Well I’ve finally done it. I’ve transitioned. From the largest city in America to an official resident of our country’s smallest town.
In June of 2020 I tossed my keys at my NYC landlord and took off on my motorcycle for what I thought would be a few months of literally riding out the pandemic. When fall came I ended up settling down in McCall, Idaho. A bucolic town of 3,000 people that sits high up in the North Fork Mountains two and a half hours north of Boise, McCalm, as I dubbed it, has a gorgeous lake, a ski mountain, lots of hiking trails, and a couple of grocery stores, one of which even sells guns! And just like that I realized I had found myself living in a shotgun shack, in another part of the world, asking myself “Well, how did I get here??”
After a winter of relative solitude and skiing, of both alpine and nordic varieties, when the snow began to melt I started venturing outward. I got a job as a ranch hand on an organic farm run by a couple of sweet-as-agave octogenarians. But my appetite for wanderlust and socialization was left stilted. So on my days off I got back on the bike and resumed my back country explorations.
When I started to settle in Idaho, I let my fingers do the walking across my keyboard and throughout the internet to find things to do out here. I went to a rodeo in Riggins, Idaho and then my first ever demolition derby in Lewiston, Idaho (just across the Snake River from Clarkson, Washington). Plus I dealt with two breakdowns of the car I bought to drag me through the winter snow. One of which let to me hitchhiking through a windy canyon road before a kind soul picked me up and drove me 35 miles to Boise to seek mechanical assistance. The other left me stranded in a tiny town called Grangeville for 5 days where I made some interesting new friends and discovered some amazing BBQ, meth lab motels and thrift stores full of fantastic 25 cent pulp paperbacks.
But nowhere intrigued me as much as Yellow Pine, Idaho and their “Annual Harmonica Festival” I started asking around about Yellow Pine. And everyone I asked gave me the same reply “Why would you wan to go to Yellow Pine? There’s NOTHING THERE!” Then I would ask them when the last time they had been there was and almost universally was told “Never!” Or “We went camping there as a kid.”
So now I was officially fascinated. And decided to make the trek one afternoon on my motorcycle. Saying Yellow Pine is in the middle of nowhere is not an understatement. Yellow Pine is nestled smack dab in the center of the Boise and Payette National Forests, and was erected to service the long dormant Stibnite gold mine. It’s 77 miles and two and a half hours from the nearest town and / or grocery store, 15 miles from the nearest paved road which itself is a 33 mile serpentine single lane road that hugs the Salmon River, and well, there really isn’t anything here. Except two bars, a general store and a “lodge” that makes Eastern European hostels look like the Four Seasons. And the “Buck Horn Outfitters” which I thought was a clothing store but is actually a hunting tour guide service where for the low, low price of $5,700 they will haul you and your gear into the woods and help you track and kill a mountain lion. Which I’m guessing tastes like chicken.
I went for a day trip on the motorcycle and fell in love with the place. I spent the afternoon in the Yellow Pine Tavern, and old wild west saloon which anchors town’s dusty dirt road hub. About 100 people live in Yellow Pine in the Summer and 23 full time residents brave the winter here.
When I got home to McCall I couldn’t stop thinking about Yellow Pine. So the next weekend I packed up my camping gear and went for a long weekend three-night ride-about. Before I left I told my friends in McCall I was gonna figure out how to move there. Each day I went to the YP Tavern for lunch and to fill my water jugs and started chatting with the owner, a 74 year old firebrand named Lorinne. She’s a shining beacon of liberalism in a mostly conservative land. Amongst the tattered Trump flags she sticks out like a functioning thumb and subscribes to Mother Jones & The Atlantic. She also got a psychology degree from the University of Idaho in 1971 which I assume was a rarity for women in these parts back in those days. Oh, and she carries a pistol in her backpack. I’m already looking for engagement rings.
On my third day I asked “Do you run this place all by yourself?” “Yes,” she told me.
“Do you need help?”
“What do you mean?”
“Are you hiring?”
“You want to work HERE? But you live in McCall!”
“Well then just book me on consecutive days and I’ll ride up here and camp.”
“Do you know how to bartend?”
“SURE” I lied, my only bartending experience being one two-hour shift in the basement bar at Wetlands in 1999. But the Tavern only sells canned beer and boxed wine. How hard could it be?
“Do you know how to cook?”
“Back in Manhattan they call me Bobby Flay, baby” I lied again. I hadn’t cooked in a restaurant since a high school stint at McDoanld’s. But the entire menu is a frozen pizza, a (fantastic) burger, grilled cheese, BLT, fajita and quesedillas. What’s the worst that could happen??
“OK, be here Thursday at 2pm. We’ll see what you’ve got.”
And just like that, my life took yet another sharp left turn.
I rode the 52 mile, rough, dirt road called Lick Creek over a 7,000’ mountain peak that Thursday, found a clearing in a patch of woods along the Salmon River, and set up my hammock. And went to work.
And that’s where I spent the summer of 2021. Working as the bartender, cook, waiter, bus boy, dishwasher, DJ and bouncer at the World Famous Yellow Pine Tavern. And let me tell you, you haven’t really LIVED til you’ve thrown a guy wearing a .45 automatic handgun on his hip out of a back country Idaho bar for using the N word. You really should try it sometime. If you’ve got balls of steel and a little lingering bit of a death wish. Chalk another one up for this ole city slicker!
I spent my days bathing in the river and exploring dirt roads on my bike and most nights sleeping in a hammock under the stars. On the rare occasion it rained I would crawl into my tent. The simple life. And I of course launched a merch line of T-shirts, hoodies, stickers and koozies. My favorite being the “SUCK AND BLOW IN IDAHO” shirt for the Harmonica Fest. Once again turning pennies into dollars and giving my covid battered bank account a new lease on life.
These country folk improbably took a liking to me and at the end of the Summer the locals starting inquiring as to whether I planned on staying. “Well, I’d love to, but I’m gonna need a house to live in.” And the town obliged. Pretty quickly I had my choice of three places to stay for the winter and I easily made the decision to shack up in the one with indoor plumbing. And now, here I am. Holed up in a log cabin deep in the heart of nowhere and finally making an honest effort on writing my long threatened memoir – I’m Almost Always Having More Fun Than You.
I’ve been chronicling the adventures on my podcast “Tuesdays With Jakey” (available everywhere you get your ear holes filled!) Which is celebrating its one year anniversary next week! And of course taking copious notes about all of the insanity I’ve been witnessing. Feel free to drop me a line sometime, as we actually have a post office here! PO Box 113 Yellow Pine, Idaho 83677. I’ll probably even write back.
Yes, it really does feel a bit like Cicely, Alaska. How long will I be here? Who knows? And really, who cares? Because I’m here right now. And to quote the great Chris Stevens from Northern Exposure: “Well, you know the way I see it, if you’re here for four more years or four more weeks; you’re here right now. You know, and I think when you’re somewhere you ought to be there, and because it’s not about how long you stay in a place. It’s about what you do while you’re there. And when you go is that place any better for you having been there?”
I’ve always had an unquenchable thirst for adventure. Whenever there’s been trouble to be had, I was there. From a very young age If there was a rock to be thrown through an abandoned building’s window, an after school fight in a parking lot, cars to steal or drugs to be procured, taken or sold, I wasn’t just the first one on line, I was throwing sharp elbows at anyone else trying to get to it first. It was just my nature, certainly not by nurture.
The years have eroded the thirst for violence and the breaking of laws that aren’t related to motor vehicle speeds and petty thievery at the occasional airport, but the wild streak is so deeply embedded into the fiber of my being. Show me something that seems dangerous and outrageous and I’ll make a bee line for it.
So a couple of weeks ago when a I got a text from one of my best friends in the world that he needed his car to be driven from Phoenix, Arizona to upstate New York, I didn’t hesitate at all to say “FUCK YEAH!”
My Man and his wife pregnant wife were relocating from Los Angeles, California to Woodstock, NY and had packed up the moving truck and planned to make the cross country drive, along with their 3 year old boy. It was a plan that had been in action for months, but after the first day of driving from LA to Arizona they were confronted by the harsh reality of the once-in-a-lifetime winter storm even that was plaguing the midwest and Texas. And, I’m guessing, a little bit of the reality of what 6 more days in a car with a 3 year old in the backseat and a rapidly growing fetus in Mer’s belly would entail. And they decided flying would be a whole lot easier. So they asked me if Id be willing to come and get their car and drive it to New York.
Within 36 hours I was on a plane to Phoenix and trying to figure out a way to get this thing quickly, and safely, to its destination. Which was no small feat considering it was right in the middle of the worst winter storm that Texas (and its surrounding states) had seen since meteorological nerds nerds have been keeping track of this stuff. For perspective, most of Texas was without power and heat, fuel was scarce and 111 people ended up losing their live to hypothermia. “What’s the worst that could happen?” I thought. Turned out, there was plenty of insanity in store for me. But I never once hit pause, and certainly never considered retreating. I didn’t see any deadhead stickers on any Cadillacs, but a little voice inside my head is always whispering “Don’t look back. You can never look back!”
