About Me

I feel the wanderlust and the call of the open highway. Which is good, because I drive cars for a living. But I'm a writer, and someday hope to once again make my living using my writing skills.

Friday, January 27, 2012

THE FUGITIVE QUESTION

As I was driving a brand new SUV to Las Vegas, I wondered what had happened to Riff’s edict that I would only be doing the East Coast route, up and down I-95. Maybe it had to do with Andy’s health issues, or maybe it was just a matter of where I was needed most. I couldn’t complain though, for I preferred to see different locales and different vistas.

My cell phone rang, and I answered. “This is Bill.”

“Bill? Bill Thomas? Oh my goodness. This is Mrs. Sherman. What are you doing calling me today?”

“Well actually, you called me."

“No… no, I don’t think so.”

“I think you did, ma’am. But I’m always glad to hear from you.”

“Well I am glad to hear from you, too. It was so thoughtful of you to call me.” I heard a beep meaning I had another call. It showed me that Smokey was calling, but I could call him later. “So where are you now?”

“Passing through Oklahoma, on my way to Las Vegas.”

“Oh yes. Well if you’ll pardon me for saying so, Viva Las Vegas.”

“Yes indeed, Viva Las Vegas.”

“Yes indeed,” she said. “Bill, do you have plans for Valentine’s Day?”

“Not yet, but I’ll probably be driving somewhere.”

“I have just been asked by a lady friend to join her at a Valentine Ball. I can’t decide whether to go or not.”

My cell phone beeped again. It was Smokey, and he was determined to get through. I thought it might be really important. “Mrs. Sherman, I don’t meant to impolite, but I have another call I have to take.”

“I’m busy myself right now. It was so nice of you to call me, please call again soon.”

“I will.” I hung up and then clicked over onto the other line. “Smokey?”

“Spanky? Is this Billiam Thomas-san?”

“It is.”

“Are you drinking?”

“No, I’m driving.”

“Drinking and driving is dangerous, I advise against it.”

“Are you drinking?”

“Is grass green? I called to ask you a very important question, so quit spanking your monkey and zip up your pants.”

“OK, I’m ready for your question.”

“I know you’ve been writing about your adventures on the road. And I know that you want to turn it into a TV series. So what I have to ask you is The Fugitive Question.”

"The fugitive question?”

“You heard me.”

“I heard you, but I don’t understand you.”

“Well listen to me and respect me, and I will explain entirely. Remember the old TV show, THE FUGITIVE?”

“Yes.”

“Not the movie with Harrison Ford, I mean the old series from the 60’s.”

“I know, with David Jansen as Dr. Richard Kimble, falsely accused on killing his wife. Each week he would go to a new town, meet new people, but always in relentless pursuit of the elusive one-armed man.”

“Here’s the thing: your show is about a guy who drivers all around America, every week going to a new town meeting new people. But here is the fugitive question: what is chasing him, or what is he chasing? In the case of THE FUGITIVE, Kimble was chasing the one-arm man for answers to who really killed his wife. But he was also been chased, doggedly pursued by Lt. Girard, who was so determination to catch Kimble that he ruined his freakin’ marriage and alienationated all his co-workers. That’s what you need.”

“Lt. Girard?”

“No, numb nuts. You need something chasing your character, or some bodies chasing him, or you, or it, or… you know what I mean. Ideally, you get both.”

“That’s actually a good thought."

“Don’t sound surprised, I am a creation artist. Creative artist, I mean. I’m a little wasted.”

“Good thoughts sometimes come from wasted minds.”

“Whose?”

“In this case, you buddy.”

“Me what?” I could see that this conversation was running out of steam. But Smokey had put a very valid point on the table. And I will be focused on this until I can connect it into my own story and answer the fugitive question.

