A little more than a week ago, while the visual bacchanalia that is the SXSW Film Festival fell over the city of Austin, Texas like a loose fitting string tank, something in the atmosphere of the world shifted. Up north. Where dragons be.
Bombogenesis, they call it. A natural phenomenon where two storms collide with a force so powerful, so profane, that people are forced to read the first book of the Bible to stop from shitting themselves. Bombogenesis. It’s really just run-of-the-mill explosive cyclogenesis for those of you who like to watch clouds fornicate.
To be officially classified as ‘bombogenesis’ or a ‘weather bomb’ the central pressure of a low-pressure system must drop at least 24 millibars within 24 hours. And that’s what happened early one morning when Winter Storm Stella keyed in on the American Northeast like a wine-drunk coed at a Wim Wenders dress-up party.
But this story isn’t about the storm.
It’s about two men: renaissance men. Heroes, really, who braved the fearsome mist-rain of Austin for like forty-five whole minutes as they waited in line to see Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver.
Here’s Baby Driver:
And here are the monsoon conditions they fought through:
They are men who LAUGHED in the face of fate when powerful corporations FORBADE them to use air travel: BANNED THEM from the very sky above! But like Farragut at Mobile Bay, they yelled DAMN THE TORPEDOES and rented a Mother. Fuckin. BUICK.
If you’re like HUH? What the fuck is going on? Read this first.
And if the false aggrandizing tone of the author doesn’t immediately make you retch, then read on.
We begin like a Ron Howard movie, up up up in space and push in until we land on a mint condition Audi TT headed East/Northeast on the ancient trade route that connects Austin to Texarkana. The Audi TT is driven by a dude who looks EXACTLY like the sniveling Nazi bad guy from Raiders who is like
::wheeze::wheeze::MMMMHELLO DOKTO JONES!
It may very well be the same dude, and Wheezer can DRIVE. He’s over a hundred miles an hour, feathering his way across the face of the highway, pock-marked with Southern Drivers — god bless their dear sweet lil hearts — who are in no damn hurry at all. Wheezer zags like a Frogger champion on amphetamines. He is speed.
Trailing him, in the distance: another vehicle. It’s larger and more cumbersome, but it’s matching the velocity of Wheezer’s TT like a great lumbering beast, and that’s the one we focus on.
WHOOOSH! Through the magic of movies, we’re inside.
At the wheel: a crazy person. He’s handsome in a rakish, devil-may-care way. Like a young, brash Sean Connery if Sean Connery wasn’t actually all that handsome and sported a prematurely graying wirebrush beard and smelled like a foot. But his eyes are on the road and he’s crushing the everliving shit out of it because he’s in The Zone.
A word about THE ZONE:
The Zone is a place that’s hard to quantify to people who haven’t ever been there.
Like the Nexus in Star Trek Generations or a Hollywood Punch Up Table, where they pay you like 25 grand to sit around a table for one afternoon with funny people you already worship and read a script aloud that someone else wrote and just throw out better jokes with no consequences or judgement. And then they give you a bag with blue ray players and iThings and sex toys in it and other expensive shit to thank you for your time. On top of the money.
I know what you’re thinking: SITTING BY A POOL OFFERING JOKES FOR PAY CANNOT BE A REAL JOB. But it is. It really, really is. (And just so you don’t get too depressed about it, know that Patton Oswalt is like at every table, winning one joke at a time for the little guy.)
The Zone is a place where intent matches result. For example, if you are on a hike on the treacherous side of a hill, and you’re in the Zone, you don’t slip or plant wrong. You can often be in The Zone while cooking. Great athletes can enter The Zone at key, important times when everything is on the line. Music is a natural portal to The Zone. Music can transport you from your real life into…where? Someplace better. And a great song can always bring you back there, even fifty or sixty years later. A great film or television show can forcibly PULL you into The Zone where reality melts like a Salvador Dali painting behind you. That’s why people who can’t really place why they liked a movie liked a movie. Because without them having to do anything, the movie put them into The Zone.
Can The Zone be shared between two people?
Yes! Thanks for asking! That’s the highest level of The Zone, when two or more people are experiencing the same level of focus and achievement at the exact same time. This is most commonly found in doubles tennis, co-op online gaming and war. It’s notably less fun in y’know…war.
So, back to the Buick Enclave, a grinning he-beast barkroaring past gravy-soaked southern drivers like a hawt knife through buttah. Look at the interior. That’s not German plush. That’s ‘Murica plush, baby! Taste the freedom!
(Oh - one last note: a notable downside of The Zone is that you can’t CONVEY The Zone onto anyone else.)
