On a Highway to Hell

Twisting one’s way at a snail’s pace via a rented motor vehicle up or down the West Coast’s famed Route 1, oohing and ahhing at the almost unnaturally natural scenery that envelopes it from every direction, always seems like a good idea. Or at least in my case, has seemed like a great idea twice before. It is true, you’d be hard pressed to find a single other road in these United States that offers as many stunning views in such rapid succession. And the few small towns that exist between Ventura and Santa Cruz, tucked amongst the tall trees of Big Sur, offer a chance at an oft sought sort of peace away from our daily routines that so many of us seek.

Before I paint my brain’s ugly version of the experience, it would be fair to the road to let you know that our most recent jaunt upon it was in a Prius. A car that delighted me with its gas mileage, but left me uneasy each and every time I went to slow its front-loaded chassis as we sailed into declining turns atop sunlit cliffs, and kept me guessing right after those serpentine kinks with the sickly growl it created while struggling to accelerate back up the mountain while various Beamers, Audis, and the like taunted it from behind. Their drivers apparently with bees in their bonnets–desperate to arrive at some future destination as quickly as possible, and not at all making the same journey in order to observe the reams and reams of jagged rocks that lay to the west of what at times felt like eight, maybe nine, total feet of asphalt.

Still, ultimately, the Prius and my steadfast commitment to driving like an old codger protecting a family of seven got us from Point A to Point Portland. Had it rained much, I’m not sure I’d be able to say the same.

I love to drive long distances–few things relax me more, though in a rental I’m less inclined to light up a smoke while I cover those miles. And that section of Route 1, and some section further up in Northern California, on their worst days couldn’t even come close to ranking as precarious as some of the roads my wife and I have navigated in Costa Rica, where at times the only thing between you and certain death is one or two inches of dirt road to the right or left of the vehicle, that is defying all logic with its refusal to crumble into the ocean below it like the previous six or seven inches of road clearly had before. Those drives of 2011 were some of my favorites–a testament to how my brain writes a revisionist history for us both, as I’m simultaneously positive that I must have been silently cursing the beings who believed a road like that should exist in a place where it rains three to four straight months in the fall.

Similar to Costa Rica, there are scars all along Route 1–evidence of previous mudslides, mishaps, fires and huge chunks of landmass missing, the victims of former storms, and often at the most delicate intersections of manmade bridges and the mountain’s desire to shed some weight. Perhaps the reason for such prevalent speedy driving along that road is the theory that you can outrun the potential dangers. I know I gunned it once or twice, as much as you can gun a Prius, believing that the next slide area might be the last slide area we’d ever visit, and our only chance was to dash through it as quickly as possible.

The sounds of sirens, sadly not the kind that coax you into plowing your sea vessel head first into rocks, might have served as a warning of what lie ahead on ol’ Route 1–at least tipped off a more savvy couple of drifters–but not us, no sir. Even after watching all manner of emergency vehicle race North into the hills from the Elephant Seal Viewing parking lot, we hopped back in the Prius to move forward with our plan of maybe catching a quick hike before sunset somewhere around the cozy cabin that awaited us only sixty short miles that same direction.

Let me partake in scribing the utterly overused phrased, “it has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words.” Here’s three that capture the dilema our decision to press forward on that mighty two-lane highway thrust us upon. Photographic evidence of what for nearly an hour and a half felt like the first minutes into a new future that would at some point loosely resemble last night’s season three premiere of AMC’s The Walking Dead.

Never mind you what might have been the impetus to that complete standstill–though the rumors floated around by the more curious, and thusly the more annoying, of the stranded onlookers that joined us there atop that mountain indicated something along the lines of a drunk driver who crashed his or her SUV into the mountain side, setting it ablaze. Word on the street also indicated that the occupants of that vehicle had walked away from the wreckage unscathed. So see, your real concern should center somewhere around the safety of me and the Mrs.

“So you were inconvenienced, Rosch? Who gives a flying f-bomb?” You say?

