The little green Dodge Neon was working overtime, barreling up U.S. Interstate 35 at about a hundred miles per hour. That’s a crude estimate on my part, because the speedometer’s needle was buried at eighty-five, and it had been since we left the rental agency. The car was shaking and making terrible rattling noises, but I simply turned up the radio to compensate for it—after all, we were fully insured and this sporty little devil had less than ten-thousand miles on it. It’s necessary to put a brand-new vehicle through a few real-life road tests. I like to know what a car is and isn’t capable of—just in case.
I looked over at Brian, who was driving; he was gritting his teeth and fidgeting in his seat. We were behind schedule already, and we had to make up for it. We were meeting Wyatt at the cabin, and we both knew that he wouldn’t wait long. The cabin was still almost a hundred miles away, and we had barely an hour to get there.
Brian, who normally was wound a little tight, had worked himself into an ugly frenzy. He punched the steering wheel as we flew around a slow-moving pickup truck, laying out a long blast on the horn. “Goddamn it!” he shouted. “Why don’t they rent giant cars with huge engines anymore?”
“Well, Jesus …” I muttered. “This is a Neon, and look at what we’re doing to this.”
We had almost taken my car, a gigantic Chevy with a terrific engine, capable of hitting the 140-mile-per-hour mark. It’s a good thing that we didn’t though; when you get pulled over at those kinds of ungodly speeds, they don’t issue you a citation—they drag you out of the car and beat you half to death and then haul you off to jail….
Brian had called me at noon, jabbering wildly. “Rodney, pack a bag and get ready to go. I’m picking you up in a half-hour and we’re going to get the hell out of town for the night.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?” I asked. “I just got up, goddamn it.”
“Never mind that,” he said. “Just get ready—and have a cold beer waiting for me when I get there.”
We were on the road a short while later. We stopped at a Burger King for lunch and the rental car that Brian was driving stalled in the drive-thru. An angry line of cars began to form behind us, the drivers sticking their heads out of their windows and hurling nasty insults at us. Luckily, we were able to push the car out of the way—therefore avoiding a potentially ugly scene.
Brian grabbed his cell phone and dialed the rental agency, which was actually only a couple of miles away. “Let me speak to whoever’s in charge … I don’t care what he’s doing—this is important, goddamn it! Yes, I’ll hold….”
A moment or two later, the manager came on the line. Brian was pacing back and forth as he said, “This goddamned car that you rented me just died in a Burger King parking lot … Yes, that’s right … No, I’m only a couple of miles away … I was almost killed for Christ’s sake! This stinking piece of shit caused a traffic jam in the drive-thru and I was nearly attacked by a gang of hoodlums….”
While Brian handled that end of business on the telephone, I worked on getting the car going again. After a lot of fucking around, I was able to get the car started and we limped over to the rental agency. The manager had said that he was going on vacation, but if we hurried he would let us trade the car in for a new one.
When we got there, he had just turned the lights out and was walking swiftly across the parking lot to his car. Brian came to a screeching halt in front of him, almost killing the son of a bitch.
We jumped out of the car and cornered the bastard before he could lock himself in his shiny new Lincoln.
“Where the hell are you slinking off to?” Brian exclaimed.
The man was obviously caught off guard by this show of force. “Well, uh …” he stammered. “I wasn’t leaving, of course—I just wanted to get the car started and the air-conditioner going—you understand….”
“To hell with that,” Brian said. “Where’s the car that you promised us?”
“Why, it’s right over there,” he said, pointing to a two-door Honda with a crushed fender and a flat tire.
Brian flew into a rage, stomping around the parking lot and waving his arms. “You don’t understand,” he said. “We’re on our way up north, man! I will not be stranded in the middle of nowhere in this goddamned heat!”
“Well,” the man said, “that’s a reliable automobile, right there. I even put a can of Fix-a-Flat in the back seat for you….”
“Bullshit,” Brian said. “First you give me a Toyota, and now you want me to trade it in for a crippled Honda. I want a good, clean American car—I won’t drive this foreign garbage.”
I piped up and said, “Listen, if you go off and leave us with either of these wrecks, we’ll have your balls.”
The man sensed danger. Brian, normally very polite, had worked himself into such a frantic lather that violence was imminent. The manager shuffled his feet and said, “Well … I do have a Dodge Neon, but I’m afraid that you don’t qualify for something that new….”
