Prison Songs and Sweet Killarney
Double Nickel

Sixty-Five In A Zero-Mile Zone

Today the lovely and talented Meg wrote about a caffeine jag she inadvertantly went on when she was a studying the ins and outs of the magical java bean, and it reminded me of an experience I had during one long long night, long long ago.

Long, long ago, when I was a young and stupid adventurous circus clown living in a Ford van, I had to drive home from my latest gig. The show closed in Enid, Oklahoma. I lived with my folks in Silver Spring, Maryland. It's about 1335 miles from Enid to Silver Spring. So I filled my gas tank, jumped in the driver's seat, and took off, heading east. I took the southern route, because it was late winter and I wanted to avoid some of the horrible weather I'd been experiencing already.

I made it to Parkersburg late the next day. I got off the interstate and had a bite to eat, and then I consulted my map. The most direct route home, according to the map, was US Route 50.

If I wanted to stay on an interstate, I'd have to drive up to Morgantown and pick up I-70, and then drive through Pennsylvania, and then into Maryland, and finally, to home.

Nah. Route 50. Direct and to the point. It's a US highway; what could be so bad?

(Cue ominous music.)

While I ate dinner, I decided to avail myself of a little extra medicinal driving help in the form of a black beauty* that I had copped the previous summer from my old pal Sweet Dave. Just a little zizz 'n fizz to keep me awake and alert on the ride home.

Off I went, plannng my surprise. My folks didn't know I was on the way home -- no cell phones in those days, and I hadn't called (collect, of course) in a few days. So I had visions of sneaking quietly into the house along about midnight, crawling into my comfy bed, and shocking the shit out of my mom and dad the following morning.

What I didn't realize was that, although it appears to be the most direct route on paper, Route 50 is a wicked, winding, two-lane road through the Appalachian Mountains. I had my first hint of this when I got stuck in a line of traffic at the foot of the first mountain. The state troopers had closed the road while a heavy-duty wrecker hauled an 18-wheeler off the mountain.

I waited over an hour, my van at a dead stop.

My mind, however, was coasting along at about 45 mph right about then.

Finally, the traffic started to move, up the mountain, around the hairpin curves, at a reasonable pace.

And then it began to rain.

As we got higher, the rain changed to snow. Traffic slowed.

Think it can get worse? Oh, it can and it did.

Fog. Thick, impenetrable, opaque, fog. Traffic crawled, then crept. I was driving about 10 miles an hour, on that twisty mountain road, but my mind was now racing at 60 miles an hour. I was gripping the steering wheel so hard it almost bent like butter in my hands.

Finally, a sign for a scenic overlook loomed up out of the white mist. I pulled over into the parking area and stopped the van. The line of traffic that had been following my tail lights pulled in behind me, then realized I was done and pulled back out. I was a little disappointed because I was ready for some company.

After all, I wasn't going to sleep any time soon.

I sat for minute, talking to myself, coming up with a plan. "It's cold outside, but I can't keep the engine running or I'll run out of gas or poison myself from carbon monoxide but I don't want to freeze either even though I have a sleeping bag I don't have my camping heater and anyway if I leave the engine off for too long it might not start again because the alternator acts up when it rains or snows so I guess I'll just run the engine once it gets too cold to be comfortable inside and I'll warm things up that way yeah, that'll work! but maybe I better take a walk around the van to figure out just exactly how close I am to the road because I don't want some idiot to hit me from not seeing me in the fog and maybe I should put my flashlight out in back of the van but maybe not because it might attract the wrong kind of attention but I guess I better look around now but I better be careful because what if I'm really close to the edge of the road and I fall off the goddamn mountain boy that would just suck shit through a rag..."

I walked around the van a few dozen times, both to warm up and to make sure it wasn't about to fall off the mountain. I read until my flashlight batteries started dimming. I sang to myself. I ran the engine. I walked around again. I curled up in my little van bed and tried to sleep. I checked to see if the fog had lifted. I repeated this ritual many times.

Finally, my mind released its grip on consciousness and I fell into a 65-mile an hour sleep.

When I woke up, it was close to dawn. The air was clear and cold; the sky was greying up into daytime. I was a wreck, but I climbed into the driver's seat and cranked the engine. Thankfully, it started right up. I pulled out of the scenic overlook, made my way down the mountain, and headed for home.

When I got there, I slept for 20 hours straight.

*Kids, listen to me: Drugs -- especially speed -- are bad. Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad.