Writers of the Road.
The game itself wasn't anything new. Writers have been people watching since the first depressed son of a bitch picked up a pen instead of a bottle. The rules were simple. Choose somebody. Somebody who’s interesting. Somebody who sparks creativity. Then create a profile about them, write a story, and turn that person into a character.
In college, my creative writing professor, Professor Pinyin, always encouraged us to go sit in a coffee shop or at a park or at a Laundromat and observe the sites. I spent countless hours at tables in Starbucks watching people shuffle like zombies toward the counter and order the same goddamn soy caramel Macchiato with two shots of espresso. Then they would either leave or sit quietly with their earbuds in and their eyes glued to their phone. Not very interesting material; in fact, I found it rather fucking boring.
I like discussions, and I like having people to bounce ideas off of, so I enlisted the help of my friend Ricky, the only other writer I knew in the city that’s supposedly full of artists.
Ricky and I had spoken about the game briefly in the past—spit-balled the idea, more like it. We thought it would be fun. I mean, how hard could it be? We were writers, after all. We lived for storytelling. Maybe we'd strike oil, or maybe it wouldn’t amount to anything, but we didn't care. We had the time, we had the minds, and we damn sure needed the material. It'd been almost two years since either one of us had sold a screenplay, a pilot, or any significant piece of literature. Ricky had sold a little blurb to Buzzfeed back in October that landed him about $2500. That was a little victory, but now, we were in a rut. Two weeks without pay checks. Mom and dad were of no help either, Ricky's anyway. Mine were more or less dead to me, so there was little help they could offer even if I wanted it. No, we had dug ourselves into this hole and now it was time we got ourselves out. We were here for a reason. We came to create, to get noticed, to become somebodies. Whatever the proverbial it may be, it was here, and we were destined (desperate) to make it.
We decided to do a dry run at the mall because there are hundreds of people walking in every direction at any given point in time. Some people alone, some people with families, some people on dates, etc. The point was there would be plenty of opportunity for inspiration.
And there we were, sitting on a bench outside of Wetzel’s Pretzels. Ricky was munching on a cinnamon sugar pretzel while I had my notebook cracked open and my pen in hand. Together, we peered across the courtyard and scoured for subjects. Naturally, the first subject we chose was a pretty girl sauntering between stores, her none-too-pleased boyfriend in tow, carrying two bags from Guess, one bright pink bag from Victoria’s Secret, and one small bag from Tiffany’s. The boyfriend was in the middle of, what appeared to be, a heated conversation with the piece of plastic he was holding to his ear.
We heard mutterings like, “That is impossible...the money was in my account yesterday,” and, “my father is going to lose his shit if he hears about this.” Beads of sweat boiled on his forehead; meanwhile, his significant other, the tanned and toned blonde with the daisy-dukes and the big cum-on-me tits, disappeared into Sephora. The boyfriend stayed outside and leaned against the railing overlooking the three floors of shops below. Ricky and I moved closer to continue our eavesdropping.
On the phone, the boyfriend said, “You know what this means, right? If that money is not there, I am fucking ruined. No!” he screamed. “You listen to me!” He lowered his voice and relaxed his breath. “All of my cards are maxed out and there’s not a goddamn thing I can do about it. Today is Tara’s birthday, and we're out shopping, okay?”
We slid closer along the railing, so close, in fact, that I could literally reach out and grab the boyfriend’s shoulder if I felt so inclined, but I kept my composure and remained innocuous. Suddenly, The toned blonde, who I could only imagine was the Tara in question, emerged from Sephora with a sour look on her face.
“Tommy,” She said solemnly. “There’s some kind of problem with your card.”
Tommy--the boyfriend--said into his phone, “I have to call you back,” and hung up. He turned his attention to Tara. “Babe, what’s wrong?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “They told me the card was declined or something.”
Under his breath, I could hear Tommy utter, “Motherfucker.”
“Well, what are you going to do?” she asked.
Tommy ignored her. “Babe, this mall sucks. Let’s get out of here.”
“No,” she pleaded with puppy-dog eyes. “They have the exact eyeliner I want and the most perfect cover-up. Please?”
“Fuck that,” said Tommy. “Let's go.”
Tara stomped her foot. “But, it’s my birthday! I want it and it’s your job to get it for me.”
This was too much for Ricky. He couldn’t contain himself and burst out laughing. He tried to cover his mouth, but Tara’s whiny response was in such typical trust-fund baby fashion, that his laughs were impossible to muffle.
