Road Trip by Don McLellan

Squirt tells the story of picking up a mute and mysterious hitchhiker on a road trip from Canada to Mexico at the dusk of the 1960s; by Don McLellan.

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It was nineteen sixty-nine or thereabouts, and something was in the air. Richie Havens opened the love-in known as the Woodstock Music Festival, that world-weary voice crooning "Freedom" from a sloppy cow pasture in upper New York State. The Front de Liberation du Québec bombed the Montreal Stock Exchange. Love and hate; it was the tenor of the times. Nowadays he was beginning to slow down, get confused, especially after the liver disease took Laverne, but he remembers that long-ago summer more clearly than most others. There was North Vietnam's Tet offensive. Marches and sit-ins, more bang. It was the summer of The Godfather and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Of Abbey Road. Short skirts and hair-trigger tempers.

That year was also eventful for him. On a hot June night a girl whose name he can't recall led him from a house party into a Volkswagen bus parked out back. The dalliance ended prematurely, his over-eager popgun narrowly clearing the holster. The girl whose name he can't recall whispered into his ear, "That was a gas, kid, but for you, everything starts now." All these years later he still doesn't understand what she meant, but he does remember, as he cycled home early the next morning, hearing the Marvin Gaye song "What's Going On" seeping from a car stereo, and thinking, Good question, Marv. Give us a ring when you have the answer.

A few days later, just for the hell of it, he and a couple of pals split Vancouver, hoping to make Mexico in Moose's iffy Ford Galaxie. The radials are worn, the floorboards rusted, but they're on the cusp of manhood, feeling their oats. Each of them has a stack of cash and is itching to spend it, convinced that if they don't, life will pass them by. Their bread is in traveller's cheques, concealed in moneybelts. The mescaline Lester scored on Fourth Avenue kicks in minutes after they clear US Customs.

"Gruff," the adjective often adhering to those of Moose's linebacker stature, is undeserved, as he's generally laid-back, slow to boil. He pumps gas at his dad's station on Renfrew Street and sells a little pot, but who doesn't? It's the Age of Aquarius, man. The cat is far-out, the chick's groovy, the music outta sight, far-out, or a bummer. Make love, baby, not war. Expressions from a time and place that to the ear now sound ridiculous. Worthy, these longings were, many still are, but in retrospect laughably naïve.

Lester is tall and lean, with rock star hair, muscles toned from working the year laying track in northern Alberta. He'd played lead guitar in a few garage bands, and has a way with balls, excelling in all sports requiring one. He has a way with the ladies, too, and attempts to bed every skirt he meets, which also takes balls. He doesn't care about their looks, age, shape, race, or cup size. With fellas so inclined, it's about moving the scrimmage downfield, smacking one over the fence, potting a slapshot, the almighty coital tally. He's honest about his success: "I probably score with one out of every ten. That's one more than if I didn't make the effort at all."

He, Squirt, is the youngest. He'd been lifeguarding weekends, and believes a road trip will allow time to consider the next move, to "get his shit together," as it was called then. Another year of community college? Full time at the pool? He tugs several times a day, the first round before breakfast, the wake and shake, the finale before falling asleep, the stroke of midnight. Additional self-service is unscheduled, whenever an opportunity arises.

"If God didn't want us to wank, he would've made our arms shorter," he tells Moose, who replies, "Makes perfect sense to me."

They take four-hour turns at the wheel. Head east from Seattle, an alternate route south, coasting down out of the Cascades into the Yakima Valley. Wenatchee gives way to Union Gap, and Union Gap to Walla Walla. Fruit pickers awaiting transport huddle in precious patches of shade. He'd brought along an instamatic camera; it fits like a pack of Player's cigarettes in a shirt pocket. He made a scrapbook of the trip. When the mood strikes he'll climb the stairs to the attic and sit for hours turning its mottled pages.

The Galaxie glides through the sweet-smelling juniper and bristlecone pine forests of eastern Oregon, emerging into an open landscape of wheat fields and flatulent bovines. Alfalfa hay is bundled into wheels and squares like set pieces on a monster game board. At dawn they cross the state line into Nevada desert. In every direction the scrubby expanse is baked and bleached, devoid for good reason of human presence. A light haze curtains a serrated mountain range off to the west.