Friday, January 20, 2012

AZALEA PALACE

On my way to Atlanta to deliver a new Chevy Impala sedan, I kept on trying to call my old girlfriend Karen at her new Café in Richmond. But no luck. Each time I called, an overly efficient employee answered and said she was out running errands. So I just continued to leave messages.

I had spoken briefly to a Mrs. Detriech in Atlanta that I was set to deliver to the next day. Actually it was in Alpharetta, just north of the city. I slept in the back seat of the car while parked at a nearby Wal Mart, so that I could be up and ready to deliver first thing in the morning. I had printed out my directions from Mapquest, and it was easy getting to the house. I drove up the grassy driveway, and was immediately overwhelmed by the growth of vegetation in the front yard.

A man came bustling out the front door and marched up to me purposefully. I got out of the car and said “Good morning.”

“Look at this yard, just look at it.”

I looked around. “Very nice.”

“Really? Is that what you’d call it? I don’t think it has been well taken care of at all.”

I shrugged. “Who am I to judge?”

The man looked hurt. “Very funny. My Father took pride in making his yard the prettiest one on the block. But look at it, all overgrown and out of control. Doesn’t it bother you?”

“Not really,” I said.

“What’s your name again?”

I smiled. “Bill Thomas sir, nice to meet you.”

“The feeling is not mutual, Bill. I am a very dissatisfied customer.”

I was taken aback. “Why are you not satisfied?”

“Because the situation is unacceptable.”

I had run into spouses before who gave me trouble about the car I was delivering to their husband/wife. “Is your wife here, sir?”

“Now don’t drag her into it. This is between you and me.”

“What is between you and me?”

“There is a big difference between mowing the lawn and cutting the grass. Do you know what that difference is?”

“I don’t see how this—“

“Let me explain,” he interrupted. “Cutting the grass means taking a lawn mower and cutting the grass. Mowing the lawn means that plus edging, weeding, trimming the hedges, sweeping.”

“Trimming the hedges?”

“Yes, which brings us to another matter.” He led me over to his azalea bushes. “Did you use hedge clippers on these azalea bushes?”

“No sir, I—“

“Now don’t you lie to me, I can see that they’ve been hacked up.”

“Sir, there’s been some kind of mistake.”

“Yes my boy, and you made it.” Suddenly, the man jerked his head towards the heavens attentively. “Yes Father. I’m taking care of it now.” The man turned his attention back to me. “That was my Father, he was telling me that he is very unhappy with how you are treating his yard.”

“Where is he?”

“In Heaven, where else? He died in this house, and I’ll be damned if I let you besmirch his memory.”

“I have no intention of—“

The man jerked his head upward again. “Yes, yes I know Father.” He looked at me. “Did you know that back in the day, people used to call this place the Azalea palace? It was really something special. But look at it now. Just look at it!”

“What does this—“

“The front yard is bad enough, but the back yard looks like Jurrassic Park. Are you proud of yourself?”

“Yes, I mean no, I mean… I don’t know what’s going on here.”

“The spirit of my Father still abides in this house, at night I can still hear him bumping around inside. God bless him.”

“That’s nice, but—“

“No buts about it!

“So you and your wife live here?”

“Oh God no, we have a place across town. I have preserved this house, it still has all the furnishings and fixtures it did when it was built in 1955. I like to keep it as a living memorial to my Father. And he—“ The man interrupted himself as he looked up towards the sky. “Yes Father, I know, don’t you worry.”

I looked at my paperwork. “This is 6430 Winston St., isn’t it?”

“Of course it is. You know it is.”

At this moment, the man’s wife came out the front door. She spoke to her husband. “Dear, you didn’t tell me we had company.”

“Mrs. Detriech?” I inquired.

“No,” she said.

“The lawn boy came by to grovel about the bad job he’s been doing, and Father has a few choice words he’d like me to share with the lad.”

“This isn’t the lawn boy, Gerald,” the woman said.

“Then who is it, Gwen?”

“This isn’t the Detriech household?” I asked.

