Janis, the photograph
I had all kinds of routes at the time. I zig zagged all over the country with Janis, telling her my wild stories and bizarre schemes. I had great plans, and I shared them all with Janis: “First, we’re gonna overthrow the government,” I’d say. “Then, we’ll release all of the cattle to roam free all across the prairies, like the buffalo once did.”
Janis rode along with me for several months. We ate grits in Alabama; drank cosmos in upscale lounges in NYC; screamed “Stella!” to women on verandas in New Orleans; did absolutely nothing in Delaware. We gobbled caffeine pills and drank energy drinks and ate beef jerky as we barreled through the night, hugging that white line that stretches on for what seems like forever, thousands upon thousands of miles of American freeways. We hustled strangers in run down pool halls in Detroit; smoked grass in Eugene, OR. We drank cheap beer and had wild sex in fleabag motels in the Midwest. We talked about the disappearance of the Railroad in the American psyche; bought guns, ammo and liquor at drive-thrus in Texas. We went to the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, Old Faithful, the Badlands. We ogled girls wearing g-strings on roller blades at Venice beach. Each state we crossed into, we took a Polaroid together in front of the state welcome sign.
Somewhere in New Mexico, we came upon a lone buffalo at a roadside attraction. There were a couple of people working the counter, asking for donations to feed him. Seeing him there in his dry, dusty pen, he looked so forlorn. It was as if he was the last of his kind, doomed to forever be alone. It got me to thinking of how I’d traversed this sad, lonely continent so many times, speaking only to a photograph.
I climbed into the pen to sit with the buffalo. There we stayed for a long time, me crying. As I left the roadside attraction, I gave Janis to the people working the counter, asking them to look after her. Then I got back into my 18-wheeler and slowly pulled away to once again drive through the night, hugging that seemingly endless white line, past strange towns I’d never even heard of—quietly nestled on some desert valley floor, looking like a tightly woven mesh of shimmering orange Christmas lights.
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