Day bleeds into night, and then day again. Discarded beer cans speckle like fast food wrappings the eroding shoulders of the two-lane highway. Forsaken autos fronting forsaken trailers. Naked children squealing under hose spray, playing peekaboo and building castles in amongst castaway fridges and expired hot water heaters. Lester takes his eye off the road reaching for a roach and narrowly misses a three-legged border collie pinching off a turd. The solar blaze is pitiless, spit sizzles on blacktop. When heat waves shimmer on the horizon, they stop for a bite.

"Who woulda thunk," says Lester, chomping into a cheeseburger, "we'd miss the rain."

In the middle of nowhere, and without warning, Moose slams on the brakes. "Did you boys see that?" Lester, slumbering in the passenger seat, didn't, while he, Squirt, stretched out in the back, says, "Mirage. It happens."

Moose peers into the rearview, cranes his neck. "Hitchhiker!"

"We've passed hundreds," Lester says.

"Chick!" Moose hollers. "Big tits!"

He slams the automatic shift into reverse.

He wakes most days at four, the streets cast in shadow and silent but for the din of sparse traffic on Boundary Road, the stirring of the magnolias stiff as sentries spaced out along the boulevards. He'll sometimes sit on the front steps, waiting for the Vietnamese man who delivers his Globe and Mail. This morning a family of raccoons waddles by on its way to a promising garbage spill. He's seen coyotes on Forty-fifth Avenue, as if out for a Sunday stroll.

The park is three blocks east, one hundred and something hectares of rainforest anchored by old-growth Douglas fir and cedar. The land had been a base for the royal navy in the nineteenth century, when Britannia ruled the waves, the glum and imperious Victoria atop the throne. Some of the slighter trees are as straight as a poker hand, made to measure masts for the fleet's sailing ships.

Municipal ownership accounts for today's well-maintained trails and flower gardens. A stadium hosts sports, concerts, festivals, rallies, and charity events. There are tennis courts, a busy pitch and putt green and outdoor pool, a Korean War cenotaph honouring Canadians who'd perished in that messy conflict. The homeless check-in after dark. Hopeful homosexuals roam the woods 'til dawn.

He leaves the house around seven. Takes the circular trail to the left one day, the trail to the right the next. Doesn't matter which: It's three kilometres in either direction, and he ends up where he begins. A retired opera singer, an elegant Hungarian gent, is sometimes heard carolling Mozart's Don Giovanni or Wagner. In inclement weather he moves to an underground parking garage on Kingsway.

He's on a first-name basis with most of the morning regulars. There are joggers and dog lovers and young mothers pushing strollers, but most daily trekkers are deep in their years. A battery-powered doohickey measuring heartbeats and steps is popular with a few of the old-timers, and some listen to newscasts or music through a gizmo requiring earbuds and wires. His eldest son bought one for his birthday, but it hasn't left the box it came in. He prefers birdsong, the spooky hoot of an owl, a laughing child, sounds he doesn't hear at home. If nothing else, a replay of his stale interior monologues.

A history of the surroundings was published in book form; he keeps his copy on the coffee table. Walking east, he can make out through the trees the original home of the first medical doctor to practise in the vicinity; it's been a middling Greek restaurant for years. It's said the doctor disposed of severed limbs in the ravine, which attracted black bears. A bocce court and fenced baseball diamond parallel the overgrown trench where interurban railcars once rattled.

Grainy black and white photos capture the landscape before the malls and traffic jams and sprawling residential tracts like the one they bought into after he'd landed his first engineering job. Quaint farmhouses at the end of serpentine lanes; fields of mixed vegetables; orchards of plum, apple, and cherry. Ribbons were awarded at an autumn agricultural fair for the largest pumpkin and the longest cucumber.

These days, where the trail swings inland, a senior by the name of McGregor is in the habit of showing himself, a compulsion accompanied by the query, "Met Dick?" He recalls a woman's assessment of the floppy attachment: "I don't know why you let him out of the cage," she'd said. "There's more life in a garden worm." A few years back the naked body of a thirteen-year-old girl was found on the golf course. She'd been covered in leaves. Park staff cleared a spot for a memorial; a man thought to be the grandfather maintains the site. As they passed on their daily saunter, Laverne, a lapsed Catholic, would make the sign of the cross and quietly say, "The poor dear." Police have not yet found her killer.

