SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
November 2, 2014

That Rocky Road to Oblivion

 

On October 24th, I was scheduled to join a small low-budget movie crew in a used van to take a doomed, week-long road trip to shoot exteriors for a quick and dirty film based on one of my books. On the one hand it was exciting punk rock guerilla filmmaking. On the other, I was fifty years old, tired, cranky, and blind, and the rest of these kids were half my age. Still, there it was.

            But as the date approached far too quickly, as I prepped myself with movies like Deliverance, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Macon County Line, I began noticing something. On an almost daily, even hourly basis, the details of the trip kept changing. Not little ones, either (the color of the van, Noogie’s wardrobe), but big things. Fundamental things.

            Oh, the simple core of the plan remained as mad as ever: the director, a cameraman, and the actor playing Noogie were going to crawl into a van and take a week to drive the back roads of the East Coast between New York and Miami. That much was set. The dates were set, too: leaving on the 24th, returning on Halloween. For some reason I’d been informed it was “absolutely essential” I join them on this misadventure. That was set, too. And it was perfectly clear to me weeks ahead of our departure date that I would never return home alive. Nothing was changing that. But.

            As idle chatter of this harebrained scheme, this nightmarish debacle in waiting, took a sudden turn for the serious around the end of September, the plan was simple. The director (whom I knew as The Kid) and his team were going to fly from Austin to New York, buy a van, pick up the reluctant old blind guy with no patience for either travel or youngsters, and head south. Then after a little research made it clear it was cheaper to buy a van in Florida (probably at a police auction, resulting in a vengeful Cuban drug lord out for our blood), the plan got flipped on its head. Now they were flying to Florida, and I’d be flying down that same day hoping to somehow meet them in the airport. It was a low-budget production after all, and every penny counted. That also led to the decision to fly into Ft. Lauderdale instead of Miami, because that was cheaper, too.

            Then when it turned out by happenstance the Kid’s stepfather, a man who loved haggling for cars, was going to be in upstate New York for some reason, the route flipped again, in hopes he might be able to buy a van on the cheap up near Albany and somehow get it to NYC by the 24th.

            Well, that idea lasted about six hours before we were back to meeting in Florida.

            Then the Kid started looking for vans on Craigslist, which seemed even iffier than buying something at a police auction. He knew exactly what model and color and amenities (none) he was looking for, which made the search much easier. So now we were going to fly to a state we’d never visited, climb into a wholly untested van purchased sight unseen from an unsavory and desperate anonymous seller, and pray it didn’t explode as we were passing near an encampment of crazed and inbred cannibalistic swamp folk. It was equally possible (some might say a given) the van would be sought by police in connection with several drug-related murders.

            Well, I guess it was a risk we’d have to take. The route itself was a malleable thing. I guess it didn’t much matter to me, given they could tell me we were driving to Des Moines and I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. I was intrigued though by talk of a detour that might take us far afield, but ended at a house with a pond out back, and in the middle of the pond sat a 500-pound bust of Richard Nixon. Then there was Mister Ed’s Elephant Museum, off Route 30 in Pennsylvania, but no one was talking much about stopping there.

            Then suddenly after all this time figuring I would head out to LaGuardia on the morning of the 24th, take full advantage of the always courteous airport staff, get whipped along through security and straight to my gate, and just hope for the best once I hit the ground again in Florida, I learned different. It seems there was now going to be a fifth body in the van with us. What’s more, this fifth body, a former partner of the Kid’s and Noogie’s official director of photography, as well as a complete stranger to me, was going to be my traveling companion. Given that he lived somewhere in New York, he was going to pick me up that morning, drive with me to the airport, and presumably sit next to me during the flight before living knee-to-knee in the back of a potentially deadly van for the next week.

            Well, that was a bit of news. I knew the other three, but don’t always deal well with strangers, particularly those strangers with whom I’m going to quite suddenly and unexpectedly have to spend an awful lot of time.

            My only real option here was not to worry about it, or about any of the dozen other things that continued to change, rechange, unchange, and rechange again around me. I’ve been known to get a little obsessive-compulsive when mapping out my own trips, but that’s different. I need to know how and when everything will work, or I could quite literally be lost, quite possibly for a very long time. But that was my game. This here, this wasn’t my game, it was the Kid’s. I was just taking a spin on the Tilt-O-Whirl on someone else’s dime and playing by his rules. He was the one who wanted me there. For my money I was a simple spectator to the mayhem ahead. So I relaxed about it all. We’d see what happened out there. Lord knows it would be interesting at least. And knowing I wouldn’t get back alive anyway, well, that made everything just that much easier.

 

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