acquired a taste for what the locals subbed "Incan Red Bull"... More

2. Cheers by John Hartness
She was leaning out of the window mostly wrapped in a sheet, her hair spilling down over her left eye like an over-eroticized Jessica Rabbit. One amazing breast was playing peek-a-boo as she reared her arm back and threw my sock at my head. I caught it, heard her mutter “asshole” under her breath and slam the window as I shoved the sock into the front pocket of my pants.... More

3. September 11 by Kat Goodale
Cut to a woman, completely covered in grey dust except for the parallel tracks of tears down her face, wild eyed with panic yet still clutching her purse as she darted from one doorway to another. My emotions and thoughts seemed to split apart... More

4. The Last Time I Saw Buddy Holly by Johnny Hughes
I was cleaning an electric motor with naptha by spraying it, and Buddy came to the back to say goodbye -- our final goodbye. I was spraying naptha from a high-pressure hose. He was dancing around trying not to get naptha on his fancy pants which I remember as red and white, big stripes like a barber pole. I'd sprayed his direction as a joke... More

What a Long Strange Trip It's Been...

From the Editor's Laptop

The May issue is abbreviated, but packs a powerful punch anchored by Kat Goodale's powerful and personal story about 9/11. Johnny Hughes is back after a hiatus and he shares an old west Texas story about the last time he saw Buddy Holly alive. John Hartness weaved a hungover tale for you, and I just got back from Peru and whipped up a travel adventure piece.

The contributors at Truckin' are passionate souls and they write for the love of self-expression. That's also a snarky way of saying that they write for free. Month after month, I'm still amazed at the tremendous amount of courage that flows through the writers. It's not easy to spill your guts to the world, yet that's what they are doing -- for your amusement.

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"Everything has its beauty but not everyone sees it." - Confucius


By Paul McGuire © 2011

I probably should have slept for more than an hour, but I wasn't thinking properly. I blame the decent bag of weed a friend of mine scored in Lima along with a steady flow of local beer Cusquena. Whenever I'm done with a work assignment in a foreign country, I partake in a tradition among my fellow reporters and stay up as late as possible partying, drinking, and gambling. Sunday night was no exception after dinner with my colleagues at a restaurant hanging over the cliffs of Miraflores in Larcomar Mall, overlooking the Pacific Ocean as an illuminated cross flickered in the distance. We stayed up way, way, way late on Sunday night playing cards with my buddies, joking around, and listening to friend’s selection of Costa Rican reggae.

My wake-up call was set for 7am, even though I finished packing at 6am and crawled into bed as sunlight filled my expansive loft. I slept for an hour before it was time for me to meet up with Shirley and Sos -- my travel companions to Machu Picchu, both good friends from LA and we got along perfectly during a journey to Costa Rica a year earlier.
The journey to Machu Picchu isn't easy because there’s no direct road from Lima to Machu Picchu (aside from the infamous Inca trail). Tourists have to take a train to the foot of the mountain, which isn't the most accessible spot in Peru. In short, we flew southeast from Lima over the Andes Mountains into Cusco (or Cuzco as some locals spell it), then take a two-hour bus ride from Cusco to a small town called Ollantaytambo. From Ollantaytambo, we would board a train on Peru Rail which wound alongside the Urubamba river (which I dubbed the Chocolate Milk River, because it looked like... chocolate milk) through the Andes and reached an even smaller town called Aguas Calientes (literally translated into Hot Water because of the warm springs at the edge of town), and from Aguas Calientes we could hike up to the top of Machu Picchu, or take a 20-minute bus up to the top.

No wonder the Spanish never conquered Machu Picchu. They might have heard it existed, but they never got that far into the Andes. Besides, by the 1530s, Machu Picchu had been deserted for many years, but let's not get too ahead of ourselves.

At the least, we had a two-day journey ahead of us to get from Lima to Machu Picchu. If we wanted to trek to Machu Picchu from Cusco, it would have taken four or five days, something we considered, but none of us had the luxury of extra time to hike the Inca Trail. Alas, we flew to Cusco as a staging area for our trip to Machu Picchu.

We landed in Cusco on Monday around noon and I kept thinking how it reminded me a bit of Telluride, Colorado -- a plush valley in a mountainous region -- except Telluride is tiny and Cusco is huge with almost a half a million people, the majority of them living in shanty towns and adobe shacks up on the mountainside and descending into the city to work in various aspects of the blossoming tourism industry.

Cusco is not just a launching point for Machu Picchu -- it's also the site of its own historic Incan ruins. At its height of power, Cusco was the Washington DC and NYC of the empire -- the center of both political and commercial interests for the entire region. Cusco was strategically built to be the true center of the Incan empire. But then the Spanish waltzed in and conquered the Incas, but that's a whole other story.

At the airport in Cusco, we were swarmed with different sales people from competing Machu Picchu tour operating companies. We ignored them and headed outside. Before we left Lima, Shirley and Sos arranged the entire trip through a company (referred by the client who had flown me to Peru in the first place) so all we had to do was show up at the airport and find the dude waving a piece of cardboard with our names on it. He waved over to us and we followed him to his big, shiny, white Mercedes van. A very tiny, yet well dressed lady with a limp (think the Peruvian version of the seer in The Poltergeist flick, which I quickly nicknamed the "Go into the light!" lady) climbed into the van and told us that she was taking care of our entire sojourn. Her English was passable, but Sos and her conversed in Spanish as the driver left the airport and took us into the center of town to our hotel. The tiny lady with the limp apologized for traffic in advance. We had chosen the holiest week of the year to visit Cusco and Machu Picchu. Even though Peruvians worship Incan gods like Inti, the powerful Sun god, they're also devout Catholics (the religion brought over from Spanish missionaries). The previous day was Palm Sunday with Easter less than a week away. On that particular Monday, the entire town was getting ready for a festival celebrating the Lord of Earthquakes, because Cusco was nearly destroyed in the mid-1500s by a destructive quake. Sos loosely translated the Holy Monday festival something to the effect of the Black Jesus.

We arrived at our hotel located on the most famous street in Cusco, the Avenue del Sol. The tiny lady with the limp told that our rooms weren't ready yet, and we had ten minutes to drop off our bags before a bus took us on a five-hour tour of Incan ruins around Cusco. I had broken up my luggage into two pieces; I left my carry-on behind at Lima airport in storage (which had work clothes) and only took my backpack (with 2 days of clothes, rain gear, headlamp, laptop, and camera) with me. I ditched my backpack at our hotel and the tiny lady handed us cups of light greenish tea -- the infamous coca tea or coca matte. Instead of chewing coca leaves to help adjust to the altitude, we sipped the bitter tasting green tea. I eventually acquired a taste for what the locals subbed "Incan Red Bull."

Cocaine in a cup, baby! Yep, talk about cocaine in liquid form. I wish I could grow that stuff in my backyard without the DEA destroying it.

