I-90 weaved over the Berkshires and descended into the heavily forested Hudson Valley. Pam, AK, and Sean had been on the road two hours and they had no immediate plans to stop other than for gas or food.

“You know Jack Kerouac started his trip south of here at the Bear Mountain Bridge. He had $50 in his pocket.” A paperback copy of ON THE ROAD was stashed in Sean’s bag.

Behind him Pam put down Erica Jong’s FEAR OF FLYING and said, “We’re not picking up any more hitchhikers.”

“I’m not suggesting th-th-that,” Sean stuttered and added, “Just saying th-th-that he traveled on US 6.”

“There wasn’t much of a choice, since no highways existed in the 1947,” AK said from behind the wheel of the special edition Torino, whose purring V8 engine begged for more speed. “There were only roads like Routes 6 and 66. As a soldier in 1919 President Eisenhower traveled cross-country with an army column. The trip lasted almost two months on the Lincoln Highway.”

“And we’ll do it in less than a week.” Sean added up the distance to the Rockies from a map of the USA.

Colorado was more than 1500 miles from here.

“Little danger of us getting lost. I-80 runs from New York to San Francisco. No detours.” The four-lane ribbon of asphalt connected the East with the West and all points in between.

“None we know of.”

“But there are always detours on the road.”

After Albany the highway shadowed the ancient Mohawk Trail avoiding the cities of northern New York. A single hitchhiker walked off the highway, tramping to the Adirondacks or Montreal. Low hills escorted the Torino west. The low hills faltered after the Finger Lakes and the interstate straightened on fertile farmland between Phelps and Batavia.

“What about stopping to see Jackie?” AK asked, as the Ford Torino passed a road sign marked BUFFALO 35 MILES.

“She’s gone south with her high school sweetheart to her parents’ ski chalet at Kissing Bridge.” Pam mercifully fielded the query about her college roommate.

“And they don’t need any company,” Sean declared hoping to not show his bitterness at being bettered by an old boyfriend.

“I’m sure she’d be happy to see us.” AK joked at Sean’s expense, although he had not said a word about Anne-Marie, his girlfriend back in the Boston.

“You and Pam maybe, but not me.”

“Somebody sounds jealous.”

“I’m not jealous.”

Her boyfriend had been admitted to Yale’s law program and Jerry’s future was brighter than that of a substitute teacher at South Boston High School.

“Really?” AK scoffed at my lie.

“The last time I saw her, she seemed very happy with her decision.”

“You’re right. He does sound jealous,” Pam said, because while a man’s ears were captured the full pitch range of sound, a woman’s hearing deciphered the prism of emotions.

“Okay, maybe I’m a little jealous, but that’s not a sin.”

“Actually it’s one of the Seven Deadly Sins.” The New Yorker’s sense of humor regarded someone falling down stairs as comedy, while a paper cut was a tragedy.

“I can see that I’ll never be right on this trip.”

They had been on the road less than four hours and Sean had been the butt of their jokes for all four of them.

“Pride’s another of Deadly Sins.” AK grasped the steering wheel with his hands at 10 and 2 O’clock. A driving school on the South Shore had taught Sean the same technique in 1968.
b“Sloth is one more.” Pam offered from the rear.

“I’m not lazy.”

“You drove taxi nights to pay your tuition.”

“Too many nights and I showed up at my morning classes.”

“Some of the time.” AK had driven with me.

“So I’m not slothful, but I bet ten dollars neither of you know the other Deadly Sins?”

“You’re on.” AK lifted three fingers. “We have envy, pride, and sloth. Greed and lust make five.”

“Gluttony is six.” Pam was a Catholic girl. The nuns taught her sin.

“So far so good. Now what is the Seventh?”

“Bias.” AK was half-Jewish.

“Wrong.” Sean was half-Irish. The English hated his tribe. Their troops had killed thirteen unarmed protestors on Bloody Sunday. Racism wasn’t considered a sin by the Holy Roman Church.

Pam and AK offered a dozen wrong answers before Sean terminated the contest by saying, “Wrath.”

“I should have guessed that first.” AK laughed at his answer.

“What do you mean by that?”

“You do have a temper.” Pam offered from the back. “And you can’t say that you don’t.”

“No, that would be a lie.” Sean’s fights in grammar school outnumbered his fingers and toes, although most had been to prevent ritual beatings by two bullies and he glanced at AK.

“But I wasn’t the one who threw Bill out of the car.”

“So I beat you to the punch for once.” His friend had protected Pam from the hitchhiker trying to strangle Sean from the back seat.

“Congratulations, meanwhile where’s my ten dollars?”