You get old, images from the past steal into thoughts and dreams. Some fossilize in the mind, popping up out of the blue like old friends. But why has he been thinking recently of Pueblo de Carmel? Are the recollections accurate, or have they been warped by the sophistry of time and perception? After all, we recall incidents fondly that were not fond at all; as dull, events that were anything but. Does a strong current over the ages not reshape stone?

He's had to adapt, establish a solitary routine, learn how to food shop for one. He's become a fitful sleeper, waking at the keening of an ambulance when the bars have closed and differences are being settled. And then there are mornings the mind fractures, and he doesn't know who or where he is, not the species that begat him, nor the empire of which he is subject. He doesn't mention it to the kids; they'll know soon enough. But then just as quickly recognition returns: jump-cuts from the funeral, his squeaking footfall on the hardwood floor, a streetlamp's garish painting of the tidy yards.

The girl hops into the back, smiles. A few years their senior, he guesses. She's big-boned, the kind of body that deprived of exercise and a sensible appetite easily accumulates flab, but the boys don't yet appreciate the expiry date of physical beauty. She's a brunette, her hair shorter than theirs. It's a sign of the restless Sixties, the lads having adopted the facial and cranial shagginess of cave-dwelling ancestors. Their beards are aspirational, sprouting lichen-like in uneven smudges.

Her jeans are hacked high and snug on darkly tanned, grass-hockey thighs, which end in scruffy black boots. She doesn't wear a bra. The coconut scent of a drugstore lotion clings to her like a fly. She carries a canvas tote bag and a small backpack. Lester offers a Coors, but she declines, sinking back into her seat the way a lady of the Orient might shrink behind a paper fan.

"Where ya headed?" says Moose. The windows are down, his sheepdog mop thrashing. She doesn't reply. It's a tight fit in the back seat, their knees collide. Her body heat makes him think of the girl in the Volkswagen bus. Everything starts now, she'd said. He hides his emerging stiffy under a beach towel.

It's Lester's turn to try. "Where ya from?" he asks. "You a student? Got a boyfriend? What universe are you from?" Grimaces and smirks suggest she hears just fine, and that she has a sense of humour, though as the kilometres slide by she appears content observing the sand-dusted joshua trees and sego lillies lining the highway, at the tumbleweed skipping over the empty plains. She swallows a pill with a sip of his Fanta.

Incapable of silence, Moose, when he's not driving, relays historical trivia from a small-town newspaper. Stuff about the state's cowboy heritage, about casinos and brothels and buried gold. He's picked up a site map of Old West towns, now emporiums flogging Wyatt Earp T-shirts and belt buckles, spurs and colouring books. Key chains on the counter of every convenience store are stamped with the storied lawman's grim, bushy-lipped likeness.

"Americans are brilliant," says Lester, who, when high, is inclined to grand proclamations. He's rolling a doobie, twisting off the ends, gumming the final product like a Popsicle. "Yanks can convert hot air into a dollar. I wouldn't be surprised if there's someone somewhere selling tickets to a dilapidated outhouse. Claiming it received deposits from Billy the Kid and Wild Bill Hickok."

"Making millions," seconds Moose, "off the doo-doo of Boot Hill's most successful murderers."

He, Squirt, is a music nerd, a Beatles fan; of Dylan and Leonard Cohen and some of the folkies like Joni Mitchell. When it's his turn in the front seat he boxes the eight-track cassettes strewn across the floor. Whoever's driving programs the soundtrack. Moose digs David Clayton-Thomas and his band, Blood, Sweat & Tears. Lester gets off on the Stones and Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Squirt is also a reader, and has brought along a natural history of the area and a Spanish language phrase book.

¿Cómo estás? he mumbles quietly to himself. Te amo, mamá.

"What should we call her?" Moose asks.

"Cuatro," he submits, and he glimpses her mouth ripening into smile. He'd been memorizing his numbers. "It means four. There are four of us."

"Whattya think of that name?" Moose says, but her attention is fixed on events in the brooding sky. A black-billed magpie? Turkey vultures circling carrion? Or, thinks Squirt, is her gaze inward?