A few sips definitely perked me up considering I was working with an hour of sleep. The coca tea also helped open up the breathing passages in my lungs. I sipped more tea as I staved off the massive migraine that invaded my head. I had been to Colorado enough (flying from sea level to the mountains cause side effects like headaches, stomach aches, and the shits), so I knew what was wrong with me, so I didn't freak out. Part of the reason the locals discourage foreigners from flying directly to Machu Picchu is due to the abrupt change in altitude. Most tour operators want you to spend a day or two in Cusco to adjust to the thin air (oh, and to bilk you out of a few more gringos out of tourist dollars). At times I was gasping a bit considering Cusco was in excess of 11,000 feet or almost 2,000 more than Telluride.

I slammed the rest of the tea, grabbed my camera, and piled into the back of a tour bus with Sos, Shirley, and six others. Our first stop was the old Suntur Wasi (aka House of God) that was also an Incan temple called Koricancha (aka Temple of the Sun) that was destroyed by the Spanish, who built Santo Domingo church on top of the remnants of exquisite masonry. We met our guide who was knowledgeable, but chatty. He was rather famous for running the Inca Trail in 4:09... yes, a shade over four hours... (but I had no idea what he was bragging about, I assume he meant a specific section). In high school when I was on the cross country team, I once ran a mile under 5 minutes and thought I was a badass. That was on flat terrain in Central Park and not in the high altitudes of the Andes.

The Capilla del Triunfo cathedral (in the Plaza de Arms main square) and Santo Domingo church represented Spanish domination of the culture, spurred on by greed to accumulate gold and silver, which the Incans didn't see any intrinsic monetary value other than that it was shinny and that the gods gave it to them. Our guide showed us spooky parts of the old temple and the engineering was astonishing.

Cusco is in an active seismic area, so the original architects created stones that had some "give" to them so they could absorb a major quake without tumbling over. That's some of the stuff that you'd see on the History Channel's Ancient Aliens -- because there was no way humans could have created such precise construction with rudimentary tools. Blocks of stone the size of washing machines sat on each other. You couldn't even squeeze a business card or Metrocard in between the cracks. Check out more photos of the ruins here.

I quickly found out that most Peruvians got angry when you mention or reference aliens because they take offense to the fact that gringos like myself doubted that their Peruvian ancestors were the most advanced culture on Earth at the time. However, I also met a few locals who believed in "gods from the sky" that assisted in construction of the first temples and shared their knowledge about astronomy. You can interpret those gods as aliens if you wish, which meshes with my view on the legends and lore of ancient cultures like the Incas. I believe that men and women built the pyramids in Egypt, South America, and the Incan ruins, but with a little help from their extra-terrestrial friends. I wanted to see proof for myself... with my own eyes... and after this trip, I'm a firm believer, yet, I have even more questions. At Capilla del Triunfo, I saw the first example of temple construction with assistance from other worldly beings.

At the church/temple I got yelled at by a security guard for snapping photos of the artwork. As a former museum security guard, I apologized with a hearty, "Lo siento!" But made sure I was much more stealth with future photos, especially the spooky alien stuff, like the images I saw on a gold-plated relief.

During our tour of the cathedral, our group of eight doubled in size because a different tour guide couldn't finish up his tour. That sucked because the new folks included a pair of annoying families... from the good old US of A... of course. Within seconds of their arrival, one of the fathers put Sos on uber-tilt. The guy was born in Peru but moved to Miami where he raised a family. He was very well-to-do and his wife and daughter wore super-expensive Chanel sunglasses. He kept asking stupid questions and our guide loved talking, so we had to sit through extra lectures on stupid shit. The other family had a young boy and a girl who were typical annoying Americans than give us a horrible reputation abroad. The chubby son was a bit of a momma's boy and he complained about going everywhere because of rough headaches. I felt bad for him because my head was pounding too, but I was also gutting it out by abstaining from pharmies. The little girl was bored and spent most of the tour in the cathedral smacking her father in the nuts. Too bad we couldn't ditch our tour and got stuck with them for another three long hours.

The next stop on our tour covered the Saqsayhuaman ruins. We piled into the bus and drove up to the mountains surrounding Cusco. Saqsayhuaman was supposed to look like a puma's head, but in reality it looked like a fortress.

The walled complex on the outskirts of town became the last stand for the Incas, who holed up there when the Spanish invaded Cusco. We were visiting scared ground where many warriors lost their lives. Saqsayhuaman had been the center of many rituals for centuries before the Spanish arrived. Again, the engineering and construction was so impressive and precise that it was hard to imagine aliens didn't have a hand in its construction. Some of the rocks are bigger than city buses and two or three stories in height.

During our time in Saqsayhuaman, our guide gave a long lecture (spurred on by the annoying guy who asked questions). I took the opportunity to lie down on the soft grass. I was so tired after less than an hour of sleep that I actually passed out for five minutes. Sos and Shirley poked fun of me because I started snoring, but luckily it wasn’t loud enough that anyone else heard.

Our guide wandered over to a different series of rocks and picked up two plants. One was eucalyptus, which he showed us how to pinch the leaves and then inhale/sniff the plant. The aroma of eucalyptus gave you an instant boost in lung capacity, sort of like the effects of Vick’s vapor rub when your mom rubbed it on your chest when you were a little kid and had bad congestion. Our guide also picked up another herb (I forgot the name) and it had similar effects. We sat on the rock and got high on natural herbs.

Our next stop was a healing spring. It wasn't as impressive as Saqsayhuaman. I wished we skipped the springs and spent more time at Saqsayhuaman. We hiked up a steep incline to reach the springs. An old guy in our group lost his mud and had serious breathing problems. His right arm went numb. Our guide pulled a bottle out of his jacket -- combination of herbs and rubbing alcohol -- rubbed it on his hands and cupped his hands over the guys nostrils and mouth. He told the old guy to inhale and he repeated the process a second time. The old guy sneezed and all of a sudden, he could breathe again -- in fact that was better than ever. The guy went from looking like he was having a heart attack, to looking like an Ethiopian marathoner.

I had a second batch of coca tea and I was also jacked up, enough so that I kept pace with our guide as we reached the top of the trail near the springs at the same time. Although my noggin was still throbbing, my lungs were able to handle the thin air and we chatted for a few minutes while everyone caught up. By then, Shirley and Sos had gotten chilly from the mountain air. Their thin SoCal blood couldn't handle the cool, brisk Andes air so they purchased alpaca hats from women hawking souvenirs along the trail and picked the perfect spot to sell tourists warm gear.

By the time we reached our hotel, I was starving and had a wicked headache. I popped a Vicodin to reduce the pounding, throbbing pain. We ate dinner at a place next to our hotel. Our waiter was awful, but the food was good and we got free Pisco Sours. I loaded up on pasta because I needed to load up on carbs for the next day, when we took off for Machu Picchu. A local band using traditional Incan instruments (wood flutes) played random cover songs like Bridge Over Troubled Water.

