A buddy of mine’s getting married, and he’s having his bachelor party in Vegas. I figured I’d stop by my old home town first – stop over just for tonight then head on to the City of Sin in the morning. It’s this plan that has led me here, to a 24hr diner on the side of a busy highway.
Having a life that straddles the Atlantic can cause problems. You remember the country like a past lover, but friends are harder to keep hold of. Read more in Les Rolt’s short story, High By Night.
High By Night
They’d been arguing for about fifteen minutes now, but I had no intention of interrupting.
“Never engage in a domestic”, that’s what my old man always used to tell me. Andy and Sarah were typical of just about every young, married couple in south-eastern Colorado. High school sweethearts, two years of community college under their belts and eagerly awaiting the inevitable conception of their first child. God knows I was glad to get out of that town, but it’s on fly-by nights like this that I begin to miss it, maybe it’s the sight of the sun setting of the distant Rockies or the subtle aroma of fresh cut alfalfa – or maybe, just maybe, it was the cute little thing sat on the opposite side of the table playing footsie with me all night – it’s hard to say, but I was feeling content.
I’d flown into DIA at about 11am, thankfully I got most of the customs bullshit out of the way at Atlanta – where I had the customary half hour delay whilst I sat in a room filled with a colourful array of ethnic minorities waiting to be given the most unwelcoming ‘welcome’ they could possibly have expected to receive. But in my experience, the natives only tend to treat you like shit in airports. Maybe it’s the ‘terrorism’ paranoia, or maybe it’s just the fact that working in an airport must be a pretty shitty job. I mean how fucking depressing must it be to be sat on your arse all day watching all these people either going on holidays, or coming back from holidays – whilst each day all you have to look forward to is getting in your shitty little car, driving back to your shitty little apartment and eating Ramen noodles whilst watching CSI – correct me if I’m wrong, but I doubt I am. Like I was saying though, the shit tends to stop at the airport – soon as I got through DIA I was out of the red-tape, pure-Republican hell and into the land of the free. I picked up my rental, a sweet little Pontiac Firebird – and after about two hours of cruising south I stop off at the most inviting mom and pop’s diner I can find. These places are what I live for – sod the rest of the crap – American Tourism Board – you can keep your Statue of Liberty, your Disneyland, your Hollywood Walk of Fame, this is what America is all about. Sitting my ‘little limey ass’ down in a diner – and being treated like royalty. The waitress is a peach of a girl, cute as a button and sweet as mom’s apple pie. I order Chicken Fried Steak and an Iced Tea. It’s served with a smile and a side of polite conversation, “Wow, I love your accent – where are you from?” etc, etc. In case you were wondering – I’m from London – that’s London, England.
I get back in the car, full up on good food and the customary free refills. I wonder why I don’t come out here more often. The roads are long and empty, the temptation to gun it down the highway is almost irresistible – but I lived here long enough to know there’s a cop sat waiting at the edge of every small town just waiting for a bit of excitement. I prefer not to give them the satisfaction. Instead I hook my iPod up to the car stereo and chill out to my carefully picked and pre-prepared playlist – Journey, Tom Petty, CCR – everything I need to get into the true American spirit. I’m not far from Otero County and I’ve already got plans to meet a couple of old high school friends. This isn’t the sole reason for my visit; in fact it’s far from it. A buddy of mine’s getting married, and he’s having his bachelor party in Vegas. I figured I’d stop by my old home town first – stop over just for tonight then head on to the City of Sin in the morning. It’s this plan that has led me here, to a 24hr diner on the side of a busy highway. Sat at a table eating fries and sipping on Dr. Pepper listening to said couple continue to debate a topic of conversation that I cannot hide the fact that I am responsible for.
“What you doing later then Carmine?”
Carmine Buckle – that’s me.
“Well I’m meeting Goofy – quick drink and gonna score some gear.”
“Wow.” Andy replies, “Fucken Goofy – that guys a pure douche.”
“Did you say you were gonna score some gear?” Sarah asks.
“Goofy’s not so bad.” I reply, not really paying attention to Sarah.
“He’s 27 and still hangs out at High School parties.”
“Some people don’t like to grow up.”
“Excuse me – I asked you a question Carmine!”
I turn to Sarah, she’s got that disapproving mother look on her face.
“Yes Sarah, I’m scoring a gram or two of gear before I head out to Vegas.”
She bites her lip and shakes her head.
“I didn’t think you were into that shit.”
“I’m not.” I reply, “Just looking to have some fun.”
She doesn’t look like she believes me, but the honest to God truth is I’ve never done coke before in my life – well maybe one or twice but that doesn’t really count. The first time was in the toilets of a pub in Oxford when I was visiting a mate, it was a weird experience – I was pissed and we were huddled in a small cubicle and I snorted it off the corner of his Tesco Club Card. The second time was in a bar in Denver just before a Modest Mouse gig, my ex had some of the shit in a folded up lottery ticket. Neither time do I remember getting much of a buzz, but this is a weekend with the guys – a weekend to get shitfaced and go all out.