“Double or nothing for the Ten Commandments.” AK countered by speeding up to 68.

“You’re joking? I’m a Catholic schoolboy. The nuns blistered our palms for any mistake in catechism class.

You don’t stand a chance.”

“What about state capitols?”

“Geography was my strongest subject in grammar school.”

“Okay, but I have my own vast abyss of useless knowledge.” AK revealed his pop acumen by reciting the release dates of each successive Beatles LP, as if his brain had stored the information to teach a future class in Beatles 101.

“BEATLES FOR SALE was their last record worth a listen.”

“SGT. PEPPERS, THE WHITE ALBUM, LET IT BE and all the later Beatles LP hit the top of the charts here and all around the world.” AK owned all their records.

“That might be true, but when was the last time you listened to one?” Sean had bequeathed ten Beatles albums to his younger brothers with the exception of BEATLES 65.

“It’s been a while,” AK admitted passing a long-haul truck.

“You know the Beatles are Jackie’s favorite band?” asked Pam.

“They are?”

“Didn’t you ever notice their poster on our dorm room wall?” She shut her book.

“No.” He conjured up a vision of Jackie lying on her bed. Naked she had been a Playboy centerfold.

“Your Beatlephobia is another reason that you two were doomed in the long run.”

“She dumped me, because of the Beatles?”

“You told her that you had rejected the Fab Four after discovering that your first sweetheart was in love with Paul McCartney, the cute Beatle. Jackie loved Paul too. She loved all his music. Especially HEY JUDE.”

“HEY JUDE is the longest seven minutes and eleven seconds in music history.”

“Maybe so, but your hating the Beatles was just another reason you two aren’t together.”

“There are other reasons?”

“I’ve already said too much.” Pam concluded this indiscreet breach of a friend’s confidence by re-opening her book. FEAR OF FLYING had sold millions to women readers seeking freedom from the chains of marriage. She handed a tape to AK.

“Could you put this on?”

“Sure, I love Joni.”

They listened to BLUE for the second time in seven hours. It was the one tape in the car. At the Buffalo exit two hippies had out their thumbs.

“Not too late to make a stop.”

“We agreed no hitchhikers.” Pam glared at Sean.

“J-j-just testing your resolve.”

“It’s like steel.”

“You’re the co-pilot,” Sean stepped on the gas, because this trip was about what lay ahead and not old stories.

I-90 bypassed Buffalo and they stopped for gas just over the Pennsylvania state line as THE LAST TIME I SAW RICHARD came to an end. After eight hours of driving Boston was almost 500 miles behind them.

“Anyone feel like stopping to eat?” Sean indicated the diner.
Grease covered the restaurant’s windows.

“Not here. I’ll take the wheel now.” Pam took the keys.

They left the gas station and Pam drove fifteen miles over the speed limit into Ohio.

“You’re not scared of a ticket?” AK eyed the speedometer.

“I never get speeding tickets.”


“Maybe when I’m older, but cops like a pretty face. If a smile doesn’t work, then I go for tears.”

“Maybe you could teach me your magic.” Sean’s friend was smitten by the wholesome blonde, but AK’s chance of success were near zero. She had a boyfriend and he had a girlfriend.

“A magician never gives away her tricks.”

“Like the Wicked Witch of the West.”

“More like Samantha in BEWITCHED.”

Sean rolled down the rear window and the buffeting wind blocked their small talk. To the right Lake Erie was more brown than blue. Sean pulled out his journal and wrote words to describe the scenery.

“Sky, earth, lake, highway, cars, trucks, trees, barns, silos, birds, steel, bridge, flowers, clouds, haze.”

After several minutes the pen fell from his hand and Sean dozed until hearing sharp voices.

“What’s the problem?” He leaned forward to the front seat.

“Your friend wants to stop for the night.” Pam was in a hurry. She hadn’t seen her doctor boyfriend since Christmas.

“And you?”

“I might have never been past Buffalo, but if I didn’t know any better, the last hundred miles seems like the same.”

“This is the beginning of the flatness. The farmlands stretch across the Great Plains. Always more empty to the West than the East.

“Than the less time here means more time in the Rockies.”

Sean agreed with Pam and said, “With three of us driving non-stop we can reach the mountains tomorrow afternoon.”

“What about sleep?” asked AK. “We could stop in Cleveland. It’s about fifty miles away.”

“Three years ago I spent a night in Cleveland drinking beer next to a junk yard. There’s nothing there. Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois are strictly crapped-out factory towns separated by cornfields.”

“Strike one.” Pam stepped on the gas. No one was passing the station wagon with her at the wheel.