I retreated to my room and collapsed on my bed. I had been working on an hour of sleep and I had less than six hours before a 4:30am wake up call. The tiny lady with the limp arranged for us to leave Cusco at 6am in order to reach Machu Picchu by noon. Unable to find any basketball playoff games on TV, I settled on a random baseball game with Spanish-speaking announcers. It was the last thing I heard before I drifted to sleep.

Paul McGuire is the author of Lost Vegas.


By John G. Hartness © 2011

So I woke up hung over. Again. With no idea of where I was. Again. With a woman whose name I didn’t remember asleep on my arm. Again. This was getting to be a habit, one that wouldn’t be so bad if there was anything good to be said for it. So I slowly and gently slid my arm out from under my sleeping bedmate, trying like hell not to wake her, and started the search for my clothes.

As I scanned the bedroom for my clothes I began to take stock of the room and the woman who belonged there as obviously as I did not. She was stunning, a brunette goddess of the professional set rather than the emaciated, coke-strewn model set. She looked a little like the best bits of Sandra Bullock, Eva Longoria and Angelina Jolie all got tossed into a blender and poured out onto 800-thread count sheets of Egyptian cotton. One long, long leg was tangled outside the sheets, and the comforter was thrown halfway across the room to land partially atop the hardwood dresser. No Ikea for this lady’s boudoir, that was for sure. I wondered briefly where I had met her, and wished I could remember what line I used to score a night with a woman that beautiful. My best pickups are always vampires, they never last past daybreak.

It took a few minutes, but I found everything. Well, almost everything. Socks are the enemy to nameless, faceless trysts. They treat morning-after retreats like laundry day and always end up with at least one MIA. So I carried my shoes and crept out her front door with one sock on, and slipped into my shoes on the front stoop of her building. I thought I had gotten away clean when I heard a window open above me.

“You forgot something.” I heard from the third floor. I looked up, and she was leaning out of the window mostly wrapped in a sheet, her hair spilling down over her left eye like an over-eroticized Jessica Rabbit. One amazing breast was playing peek-a-boo as she reared her arm back and threw my sock at my head. I caught it, heard her mutter “asshole” under her breath and slam the window as I shoved the sock into the front pocket of my pants.

I found a couple of crumpled dollar bills in the pocket with the sock, and bought a cup of coffee from a cart on the corner. I stood there for a moment and squinted into the sunlight, trying to get my bearings. It looked like I’d ended up all the way over in Queens, a pretty good feat since I knew I didn’t start last night with enough cash on hand for that kind of cab fare. And that was not the kind of woman who spent much time on the subway. I checked my pockets and found my wallet (devoid of cash), cell phone (dead battery) and a claim check for valet parking on the Upper East Side.

Odd, seeing as how I don’t own a car. And can’t afford to eat anywhere on the Upper East Side. My sunglasses were still in my shirt pocket so I slid them on, slugged down the last of the coffee to get the cat-shit hangover taste out of my mouth, and dug my MetroCard out of the folds of my wallet. I started down the steps to the subway, peeking at the dates on the newspapers trying to figure out how many days I’d lost this time.

Looked like it really was Sunday, so just a few hours for a change. Maybe things were getting a little better, after all. Of course, as soon as I thought that, I slipped on the steps leading down to the platform and landed on my ass in a puddle of puke. So much for things getting better. Oh well, looking on the bright side, at least I didn’t have any coffee left to spill on my crotch.

A half hour on the subway later, and I was staggering up the steps to my oh-so-humble abode. The door was slightly ajar, which was not how I had left things, so it was with a certain level of caution that I entered my foyer. Foyer has always been a generous term for the eight feet of hallway between my front door and kitchen, but it’s the term we have, so there it is. My morning went from bad to worse when I turned the corner and saw, standing in the squalor that is my kitchen, my worst nightmare.

“Hi, Ma.” My mother, the matriarch of all my familial nightmares, stood in my kitchen wearing an expression that can only be described as utter, blinding, nauseated disgust. She was, as always, immaculately turned out in her Sunday best, this time a solemn black dress with a black hat and black patent leather shoes that had been polished to within an inch of their life. Under the veil of the too-small dress I could see the outline of a girdle that was stretched far beyond the laws of physics, and her plump feet were spilling up and out of the tops of pumps that hadn’t fit since before I’d had my first drink of whiskey. And I’m Irish, if that gives you an idea of how long ago that was.

“Jacob? You look like shit.”

“Good to see you, too, Ma. What are you doing here?”

“Waiting for you, obviously. Or did you forget?”

I decided to avoid the slightly ridiculous “forget what?” and opted to go for fewer syllables. “Yes.”

The lines around my mother’s eyes tightened, and her mouth looked even more like she’d bitten into something sour, but she only said “I figured as much. Well, get cleaned up. There’s still time to make it if you don’t spend too much time on your hair.” Nice, Ma. Pure class.

“Alright, have a seat while I go take a shower and put on some cleaner clothes.”

“I’ll stand. There’s no telling what’s growing on your sofa.”

“Whatever. I’ll be out in a few minutes.”

I headed off to the bathroom, picking up random pieces of clothing along the way. Most of them passed the sniff test, so I felt pretty good about my ensemble as I warmed up the shower. Polo shirt, jeans without any obvious or identifiable stains, socks that matched and didn’t have any holes in them, and a blazer just in case whatever I had forgotten was particularly formal. I scrubbed furiously for a couple of minutes and then let the water run over me, loosening up tight shoulders and banishing the final remnants of last night. My hamstrings were tight, there were some scratches along my back, and it felt like I might have pulled something around my ribcage. I thought briefly that I had to start taking a video camera with me when I went drinking, just for the health insurance folks.

I shaved my face, then looked at the stubble on my head and took an extra minute to shave that, too. I started losing my hair in high school, and I’ve kept it shaved since then. Just makes it easier. But my hat budget is a little ridiculous. I took care of the rest of my morning business, including a bowel movement that would have made me really reconsider what I’d eaten for dinner, except that I couldn’t remember what that was, or if I’d had any non-liquid dinner at all. Anyway, it felt like wasabi. Probably chased sushi with Jagermeister again. I never learn.

I walked back into the den and sat down on a pizza box on the sofa to put my shoes on. The one guarantee in my place: there’s no pizza in the pizza boxes, so you can sit on one without getting anchovies on your ass. It’s good to have a few constants.

“Alright, Ma. I’m ready. Now where are we going?” I stood in the doorway, holding it open for her.

“You really don’t remember?” She seemed shocked by this, and a little more upset than normal. She came to me in the doorway and put a hand on my chest.

“No, Ma. I really don’t remember. So where are we going?” My head was starting to hurt, and I couldn’t blame it all on the Jager. My mother always brought out the migraine in me.

“We’re going to the church. It’s your cousin Samuel’s funeral today.”

