RAISED WITH WOLVES


Chapter 11

When we crossed back into the Argentinian border the road turned back to pavement and we opened our machines up. I was dusty and dry, my beard a tangled mess under my helmet, and I was in a bad mood from being jostled around for four hours straight on gravel roads that meant to murder me. I could finally un-clench both my fists and my asshole, leaving the heightened sense of alertness and the constant rush of adrenaline behind me on the dusty roads of Chile.

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We stopped in Los Antiguos, which looked like a Mediterranean port city, but was really just an empty town on Largo Gran Carerra. We gassed up the bikes, having learned the lesson to get fuel every time you see a gas station, and pulled some Argentenian pesos out of an ATM.  I sat down and drank an Austrian energy drink with a donkey on it on the sidewalk next to my bike and watched stray dogs and Argentines saunter about.

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The sun reflected off the white concrete overwhelmingly, in a sense akin to snowblindness. Gulls hovered in the air and I wriggled my toes inside my riding boots uncomfortably as I squinted up at them.

I tried to walk around the shops and buy a postcard to send home, but despite there being no less than five tourists shops in Los Antiguos, none sold postcards. I also found that most of the shops I tried to enter were closed, with signs saying the proprietor would return in a few minutes. I’ve noticed this in a lot of South American towns. Besides the grocery stores and most gas stations, most shops will just be closed at random times with little to no explanation. There’s no point in looking at the posted hours, or checking online, because maybe Juan just didn’t feel like coming in, or maybe he is off at lunch for two or three hours. Ulf says it is because they are Catholics, and Catholics don’t feel as if they have to work for anything and  that Protestants never think their work is good enough. Ulf is old enough to remember the Berlin wall being erected, so I think he might know a thing or two about work.

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We rode through hours of rocky wasteland, our bikes eliciting side eyes from sheep and goats as we passed. The landscape was beginning to flatten out, the mountains behind us to the west, but the lake was ever present as the road danced in and out of its view.

We arrived in Perito Moreno, the town, not the divine glacial masterpiece, earlier than we’d expected. The hotel was small and sterile, but had hot water. There is something unsettling about the all-white hotel room after spending days in the patagonian cabanas, tending the fire, listening to the wind envelop the cabin.

After a quick shower, which left a ring of grey dirt around the white tub, Ulf and I went looking for something to eat. We passed shuttered storefronts, hotel restaurants, and a sparse city park filled with languished teens, and finally settled on a cafe that didn’t serve half of what was on their menu. As we ate a plate of cold cuts and sliced cheese, Ulf remarked that the grey, shuttered town looked a lot like Russia. The main activities seem to be sitting in fron tof abandoned store fronts with one or two of your friends and a dog on a leash, or riding around in cars so beat up the hood won’t close properly, blaring music out of the one speaker that still works, so it sounds like those greeting cards your little brother gives you for your birthday that play “bad to the bone” when you open them.

I saw the same boring chubby little black headed kid sitting on three different storefront steps, just watching the same 5 cars drive to the edge of town and back again.

Another option is sitting at the edge of town on the porch of a dilapidated burnt out building, trading kisses with your underage girlfriend.

Ulf and I continued to walk the street, the only street, looking desperately for a bar but there wasn’t one to be found. Ulf bought two pints of Cristal, possibly the worst beer south of the equator, and went back to his room. I joined the locals, and sat on once polished granite steps in front of a shuttered building that probably used to sell shoes or meat and watched the foot traffic.

There are, though, a number of gated well kept lawns, with impressive flower gardens, and here in the twilight, the waving trees and yellow flower bushes are quaint enough. And then there was a pale disheveled but pretty little teenage girl, sitting on a crumbling rick wall with her perky friend. Her stare lingered and her fever blistered smile was wry and telling. But teenager girls and flowers be damned, do not stop in Perito Moreno unless your bike is breaking down or you are dying of thirst ( and then don’t expect any decent cerveza). Keep going to Bajo Carjoles, 100 km ahead. They at least have a bar and a restaurant that serves more than cold cuts and salty pizza.

 

 

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Bus Trip ‘Oh Ten: Episode 43- So Much for the Afterglow

July 26th

Last night, after the bar, we all went to bed, but only three of us went to sleep. I had another three or four hour night of itchy half-sleep, scratching myself raw. But today is our last day in Los Angeles, and our last day in California, so there’s no time to worry about how much sleep I didn’t get. There are things to do.