Arizona after midnight, a scantily peopled hole-in-the-wall called Rattlesnake Junction. The hiss of crumbling campfire embers, a relentless buzz of Apache cicadas, the car sheltered from the main road by a clump of velvet mesquite. He's eyeballing stars from the vinyl rooftop. Lester has staked out the front seat, smelly feet poking from the open window. Moose, curled up on the hood, can become a Chatty Kathy just before shut-eye. Tonight the subject claiming his concern is the saguaro blossom, the national flower of the Grand Canyon state.

"It reminds me of a vagina."

Lester says, "So does a pot of spaghetti."

He reads aloud under flashlight from his book: "The saguaro cactus grows to a height of fifty feet and lives for two hundred years. In May and June a creamy white blossom with a yellow centre and a sweet smell clusters at the end of its prickly limbs. The blossoms open during the cool nights and close when the temperature peaks midday. By July the flowers have changed into a red-fleshed fruit favoured by migrating birds."

"What'd I tell ya?" says Moose. "The crease."

Cuatro is afforded the lone nylon pup tent. In the few days she's been with them, she's taken charge, and without emitting a sound. She knows which ointments best repel mosquitoes, the difference between an earless lizard and an iguana. She's quite bossy, and oversees a daily tooth brushing, nagging them like a big sister about wearing ball caps in direct sunlight, about speeding and the importance of eating veggies. She's not a stoner, and doesn't abide booze. When they toke, she drives. Every night she hand-washes her black panties, hanging them from a line made from the boot laces. The boys take the hint and scrub their gonch, but not every day. "We turn ours inside out," Moose tells her. "Canadian-style."

She's also taken over the shopping and preparation of their meals. She has her own cash and contributes equitably. That night they scoff on macaroni and cheese mixed with canned tuna and green peas. A fruit juice complements the chocolate chip cookies Lester shoplifted from an all-night market outside Flagstaff. She rinses the dishes with hot water from the slow-leaking radiator and packs everything away, but not before a brief language lesson.

She touches her right hand to her chin, drooping it over the left wrist: good night. They follow her lead. Wish to convey you're aware of something? Tap your forehead. Forget? Swipe a hand across the brow. She teaches two ways to express love: crossing both arms at the chest, or splaying the thumb, index finger, and pinkie. When one of them drops a lewd remark intended for her ears, she replies with an erect middle finger.

She considers the notepad a lazy substitute, resorting to pen and paper only when necessary, though she'll sometimes scratch a word into the chalky, arid soil. On several occasions they ask her real name, hoping to trip her up, but she folds a thumb into her palm, displaying four fingers.

They're curious why she sticks with them. They don't know where she's from or where she's bound. Can she speak, but chooses not to? Moose thinks she's "running from an asshole boyfriend," maybe because he's been one of those. Lester claims "a lez vibe," maybe because she rebuffs his crude overtures. He, Squirt, thinks she's comfortable with them, and sticks around because on the road there's safety in numbers. "She looks out for us, and we look out for her."

Moose says, "What's with those pills? She don't look sick."

She insists they arrive at the border in clean threads. She gathers their clothes, leaving them in swim trunks, and goes off to power wash everything in sprinklers irrigating a melon field. She hangs their bell-bottoms over a fencepost, socks and undies and T-shirts over sagebrush, passing the time it takes for everything to dry by dancing around a stunted willow. An elastic band grips her frisky ponytail.

They spy on her from behind a Jerusalem thorn, that magnificent ass bronzing like a pie crust under the broiling southwestern sun. He believes it was in those stolen moments so long ago that they fell in love with this mute gypsy girl - or what each of them at that age thought of as love. He also believes she was aware of their surveillance, and didn't give a goddamn.

They camp that night in an arroyo at the base of a steep-sided mesa. The others asleep, Lester, who'd been drinking Bud and smoking grass all afternoon, slips from the front seat and unzips the tent flap, crawls inside. "You awake?" he whispers, as though she's somehow acquired speech in the previous hour. He's ejected swiftly, and painfully. The swollen jaw will heal, but a bruised ego can smart forever. "Face plant," he, Squirt, says, to which Moose adds, "It looks like you've been shot out of a cannon, Romeo." But censure and mockery, they know, is futile, as rejection will only further ignite Lester's ardour. "Can't blame a guy for trying," he says. They do anyway.