“No, I’m afraid not,” Gwen told me. “They are two houses down, at 6434.”

“Guess I had the wrong address, sorry.”

Gerald looked up at the sky. “Wrong address, Father. Wrong guy.” I started for the car, and Gerald came up behind me. “Listen, I’m sorry for the misunderstanding.”

“No problem, no harm done.”

“But Father wanted me to tell you that you should remember never to usehedge clippers on the azalea bushes.” He looked up at the sky. “Yes, I told him.”

I got into the car and drove down to deliver to Mrs. Detriech. Riff had printed the wrong address, but I should have confirmed it with the customer before I tried to deliver. My mistake. As I rode the bus to catch the Marta train, I passed a billboard with a picture of Gerald on it, and apparently he was running for Mayor. I think his Father would be proud.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

THE RV AND EXTREME DARKNESS

I found myself driving a RV from Philly to Chicago as my first vehicle of the new year. I have never driven a RV before, and found it a little bit tricky. But the nice thing is that you have a bathroom and a bed on wheels right there with you.

Still, when I found that the most direct path would take me right through Ohio, I could not resist stopping to see my old friend Smokey. I called him to say I was coming. “When you gonna get here, fucko?” he asked me on the phone.

“I’m on my way now. I have a lot of curvy mountains roads here in Pennsylvania, so it may be kind of late.”

“No problem, you know I’ll be up all night. The boys in the band are all here.” Then he turned his attention away from the phone. “Hey guys, say hello to Spanky McFucko here on the phone!” I heard a shout from the background, as the band members sent joyous greetings. “Hey, you’re not spanking while you’re driving, are you?”

“What? No, of course not.”

“Zip up your pants and drive safely, you crazy dazey drivin’ fool.” With that, Smokey hung up.

The drive through Pennsylvania was longer than I expected. I got behind some very slow trucks on uphill grades, and it pushed my arrival time way bac­­k. What made things more complicated was that I had been fighting a cold, and taking cold pills and drinking Nyquil the past few days. This was causing me to feel a bit tired and dizzy, so I pulled over five times to get a large cup of coffee. And as I drove through West Virginia, I started to find that cold medicine and lots of coffee are not a good combo. I was remembering an incident in West Virginia 2 years ago, where the car I was driving broke down and I had to use the bathroom on the side of a mountain. I ended up rolling down that mountain.

By the time I entered Ohio, I was seeing things on the road that weren’t really there. Come on Columbus!, I kept on thinking. I watched each sign that told me how many miles til I was there. 100 miles. 83 miles. 70 miles. 99 miles. What? Wait a minute, how could it be going in the wrong direction?

Finally, I arrived at Smokey’s house in Columbus. I could hear Extreme Darkness rehearsing, so I let myself into the house and went to the garage out back where they play. When I walked in, my head was spinning. Dennis, the bass guitar player, stopped and ran over to give me a big hug. “Hey Bill, welcome to Ohio. It's a great place to be, but a little bit nicer when you're here.”

“Thanks, Dennis.” I said hello to Tommy the drummer, and Hesher the guitar player. Smokey played the other guitar.

“Be right back,” said Dennis. “I got to piss like a race horse.” Dennis ran upstairs.

“Get over here, Spanky,” came the order from Smokey. I ambled over and got a huge bear hug from him. “How you been?”

“A little dizzy at the moment.”

Tommy tapped me on the shoulder. I turned, and he said, “Then you need a beer,” and he handed me a Bud. I probably should not have, but I opened it and drank.

“Give him a shot of Absinthe,” said Smokey, lighting a cigarette.

“Absinthe?”

“Yeah, its this really strong drink that—“ started Smokey.

“No, I know what it is. It was very popular back in the old days. I didn’t know you could get it anymore.”

“We ordered some from overseas,” Hesher explained to me, taking a drag on his cigarette. “For a special night.”

“What’s so special about tonight?” I asked.

