|There's your cowboy. He's 32 in 1976 - the god awful year of the American Bicentennial. It's June and he's 2-Up on a Gold Wing and he and Lou are heading south. They'll be on the road for 102 days and put 15,000 miles on the bike but there won't be as many mountains this trip and Skippy won't have to retune his carburetors for altitude every other day. His arms are pepper red and burned because it's hot already and he and Lou have abandoned their leathers for T-shirts. The budget is limited so there will be precious few motels and Skippy can already sense an endless string of KOAs and overnight campgrounds with names like: Mule Trail and Devil's Post. Every State has a Yogi Bear Kamp & RV. Or Mud Lake. Yesterday Skippy was squatting on a curb in Kokomo, Indiana eating apples and studying the parking habits of shoppers. All of northern Indiana looked like an alley where the weeds have overgrown; rusted truck trailers lined the roads. Indiana is a Get-Thru State - there's no reason to stop except to piss and fill Sol's 5 gallon tank. Men name their pickups, their motorcycles, and their favorite guns. Skippy named his motorcycle Sol - because it's blazing yellow, and also because he was in a pronounced Solar Phase. That night Lou picked a red ant hill to pitch the tent on and we pissed off the "McCulley's" from Texas who were camped next to us in a red, white, and blue home-made trailer which they were pulling with a 1968 Pontiac. They had 2 screaming kids and Skippy suggested that they shut up. In Cave City, Kentucky they went down into the Mammoth Cave system - 360 miles of caverns - to check out the "Bottomless Pit," which had been advertised along the highway for 100 miles. The Pit turned out to be 105 feet deep and Skippy was rocked back to grok the fact that Bottomless had been redefined: it was now 105 Feet. It was the 1st Sign - and Skippy had this feeling in his gut that many things were about to be redefined and brought up to date with the world as it is in 1976.
|Here's the scantily clad chicks you were promised. You can ask Google for anything. Skippy is stoned and bobbing around in the pool at the Columbia, Tennessee KOA. There's a fat kid in a Vanderbilt University sweatshirt doing what 300 lb. 13 year olds do: Cannonballing and sending huge whooshing tsunamis of heavily treated KOA pool water crashing over everyone and everything within 15 feet of the pool. The Queen of the Columbia KOA - 15 and Ripe - finally got wet. She had been parading herself for the campers for a half-hour and Skippy was having dark thoughts with all kinds of blowback. There was always a teen-queen at the KOA pools - I think it must be in their Mission Statement. But probably it's just Darwinian. If all the campers were birds then you would call the scene around the pool a Lek - a ritual ground for releasing Breeding Sign Behavior. A little Rump-Proferral here, a Cock-Strut for the misters. At night all the RVs turn their TVs, ACs, and CBs on. The Kamp fills up with electric noises and if it wasn't for the dope and Lou, Skippy would never sleep at all and sooner or later he'd wiggle out of his sleeping bag and the tent and unbungee his fold-up, army-surplus, entrenching tool and then slowly creep from RV to RV and collect skulls. Here are two things which Skippy learned from the Signs along the road so far: 1. There is to be a "Christian Truckers" Convention in Louisville in the middle of June. The "Special Guest Speaker" was Colonel Harlan Sanders - the founder and CEO of Kentucky Fried Chicken. 2. A Lesson on Tics: put a drop of WD-40 on them. It makes it easier to pull them out. Into Tennessee and Andy Jackson's people: Sandy or Red Haired Scots-Irish, aqualine noses, receding chins, knobby shoulder-blades, and arms too sharp and angular. We're bound for the Natchez-Trace Parkway but it will take a few days to get there. It was getting hotter by the hour and the mile. Sol is water cooled and shrugs off highway heat easily. Better than Lou and Skippy and their tics.