Let me lay a few of my own thoughts from the incident before you for your consideration: Did the engineers of that particular stretch of road ever take into consideration the potential havoc the sheer weight of that many vehicles stuck on that cliff might result in after years of soaking in rains and baking in harsh summer suns? When was the last time a good rockslide had rolled through that passage, and what are the chances that a boulder or two might use the opportunity to make its plunge while there were sitting targets to strike? I know if I were a boulder on my way out, I’d like to take a few folks with me for good measure–go down as the most legendary of rocks to ever slide down the mountain, a sort of folk hero for all the remaining boulders to tell their pebbles about before bedtime. How long does it take for a group of impatient drivers–as evidenced by their desire to pass me at every opportunity–to begin some sort of revolt or riot? How many unwatched children will have to peer over the side of this road until one finally vanishes right before my eyes? Can I make it overnight on only the backwash of the Diet Coke sitting snugly beside me and the four cigarettes left in my pack? If there is a fire ahead, and it decides to make its way south down Route 1, can we outrun it? At what point will this Prius’ parking brake make a mockery of modern engineering by releasing the vehicle backwards and into the BMW behind me? Are there mountain lions perched just above us, feeling frisky and totally stoked to have a buffet of folks with almost no exit strategy before them? And if so, will the Prius’ windows hold up to their advances as well as the windows of the hatchback that protected that little blonde boy and his mother in the 80’s Stephen King flick, Cujo? Do we have any real visual guarantees that all of this has been caused by a car wreck at all? Isn’t it possible that this is just the beginning of some sort of infection, and up ahead the police have begun a useless quarantine roadblock of sorts, and simply hadn’t gotten around to letting all of us know our days were numbered? And finally, certainly not the last thought I had, but the final for the purposes of this post–would they hold our room at the cabin if we didn’t show on time, and if not, are we destined to check into something we hadn’t researched the likes of the Pinewood Motel from the movie Vacancy?

I gave long thought and pause to these and many more potential scenarios, and don’t mind telling you that my money was squarely on that last one. After all, what better ending to an intense story of survival amongst the elements than the surprise twist that finds our heros being butchered for snuff films? The answer, of course, is none.

Advertisements

Beantown Bridge

As you may or may not know, I’ve moved to Boston. If you were/are trying to hunt me down to exact some horrific revenge, and weren’t aware of that already, well, I don’t suspect it’s in my best interest to increase your hatred for me with my telling you that you kinda stink at stalking. Regardless, now you know about my new locale, and knowing is half the battle–even if your battle is the demons of your ineptitude as it pertains to finding me to extinguish from this plane.

Just over a week in, I can tell you that moving to Boston from NYC has been beyond really swell. If you’ve ever been in and around Boston, I imagine you are already privy to the majority of reasons one might find it a refreshing change of pace from the sparkly rat-trap a few hours southwest via I-95. It’d also be easy for one to surmise that said refreshing change of pace might soften the armor of a guy whose life is built around semi-irrational hallucinatory fears.

Ha. Have you been on the antiquated land connecting structure that is referred to around here as a bridge by the name of Tobin? Bridges–I hate ’em. Since I’m nearly 40 years old, and still alive, I guess I can’t say bridges hate me too. How deeply do I despise these elevated sheeple motor movers in the sky? Almost enough to plan most of my daily living around them.

“That bridge isn’t going anywhere, Rosch!” You say?

Who said anything about falling bridges? I’ve always been infinitely more concerned about taming the odd desire to swerve the car wickedly fast into the barrier to see if it’s possible to go over it. Am I alone on this similar to feeling-like-you-might-not-be-able-to-control-yourself-from-jumping-from-tall-buildings sensation? Perhaps. And yes, I’m aware that most bridges provide adequate barriers to prevent cars from just toppling over the sides. That said, I’ve seen a story or two about the odd car that made it over the side of a bridge unexpectedly. Oh, it happens–it happens–it just takes commitment to the cause. A commitment that, thankfully, I’ve not had the desire to keep.

*It’s worth noting that my fear of bridges might stem from–surprise, surprise-my mother, who always insisted we roll the windows down when we crossed one just in case we tumbled over. The thinking being, we’d stand a better chance of escaping the murky depths without having to navigate the pressure pushing against a sealed door. She’s a smart one that mother of mine–crazy as all get out–but one step ahead just the same.

Hostel Dentistry

Blame Delta Airlines, that’s my motto. Sunday evening I took a red-eye to Prague, CZ. When I got on the plane, I had nothing wrong going on in my mouth other than the nearly lifeless tastebuds smoking gifts me that currently inhabit the surface of my tongue. But when I awoke, there were the beginning inklings of what I surmised might be a loose filling. How Delta Airlines is responsible for what by Wednesday had turned into a full-on tooth ache isn’t really important. It’s simply important to have someone to blame, and I have chosen them and not the tobacco companies, the M&Ms I crunched upon relentless pre-nap, nor am I willing to blame the age of that particular filling, which I think has been riding around in my head for over twenty years now. It’s a trooper that filling! A gutsy little metallic mofo that refuses to let go and die. How do I know that it is still clinging to what’s left of that tooth like a champ? Because I caved and had the production company book me a visit to a dentist here in Prague.

I was pretty proud of myself, “This is a real adult move,” I said to no one with near visible self-high-fives. “An adult doesn’t let everything he thinks of the Eastern European Block, that he has based almost solely on the flick Hostel, prevent him from seeking the pre-emptive treatment he deserves.” My rah-rah-Rosch moment was short lived, and slowly the very things that movie and its successors taught me about the inhabitants of this part of the world grew, until they were large enough to stomp any delight in my decision. That said, it was too late to turn back. This whiney baby had made quite the fuss about his tooth, and arrangements to see a specialist had been made on his behalf–to tell them I wasn’t going to go through with it might brand me a liar about toothaches, and that’s a particular type of liar I aspire not to be. Filthy buggers that lot.