Tucson. Mobs of grumpy, sun-grilled tourists. Info plaques glamorizing shootouts at the O.K. Corral. Lakota and Navajo artists hawking turquoise jewelry from foldaway tables. "They seem pissed off," Moose says. Some day he'll understand why.

They come across a party of church folks enjoying barbecue by a river. Friendly chitchat ensues; they're invited to nosh. Most of the men at the picnic are shaded by wide-brimmed cowboy hats and shod in bronc-busting boots. They wear bolo ties and suck on toothpicks and drive muddy pickups with rifles visible in the rear window. Two or three of them seem displeased breaking bread with longhairs, but it's Sunday and they keep their traps buttoned, as history's most revered longhair, that feller Jesus, surely would have counselled. Lester has brought along his guitar, and is coaxed to perform. He wisely chooses some Carl Perkins and early Willie Nelson. Buckaroo animus stubbornly survives, but it does subside.

Afterwards the women bag the leftovers for them. One of the cowpokes, a taciturn fellow, offers to take a boo at the impaired radiator, inviting them to his ranch. His wife, a warm and lively sort, revels in their company, serving them while they wait iced lemonade and pastries. She presses on Cuatro a white summer dress. "I only wore it once, hon, years ago. Haven't been able to squeeze into it since."

The cowboy seals the radiator, declines remuneration. "I never met a Canadian before or talked to an actual hippie." It's his first complete sentence all day. "You guys talk kinda funny, and are a little furry, but I reckon you're mostly like us." The wife, a tear glistening, says, "God speed, y'all." Back on the road, Moose breaches a long silence, asks, "Are we hippies?"

He's walking east, a glance through the trees at the former home of the area's first MD, past the trench where the interurban chugalugged, to that spot on the trail where McGregor lets fall his trousers. Approaching the pitch and putt, he stiffens at the thought of a leg poking out from beneath a cairn of leaves.

He rests at the fountain, returning in his mind's eye to the border crossing where a uniformed official not much older than them steps from a hut beneath a slack bandera nacional. He remembers his excitement knowing he was about to see something of the world beyond a bland North America. As a boy growing up in the East End, many close friends and neighbours were European immigrant and refugee kids of the post-war Diaspora, but he knew nothing of being the stranger, the new boy in town, the outlier who at home speaks in a foreign tongue and gobbles strange-smelling food.

In movies of the day, and on myriad TV Westerns like Gunsmoke and The Rifleman, like Wagon Train and Bonanza, the land south of the Rio Grande was portrayed as a place where people could disappear or reinvent themselves. For outcasts and renegades, a refuge. For eloping lovers, safe haven. True or not, the idea has a hold on him.

"Documents," the official says. He circles the car and leans in, scrutinizing each face, his eyes pausing on Cuatro, who reels him in with hers, just as she had with each of them. In his recall of that moment her lips are full and moist, the cheeks gleam with perspiration. "What is your destination please?" After a cursory inspection of their papers, and another gander at the girl in the white summer dress, he waves the car forward. "Enjoy your holiday, be safe!"

He glances back at the young man marooned at the remote outpost, who, for the longest time, stands in the road watching the car recede in the dying evening light. On his trek through the woods, he's wondered if he, too, remembers her. After these many decades, the thousands of supplicants who must have presented their anxious selves to him, does she sometimes appear in his dreams?

A hand falls on his shoulder. It takes him a moment to realize where he is: the park, the fountain, a bench. "You OK?" It's a familiar face, one of the skateboarders. "You was trippin', brother."

Friends and family members over the years would ask why, when he spoke of that road trip, did they choose Pueblo de Carmel over more popular destinations. He chuckles now at the answer, as he'd offered up a sanitized explanation for the kids. The real reason was something Moose's grandfather had said. The old man had crewed after the Second World War on freighters that sometimes docked there. He'd often bunk at Moose's house on Dieppe Drive, sharing a room with his grandson. Pueblo de Carmel, he told Moose, had "the easiest women of all the ports on the seven seas, and the best-looking." An endorsement from the ancient mariner was reason enough.