So, in this case, the driver is silently moving at Warp 6 up the mighty US30, hand-dug by Dwight Eisenhower himself, and he glances over at the passenger, whose asshole is clenched tighter than the E string on a Stradivarius. The Passenger’s complexion resembles a damp paper plate that’s had ash blown across it.
He is decidedly NOT in The Zone.
And because of the rule above, the driver can’t just loop him into The Zone, because if he could, then obviously there’s no danger. You can go 1000 miles an hour in The Zone. Ain’t nothing going to happen. But: the passenger doesn’t know this.
The Passenger, let’s call him Dustin, stares at his ‘friend,’ the driver. Dustin is handsome in a Paul Newman sort of way, if you could like, hand-twist Paul Newman so that the physical appearance of Paul Newman was actually wrung out of him and just kind of a sentient piece of beef jerky was left. Dustin has the intestinal fortitude of Beaker the Muppet.
He stares at the driver with a mixture of confusion and visceral resentment. Because death is imminent. Death has been imminent for like four hours and Dustin’s nervous system is locked into a fight or flight response. Dustin can’t take his eyes off the driver. He’s too scared to move.
The crazy person at the wheel smiles at him.
“Gotta keep up with our pace car.” Says the crazy person.
“Oh! Yeah, yep. Heh heh.” Says Dustin, who is the most pleasant person ever shat out by the universe. Inside, he is spaghetti. His organs are liquefying from the speed. He has only moments before he expires. He has to try to end this. But how? “It’s a marathon, not a race, Lord Castleton.” He says, voice cracking a little.
“It’s both.” Says Lord Castleton, with disturbed, maniacal eyes. He sounds like Zuul, the Gatekeeper of Gozer. He is a fucking whackjob.
Dustin braces for impact. I mean, he’s been bracing for impact for four straight hours so he just, like, keeps bracing. He mentally says goodbye to his wife and children. This is it. This is the big one. So young. So young to die, and for what? A Blizzard chase? A race to the Heart of White Darkness? What a way to go. A thousand miles from the nearest flake.
Ahead of them, the Audi TT takes an exit off ramp, and suddenly, magically, the spell is broken. The possessed demon at the wheel relaxes and morphs back into the ‘friend’ Dustin still doesn’t like all that much.
“We made sick time.” Says the driver.
“Oh good, good. Whew!” Dustin thinks about giving Lord Castleton a thumbs up but he can’t unclench his fists yet.
“You want a turn driving?”
“Um…yeah, sure. I mean y’know I don’t drive quite as fast as you or whatever if that’s okay.”
“Yeah man, that’s totally fine. I tend to be really aggressive.”
“Oh yeah? I uh…hadn’t noticed. Because it was so…fun.” Somewhere inside Dustin, cells begin to regain their solidity. His lungs allow air in again. A wave of relief washes over him. Holy shit. He’s going to live. He’s going to live. I will never leave home again he promises the stars. I will never think a bad thought again. I’m so lucky, he thinks. I’m so lucky.
“It really was fun, wasn’t it?” Chuckles Lord Castleton.
At the next gas station, they fill the tank. Dustin pumps and Lord Castleton just stands near him, because TEAM. Lord Castleton wonders if he should just offer Dustin an impromptu high five, but doesn’t. Dustin wonders if he can figure out a way to “accidentally” leave Lord Castleton in the gas station.
“I’m gonna hit the bathroom.” Says Dustin.
“I’ll come with you!” Says Lord Castleton.
“Great!” Says Dustin. “Fuck,” thinks Dustin.
Inside, the way to the bathroom is blocked by several locals hammering buttons on a video slots game called “Life of Luxury.” The object of the game is to enter your money, watch as the screen is filled with colorful images, and then never see your money again.
Dustin politely asks if he can just scootch past them. The locals seem perturbed to have to slide their stool out of the way. The stool placement might have been lucky and helped them deposit their money into the machine forever. Moving it might now make the machine angry, and they’ll have to deposit their money into the machine forever faster. They stare daggers at Dustin’s back as he walks past them.
“Fucking asshole.” They think. “Nice stupid orange sweatshirt, fucking Vols fan.” They think. “Let’s kick his ass.”
Dustin is wearing an orange sweatshirt because it’s the warmest thing he packed for Austin. He almost didn’t bring it. Thank god he did, because hasn’t taken it off once. In the bathroom, he thinks: It’s usually seventy degrees and awesome for SXSW. This year, it never even broke fifty. What’s different about this year? What has changed? What brought the rain? What brought the cold to his annual vacation in paradise?
He opens the bathroom door and Lord Castleton is standing there with a stupid fucking smile on his face.
“Hey dude!” He snorfs.
