A while ago one of my writer friends sent me a 40-page-long account of his cross-country driving trip to Florida to take a job. His tale enthralled me. He had to drive through a nasty hurricane to get there, which was interesting, but that's not the best part of the story. The best part is his observations and interactions with interesting characters along the way.
I asked him if he'd like to try selling it on Boing Boing as an ebook, and he agreed. So he made a nice PDF file that includes the story and a couple of color photos. For personal reasons, he wishes to remain anonymous. About all I can say about him is that he has written many fiction and non fiction books and magazine articles.
As an experiment, we are selling the ebook for $1.50. The title is A Transcontinental Odyssey to the Dysfunctional Appendage of North America: Cowboy Gasoline in the Eye of the Storm.
You can buy a PDF version of the book with a credit card or PayPal here.
If you prefer, a plain text version is also available here.
What readers are saying about Cowboy Gasoline:
"Cowboy Gasoline is the true story of what it must be like to be dragged from paradise into the twilight zone. One part Carl Hiaasen, one part Rod Serling and one part George Carlin, proving again that truth is stranger than fiction." — Scott Westerman
This is a great ride ! Into "the eye of the storm" with a road warrior whose decision making process seems to be completely incomprehensible.
From his determination to leave the paradise of northern Arizona,
(because "after finding my ideal resting place I became restless"),
to his miraculous arrival at a mod con horror housing estate on
the south east coast of Florida, the trip is a continuing chain of
disastrous choices that turn out not to have been so wrong after all.
We accompany him in shocked amazement as he hacks his way
through hurricanes, breakdowns & bouts of paranoia, racing to meet
a self-imposed deadline that he refuses to abandon – no matter what.
A very funny & appealing character. One of the old school mad men.
Here's hoping we get to read a lot more of his adventures. — SK
Here is a free excerpt to whet your appetite:
A Transcontinental Odyssey to the Dysfunctional Appendage of North America: Cowboy Gasoline in the Eye of the Storm
High in the Hurricane's Eye
Traffic thins on the divided highway as I approach the oncoming edge of the hurricane. Behind me the sky is still blue; ahead, it looks like a clumsy india-ink wash drawing. I didn't expect this. Foolishly I visualized a hurricane as a delicate swirl of white and cyan–the kind of picture transmitted by weather satellites. I didn't stop to think that from ground level, looking upward, the picture would be somewhat . . . dim.
As I continue toward Birmingham the afternoon light diminishes to a level normally found only in Finland in the winter months. Then the wind starts. Since the hurricane is south of me and rotating counter-clockwise, it buffets my truck with relentless easterly blasts that do not impede my southerly progress but do try to knock me off the road. Fortunately the possessions heaped in the load area behind me inhibit the normal tendency of my Chevy to dance around like a puppy with a restless rear end. The back of the truck is anchored firmly to the asphalt by a ton of documents, storage media, books, computers, and peripheral devices.
The presence of such a great mass of cargo in such close proximity to my head provides a powerful incentive for caution and concentration. Still, if I allow the 50-mile-an-hour wind to overturn me into the ditch, being crushed under a load of computer hardware and personal effects will not be my greatest concern. I will have to face the prospect of police arriving and finding a hideously embarrassing diversity of items scattered around my truck, including old VHS porno movies, unsold manuscripts, psycho-killer DVDs, diary pages from my distant childhood, and gruesome 1960s posters by Robert Williams, greatest of the grossout 1960s underground artists, depicting glue-sniffing teenagers, an ogre chopping the arms off small boys, and other themes liable to surprise even the most tolerant liberal, let alone an Alabama Baptist. I can almost hear the State Trooper asking, "This here picture of a little kid dreaming about Hitler's head transplanted onto an octopus–this here belongs to you?"
I will have no luck pleading that a writer needs all kinds of extreme source materials to feed his muse. Any good Alabama cop knows that writers are effete liberal card-carrying ACLU members who stay up all night doing drugs with their decadent friends, desecrating the flag while performing satanistic sex rituals. It goes without saying that such people should be punished appropriately.
The gusts intensify to the point where all the big trucks abandon the highway. Each time I pass an exit I see truckers lined up along the offramp, waiting for the storm to pass–which will take a considerable time, probably twelve hours or more. Since I am already bored to distraction by my cross-country drive I can't imagine sitting and doing nothing for half a day. It may be prudent, but it is not acceptable.
The wind brings shotgun blasts of fine rain, causing me to pull onto the shoulder and check the integrity of my tarp. I'm pleased to find that my work in Texas is still secure. The intricate web of knotted twine has not loosened, and the tarp has not started flapping. My separately wrapped bicycle, tucked in at the side of the load as an afterthought, also seems to be okay. With confidence buoyed by my stash of gas and water, not to mention my food supply of nuts, raisins, and so forth, I press onward at a steady 70 while hoping that the newly aligned front end will stay aligned, the overloaded rear wheel bearings won't collapse into fragments, and the overloaded rear tires won't spontaneously explode.
Highway 78 is now almost totally empty. The disconcerting perpetual twilight creates a monochrome landscape. Twin black asphalt ribbons curve gently through gray valleys and over low knolls dimly silhouetted against the ripped sky.
As the storm intensifies the windshield becomes so heavily drenched that I feel as if I am trying to see through rippled glass. It looks as if a giant tank of water is being emptied perpetually over my truck. The new wiper blades are overwhelmed and the mechanism starts making an ominous clunk-clunk noise as it labors to throw the deluge aside. I start worrying that the linkage or the motor will fail. Without windshield wipers I could be stranded out here indefinitely.
