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July 16, 2013

Nowhere Left to Run: Toad Suck Arkansas - Day 3

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Update: I am alive and well and resting quietly at the Hotel Bill in Pratt, Kansas.

Tuesday July 16th

Fayetteville, Arkansas - Pratt, Kansas

Odometer at the start of the day: 7,303 miles
Odometer at the end of the day: 7,763 miles
Miles driven today: 460 miles

The Paradox of Choice

I sleep in until something like 10:00 a.m. When I get up, Dena is on a conference call, so I go sit out behind her trailer and watch the armadillos burrow into the riverbank.

It's crazy nice outside, which has to be unusual for July in Arkansas, right?

I try to think about my ride through the Mississippi Delta and through Arkansas.
It's so hard to focus and put it in perspective. These old rusting cars, fading Depression-era two-story wooden houses. Barns with rusted tin roofs. Peeling paint. Sometimes I shoot them. Sometimes I don't. I don't want to deliberately paint Mississippi and Arkansas as being backwards. But these old buildings sort of whisper to me when I roll past. Vestigial remnants of a past we can never return to. Of aging, faded ghosts that once lived in these towns. All of these people lived and then faded away, planted in roadside family cemeteries and forgotten.

This is what I see as I roll past. I try to envision the land as it once was. Before the Dollar General stores came destroyed the mainstreet shops of downtown the way Sherman destroyed the South in his insane march to the sea.

Not that I have anything against the Dollar General stores, per se. I mean, they're just the penultimate victory of function over form. The final route of cost over aesthetics.

And this is something that I must say I miss about Central America. It certainly wasn't like this down there. In Central America, the next little town is only a few kilometers down the road and you can bet your bottom dollar that there will be scads of little family-owned-and-operated businesses there. True, Pemex runs all of the gas stations in Mexico. And there are certainly lots of chains all through Central America, but neither is there a lack of independently owned and operated businesses.

I drove yesterday through the Ozark mountains on a two-lane black-topped road searching in vain for a small, local establishment....something on the side of a creek or a lake or anything....instead, all I see are gas stations selling fried catfish and fried chicken. So, I guess that this is what we've come to, but it's sad. I think that we all are torn between logic and emotion, and this one rips me right down the zipper.

I spent most of yesterday dodging doves and butterflies. Now I see these guys riding around without helmets, and I guess there's no helmet law in Arkansas, but these things smash into my helmet's visor like meteors from outter-space. I have no idea what they are. Maybe beetles the size of pecans? I can't know. But these things with my visor that make you wonder how the visor can possibly absorb the impact. Like, beetles that sound like a rock hit your visor. And you think about that hitting your face. I'm just like....no thanks.

Toad Suck, Arkansas

Yesterday, I almost ran over some beaver-looking critter near Toad Suck, Arkansas. Like, you would think I'm making that up, but I'm not. Toad Suck really exists. Just one of those many things that blows past your eyes during the day and you hope to God that you'll remember it later when you're drunk-typing away on the keyboard in the small hours of the morning.

The animal I nearly ran over was not something I've ever seen before. It looked like a beaver, but had a bushy tail. I've googled it, and I'm still not sure what it was. It wasn't a nutria, a muskrat, a beaver, or an otter. Maybe it was a chupacabra? I'm not clear.

It was crazy fun catching up with Dena because her memory is just insane. Eventually, I call her out on it. "OK. Hang on. How can you possibly remember all of this stuff?" Like, everything she says sort of fits into my vague recollections of my life in Dallas, but she has all of these details I don't recall. She explains where everyone came from. How they all met. Where everyone lived. How everyone left Dallas around the same time back in 1995.

"Remember? We had a deal where you used to wash my car and I did your laundry. But I wouldn't wash your sheets."

"Why wouldn't you wash my sheets?"

"See...that was the same thing you said back then...but you had so many women coming through your place that I wouldn't touch your sheets."

"I did not."

"You so did."


"Carmen, Tracy, that one older woman...I forget her name...your boss' daughter...Leather-face....Karen...."

"Whoa...whoa...whoa...Who was Karen?"

Now, the photo albums come out. Wow. And there's pictures of me from 23 years ago. Wow. She's laying out how we all went to Fayetteville and I hooked up with Karen in her boyfriend's condo.

"I feel kinda funny about hooking up with her in her boyfriend's place," I apologized to Dena.

Now, I have zero recollection of this. And I'd say for sure that she has me mixed up with someone else, but the problem is that everything else she is saying is spot on. So, if she's right, then it means that I've been to Fayetteville before, which is hard to imagine. But when there's photos and all, it's sort of hard to argue, I guess.

We stay out too late and drink too much at some local watering hole. It's very odd to catch up with someone you haven't seen in 20 years, and I've been doing this a lot lately, for whatever reason.

