WALKING THE WALK by peter nolan smith

Road trips need a destination. Point A to B. The travel is important. Not A or B.

The summer of 1987 Greg Hunt, and I threw our bags in back of Paul Fullerton’s pick-up. Our friends in Michigan had extended invitations to visit them in Onekema and the Upper Peninsula. We celebrated our departure at the Milk Bar. Drink and drugs. The city was losing the night, as the green F-150 left Manhattan via the Holland Tunnel.

Our first stop was the Delaware River.


We were entering America.

Beer cans littered the front. Greg was holding low. I was carrying high. Paul had two guns under the seat. A shotgun and a 45. Traffic was light through the Allegheny Mountains. The temperature rose with every westward mile. The blue sky giving way to haze by the time we crossed the Ohio state line. More cars. Lots of trucks. Paul insisted on driving. Greg and I were in no condition to stay on the road.

I crashed in the flatbed past Cleveland. The wind ruffled my clothing without any relief from the heat. The air was heavy with the threat of tornado. An exit sign read AKRON. I sat up and leaned against the cabin window. Greg and Paul waved to indicate that we were on schedule. I wrapped a red bandanna around my head. Sunglasses weakened the harsh sunlight. We were a rolling version of MAD MAX, the prequel to the apocalypse.

A state trooper was cooping at the end of a copse of trees. His eyes met mine. The battered pick-up was maintaining 60. Most of the other cars were traveling faster. The cop saw us as three dirty longhairs.

Potential wrongdoers.

His lights lit up and the cruiser roared onto the interstate.

The rest of the motorists parted a way for the statie. The cruiser fell in behind our pickup. Paul pulled over onto the breakdown lane. I thought, “Drugs, guns, drink. we’re going to jail.”

The trooper got out of his cruiser. He was young. Paul was in his 40s. Greg and I 30s. There was a big generation gap. The trooper was straight and we had been brought up on the Rolling Stones. 3 against 1. His hand flicked the safety strap from his holster. He was expecting trouble.

“You want me to get out of the truck?” I was good at taking orders in a situation like this.

“You stay where you are.” His face was smooth. He might have shaved once a week. His hand went to his 9mm and the officer peered into the front seat. Paul was a professor of art. Greg a literary agent. The trooper only wanted one thing. “Can I see your license?”

“Sure thing.” Paul fumbled with his wallet. He had been driving over 7 hours. His search was taking too long.

“Sir, please get out of the truck?” The trooper stepped back carefully avoiding the speeding traffic. The cars were only a foot away. His hand gripped the gun. The knuckles went white.

“Yes, officer.” Paul opened the door. Several empty beer cans fell onto the pavement.
Passing drivers shook their heads. This was bad.

“You’ve been drinking.” His words were a statement not a question.

“Last night. Not today.” This was a lie. It was a little past noon. We had left the Milk Bar at 5am. “Those empties were were saving for the next trash stop. Didn’t want to throw them out the window.”

Paul sounded educated without an slur from the tequila shots that he had downed to take off the edge of cocaine. The trooper wasn’t impressed by the erudite accent. Cops only needed a high school diploma.

“Please, come to the back of the truck.” The officer was planning on a drunk driving test. A breathalyzer was an instant ‘go to jail’ card. The trooper wagged a pencil in front of Paul’s face to test his eyesight. Paul’s head wobbled on his neck like a spinning top losing speed. The officer put down his pencil.

“Walk in a straight line.”

Paul put one foot in front of the other. His balance was sublime. The officer appeared disappointed by the results and looked ready to back up his hunch by getting out the Breathalyzer. The pencil dropped from his hand. Paul picked it up with the grace of a 13 year-old ballerina. The young officer pointed a finger at Paul.

“Where are you going?”

“The Upper Peninsula. See my family.” More friends than family, but the way Paul said it rang true to the officer.

“There’s a rest stop five miles ahead. I suggest you wash up there and empty the truck of those beer cans. Obey the speed limit too.”

“Thanks, officer.”

Our two vehicles parted ways. I sat in the front. Paul started the truck.

“How we get away with that?” Greg asked pulling out a joint.

“You really think we should do that?”

“We have a free pass.” Paul pulled into the westward flow of traffic without explaining his thoughts on our reprieve. Sometimes it’s a good idea never to question your luck. We made Detroit that night. We drank beer in a bar. It was a tough town. The night the Tigers won the World Series in 1984, three people were shot dead and scores of houses were burned to the ground. Greg and I finished off the drugs. We left the beer cans in the bar. We were good citizens given the chance.

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