We drove up the famous Mullholland drive and blared Tom Petty over the speakers. It was a Tom Petty kind of day anyway, Mullholland or not, the sky lit up slowly, and the sun beat down on us dirty, temporary Angelinos.

The bus barely made it up the winding ascent, slowing down to ten and sometimes five miles per hour around some of the turns, and rich people honked from behind us, not able to pass us on the two lane road, anxious to get to where ever they were headed. “Free Fallin'” came on over the speakers and I turned it up and waited for the perfect moment, when Tom Petty would croon that last great verse just as we overtook the final hill, but the CD skipped through the entire song, and our sonic moment was ruined–cold reality.

We stopped and pulled over in a gravel pull off, and exited the bus gleefully, cars honking at us as they passed. We stood at the edge of the road, and there was all of Los Angeles, sprawled out before us, all grand, all tortured, all golden, all desperate, all genius, all forlorn, neverending  Los Angeles.

“You know, all of those people down there, all of those rich people, they’re all rich because we’re so stupid,” Ben said, climbing up on a guard rail to get a better look at the sweeping panorama. “You go and pay twelve dollars to see Transformers or whatever drivel your girlfriend wants to see and it pays for their house, their pool, their cars. You can’t hate them for being rich. We make them rich.”

Mansions, that according to Ben, we paid for, cascaded down the mountain below us, and beyond that was downtown, the L.A skyline, the Capital Records building, highway 101– suddenly I wish I had a date, a convertible, and a Three Dog Night song playing over the radio, man I’d be set.

From our lookout spot on Mullholland we drove through Compton at Tyler and Pual’s demand. I was against it, but I guess they were hoping to get a stray bullet hole in the bus from some gang war or something; poverty tourism, I suppose. We drove through without seeing any scenes from “Boyz in the Hood” played out in front of us, thank God. Some kids chased after the bus yelling, like I guess they do with Safari Jeeps in Nairobi, but the Compton we’d heard about only from rap videos and late night television was not the Compton we were seeing, which was fine by me.

We were supposed to see Victoria play a show across town, and being that it was almost rush hour, we decided to head over there. The sun shone hot through the windshield and I absentmindedly scratched my right thigh, where more poison ivy rashes were bubbling up. It seemed that as the original strains were getting better, new ones were appearing. My crotch felt a lot better (oh sweet relief) but there were new spots on my legs, in between my fingers, and running down my ass. How miserable, baking in that vinyl driver’s seat.

L.A is just too damn big. The venue was twenty five miles away, and I can honestly say that I appreciate the sheer volume and terror of Los Angeles traffic; from the wheel of a thirty six foot school bus at that. I twitched and scratched and tapped on the steering wheel nervously, and we eventually got Tyler to Victoria’s show, which was held in a tiny, dingy DIY space down the road from Echo Park.

Ben, Pual and I ducked into a tiny Mexican corner market that had a hand painted sign hanging above the screen door. The floor was dirty concrete, the shelves were dusty, and most of the light in the place was emanating from a buzzing Corona sign in the corner. Pual and Ben bought a 40 a piece, and I purchased something called an El Jefe for  novelty’s sake. It was a thirty two ounce can of purple flavored twelve percent malt liquor for just three dollars. That’s like eight beers.

So within thirty minutes we’re crammed into a tiny venue with a bunch of hipsters, listening to Victoria’s overly reverbed voice, and I’m holding an empty can of El Jefe with a huge dumb drunk smile on my face. Victoria played the same ethereal finger picking four chord song in seven variations, and then we listened to a boyfriend/girlfriend indie folk duo play some bright, understated songs. The girl in the group looked exactly like an old flame of mine, at least in the drunk dark, and I stared intently at her mouth and neck as she sang their cute little diddies.

I know a third band played, but between bathroom breaks and somehow drinking more beer, I can’t remember anything about them. I was constantly looking at my phone to check the time. We had to be in West Hollywood by nine to see Everclear, and I was getting antsy, fearing we wouldn’t make it. But the general consensus, when I’m worrying and tapping my feet, is “Oh sure, we’ve got plenty of time, we’ll be fine”, but something always goes wrong and inevitably we’re late to everything.