So, I laid my head to my pillow, quite late I might add, and did the only sensible thing a man in my situation could do: I watched a slightly crappy, but full version, of The Descent on YouTube. My mind quickly relented and those slimy cave-suckers all but erased any thoughts I was entertaining about the possible outcomes of my visit to the dentist a short six hours from that moment.

This morning I was greeted by a lovely woman by the name of Veronika. She assured me she would sit with me to translate, and I found that reassuring, but I wasn’t entirely convinced that she wouldn’t be in on the sale of my body to others for the sport of torture. Perhaps she was too nice about it all, and as we took a cab, instead of a sanctioned production van, to a part of Prague covered in the most sure tell that indicates bad parts of town, graffiti–graffiti I couldn’t even understand at that–I began to more than suspect, and indeed decided to believe that she wasn’t above dropping off some ad schmuck from the states at a place of the illest repute imaginable (Cameron, I know illest isn’t a word, go with it).*

We went inside, the office itself smelled delightful. “Very nice,” I thought. And then began a brain loop of an old Wendy’s commercial where there is an Eastern European fashion show taking place–”Svim Vear, Very Nice. Svim Vear, Very Nice.” My escort introduced me to the dentist himself. That struck me as odd, and yet I proceeded into the next room. I lay down upon the chair, a horrendous looking beast of a contraption next to all manner of deadly instruments, nothing unusual about that. Veronika left the room. The moment of truth: This would be where I finally met my Level 9 Destiny, I would be dead soon, but victorious when my current partner was forced to utter at my funeral, “I guess he was right, that poor bastard was right.” We’ve made an arrangement to this, and I trust he’ll come through for me.

The dentist asked me to open my mouth in better English than the Starbucks baristas I hold so dear back in NYC. And so I did. He proceeded to slam a small hammer into the tooth in question, a gigantic pain coursed through my skull. “That’s the one!” I shouted. And he agreed then said, “Let’s have an X-ray, shall we?”

I got up and followed him to another room, farther removed from the front desk, and with my companion nowhere to be found. He opened a door. There was an X-ray machine there, and it looked legit, but I still couldn’t shake the absurd idea that maybe they’d tweaked it to render you unconscious upon firing it up. No struggle, no messes. Just ZAP, and I’d be ready to be moved to the dungeon that lay below that mini-mall. He exited the room, and the machine began to whirr. I took a deep breath, had a momentary panic about being radiated, and then it was over.

He opened the door, smiled large, and asked me to come have a look with him back in the first room. By now, my fears were subsiding, and I was ready to admit that today would not be the day I’d concocted at all.

After politely telling me that he saw noting, and that there was little else that could be done, he sent me on my way to pay and rejoin Veronika so that she may see me back to my hotel. And so I did.

I asked her if it was possible to walk back to my hotel, as I didn’t believe there was much point in allowing this charade to continue. It was very nice of them to make sure all my teeth were in great shape to charge a much higher price to the suit who’d pay top dollar to destroy a perfectly good pair while wearing a pig’s head in a dark dungeon and all. Very nice indeed. She seemed puzzled by my desire to forgo the cab ride back, but agreed to drop me off half-way so that I could enjoy a perfectly nice stroll on a beyond perfectly nice day here. I’d tell you that I thought this was nice of her, but a more accurate way to end this story would be tell you that I am pretty sure that just about the time I was ten feet from the cab and headed into a menacing looking park, I heard her say, “You’ve von for now Mizter Rozch, enjoy your valk, for it will be you’re very last.”

That I have turned her into some sort of vampire-talker at this point is a sure indication I’ve got no business finishing posts at one in the morning in foreign countries in the hopes of hitting my commuting friends back in the states in time for them to be able to read this post before climbing aboard their respective trains.

Thanks for taking this ride with me friends.

* My nephew assures me that actually illest is, in fact, a word. Thanks Cam.

Memorial Day Weekend Watch-Outs

I’m sure many of you are amped up, out of your minds, and ready for a three day weekend to fill your bellies and souls with food, drink, and good times. I too am looking forward to a break from the insanity that the everyday tends to load punishingly upon our shoulders. Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop, and so I’ll be keeping my own busy as I plow ahead on my next book in between gorging myself with the many delectable meats, cheeses, and chocolates I suspect will find their way to my mouth regardless of my own attempts at keeping them minimal, manageable, and at bay. Have a great time out there, be safe, and keep an eye out for some or all of the following possible scenarios that might make for a less-than-stellar weekend.