I woke up Wednesday morning to 8” of fresh snow on my little slice of mountain life in McCalm, Idaho and cleaned the car off and skidded my way down the twisting roads, never getting out of first gear, and wound my way along the Payette river for 109 miles into the big city and onwards to Boise Airport, where conspicuous decals on the sliding glass doors serve as a final reminder that you better not have packed your guns into your carry on. A few hours later I was on the ground in Phoenix and on the hunt for the Subaru Outback that would be my safe harbor for the next week. Or less. I was in the car by 5pm and determined to get as many miles of tarmac under the rubber as possible before the sun set. After my first little traffic jam in over a year getting out of the Phoenix metropolitan area, I was off into the desert and headed towards my old stomping grounds of Tucson, where I used to own tattoo parlor called The Magic Fun Store. Seriously. But that’s a story for another time. The sun was just setting on that terrific town as I rolled though so I just kept on trucking and made it all the way to Las Cruces, New Mexico – a rusted out shell of a town that had long been on my bucket list, solely because I thought it had a cool name. I sadly didn’t get to see much, but I’m pretty sure I saw, and smelled, all I needed to.
I’ve got a thing about motels. I like the cheap ones for sure, but it’s more important for me to find the charming ones. And yes, I realize that my version of charming is different that what you’d find if you looked up #CharmingMotel on Instagram. I yearn for the mom and pops with the old goofy neon signs and the rooms that haven’t seen any updates since they were built, back when Eisenhower was king. The only update I want is a color TV. And maybe some wifi. But really, who needs the wifi if you’ve got a color TV?! These motels usually aren’t found on the travel apps. Too out there to play ball with Expedia and Hotels Tonight, and happy to squeak by on the bookings they get from intrepid travelers who want a little more than a recognizable chain name and the comfort of familiarity.
I typically search for “motel” on my phone to find the “motel district” of any town and then head that way and start poking around til something catches my eye. Sure you can find a place pretty easily using an app, but that old neon “vacancy” sign is still my preferred beacon. Las Cruces was low on charming motels, and even lower on charm in general. As I coasted over the hill on the western edge of town and saw the twinkling weave of streetlights laid out on the valley floor below, I was overcome with a smell nastier than what came out of the rear end of my overalls during my last dairy binge. So I coasted down the hill and after a little bit of disappointing reconnaissance that yielded no places to rest my weary bones of the non-corporate variety, I ended up at a Days Inn that had a fancy new LED sign that was advertising their “FLAT SCREEN TVs”. It was gonna have to do. The front of the joint looked fine enough, so I went inside and made some casual chit chat through a thick plastic tarp that reminded me of the entrance to the meat locker at the old 125th Street Fairway supermarket and set off to find my room, which was on the back side of the building. Turning the corner I was greeted with a mini festival of miscreants lingering outside their rooms and smoking various substances. Home sweet home, if only for the night. It had been a long day so I spent a few minutes perusing the map and weather apps and then settled into bed and was asleep before I got through a couple of pages of my dog-eared Carlos Castaneda tome.
I was wide awake at 4:30am and no sooner had I rubbed the crust out of my eyes did I realize the futility of trying to slide back into slumberland so I packed my one bag and was on the road again by 5am. It’s always a treat to drive directly into a sunrise. The only time they are more glorious than over an ocean is when they are over a flat plain, which is the entirety of southern New Mexico and West Texas.
A lot of folks have asked why the fuck I was headed into Texas during their “extreme weather event” and the answer is probably a lot more nuanced than most who think they know me would expect. This car was going to head east, by hook or by crook, and that left me only a few options:
Head east, into the belly of the beast. The Texas storms. And make the best of it.
Head northeast, up though Albequerque and Amarillo and into Oklahoma which was almost certainly gonna be a shit show.
Head north up through Colorado and take my chances crossing the Rocky Mountains. In February. No thank you.
Spend a couple of days in Las Cruces and see the sights. And maybe pick up a little part time piece meal work at a meth distillery.
As tempting rooting around behind door number four sounded, I decided to do the more sensible thing and hit the road. After having spent 5 nights stranded in a couple of run down motels in Grangeville, Idaho due to an uncooperative car of my own, I wasn’t in the mood to be at a standstill. All my map and weather app research provided a route that looked relatively clear. If I headed east on the I-10 and made a hard right in Van Horn Texas, onto the two lane state road 90, I could sweep down through Marfa, Texas and towards Big Bend National Park and hug the Mexican Border for a few hundred miles and eventually pop back up in to south- central Texas when the storms had passed. I even called a hotel in Marfa and asked about the conditions and was told they had avoided the brunt of the storms and that they had plenty of water, electricity, and fuel. As I always do, I chose my own adventure. And committed.
As I approached Van Horn I was greeted by burnt-orange electronic road signs warring of the trouble ahead on I-10 and wanting that there was a “SEVERE FUEL SHORTAGE” east of Van Horn. So I stopped and filled the tank at a dusty roadside gas n sip, and bought three spate five gallon tanks and filled those with fuel too. Problem was it was 17 degrees and my hands were shaking like a drunk at a DUI checkpoint, and I couldn’t help but spill some fuel on each canister. After a quick wipedown I cleared some space in the backset of the car and gently nestled them onto the seat cushions, took a deep breath and said “Fuck It!” And headed towards Marfa. It quickly became obvious that I hadn’t cleaned the fuel containers as well as I thought, and was overcome with the stench of wafting petrol fumes. A nuisance at worst, and a free high at best! For now. I cracked the windows, which helped. A little.
Marfa has a reputation as a sort of Woodstock of West Texas, and old ranching community that had become an artist haven at some point in the 90s, and I’d always yearned to visit. But seeing as how it’s nestled deep in the heart of nowhere, I wasn’t sure when I’d ever be that way again. My decision to take this route was based at least a little bit in my own selfishness and desire to see something cool. About 30 miles outside of Marfa I saw a car parked on the side of the road ahead, and the figure of a woman standing in the middle of the road taking pics. As I approached I realized this was the famous “PRADA store of Marfa” A couple of dingbats had built a replica of a Prada store out there on a lonely stretch of road as an art installation. Complete with designer goods inside and a window display that wouldn’t have looked at all out of place in my last Manhattan neighborhood of Soho. So of course I stopped and took a bunch pics and selfies. Might be my only time here And then I pulled those gas canisters out and gave them another thorough washing with the plethora of baby wipes the Chernins had left in the car. That’s when the snow started. Just a dusting at first, with visible storm clouds to the north. I stopped and stared at them long enough to ascertain that` they were headed east, not south, so I figured I was in the clear. And I re-checked the weather apps, and every town along my chosen route was still showing temps in the high 30s for the day and 0% chances of precipitation.
30 Miles later when I pulled into Marfa, it was a certified winter wonderland and the whole town was blanketed in snow. I pulled up my weather app again and it said Marfa was clear and 37. My eyes told a different tale, and when I got out of the car at the Marfa Post Office to send out a few postcards, my little bits of exposed flesh told me the air temp wasn’t anywhere near 37 degrees. Felt a lot more like 37 below. I probably should have stopped there and booked a room for the night. But instead I wandered around, snapped a few pics, and continued to head south. It pretty quickly became evident that this route wasn’t going to be as smooth as my prayers to Our Lady of Guadalupe had requested.
The snow continued to fall and pile up on the roads, but it was passable, and I kept checking the weather apps, and they kept telling me it would be clear skies ahead. And I chose to keep believing their lies. Because sometimes the only comfort you have on the road is to be going somewhere. Even if you know you’re not really going anywhere. So onward I forged, through the “blink and you’ll miss em” towns of Alpine and Marathon aka “The Gateway to Big Bend”, which turned out to be the last signs of life I’d see for quite some time. On any any other day in West Texas, that would be quite normal. But right here, right now, it felt foreboding. My spirits were lifted however, when I was able to fill the tank in Marathon, and I thought, “How bad could it be up ahead if there’s still fuel here?” and chuckled at the misfortune of all those rubes trying to force their way across I-10 while my big brain was avoiding the their calamity and pointed towards what I hoped against hope would be calmer skies. Fool me once…
It was only noon, and even though I had already put in 7 hours on the road, I still wanted to burn some more rubber. By the time I got through Marathon the snow was really starting to pile up, and the car was begging to slip slide away, causing me to slow the pace, brace my face, and trudge onward. Once it really started to get bad I made a deal with myself that I would pull over at the next open accommodations I found, and call it a day. Holding out hope is sometimes all you have. Little did I know then, that things were going to get worse before they got better.