They head southwest along a twisting, unpaved road, stopping for bathroom breaks and directions in small towns and villages named after Catholic saints and revolutionary heroes, Mick Jagger's "Honky Tonk Woman" echoing off the lumpy, brown hills. The cruel heat and dust is made bearable with thoughts of tropical evenings squeezed between the mammary glands of the easiest women of all the ports on the seven seas. But it's the middle of the night when they wheel into Pueblo de Carmel, and they are greeted by empty streets and growling feral dogs. There's an eerie, horror-movie ambience about the place, and a bone-chilling dampness. They can hear rollers breaking along the shore, but the oceanic vapour has reduced visibility to a few metres.

The Casa Siesta. Judging by the sagging portico and paint-flaking façade, if the inn had seen halcyon days, they were in the distant past. Cuarto takes the room next to theirs. Everyone is bagged and nods off after their first shower since leaving home. By noon the sun has burned off the mist, and the view of the sea is as fine as Gramps claimed it would be, "a palette of blues and greens, and the tides moody, like a woman." They change into their trunks, charge into the bracing surf, but promptly retreat, as a passerby, an American expat, informs that sharks are common to local waters, and "Are partial to the taste of pale-skinned tourists." They do return, but warily, and in the shallows.

The inn is run by Arturo, who speaks good English, and his shy and short beach ball of a wife Juanita, who doesn't speak any. The scrapbook photo of the innkeeper shows a handsome, sad-eyed soul who comes out from behind the counter dragging a mangled foot. The couple has three kids, two rambunctious boys and a little girl quiet like mom. He remembers an electric fan scattering papers across a desk in the establishment's cramped office. A staticky ranchera bleating from a transistor.

Arturo explains that Pueblo de Carmel was first settled by Jesuits in the sixteenth century, and that many Canadian snowbirds visit in their motorhomes. "The village became popular with Americans during Prohibition," he explains. "Cruise ships still anchor, but infrequently." He encourages exploration outside the downtown area. "I'd begin with Bacocho, a short walk from here. It's home to many of our fishermen."

Off they go the next morning into a warren of narrow streets throbbing with music and howling children and the enduring dentist drill of jackhammers. The bustling market stands in stark contrast to the moribund commercial district of the brochures and its curbside abundance of schlocky sombreros and hammocks. Plank walkways are elevated above cracked pavement; groaning trucks and impatient taxis dodge its puddles and potholes. Next to a trawler up on blocks and a trellis of nets under repair, adolescent boys play barefoot football with a pile of rags bound by duct tape.

Most homes in Bacocho are single-story and made of plywood or particle board and a creative use of tarps and corrugated aluminum. One of the structures is a church; another, a primary school. Knots of gossiping housewives gather in alfresco tea shops, abuelas tend toddlers and incessantly sweep spotless the wooden landings fronting the neat abodes. A flowerpot, he notes, occupies every ledge. Despite the humble circumstances, a smile resides on many lips.

Each of them explores the neighbourhood at their own pace. Moose samples spiced crab sticks served from a wheelbarrow, a busker teaches Lester a traditional guitar progression. Teenage girls finger the gringa's hoop earrings, sniff her hair. On every street he's asked to snap a photo.

A tinkle of cutlery and laughter spilling from an open window. Wrapped gifts piled on a table. A father and mother and a clutch of kids around a cake impaled with fluttering candles. One of the children is startled by a stranger at the window. Embarrassed, he hurries on.

Cuarto retreats to her room when the boys begin preening for a night on the town. On their afternoon stroll they'd passed a club, the Mama Rumba, and agree to launch the party there. He remembers from biology class that waste water is a peculiar theme in the mating habits of some animals. Male moose on the prowl dig a hole and fill it with piddle. A giraffe drinks a female's to determine mating suitability. The lads change into wrinkled shirts, puncture zits, Lester sprays his privates with cologne. Before heading out, they pee.

He stays behind to write postcards to himself, mementos destined for the scrapbook. They are already drunk by the time he catches up, the table festooned with bottles of tequila and mescal. A heavily made-up girl is clamped onto each of them. Candlelight betrays both to be easily the age of their mothers, which shouldn't surprise in a clip joint called The Mama Rumba.

