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Gone Walkabout, Day Two: In Which My Ulterior Motives Are Revealed

Posted by kozemp on December 11, 2009

Beginning, as they say, at the beginning, this morning brought with it yet one more awful superlative to add to an already-long list of awful superlatives:

Today, I was colder than I ever have been in my entire life.

Before this morning the coldest I had ever been was on Valentine’s Day of 2005. (That isn’t a Valentine’s Day crack, I just remember the date.) It was about a month after we closed Hurlyburly and Janice, who played Darlene, was appearing in a benefit performance of The Vagina Monologues. It had been snowing for the better part of a day and it was fucking freezing cold to boot , but I had promised her I’d go and I’m a sucker for charity (a charity performance being the only possible way to make me pay to see the unmitigated crap that is The Vagina Monologues).

Between the foot-plus of snow and the performance being at the Prince (which meant trying to park downtown in a foot-plus of snow), I decided to take SEPTA. But between the continuing snow and blowing wind it was damnably, ridiculously cold. I had bundled myself up in three layers of normal clothing and even borrowed my father’s gigantic goose down parka, winter cap and thermal gloves. I had taken every precautionary measure against cold that was possible, save the surefire measure of not actually going outside.

Getting down there at 8 o’clock wasn’t too bad. My father drove me the two blocks to Frankford Avenue so I could wait for the bus in the car, and back then the 66 dropped you off right by the door to the station at Bridge and Pratt.

Coming back at 2 in the morning, though, that was another story. The 66 only runs twice an hour that time of night, and back then the 66 loaded way the hell up Bridge Street, about a block from the station and with no protection from the elements. I must have just missed one bus when I got off the El or they were running behind on account of the weather, because I stood out there on Bridge Street in the snow for a solid half hour FREEZING MY FUCKING ASS OFF.

I actually recall thinking at the time that if it wasn’t so goddamn cold it would have been quite pretty. It was the middle of the night and there was no one around for blocks and the snow kept cars off the road, so between the snow and the lack of traffic it was about as close to silent as it ever gets at Bridge and Pratt. And since it’s a major SEPTA station the entire area was floodlit to the hilt with orange sodium lights, which combined with the snow to make an oddly beautiful winter scene, ruined only by the fact that it was FUCKING FREEZING.

Before today, the coldest I had ever been was a half hour on a city street. This morning we surpassed that in a parking lot in a little over 90 seconds.

I remarkably managed to get out of bed this morning (more on that later) promptly at 7AM, and once I checked out I had to make the unfortunate walk from the hotel lobby to my car. Now you might be thinking, and rightfully so, that a walk from a hotel lobby to a car shouldn’t ordinarily be that unfortunate. And under most circumstances you would be correct.

In this case, however, it was unfortunate because a temperature of 11 degrees Fahrenheit and sustained winds of 40MPH translate to a wind chill of approximately -15. That isn’t in the frostbite zone – it misses by a few degrees – but it hardly matters. That is Death Cold.

In the summer here (well, home here, not here-right-now-in-Saint-Louis-here) we talk about really hot days where you walk outside and the humidity is like getting hit by something. A wet sock, a hot towel, pick your metaphor. -15 degree wind chill isn’t like that. It’s not like getting hit by something. It’s… I dunno, it’s the OPPOSITE of getting hit by something, if such a concept exists.

When you first step outside you simply register that it’s cold out, and that’s it’s very cold and oh my, isn’t this unpleasant, but that feeling only lasts for a little less than a second. Before that second is up you get hit with the wind, and that is… I’m not sure I can even describe it. It’s like the life gets sucked out of you. Not only life, but the very WILL to live (/snicker, end of Episode III, /snicker). Remember reading the Jack London story “To Build a Fire” in 7th grade? It’s that kind of cold. You just want to stop. You might as well, it feels like you’re closing in on absolute zero anyway. It’s the kind of cold that makes you think, “you know, I’m a basically good person, I’m pretty sure I’ll end up in heaven.” Cold like that is what it feels like to be a monster in Final Fantasy and have someone cast Shiva on you.

Put it this way: when I stepped out of my hotel this morning, it was too cold for me to shout profanities about how cold I was.

But, hey, going back to the getting out of bed thing, I have a confession to make: the LaSalle-Kansas game isn’t the only reason I embarked on this ridiculous excursion.

One of the problems that comes out of the nuclear annihilation of my lower back is that sleeping in my bed hurts. A lot. This is some bizarre function of the fact that my bed is a twin and it is JUST big enough that I can lie in it but cannot roll over. If I roll over in my bed I hit the wall next to it. For the last however many years this has never been a problem – when I rolled over into the wall I’d wake up for a second or two, shift myself into a more comfortable position, and go back to sleep.

