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Tennessee To California in 20 Hours, Impala Style

Illustration for article titled Tennessee To California in 20 Hours, Impala Style

I've been hearing a lot about Kerouac's On The Road lately, and even though I think it's a pretty weak novel- don't even get me started on that tirade- it did get me thinking about great road-trip descriptions in literature. While Neal Stephenson's knock-you-on-your-ass brilliant Cryptonomicon has a fairly low Car Stuff Per Page Quotient (CSPPQ), the parts featuring the Shaftoe Brothers and their Impala are pure Car Geek Gold. While the year of the Impala is never specified in the book, I imagine it to be a '66 two-door with Cragars and several shades of primer. Make the jump to read a short excerpt:

"So, to these guys, you are a shirttail relative they glimpsed once or twice when they were tiny little boys." Amy shrugs. "Yeah." "So, like what possessed them to come out here?" Amy looks blank. "I mean," Randy says, "from the general attitude they copped, when they fishtailed to a stop in the middle of my front yard and leapt out of their red hot, bug encrusted vehicle, fresh from Tennessee, obviously the number one mission objective was to ensure that the flower of Shaftoe womanhood was being treated with all of the respect, decency, worshipfulness, et cetera, properly owed it." "Oh. That's not really the vibe that I got." "Oh, it wasn't? Really?" "No. Randy, my family sticks together. Just 'cause we haven't seen each other for a while doesn't mean our obligations have lapsed." "Well, you are making an implied comparison to my family here which I'm not that crazy about and maybe we should talk about later. But as far as those family obligations go, I do certainly think that one of those obligations is to preserve your notional virginity." "Who says it's notional?" "It's got to be notional to them because they haven't seen you for most of your life. That's all I mean." "I think you are blowing the perceived sexual aspect of this thing way out of proportion," Amy says. "Which is perfectly normal, for a guy, and I don't think less of you for it." "Amy, Amy. Have you done the math on this thing?" "Math?" "Counting the trip through Manila traffic to NAIA, the check in procedure, and formalities at SFO, my entire journey from Manila to San Francisco took me something like eighteen hours. Twenty for you. Another four hours to get down to my house. Then eight hours after we got to my house, in the middle of the night, Robin and Marcus Aurelius showed up. Now, if we assume that the Shaftoe family grapevine functions at the speed of light, it means that these guys, shooting hoops in front of their trailer in Tennessee, received a news flash that a female Shaftoe was in some kind of guy related personal distress at about the time you jumped off of Glory IV and hopped in a taxi in Manila." "I sent email from Glory," Amy says. "To whom?" "The Shaftoe mailing list." "God!" Randy says, slapping himself in the face. "What did this email say?" "Can't remember," Amy says. "That I was headed for California. I might have made some kind of backhanded remark about a young man I wanted to talk to. I was kinda upset at the time and I can't remember exactly what I have said." "I think you said something like 'I am going to California where Randall Lawrence Waterhouse, who has AIDS, is going to forcibly sodomize me upon arrival.' " "No, it was nothing of the kind." "Well, I think that someone read it between the lines. So, anyway, Ma or Auntie Em or someone emerges from the side door, shaking flour out of her gingham apron I'm imagining this." "I can tell." "And she says, 'Boys, your umpteenth cousin thrice removed America Shaftoe has sent us e mail from Uncle Doug's boat in the South China Sea stating that she is having some kind of dispute with a young man and it's not out of the question that she might need someone around to lend her a hand. In California. Would you swing by and look in on her?' And they put away their basketball and say, 'Yes ma'am, what city and address?' and she says, 'Never you mind, just get on Interstate 40 and drive west not failing to maintain an average speed of between one hundred and a hundred and twenty percent of the legal speed limit and call me collect from a Texaco somewhere and I will supply you with specific target coordinates later,' and they say, 'Yes ma'am' and thirty seconds later they are laying a patch in the driveway as they pull five gees backing out of the garage and thirty hours subsequently they are in my front yard, shining their twenty five D cell flashlights into my eyes and asking me a lot of pointed questions. Do you have any idea how far the drive is?" "I have no idea." "Well, according to M.A.'s Rand McNally Road Atlas, it is an even twenty one hundred miles." "So?" "So that means that they maintained an average speed of seventy miles an hour for a day and a half" "A day and a quarter," Amy says. "Do you have any idea how difficult that is to do?" "Randy, you push on the gas pedal and keep it between the lines. How hard is that?" "I'm not saying it's an intellectual challenge. I'm saying that this willingness to, e.g., urinate into empty McDonald's cups rather than stop the car, suggests a kind of urgency. Passion, even. And being a guy, and having had the experience of being a guy of the age of M.A. and Robin, I can tell you that one of the few things that gets your blood boiling to that extent is this notion of some female you love being done wrong by a strange male." "Well, what if they did?" Amy says. "Now they think you're okay."


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Rob Emslie

I thought Willy Nelson wrote On the Road .