“We’ll take it,” Brian replied.
So, it was settled. We had lost nearly an hour, but we were back on the road—screaming out of town and leaving a trail of destruction and despair behind us….
I checked my watch and decided that if we kept up our desperate pace, we could afford to make a quick stop. I turned to Brian and said, “I’m thirsty—I must have beer. Besides, we haven’t properly tested the brakes yet.” I pointed to a liquor store that was looming up on the right and said, “Pull in there—quick, man!”
The Neon was still going full-bore when Brian locked up the brakes. The car started to fishtail sickeningly, and I heard a snap and saw the ABS light go on as the antilock brake system went out. The car slid to a stop outside the main entrance. We were parked sideways, taking up three spaces.
“Don’t worry about parking,” I said. “We’ll only be a minute….”
We each bought several 24-ounce “tall” cans of Budweiser. I asked the cashier to wrap them up individually, each in its own miniature brown paper bag. I explained to him that we were taking a road trip, and camouflage was a very important thing to have when passing other motorists and troopers lurking in the bushes on the side of the highway.
We peeled out of the gravel parking lot, sending a shower of rocks and dirt all over some poor fool that was coming out of the door carrying an expensive bottle of wine. His hands flew up to his face instinctively, shielding his eyes. The bottle that he had been carrying dropped to the ground and exploded at his feet. There was no time to stop and apologize, so we left him standing there, shaking his fists and cursing us.
I lit a cigarette and thought about what we were doing out there, crashing around like madmen. The trip was to celebrate Brian’s birthday, but that was only part of it; it was to be an orgy of excess and indulgence—and one of our last opportunities, at that. The cabin was up for sale, and there was no telling when it might go. There was a lot of history in that cabin, and this journey would serve as its epilogue.
Brian had once again revved the engine up to a chattering whine, and red idiot lights were flashing crazily all over the instrument panel. “Maybe you should slow down,” I suggested.
“Nonsense,” Brian replied. “We’re cutting into our drinking time, and Wyatt will be pissed off if we’re late.”
What could I say? He was right, of course.
When we arrived at the cabin, the driveway was empty. We were either too early or too late. We had finished the beer, and all Brian cared about at that point was getting to the bar just down the road.
“How are we going to get inside the cabin?” I asked.
“Fuck the cabin,” Brian replied. “There’ll be plenty of time for that later. Right now we have to get to the bar—hell, they close in just seven hours….”
“Good point,” I said, “but what about this?” I asked, pointing at two strips of bare dirt left behind the Neon, which had come to rest in the yard, just outside the front door.
“Well,” Brian said, “we’ll just move the car back into the driveway and hope that Wyatt doesn’t notice. By the time he gets here, it’ll be just about dark. We’ll leave in the morning before he gets up.”
“Outstanding,” I said, “but aren’t we taking the car to the tavern?”
“Fuck no,” Brian said. “The sheriff is a real cowboy up here—he’ll shoot you and bury you in the woods somewhere, for no reason at all.”
So, we set off on foot. The bar was about a quarter-mile away; so the walking wouldn’t bring us down, I whipped out my steel flask, which was filled with 100-proof bourbon. I took a long pull and then handed it to Brian. “Here,” I said with a grin.
“Jesus,” he said. “You think of everything, don’t you?”
We finished off the whiskey as we entered the parking lot of the bar. It was early evening on a Friday, so the bar was still quiet. We had at least an hour or two before things became hectic; when that happened, the place would be overrun with tourists and mean drunks. We would have to cherish the solitude and personalized service while it lasted.
When we walked inside, there were two old men seated at the island bar and an inebriated local passed out in one of the booths. The natives in that area don’t allow things like the time of day to interfere with their drinking habits; besides, the bar that we were in tolerated all types of rotten behavior. As long as you tipped big, you could piss in the corner and no one would say a thing….
We sat down and the bartender strolled over. She wiped the counter and said, “Hello, Brian. What are you boys drinking?”
My friend was well known in those parts—he had spent nearly every summer weekend for the last ten years drinking in that very spot. Brian grinned and said, “Give me a beer—one of those 16-ounce frosted mugs.”
“I’ll have the same … and a bloody mary,” I said.