NOW, though, thanks to some fabulous biological alchemy, when I roll over into the wall next to my bed it feels like someone is jabbing the business end of a katana into my lower back and I wake up screaming. I put up with this for a little while but eventually decided, in the interest of sleeping through the night without excruciating pain, to sleep in the recliner in the living room. It’s reasonably comfortable and, most importantly, I can’t roll over and hit anything. I don’t sleep that well on my back, but sleeping through the night a bit restlessly is far preferable to being woken up every hour or so by every single pain receptor below my waist.

But a road trip, now, hang on a second. A road trip means hotels. Hotels mean king- and queen-size beds. Bigger beds means being able to sleep without bumping into anything.

Seeing LaSalle play Kansas in person AND sleeping in an actual bed for a week? Sign me the fuck up.

I wish I had more interesting stories about the road today, but aside from one big thing and a couple little things (which I will get to shortly) nothing that good happened on this leg. No detours through unanticipated states, that’s for sure. As I mentioned yesterday, the stretch of road between Columbus and St. Louis may be the most boring stretch of highway in the Western Hemisphere. It’s farms. And more farms. And more farms. There’s a city or two, sure, but one of them is Indianapolis, for Chrissakes. And it’s flat. It’s the flattest thing you’ve ever seen. Flat farms. For 450 miles. It’s death.

But, I have another confession to make: the LaSalle-Kansas game and sleeping in beds weren’t the only reasons I decided to make this trip.

I could have flown to Kansas City for the game and stayed in a hotel out there. It would have meant less driving and thus less hotels and thus less sleeping in beds, and it would have been slightly cheaper, and I am documented as being really, really, REALLY bad with airplanes, but I still could have done it. Some people are saying that I SHOULD have done it, that I must be mad to willingly drive to Kansas City (and beyond) when I could just take some NyQuil and get on a plane.

To that I say: I drove out here for two reasons.

1) My car is more comfortable than an airplane.

2)

About goddamned time.

After many long years, finally.

I haven’t had breakfast at a Waffle House since I was in Amarillo in December of 2000. Many long years have I waited, and my long wait was worth it.

Waffle House is a shining exemplar of The Pizza Hut Theory (“Pizza Hut is not pizza, but it is delicious”), so much so that I think it should really be renamed The Waffle House Theory. For breakfast this morning I consumed a waffle with butter and syrup, bacon, coffee and orange juice. The coffee came from ground up coffee beans and I am reasonably certain the syrup was actually refined molasses, but other than that the names of everything else I ate are cruel misnomers at best.

A Waffle House “waffle” is not like anything you’d get anywhere else. For starters, it’s as big as a dinner plate. When you first see it from a distance you balk at its sheer size. The thing is like a foot across. There’s no way I can finish that big a waffle, you think. Then the waffle gets placed in front of you and you notice the second odd thing about it – it’s the size of a dinner plate and about as thick.  The thing might be a quarter of an inch high if it’s that much. The foodstuff I was given that was marked “butter” was nothing of the sort. It had never been near a cow. As near as I could figure it had never even been near a food science laboratory; if you’d told me it was dropped off here by aliens I would have seriously considered the possibility. The “bacon” did not come from any animal you or I would recognize as a pig and did not even taste remotely like bacon. The three strips of fried matter I was told were bacon more closely resembled wooden paint stirrers in consistency and and sturdiness than anything involving pork and salt. The orange juice was, and I say this quite literally and with zero comic exaggeration, the most vile tasting liquid I have ever consumed in my life, and that includes once having a shot of Three Wise Men.

However, despite these obvious deficiencies, I WOULD EAT THIS SHIT THREE MEALS A DAY FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE IF I COULD.

This would, of course, not be a particularly LONG life, but it would be a life suffused to the breaking point with pure pleasure. Despite its highly dubious pedigree the atavistic joy of eating Waffle House breakfast cannot be understated. This is the best tasting food on earth and for the most part it ISN’T EVEN FOOD.

It’s a good thing that I only get Waffle House once every ten years or so when I drive across the country, because if this shit were less than two days’ drive away the sheer level to which I would fuck up my insides would make my endocrinologist faint in terror.

(Hi, Dr. Cavale!)

Much like my fateful reunion with Waffle House, the other minorly interesting things that happened today – the only things, in fact, to punctuate the brain-crushing boredom that was the run from Waffle House to St. Louis – were also cross-country classics.

Since the scenery, for the most part, is such absolute shit one of the truly interesting things on the road once you get out into the Midwest is the insane things you will see on the back of trucks.

First up today was the true classic, and perhaps the greatest single realization of the form, the “truck towing like three other trucks.”

There has to be a filthy euphemism for the second truck on the stack.

This can't be safe.

I’ve only seen one of these so far, but as I get into Oklahoma and Texas I am certain there will be more.

This afternoon, though, came the mother of all “weird things on trucks.”

Is that a tank?

Are you kidding me?

That, my friends, is a tank.

A TANK.

On the back of a truck. And not, like, an army truck. A privately-contracted hauler.

Which means that someone BOUGHT this tank and shipped it someplace.

God, I love this country.

Tomorrow: a quick shot to Kansas City.

JLK

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