Deep in the heart of West Texas cell signal is more elusive than Biden bumper stickers, so I had to resort to the old school atlas I picked up outside of Tucson and saw there were a smattering of small towns dotting the rural route leading towards the relative metropolis of Del Rio, Texas which was nestled along the Rio Grande, spitting distance from the Mexican Border. Each time I rolled through one of these towns though, everything was closed up tighter than a mormon’s undergarments, and I repeatedly wrestled with the age-old decision of “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?” Still I was comforted by my “Whats the Worst That could Happen?” mantra. And the car was loaded up with blankets and a sleeping bag, so worst case scenario I’d spent the night in the car. After cresting one especially formidable hill, I realized how popular that decision was.
At the peak of the hill I spotted the longest line of tractor trailers I had ever seen in once place. It stretched as far as my eyes could see, which granted wasn’t super far in a blizzard. And as I rolled slowly past the trucks I realized they had all decided to stay put and wait out this weather which had made climbing said hill impossible. And as I kept rolling, the line just kept on going. Lots of the truckers were outside kicking ice off of their mud flaps and chatting with each other. I pulled over for a bit and chatted with a couple of them just long enough to confirm my suspicions that they too had the same idea as I did, figuring the southern Mexican Border route would be the best option. Color us all dumbstruck. But at least my little 4 wheel drive Outback was able to negotiate the hills. So onward I forged. Slowly but surely I was inching my way towards the border town of Del Rio, hoping that would have just enough signs of life to afford me a bit of shelter for the night. I continued to pass more tractor trailers. Most were just pulled over on the shoulder, but a few had skidded off the road, and one had even jack-knifed and fallen over, miraculously leaving just enough room for me to pass on the left side of this two lane road. The scariest moment of the whole trip came on Governor’s Landing Bridge – along the Rio Grande – which was swaying wildly in the wand, and for more than a few moments I was having flashes of the entire thing crumbling under my Subaru and the line of plodding 18 wheelers coming towards me. I white knuckled it all the way across and after a few more miles I had finally made it to Del Rio. This stretch of the drive, between Marfa and Del Rio, ended up taking over 8 hours. And it was only 230 miles.
Pulling into Del Rio I ecstatically encountered signs of life. The power was on, there were plenty of other cars on the roads and it felt like I had trudged my way back into civilization. The first lodging I spotted was a La Quinta, almost never a good idea, but after the day I had I went inside and asked for a room. Any room. And that’s what I got. Just any room.
It was the most morose check in experience of recent memory, again through a thick plastic tarp. I tried to make some conversation, but the desk clerk wasn’t having it. My “Thank You For Not Being Racist” t-shirt didnt even elicit the faintest grin from the Mexican clerk. So I just slid my ID and credit card under the crevice and waited. “Just so you know, we’re not giving any refunds.” She croaked. Always a great welcome at the Shitstain Inn. “Why would I want a refund?” “In case we lose power. Or water.” “Do the rooms have power and water now?” “They do right now.” Fine.
She directed me towards my room and knowingly, I’m guessing, sent me to the wrong side of the building. Off to a great start! When I finally got settled, I collapsed onto the bed and turned on the TV. It was set to OAN news. Awesome. I turned it off and dialed up a Motown playlist on my phone and stared at the ceiling for what felt like forever. Finally, I collected myself enough to venture back out to the WalMart I passed on the the edge of town to search for some provisions. Maybe I’d secure a lovely microwave pizza for dinner. There was a car parked at the entrance of the parking lot with the feller in the driver’s seat holding a sheet of loose leaf paper against the window with the words STORE CLOSED scrawled in ball point pen. Shit, THAT’s how they tell you, huh? I kept driving up to the store just to be sure, and wouldn’t ya know it, that man wrote the truth! Then I noticed the Home Depot next door was closed. As was the Chik-Fila-A, as were the rest of the fast food joints in town except Burger King, which had a line of over 50 cars at the drive through. Every gas station in town also had their lights out, with the tell tale sign of plastic baggies over the pumps. Man, shit was looking GRIM.
But across the street I saw a few bodies ambling out of the Family Dollar. I burst through the doors and discovered the saddest dollar store I’d ever seen, and that’s saying a lot. The freezer cases were completely empty. As were the drink coolers, except for a few lonely cases of Modelo and Bug Light Lime. I managed to grab the last two gallons of bottled water and retired back to my room for the night. At least the room had a view. A view of the drained and snow-filled swimming pool. Which I contemplated jumping into for as many moments as my eyes remained open. Whatever last bits of energy I had were used up hauling the fuel canisters into my room and depositing them into the shower, lest the mere sight of fuel spur a broken window. Or two. Zzzzzzz.
Up at the crack of dawn again and out the door onto the ice rink of a parking lot. I didn’t want to sit around in the motel waiting for the sun to warm the pavement, but I also wasn’t looking forward to slip sliding my way across west Texas for another day, so I took a little test run out onto the main road, and found the the rolling rubber of those who didn’t have the option of waiting it out had heated up the asphalt and made it navigable. That combined with clear blue skies made me comfortable enough to hit the road. So I hauled the fuel canisters out of the shower and into the backseat and hit the road. A quick perusal of the gas stations in Del Rio revealed that they hadn’t been the recipients of an overnight fuel truck delivery but I still had about half a tank. And a dream.
Rolling out of town the roads were as clear as the sky, passing the Kinney County Detention Center and then a quick stop at a US Border & Customs checkpoint where a rent-a-cop in a booth questioned me to make sure I hadn’t picked up any wayward migrants. By this point I was about 4 hours through a 16 hour book-on-tape version of Matthew McConaughey’s recent autobiography “Green Lights” which I found appropriate for a drive through West Texas. He kept mentioning his hometown, and each time he did, I made a mental note to see where exactly it was. Sounded like he was saying “New Valley, Texas” and with his drawl I wasn’t 100% sure thats what he was saying. Not long after the Customs checkpoint though, I saw a sign that said “UVALDE, TX 32 miles” and then it hit me. He wasn’t saying NEW VALLEY – he was saying UVALDE (pronounced YOU-Val-DEE). When I saw that sign I hit the brakes and almost skidded off the road so I could look at his Wikipedia page, and sure enough, he was from Uvalde. Never had I been so excited to roll through a random West Texas Town. Well, not since Marfa just 20 hours ago!
Now Uvalde is a tiny little town of about 16,000 people, so guessing it was only half, or less, back when McConaughey was just a wee little tyke, but it had a handful of gas stations. And the first one I found had a plentiful supply. I got out and started pumping and was startled when a chicken walked by, just clucking around the pumps. Nobody seemed to be bothered by this lone little cock. Maybe it was the gas station’s mascot. It was still only 8am. I fueled up and got back on the road, and was surprised to see a line of a couple hundred people outside the HEB grocery store so I guessed, like Del Rio, the stores in Uvalde had been closed for the past few days. With the temps rising and already above freezing and the sun ascending up into the crystal blue sky, I was so relieved to have weathered the storm and put the worst of it behind me. I hoped. Still, I was excited to finish traversing the Lone Start State and was eager to leave it in my rearview. The plan was to crash in Lake Charles, Louisiana and then really take my time meandering through Louisiana and Mississippi and Alabama. I had only seen tiny slices of Louisiana and Mississippi and had never even set foot nor tire in Alabama so I was stoked to check it off my list, but also explore thew back roads, thrift stores and local grub shacks.
It continued to be pleasantly uneventful day. Just a long straight flat haul through Texas, especially when I got to San Antonio and connected with the I-10. It was 45 degrees in San Antonio and 54 degrees in Houston. The only snow I saw were little bits on the median, and had it not been for the scores of crashed trucks scattered across said median and the shoulder it would have been hard to imagine that just a a day or two ago the entire region had been slammed by a historical blizzard.
When I finally made it to the eastern edge of Houston I pulled into a Love’s Travel Stop (always the consistently cleanest of the Big 3 – Love’s, TA and Flying J – vital information when you need to make a #2) and they STILL had no clean water and weren’t serving coffee or fountain soda. Sheesh. The power outages had shut down the water treatment plants across the state, rendering all of the tap water iffy at best. Just like Mexico! More motivation to get out of Texas. I filled the tank and pointed car east once again, onwards to Lake Charles!
Now, I didn’t know anything about Lake Charles, and still don’t, except for the fact that Levon sings about it in Cripple Creek, and that was enough motivation for me to want to spend the night there. But when I finally pulled into town, the sun hadn’t yet set, but the thrift shops were all closed, And my inner tank was full, so I decided to keep motoring on, and set my new destination as Alexandria, Louisiana, a town I hadn’t even known existed before I pulled out the map to see what was on my way to New York. I opted for the rural roads to take me there, and it was a magical ride for as long as there was light, but soon the magically hued sky of dusk turned to darkness, and as if on cue I found a dirt road and made a right hand turn toward the unknown. The temps were dropping like crawfish down the gullet of a famished drunk during Jazzfest, and I found myself, once again, deep in the heart of nowhere.