Sammy? Fuck. I guess I hadn’t been drunk nearly long enough. I staggered back a little as the memories hit me like a freight train. Or like a city bus, which is what happened to Sammy. Little shit was listening to his iPod and not looking where he was going like always, but this time I wasn’t around to grab his arm and pull him back onto the curb like I’d done so many times before. Oh, I was there alright, I just wasn’t paying any more attention than Sammy was, my gaze having flickered to the tight navy slacks on a meter maid in the half-second it took for my cousin to make the transition from pedestrian to statistic.

“Oh.” I said in a small voice. I looked at my mother’s damp eyes and realized I was going to have to fortify myself for the day ahead. I lurched into what passes for a kitchen in the city these days, grabbed a bottle of Stoli out of the freezer and knocked back a couple of deep swallows before I came up for air. Then I grabbed a sports bottle out of the cabinet, poured the rest of the Stoli into it and dumped a couple of packets of orange Crystal Light powder into it.

“What in holy hell do you think you’re doing?” My mother asked from the threshold of the kitchen. She looked like she couldn’t decide what was more disgusting - me, my concoction or the counters. Probably a close contest at that.

“It’s a new invention, Ma. I call it Tang. All the astronauts love it.” I reached into the pocket of my jacket, put on my sunglasses and headed toward the door. “Come along, mother, let’s go face the family.”

The funeral was a hazy, weepy affair, conducted in the surreal sunshine of the ridiculously lovely and expensive Woodlawn Cemetery. My family has had a vault there since sometime in the Dickensian past of my great-grandfather’s Industrial Revolution fortune. I stood near the back of the gathered mourners and ticked off the categories as I noted their inhabitants. There was the family nearest the casket, my aunts, uncles and Grandmother, sitting stoic in her best imitation of grief. Cousins of various degrees filled the rest of the seats, along with some childhood friends of my Aunt Elizabeth, Sammy’s mother. Clumped around under the awning were the co-workers, college buddies and an ex-girlfriend or two. The people who didn’t really want to be there, but felt obligated by either old ties or fiduciary interests.

There were a couple of folks like me, the fringe-hangers orbiting solo around the solar system of grief and regrets. If Sammy’s coffin was the sun, with his parents and my mother Mercury and Venus, then I was a moon of Uranus, just barely tangential enough to be part of the gathering. The priest was finishing up his last tired homage to Sammy’s now-immortal goodness when I spotted Janet, floating even further from the asteroid belt of cousins than me, Pluto to my Umbriel. I drifted over to her as the assemblage broke up, forgoing my chance to throw a fistful of dirt on my best friend’s eternal box.

“Hey.” I said as I walked up to her, not sure how to begin a conversation at a funeral with my ex-girlfriend who left me to marry my now-lead-shrouded cousin and then left him to be an Upper East Side stiletto heel-wearing lesbian fashionista.

“Hey.” She wore sunglasses that gave a vague impression of ski slopes, but her mouth was pinched and her posture tired.

“You okay?” I asked, surprised to find myself actually caring about the answer.

“No.” She said. When she looked at me again, she took off her glasses and I could see tears in her eyes. I thought she’d had her tear ducts removed at puberty, so inured was she to the heartaches she left in her wake like the Typhoid Mary of Craigslist’s Missed Connections.

I did something totally out of character then, something so unlike me that it seemed for a minute like I’d stepped out of my skin, and was just an observer as someone who more closely resembled a normal human being set his sport bottle full of firewater down on a nearby headstone and took Janet in my arms and held her while she fell apart under a flowing dogwood tree with workmen lowering my cousin’s coffin into the ground behind us. We stood there for a few long moments, just holding each other and crying like we’d lost something precious, which we had, and let the rest of the world flow around us back to their town cars and limos.

After we’d cried ourselves dry, we pulled back and assessed the damage to her makeup and my detached reputation, and broke up laughing and crying again at the ridiculousness of it all.

“Of all the people...” she started.

“Yeah, I never thought...” I continued.

“That it would be you that set me off.” she finished.

“I have that effect on women.” I responded with a sideways smirk.

“I remember.” She said, not smiling, but not angry either. “You gonna offer a lady a drink?” She asked, reaching for my bottle.

“This shit? Not on your life. Besides, I’m quitting.” I said, holding the bottle out of her reach.

“Yeah, as of when?” She laughed as she reached for the bottle.

“As of now,” I said. With that, I turned and chucked the sports bottle in a perfect spiral to land with a hollow thud on Sammy’s casket just before the workmen started dumping backhoes full of dirt onto it. I looked down at Janet, who was nestled in the crook of my right arm like she’d never left, then looked back at the hole in the ground and the confused groundskeepers, and turned to walk up the hill to my ride.

“Cheers, Sammy. Cheers.”

John Hartness is a writer from Charlotte, NC. He's the author of Hard Day's Knight.

September 11

By Katitude © 2011

When I woke up I had no idea what was coming.

It was a wonderful September morning in New Hampshire. The kids were in school, the campgrounds were empty and the tourist traffic had almost disappeared. An ideal riding day.

It had rained like God was trying to wash away our sins the day before and we managed to find a motel just before the Kankamagus Highway, one with a surprisingly large room and a hot tub to rid the last of the chill that settled over me after riding in the rain.

I laid in bed, sipping the coffee Keith had made me and listened to the sound of the shower. That's my quiet time when we travel. I know that once he's out of the shower I have to get my butt out of bed or Action Man gets antsy. I snuggled under the covers and watched the muted weather channel. The temperatures on the screen were on the cool side, but the forecast promised warmth by lunchtime.

It was going to be a perfect day for riding.

We hit the Kankamagus early, and the twisty highway through the White Mountains did not disappoint. We saw very few cars and could set our pace as we meandered in a westward direction. It's always hard to head home after a good trip, and we were definitely taking the long way.

I remember taking a curve that curled up and around and over a large hill, and a feeling of joy hit me. THIS is why I ride, I thought, this one moment of grace that overshadows even a full day of rain and cold. Around the hill was a lay-by, a place where you could pull over and look out over the valley and mountains. The first thing I noticed when I pulled off my helmet were the many, many shades of green before us, from the dark green of pine to the yellow-green of the willows that grew along the valley floor. Dotted here and there was the scarlet of a maple that had changed early. As promised by the weatherman, the clouds had begun to break up. The lay-by’s elevation was high enough that we could see the shadows of the few that remained slide over the valley below.

It was late morning when we stopped for gas on the far side of the Kankamagus. As I was filling up, a man with wild hair and angry eyes pulled up in a white panel van on the other side of my pump. He started talking to me even before he had the nozzle in his hand.

I couldn't hear what he was saying through my full face helmet. I tried to ignore him at first, but it was obvious that he was trying to initiate a conversation and I was not raised to be so obviously rude as to ignore him further.

I took the helmet off and said, “Pardon?”

“Do you two have radios on those things?” he asked.

