The Diaries: From Athens’ Olympus to Carbon Hill, AL
We leave the St. Augustine area after lunch with Redrik’s Ma.
The adventure (re)begins. Head towards Atlanta, which Redrik has never seen (I saw it during part 1). It’s night out by the time we divert to Athens, a college town.
The town’s alive – last summer I visited just after graduation, and the streets fluttered lazily. Tonight masses of students with red T-shirts and Bulldogs’ apparel clamor into the bars. We’re in luck, the Big Game between UGA and Georgia Tech took place today, winners are out to feast and losers down to drown sorrow.
Waffle a burrito and Mexican food, along with a pitcher of Dos Equis, before going out. Things are about to get nasty.
It starts with a conversation about politics. Damn politics. I don’t like talking about them, and can get fired up when I do, which is another reason that I don’t like talking about them.
We’re both a pitcher in and somewhat drunker than expected. We return to the car intending to forget about it and go out. There’s no need to move it. Redrik steps into the driver’s seat.
I hop into the passenger seat, uncomfortably.
Now, in the past, and even before hitting the road for part 2, I’ve had this discussion with Redrik. If you may recall, I taught him how to drive in the weeks prior to the road-trip, and he got his license. And then we embarked on a 9,000 mile cross-country journey.
So, however irresponsible I may be, I’m serious about drinking and driving. Don’t do it. (See how that unfolds in the future…) And I’ve told him so before, and sternly at that, that it’s the one thing I wouldn’t mess around with, and wouldn’t let him mess around with – forcefully if needed.
We drive one block and very nearly jam into an oncoming car as we turn right. Crowds of drunk collegians roam erratically from sidewalk onto street. Cops are out looking for irresponsible drivers.
“Park this fucking car.” A block later – which confirmed the uselessness of moving the car in the first place – a large spot opens up in front of a crowded bar.
We first rear into the curb. Redrik pulls out and gives it another try. I am mute with anger. After the fifth failed try, he drives out of the spot. We go another two blocks to find a spot.
The street’s pretty empty. There’s just one car behind us, twenty feet away. Redrik rears drunkenly, doesn’t brake, and we crunch into it. That does it. As I step out of the car:
“You’re really a dipshit.” And I mean it. (Sorry man.)
“Can’t even park a car without rear-ending someone else.”
And at that, Redrik slammed the gas. I ran after the car, but already he was gone.
Is he off for good? Unlikely. Still, it stinks.
Besides taking unnecessary and altogether foolish risks, both for ourselves and others, there’s something else which I deeply resent (and told him so when we argued in Fernandina): I do not like any use of the car as a form of blackmail. It is after all, for all practical – and impractical – purposes, our house. Our lives are in it. Our lives depend on it.
He calls me not too long after. “Where are you?”
“By the cinema.”
When he comes back, he tries to dismiss the last fifteen minutes. Just wants a drink. I can’t seem to let him. Can’t… con… TROL!
Lunge at him and dig index and thumb into his trachea, backing him against the wall. Clench my fist and make the motion several times – heartfelt at that – of swinging it into his face.
Some dudes stop by in the street. Moved (or unmoved) perhaps more out of curiosity than altruism.
“Go on. We’re cool, don’t worry.”
They leave. Amazing what cool people do nowadays.
Things ‘quiet’ down. We talk – Redrik stands at a few cautious paces.
I share the above reasons for my rage (which do not justify its output). Tell him I don’t care any more about his involvement – or lack thereof – in the project. That I’d been hoping for it, that I’ve been pushing to get him off the ground, but that I’ll deal with it. That I feel like he let me down. But that I’ve come to grips with it.
I must eventually share a bit more about Redrik’s story. But not quite yet.
Have I? Yeah, I think I have. I’m still hoping, but I’m no longer expecting it of him. Survival will suffice. We’re dying here. Literally. We’re killing each other.
“There’s no coming back from this.” He may be right.
For the first time, we talk about splitting.
I can tell he’s been thinking about it over the last few days, when we were shelled in the comfort of the hotel room. It’s been three weeks on the road and we’re both exhausted and tense. We haven’t even begun the long leg of the journey. It’s now certain that we won’t make it in the 5 to 6 weeks we had planned for. And the road’s about to get thick.
“Look, I’m really sorry, but what would you say if we ended it here?”
Careful. We’re both at breaking point. I hardball it.