She brought our drinks and set them before us. We each took a wad of bills out of our wallets and dropped them on the bar. It was going to be a long, expensive night, but we were in time to catch the very end of Happy Hour. The bartender sifted through the mess of currency that we had laid on her and picked out the correct amount. After she had gone, we each slid a few dollars off to the side for her tip, remembering the Golden Rule.
“So,” I said, “what’s on the agenda?”
“This is it,” Brian said. “We’re going to get stupid drunk and just see what happens.”
Who could argue with that? We had escaped the Twin Cities for at least one night; we were almost two-hundred miles from the ugly realities of our day-to-day lives. There’s a lot to be said for throwing responsibility to the wind every now and then—just load up on booze and head out of town….
We drank for a while and each dropped twenty bucks on pull-tabs. Rather than a live attendant watching plastic bins full of loose tickets, this place had a machine set up in the corner. The front of the machine was made of bulletproof plastic, just in case things ever got a little too heavy. I was skeptical, though—the tickets were stacked neatly in columns.
“You know,” I said, “there’s nothing to stop them from sorting the tickets and putting all of the winners towards the top.”
“Ridiculous,” Brian replied. “This is a square joint.”
Our forty-dollar investment only yielded a two-dollar return. “See,” I said. “I told you so.”
“Well, fuck it,” Brian said. “Let’s just trade these tickets in for a couple of new ones. Who knows … maybe we’ll win big.”
I agreed. There was no way to argue with Brian’s logic. Besides, two dollars didn’t mean a whole lot at that point. So, Brian went back to that stupid machine and then returned a moment later. We peeled open the tickets and both moaned simultaneously.
There it was: forty bucks—gone in a matter of minutes.
“Do you want to try again?” Brian asked.
“Fuck no,” I said. “What’s wrong with you?”
The alcohol was beginning to catch up with us, and the bar was starting to fill up. I watched as Brian went around saying hello to friends and neighbors as they trickled in.
Wyatt finally showed up. He apologized for being late, explaining that he had been pulled over by a trooper on his way up for drunkenly weaving between lanes. He failed the first battery of tests, but finally had persuaded the pig to let him go by expertly juggling several loose beer cans that were rattling around in his truck.
I saw right away that Wyatt was in a foul mood. “So, Brian,” he said, “what the hell happened to my yard?”
I tried to offer an explanation. “It’s really not Brian’s fault, Wyatt,” I said. “You see, just as we were pulling into the driveway, a deer ran in front of the car. Brian swerved—we almost hit the beast—and we ended up on the lawn. Hell of a thing, really.”
“Bullshit,” Wyatt said. “I saw those empty beer cans in the front seat. What—did you think that I wouldn’t notice?”
“To hell with the yard,” Brian said. “In a couple of weeks, you won’t even own the goddamned thing anymore.”
So, the matter was settled. We each agreed to buy Wyatt a beer in way of payment. He then suggested that Brian and I order some food, otherwise we would both turn into wild animals long before the bar closed. We each asked for a club sandwich and fries, then returned to our drinks.
An hour later, my dinner was still sitting on the bar, getting cold. Brian and Wyatt had been pestering me, asking things like: “Are you going to eat that?” I put them off, refusing to explain myself.
It was at about this time that two women spilled into the bar, stumbling over each other and giggling madly. They were regulars; apparently they had been drinking somewhere else until they were asked to leave.
One of the women sat down at the bar next to Wyatt and I, introducing herself. “Hi,” she said. “I’m Rita.”
I nodded politely and shook her hand. I was busy watching two Indians punch each other silly near the pool tables. Rita ordered a drink, sniffling and pawing through her purse, muttering about cocaine. I ruined any chances of getting high with her, though; I had passed myself off as a drug counselor as a joke, but she never got over it.
The bar was in full swing, now. Two more bartenders had arrived to help deal with the crowd and a DJ was setting up. He had pushed a bunch of tables aside, creating a crude dance floor. Before long, the lights were dimmed, the jukebox was turned off, and the DJ announced that things were Officially Underway.
It was an ugly scene—a bunch of vicious drunks staggering around and bumping into each other. Brian was reeling about, swaying to the music and spilling his drink all over the other patrons. It didn’t seem to matter, though—things were deteriorating rapidly.
I was in no mood for dancing. Instead, I was sitting at a table with a rather large man that was slurring his words and propping his chin up with his hand; apparently, he was the chief of police for one of the neighboring towns. He was explaining to me that he liked to drink in this bar because “one does not shit in one’s own nest….”