After 30 minutes I connected with pavement again and realized I was in some sort of forest, which I didn’t know they even had in Louisiana. There were patches of snow on the side of the road and I even saw some deer! WTF? I wound through these back roads wishing I had the blessing of some sunshine to really appreciate my surroundings until I finally rolled in not Alexandria and started looking for a motel. I couldn’t find a single mom and pop, and the towering light-up sign outside the Motel 6 said NO VACANCY. I pulled into an OYO, a new-ish brand I’d been noticing around the American hinterlands lately but never looked into. They have a crisply designed red and white logo that almost looks hip. Almost. So I pulled in there and stepped inside the cramped lobby / office only to be informed by the manager that they had no rooms available. I asked where he might recommend and was rudely dismissed by a wave of his Indian hand.
Well poppycocks, I thought to myself. It was 830pm and I’d been on the road for well over 14 hours by now. I checked out an app and saw the only place with rooms available in this town was the Hilton Garden Inn. But it was $149 plus taxes. My Man told me to go for it, to treat myself, since I’d had a long couple of days. But I was morally opposed to paying that much for a room, especially, oddly enough, on someone else’s dime. Even more so when that someone is my friend. And beyond that, I was confused as to how this town had no rooms available. I had driven up and down the main drag and there didn’t seem to be a casino, or even a titty bar in town. What was everyone doing here on a Friday night? Beyond all that, I just got a bad vibe on the whole place. And when my gut tells me to walk away, I run. So I pulled out the map to see what was next along my route and found Natchez, Mississippi only a couple of hours to the Northeast. In a rare bout of advance planning, I checked the app and found out they had a casino with rooms available for $69. YAHTZEE! I booked a room and hit the bricks. I’d heard about Natzhez, and was excited to be able to get to spend the night in Mississippi, a state I’d only visited once before, for a Pilgrimage to Clarksdale, home of the fabled Crossroads, where blues legend Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul to the devil in exchange for the blueprints to rock n roll. And I’d heard all about this casino in Natchez back when I was watching an absurd amount of poker on television, which led to an absurd amount off trips to Las Vegas where I became a sort of semi-pro poker player who specialized in finding tables full of wide eyed conventioneers who’d also been watching a to of poker on television. Then taking their money. But that’s a story for another time.
So onward to Natchez I went, driving along the dark but probably scenic byways of the Pelican State. 74 more miles of lonely road until I ended up inside of a rural southern casino fed by the filled up wallets of a Friday payday. This was gonna be something else. Crossing the Mighty Mississippi from Louisiana I breathed a sigh of relief, for finally I’d be able to stop driving for the night and maybe even have a little bit of fun. Or at least watch other people having some fun, which would be more than enough to satiate me for the few moments before I passed out. But before I even got out of the car, I checked my reservation wouldn’t you imagine my surprise when I found out that my tired eyes had booked the room for two Fridays from now. What sort of hotel booking app defaults to booking you 2 weeks from the current date. This dumb one, apparently. So I called the hotel from the parking lot and and and exasperated voice let me know that not only did they have no rooms but there were apparently no rooms available anywhere in town. Unlike Alexandria it actually made sense here in Natchez. A casino in a border town advertising loud music and loose women to a population with a high % of people who probably don’t believe in the pandemic but are still stuffed with that sweet government cheese. Why WOULD there be any rooms available? Still, I rolled on over to the Super 8 and and beleaguered desk clerk told me that there most certainly weren’t any rooms available anywhere in town, or even nearby.
Well shit. Back to the fucking map and app, I guess. Looking further Northeast I spotted Jackson, Mississippi and thought “When God jacks you around, you go to Jackson!” And the app said they had a room. At the aforementioned OYO. I was back in business and more than happy to keep burning rubber. Ending up in Jackson just past midnight, I figured, would allow me to spend a few hours exploring that fair city in the morning without getting behind on my self imposed schedule. That’s the thing about travel, more specifically road trips, and really just life in general: Always have a plan B. And a plan C. And if you don’t have one, be ready to make one up on a moment’s notice. If you can roll with the punches like that you’ll never wind up disappointed in what didn’t happen, but excited about what might happen instead!
So I got back in the car and sang loudly and off key to myself and my huge cadre of snacks “I’m going to Jackson, I’m gonna mess around. I’m going to Jackson, Look out Jackson town!” Only 70 more miles through the darkened woods on a 2 lane highway. Onward I forged. When I finally came out of the forest and onto I-35 and pulled into Jackson the city felt abandoned. At least from my interstate perch. I saw one OYO hotel on the side of the road the “I-35 South” location I surmised, which I had seen on the booking app which listed no rooms available. And the parking lot was empty, not a light on in the whole joint. Passed a few more hotels with empty parking lots. Not the best omen.
When I pulled off the freeway and wound my way toward the OYO I-35 North location, I was confronted by a few more bad omens. Like the circuitous route I had to take to get into the parking lot, past a few abounded buildings. The lot was full of cars that could be described as clunkers. At best. There were a few ne’er do wells peppering the parking lot, so I pulled up to the front of the motel office and saw a few folks inside. My first instinct was “Man, I’m not sure I even feel safe leaving their car in this lot.” But by this time midnight and come and gone and my energy was seriously flagging. I figured Id’ be up around the crack of dawn anyways, so just hoped they had comprehensive coverage and grabbed my backpack with my laptop and stepped inside. As soon as I opened the door a homeless feller accosted me and asked for “Just a couple dollars so I can get something to eat?” The city slicker sheen on me has’t been completely eroded by the fresh pine forest air of McCalm so I quickly shot bak “I can’t do nothing for ya, man” and waited for the clerk to be finished with her current client. But the hand scrawled sign on the bodega-styled plastic partition that said “NO WATER – NO ROOMS – EVEN WITH RESERVATION” was another in the trail of bad omens. And then a quick glance into the waiting room to the left of the office revealed what I can only describe as a multi-cultural holding cell or drunk tank, and my heart really sank.
When the lady in front of me stepped away from the counter the clerk saw my hopeful face and snarled “We ain’t got no rooms!!” “But I booked online and already paidI“ ”Don’t matter, WE AIN’T GOT NO ROOMS” she snarled again, this time opening her mouth wide enough for me to see her teeth must have all made reservations elsewhere and skipped town a long time ago. I couldn’t even muster an argument, so I took a pic of the sign and turned on my heels and fled. I spotted a few more hotels off in the distance so made some calls only to be told there were no rooms anywhere in Jackson. Hoping against hope I got back in the car and rolled on over to the jam-packed parking lot of the Hampton Inn.
I walked into the sprawling lobby that looked like refuge camp. Every square inch was covered with people laid down on the floor in various states of slumber, using luggage as pillows. I walked up to the desk and sheepishly asked “This is probably a stupid question, but you don’t have a room available do you?” The clerk looked at me like I had three heads yet very politely explained there weren’t any rooms available anywhere Jackson. So I decided to shoot another shot and asked “What’s going on here?” Just as politely she said “The ice storms. They knocked everything out. There’s no clean water anywhere and most folks have lost heat and electricity, which is why they are all here.” I said “Wow,” I said. “I didn’t realize thew storms had reached this far north. Nothing on the news about this.” Then a just a little less politely, she said “The news media don’t care about poor black people.”
I told here I’d started driving at 7am from Del Rio, Texas and was just trying to find a place to stay, and again she looked at me like I was a crazy person. Finally, I thought, somebody is finally seeing me for me! Told her I’d probably just head towards Tuscaloosa and asked if there might be a place to stay along the way and she said “Ain’t nothing much between here and there, but good luck!” I almost asked if they had any coffee. But then remembered that would require clean water. Plus it was already 1am. I took a few deep breaths and decided to go for it, hoping I’d stumble across some sort of Dew Drop Inn along the way and find a place to lay my weary head. I strapped myself back into the Subaru and turned the key. Only another 185 miles I thought. What’s the worst that could happen? Just outside of town, after I hopped off the interstate and back onto a 2 lane highway, I was confronted with the remnants of the ice storm. Scores of trees loomed overhead, each branch frozen like a Christmas-time Ikea art display. With more and more ice on the road the further I went. The ice and snow was thankfully piled into the middle of each lane, and covering the center line, with enough clear asphalt for each tire, but this wasn’t a route for tired-eye driving and drifting off course, even by a few inches. This was gonna require extreme concentration. And the right tunes, of course. I had been listening to podcasts but soon it was time to make a turn, and I ended up being directed onto Highway 61. So naturally I opted to crank Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited. An album I probably hadn’t consumed in its entirety since I bought a used vinyl copy in high school. What a great album, I must say, and the lack of recent familiarity with it helped keep my find sharp. After about 50 miles of nothingness I came across another LOVE’s truck stop and found the parking lot littered with tractor trailers. Guess these guys hadn’t found rooms either and were asleep in their cabins. I went inside to drain my bladder and found they didn’t have any coffee or clean water either, not even the bottled variety. I managed to snag Monster™ Energy Drink and brought it up to the counter. By this point I knew that the next words out of my mouth were just gonna be for my own amusement, but I asked anyways “Hey do you know where I can find a motel room around here?” The register jockey just shook her head. Seemed like she was more tired than I was, so I paid for the drink and was on my way.
