Fear and Loathing Along I-5

This past Thanksgiving was by no means dull and ordinary, but rather chaotic and unusual to say the least. The holiday revolved around anxiety, road rage, paranoia, utter lunacy, immense amounts of caffeine followed by massive withdrawals and an array of highs and lows consisting of delusional emotions and violent perverse themes. The journey that these erratic behaviors were spawned, was on a 26 hour trek from Seattle to San Diego in a Pontiac Grand Prix occupied by three comrades and I.

We were heading down to a giant sober Young People’s Conference not aware the I-5 drive would encompass sporadic rhythms of neurosis and frequent threats of bodily harm. Which fundamentally became the heart of the journey.

The road trip began later than anticipated. We left the dreary wetlands around 9pm on Thanksgiving Eve. Like usual, I was consuming absurd quantities of coffee while clenching my jaw from over-stimulation. On a long-haul drive, I make certain to have some sort of caffeinated beverage between my legs to carry me though the hours of lethargy and fatigue.

On this excursion, we were equipped with a plethora of music; in fact, at times we ourselves were the music. An orchestra assembled with foul-mouth obscenities, ludicrous renditions of songs and air-solos that would make Bill and Ted kneel in humility.

The car’s aroma was on the verge of caving in with sweat and over-moist turkey. We had a mini-cooler containing leftover turkey carvings and Halloween candy. Every time the lid opened, a surge of odor was released we could not tolerate. So a simple solution to the problem would’ve been to throw the turkey out the window. But my mother slaved over that turkey, and nobody was going to carelessly toss it away. Our revelation to the dilemma was a beaded potpourri necklace purchased at the local gas station. This got the job done immediately, however, the fragrance was similar to the terror of a dozen showgirls’ powder rooms, arousing headaches and dazed perceptions. The unfortunate thing was we had only one stick of nag champa to invigorate our senses back to ease and 1,200 miles to go.

Before driving too far south, we had to pick-up our friend in Portland. Easier said than done. We got lost! A five-minute pit stop off the freeway became a twenty-five minute rat race. We found our friend waiting in the cold along side the street, managed to cram him among the random debris and was off again.

By now, we had accepted the reality we were not arriving in San Diego by the desired time. The clock read 1:00 am and we had just ventured out of Portland. Our friend had no idea the ride he was in for. The caffeine-induced tension was apparent, but not unsettling, it was to set the mood for the next several hours.

One important factor to keep in mind is that during an extensive road trip, lapses in time are routine occurrences. Memory loss soon kicks in, while the mind struggles to remain active and the body fights to sleep (perhaps it may be the other way around). It is an enduring process, but necessary. Adrenaline is a primary source for insomnia, which is why I persisted to lash out in manic episodes. Keep the body mobile and the mind will follow. These are significant demeanors that I sought to abuse throughout the trip. The notion of quality sleep seemed impossible and was disregarded as a pipedream. If one of us were to doze off, we’d risk the chance of being the center of a drastic prank.

Another factor that aided in my insomnia was the constant worry of crashing. We arrived at the pass in southern Oregon. The sharp turns and black night induced paranoia that griped my nerves like a cokehead locked in a motel on window-patrol. One wrong turn of the wheel would send us off the cliff into the dark abyss. It was a fear that I kept to myself and nurtured with irrational thoughts. Nobody needs drugs to prompt paranoia!

The only way to distract myself from the fear was to sing along to the music like a karaoke fanatic warm with enthusiasm. My outbursts were accompanied by my fellows’ obscene antics. It’s an amazing sound when three people are yelling at the top of their lungs in sync. I could already feel my throat getting hoarse. From time to time I glanced out into oblivion catching a glimpse of light off the snowdrifts. The energy was raw among us, but I still had moments of reflection. Even paranoia couldn’t break the gratitude I felt for the experience I was embarking upon.

We were anxious to reach California. The border came and went as we shouted in camaraderie. We still had the entire state to drive through, a fact we weren’t keen about. The sun was slowly rising beneath the mountains, but the sky remained dark burning with twilight. We stopped at a look out point to embrace the serenity, and pondered over our voyage down the west coast, the vast mountain range lying ahead and the idea that we were doing this in solidarity.
Sacramento was the next stop. By now it was light out and our stomachs growled in gluttony. I was coming down from caffeine and the unease set in. No time for deep thought, I was a fiend for coffee and food. This city resembled Olympia and Tacoma combined. It was desolate in places, inhabited by homeless folk attired in grimy rags strolling around with their shopping carts. Segments of the concrete jungle were in decay. The city was plagued with disabled people worn down from the years of social decline. How many generations had these people been like this without help? My heart was heavy with grief. Spending two years in the social services does something to you. I felt for these drifters. Perhaps I was a little sleep deprived, but I didn’t enjoy what I saw.

The main attraction of the city was the shopping center. Happy-go-lucky families roamed the boutiques with their Starbucks lattes and penny loafers, unaware that across the street people were recycling their wardrobe day after day fighting for a piece of cardboard among the decadence. The scene disturbed me. Here was Gary, Indiana all over again. The capital of California was adorned with prestigious historic buildings lying in shame among a society in hopeless and apathetic morale.

Countless hours went by at the speed of 70 miles per hour. The middle of California is garnished with nothing but orchards. Boredom prevailed. No turning back now, we still had another sunset and rise to go. No sleep, or blissful feelings of unity. I couldn’t even fancy them among my imagination. The car was saturated from the rotten smell of socks and sweat.

My body ached in pain. I had been sitting in the same position for too long. I was crammed, exhausted and angry. The anger was probably the only cause in staying awake. It fueled my thoughts. Oh how I wished to fall into a deep sleep. But God wouldn’t allow that. Suddenly I realized the car was merging into the right lane alongside another. I shouted in pure horror not able to speak in my native tongue. No one knew what was happening until they looked back at me and understood we were going to sideswipe another car and possibly die. My friend clutched the steering wheel and gained control. Having been in previous wrecks, the paranoia returned with vengeance. We all remained silent for a moment digesting the seriousness of what happened. Without hesitation, my friend to the left of me awoke in dismay and yelled, “What the f#ck? What the f#ck is going on?” The driver cleverly rebutted, “What? F#ck you man, f#ck you! Shut the f#ck up?” I laughed and provoked them into more verbal warfare. It worked!

The rhapsody was long gone. I couldn’t comprehend anything positive. Here I was stuck in the middle of nowhere, with less legroom than on an airplane. My friend at the wheel was in no ecstatic mood. He had succumbed to the vicious coma of road rage, and nothing could divert his attention. I was frightened. But what could I do? Sit back in contempt and combat my ill conscience.

The remainder had its ups and downs, mostly downs. A major theme at the heart of the expedition was “fight club” (yeah, just like the film). When anyone felt another got out of order, those two words were said and either they shut their mouth, or the car was stopped and fight club ensued. There were numerous threats, but it occurred on our drive back to Seattle at a Los Angeles donut shop. The confrontation was a portrayal of too much caffeine along with barbaric tendencies. I was only a witness.

The conference was a minority of the trip. My journey consisted of the macabre adventures we suffered on the road. What laid ahead on northbound I-5 aggravated my senses to the point of self-destruction. Words merely offer a glimpse into my deprived soul. I had lost most of my voice and my body was plagued with agony, burdened by the senseless torture I put it through. I was breaking down minute after minute. No amount of coffee or Rockstar could ease the pain. Twenty-six hours to go until I was free from the bondage of upholstery. I felt death creeping about.

To be continued . . .

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