“It’s Thursday!” shouted Tommy.

“And we have a show this weekend in Indy.”

“Bill, you have to be very careful with Absinthe” warned Hesher. “It will really mess with your mind, make you see things, screws with your judgement. It’s the kind of drink where you can wake up in the morning with your pants around your ankles and don’t know what happened the night before.”

Dennis jumped into the room. “Tell me more!” Everyone laughed. I was feeling very goofy.

“Pour him a glass,” instructed Smokey. “Pour one for Spanky.”

“I’ll do you one better,” said Dennis. “I will pour one for everyone.” Dennis puffed on his cigarette and filled five glasses with the greenish liquid. “That your RV out front, Bill?”

“It’s the one I’m taking to Chicago,” I answered.

“Nice. Brand new?”

“Yep. Picked it up from the dealership.”

“Very cool.”

“Hasn’t somebody loaded a bowl yet?” asked Smokey.

“Load your own bowl!” yelled Tommy.

Dennis passed the glasses around to his bandmates. When he offered me one, I declined. “Oh, come on!”

“Come on!” urged all the others. Peer pressure. So I took the glass and toasted with them. They all took a generous gulp. I took a tiny sip. Cigarette smoke filled the room. And that is the last thing I remember.

When I woke up, I was lying face down on Smokey’s living room floor. I looked at the window and saw daylight. What time had I arrived? 9pm? 10pm the night before? I dragged myself into the kitchen and went to the sink to splash cold water in my face. I found the coffee machine on with half a pot, and poured myself a cup. I looked up at the clock and saw it said noon. What the hell? That couldn’t be right. I never ever sleep that late. Then I went to the front window to see what the weather looked like. That's when I saw that the RV was gone.

All of the other band member’s cars were there, just like the night before. I knew that they often drank til they passed out, then crashed at Smokey’s. I rushed to Smokey’s bedroom to tell him the RV had been stolen, but his bed was empty and had not been slept in. So I ran out to the garage, only to find it empty. I looked in every room of the house, and was baffled about where they could be. Only then did it dawn on me that the band had taken off in the RV.

But where did they go? I ran around the house like a chicken with its head cut off. I was absolutely frantic. I grabbed my cell phone and called Smokey’s cell. It went right to voicemail. I did not have the numbers of the other guys, so had no way to reach out to them. If there was going to be any clues as to where they went, I knew I’d find them out in the garage. So I went and looked around there. First I noticed that their instruments were missing. Before too long, I saw the poster for their show on Saturday night. Extreme Darkness, playing one night only in Indianapolis.

I found Smokey’s car keys and climbed into his Ford 350 cargo van. I drove as fast as that old rust bucket would carry me, wondering how much of a head start they had on me. And how in the world I would find them once I reached Indy. I drove across I-70, frustrated that there was no radio or CD player in the car. While my mind was focused on getting there, it was still 170 miles with no tunes, and that can get boring very fast.

Just under 3 hours after I left Smokey’s house, I pulled into Indianapolis. I had decided that my best bet would be going downtown, because the boys loved to party in downtown bars. More character, more fun. I drove down one street and then the next, combing the area and looking out for a big RV. After an hour of searching, I saw it parked in an alley. I drove up next to it, and saw the back entrance to a little Pub. I went inside, and sure enough there was the band, drinking beers and playing games. Hesher and Tommy were playing a game of pool, and Smokey and Dennis were at the pinball machine.

Smokey saw me when I walked in. “Spanky! What the hell are you doing here? Join us!”

Dennis walked over and gave me a big hug. He pulled me back away from him, then looked deep into my eyes. His were very red. “Hey man, I love you.”

“Love you, too. But you guys should not have taken my RV.”

“Is it yours? Do you ackshelly own it?” asked a drunken Tommy.

“Shut up,” said Hesher as he lined up a shot.

Smokey walked over and put his hand on my shoulder. “Hey, that’s on me. My bad, my responspubitity.”