Back on the road I switched the Primal Scream’s Vanishing Point album. Long one of my favorite road trip records, the album is based on a movie from 1971 where an amphetamine freak attempts to drive a 1970 Dodge Challenger from Colorado to California in 15 hours. Felt quite fitting, especially after my purchase of a can of over-the-counter crack juice.
After what felt like forever, I had cell service again so I pulled over to check the hotel app. Still tons of rooms available in Tuscaloosa, so I picked the cheapest, Ambassador Inn and Suites for $65. A bargain at twice the price! But before I hit ”confirm” I called them to make sure they indeed had an open chamber. “HOW MANY PEOPLE” a woman’s voice barked. “Just me” I said. “Ok, but NO PETS!” she howled as she slammed the receiver down. I was feeling at home already. After what felt like forever Tuscaloosa came into view and I found the Ambassador, and its empty parking lot, and completed the check in sequence as quickly as possible. The room was clean, I guess, but I had long since lost the ability to see straight, and just collapsed into the bed. Before I closed my eyes and I watched the dim green hue of the bedside digital clock switch from 4:59 to 5:00.
When I was jolted awake by god knows what, I looked at the clock again and it said 7:21. I actually had to grab my phone to ascertain if it was AM or PM. AM. Shit. I was obviously overtired but unable to sleep, so I turned on SportsCenter which lulled me back into unconsciousness. Until 9:30am. I woke up and looked at my phone again and had a few messages about where I needed to eat in Tuscaloosa. One vote for Dreamland and two votes for Archibald & Woodrow’s.
I wasn’t planning on a sit down meal yet the names of both those joints were intriguing, for different reasons. But my boy Bobby Alabama, an NYC kid who bafflingly chose to attend the University Alabama, thus earning his his nickname, wrote “Jake dude, you’re in fucking Tuscaloosa! Oh man! I don’t know how long you’re going to be there but if you want BBQ go to Archibald and Woodrow’s. Best BBQ in Tuscaloosa, I promise you. If you’re only there for breakfast go to the Waysider. Trust me on this, I gained 45lbs when I lived in Tuscalooosa.”
I wrote back “Dude THANK YOU. Last night was a total shitshow. I didn’t get in here til 5am and gonna keep motoring for a lot of reasons. 1. Got ground to cover. 2. Don’t wanna eat indoors. 3. Too cold to eat outside 4. Can’t eat BBQ in my friend’s car because I’d end up paying $500 to get the stains out 5. I’ve lost 30 pounds in the last 3 months and doing my best to keep going in that direction, and I wont be able to work it off sitting on my ass for another 1,000 plus miles 😉”
But after I tossed my belongings back in the car, that little devil on my shoulder said “Just take a peek and see where this Archibald and Woodrow’s is located.” And wouldn’t you know it, it was a half mile from the Ambassador, and right along the rote back to the freeway. So I let fate dictate my plans. I pulled up to the spot and it was just a tiny cinderblock shack painted the deep red of pig’s blood. An actively puffing chimney rose up from the backyard, which I imagined was built to serve as a beacon to lead the carnivorous Tuscaloosans to their own little promised land.
I walked inside and was a little surprised to see a 14 year old girl behind the counter, and to say she seemed disinterested would be an understatement. But hey, it was just past their opening time of 10am on a Saturday morning. I don’t think the first thing on her day’s prediction list was gonna be a pink haired looney in matching pink overalls and a yellow hoodie being her first customer of the day.
I told her I’d never been there before and she blithely handed me a menu which I dutifully perused. I quickly put in my order. “A half rack of ribs and an order of chicken wings please.” Then she asked what sides I would like and I had to take another glance at the menu. As I looked back I up I noticed a new presence behind the counter had appeared from inside the kitchen. My eyes started at his considerable waist, which was concealed by a bloody apron, and as I moved my eyes upward I took in his bulging forearms and biceps, covered in tattoos, and imagine my surprise when his face was slathered in pancake makeup, eyeliner and mascara. And a perfectly processed head of curled hair. It looked like Little Richard had recently been released from prison and and was satisfying the conditions of his parole by smoking meat in a way wholly unlike the type that goes down in the clink.
I looked him dead in the eye and my beleaguered brain signaled my mouth to blurt “What’s your best side?” He scoffed and let the words “They aaaaallllllllll gewd” slide out of his mouth. And looked away like my entire being was disturbing him. DANG IT. That wasn’t what I meant to ask. When I’m someplace new I usually ask the server “What’s your favorite?” Or “What’s the most popular dish?” But you never ask “What’’s best?” Thats completely subjective and automatically makes a point that one thing might be better than another. Which for a place that takes pride in their food is just a foolish query. Properly chastened I just said “I’ll have the Mac n Cheese and the beans” and left it at that. Then I asked if they had iced tea. “Sure” and I made another ding – dong move by asking “Do you have unsweetened?” Dude was throughly disgusted by my presence at this point and disappeared back into the kitchen and the girl looked at my quite puzzled and let me know “Naw it’s all sweetened.” So I said OK and paid and walked outside to wait.
A few minutes later she poked her head out and hollered to indicate my food was ready and I stepped inside to grab it. Thats when she said “I forgot the rib combo you ordered came with drank, and I charged you for the iced tea, so I just gave put a piece of cake in the bag to make up for it.” That was it. No apology or offer a refund or asking if I even wanted the cake. That was just how it was being dealt with and I had no say in the matter. And nor should I have after my cascade of rookie mistakes just moments ago.
So I took the food back outside and spread it out all over the hood of the Subaru. And went to town. That shit was magically delicious and I devoured it in a few fell swoops, leaving it on my tongue only long enough for my brain to register the taste. I hadn’t eaten anything. But almonds and apples since an early afternoon McDonald’s Double Cheeseburger outside of Houston so was in dire need of sustenance. I was so blown away by the atmosphere inside and the whole experience that the deliciousness was merely a tiny little bonus. Next time I’m in Tuscaloosa though, I’ll certainly revisit ole Archibald and Woodrow and their Ex-Con Little Richard Lookin’ Rib Slinger. And this time I’ll be ready to savor all of the various flavors. But for now I was back on the freeway and today’s soundtrack was Lynyrd Skynyrd. I kicked it off with Sweet Home Alabama, naturally, and let it shuffle for a good portion of the day. Alabama is pretty, I guess. No place that an interstate takes you is ever gonna be too picturesque though, and I spent a few moments kicking myself for not having seen more of the backroads portion the previous day. But today I was on a mission to make it to Pigeon Forge Tennessee before my body and brain crapped out on me. A relatively short drive of 350 miles if I were to drive straight there without any diversions, which was a coin flip at best, but still shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
After about an hour or so, who can even keep track anymore (?), I was greeted by a lovely “Welcome to Georgia” sign. I hadn’t even realized my trek would take me into the Peach State, but I was happy enough to add it to the patchwork of states this crazy cannonball run was weaving me through. I got off at the next exit just so I could say I actually set my feet on Georgian soil, or concrete as the case may may be, and to fuel up with coffee. I’d been wearing my “Thank You For Not Being Racist Shirt” for the entire trip thus far, and had decided it was some sort of good luck charm. It got mostly confused looks at most of the truck stops, so little did I know I was in for a treat in Georgia. I took a piss and then poured myself a coffee and walked up to the register to pay. As I approached, the young woman behind the counter looked me in the eyes and smiled, then I watched her eyes lower to my shirt and raise back up to my face, her own mug twisted into a contemptuous glower. Welp, here’s a real life racist! Yeeeee Fucking Haw and all that. I quickly paid for my coffee with cash, her refusing to look me in the eye again as she unceremoniously let the change just fall onto the counter and roll off onto the floor. I bent over and pried each end every penny off the dirty tiles, amused at the irony of looking at Lincoln’s face and wondering how he would have felt to know this scenario was still playing out all over this once great country, 156 long and arduous years since his unceremonious assassination.
