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.

So, please help us out and spread the word about Truckin' by any and all means of social media. Please share your favorite stories and your karma will definitely improve.

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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,

"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.