I pull into Flagstaff where I-17 merges into South Milton Road, just near Northern Arizona University. I think of my studies at San Francisco State University. I think of my various courses analyzing American Literature. My eyes then spy across the campus of Northern Arizona, and I see a name on one of the university’s buildings. It says “Philosophy” in large black font. For some odd reason I think of the concept in modern philosophy known as “Speculative Realism.” I was introduced to this philosophy at SFSU.
My mind shifts.
Feeling a bit hungry, I stop off at a Chipotle Mexican Grill near the corner of South Milton Road and South Plaza Way. I enter the restaurant and move to the side of the line before I order. I call Pearle again. No answer on her cellphone or home phone. I leave another message on her home machine.
Grilled chicken burrito with white rice and black beans, roasted chili-corn salsa, sour cream and cheese, with a three-finger pinch of additional cilantro.
I take my time eating.
I ponder my entire trip thus far.
I think about Theo and my job situation.
What should I do now?
I exit Chipotle and sit in Shadowfax, dazing off for a while. It’s now a little before 8:00. The rays of sun are now only spare shards of gold, a remnant of solar rays offering their last direct collection of radiant pulses. The exodus of light will soon engulf all in a beautifully poetic way, the moon providing the only brilliant light to be digested by the human eye. I take out my laptop and begin editing the twenty-three pages of prose I’ve conducted thus far in my road trip memoir. My edits are focusing on shortening my non-poetic sentences of passable length, chipping away at failed adjectives and adverbs and the laughable syntax I vomited on the screen in certain sections.
My iPhone goes off. Theo’s calling. It’s close to 8:45. The sun is long gone. I pick up the phone and stare at the screen. I don’t think I love him. Then I put my smartphone down and stare at its screen. Theo doesn’t leave a message. I try Pearle again, leaving another message on her home phone, and then my first message on her cellphone messaging system.
I drive around aimlessly, all throughout Flagstaff: down Route 66; to South Woodlands Village Boulevard; down South Plaza Way; then up on South Yale Street; east down South Mertz Walk; then into bizarre patterns of road I’ll choose to pass on sharing. I wander stupidly.
I find myself back on South Milton Road, somewhere near a gas station. I pull into the gas station parking lot off to the side, just near the water and air pumps. A drunken Native American approaches Shadowfax with slow, draggy steps. He’s about twelve feet away. He begins blathering incoherent nothings. I immediately wonder if I am foolishly mistaking his drivel for perhaps his native tongue. After about ten seconds of trying to comprehend his rambling poppycock, he drags his bitter legs a few feet closer. I become uneasy. This man is smashed. He then groans his inebriated nothings toward me as I choose to roll-up all of the windows. I turn away and pretend I’m working on my laptop. He then hauls himself to Shadowfax and starts tapping softly on my driver-side window, babbling out more of his dribbled words never to be recognized by coherent English speakers.
He shows me his hands which appear to house deep lacerations still struggling to heal. They’re infected and perhaps induced by hard manual labor.
He begins banging hard on my window, still spilling out his incomprehensible woes.
I start Shadowfax and slowly drive away, seeing him in the rearview mirror.
What the hell?
It’s about 9:30 when I reach an America’s Best Inn just at 910 South Milton. I pull in the parking lot. I need a place to stay just in case Pearle flakes on me. I park Shadowfax and enter the office. I instantly become friendly with the motel manager, a young man named Malik Sharma. He tells me many things. We get to talking about politics and religion. I know nothing, so I choose to remain quiet as he lectures about our nation’s current state of affairs—national debt, foreign enemies, the Second Amendment, and on and on.
I notice framed pictures on his wall of quasi-famous people who’ve stayed at his inn. I offer Malik a headshot and some business cards—and he promises he’ll display them immediately on his counter, then later frame the headshot and put it on his wall. He asks me to sign the headshot.
He then shoots me a few names of hip dives in the area.
I’m not staying in.
I go to one named Bun Huggers Lounge nearby on South Milton Road. One of the locals, a beautiful dirty blonde college girl, a student at the university, tells me they have great burgers. I order a beer, pass on a burger, and soon meet a guy named Henry, a decent looking fellow in what seems to be his mid-thirties, regal face. We start talking. I’m taking small sips of my beer while Henry throws back his rounds like a sexually-repressed groomsman during a Las Vegas bachelor party peep show. He’s not flirting with me. He’s just talking to me. I think he just needs someone to confide in. Something might be going wrong in his life. He stops ordering drinks for himself. We then share moments of stale silence. He then dissolves the silence and asks if I’d like to have a cigarette outside the bar to help him sober up. I don’t smoke. But I go anyway. Gentlemanly, he escorts me outside of the bar, just in front of the main entrance. He puts a cigarette to his lips and then puts his right arm around me. I push him away and tell him I have a boyfriend. He starts laughing with his unlit cigarette dangling from his lips. He calls me a dirty little dyke. He tells me that I’m a liar. He says my boyfriend is stupid for letting me out alone. I get nervous. Someone may hear this confrontation. I storm directly toward Shadowfax, get in and lock the doors and drive out of the parking lot.
I make my way back to the inn, trying to avoid being seen through the front office window by Malik. But he sees me anyway. We make eye contact. I notice he has already set up my headshot and my business cards on his counter. He quickly pokes his head out of the front office door and shouts at me.
“Did you enjoy yourself?”
I give him a comedic salute and wave goodbye.
I grab my duffle bag and laptop from Shadowfax and enter my room, heading straight for the bathroom where I turn on the lights and drop to the floor, my knees before the toilet—the toilet seat is down. I cry and cry. I check my iPhone and see that I have no missed calls. I open Facebook—and then close it immediately. Leaving the bathroom, I toss my body onto the queen-sized bed and cry some more, punching my fists at the pillows, wiping my tears on the comforter. I become restless. I think of many things.
I speculate my reality.
I flip on the television and fumble through the channels until I reach HBO, which just so happens to be showing the 1999 hit literary film Wonder Boys. Nearing the end of the film my eyes become sleepy, and I’m about to gently float away to the netherworld of dreams where I’m free to imagine that I’m a Wonder Boy type of writer, one who may get discovered by a much larger audience.
And so I’m dreaming—again.
About the author: An East Bay native, Tony R. Rodriguez works the dance floor pretty hard. His novel Under These Stars, excerpted here, is published by Beatdom Books.
Artwork: Destiny Silva is an artist, she lives in The East Bay. She enjoys stencil art, music, night photography & poetry.