A bank of coloured lights illuminates a bar and its yawning tender. The women drain their glasses quickly and signal for more, Moose and Lester peeling payment from fast-thinning money rolls. One of the prostituas excuses herself to buy cigarettes. He steals a pull from her lipstick-printed glass. Arturo had warned it would be water, but he knows his friends well enough to understand nothing he says will persuade them to leave. He returns alone to the inn.

He ransacks his memory for what happened next. He remembers being roused by Arturo; Cuatro is there, too. His friends have met with trouble. There was a march to the police station, Arturo hobbling ahead along the dark streets, the lifeless appendage trailing like a ball on a chain. A long wait in a stuffy hallway for the capitán, a stoutly assembled man with suspicious eyes. Arturo boldly initiates a testy exchange with the policeman, none of which he comprehends, so he and Cuatro wait outside. They share a Delicados fag and watch the morning's first blast of sunshine spread across the Sea of Cortez.

Arturo soon joins them. "There was an argument about money," he says. "They busted a few tables and damaged the door. The capitán is also demanding compensation for the disturbance."

Squirt converts the recommended sum to settle into Canadian dollars. Paying it will leave them destitute and a long way from home. A subaltern leads them to the cell holding Moose and Lester, who are prostrate on a concrete floor splattered with a voluminous eruption of fresh vomit. A popular song comes to mind: "I Fought the Law (And the Law Won)". The Bobby Fuller Four.

"We agreed on a price," Lester says "The girls left with our money, saying they had to get a room ready upstairs. We never saw them again."

Back at the inn, Arturo says to him, "I'm sorry your friends have been treated poorly. Most of us are not like our police." He, Squirt, replies, "And I'm sorry for the trouble we've caused. Most Canadians are not fuckups like us."

They move to the seawall. Waves softly slap the shore. Glare off the water blinds. "I thought you should know," Arturo says, "the Mama Rumba doesn't have an upstairs."

Restitution for the damages is paid promptly, but negotiations for disturbing the capitán's snooze - the bribe - have stalled. Should he call their folks, urge a money transfer? Moose doesn't get along with his old man, which complicates matters. As long as payment is being discussed, as long as Moose and Lester are together, he believes they'll be safe: Arturo had explained that ransoms earn discounts if hostages receive a shit-kicking.

The pressure is ramped up when both jailbirds come down with a nasty dose of diarrhea. Fearful it might progress to amebic dysentery, which can be fatal if untreated, Juanita contacts her sister, the receptionist at the village clinic, who delivers medicine to the boys. Meanwhile, after discussing options with Arturo, he drives the car to the police station; Cuatro elects to come along. Arturo translates the proposal: an even swap, the Galaxie "as is" in exchange for their release.

Cuatro has applied some of Juanita's makeup and hikes the white summer dress, crossing and re-crossing her sightly gams as the capitán examines the engine and toes the tires, all the while gawking at her. After much hooing and hawing, he snorts, "How to say in English? Piece of junk!"

That evening he calls Moose's dad at the family's Renfrew Street garage. The conversation is abbreviated. "Leave the ungrateful fucker in the slammer," he barks. "It'll teach him what I couldn't." The station bell chimes, the line goes dead.

Late the next night at Casa Siesta there's a pounding on the door. His first reaction is terror: Have they now come for me? He takes a deep breath, opens up - and is immediately set upon and pinned to the ground.

"The guard unlocked the cell," Lester says, hoisting him to his feet. "We thought we were being let out to empty our shit buckets."

"Which were full, I'm sure."

"He told us to shutup and fuck off."

Moose elaborates, "We weren't told why, but we wouldn't have understood anyways."

"And the capitán?"

"Didn't see him. Let's get out of here before we do."

Another knock on the door. It's Cuatro, who wasn't in when he went by her room earlier. As they're loading the car, Arturo springs from the office. "Juanita's sister just called," he says. "The capitán turned up at the clinic, demanding to see the doctor. He has gonorrhea."

"Hope his knob falls off," Moose says.

Squirt says, "Justice served. Vámonos!"

A California beach town, the Galaxie in distress. A death rattle, a burp of smoke. They reach a service station, request a prognostication. No surprise, the cost of making the car roadworthy exceeds its value. The mechanic offers one hundred dollars for its parts.