Georgia was the last thing I wanted on my mind, or under my wheels for that matter, as I hopped back into the car and prayed for a quick transition into Tennessee. Before I knew it I crossed the state line and even quicker than that Chattanooga was in my rearview too and now it was just a race against the clock to get to Pigeon Forge in time for the kick off of the main card of that evening’s UFC fights. But always one for just a little more adventure, I decided to get off the interstate and weave through the towns of Lenor City, Friendsville and Maryville, TN. And boy I was glad I did. The relative same-ness of the interstate soon turned to rolling hills and pastoral setting of the Volunteer State. It quickly became evident why people would volunteer to live here. On the far side of Maryville I linked up with the Foothills Parkway, so named for their route through the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, and I was rewarded with incredible views just as day was turning towards dusk. What incredible scenery and a well paved road, with not a patch of ice or snow in sight. Was I home free from the wrath of the storms? Smart money would say yes, but I continued to keep both eyes open, if only barely. I finally wound my way through a few more rural roads and into the town of Pigeon Forge, home of Dollywood!
I had been to Dollywood once before, on another epic adventure in 2008 which is well chronicled on my blog. But when I finally rolled onto the main drag I was dumbfounded by how much it had been built up. There was a veritable traffic jam on the main drag, Highway 441, which gave me plenty of time to to equally admire and be completely aghast at the sprawl. Every disgusting national chain restaurant was represented, as was every motel and hotel brand you could imagine. On top o that were a plethora of mom and pop hotels with huge glass-walled indoor water parks attached, seemingly so we could watch the Covid being spread. All this insanity was rammed between mini-golf courses, go kart tracks, tacky souvenir shops, old timey photos studios, alpine slides carved into the sides of the hills and seemingly more neon than Las Vegas and Times Square combined. And of course plenty of pharmacies for all the zombies in need of their diabetes and blood pressure meds. As much as it had all been built up, it was the traffic that had me the most baffled. Weren’t we in a pandemic? I shook my head for a moment and thought to myself “Well it IS Saturday night” Pigeon Forge was no longer a little out of the way helmet that hosted Dollywood and a few other amusements, it was a veritable Redneck Riviera. My brain was having a hard time computing the difference between what I had seen in 2008 and what it was now, but I had neither the temporal lobe capacity nor the inclination to figure out the exact differences and forged any way through the massive tangle of jacked up trucks ands confederate flags and pulled into the parking lot of the Super 8 Motel. Which I picked solely in honor of Alabama native / Tennesseean transplant Jason Isbell’s indelible song, Super 8!
“Don’t wanna die in a Super 8 motelJust because somebody’s evening didn’t go so wellIf I ever get back to BristolI’m better off sleeping in the county jailDon’t wanna die in a Super 8 motel”
It was $58 and directly behind an Arby’s and within puking distance of a Golden Corral, IHOP, Porky’s ribs, Pizza Hut and Denny’s. Surprised they didn’t have a walk in foot amputation clinic on the same stretch. I could even see Dolly Parton’s Stampede from my room window. Located directly across the street, Dolly’s Stampede, Formerly Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede is a civil war themed dinner theater. Think of it as Medieval Times from when things were even MORE backwards. They were open and operating and I even checked the site to see if there were tickets available, and of course there were, but only for the late show, but in the end I opted out of indoor dining with a room full of mouth breathers. Instead, I waltzed across the parking lot to Pizza Hut where I ordered a DETROIT STYLE pie to go, so I could bring it back to my room and watch the UFC fights. My own little mouth breathing community. Yet somehow to me so much more civilized than subjecting myself to the unwashed masses who had flocked to Pigeon Forge for the weekend.
While I was waiting for my pizza to thaw and bake I ran across the highway to a souvenir shop, intent on purchasing a Dollywood keychain as a keepsake. I had done a phenomenal job this far of not purchasing anything other than an atlas, a banana, gasoline, two orders of the dollar menu at McDonalds. And coffee. Plenty of coffee. Mostly I had subsisted on the snacks The Homies left for me, but otherwise had kept my expenditures to a minimum. But I was willing to make an exception for a Dolly Parton souvenir. The closest shop was one with a giant twenty foot tall Shark’s mouth monstrosity of a sculpture encasing the front door. But as soon as I walked in I was besieged by a shockingly broad array of confederate flag and Trump merch. I spun around quicker than Mike Pence after hearing the opening strains of Dancing Queen and practically sprinted back across the highway. Turns out I wasn’t t gonna find a Dolly Parton keychain there anyways because Team Dolly, as I later learned, is fiercely protective of their copyrights and the only places to buy her swag are at the Official Dollywood outposts. Good on ya Dolly. Those vaccines aren’t gonna pay for themselves!
So after froggering back across the highway and dodging a steady stream of jacked up trucks with Donnie Darkvibes and Blue Lives Matter flags I snatched my Official Pizza Hut Detroit Style Pizza™. I hoofed across the parking lot and back to the Super 8 just in time to snag a little toke of some potweed I had surreptitiously smuggled across multiple state lines and threw open my laptop to watch Andre Arlovski get knocked out by Tommy Aspinall. That one sort of broke my heart. But in better news, I’m happy to report that Nobody Out Pizzas the Hut™ Not in Pigeon Forge anyways. After the fights I sank deep into slumber, dreaming about all the party time action I was missing out on the main drag. But a driving boy needs his sleep, and sleep I did!
The alarm went off at 7:00am. By 7:16 I was already at the Dollywood entrance snapping a few pics to send to my crew from the 2008 adventure. And then I was on the road again. One more big day to complete my mission. 775 miles to go on the road, 775 miles to go. Put the pedal down, watch the wheels spin ‘round, 774 more miles to go on the road! There was no time for fucking around with this one. My thirst for adventure had been quenched beyond any reasonable expectations over the past few days and now I only had one thought on my mind. Get this Subaru back into the hands of its rightful owners. And get me into another bed. Onward I forged, across Tennessee, resisting the urge to pull over when I saw the signs for the Bristol Motor Speedway. Ah Bristol, birthplace of Country Music and the home of its First Family – The Carters. Also home to America’s #1 Ambassador of country Music to the United Kingdom, and my good friend, Mr. Baylen Leonard.
If none of that was going to pull me off of I-81 then you KNOW it was seriously go time. I called My Man and asked him to book me whatever room he could find with his fancy credit card points that was closest to his house. I was committed to finish this drive today, Sunday. The journey was thankfully uneventful. Just long, mostly straight, and monotonous. I had long since passed my sell-by date and was just aching to keep my eyes open and the tires between the paintWhen I finally pulled into Kingston, NY I had a nice warm room waiting for me at the Marriott Residence Inn. I shuffled into the lobby, every muscle in my body sore from the time behind the wheel, every sliver of concentration torn to shreds by the past 4,000 miles. Every fiber of my being screaming out for me to just park myself in one place. For tonight. And another tomorrow. To rest up and build back my energy stores for that last final push home.
Of all the nights to be rewarded with a suite, this was a peculiar one. My hips were on fire and screaming out for me to stay put. I could barely manage the walk to the bathroom. But I needed sustenance. My Man offered to have a pizza delivered, but my brain was still hard wired into it’s recently trained state of frugality, and I refused, instead walking across the parking lot to Target where, blinded by exhaustion, I somehow was fooled into thinking the frozen PF Chang’s Pad Thai would resemble the picture on the box. THAT’s how frazzled I was. After I slunk back to the suite and stuck the frozen gristle into the microwave, and then pulled out the warmed up slop and shoveled it into my face, I collapsed on the king size bed and my brain shut off before my head hit the pillow.
My eyes finally snapped open and I looked at the clock. 6:59am. Exactly one minute before my wakeup call. That’s been happening to me with alarming frequency over the past year. On the rare occasion when I do set an alarm, I wake up a minute before it goes off. My body clock is raging! I took an incredibly long hot shower and headed out to Sunrise Bagels in Kingston, NY. Got myself a sandwich and a coffee and picked up a dozen bagels to go as a housewarming gift for The Homies. Minutes later I was pulling into the driveway of the brand spanking new Chernin family home. New to them anyways. I was wearing two masks as were they. I got a short tour of the inside and then we went out on the driveway to chew whatever fat I had left on my bone. Which wasn’t much. I feebly attempted to tell em a little bit about the trip, but my mind hadn’t really processed it yet. Which is partly why I wrote this story. To let them know what their beloved Subaru Outback had seen in the past 5 days. Holy shit, had this all really only been 5 days?
We had left my return trip open ended. I wasn’t sure if Id want to go to the city and see friends, etc. I had visions of clearing out the belongings I had left in storage when I made my hasty escape from the city 8 months prior. But I was damn near broken. So I asked My Man to book me a one way flight from Newark to Boise, Idaho. On the first plane out tomorrow morning, Tuesday. I had exhausted everything I had left in my tank out there on the open road. I was literally running on fumes. Physically, emotionally and spiritually. And I knew I wasn’t interested in mustering the energy it would take to hit NYC on this trip. I just wanted to be back home. In my own bed. In McCalm, Idaho. And that was still 106 winding miles from Boise once I landed in the Gem State. I was tapped out. And when you’re digging deep into your reserves, the words of Queen Dorothy of Kansas echo in your head. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. And Idaho had started out as a place to hang my helmet, but over the course the winter it had become home. And I just wanted to get back home.