“You’d expect me to thank you for this?”
Shit. Fucking drama. We both hate it.
Get a drink – people out and about but hardly in a mood to mingle. Later we return to the car, which he parked in a discreet lot of the UGA campus.
I guess we’ll see tomorrow. But already it has been decided. We must go on.
I roll out the sleeping bag onto the grainy tar of the parking lot. The warm air wraps around maternally, sweet with the smell of summer trees.
Work at the coffee house all day on my job. In the evening we go out in search for a bar. Interview some people here and there: a young couple going to UGA, an educated punk, a street cleaner and a barber (as well as her customer).
Not much activity in the evening. People must still be hung over.
I sleep out in the lot, again. It feels good to stretch legs.
Into Atlanta – drive around. Cook some beans and chicken chunks in the street.
Coke World (which I’d visited last year), interviews with a Hassidic couple from Israel, an Indian tourist, a French teenager, a former monk who now drives a graffiti-covered car, an African American in a wheel chair whose view on life dramatically changed after a near-death experience.
Work at a terrace in the grungier district, by the zoo. There’s a small metal placard on the door:
“In God We Trust. All Others Pay Cash.”
They also sell their own brand of Tabasco sauce.
Buy a loaf of bread and some cheese from the local community market. We go to the Vortex to have a drink. I have a lemonade. People are playing poker and downing Pabst Blue Ribbons. Wonder if it’s legal.
It rained today. I’d like to sleep outside. Find a café’s wooden deck shielded from street view. Will do.
Walk in the morning, some pictures. And then out.
We drive out on the same road I took last year. It’s a strange feeling. Being back where you were before. I can think of more pleasant ones.
Cross the Alabama state line, firework shops sprout instantly. The roads are undergoing construction; trucks, drizzle, then rain.
A previously unnoticed churning noise alarms us. A flat tire? Halt at a truckers’ rest stop, have some chicken pasta salad. Tire looks fine. I take the wheel. More rain. Make it Birmingham, AL. The day’s grey. And it ain’t pretty.
Deep into The Bible Belt. Stop for a beer, some work, at Jim & Nick’s BBQ.
The dishes pile high, gigantous mounds of food. We don’t eat though. Alabama has one of the worst obesity rates in the country, close to 30%.
Rain carries on unabated, with the feistiness of springtime.
The city and diner remind of my stop in Chattanooga, TN. But maybe that’s just me. Or the weather.
Will be driving out to nowhere, towards Memphis, and stop by for the night. Possibly tomorrow too.
Elect Carbon Hill as our destination for the night. A small, decrepit Alabama town. A blurb from the coal mining era. Curtains of rain drape around the car as we drive through. Follow the GPS and address indicated by Google Maps. Now on a small country road. Doesn’t look right.
“You have arrived.” There’s a field and lonely rural home.
Lucky we didn’t book this computer-generated hoax. Have to backtrack cursingly to Jasper. Book another motel, I’m careful to check the map this time: doesn’t look quite right either, some six to eight miles away from the town.
And yet, we blindly follow the blue arrow. To end up forty minutes later up a sinuous hill, surrounded by trees and in the middle of the ceaseless rainfall.
“Must be the one we saw in town.”
“Yeah, must be.” It is.
The room is clean and comfortable. It’s only the third time we book a room for ourselves since we departed. A welcome change.
Outside though, the dreary spectacle of America at its most common denominator. A single road stretches through the neon menus of fast-food franchises and gas stations. That’s it.
Taco Bell, Papa Johns and Mc Donald’s are the only ones left fighting for the handful of dollars of the rare traveler. Few options for one seeking to avoid fast-food superchains. I munch on a tuna sandwich.
Starchy breakfast at the motel.
We head back to Carbon Hill. Sun’s out, paints a more positive picture, though by no means prosperous. It seems we’ll be shortening our stay in Alabama, which I regret. Redrik’s not really into this ‘scene’, which I can only understand. Can’t say I love it, but it fits within my approach to this trip and project. Get few, and poor, pictures. Some interviews. Have the feeling I’m hacking the job. And it’s a feeling I dislike.
We haven’t once heard ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ on the radio.
For the first time, I allow myself some sleep while Redrik’s driving. Much needed.
We’re headed towards Mississippi, the King’s birthplace, and on to Memphis, where he last reposed.