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A mellowing and meandering trip through this American life. Follow the adventures of Jan, Jack, and Patrick as they take you on a whirlwind trip through Washington, DC's seedy underbelly of cut-rate poolhalls, thrift stores, and temp agencies.

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Sunday, May 16, 2004

5\14\04

We're finally leaving Colorado, on our way to Omaha (via Wyoming so Pat can claim 48 lifetime states). There is no Jan in the backseat, but the miraculously revived radio makes company between us. I am withdrawing from tobacco, but the sweats haven't started yet.
Reno saw the end of our radiator hose. The leak we had been stopping up with electrical tape turned out to be a decoy for a massive rip along the opposite side. Fortunately the part is fairly common, and we were able to find a replacement and fix it at a minimum of cost and effort. With the danger of overheating removed, the plan was to fly through Nevada, Utah, and half of Colorado in just two days, making only the most necessary stops on our way home, as Jan had remembered that he needed to be in DC by the 13th in order to catch a flight to London for his stepsister's wedding. Pat and I kept quiet about the fact that this would be utterly impossible in light of our plans for Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, Illinois, and Philadelphia. These things tend to work themselves out.
Jan initiated our mad dash across the Wild West by accelerating to 70 mph in a 50 mph restricted work zone, prompting an immediate reaction from a Nevada state trooper, who stopped by to ask him if he knew how fast he was going. Jan had never had a speeding ticket before, and, to be honest, the signs were confusing, so he was fairly unperturbed when the cop went back to his car to write up the ticket. Pat and I, who have both been struck down by the leprous arm of highway law on a number of occasions, kept our calculations to ourselves. 20 miles over the limit = reckless driving = $150 + $10 for every mile over the limit = $350, X 2 for speeding in a work zone = $700. We were pleased and relieved when the officer came back with our third warning of the trip. Combined with our sundry parking tickets, historians should be able to reconstruct our trip with just DMV records in years to come.
After about 50 or 60 miles, Pat poked his head out from the back seat to ask us if today was "Pat Gets Ridiculously Drunk in the back seat of the car Day". It turned out thatt it was, so we stopped at a 7-11 and bought him a 6 pack. "PGRD in the back seat of the car Day" got off the ground with some inspired readings from Richard Hofstadter's "Great Issues in American History, Vol. III". Pat was able to accurately recreate, in the back of the Saab, the atmosphere on that fateful July afternoon in 1896, when William Jennings Bryan spoke out against the Gold Standard at the Democratic National Party Convention:

"Having behind us the producing masses of this nation and the world, supported by the commercial interests, the laboring interests and toilers everywhere, we will answer their demand for a gold standard by saying to them: YOU SHALL NOT PRESS DOWN UPON THE BROW OF LABOR THIS CROWN OF THORNS, YOU SHALL NOT CRUCIFY MANKIND UPON A CROSS OF GOLD."

Pat's last words were drowned out by enthusiastic yells of commendation: "Down with Bimetallism!," "Down with the gold standard!," before the Saab was restored to some semblance of order. A few Budweisers later we were treated to a slightly slurred version of Martin Luther King's "I have a Dream". Then I read to them out of "Dubliners", each story the same juxtaposition of false and real epiphany, of desire followed by disillusionment, until "The Dead", where this hitherto clunky formula is employed with such precision and insight, that the story's wrenching climax illuminates the entire book with the brilliance and force of a lightning storm. Unfortunately, we read "The Dead" first, so the other stories were tough to get through, and ultimately degenerated into Pat and I taking the parts of Jimmy Carter and Reagan and re-enacting the 1980 Presidential debates in silly voices.
Every time we stopped, Pat would get himself a tall-boy or two, and then find somewhere to gamble. He was $10 up by the time Jan and I were able to drag him away from the casino the second time. As it grew darker, Pat began to complain bitterly every time we passed a liquor store without stopping, and at some point verbal communication ceased, and the only contact we had from him for a while was through increasingly offensive notes he would pass up to the front seats. By Utah, he was incoherent, and by Midnight he was asleep. By all accounts, "PGRD in the back seat of the car Day" was a tremendous success.
The next morning we woke up early in what turned out to be someone's field just off the highway (route 50-- the loneliest road in America). We ate breakfast in some no account diner that Pat said was exactly the sort of place that would get rave reviews in, like, "Eat Your Way Across America" or something. This proved to have been the case.

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