I said, “Yes, but don’t you worry about driving around hammered outside of your own jurisdiction?”
“Not at all,” he replied. “That’s why I drive my squad car over here—that evil sheriff will think that I’m on official business.”
He took me outside and showed me his cruiser, a brand-new Ford Crown Victoria. It was loaded with antennas, lights, and other gadgets that I would never understand. I told him that I had always wanted to be a cop, so he offered to take me for a quick ride.
We pulled out onto the interstate and almost immediately fell in behind a car full of helpless teenagers. He said, “Here, watch this….”
He flipped a switch on the dashboard, activating about a thousand red and blue lights that flashed crazily every which way. With a blast of the siren, the car in front of us pulled off to the side.
As drunk as he was, the cop did not dare get out of the car; instead, he instructed the driver of the vehicle with the PA system, telling him to turn off the engine and get out. The kid did as he was told and stepped out onto the shoulder.
The cop trained the spotlight on the boy and had him run through a shameless series of tests. “All right—now flap your arms like a bird, stand on one leg, and hop up and down….”
When he had finished putting the screws to the kid, my new friend roared off, leaving the bewildered “suspect” standing in the middle of the road, trying to do cartwheels and recite the alphabet all at the same time.
The night continued in this terrible fashion. When we arrived back at the bar, Brian was behind the counter, making out with the youngest waitress. She was drunk too, taking a shot for every two that she served. She wasn’t the only one either—the DJ was drinking straight from a bottle of Jack Daniel’s that he had cadged from the bar.
I decided to take a walk on the beach. I had to get out of that stinking zoo—even if it was for just a little while. When I got outside, though, my calm was shattered. There was about a half-dozen locals chasing each other up and down the sand, shooting each other with air rifles.
Well, to hell with it, I thought.
I sat down to watch the action for a bit. The game was declared over before too long, though. A well-placed shot had lodged a BB in one of the player’s nose.
I wandered back inside … and just in time, too. The DJ was waving his liquor bottle and shouting into his microphone, “All right, you drunks! It’s last call, so go and get whatever you need now!”
In desperation, I ordered a beer, two bloody marys, and a shot of whiskey. I only had about ten minutes to drink them, but I knew that I could do it. I gathered them up in my hands and walked over to where Brian and the waitress were groping each other.
I had to throw a book of matches at his head just to get his attention. He turned around angrily and said, “Hey—what gives, man?”
“Come over here,” I said. “I have to talk to you for a minute.”
Brian kissed his new girlfriend on the neck and whispered some obscene promise in her ear before abandoning her for a moment. “What is it?” he asked.
“Well,” I said, “what now? Look at yourself: you’re a mess.”
Brian smiled and said, “Rodney, I think that I’m going to be taking that pretty little thing back to the cabin at the end of the night.”
“Well, Jesus,” I said. “You’d better figure it out, because it is the end of the night—the bar’s closing, man.”
“Not for us, Rodney,” Brian said with a grin. “Thanks to my skills as a ladies’ man, we’re going to be staying for the after-party.”
“After-party?” I said. “What happens at the after-party—some kind of orgy or something?”
“No, man,” he replied. “We help them clean up a bit, and we drink all of the free beer that we want.”
So, we were left alone while everyone else was hustled outside. Some of the people that were more reluctant to leave were beaten about the head with a broomstick, until eventually we were the only ones left. The bartenders were removing all of the liquor bottles, but—as promised—we were each presented with a plastic cup filled with our choice of beer.
Wyatt and I helped the bartenders sort their tips, because we were too drunk to do anything else. One of the girls made a half-assed attempt at sweeping, but she was so blasted that she kept tripping and bouncing off the tables, like she was part of a pinball machine. The waitress that seemed to be in charge told her to just forget it—someone would sweep in the morning.
The DJ was slumped over his table, drooling on his equipment…. So, we plugged some money into the jukebox. Brian, attempting to serenade his date, selected Jimmy Buffet’s “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw?” It seemed to work, though—she took my friend’s hand and said, “I love this song…. Let’s dance.”
We continued to drink heavily for several more hours, discussing everything from sex to local politics. I seem to remember someone saying something about a new ordinance being proposed that would limit the number of junk cars allowed in any one yard. The rest of my memory of that cruel, after-hours brouhaha is mercifully dim.