Lord Motherfucking Castleton. It’s his first time at SXSW. That pebble-eyed, corn-fed motherfucker. Why is he smiling? Why the fuck does he enjoy everything? This is a fucking ass-stinking gas station bathroom and he’s acting like he’s on a goddamn easter egg hunt. Life is misery. Life is pain. Anyone who says differently is selling something.
“Wanna buy a Take 5 bar?” Lord Castleton brays.
“Uh…no. I’m good.” Smiles Dustin tightly.
“I’m just kidding. I got you one. Here.”
Dustin takes the bar and allows Lord Castleton to pass him and enter the bathroom. Luckily for Dustin, there’s just enough room for him to squeeze his non-Vols but nearly-Vols-colored Pajiba sweatshirt between the metal stool and a stack of unopened boxes of windshield washing fluid. The locals don’t notice. They are too busy living a Life of Luxury. There will not be an S.E.C. hate crime today.
Dustin walks outside. Shit, it’s colder than a witch’s patoot out here, he thinks. It’s ten degrees colder than at SXSW, and he was looking for a taun taun to gut in Austin. Must be the outside wind-tentacles of the Bombogenesis, climbing up the Atlantic coast like a tomcat on one side and slinking over the tall grass of the Great Plains on the other.
And then he notices something.
For the first time in what seems like endless, sunshineless hours of manic fever-dream whisper-praying, he’s ALONE.
He quickly pats his pocket. The KEYS. Holy shit he has the keys.
He’s in the drivers seat before he knows it. He doesn’t even remember getting there. He doesn’t remember opening the door or getting in or slamming the door behind him. He jams the key into the ignition with near-sexual delight. He is ENERGIZED. He is a SAMURAI. He is a ROAD MUSKETEER. The Buick Sport Utility Vehicle roars to life and somewhere far away, in the greater Detroit area where the northern Bombogenesis tentacles are dropping the temperature another ten degrees in Motor City, an unloved and unsung Buick engineer senses that someone has finally reached their full potential behind the wheel of his design. It is cathartic. Dustin REVVS the engine. He feels raw, unbridled American power.
He began this trip as a wee thing. A morsel. Afraid of his own shadow. And now he’s like an ox. He has carried the unseemly yoke of Lord Castleton’s high wire act for hours and emerged intact. Now, like He-Man, he has the power.
Dustin glances at the facade of the gas station. What a dump. The Dirty South. He knows all about the Dirty South. His momma breastfed The Dirty South into him as a baby. But he’s different now. Now he feels the loving pull of the liberal blue coastal cities populated exclusively with glassblowers and mermaids and geniuses. They call to him. Drive, Dustin! Drive!
He looks at the gas station, considering. He looks at the road.
In the bathroom, Lord Castleton is stuck.
Not physically. He’s standing there like a statue. The lights in the bathroom are flickering. It’s a bad bulb inside the drop ceiling that’s FZZZTTTING on and off, making an irritating buzz. There’s a dead fly mashed into the wall, guts sticking the wing to the grimy, ceiling-high tile. There’s graffiti on wall that says “ED GIVES HED” in sharpie and under it in pen “so do u.” The floor is smeared with a Giada De Laurentiis quick-mix of gasoline, everyday dirt, small pieces of ripped up toilet paper from a too-tight reel, and human hair. I bet this entire room is what Russell Brand tastes like, Lord Castleton thinks.
But that’s not why he’s stuck.
“Awwww yisssss.” Yells a local from right outside the door.
“Naw naw naw! Sheeeeeiiiiiit.” Yells another local, stymied again by The Life Of Luxury.
Lord Castleton is bathroom shy.
It’s hard to say when it began. Even his parents can’t remember the origin. As soon as he was potty trained, Lord Castleton would close the bathroom door, lock it, lock it again, tuck a towel under the door base, turn on a fan, a boombox and an air raid warning siren, and then, quietly pop a grape sized turd into the toilet with a plink.
Who’s to say why? Lord Castleton tries to logic it away. These people are not LISTENING to him. Jesus Christ, this is CRAZY. Everybody poops, hoss! Get over yourself! It’s no big thang! Just drop trou, get Hep C from the toilet seat and feel the sweet sweet relief of vacated bowels. Bing bang boom! Easy peasy.
But that kind of affliction doesn’t listen to reason.
“This stupid thing took my quarter!” Someone yells. They may as well be in the bathroom with him. They may as well be sitting on his lap while he shits.
Lord Castleton sighs. He will not be shitting here today in this petri dish of abject filth. He will lock off his digestive tract and wait for the next stop, hours and hours away. Maybe somewhere with loud hand dryers that he can time his shit to, or an always-running vent fan.
He makes his way out of the bathroom, past a rack of prepaid phone cards and out of the gas station, where he looks for the Buick.
It’s right where he left it.