I thought he meant two-way radios. We get that question a lot, people want to know if we chat to each other on the road.

“No, no,” I said with my stock answer. “We don't talk to each other as we ride.”

He looked impatient, and a warning bell went off in the back of my head. Be nice to the crazy guy.

“No, not those kinds of radios! You don't know what's happening? You haven't heard?”

“Heard what?”

He became completely still, tense and motionless but for a facial muscle, a tic from clenching his teeth. He took a deep breath and said in more quiet and controlled voice, “Someone flew a plane into the World Trade Centre and knocked it down.”

Holy shit, I thought. Crazy guy has been alone in his cabin in the woods a little too long.

Not wanting to deal with Mr Angry-Eyes on my own anymore I turned to Keith, filing up his bike behind me.

“Hey Keith, did you hear this?”

I know my voice had that same tone I use to describe things I am truly skeptical of, like angels, good airplane food, short lines at government offices, and perfect test scores from teenagers who have missed half the unit.

“Hear what?” His voice was cautious; he had picked up on my tone.

I repeated what Mr Angry-eyes had said to me.

“Really? That's tragic.” He had picked up on my skepticism and used the same humour-the-crazy-person tone that I had used.

Mr. Angry-eyes had finished filling up, and as he replaced the nozzle back on the pump, he said, “You bet your ass it's tragic, and someone's going to pay!”

With that, he collected his receipt from the auto-pay pump, got into in his white panel van and drove away.

I looked at Keith.

“Do you think that might have happened?”

“Not likely. The World Trade Centre? Have to be a pretty big plane.”

He went into the store to pay for the gas since auto-pay pumps wouldn't accept Canadian credit cards. He came out a few minutes later looking grim.

“What's up?” I asked.

“He was right.”


“The guy, he was right. But it was two planes.”

I stared at Keith while I tried to process it.

“Two planes. What do you mean, two planes?”

“It's on the TV in the store. Two planes. Were hijacked. And flown into the World Trade Centre. Which collapsed. Both towers,”

“Fuck” I whispered.

“Yeah,” he said. “Let's go.”

“Just a second. I have to see.”

I walked into the store, and followed everyone's gaze up to the ceiling mounted TV. There it was. Small plane sliding so purposefully into the glass wall. Cut to the angry red flames and thick black smoke erupting from the hole. Cut to the first tower pancaking in painfully slow motion, floor by floor. Cut to people on the ground, crying, screaming, running from the giant white cloud billowing towards them faster than thought. Cut to a woman, completely covered in grey dust except for the parallel tracks of tears down her face, wild eyed with panic yet still clutching her purse as she darted from one doorway to another. My emotions and thoughts seemed to split apart. I was horrified by the scope of it, I wanted to cry but I also remember thinking how Hollywood had nothing on this for effect.

I couldn't look any more. I'd had to see, and I'd seen enough, more than enough. I turned to leave, and as I pushed open the door I heard a woman exclaim to no one in particular, “Why? Why would anyone do this? Why does everyone hate us so much? I don't understand!”

As I walked out, I took a final look over my shoulder at the plethora of red, white and blue, at the t-shirt and flags that proclaimed USA forever, we're number one, at the useless convenience items that spoke of a disposable culture of consumption and waste, and at the newspapers and magazines with headlines that informed the citizens of latest celebrity scandal or how to please your man in bed with no whisper of any current events either local or global.

I very quietly closed the door behind me.

As I walked past Keith, he reached out and took hold of my hand, pulling me in for a hug. I hugged him back and whispered in his ear, let's get the hell out of here. The day was just as beautiful as it had been 20 minutes before, just as sunny, just as warm, but it seemed so much darker.

All I wanted to do at first was to just get HOME, to get across the border, to be on native soil again. There's a line in the movie Beetlejuice where a female character says “I want to go home, Home HOME!”, and the act of saying it three times magically made it happen. I must have said it three x three x three times, but it didn't work. Life is not a movie.

The act of riding performed it's own magic. Motorcycling does not lend itself to constant introspection. There are consequences if you are not continuously conscious of your surroundings. The back roads of New Hampshire, Vermont and upstate New York demanded that I look, that I see what is around me. The sun shone from a painfully blue sky dotted with fluffy white clouds. The roads twisted and curled around hills and rivers, occasionally becoming gravel with a swiftness that made the adrenaline kick in as I reached for the brake lever. A gentle wind blew through the trees that lined the roads making the branches of early-turned leaves dance and sway. We stopped by a river and made coffee by a weathered, covered bridge, listening to the pigeons murmur in the rafters while a cow meandered over to the fence to moo at us from across the water.

The horror of what had happened in the city didn't necessarily fade, but the ride gave me perspective. The countryside seemed to say that, yes, a tragedy occurred, yes, mankind has been shitty to itself again, and yes, people have died or been traumatized for life. But ultimately, in the large scheme of things, it's a blip. The sun will still shine, the crops will still grow, rivers will still meander to the sea and life will go on.

I will always be grateful that we were on the road that day. The few images that I have seen of that day haunt me enough as it is; I cannot imagine how I would have handled being bombarded with them all day, like so many I know.

We rode all afternoon, through pastoral farmland and state forests to the heart of the Adirondacks. The late afternoon grew too chilly to ride, so we turned into a private campground near Old Forge, NY. We had gotten used to the quiet of travelling after Labor Day and had stayed at many half-empty campgrounds, but this place was deserted.

There were brass bells over the door of the campground office, and their cheery-sounding jangling was a sharp contrast to the sombre voices that came from the TV in back room. A woman with red-rimmed eyes came to the counter to serve us, sniffing and clutching a balled-up Kleenex.

“People have been leaving all day,” she told us. “You'll be the only ones here tonight. Everyone else wanted to be home.”

“They're not the only ones,” I told her.

“But it's too far to ride in one day,” Keith added. “So here we are.”

We set up our tent by the lake, and after a quick dinner we sat around the last campfire of the trip, looking out over the water. Little was said. I thought about what I had seen on the TV at the gas station, and wished I hadn't dismissed Mr. Angry-Eyes, wished I could say I'm sorry, I didn't know.

We usually like to watch the sun set when we camp, but the day had thrown us, mentally exhausted us. We made it an early night; so early that I think we were snug in the tent before the last of the daylight left the sky.

It could have been the good, long sleep or the desire to be home that had me awake and out of the sleeping bag uncharacteristically early. We decided to stop at the first diner we passed rather than deal with the mess of a camp breakfast, and we had the tent down and the bikes packed up before the sun even had a chance to burn off the early-morning mist coming off the lake.

The first diner we saw happened to be 10 minutes down the road in the centre of the village of Old Forge. It was one of those places you see in most small towns, the kind that has a bulletin board by the cash register with notices about yard sales, kittens for free, snowmobiles for sale and fundraisers for the local hockey team, the kind of place where the locals go for their coffee and gossip every morning before they head to work.