I handed them the keys to their car and grabbed the keys for the rental they’d been using for the past week and headed out to the NYS Thruway. Two more legs to go. I had one friend to see and that was my main man Charley Ryan. GM of Wetlands and co-founder / owner of the Brooklyn Bowl. He presides over a sprawling estate in Leonia, NJ and had already been vaccinated, so that was to be my one safe harbor of friendship at the end of this insane journey. I hadn’t seen Charley since January 26th, 2022. The two of us, along with his bride Theresa were sharing a lovely mezzo platter lunch when all 3 of our phones started buzzing incessantly, and we all picked them up to simultaneously learn that Kobe Bryant had died in a fiery helicopter crash. Some things you never forget. Even when you try.
I was doing my best to remain alert and attentive, and keep both eyes on the road, when I spotted the downward drifting flakes. Snow. More fucking snow. You’ve got to be kidding me! It started coming down softly at first, and then in bigger clumps the further south I got. Nothing to do but just laugh and keep two hands on the wheel. I pulled into Charley’s place, and it was exactly like seeing a long lost friend. Because that’s exactly what it was. A much needed long lost friend. It didn’t take me long to collapse into his electric massage chair and I almost dozed into dreamland on the spot. Along the route to Charley’s estate I had passed my storage space but was too exhausted to even think about popping in. But then he convinced me to hit it, and offered to drive. I cant really explain how cared for I felt when I settled into the passenger seat and strapped the seatbelt across my breastplate. I was finally able to let the tension drain out of my like a hippie’s shower drain that had dutifully been cleared of all the errant dirt and hair.
My storage facility looks like something out of one of the SAW films. Or the warehouse in Hostel where the “art show” was to take place. A towering and decrepit brick monstrosity located in a run down part of Bogotoa, NJ, literally across a set of abandoned railroad tracks. Charley turned me on to it. He found it when Wetlands closed and we needed a place to store all the detritus that remained after we hurriedly cleared the place out post 9/11. It doesn’t have a website. Or any sort of automatic billing system. And it’s not 24 hours. Who the fuck needs their storage space to be 24 hours anyways? If you need to getting there at 3AM, its surely for nefarious reasons. I fell in love with it the minute I saw it.
We did a super quick swoop in and swoop out of the 8 foot by 8 foot room that houses all of my earthly possessions and thankfully I was able to quickly locate my Sonos speakers and grabbed them all as well as a bootleg Kobe shirt I had picked up on the street a couple of days after his passing. And then I was chauffeured back to the estate and had am belly filled with some lovely tomato soup and toasted baguette. Before long, spurred by the continuous falling of snow I outside, I once again braved the elements and headed for Newark Airport.
Along the way my buddy Imran called and asked what my plans were and if I was sticking around the city. I told him that between my exhaustion and this god forsaken snowstorm I’d be lucky to get this car back to the rental joint and was gonna collapse at the hotel. Like a truth maddafahkkin G that he is, and like only a bestie could or would do he said “Well fuck man, I wanna see you. Lemme know what food you’ve been missing from the city and I’ll grab it and drive it out to Newark.” In the snow. What a champion! I told him Thai, and an hour later there he was, in the lobby of the Newark Airport Renaissance all masked upon like a culinary bandit, and we proceeded to chow down as I futilely tried to relay highlights from my trip. You know you’ve got a true friend when you can just sit there completely exhausted in their presence and and still be bonding. I love that fucking guy.
Immy split and I headed upstairs and took a quick shower and pounded a coffee and got ready to rumble. A couple of days into the trip I had gotten a message from Greg Attonito, singer of the Bouncing Souls, asking if I would be a guest on their Patron video podcast, and I said yes, at that time unaware that I’d be a literal shell of a man when the day actually came. But just like with an old motorcycle, I reached down and pulled the lever from main tank to reserve and fired up my laptop.
The podcast was a blast. We all connected on Zoom and talked about so many off the different shows Ive put on with the Souls. 3 different boat shows, Cha Cha’s on the Coney Island Boardwalk, the 6 nights we did at Knitting Factory for the release of their Gold Album, 4 nights at the Highline, them being one of the first punk bands to ever play at BB Kings. Ah the good ole days. And we talked road trips. The one I was currently wrapping up, and of course the time I drive 8 hours out of the way during a Cannonball Run from the tiny village of Sese, Botswana to Cape Town South Africa where I drove 8 hours out of our way, much to the consternation of my ex-girlfriend / travel partner, just to visit a village called Steinkopf, South Africa, because I wanted to take some pics of the “Welcome to Steinkopf” sign since its the guitar player of the Souls’s last name – Pistol Pete Steinkopf! It’s no wonder I’m still single.
That lasted an hour and as soon as it was over I switched gears and launched into my own podcast, Tuesdays with Jakey, and rambled for 81 minutes about my road trip. And when THAT was over, I set a 5am wake up call and collapsed into the bed and dreamt of being home.
I was up and out the door at 5am for a 630am flight to Denver. And then another to Boise. I had grand plans fo running a bunch of errands in Boise and doing all the things I cant do in McCall. Like going to Trader Joe’s. And the Record Store. And Art Supply Store. And maybe grabbing some Thai food. But when the plane landed I ambled out to my car in the long term parking lot, held my breath while I turned the key, and released it when it actually started up. And then I headed straight home. To McCalm.
As soon as I you get out of Boise and head north on the two lane Route 55 the landscape changes dramatically from urban sprawl to mostly barren but wildly gorgeous desert hills. And then as I climb towards the 6,000 foot elevation of my homestead the canyon along the Payette River winds into a luscious pine forest.
I made s single stop along the way at the Stinker Gas Station and picked up a frozen pizza and finally collapsed into my own bed. Where I would remain for the next two and a half days. I’ve spent the past 10 years globetrotting thinking I was in search of something. It took all that time and thousands upon thousands of miles, a 60 day stay at an inpatient psychiatric facility, and 10,000 hours of therapy and introspection to finally understand I hadn’t been searching as much as I had been running. Running away from my own twisted brain. And now that I’m comfortable inside of myself, I don’t want to go anywhere at all. Home At Last. Home At Last. Thank God Almighty, I AM Home At Last!
ADVENTURE TIME – AGAIN! No more than 72 hours after I finally escaped being stranded with a broken down car for 5 nights, I got a call from a friend in need. He’s moving his family from LA to Woodstock and was planning on driving the entire brood cross country. They made it as far as Flagstaff when the combination of the middle america ice storms and the reality of a 7 months pregnant wife and a fidgety 3 year old in a car for another week became apparent, and he hit me up and asked, against all hope, if just maaaaaaybe I would be willing to fly to Arizona and drive their car to NY so that they could fly. And with only the slightest whips of hesitation I said “Sure! What’s The Worst That Could Happen?”
So here I am at the Boise airport, not even 60 hours since This SuperUnicorn was summoned to the rescue, waiting for a flight to Phoenix. I’m gonna cruise down through the sunny expanse towards Tucson and then Las Cruces and then play amateur weatherman to plot the rest of my course.
I had a couple of heart palpitations at security, due to an incident 15 months ago when I was kicked out of the TSA pre-check program when the agents found a (pink!) butterfly knife in my carry on. At 530am. Whoops 🤷🏻♂️. That led to an embarrassing 30 minutes in handcuffs at LaGuardia, in full view of the other intrepid travelers, with freshly dyed pink hair and a mix of tequila and contempt on my breath. But it ended with no stabs on my permanent record. Just a few minor slices. I believe that’s what they call white privilege. All praise to the mighty Allah.
So now I’m off, into the wild blue yonder with a loose plan, some tight playlists and a nose for the absurd. The Vegas bookmakers have opened with very strong odds against me being bored at any point in the next week. Smart money says I’m gonna find, and persevere through at least a couple of statistical impossibilities and kid level impracticalities. Because when you’re living the life of a pirate, it’s either do or die. And I’ve got an incredible amount of living left in this sexy-ass shell.
Stay tuned for more dispatches from the heartland!
ADVENTURE UPDATE: The reason the serpentine belt snapped was because the power steering pump seized. Not because the belt was toast. So now we gotta order a new power steering pump, which has to come from Seattle. So I’m stuck here in Grangeville til Thursday, at least. But, like I’ve continually been saying every time things haven’t gone my way, which has been frequently since the pandemic started, things could be much, much, much worse, and I haven’t lost sight of that. Nor will I.
I have lots to be thankful for. I have a beautiful cabin to live in. 101 mikes away. And I have amazing friends. I’m poor but I’m not broke, yet, and I’m able to physically work and my smarts are still mostly intact. I’m healthy, I’m fed, I’m reasonably fit, I’m not suicidal, and my dick still works even if I don’t have anyone to put it into at present. Or on the horizon. Things could most definitely be worse in a myriad of ways.
