How to Survive a Road Trip
On 8pm, Thursday March 28th, 2013 in West Orlando, just a few miles past Parramore Street, I was standing in the quickly darkening parking lot of a Publix grocery store. I was surrounded by 5 men maybe a year or two younger than me, decked out in skinny jeans and tattoos and skateboards and various plays on the afro that left their hair looking like it belonged on the front page of some trendy urban(e) fashion blog I’d never heard of. They were upset with me, it seemed; apparently I had parked too close. I was three days late in Central Florida, by which I mean that I was supposed to be back in Michigan but, instead of braving the 24 hour trek north, I decided to check into the aptly named “Budget Inn and Suites” in a desperate attempt to soak up some more sun.
The argument at hand, the one between the quintet of African-American men and myself, was, as previously stated, that I had parked too close to their posse, but what really got me going was the way which I was being talked to. I am a proud man, it is not something I am ashamed of- that being said, I would be foolish to think that it hasn’t, in the very least, escalated altercations- so when the leader of their pack came up to me and was yapping about how I needed to watch where I was going and began puff his chest up in an attempt to primitively assert his dominance, the only way I can clearly understand that saying, “and what are you going to do about it?” was a mistake is through the beauty of hindsight.
One of the differences between human beings and common animals is that, as humans, we’ve developed culture- a paradigm for roles that, when filled, make even the most hostile actions seem to run smoothly, as if scripted. When Berlin was bombed, they hid, when you are shot at, you duck, and when someone is yelling at another person, the intended target of verbal assault, assuming he or she is a steely contender, maintains stoic composure, unwavering amidst the brannigan, almost eerily calm. When he or she does this, they are overprojecting- explicitly showing how little fear they have to a point where they actually become vulnerable- of course, given our expected roles of altercation, when shown the cool, calm, collection, he or she who is arguing is expected to ramp up the tenacity, boiling pressure, bottlenecking stress. However, to the adroit, transcending these mortal roles can play heavily into one’s favor. That is the first rule of surviving a road trip- ignore expectations and instead devour any chance you get.
I had just said “and what are you going to do about it?” The routinely accepted couse of dialogue states that I would let him yell back at me and so forth until, eventually, one of us burst and wound up our arm and heaved it forward, starting, given how many of them there were compared to how many of me there were, a very short fight. But I did not succumb to expectations and instead, as he began to open his mouth and shout out threats and cover my face in a thin veil of glistening saliva, grabbed him by the collar of his ill-fitting black and white american flag tank-top, pulled his torso towards me and thrust the frontal bone of my forehead towards the soft cartilage tissue just above his lips and just below his eyes. I heard it break, it was like a coconut that had just been crushed underneath a steamroller and blood spurt from him and was on my face and shirt. He crumpled to the floor and his friends stood, slightly frightened but mostly startled, looking at me, unsure of what socially agreed upon provisions would be next. The historical context of displaying your middle finger towards someone dates back to the Hundred Years War when the English, upon capturing a French longbowman, would cut off his middle finger so that there was no way he could every again draw back the string of gut and fire a sharpened woody demon into the sky. Not only as a form of provocation, but also self-validation, when the French would evade the grips of the English, they would show their single finger, a simple taunt attached the concept that, because they did not catch them now, these Frenchman may come back to kill them at a later date. I felt the same pride when I backed up towards my car with one hand feeling for the door’s handle and the other distinguished most accurately by it’s center single digit standing alone in stark contrast.
The second rule to surviving a road trip, almost as important as the first, is to not stay in any place too long. Everything is ephemeral, even the highest mountains will eventually fall. There’s no point in getting caught up with a feeling and holding onto it even though the attached reality has all but vanished. Taking that advice, I opened the driver side door to my car, sat down, almost died when it took me searching through two pockets to find my keys, and drove away.
“That’s what they get!” I shouted triumphantly, “that’s what those Kid Cudi hooligans get!” and I banged my hand on the steering wheel. If only my swelling pride could push away the still present hunger. The kerfuffle had driven me away from the grocer without food and the third rule of surviving a road trip is always have food. This is a very important rule and I would even go so far as to say it’s the third rule for everything. I decided a place called “Maryland Fried Chicken” would suffice, which may have been a mistaken given that I was in Florida. There were two young boys with dirty bleached blonde hair rummaging through a dumpster behind the small, pervadingly stingy and yellow diner. I think they must of have been brothers. I thought I had gone to deep into the bowels of Florida, the putrid recesses where feral children roamed free- however, when their mother, the cook at Maryland Friend Chicken, came out and dragged their mangy bodies inside, I had realized it was only an innocent misunderstanding. It had been a few days since I had eaten a real meal- something more than alligator jerky from a roadside stand and gas station coffee- so, what normally would have deterred me, did not. Instead, I sat down and ordered a family meal, 8 pieces of fried chicken with a few globs of mashed potatoes and a healthy dripping handful of collard greens. In one’s hypothetical malnourished state, they can make seemingly foolish decisions, perhaps head-butting an unknown assailant in the parking lot of a grocery store- yes, definitely having a ready and available supply of food is an important aspect of surviving a road trip.
The meal went fast. Occasionally, I would look up to make sure I wasn’t being trailed by the grocery store gang, but most of my time was spent shoving various combinations of the poultry and vegetables into my mouth. Time ceased to exist, there was only satisfaction and pleasure. When my meal was finished and I entered back into the mortal realm, it was getting late. Not too late, not late by most young adult’s standards, not too late to get a drink or maybe even catch a movie, but too late for me. Between the Publix and Maryland Fried Chicken, I decided, or more aptly realized, that I needed to get out of Florida. Not because I didn’t love it, because, even with the unsavory events of recent moments, the sun still shone here and the girls still looked good- but because I felt myself slowly fading away, losing any grasp on the reality I had spent 24 years building up. It was getting late and I needed to retire back to the Budget Inn and Suites.
“Maybe there would be some interesting movie on HBO” I thought, “these places always have HBO”.