But after the third band was done, and everyone was good and ready, we left.

“Ben are you sure you don’t want to come?” Tyler asked him before we boarded the bus.

“No, I’m going to stay behind with Victoria and her friends. They’re going to take me out,” he said, sipping on a Tecate.

“You’re going to miss seeing Everclear… at the viper room… where River Phoenix died?” I asked incredulously.

“Listen, man” he began. Though we were about the same height, I suddenly felt as if he were looking down at me. “I just can’t enjoy things like nineties pop-rock for the sake of itself. Have fun with your Third Eye Blind or whatever.”

“You, sir, have no soul,” I retorted in my best English accent, and off we were.

Pual drove us up to West Hollywood, and Tyler hung out the bus, counting the block numbers on Sunset Boulevard impatiently against the clock. The strip was lit up like July Fourth. Girls hobbled in high heels from club to club beneath blazing neon signs, burning bright against the black backdrop of the Hollywood night. No stars shone in the sky, just the neon pinks, greens, reds, purples, advertising drink specials, live music, cheap women.

“There, the viper room! Pual, park the bus!” Tyler hollered.

Pual stayed in the bus to sleep. He didn’t have fifteen dollars to spend on a show, so we left him there and hurried down Sunset Boulevard. We got to the club in which River Phoenix died right before it reached capacity.

And there we were, In Hollywood, in a packed club, watching a band resurrected straight from my childhood. They played every song of theirs I like, every song of theirs anyone likes for that matter. It was surreal. It was that scene in my movie where tears start welling up in my smiling eyes during “Father of Mine” and a grainy childhood montage of myself and my friends starts to roll. We’re running down the streets, barefoot and sincerely happy, back when nothing mattered, and in fact, in that moment, nothing did matter, except, well, Hollywood and Everclear and the magical, wonderful bus. I don’t know if it was the El Jefe running through my system, or just pure thirteen year old endorphins, but “THIS IS A SONG ABOUT SUSAN. THIS IS A SONG ABOUT THE GIRL NEXT DOOR” and I was elated.

After the show, we had to drive down to pick up Ben on the side of the road near Echo Park, and then we dashed out of L.A. Tyler and I spoke ecstatically about our nostalgic experience while Ben tisked tisked in the background, cool California air rushing in through the open windows.

I’m running on just twelve hours of sleep over the past four days, and I know I’m not going to fall asleep anytime soon anyway, so I pull over just outside of town and load up on energy drinks and sunflower seeds, and decide to just drive all night, getting as far up the road towards Vegas as possible before my mind crashes.

I drove through the quiet night, reveries of the evening still playing in my head, and left California behind. Every time I leave a city or a state, or a trail, I have this overwhelming fatalistic sense that This might be the last time I see this place, and as I drove across the California line, with my friends asleep, that feeling was unusually strong.

And as I drove further east, out into the desert, that sinking feeling was accompanied by a  slow, crawling burn. It seemed to climb up my muscles and joints from the floor of the bus, rising up from the road, or Hell, or both, and making its way through my tired body in a wave, before sitting on my brain, just behind my eyes.

California at our backs, death-pale desert ahead of us, I tried to stay awake. There’s a sort of droning hum roar mmm rrrr to the bus that is as as much of a maternal lullaby as anything my mother ever sang me. I was nervously scratching at my poison ivy, eating handfuls of sunflower seeds a time, letting their discarded shells pile up on the stairs by the door. There were no natural features outside the bus windows to look at. Every state looks the same in the dark. With nothing to keep my eyes on, to keep my interest, my eyes were locked solely on punctuation, on yellow lines dashing by, and they felt like hot coals in my head.

I tapped my shoes and felt that raw burn emanating from beneath the bus, crawling up my feet into my legs and thighs like a hellish centipede. My eyes were getting heavy at around four thirty in the morning. I had already taken off my shirt, and my jean shorts felt like they were plastered to me. There was a fire on my brain and I was sweating and I couldn’t tell if it was a fever or just the God damn desert.

I pulled over at the next rest stop I saw, parked between two sleeping big rigs, pulled my pants off and threw myself on the couch. “GOD HAVE MERCY ON ME,” I thought as I slowly drifted to sweet, sweet sleep.