But when we get home, I can't turn the brain off.

I'm not really sure where to run to next. Perpetually hobbled by the Paradox of Choice - a crippling, debilitating disease. I'm pretty sure the world is a prison we construct in our minds and project onto an neutral, ambivalent canvas.

And I think about the birds and the butterflies that I spent all day dodging. I wonder if they wonder like I wonder. It seems unlikely. And for this, I'm jealous. I spend my hours on the road, trying to deconstruct the prison I've diligently constructed in my mind.

Like, how could I possibly have gotten all caught up over one girl, when there's 3 billion women walking across the face of the planet?

The 18th Candy Bar

Each day is a struggle, of course. Trying to figure out where to go next. And part of me wants to stay here with Dena. She has this crazy nice house and she's such a gracious host. I've never been a good house guest, of course. I've got the hygiene of a possum and the social skills of a porcupine. So, I'm usually not someone you'd want to see inside of your house on a clean white carpet or anything.

But there is some part of me that wants to stay here, of course. But the problem with this is that each day, my situation becomes a little less tenable. Each day, my life becomes a little less palatable. This is what I like to call the syndrome of the "18th Candy Bar".

It's the counter-intuitive phenomena whereby each candy bar tastes progressively worse than the one before it. One candy bar is fine. The second one is too much. The third one would be a nightmare, and the 18th candy bar would be sheer torture.

So, this is the trick is trying to forecast how you'll feel in place at anywhere How will the 2nd candy bar taste? How would I feel at home in Colorado tomorrow? Would it be better if I was in Canada?

These are the things that I struggle with at night.

Right now, I'm leaning towards a balls-out dash for Colorado.

Michelle texts me and says to call her about Jennifer, but it's nothing. She just wants me to be back in town by August. So I've got some time to run still, I think. I've got to be back in Colorado in August for my court dates anyway, I think.

Dena has a conference call, so I hug her goodbye and bug out. She'll be in Denver next month, so I make her promise to let me take her out to dinner when she's in town.

Now, I'm heading to Pratt, Kansas. Bill lives there. He worked with Carmen when we all lived in Dallas. Carmen knew how much I loved to go to concerts, so she set me up with Bill, and we became concert buddies. We went to more concerts than I can even remember.

I drive all day at something crazy like 90 mph. Mostly on backroads, because I just hate being on the interstate. I have no idea where I'm going. Just north. Then west. Then north again. Somehow, I end up in Missouri, then Oklahoma, then Kansas.

I drive all day dodging rainclouds. It rains on me intermittently all day, on and off. But I've learned that, if the rain clouds are localized, then driving faster gets you out of the rain quicker. So, I'll run 100 mph or so and try to stay ahead of the rain clouds, or get through them more quickly anyway.

At 103, the wind plays games with my fingers. I'm leaning over the bike, more dead than alive. Running at 103, eyes barely open, resting on the bike the way you might rest on your desk at the office. Just leaning on the bike for support. My left hand out in front of the bark busters. The wind pulls at my fingers in jerky staccato bursts.

At 110, it pulls down the front of my shoes.

At 115, the wind inside my helmet is just indescribable. The whole helmet wants to lift up and fly away. Only the chinstrap holds it on.

At 120, the highway becomes a tedious maze of cars coming at you. The oncoming cars come at you insanely fast. But even the cars in your lane are coming at you at 60 mph or so. It's a lot more challenging. Especially in the rain.

When I'm 160 miles east of Pratt, I text Bill and tell him I'm two hours out. I'm racing these massive storm clouds. For some reason, they're heading west? So that I have to outrun them?

I'm not really bothered by the rain any more. I put my cameras in a certain position so that they won't get wet. And I just drive. I'm not stopping for rain any more. That's just not my deal. I'm all in.

Bill texts back that they're at the fair grounds, they're not at his compound. I pull up to his compound. He owns a trillion acres of land and the trailer is set so far back from the road that I get lost trying to find it. Finally, find the old farm house, drop off my gear, and take off to meet them at the fair. But I get lost, of course. So Bill comes back into Pratt and we go to dinner at some little local dive. Very cool spot with something like a hamburger taco? Really good.

And we catch up. I haven't seen him in 20 years, of course.

We get home, and he fetches a pig from one of the bedrooms upstairs.

"No. You don't have a pet pig!" I shout.

It's so cute. It's squealing and screaming. He makes it a bowl of oatmeal in the microwave. The pig (Prada), scarfs it down. Hilarious. He says they make good pets. It's a teacup pig, I think. I think I need to get one now.

Posted by Rob Kiser on July 16, 2013 at 9:27 AM


I know Jennifer will agree with you. It's so cute!

Posted by: Molly on July 17, 2013 at 9:29 PM

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