by Joshua M. Bernstein
post-college road trip across America had gone awry.
I envisioned a lazy, Blue Highways adventure greeting America
on its backroads best. I wanted to meet Nebraskan grandmas who
baked blue-ribbon apple pie, fishermen who gutted salmon in Seattle,
and skater boys in San Diego. I wanted to swim in the Gulf of
Mexico and gaze at buffalo in Yellowstone. I wanted
the road to tell me what to do with my college degree. At least
thats how I explained it to Mary.
and I were decent friends in college, nothing more. Wed
toasted beers and occasionally shared lunch, but werent
best friends. We werent screwing, either. Mary and I were
traveling only because she could afford to. And she owned a station
wagon. Not the best reasons, eh? But Id been plotting for
more than a year, and the other option was returning home and
sharing a bunk bed with my brother. Yeah, Id take my chances
on the road.
summer was when we left. With an AAA card in my wallet and road
maps under the seat, we embarked from my Ohio home and headed
in the direction of American adventurers: west! We hit Indiana,
Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, and Nevada en route
to the Burning Man Festival. After seven drug-addled days we set
off for Californias coast. There, in the land of Hollywood
dreams, was where the nightmare began.
desire for a languid saunter up the Pacific became her reality
of a high-octane drag race. What went wrong? In Marys words:
"Im sick of camping and Im sick of spending so
much time with you."
were definite problems.
the time wed flown up the coast and reached Canadas
Glacier National Park, our relationship was a festering zit. For
the past two weeks we couldve been mutes. Travel was marked
by thick silence and caustic remarks. "Turn the fucking radio
down" was all Mary said one afternoon. Like the banana, it
was time to split.
an afternoon spent hiking the Continental Divide, Mary confronted
me. "Josh," she began, staring at the mountains looming
behind us, "I dont think we should travel together
anymore. What do you think?"
traveled 8,000 miles. I had $600 in my checking account. I was
22 years old. "I think I wanna go Greyhound," I said.
hours later I was in Great Falls, Montanas Greyhound station,
my life compressed into a backpack, boarding a bus bound for Mississippi.
There Id bunker with Tom, my sole friend west of the Rockies.
To pass the 24-hour trek I had a Sherman Alexie book, 14 Camel
Lights, and a pint of Jim Beam. At least I knew what to expect
from the Jim Beam.
wasnt heartbroken that my friendship with Mary had imploded.
Some friendships, like fine china and favorite jeans, just dont
last. No, what made me a sad lamb was that I seemed just as clueless
as when the road tripping began.
bus system is one of the last egalitarian methods of transportation.
Hence, the scariest. Recently released prisoners (his name was
Bob, and he was sure happy to get out), teenage mothers toting
screaming babies, decrepit grandparents, and broke college kids
populated the bus.
the suspect mélange I met several amiable Canadians, Ryan
and Jeremy. They, too, were eager to numb the journey with whiskey.
After spritzing cologne to mask any odor, the three of us shifted
to the last row and drank ourselves into belligerence. At one
point, overcome with nicotine urges, Jeremy and I walked into
the bathroom, locked the door, and unhinged a bolted window. "This
is the best cigarette Ive ever smoked," Jeremy said
as he ashed on a urinal cake.
hours later we had a layover in Helena. Our motley troika roamed
Helenas deserted streets and somehow discovered a club.
Curious, we entered. A band! Swing dancing! In Montana! To celebrate
the silly world, we chugged Budweisers until the bus beckoned