I am forced to reduce speed, to 60 and then to 50, as I navigate my vehicle through the torrent beneath racing clouds that are now so thick and low, they obscure almost all light from the sky. Fortunately my headlights pick out a sign that warns me, "Highway Ends Ahead." Just as predicted by my map, the divided highway terminates pending completion of additional construction work, and I find myself ejected onto a two-lane blacktop through a small Alabama town. To make things more interesting the road degenerates to a patchwork of botched renovations where warning signs lie flattened by the wind and more blasts of rain create tantalizing moments in which absolutely nothing is visible.
My main concern now is that I won't reach my Best Western and will be stranded somewhere, searching endlessly for a room among motels where all rooms are occupied by hurricane refugees. Clearly I have to press on and get through Birmingham as quickly as possible, but other drivers on the two-lane road are not similarly motivated. They seem indecisive, dousing me in spray as I follow them with mounting impatience.
I manage to pass the worst offenders and up my speed to around 65 as I race onward toward the center of the storm. An errant leaf, torn from one of the trees beside the road, somehow becomes trapped under my left wiper blade and creates a water-streak that makes forward vision even more problematic. If I pull over to pluck the leaf from beneath the wiper the slow vehicles are likely to catch up and overtake me, so I lower the window, lean forward (ignoring the rain that blasts in), reach my wrist around, and just manage to grab the leaf from beneath the sweeping blade on the third attempt.
As the road widens to four lanes the rain eases off to a drizzle and I realize I must be close to the eye of the storm. I have passed through the worst of the northern half of the cyclone, and in the outer regions of Birmingham I discover the mischief that it has wrought. Here the asphalt is littered with bits of trees and stray vegetation. Businesses along the highway are all locked and abandoned. According to a local radio station, half of the city has lost its power.
I enjoy a delicious feeling of unreality as I cruise the deserted highway through gray-dead suburbia, past minimalls with their windows covered in plywood and homes where no lights are glowing.
Lifeless traffic signals encourage a feeling of liberation. A few elderly drivers proceed with caution, but others seem happy to cast aside the ritual dictates of red, yellow, and green as they speed through intersections with exuberant defiance.
After decades of fantasizing about future scenarios involving the destruction of civilization I am finally seeing a mild sample, and the transformation is a delight. The most powerful recurring symbol is the abandoned gas station, boarded up, with wind-torn fragments of yellow DO NOT CROSS tape fluttering like the banners of a defeated nation. Yesterday giant illuminated signs proclaimed the price of fuel via movable numerals, like hymn numbers to lure a discriminating congregation. Now the signs are dark, the numbers have been taken down to prevent them from being blown away, and the members of the flock have been plunged into a state of dismay and confusion, deprived of the fossil fuel that empowered so many odysseys to Wal-Mart, Target, and Home Depot. A world without gasoline is inconceivable in this suburban landscape, yet clearly the gas has gone. Overnight, the mere movement of air has caused it to disappear.
Cars circle abandoned gas stations like thirsty coyotes eyeing dry water holes. I wonder if the drivers will try to steal my red five-gallon polyethylene gas can if they see it. Clearly my best strategy is to continue driving as fast as possible.
The wind lessens as the eye of the hurricane moves to meet me and I drive into it. Finally the rain ceases altogether. And here in downtown Birmingham, near Interstate 20, I find a sight like a mirage. It is a glowing object, a sacred beacon for the faithful: An emporium calling itself Cowboy Gasoline, flamboyantly competitive and still–somehow–receiving electric power so that it can remain open for business.
I stop to refuel, happy that I don't have to consume any of my gas stash. The eye of the hurricane is not completely tranquil as has been described so often. Random breaths of wind blow from unpredictable directions, tugged by the shifting dynamics of the huge storm system around me. Tiny water droplets are borne on the air like dust motes, sparkling in the glare from Cowboy Gasoline's banks of fluorescent tubes in the canopy above the pumps.
Breathing the air is like drinking a liquid high in electrolytes. It seems charged somehow, and everyone is a little giddy. I see smiling faces. Strangers are chatting with each other and making jokes.
A woman at the register inside Cowboy Gasoline's Food Court gives me precise directions to I-20, warning me that the usual on-ramp has been closed by flooding. With reluctance I leave this haven of bright lights and good cheer and continue into the inevitable southern half of the storm, as the last remnants of daylight are swallowed by the deeper blackness of night. The rain restarts and since the eye of the hurricane is moving away toward the north-west, the circulating wind now blows from the south-west.
Some truckers emerge from their hiding places and try to make up for lost time, driving at 80 on the principle that law officers will have better things to do than issue speeding tickets. (Their supposition is correct. I see no police vehicles during my entire transit through hurricane-torn Alabama.)
After another two hours, finally I reach my motel out at the edge of the storm. The streets and buildings look freshly washed, with pools of water standing everywhere. As I check in I notice a news program on a TV in the lobby and realize with confusion that it is depicting a suburban area which I drove through just three hours previously. The news anchor delivers the usual litany of human misery: Tens of thousands deprived of basic amenities, streets impassable, homes reduced to heaps of undifferentiated wreckage.
"But it wasn't like that," I say to the woman behind the front desk. "There were a few tree branches on the road, a few deep puddles. I didn't see any homes damaged. Everything will be back to normal soon enough."
The woman frowns at me. I have committed the sin which I managed to avoid at the Tennessee Tire Company. I have belittled the catastrophe and spoiled the pleasure that comes from feeling secure and watching others whose security has been violated. She gives me a vexed, skeptical look and says nothing.
Well, it doesn't matter. I am secure in my own pleasure, which is less transient–the pleasure of remembering a singular moment in the eye of the storm, where laws of human behavior seemed to be suspended as radically as the laws of physics in a black hole. I will always remember my visit to Cowboy Gasoline.