Ive moved out of the relatively luxurious Super 8 and into the mostly, shall we say, “charming” confines of the Downtowner Inn, which according to the ramshackle sign outside offers daily AND weekly rates. And has clean, affordable rooms and even color TV! Man, if this brown shag carpet could talk, i think the first thing it would say is “Don’t step THERE! Or there or there or there!” And then it would probably beg for a bathing. But as long as there’s no black light, then I shall continue to exist, no thrive, here in this state of willful ignorance. It sure beats being in jail. Or Boston.
So I wait, kept company by my little Bluetooth speaker, my overactive imagination, and a stack of wonderfully weird paperbacks I picked up at the local thrift store for literal pennies on the dollar.
Maybe this evening I’ll walk a mile and change back to the BBQ joint that fed me in so many different ways last night. Have y’all ever heard of a BBQ Sundae? It’s a 20 ounce cup filled above the brim with baked beans, pulled pork, coleslaw with the proverbial cherry (tomato) on top! All for $7.99. Plus tax.
I’ve long contended that the less windows a BBQ joint has the better the grub inside, and last night furthered my reliance on that little lesson, much to the delight of my tastebuds, if not necessarily my colon. With any luck, I’ll get that massaged before the sun sets on the year of our lord 2021. A boy can dream after all.
Send lawyers and money, both of which, unlike guns, are in short supply out here. Until then, I am a patient boy, I wait I wait I wait.
If you should find yourself at a loss for what to do with whatever spare cash ya might have in your piggy bank and would like to finance further adventures and these semi-literate musings, feel free to fire off a few pesos to firstname.lastname@example.org (PayPal) or @jake-szufnarowski (Venmo)
Busted Flat In Grangeville, Idaho. 101 miles away from where I’ve lately been calling “home”, with no idea how or when I’ll be climbing back into my creaky yet comfortable bed. Here’s how it’s it all going down, in real time.
I’ve been holed up in a lovely cabin on a pine forest on the side of a mountain in McCall, Idaho since the beginning of September. And let’s just say that the rural life is agreeing with me, and washing calm over me in much the same way that the chilled waters of Payette lake washed over my tootsies on so many autumn afternoons, before the whole thing turned to ice. I’ve taken to calling this place McCalm, and oddly none of the locals seem to have heard this one before. So Im laying claim to the creation of yet another enduring nickname. It’s a fun little skill I’ve been developing and deploying for years now, and proud I am to have discovered it.
Now one of the limitations of living outside of a modern metropolis is the great distance one must travel to partake in any sort of conspicuous consumption. All my needs can be met in the small town of McCalm with just a 20 minute drive down the mountian. There are two grocery stores. One of them even has a little camping and hunting wares department, including a full-service firearms counter. I’ve yet to get too close to that one, but each time I step inside to pick up some provisions, I venture just a little bit closer to the collection of cold hard steel. If you’re interested, you should google “Idaho gun laws”. It’s only the slightest but of an exaggeration to say there are none.
I also have easy access to a True Value franchise hardware store, two ski / bicycle shops, even a handful of decent coffee shops and a lone bookstore. Culture! Add to that 3 (THREE!!!) different places that sell what they refer to in these parts as pizza” and it’s almost like being back in the Big Apple. So, like I said, needs can be met rather easily. If I want access to the cornucopia of cheapness that are Dollar Stores, a necessary staple in the sticks, I have to drive 25 miles either south or west, to the even tinier towns of Cascade and Meadows. Beyond that though, to access any sort of big box store, art supplies, ethnic food and any sort of national chain that’s not a Subway, I’m left with two options: 106 long and winding miles through immense canyons carved by the America’s longest continuous class 5 rapids of the Payette and Snake
Rivers south to Boise, or 177 miles north through more canyons and peaks and prairies and massive rock formations to the twin hamlets of Lewiston, Idaho and Clarkston, Washington. Today I chose the latter.
It was a gorgeous day for a drive and so I wondered aloud my lifetime mantra of “What’s the Worst That Could Happen?” and I hit the open road. The drive up was gorgeous and mostly uneventful, save for the oncoming Idaho State Trooper who gently lit up his flashers to alert me that I might have been slightly over the posted speed limit. Whoops. But he did not turn around, and after more than a few long breathless moments, I stopped looking back. Don’t look back. You can never look back.
Since I bought my last motorcycle in 2018, I’ve kept in touch with, and have been developing a budding friendship with its previous owner. When he found out I ended up planted in the fertile soil of Idaho, he sent me a note that said “if you ever find yourself in Grangeville, ID, my friend Mike Gosselaar owns a Powersports dealership there. He was Ricky Carmichael’s mechanic and we were teammates on the Honda Supercross team back in the 90’s. If you’re ever over that way, stop into Gosslaar Powersports and tell him I said hello. He’s big into the adventure riding scene (off road riding) and will hip you to some great trails!” Ricky Carmichael is considered the GOAT of modern day dirt bike racing, and was on top of the championship podiums for most of the years I obsessively followed the sport when I first got into motorcycles so I knew that I’d eventually want make that connection for myself.
On the way through Grangeville this morning the shop was closed, but on my return journey this evening I noticed the lights on so I pulled into the parking lot and knocked on the door. He looked a little suspicious of me, and seeing as I was a stranger in hot pink overalls with a unicorn patch embroidered to the chest and a bright yellow Father John Misty hoodie on, all topped by my two-toned wild mane to match, I really couldn’t blame him But when I explained who I was, and who sent me, he welcomed me in with arms as open as any I’ve encountered n the midst of this global pandemic. And it felt great to be connecting with a kindred spirit.
He showed me a slew of killer bikes and a variety of wild machines in varying states of being transformed into snow-traversing monsters, and we shot the proverbial shit for close to an hour, with the conversation winding up with an invite for me to come back up on my bike when the weather gets good enough again to do some riding and camping and more shooting of the shit. The handgun on his workbench that had caught my careful eye as soon as I entered let me know we might end up shooting more than shit. And then I thought to myself “Sheeeeee-it THAT’s how they catch dinner up in these parts. RAD!”
So we said our goodbyes, for now, and I got back in my car and drove to the gas station next door to fill it’s tank, and empty my own. When I turned the key again a big puff of smoke came out from under the hood and I got a quick and nasty case of the “Uh-Ohs”! I managed to limp my hooptie back over to his shop and tapped my knuckles upon the door once again and this time I said “Help?” Like a true gentleman, and a real American to whom unity is more than a political buzzword, he happily obliged and told me to pop the hood so he could wrap his huge mechanic brain around my dilemma. With his legendary expertise, he quickly ascertained that my alternator belt was broken, and reached his well worn workman hand down into the engine and pulled out a torn and battered serpentine lash of rubber and handed it to me. I accepted his offering with all the grace of a man being handed a live rattlesnake, but I tried to keep my cool and just nodded.
I don’t think I fooled him for a second so he grabbed his phone and called a friend, and then another friend and then another. The local auto parts shop was long closed for the day, as are the ones up in Lewis and Clark-Ville. So tomorrow morning, Sunday, I’ll be standing outside of the NAPA auto parts store with this limp strip of burnt rubber in my hand, hoping against hope that they will be able to supply a replacement. And then hoping even harder that Mike and his crew of real manly men can wrap it back around the precious bits of my alternator and engine and get my whip running again, at least in shape enough for the 101 mile journey back to McCalm. But if it’s not in stock (which their website says it isnt), I’ll likely be ensconced at this Super 8 Motel til Tuesday. At least I’ve got a toothbrush and a notebook and a few pens. And this trusty old iPhone that I’m banging this missive out on right now. And, as long as this overactive imagination doesn’t fail me, I’ll never be alone. All praise be to the most high Allah for this ever-winding life of mine. And for all the friends I’ve made along this twisted journey of life I somehow continue to keep living.
On the eve of our nation’s most important holiday, Super Bowl Sunday, I’m choosing to take this as yet another reminder in a long line of reminders of how important it is to (almost) always be nice to (almost) everybody!
What’s the worst that could happen? Literally nothing. Take it from me: As you go through life my friends, whatever be your goal, keep your eyes upon the donut, and not upon the hole.
To be continued…
If you should find yourself at a loss for what to do with whatever spare cash ya might have in your piggy bank and would like to finance further adventures and these semi-literate musings, feel free to fire off a few pesos to email@example.com (PayPal) or @jake-szufnarowski (Venmo)
On this week’s episode of “TUESDAYS WITH JAKEY – Your New Favorite Podcast” I dig into a couple of trips I took with Sir Rockin Rodney Speed. In honor of it being Dolly Parton’s 75th Birthday I talked a lot about our trip to DOLLYWOOD.
And the radio show that I reference where Rodney and I were the guests along with the mazing hosts Ginger Wildheart of the Wildhearts and Rich “Spunky” Jones of the Black Halos and Michael Monroe can be found HERE.