Poison Drinking Straws at Movie Theaters, Cement Trucks, Bar-b-que’d Meats Discarded from Tall Buildings, Children’s Birthday Party Scams, and don’t be so nice to someone that they decide to follow you home and kill you.

I’ll be back next week with my own observations from what I’m sure will be a weekend that lends itself to a countrified slant on my own brand of sweet, sweet Level 9 Paranoia. Until then, enjoy my silence.

No Sleep ’til…

Thirty-five hours in a car, driving from Texas to New York, gives any man a lot of time to think. Even armed with my very favorite conversation companion and the book on tape she so smartly purchased for the trip, my mind betrayed me, working overtime behind the wheel, at every rest stop, in the bathrooms of the various fast food joints we allowed ourselves to dine at, and most definitely in the curtained darkness of the two-star hotel bedrooms where we attempted to recharge. The usual themes were along for the ride: serial killers, random abductions, backwoods gas-station rapes, long, long thought given to what/who might be in every windowless van or truck we passed, or more likely passed us on our way, and, of course, the nearly constant thought – I keep it there intentionally – that one of my car’s four tires will soon burst, sending our vehicle into a scientifically proven impossibility of in-the-air three-sixties followed by an immediate crushing by the five or so eighteen-wheelers plowing towards us on their southbound route to deliver kiddie-porn into the eager hands of Arkansas pedophiles. I never stop thinking about this possibility because I operate under a rule I invented that my buddy once termed, “Peter Rosch’s Law of Surprises.” The gist being: bad things only happen when you aren’t expecting them. Think about it – ever get a ticket when you were expecting to get a ticket? Anyone ever die the day you spent thinking about them passing on? If so, maybe my Law of Surprises is just that – mine and only my law.

My wife thinks I don’t like her driving – I let her drive for about three hours of that thirty-five, and I suppose that is all the evidence some would need to validate her suspicions. In reality, I don’t trust my car. I’m not sure I trust any car. We put an awful lot of faith in our vehicles as they hurl down our nation’s asphalt-bloodline. I once saw a man in Brooklyn, go gently through an intersection, hit a pothole, only to have his driver side airbag detonate on the spot and into his coffee-cup holding hand and face. He was doing about five or ten miles per hour, and fortunately didn’t have any of the aforementioned pedo-wheelers bearing down on him from in front or behind. It was an older vehicle, but so is mine. Sometimes I’ll just stare at the embossed word “airbag” on my steering column or above my glove box, utterly convinced that it is going to pop at any moment – leaving me blinded, paralyzed, at least long enough to careen into the trees of some forgotten woods near the interstate – making it all the easier for the eyes of the hills to come down and turn me and the Mrs. into torture-play-things. Other times, I question the inner workings of the steering column itself. Has one ever just snapped? Isn’t it possible? I’m not going to bother googling to find out, because even if there is no record of it, I’d say it is at least possible. And the brakes? Sure, I’ve had them inspected recently, but how do I know the guy who looked at them didn’t see they were defective, and decide to let me drive on them anyway just because he was in a rush to get home that night and see the premiere episode of Dexter – maybe even subconsciously he’d made a decision to experiment with causing deaths on his own. Lastly, only in that it will be the last thing I mention out of the hundreds of things I think could happen with any car – new or used –  from time to time, I’ll envision what might happen if the random bounce of a still-lit cigarette might ignite under my vehicle. BOOM! Done and done. But at the very least, we won’t have to move any furniture later that night in front of our La Quinta bedroom door to prevent some thrill-kill from happening. It’s a long ride from Texas to New York, it’s an even longer ride if your a passenger in my head.

Three Minutes for Number One

It is difficult to pinpoint the exact cause behind my public bathroom/sinister abduction correlation. I surmise it is probably a combination of the following: A true tale or two about people disappearing from rest stops. My mother’s own branding of public facilities as the most foul of places and her insistence that my brother and I hold it until we got home no matter how distant home may have been. The hidden and often nearly invisible backside location of many anybody-can-use toilets at gas stations and the like.

Bottom line? When my wife has to use the can she’s got about three minutes before I count out a fourth. If she doesn’t make it back by then, terror grips my being and I start to consider all my options: Asking another woman to check on her, going in myself, whistling our special whistle from outside in the hopes that I’ll hear her do the same, or simply giving in to the notion that she has done been took.

It is at this point, when a fifth or sixth minute comes to pass, that my mind begins fabricating how telling her parents, friends, and possibly the police about her public bathroom abduction will play out later that day. Even as I am aware that typically female facilities move much slower, I am helpless to stop the crazy.

You might be asking, “What if she has to go number two?” My wife doesn’t go number two, at least not in the same mind that created the public bathroom anti-abduction three minute rule. Duh.