Dennis hugged me again. “Did you know I love you, bro? Seriously. I mean I’m not in love with you, sorry, I like women. But I do love you.”

“I love you, too,” said Smokey.

“I love you guys, too.”

“No, no, I mean it,” said Smokey.

“You think maybe I don’t mean it?” asked Dennis. Then he leaned over and whispered in my ear. “This Absinthe is some sherious shit. I don’t remember us getting here.” He looked around. “Where are we exactly?”

Smokey looked confused. “I’m not too sure.”

“Ohio!” shouted Tommy.

“We left Ohio hours ago,” said Hesher, as he sunk the 8 ball.

“Welcome to Indianapolis, Extreme Darkness,” I proclaimed. They all cheered and shouted.

I delivered the RV early the next day in Chicago. I left the guys to their own devices, with Smokey’s van to get them home after their gig. Some people would call what happened grand larceny. But for Extreme Darkness, it was just good old-fashioned rock & roll mischief.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

NEW YEARS 2012

The drive from St. Simons Island in Georgia to Richmond was a rough one last week. The SUV I had picked up had 99,000 miles on it, and it had been badly abused. The oil hadn’t been changed in the last 12,000 miles, and the tires looked balled on the side edges. It had been ridden hard and put away wet.

My phone calls from the road made me discover that I would not be able to deliver the vehicle to the Auto Auction until Monday, January 2. They had already closed down for the New Year’s weekend, so I would be stuck for 3 days in Richmond. Yet this could be good news for me, as I still had not visited my old girlfriend Karen since she had moved to Richmond and opened her new Café there a few months ago. I kept on calling her cell phone, but every time it sent me directly to her voicemail.

On Friday night, I stretched out in the back of the SUV and slept. I hadn’t been earning too much lately, so I decided to avoid paying for a motel room. I was afraid they might be full or priced at premium rates for the holiday season. But when I woke up Saturday, I was so stiff and cold that I felt I must get a motel room that night. I got onto the internet and looked up the name of Karen’s Café, and got driving directions there. I went there and found a sign in the window “Closed for the Holidays. Come back soon!” My heart sank. This would have been the first time I saw Karen without her old girlfriend Cheryl in the picture, and I thought I might even get a New Year’s kiss.

I found an old classic movie theater and spent the afternoon there. I just love old theaters. Afterwards, I went and found a motel room for $69. Once I was checked into Room 232, I went to a small local Diner just across the street. I ordered and ate, and then found myself deep in thought about 2011. There are always ups and downs on my job, but this year there had seemed to be more speed bumps in the road than usual. I had been robbed twice, chased by an angry driver on the Interstate highway, gotten into two accidents that sent me to the hospital, and a bad stomach disorder. Plus I had been cheated out of money by two bosses at my company. Then I thought about my friends Tom and Jenny, and the extreme generosity they showed to those three little girls they took into their home.

Just then, a small boy in dirty ragged clothes stepped up to my table and stared at me. He had a strong odor about him, but he was looking at me with a big smile on his face. I looked around the Diner to see if I could identify who he was with. With no warning, the boy threw his arms around my neck and gave me a quick hug. “You really look like you could use a hug.” I looked around more frantically now, because in this day and age you don’t want to have a strange kid touch you. It can be misunderstood or misinterpreted. “Mister, can I have your rolls?”

I looked at the basket of dinner rolls on the table. “Sure, help yourself.” The boy grabbed them up and ran out the door. I put plenty of cash down on the table to cover my bill, and hurried out to see where this little urchin was going. I stepped out the door and saw him disappear behind the Diner. I followed and found myself in an alley. I saw him 30 yards ahead, cutting between two buildings. My curiosity was stronger than my good common sense, and I went to see what he was up to.

When I stepped between the buildings, I was in a very tight space. There were several large boxes attached together, and a man jumped out with rage in his eyes. “What do you want, Mister! This is our home, you are invading our home! You are trespassing!”