And that morning was no exception. While we ate our breakfast, we heard all about Mrs. B's addiction to scratch tickets, so-and-so's pregnant daughter and whether or not she should finish high school, and listened to two farmers discuss the merits of harvesting the field corn before winter or just leaving it as a wind break.

The one thing we did not hear about was what had happened in New York City and Washington, DC the day before. It was surreal. Keith asked our waitress what she thought about the previous day’s events.

“Oh hon, I don't know. What happens in big cities doesn't have too much to do with us here.” And with that, she slid our bill onto the table, smiled and wished us a real nice day. I'll admit to feeling a little confused by the locals' lack of reaction; had we missed something while were unplugged from media and away from world news?

We geared back up, and we headed homeward, riding in the sunshine through upstate New York. The twisting roads through the Adirondack National Forest straightened out and carried us through farmland as we got closer to the St. Lawrence River. There's a small border crossing at Cape Vincent, NY with a ferry to Wolfe Island near Kingston that we like to go through, due to my fear of heights and of tall bridges. Usually it takes no more than a half hour to board the ferry. Usually.

This time it took over four hours. If I had any confusion about the seriousness of the previous day's events, it was cleared up in moments of arriving at the little ferry dock. We talked sporadically with the others waiting for the ferry, all Americans. It was all they could talk about, and speculation abounded. It had been the work of many, no, the work of a few. A few hundred were dead, no, tens of thousands. It had been done by dissenters from within the US, no, terrorists from without, from the Middle East, North Vietnam, Africa. They had been US citizens, no, immigrants. They had crossed illegally from Mexico, no, legally from Canada. They had all watched the television throughout the day before, watched news programs that clearly had no answers for them, only questions and theories.

The border guards were questioning everyone leaving for Canada, something they never did. I could feel the tension and anger coming off of them in waves. I watched them question people ahead of us, and whispered to Keith that it seemed a little like closing the barn door after all the horses had run away. Apparently, my voice was louder than I'd thought and one of the guards overheard me. He glared at me and proceeded to search through the bike, questioning everything on it, questioning why we were crossing there. I explained my fear of heights and bridges to him.

He smiled at that, and it was a mean smile. “I could refuse you entry at this point, make you have to go over a bridge.”

Panic brought adrenaline, and I could feel myself start to shake. There was anger there too; did I look like a terrorist, did he have to fuck with me. I kept my mouth shut; I know better than to tackle anger and fear with more anger and fear. I blinked back tears as I looked across to the Canadian flag on the other shore as I waited for him to say yes or no. I was so close to home; I couldn’t bear thinking about a delay much less a delay with phobia triggers thrown in.

After what seemed like an age, the customs guard thrust my passport back at me and said, “Go home.”

I was so relieved, I had to sit down. Keith pulled out our books, and we sat under a tree and read. And waited...

It was three in the afternoon by the time we were finally allowed to board the small ferry. The Canadian Customs guards went over the bikes again, but this time it didn't seem nearly as tense. When the guard finally said we were cleared, all I could say was a very sincere thank you.

We were home.

Kat Goodale is a writer from Toronto, Canada.

The Last Time I Saw Buddy Holly

by Johnny Hughes © 2011

When I was in the first grade, Niki Sullivan (one of the original Crickets with Buddy Holly) and his parents lived with my family in a very small house. There was a piano, guitars, and music every night.

Niki did not leave the Crickets before they made it big. They made it big on the first tour, Lubbock to New York, and appeared on the Ed Sullivan show. He was in the band when That'll Be the Day started being a hit. They made it big before they ever left Lubbock via radio. When they got the advance for the first tour, they went to Coach Brown's Varsity Shop, and got suits, which changed their look from Levis, rolled up sleeve T-shirts. Later, they'd buy more matching outfits, Buddy in white and them in black, color coordinated.

As you know, the first tour booker (never saw them in person, but heard them on the radio) thought they were black and sent them out on a bus tour with several big black acts that toured around. They ended up in New York and played the Apollo in Harlem. The bus was cold, the black guys would straighten their hair with this really smelly stuff. I think, memory hazy, they were offended by Little Richard, whom we had all seen at the Cotton Club. They gambled with the blacks, dice and cards. Buddy didn't really care if he lost. Somewhere in the middle of the tour, Buddy bought a Cadillac. I rode in it, it was off pink, as close to Elvis as he could get. I once sat in Elvis' car, but no ride.

Niki took a job delivering flowers for a florist while they were home. My memory here is hazy, but after they got off the first tour, they were broke. I got Joe B., Jerry, and Buddy to come play poker and they set a fifty cent limit.

It was at this point that Matt Sullivan, Niki's dad, began to question record producer Norman Petty's criminal business ways. However, it was Buddy who got cheated the most of all, because he made the same as the rest in basic royalties and tour fees, although he made bigger songwriter royalties.

I also believe that Niki and Buddy remained friends, when Jerry and Joe B. sided with Norman. Peggy Sue's greater, funny lie was that Buddy left the band where they could get another singer, as if Buddy was fired.

The last time I saw Buddy, I was driving a truck for Lubbock Electric. He was riding a motorcycle. I invited him back to the business to have coffee and he followed me. He knew one of the electricians his age. They were two years older than me. We went to the upstairs coffee room which filled up. They made me go back to work. Later, I was cleaning an electric motor with naptha by spraying it, and Buddy came to the back to say goodbye -- our final goodbye. I was spraying naptha from a high-pressure hose. He was dancing around trying not to get naptha on his fancy pants which I remember as red and white, big stripes like a barber pole. I'd sprayed his direction as a joke. I have asked Maria Elena about those pants and she didn't remember them.

For a seminar at the Buddy Holly Center, I told Joe Nick Patoski that story and asked him, as moderator of a panel with the family and Maria Elena, to ask each of them of their last memory of seeing Buddy. Each told a moving story, until the often-angry widow just said, coldly, "It was in New York."

Made me wonder.

Johnny Hughes is the author of Texas Poker Wisdom.

April 01, 2011

April 2011, Vol. 10, Issue 4

Welcome to the Spring Fling edition. You will soon realize that this month's stories have very little to do with spring or flings. Or do they?

1. Solomon's Cranium by Paul McGuire
I couldn't get image out of my head, so I started drawing images of giant skulls, or stick figures of my father in a ditch with giant bones...More

2. Traffic Jam at the Top of the World, Part 2 by Tim Lavalli
A cold hard freeze gripped my chest -- all of these climbers ahead of me might well be ahead of me on the way back down when oxygen would be short and everyone would be even weaker then they are now. What would I do trapped at the top of the ladder with a dozen people in line in front of me and death staring me in the face?...More

3. Zombie Mom by John Hartness
Eugene was being a little snot about zombie rights, so we changed the channel to Zombie-Animal Planet, which was showing Zombie Manor, where these zombies in Africa were running from a lion. That was pretty cool, too, but needed more explosions...More

4. Deja Vu by Katitude
The visions showed her walking away from her apartment, her possessions. She sold it all on Craigslist. She saw herself buying a used car, something nondescript and reliable. She bought a green 1974 convertible MG with the money she had made selling her crap. The next dream had her heading across the border... More

5. L'Orange by Alex Villegas
All they wanted to do was enjoy Las Vegas and get some fruit. And they couldn’t even do that because they were in the US where everyone only speaks American. They were forced to have me as their only conduit to the world around them. Their only hope was a belligerently drunk Hispanic man with pupils the size of quarters. If that wasn’t bad enough, I couldn’t even properly speak their language... More

What a Long Strange Trip It's Been...