“What about Toledo?” AK read off the map.

“No Cleveland, no Sandusky, no Toledo.” Pam’s closed the argument with her hands white on the wheel.

“What about Chicago? We could see some blues. Maybe some Muddy Waters.” AK faced Sean. “Jack Kerouac stopped in the Windy City in ON THE ROAD. He listened to Be-Bop on the South Side.”

“Charlie Parker has been dead since 1955, plus we’ll hit Chicago around two in the morning.” Sean calculated the arrival time by dividing the distance by 75 MPH. “The bars will be closed at that time.”

“Have you ever been to Chicago?”

“I hitchhiked through it in 1972, but didn’t stop.”

“And we’re not stopping this time either.” Pam sped up more.

“Okay, no blues, but what about a motel?”

“The back of the station wagon is our hotel. The Hotel Torino.” Pam pointed behind her. Something had gone off between them during his nap in the back seat.

“Yeah, zero stars.” AK popped off the Joni Mitchell and fiddled with the radio dial to settle on a college station playing soul music.

Al Green followed Joe Tex and Ike Turner.

None of them spoke for the next few hours.

A quarter moon illuminated the eastern night sky.

The sun sunk below the western horizon.

A little east of Angola, Indiana they filled up the tank at a truck stop charging 60 cents for High Test. Sean ordered $10 at the pump and checked out the diner, which was cleaner than the last one.

“I’m hungry. Anyone else? A cheeseburger and fries are edible most anywhere.”

“I vote for a thirty minute break.” AK raised his hand.

“I’ll go with the mob to make it unanimous.”

Once out of the station wagon Pam stretched her body.

“We’ll see you inside,” AK said and entered the diner with Pam.

Her dress furled around her young body to conjure up a hippie goddess. Shaking off the illusion Sean paid the attendant and parked the Torino.

Diesel fumes wreathed the truck stop and the whine of bloodthirsty mosquitoes competed with the low growl of idling engines. Women wandered from truck to truck. A chubby blonde in a tube top beckoned to Sean to join her behind two trailers.

He hurried inside the diner

The long-haulers at the tables gawked at Pam and he wished that the blonde co-ed wore a jean jacket over her filmy peasant shirt. They regarded her as if she was someone they recognized, but couldn’t figure out whom.

As she sat down next to AK, several truckers snickered out jokes about Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters. Sean started to remark on their lack of front teeth.

“This might not be the South.” AK grabbed his friend’s hand and whispered, “But these truckers would love to beat up a hippie. Keep cool.”

A ravaged redneck in greasy overalls winked at him.

A very friendly wink.

“Excuse me for a second.” Sean stood up from the counter and told his friends, “I have to make a phone call.”

He indicated the payphone on the wall.
Sean counted out of pocket of change and dialed a number in Buffalo. The call cost $1.75 for three minutes. It rang for a half-minute without anyone answering. He hung up to join AK and Pam in the diner.

“How’d it go?” AK was reading the menu.

“No one was home.”

“It’s a holiday weekend. Try later.” He didn’t ask whom Sean had called, because the answer was obvious.

A blue-haired waitress wrote down their order.

“Three cheeseburgers and fries with iced cokes.”
‘Doris’ was scrawled on her nametag. “That right?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Sean replied, since politeness to strangers was good manners on the road.

“And girl, don’t mind those houndbog hicks. They ain’t got a home or wives.” She regarded her clientele with a friendly sneer.

“We have wives,” the redneck protested with hurt pride.

“Mostly ex-wives, Chuck.” The waitress smirked, as if the truckers were deadbeat brothers. “All these bums are married to their rigs.”

“And we’ll stay hitched as long as the banks don’t know where we are,” a heavyset trucker joked with an outlaw smile.

“We’re happy men.”

“It’s not such a bad thing to be on the road.”

“What do you know about the road?” demanded a bearded long-hauler in greasy overalls. His tattooed forearms were thicker than Pam’s calves and his eyes were pinned from Bennies.

“Not much, but I drove taxi to pay for my college tuition. I know it’s not the same as hauling potatoes from Idaho to Texas, but I padi for college on wheels.

“Potatoes are a safe cargo,” the bearded long-hauler murmured with an accompanying nod and the redneck agreed, “They don’t shift weight.”

“Not like a squealing load of hogs. They’ll jackknife your rig and you’ll end up a dead man in a ditch.” A white-haired trucker grimaced from a flashback to a near-brush with death.

“Yeah, it might be dangerous, but trucking is better than working at a factory.” Another trucker professed from down the counter.

“Or a mine.” The redneck offered with a West Virginia accent, although his fingernails were black with grease not coal.

