On the Way to Savannah
A literary interlude.
Finally got the ol’ COVID this past weekend, so the last few days have been a parade of flu-adjacent symptoms and brain fog. Thus a diversion of sorts for today: a story honorably rejected for the upcoming issue of esteemed literary journal Taco Bell Quarterly, presenting a fictionalized and stylized version of true past events.
We hit the road from Birmingham on Friday afternoon, heading to Atlanta in the teeth of rush hour traffic. Joe’s battered Blazer pulled up to the curb of a rambling Buckhead fake Victorian that had been sloppily divided into three apartments. We were much the worse for wear already, having picked up beer and tequila in Anniston. It was about seven thirty pm.
The plan had been to pick up two more cars full of people and head to Savannah, sleeping at a motel there, then hitting a comedy showcase and rock show on Saturday night. Joe was of course game to go right away, even though he was already vetoed from driving his own car any further due to tequila. Steve was noncommittal as usual, and Hollis didn’t want to go but also seemed nervous about spending the night with a bunch of strange hipsters. I wasn’t thrilled about it either, but I also didn’t think I should drive.
So we crashed on the floor of the Victorian’s upstairs. We were assured this was cool by a large, bearish older guy and his leathery but cheerful girlfriend who had established long-term residence on the couch. The alleged actual apartment resident appeared briefly from his closed bedroom. He was tall and lanky and shaved bald, in punkwear that looked artfully ripped but legitimately filthy. He had one small disc of stubble at his right temple, about the size of a silver dollar, bleached blonde. He surveyed the scene in his living room/kitchen and retreated behind his door without a word.
I slept poorly on my jacket and a stray throw pillow, trying to tune out Joe’s snoring. Hollis rolled around in restless irritation, clearing his throat. Steve left to smoke outside and didn’t return until I finally dozed off.
In weak morning light, I woke up drearily to Steve and Hollis talking. The bearish man and his girlfriend were gone, couch empty. Joe was sitting upright in a lotus position, eyes closed. The guy who lived in the apartment was back, cooking eggs over a two-burner stove, humming to himself. I stood up and walked over to introduce myself and both thank him and apologize for the imposition. He nodded impassively but then smiled and said his name was Rob. I noticed the circle of stubble on his temple was now blue. I asked him about it, and he said he dyed it a different color every morning.
We ate eggs. Joe said that Rob should come with us to Savannah, and he shrugged and agreed.
We took turns in the bathroom with a gesture toward hygiene, clearly there would be no showers. Steve went back outside to smoke. We heard him talking out there, so we emerged as well to find him in conversation with bear man and lady (who would also be coming with us) and various drivers and riders from the other two cars of travelers, who had all congregated here for the trip to Savannah.
The other vehicles were a compact Subaru and a Chrysler minivan. It was quickly very apparent we had more people than car space, but nobody wanted to back out. We crammed seven people into Joe’s Blazer, which I grudgingly agreed to drive so he could get reacquainted with the tequila. Five went in the Subaru, and somehow nine in the minivan.
All these incompetent logistics used up most of the morning. It’s about five hours from Atlanta to Savannah, and we didn’t get to the highway until almost eleven o’clock. It was hot and bright out there, and every vehicle had its own impromptu bar, as well as scattered tobacco and weed products in use. If Joe’s Blazer was already stinking inside of body order and booze breath, I couldn’t imagine what the minivan was like.
Everyone got hungry by Macon, so we drove another half hour and pulled over into a small-town interstate Taco Bell. It was a bright and shiny new location, with only two tables in one corner occupied. The pleasant, clean, spacious environment was a refreshing change from our vehicles.
We were a questionable mob of poorly dressed, ill-mannered, mostly unwashed, reeking, and half-drunk hipster lunkheads. The few patrons and staff looked at us pouring in the doors with alarm. One of the riders I didn’t know announced that everyone should get their own table. It’s our right to have our own tables, he loudly insisted.
So our group dispersed throughout the Taco Bell, consuming every available table and compressing the now fearful civilian patrons into one fractional corner of the restaurant. The whole staff gathered behind the counter, staring at this spectacle. Our group managed to exactly take over all remaining available tables, but none of us was willing to get up to make an order for fear of losing their seat. We talked and semi-shouted loudly across the room, passing cash between tables to Steve, who happened to be sitting closest to the register.
One giant and hideously complex order was assembled via roomwide yelling and communicated to the hapless teenager at the register via the same method. When we were satisfied he had it down mostly correct, Steve dashed up and threw down the handful of bills and change he’d collected, then ran back to his seat. He told him to keep the change, which he did.
I was still reasonably sober and wondered aloud if we were likely to get the cops called on us soon if not already, which kicked off a thrill of paranoid chatter in the group. The civilian patrons left at this point, taking whatever food they hadn’t eaten with them, edging out briskly with no eye contact. The group briefly debated how to take over their vacant tables as well, but decided these should remain open for any newcomers in the name of detente.
The specter of law enforcement made it seem wise to change our massive order to take-out, which we managed to do, probably to the extreme relief of the Taco Bell staff. No cops appeared as we meandered back to the parking lot and into our cars. The rest of the drive to Savannah was uneventful, other than the entirely predictable miasma produced by the group consuming and processing Taco Bell in overcrowded vehicles.
We got lost outside of Savannah trying to find the house of a cousin who was holding mushrooms, which delayed our arrival by some hours. We finally got to the show as it began but were denied entry because it was sold out. Joe found a liquor store where the group bought vodka and more tequila which were used to bribe our way through the stage door. By this time almost everyone was drunk, some with that passive loud belligerence common to sheltered people who don’t really fight. Fortunately Joe managed to vomit explosively just after we left the building rather than while we were inside, and after he recovered, we joined the performers for pizza.