From the Editor's Laptop

The April issue is loaded with veteran talent. Alex Villegas makes his triumphant return with a tale of youthful (drunken) lust. Powerful selections from Tim Lavalli, Kat, and John Hartness round out this issue. Oh, and how could I forget a piece of fiction I wrote inspired by a photograph.

The contributors at Truckin' are passionate souls. They write for the love of self-expression, which is a snarky way of saying that they write for free. Month after month, I'm still amazed at the tremendous amount of courage that flows through the writers. It's not easy to spill your guts to the world, yet that's what they are doing -- for your amusement.

So, please help us out and spread the word about Truckin'. In this age of over-saturated social media, I encourage you to tell your virtual friends about your favorite stories. It will definitely improve your karma in your next lifetime.

Contact us if you'd like to be added to the mailing list. Or, if you're interested writing for a future issue, then please check out out submission guidelines and drop us an email.

Lastly, thanks to you, the readers. The long-form written word is slowly dying off, but each of you keep the spirit burning alive with your unwavering support for Truckin'.

Be good,

"Finishing a book is just like you took a child out in the back yard and shot it." - Truman Capote

Solomon's Cranium

By Paul McGuire © 2011

"I always wanted to be an artist."

"Well, you are...in a way."

"I'm a musician, sure, but I wanted to be a traditional artist. I wanted to become a painter and when I was a kid I used to draw all the time."

"But what happened?"

"My parents got really angry and outlawed drawing in my home."

"What? Where did you grow up? Russia? Nazi Germany?"

"Boston suburbs. Okay, it's a really long backstory but you promised you won't think I'm weird or something?"

"How could I think you're weird? You're a lesbian with a purple mohawk and orange-dyed armpit hair."

"Okay, so my grandfather was some World War II hero or something and he was working for the government. My mom said he was a 'G-Man'. Are you old enough to know that term?"

"G-Men? Like FBI agents in trench coats and hats?"

"Exactly. That's what my generation knew them as. You guys call them 'Men in Black' after that Fresh Prince movie with Tommy Lee Jones."

"Awesome movie. Was your grandfather chasing aliens?"

"I don't know what he was doing. He died before I was born. I saw old black and white photos. He was always in a drab suit with a scowl on his face. Anyway, both of my parents were anthropology students when they met. My mother said she never expected my father to propose because he was one of those 'free spirit' types but when he returned from a nine-month long field assignment in the Solomon Islands, he started acting really strange but everything was strange then, so she chalked up his peculiar behavior to the incendiary political climate of 1968. She was too excited about getting married and she overlooked the drastic changes. Those were the first of the warning signs, but my mother ignored them."

"Of what?"

"Nightmares. My father had horrible nightmares. When I was a kid, I noticed that my father never slept. When we were all asleep, he was in his study or in the kitchen reading books or writing various letters to the editor. But my mom said that he had nightmares about something that happened to him in the Solomon Islands."

"What was he doing there?"

"I think he was studying tribal behavior, I don't know for sure, because he wrote some boring text book instead of a sort of Indiana Jones type of adventures. So let's fast forward a decade or so. I'm eight years old and I'm at the peak of my curiosity. Both of my parents were professors and I spent a lot of time being watched by an elderly neighbor who babysat for a couple of hours a day. Anyway, I used to hide in my father's office and snoop around. I learned how to pick locks that summer and I picked open a lockbox that he had unsuccessfully hidden in one of his desk drawers. That's when I saw the photograph dated 1968."

"Where was it taken?"

"The Solomon Islands. But it's the skull that freaked me out."

"The what?"

"The skull. My father was standing over what looks like an excavation site. The skull is the size of a VW Bug."

"Like a 'punch buggy' bug?"


"Was it a dinosaur?"

"It looked human to me."


"Yeah, it had a rib cage which was big enough to fit all of Parliament Funkadelic inside. The femur was as long as a city bus."

"Wait, so you found a picture of your dad with the bones of a giant?"


"Was it pre-historic? Was it Godzilla?"

"I don't know what it was. I put it back, but I couldn't get image out of my head, so I started drawing images of giant skulls, or stick figures of my father in a ditch with giant bones."

"Holy shit."

"Yeah, and when my father saw the drawings, he went berserk. He demanded that I hand over every single drawing. I remember that day -- he ripped one off the fridge and followed me into my room where I kept most of the drawings in a large folder. He grabbed the entire folder and went outside in the backyard and set it on fire. My mother was screaming at him. I was crying, but not wailing, more like silently pouting with a trickle of tears. That's when he outlawed drawing or anything related to art. I think my father felt guilty about what happened, so he encouraged me to pursue music. They let me pick any instrument and paid for lessons and in six years, I went through five or six different ones before I finally settled on a guitar. They hounded me about practicing on days I didn't want to, but they were always supportive of my music even to the point of not objecting when I said I wanted to drop out of school and move to Portland and play music. You would think that academics like them would have been wicked pissed if their daughter dropped out, but they were totally cool with it. I can't help but think all of that loving support stemmed from their guilt about restricting my access to drawing. All because of those silly skulls. I wouldn't have a career and a kick ass band and be talking to a music writer like yourself unless I didn't have that amazing support and encouragement from my parents."

"So what was the skull?"

"I don't know. But my bass player has a theory that my father was working for the government on some sort of top secret mission because they knew he could be trusted if my grandfather was an FBI agent. So Harvard sent him to the Solomon Islands to study the people, but the entire time it was just a cover story for a covert op in which my father was helping the CIA excavate the remains of an ancient alien race."

"The skull is alien?"

"I have no idea for sure. It's just a theory. A half-baked theory that my bass player concocted in the back of the tour buss after drinking one too many shots of 151."

Paul McGuire is the author of Lost Vegas.

Traffic Jam at the Top of the World, Part 2

By Tim Lavalli © 2011

As I cleared the cornice of the massive boulder I saw the line backed up in front of me. There had to be fifteen or more climbers going absolutely nowhere. I sagged back against the rock face and tried to steady my mind. Time was critical, we were in the death zone, who the fuck thought it was a good idea to call it that? Death Zone! Shit can’t let my mind wander like that, I needed to focus on my options. I had 600 minutes of oxygen from the last checkpoint. Now how long was this bottleneck delay going to take? Who were all of these people at the top of the world? Where did they come from? Maybe we should have taken a number at base camp. Shit Eddie stop that, focus on the minutes of air you have.