Soaking their feet in a park wading pool, a briny gust sweeping in off the Pacific. The rustling leaves of the jacaranda trees sound like a rainfall, reminding him of home. She sighs, wipes her feet on the grass, steps into the boots. They'd known it was coming, this moment. She hugs each of them, splays the thumb, index finger, and pinkie. They reply in chorus: Love ya back, girl.

They watch her cross the park and merge with a stream of pedestrians. Rounding a corner, she turns and waves just as a lick of wind lifts the hem of the white summer dress. Nancy Sinatra, he remembers thinking. "These Boots are Made For Walkin'."

Greyhound bus station. She'd left them with a bag of food, her last bit of mothering. A loaf of bread, some cheese and sliced ham, a few Cokes. Enough to get them home. Lester finds an empty medicine vial at the bottom of the bag. The label identifies the customer as one Sandra Carlotta. "The prescription was filled at a drugstore in Philadelphia."

He, Squirt, grabs the vial and sprints across the street, returning shortly. "The pharmacist told me it's an antibiotic. He said it's usually used to treat venereal disease."

The stupor returns, past and present fuse. The doctor's home, body parts hurled into the ravine, the bray of bruins. The clatter of the interurban, excitable Italians playing bocce. A farmer, a ribbon pinned to his coat, hoisting a large tangerine gourd. McGregor, pantless and swollen. A lady is lighting a candle at the girl's memorial. "They've arrested someone, did you hear?" Others assemble. "I understand they had trouble identifying the body," someone says. "The animals got to her." He makes the sign of the cross and plods on. It would only ruin their day if he were to remind that police might indeed have the culprit, he certainly hopes so, but that even if they do, the most dangerous animal of all remains at large.

The parting of ways began not long after their arrival home. It wasn't a falling out, but the inevitable pull in divergent directions of jobs, school, opportunity, love. They'd run into each other around town other over the years and have a good yak, and they'd receive updates from friends or mutual acquaintances. His own career had gone well. Jobs on natural gas plants and hydro dams took him all over the world, and after the kids had grown him and Laverne travelled widely. He'd learned belatedly that in his forties Moose, who'd been a user, fell on hard times. His body was found in a rooming house off Commercial Drive. Lester had his own cover band for years, and was always on the road. He'd followed a sweetheart east, but then his trail went cold.

He slides the photo from its sheath, the three of them knee-deep in the Sea of Cortez, arms slung over coppertone shoulders, their awkward, incomplete selves flashing goofy grins and peace signs. It was taken by Cuatro, whose image is also preserved. He wonders how she'd fared, what this world had in store for a girl like her. If still alive she'd be a grandmother, they wouldn't recognize each other standing side by side in a lineup at the market, yet she's very much alive in remembrance, where she's wearing the shoddy boots and hand-me-down dress. Words like birds are flitting from her hands, and this is what she's saying: Goodnight. I love you. Sit on this why doncha.


  1. For a sixties stoner story about disaffected/silly youth, this one is pretty darn good. Don shows a fluid hand in providing a rich, colorfully descriptive narrative. often from the perspective of his youthful protagonists. The tenor or the piece, particularly the epilogue, resembles at first blush that of Stephen King’s poignant “Stand by Me.” This is a funny story and it is remarkable how really naïve the MCs are as they seek to wrestle the world into submission. Don does a good job with the time travel and I caught just one anachronism: The Godfather come out not in 1969, but in 1972. I had to look It up myself, though, to be sure. I had a good time reading “Road Trip.” Thank you, Don!

    1. Mucho thanks, Bill, for the feedback and the correction on my story "Road Trip." I'm planning to include the story in a published collection next year some time, so I've swapped out The Godfather for Easy Rider. Warmest Regards from frosty Canada! Don McLellan

  2. Great characters. Great setting. Great job! Really enjoyed reading this

  3. It reminds me of classic stories from the 19th century, not just designed for entertainment via the structure of story, but also as a form of journalism via unique details for the reader. What was it like to be a young person in 1969? How might one describe the Western US from Canada to Mexico from back then? It’s all there in engaging detail.

  4. What a great story, very engrossing. I lived many years in Vancouver and know the park spoken about and the news story mentioned. I relate to the Mexico part also, and the time and place. I like the juxtaposition of the road trip then and the portrait of the man now, looking back. The story affected me quite a lot. I agree with Adam's comment, also.