Dustin is behind the wheel, idling, ready to go. Lord Castleton smiles. He gets a little giddy-up in his step as he heads to his buddy, who is clearly already fired up to keep up the amazing time that Lord Castleton and a wheezing, Nazi, professional antiquity thief achieved. At this pace, they’ll be in New York City in six hours.
Dustin pulls out of the gas station cautiously, looking both ways as Lord Castleton clicks in his seat belt. Lord Castleton appreciates how courteous Dustin’s driving is. Slow and methodical, as if a bunny might jump out in front of them at any second and he wants to be prepared. It’s not quiiiite as speedy as Lord Castleton’s driving, but it’s not too bad. Dustin pulls onto the highway and sets the cruise control to a brisk 37 mph. Tractor trailers fly by in blur sticks of white and red. It’s pleasant. A duck walks by.
“Hey, uh…man.” Says Dustin.
“If it’s not too much trouble, I was just thinking, and it’s okay if we can’t or whatever, but like I was noticing that the town I grew up in is directly on our way and I thought maybe, I don’t know, if it’s cool with you and not too much trouble, maybe we could stop there for a minute or something?”
Lord Castleton fixes a sleepy smile on Dustin. “Absolutely. I think that would be great.”
“Okay, then. Cool, cool.” Says Dustin.
The pace is so relaxing, so…effortless. A few hours ago, Dustin was just his boss and the guy he always, always steals Peyton Manning from in fantasy football drafts. Now, by god, he’s being taken to Dustin’s hometown. Where his family is from. He must really rate. Lord Castleton sighs in contentment and flashes a bright, toothy smile at his pal. This is gonna be awesome, he thinks, as he dozes into a restful sleep.
Dustin watches as Lord Castleton finally, blissfully, passes out, still with that fucking half-insane smile on his face. Dustin shudders. Yeeeeeesh. What a nutcase. How did he even get talked into this in the first place?
Fucking Seth, he thinks. Fucking Seth. Somehow this is his fault. And while it seems irrational that it might be Seth’s fault, it’s been pretty soundly proven that most things that are shitty in this world are either directly or indirectly Seth’s fault.
With that, he turns his attention back to the road. The long, terrifying road. Hyundais and smart cars and old Subarus with broken axles and minivans with mattresses on top and great-grandmothers on tricycles blow by him like he’s not even moving. But he is safe and he is alive, and the unintentional gift from the escaped mental patient known as Lord Castleton is a new zest for life. I have escaped death itself. Things are fucking great, he thinks.
305.7 miles down, only 1462 miles to go.
Next stop: Benton. Home of the fightin’ Panthers. He just has to get them through the dry as dirt Clark county and past Arkadelphia, the city with the stupidest name in America. Phila-delphia is the city of brotherly love. Ark-adelphia is the place of Arks? No, because the Ark is just from Arkansas. It’s not like Noah’s Arc.
Origin of the name “Arkadelphia” is uncertain. One possibility is that it was formed by combining Ark- from the state’s name Arkansas and adelphia from the Greek meaning “brother/place”.
Soooo he just has to get them through Ark brother or Ark Place and it’s smooth sailing on to Benton. And then it’s points North, where the swirling, snow dumping catastrophes of Scylla and Charybdis are moving with purpose toward his family and his home. He tightens his grip on the wheel.
Piece of cake, he thinks, and raises the cruise control to forty-nine miles per hour. Man, he’s flying. He is Razorback James Bond in dirty briefs. He is a majestic son of the South. The eternal spirit of William Faulkner seems to guide his way. That and Waze, which is magically magnetized to the windshield for easy viewing. So, yeah, Waze for sure, but also Faulkner. Probably. Like Ghost Faulkner, but holding a paper map that’s open all the way so he can spirit guide them. It’s probably also a ghost map, because it would look super weird to have a Ghost Faulkner and a real map. That wouldn’t inspire confidence. You’d be kind of like “are you sure about that William Faulkner?” And then the whole thing would just kind of be anti-climactic. In that scenario, you’d still be able to conceivably peek at Waze without him knowing, because they didn’t have smart phones when he was alive. So he’d never really know what you’re doing. You could just nod politely and pretend like you really love his ideas, and then just secretly go where Waze tells you because it’s real-time crowd-sourced and let’s face it, Ghost Faulkner is holding a paper map. I mean, it’s embarrassing for him.
But Dustin rolls on, forward to his destiny at the breakneck speed of your average suburban shopping mall escalator. The way pimps do.
This is his land. This is his mission. This is his road. And you do not fuck with a Benton Panther when his hackles are up.
Did you know that you can make ANY shirt at The Pajiba Store? Just pick a design you like and UPLOAD IT. We still get a bump for everything you make, (shirts, mugs, blankets, bags — everything) even if it’s not Pajiba-specific.