After his comment the men in the diner held a pissing contest as to who had worked the worse job. Sean’s employment as a janitor in a morgue was beaten out by a shit-shoveler at a pig ranch, but there were worst jobs to be had in America.

“My worse job was my first job,” said a skinny man lifting a hand with a missing little finger. A job was a job to these men and women. A way to provide for their families. “I was about 15 years old in Prescott, Arizona and this new restaurant was opening up. I asked the boss for a dishwashing job, but the place wasn’t opening for another two months. He gave me a job digging the stones out of the future parking lot. $1.20 an hour in the summer sun and I weighed about a hundred pounds sweating wet. One of the big stone slipped and crushed my finger to the knuckle.”

“My worst job was smashing knives.” An older man held up his empty coffee cup and Doris poured him a refill. “This pawn broker in Dallas was buying silver sets and needed the stainless steel blades taken out of the handles. My brother and me got a dime for each knife. We pounded out sixty an hour, but quit after three hours of breathing the lead epoxy inside the handles.”

Pam had heard enough macho bravado and said, “I worked at a DC restaurant for Albanian gangsters. They acted Stalin and had as many hands as an octopus.”

Not a single man said a word, while fantasizing the same thing as Pam’s Albanian bosses. The silence might have last a little longer, except Doris laughed, saying, “That sounds like my house after payday.”

The truckers chuckled heartily at the waitress’ comment and recommenced eating their meals. Doris came over to the counter and patted Pam’s hand.

“Anyone ever say that you look like someone famous?”

“No, but who?”

“I don’t know, but someone. You boys take care of this girl. She’s special.”

“And so are you.” Pam rose from her stool and blew a kiss to the truckers. “Happy trails.”

Several of the hardened long-haulers blushed like schoolboys on a first date and Sean followed Pam, as AK paid the bill.

Big rigs throttled out of the truck stop. The night temperature was falling into the low 70s and by midnight it might lean into the 60s.

“Those truckers weren’t so bad.” Pam shivered in the cool air.

“Most people have some good in them.” The stars overhead clustered into the thick marvel of the Milky Way.

“Bill?” Pam possessed no forgiveness for the redneck hitchhiker in this lifetime.

“Maybe not Bill.”

“No, not Bill.”

“What’s AK’s girlfriend like?”

“Who said he had a girlfriend?”


“Anne-Marie’s a nice person. Same as you.”

“I’m only nice?”

“Okay, you’re better than nice.”
AK caught up with them. Pam’s eyes warned to say nothing about their discussion. Sean was from Boston. He knew how to hold his sand.

“I loved how you stopped being a hippie and shed your skin to become a trucker. You even started to speak with a drawl.” AK was happy to be away from the diner’s suspicious minds.

“I have a gift for language.” Sean wiped his face with a napkin from the diner.

“More like accents than language, which is tricky for a Boston boy with a stutter.”

“Thanks for the compliment. Guess it’s my turn to drive.” Sean opened the rear door for Pam.

“Jackie liked your manners.” The blonde bowed her head in thanks

“So at least I was a gentleman.”

“On some occasions.” Pam shut the door.

AK looked back at the diner.

“What’s the matter?”

“You and me. Our families dropped anchor on the coast. These people came inland. They’re not like us.”

“They’re Americans. We watch the same TV shows, played the same games, and eat the same food.”

“I know that, but both times I crossed the country I felt like a spaceman on an alien planet.”

“Or Captain America and Billy in EASY RIDER.” Dennis Hopper’s biker film had instilled longhairs with a healthy fear for rednecks and crackers.

Knuckles rapping on the car window cut short their conversation.

“Our mistress calls.” Sean nodded to Pam.

“As long as she’s with us, we have nothing to fear.”

AK took the wheel and Sean sat in front, turning to Pam.

“We weren’t talking about you.”

“I know. My ears weren’t burning.” She sported a protective toughness, for staying a virgin required a special devotion to purity in the 70s.

Sean started the Torino.

The V8 was raring for the road and the souped-up station wagon raced onto the highway. Behind them the truck stop disappeared into the darkness and he pushed the car up to 70.

“What about the cops?” AK had an unblemished driving record.

“I ain’t seen any.”

“That doesn’t mean they’re not there. You really want them to stop us?” AK fired up a joint.

“Okay, okay, play it safe.”

“Just like you.”

Sean had had two totals, been in a high-speed chase, and collected a stack of moving violations in eight years of driving.

“Better more like you than me.”

A half-hour later AK tapped his shoulder and nodded at a sleeping Pam. “Guess she found a hotel room in her dreams.”