|The Natchez Trace winds 444 miles from Nashville to Natchez as it passes thru parts of Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi. It's a two-lane Parkway and there are no trucks permitted and no signs alongside the road, and no buildings allowed whatsoever within the viewshed. It's probably the most beautiful long drive in the world. Completely rural and non-commercial, it's totally wild except for the narrow road. The Natchez-Trace was first used by migrating animals following the Salt Trail up thru the southern parts of the Mississippi River, thru Alabama, to the Salt Licks in central Tennessee. Then the Old-timey injuns: the Natchez, Choctaw, and Chickasaw used it as a hunting trail. Mike Fink and the Kaintuck Boatman followed parts of the Trace. Then came the Pony Post Riders and behind them little fat men to start governments and try to rule-in and bridle wild territories of the Louisiana Purchase. The Natchez-Trace was the umbilical between the Mississippi Territories and the young United States. Today it's Federal and State Parkland and a highway thru America as it must have once appeared - before the roads, and the Malls, and the Kentucky Fried Chickens. Farmland, Cypress Swamps, thick forests with Kudzu wrapping them like snow. Fire Ant mounds dotting the red-dirt of the south. We were in Magnolia season and the thick southern air hung with a lemony-soap which got inside of you as you rushed thru on a motorcycle. You sit outside on motorcycles. Very few people have been across the continent totally outside in the weather and the scents. Skippy and Lou have made the trip 6 times and they know what America tastes like, and they know the sting of American June Bugs, and every kind of butterfly and cricket and locust you can imagine. Skippy can cross-classify Rains by states and regions as well as their smells, and their sting. Texas Rain is the worst. Oregon and Washington have Sacred Rains which give of Pine and Rhododendrons. But it was hot and dry on the Natchez-Trace and Skippy was singing a Frank Salomone line: "It ain't the rain that keeps the highway clean."
"No one can live for 200 years. He will die when god wills."
- Idi Amin - during the Purges -
from: Memphis Press-Scimitar - 14 June 1976
|That's Lou and Sol just before we joined the Natchez-Trace in Nashville. Lou was 22 that summer and still in college, studying Psychology and Education. She's a school Principal today. Being a student, she brought no money to the summer's budget - and still Skippy gave her only light duty. She had to take down the tent and roll it up, and she had to guard "The Wood." One of your first lessons with motorcycles is that if you put your Kickstand down on asphalt on a hot summer day the bike would pitch over and crash when the kickstand sank into the hot tarmac. So you carried a small piece of wood to put down first and then put the kickstand on it. Mine was 6" by 6" half-inch cedar. Lou lost the Wood 2 minutes after I took this picture. So now she only had to strike the tent.
|We crashed in Tupelo at a cheap motel on US45. No wonder Elvis left. The next morning, early, I packed up Sol while Lou went across the street to get us a coffee at a greasy-spoon. We drank it. She snapped this picture and then she climbed on. As I was backing up there was a sudden brake squealing sound and sirens. And bubble lights. It was a Tupelo cop - a Lieutenant, no less - and he had pulled his cruiser in and was blocking my exit. "You're the Runaway I'm looking for," he said to Lou. So it was helmets off and IDs out; you could see his disappointment when he found out that Lou's eyes were brown and not blue like his runaway, and that she was 22 and not 14. A woman in the greasy spoon had called the cops because Lou looked like the little runaway waif all of Tupelo was looking for. He gave me the Voodoo Stink Eye. Yankee White Slaver.
|Hot. A perfect 100 degrees. Dead things on the road. Armadillos mostly. But Possums too, some Coons, some things that look like they might have been weasels. So there are huge buzzards circling above the Trace - riding the thermals - waiting for an opening. But everything dead along the road already has its Crows and Buzzards. So the Circles in the skies are waiting for something else to die. I'm over the Speed Limit in America - which is 55 in those days. I'm way over 55 and it's too hot to slow down. I come upon the highway carrion too fast to brake. We slice right thru them - I watch them scattering in my handlebar mirrors. It's a Dance, I can see. The Circles above, the Scattering Dance below. It's a perfect 100; it's lush; it's thick; We are into the Cruise.