“You know I don’t approve of that, Carmine.”
I shrug my shoulders and flash as smile at Kayla, the kind of smile that’s meant to say ‘God your sister’s so uptight’ – it’s not returned.
“I agree with Sarah.”
“Leave the poor guy alone.” Andy says, whilst pouring sweetener into the shape of an anarchy symbol. “It’s not like he’s shooting up on heroin or anything.”
“But that’s how it starts!” Sarah replies.
“Gateway.” Adds Kayla.
“Fucken gateway my ass, that’s what people say about pot and look at me – I’ve been smoking it since I was sixteen – never moved onto anything harder – just a joint before bedtime.”
“You’re a prick Andy – you know that.”
And that is how it begun. It was followed by an exchange of abuse, a quick sidetrack with half-hearted attempts at whispering: “Carmine should know better” – “Ahem, still here guys – still sat at the table with you”. Followed by a return to abuse – so since you’re pretty much up to speed, let’s pick up where we left off – the conversation has now gone full circle.
“You’re a prick Andy – you know that.”
“I’m a prick? Really?”
“Well look at you and your buddies – you go out get hammered off your faces on white fucken wine – act like a bunch of idiots – why’s that so much better?”
“Cos wine’s not illegal Andy.”
“Well pot shouldn’t be illegal either.”
“Explain that one.” says Kayla.
I remain quiet – but inside slightly annoyed that Kayla joined the conversation, because if she’s joining then I’m going to have to at some point.
“Okay – listen to me…” Andy begins.
Three years of High School plus a further two of community college – one of which spent sharing a dorm with Andy – tells me that any sentence he begins with the words ‘Okay – listen to me’ is going to be followed by his attempt at being profound, such examples from our salad days include:
“Okay – listen to me – this is why the US would be a success under communism…”
“Okay – listen to me – this is why the US will never have a black President…”
“Okay – listen to me – this is why the invasion of Iraq was a good idea…”
Go easy on him though, the first idea was based on the fact he read Animal Farm – but only got half way through – as for the second – Obama surprised us all didn’t he? The third – er, fuck knows – I wasn’t even paying attention.
“Okay – listen to me – this is why I think pot should be legalised. Firstly, it’s not as bad for your health as tobacco and it doesn’t make you do fucked up shit like booze does. Plus, if the US government were to legalise marijuana – then firstly, they could bring in a shit load of additional income through putting a tax on the product. It could be distributed by the tobacco companies and the Surgeon General could put his ‘Health Warning’ on it, and they could ensure that it wasn’t too potent or whatever.”
“But what the fuck does that have to do with Carmine buying gear?” asks Sarah.
“Are you saying they should legalise that too?” Kayla adds.
“They could do.”
I sense Andy’s pain the moment he says that. It wasn’t a smart move. There a certain questions a fella must be very fucking careful when answering. For instance: ‘Does my bum look big in this?’ You need to play these games carefully – from my own personal experience, under no possible circumstance should your answer be: “No more than usual”.
“Are you fucken serious Andy? Legalise cocaine? Really Andy, really?”
Andy has nervously begun to wipe away the sweetener anarchy symbol with his sleeve.
“Are you gonna answer me Andy?”
Andy looks down at the pile of sweetener in front of him, he then looks up and takes a deep breathe.
“I need to take a piss.”
With that Andy gets up and disappears to the restroom.
In case you’re wondering, I’m not in the least bit concerned about the argument. They do this all the time. What does concern me is that now Andy’s gone, both Kayla and Sarah have turned their collective gaze towards me.
“So Carmine,” Sarah says, her tone soft and welcoming like a health spa receptionist.
“Why on earth would you want to get involved in any of that stuff?”
I close my eyes and attempt to rewind the conversation in my head. I’m on a mental search and destroy mission, I plan to dig deep into my memory – find the moment I first mentioned gear in my oh- so-casual, oh so naive way and calmly and methodically surgically remove it from the conversation.
“I dunno Sarah – it’s just a little bit of gear, it’s not like I’m gonna get hooked. Not like I’m gonna be one of those gearheads doing a few grams a day, getting nose bleeds and waiting for their septum to disintegrate.”
“That’s not the point Carmine – let me tell you a little story about coke…”
My mind begins to wander; I’m tired and trying to conjure up a decent excuse to get out of here and head back to my single-serving hotel room. I’ll be crashing overnight in a Holiday Inn about a half mile down the highway. Neatly folder sheets, a TV with no more than 7 or 8 channels, a bathroom with fresh towels, a slice of soap barely thicker than a credit card and a shot-bottle of shampoo. I stare out the window – an eerie dusk-glow orange fills the sky – and I get the feeling I’m in for a long night. I can hear ‘Hotel California’ playing on the radio. Sarah’s still talking; Kayla’s just nodding her head.
Les Rolt is a writer, born and bred in SE London with a few years in Colarado in between. Read more from him here.
The photograph is by the talented Selina Mayer. See more of her photographic work on her site.