I remember Wyatt and Brian shaking me awake at some point. I was lying on top of one of the tables, a beer still gripped in one of my hands. I took a long swallow from it and tried to read my watch. “What time is it?” I croaked.
“It’s about four-thirty,” Wyatt answered. “Come on—it’s time to go.”
The girls were driving Brian back to the cabin, so Wyatt and I were left to walk. We threw our arms around each other for support and staggered off down the road. Even though we walked on the left shoulder—against traffic—we were still nearly wiped out by a pickup truck being driven by a hillbilly with a snootful of White Lightning or whatever it is that the locals whip up in their bathtubs.
We eventually reached the cabin safely. Brian had already let himself in with Wyatt’s keys, which he had stolen off the bar. He and the waitress were in the living room, pawing wildly at each other’s clothes and making strange noises. The sun was starting to come up, and I knew that I needed sleep. My roommate was expecting us home in the morning, which was only a few short hours away. So, I banished Brian and the girl to the guest bedroom. Wyatt retired to his own room, and I laid down on the couch.
I was awakened several hours later by the girl, who was crashing around the cabin looking for her clothes. She was in a state of fear and shock—mainly because she didn’t know where she was or what had happened. She fled on foot, and as far as I know, checked herself directly into treatment.
I rolled over and tried to get back to sleep, but it was no use. Wyatt and Brian were both getting up, and they demanded the same from me. I staggered to my feet and immediately fell over, knocking the coffee table askew.
“Jesus, Rodney!” Brian exclaimed. “You’re a rotten mess—look at yourself.”
I lay on the floor, regaining my composure. “I think I’m dying,” I said.
I was still buzzed from the night before, and a massive hangover had set in. I knew that if I could just get back to sleep for another twelve or fifteen hours, I would be fine.
Brian and Wyatt picked me up and dumped me in a chair at the kitchen table. I asked for coffee, but Brian handed me a glass filled with orange juice and vodka instead. “Here,” he said. “This’ll make you feel better.”
“I know how you feel,” Wyatt said. “Cabin life ain’t easy.”
I moaned and sipped my drink. Brian and I each had a couple of screwdrivers and decided to go swimming. The cabin’s water heater was broken anyway, so we figured that we would be better off bathing in the lake.
We grabbed a bar of soap and a couple of towels and walked down to the dock naked. The neighbors were launching their boat, so we waved and bid them good morning. The woman shrieked and covered her daughter’s eyes, hustling her into the house.
Her husband called over to us, “Don’t mind her—she’s still getting used to cabin life.”
We splashed around in the water for a while, and I started to feel human again. I said, “We’re going to have to head back soon … my roommate’s waiting for us.”
“Yeah—I know,” Brian said. “We’ll be on the road in no time—after all, I want to get to the Fair.”
When we got home, we were planning to put a couple of bottles of booze in a backpack and head over to the State Fair. My roommate would be anxious if we didn’t get an early start—but all of that is a tale for another time….
We went back inside and got dressed. Brian and I each had another screwdriver, and Wyatt was drinking Crown Royal with water. By the time that we were packed and ready to go, we were both stumbling drunk again.
Wyatt was staying at the cabin for another day, and he was getting ready to go back to the bar when we left. We got back on the road and really screwed it on. We were all tuned up, and my roommate was calling my cell phone, demanding to know where we were.
We stopped on the way to pick up Brian’s truck, which had been being repaired. He had destroyed the engine while off-roading—he went over a hill and suddenly found himself bogged down in a swamp, with water up to the windows.
We abandoned the rental car, which had been reduced to a smoking hulk. Brian left a message with the rental agency, telling them where they could pick up their vehicle. He accused them of peddling shoddy merchandise and told them they were lucky that he didn’t sue….
So, there we were: two good-ol’-boys, gone bonkers on booze, barreling down I-35 in a bright red pickup truck—the only thing that was missing was a gun rack. Wyatt had been right: cabin life ain’t easy—but it was necessary for people like us—and when the cabin was finally gone, things would never be the same.
John T. Schmitz is the editor & publisher of Secret Laboratory; he has also freelanced as a writer & photographer for various local and international publications. Mr. Schmitz is the author of four books; he lives in Minnesota with his wife and two children.
E-mail Mr. Schmitz at firstname.lastname@example.org.