|And then there he was. Crawling. Meet Hans Mullikin a 30-Something Southern Baptist lay preacher from Marshall, Texas. Deeply tanned and well-muscled. Hans is crawling the 1300 miles from Marshall to Washington DC. His legs are wrapped in furs and sheathed in thin galvanized steel, one of his wheels on his armrests is smaller than the other to compensate for road-grade. I'll bet he had to learn that lesson. Every night he Kamps and does evangelical preaching. I stopped and offered him some of our water, but he pulls everything he needs behind him in a hand-made cart. That too is Red, White, and Blue. All he asked me was if I had seen any Smokies? The cops hassle him non-stop. He can't crawl the minimum speed - so he too is breaking the Speed Limit in America. He says that America is going to Hell. I didn't argue. Hans is Medieval, but he gets the job done.
|The last we saw of Hans Mullikin he was crawling north on the Trace towards the Ross Barnett Reservoir. The Army Corps of Engineers Amok. 33,000 acres of Man-Made lake with 20,000 acres of Man-Made Swamp surrounding. Lou and I had come up on the "Rez" suddenly and since it was so hot I pulled off the trace and followed a clay two-track to the shore. We were naked before we were off the bike and running towards a shelf of rock which hugged the shore. Skippy was poised, ready to leap in, when he saw that the lake waters were boiling. They were churning from within and there were thousands of shadows entangled in the murky brown water of the Rez. Snakes. The fucking waters were alive with snakes - 1000s of them - writhing in balls under the surface. So I was shouting after Hans as he crawled off to the lake: "Snakes! Watch for Snakes!" Man-Made Waters. Vinegar. It was all so fucking Biblical that I cried.
|Lou is not a weeper. She never cries. But she was blotchy and teared-up when we finally found her Uncle Doc's place in Vicksburg. Some killer strain of Mississippi Bee had stung her hand and it was now swollen to the size of a grapefruit. I took her to a Drive-Inn Emergency Care somewhere in Vicksburg. We were the only white faces for miles. People stared at us in the waiting room - but not with anger, more with curiosity. Finally a beautiful black nurse came over to us with a small plate of clay mixed with water. She spread it over the wound and said: "You all are not from around here, are you?" That's Doc and Doris and the Virgin Mary outside their home in a suburb of Vicksburg. Doc makes Nuclear Power Plants and he keeps a loaded pistol somewhere in every room of the house. "What for?" I asked. "For when the niggers come up the street."
|Doris was scandalized that some Yankee College Professor was sleeping with her unmarried niece. And I understood. We got separate rooms and then during the day when the two of them were out we fucked on their floors so as not to mess up the beds. Doc was a good-old boy and Skippy liked him immediately. Most of Skippy's buddies in the Army were good-old boys too. They taught him to love Hank Williams and a hundred metaphors involving a skeeter's peter. They laughed more readily than all the city boys with whom Skippy grew up. Later on, Doc's Construction Company was indicted for using subgrade materials in their fabrication of Nuclear Power Plants. Doc wiggled out, but the big paycheck was gone. Doris got the Cancer. You can fill in the dots. We stayed for 4 days because it was good to get off the road every few thousand miles so that you could let the wheel noise die down in your head. We tried to make a minimum of 300 miles on a Travel Day - less if we were stopping to see something - more if it was Indiana, Nebraska, Texas, Oklahoma, or any of those cheap lands that don't give you much to see: no mountains, no forests, no lakes, and mostly - no hills. Long, flat places where the road ahead turned into a pin-prick at the horizon. Mesmerizing places where the only input was the wheel noises of your own and of the others. 3 Years after this Skippy saw Hans Mullikin on the Mike Douglas Show. I was reading in the room of Don Orr's "Sleep Cheap" Ski Haus Motel when I heard his name coming from the television. It had taken him 2 and a half years to do it but he had made it and had crawled the 1300 miles over 3 summers until finally he had crawled up Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House and asked to see the President. Jimmy Carter didn't need a scene like that so he stiffed him and then that became the hook in the story: Prophet from Texas Crawls to the Inn but is Refused. Pray America.