OK, count them six, nine, thirteen, fourteen in the queue and one on the ladder. If they each take five minutes. How many fives in an hour? Three in a quarter, so twelve can go up the ladders in an hour. More than an hour to wait for my turn on the ladders. Take 60 minutes off my 600, no wait, damn. Not sixty, there are fourteen climbers in front of me – 70 minutes plus the guy on the ladder now - 75. Maybe I should time him and see if five minutes is a good estimate, I mean it is for an experienced trekker, but who knows if these people even know how to climb. I mean we nearly are at the summit of Everest but… oh man I have got to stay on task here.

Let’s see the guy is already half way up the face, where the two ladders tie together, so another two and a half minutes to the top? But what the hell! He isn’t moving, I can hear voices shouting at him, what is that – Chinese? He’s stopped halfway up and those ladders hold one and only one climber at a time. Move you fucker, get off the damn ladder!

I leaned back against the rock face again and tried to calm my breathing, I had to stop getting emotional about this situation and deal with the facts on the mountain. Every time I got upset my breathing accelerated and my O2 supply went down. I looked back to my right and two more climbers had joined the line behind my climbing partner. I barely knew the climber I was teamed with, Ollie the Norwegian sailor I had been climbing with for the last ten days had to go back down yesterday after an attack of pulmonary edema. I had met George this morning, we were a team only because we paid the same expedition company to set up the tents, food, oxygen and Sherpa guides; other than that, he was a stranger.

Just then one of the team leaders from Finland came round the boulder, the Fin team all wore the same bright neon blue parkas; he took a short look at the pile-up of climbers and ducked back behind the rock. How many of his climbing team did he have back there? They were now sixteen, no eighteen climbers from the ladder. He had to be doing the same calculations I was. I looked back down the line to my left and saw the Chinese climber finally at the top of the ladders, he was being helped by another of his team to clear the top rung. Another person stood next to them, could that be someone wanting to come down? No, it was too early in the day for a returning climber – it was then that a cold hard freeze gripped my chest – all of these climbers ahead of me might well be ahead of me on the way back down when oxygen would be short and everyone would be even weaker then they are now. What would I do trapped at the top of the ladder with a dozen people in line in front of me and death staring me in the face? Politeness might just have to give way to survival.

There it was – take my ego out of the equation and the calculations were precise, not all of these climbers could make it up the ladders to the summit and back down again. Time, altitude, oxygen and the limits of the human body were all X factors, known quantities; if I just removed “me” from the calculation everything fell into place. Some of these people were not going to survive the day. I was, but only if I turned around now and got out of this traffic jam at the top of the world. This is the decision no one wants to make on Everest. I made it in two seconds flat.

I braced myself for that task of passing climbers going down the narrow ledge, I wish my mind were more clear – then my second epiphany hit – I now have excess oxygen, I am not going to summit, I have nearly six hours of spare O2. I cranked the flow up to 2 then 3, what the hell – 4, I could turn it down once I got off this crowded ledge. My head became clearer with each rich breath. Time to get the fuck off this mountain.

I turned to George, lifted my mask and spoke into this ear – "The line is too long, we won’t make it, I am going back down."

He looked at me like I was a crazy man or maybe a coward but he said only: "One step closer for me."

I unsnapped by lead carabiner and reached around him to hook on his down slope side, then I unhooked the trailing hitch and slid by him. The two climbers behind us saw the move and immediately flattened against the rock face allowing me to make the same maneuver around them; they too were moving one body up the queue. As I came around the boulder face, the Fin guide gave me a worried smile and leaned in to speak – "My people will not listen, they want to keep going up."

I shook my head and move around him, once I was able to pass his group of four I would be off the narrow ledge and able to make much better time. As I moved through the group of Fins, the leader was telling them that I was a very experienced climber and I had decided the risk was too great. My thought was only to get past them and leave fewer climbers between myself and base camp.

Ten minutes further on I encountered another group of six, off the ledge now we were able to gingerly pass on the trail. I did not intend to speak to them but the last of their group was Nikki, who I had met several days before at base camp #2. Every man on Everest remembered Nikki once he had met her. There was a vastness in her pale blue eyes that could haunt your dreams and even covered by all the cold weather gear, Nikki was able to stir a man’s soul like nothing short of the summit could. I had to say something – "You are 28th in line for the ladder, you have many bad climbers in front of you." She looked at me as if I had said the moon is made of green cheese. "There isn’t enough time, the lead climbers are moving too slowly; you should turn back." She smiled and said only – "Thank you." I moved off down the mountain.

Once free of the other climbers I began to experience a mountain high that often comes from lack of oxygen, I knew mine was because I had made a decision that would save my life. I backed the O2 flow down to 3 but I knew it was not mountain euphoria, I was safe even though still in the death zone. I walked into Camp 4 well before noon and made a quick exchange of extra food I would not be needing for two bottles of hot sugared tea. I changed out my oxygen and left the nearly half full bottle in the expedition tent in case someone had need of it late tonight. I strapped on my last full bottle and in less than half an hour was ready to depart Camp 4 and leave the death zone forever. Just as I squared myself for the trek to Base Camp 3, I heard a call; the leader of the Fin expedition was entering the high end of camp with three of his four climbers. He had a look of relief and grief at the same time. I trudged over to him and gave him a hug.

"You saved three of them," I told him. He was already lamenting the fourth.

At this time of day, I was the only climber on the way down from Camp 4 to Base Camp 3. I was wrapped in my own personal glow of triumph, I truly believed I had made a decision to save my life and I was not ready to wrap my mind around what George and all of those other climbers were going to face trying to get off Everest later today. Several groups were coming up to Camp 4 for their attempt at summiting, which would begin early the following morning. How many of them would be daunted by the gruesome tales about to come down from on high tonight?

I reach Base Camp 3 in the last afternoon and decided I had enough and would rest here and make the trek down through Camp 2 and Camp 1 to the true base camp early the next day. In less than 72 hours I would have exchanged a deadly traffic jam for a seat on a plane leaving Everest forever. I did find as many of the team leaders as I could at Base Camp 3 and told them of the situation I had seen at the ladders, I wanted to prepare them for what was going to be a very dangerous and I feared deadly night.

Just after eight, I wriggled into my sleeping bag and slipped on an oxygen mask at low flow, I was still rich in O2 rations and I wanted a real night’s sleep before I stormed off the mountain in the morning. Around ten o’clock someone crawled into the tent, I couldn’t believe that George had turned around, but who… ? As the other climber pulled off the other parka and zipped into the other sleeping bag I looked over and into those bottomless pale blue eyes.

"Thank you again," was all she said.

Tim Lavalli is the co-author of Mike Matusow: Check-Raising the Devil. Click here to read Part 1 of Traffic Jam at the Top of the World.