“Why don’t you do the same?”

A radio station from Kentucky played Tommy James’ CRIMSON BLUE PERSUASION.

“Wake me, if you’re tired.” AK muttered and joined Pam in Never-Neverland within minutes.

The trucks rolled at 75 and Sean ran with the pack of semis. The big rigs’ drivers communicated on CB radios, pinpointing the location of rolling cop cruisers and speed traps, but even this fast this speed every miles of Indiana was a limbo of sameness. Only road signs indicated any progress west.

As AK and Pam slept, Sean listened to his interior conversation about a real job or lack of a girlfriend. He finally silenced the banter by speaking to the DJ, who proved a better companion than the voices in his head.

Past Michigan City a stretch of the Interstate broke free of traffic in both directions and his foot buried the gas. The Torino hit 100 within a half-mile and the speedometer touched 126 before Sean eased off the accelerator. The owner had been telling the truth about the Torino’s speed and they reached the old steel town of Gary three hours after leaving the truck stop.

Two summers ago the night sky over the mill town had shimmered from the blast furnaces burning at full tilt. The recession had killed off the graveyard shift and tonight Gary was dark as the midnight hour.

The truck drivers slowed down in the middle of nowhere and Sean decelerated to the legal limit. A mile farther they passed a state trooper hidden in the bushes. AK woke with a groan and crawled carefully over Pam into the front seat.

“Where are we?”

“A little west of Gary.”

“I was hoping you would say Chicago.” His eyes blinked to adjust to the night.

“It’s about seventy miles north of here.”

I-90 had become I-80. They were 900 miles from Boston and two thousand from California. Sean was ready to miss about a hundred of them.

“You ready to take over the wheel?”

“No, but I’ll try my best.”

They stopped on the side of the interstate and changed seats in less than ten seconds. Before getting behind the wheel, AK tapped Pam’s shoulder and startled the college student.


“Let me fold down the seats, so you sleep like a human being.”


AK arranged their sleeping bags and Pam slunk into the back.

Sean wished that he could have joined her, but he wasn’t so sure that AK could stay awake, but three minutes later he closed his eyes, praying that they were out of Illinois before his dreams were done.

He woke to JOLENE on the radio. AK was pulling into a truck stop. Sean sat up in his seat and checked the odometer. They had covered about 90 miles.

“We’ll never get to California at this rate.”

“I’m not looking to break any records.”

“So I see.” Dolly Parton’s song was a big hit in America. “You’re listening to country?”

“I like her twangy voice, plus there’s not much else to listen to out here.”

“No, I guess there isn’t.”

AK stopped next to the pump.

“What time is it?”

“About 3:30.”

He rolled down the window and told the attendant to fill up the tank with high-test.

Water spread beyond the gas station and the lights of a big bridge split the dark horizon. “Is that a lake?”

“No, the Mississippi is in flood. A radio station warned that the high-water crest will hit Davenport tomorrow.”

“The water rises anymore and they police will close the Interstate.”

“The radio announced that Army Corp of Engineers says there’s nothing to worry about, plus cars are coming from the other direction. You ready for another shift?” AK paid the attendant.

It was Pam’s turn, but she was out cold.

“Not really.” Sean stepped out of the station wagon and massaged his neck.

“Regretting that vote against a motel for the night?” AK asked outside the station wagon.

“Just a little, but I like being on the road.” Kerouac was in his mind.

Two trucks whipped past the truck stop at top speed.

Their rear lights faded into the night.

“This land is our land.” AK quoted Woody Guthrie, because no matter where they went in their lives no one couldn’t escape being Americans.

“From the New York Island to California.”

“This land was made for you and me.”

The altered lyrics testified to a singer’s love for his country and Sean took the keys from AK.

“You know I like Pam?”

“Yeah, I can see that.”

“And what should I do?”

“Play it cool. She’s in love with someone else.”

“Okay.” AK nodded and sat in the passenger seat, laying his head against the window. Sean had tried the same position for the last two hundred miles. It wasn’t a comfortable.

He raised his head and said, “Stay between the lines.”

“I’ll do my best.” Sean pulled out of the truck stop into the right-hand lane.

Ten seconds later AK was asleep.

Sean checked the rear view mirror. Pam lay from head to toe in the direction of California. The interstate was black ahead and black behind. The Torino was the only passenger vehicle on the road.

His foot pressed on the gas and the Ford Torino hit 70 within seconds. The Rocky Mountains were getting closer and closer. Sean wanted to see them tomorrow and pushed the speedometer to 80, because fast was the only speed to drive this time of night in America.

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