Tara pouted and looked toward us. She knew why he was laughing.
Tommy peered over. “Something funny?” He asked.
“Inside Joke,” I said.
Tommy approached. “I bet this is really fucking funny, isn't it?” He said.
“That’s why we’re laughing,” I said.
Tommy toughened up. “Got something to say, say it to my face.”
“Oh yeah?” Ricky said. “I got something to say.” He turned his attention to Tara, “Happy Birthday, sweetheart”
“Yeah, and good luck with your credit card, Tommy,” I said, ushering Ricky toward the escalators
“What was that?” Tommy called, voice cracking.
“I hope daddy can take care of it,” Ricky yelled as we descended.
We rode down to the first floor, keeping our eyes on Tommy, who didn’t make any attempt to follow. Tara approached and put her hand on his shoulder. He swatted it away and turned his back.
We left the mall that day with a new story to tell, but at the risk of getting into a fight, it wasn’t nearly worth the trouble. The main problem, we realized, was that we couldn’t openly discuss the subjects as they presented themselves in front of us; we had to remain silent observers. That was something I resented. I wanted the freedom to craft and speak up in the moment; that’s where the fun is, and that’s where the best ideas reside.
In my mind, the mall was a failure. We needed a new plan.
That’s when it hit us to take the game on the road. Drivers have unabashed faith in their car being a sacred place where nobody can see or hear them. In the car, a solo-motorist can listen to their music on full blast and sing and dance in their seat without worry. Drivers and passengers can speak openly about money, relationships, and sex. Couples can argue or even please one another without fear of eavesdropping ears or peeping eyes. The car is a bubble; an oasis safe from the outside world, but we were about to penetrate it.
In our car, we would have total freedom to say whatever we pleased about the others on the road, being as politically correct or as ignorant as we wanted. Who would care? Nobody would hear us anyway. We would be perfectly isolated in our own traveling writer’s room. It sounded like a dream, and a perfect opportunity to make something of ourselves.
We were in Ricky’s car, on our way to the beach and passing a joint when we decided to give it a try.
"Look out my window." Ricky said, pointing his finger and steaming from a fresh rip. "The red Tacoma with the broken window. You see it?"
I looked and found said truck. Not only was the rear passenger side window sealed with duct tape and a trash bag, but the driver looked like a 1,000 year old Mayan with sagging leather skin and a ragged straw hat on it's head.
"What the hell is that thing?" I asked. "Looks like return of the undead cowboy."
"I was thinking Hollis Brown." Ricky said.
"Oh god, in the flesh!" I said. "Definitely Lynchian."
"Definitely Lynchian." Ricky affirmed.
"Where do you think it’s going?" I asked.
"The truck?" He asked.
"No, the thing driving it. I'm not even convinced that's a human being behind the wheel." I said.
"Going? I don't know,” he said. “I was thinking more along the lines of where did he come from?"
"So, you think it is a man?" I asked.
"It's whatever we want it to be,” he said. “That's the point of the game. Maybe we could use the androgyny to our advantage."
I thought for a moment, letting the joint rest. "Okay. I got it! In the middle of a sex change operation, Señor Sol, lost all of his money, and in a fit of despair he drank himself to death; except he didn't die, he just fell into a coma in the middle of the desert for 1,000 years. He/she/it just woke up mere hours ago and is now on a crusade to find and kill the person who stole his fortune."
"Great character" Ricky said, oozing sarcasm.
"Hey, what do you expect from me. You picked him, " I said.
"If we're going to do it, we ought to take it seriously, right?" He asked.
"Yes sir,” I said, conceding.
"I'm not joking," he said.
"OK. OK.” I said, diffusing the situation. “Let's find a better subject. Somebody a bit more, err, unassuming."
"Pass me that joint," he said. I re-lit the joint and handed it to him. "Here's what I'm thinking,” he continued. “We need more traffic; these cars are moving too fast. We can't get a good look at the drivers. I say we head downtown, where the 101 meets the 110 and the 10. Traffic is hellish there. We’ll definitely find somebody worth exploring."
"Fine by me,” I said. “Beach isn't going anywhere."
So, we rerouted and just as we approached the exit for Central Ave., things began to slow down. Speedometers regressed to zero and the supposed highway became a bonafide parking lot.
Conditions were perfect. Now it was time to play...