“Whoa, whoa, hey I don’t mean any harm,” I said.

“Well what the hell do you want then? Trouble?”

“No sir, no trouble.”

The boy came out behind the man, and I pointed to him. “The boy came to my table at the Diner and gave me a hug, then took my rolls.”

The man turned angrily towards the boy. “Is this true? Did you steal his food?”

“No,” I explained, “It was fine for him to take the rolls. I told him he could. I was just worried about him hugging a stranger.”

A pale looking woman with stringy hair came out and stood next to the boy. “Hank is just that way, he loves people and likes to give hugs.”

The man shook his head. “It’s gonna get him into trouble someday.” He looked down at the boy. “Hank, you are only ten years old, there are bad people who will try to hurt you.”

I stuck out my hand in an offer of friendship. “Howdy, I’m Bill Thomas.”

The man stared at my hand, then offered his own to shake. “I’m Daniel White. My wife Emma, and my son Hank. I lost my job, and before long lost my car and my house.”

“I can relate.”

“Really? Can you?”

“Well, I don’t own a home or a car. I do have a job, but it requires me to drive all over the USA, and I rely on friend’s couches to sleep on at night.”

“Must be nice,” Daniel grumbled.

“Be polite, Daniel,” said Emma. “You can’t blame this man for what he has. God has blessed us and protected us. And Hank just brought home some supper.” Emma looked at me. “Bill, please forgive my husband. Sometimes he forgets to be thankful for the blessings we have each day.”

“Nice meeting y’all. Happy New Year,” I offered.

“Yeah, right,” muttered Daniel as he went back into his home made of boxes.

Emma shook her head. “Don’t pay attention to him, Bill. The holidays have been hard on us. You have a real nice New Years.”

Hank ran up and squeezed my hand. “Thanks for the supper, Mr. Bill.”

“No problem, Hank.” I went back to my motel room and took a long shower. It was 8pm, but I went ahead and got into bed. I turned on the TV, pretty much determined that I’d be asleep long before the ball dropped in Times Square. The TV just became white noise to me, because all I could think about was Daniel and his family. They were dirty and hungry, and it was going to be a very cold night. Not my problem, I can’t save the world. In fact, I often feel like I am barely surviving myself. And then I see Daniel’s family, and realize that I have it a lot better off than many people. I’ve certainly been blessed. I got out of bed and started going through my duffel bag and backpack. Digging around, I found all kinds of snacks that I’ve stored but never got around to eating. Cheese crackers, donuts, cookies, and all kinds of stuff. I decided to run over to the Mini-mart I had seen down the street for more supplies.

A half hour later, I was walking back down the alley. “Daniel?” I called. “It’s me, Bill Thomas.”

Emma stepped out. “Daniel is asleep, what can we do for you?”

I held out the key to my room. “Room 232 at the Red Roof Inn. It’s yours for the night. Two queen size beds, hot water for long showers that will warm you up on a cold night.”

“We can’t possibly accept.”

“Where I come from, you can’t turn it down, it'd be an insult to turn down a holiday gift. God wants me to do this for you. I also left a bunch of snack foods up there. Its not much, but…” I stopped because Emma was crying. “Please don’t cry.”

“Bill… you don’t know how much this means to my family.”

Daniel and Hank came out of the boxes. “Why are you giving us a room for the night? What’s your angle?”

“No angle. Just some brotherly love.” I tossed the key, and Daniel caught it.

I turned and walked away. “Hey!” barked Daniel. I stopped and turned around. “Thanks, Bill. Happy New Year to you.”

“Happy New Year to you.”

Hank came running up to me and grabbed me around the waist. He hugged me tightly. “God bless you, Mr. Bill.”

“Thanks, Hank. I needed a hug.” I went to the SUV and climbed in the back. I slept very well that night, dreaming positive thoughts for 2012 just ahead.