The Road Taken

story by brian k jones  *  photography by adam chapman

Stepping outside of the gas station onto the cracked pavement, I looked at the front end of a 1982 Ford F-150 pickup truck.  The head lights looked like big sad optimistic eyes, the grill looked like a man trying to smile through his fear and as I walked back I compared the headlights to that of our rented late model SUV and thought about how slanted and mean they looked in comparison.  I looked at a man on a tractor, then gazed upon some teenagers walking into the station as they spit out swears and racial slurs.  At that moment, I realized that the apocalypse had already come. It had crept in while we were sleeping, dreaming of trinkets lined with foil, it had snuck in and made camp while we dozed at the tit of our glorious progress.

I got in the car and told the kid to get a move on, I opened a tall can of Heineken in a paper bag and watched the trash flutter about on the side of the road as he zipped in and out of the parade of stone faced shit birds on their way home from work.  I thought about the word petrol for a few minutes until Arnie broke the silence with a fart and a laugh from the back seat.  Jack started to laugh and we all rolled down our windows for a few minutes.

Traveling for work was never fun, or nearly as glamorous I thought it would be when I was younger.   Sometimes it could be tolerable enough that you might find a few laughs hidden in the cracks of the general misery and loneliness of it all. This happened to be one of those moments and I had been at the job just long enough to realize it, I celebrated with a rather large gulp of luke cold Heineken and a deep drag of my cigarette.

We got back to the hotel and stepped into the heat of the parking garage.  The three of us staggered in the barely lit sea of lonely parked automobiles towards the elevator, all silent and sore, with nothing to say.  A middle aged woman joined us in the elevator and exchanged a small smile with us.  I looked back at Arnie, he stood behind the woman and pretended to masturbate.  Again, Jack and I burst into stifled laughter, and the woman was quite pleased to be let off on the 4th floor.  The doors closed and we embarked on our way to our rooms on the 10th floor.

The elevator door clumsily opened and we nodded at one another with the understanding that we would meet in a few hours for beers and dinner.  Arnie again feigned masturbation as we parted but this time only Jack could manage a laugh.  I was ready to shit and shower, working a shift in a chemical plant made you feel dirty in a way that was almost incomparable.  A silky film and odor seemed to penetrate your pores like sperm penetrating an egg.  There was a conception of filth and disgust that could never properly be scrubbed away.

I stepped into the air conditioned room and flopped my ass on the bed, I let out a heavy sigh as I took off my steel toed work boots.  This was the favorite part of my day when I traveled on the job.  I had 15 hours of freedom in front of me.  I usually used the time to drink beer, read, and eat; letting the slothful part of my nature flow over me before I had to hit the snooze button again and slide out into the heat and general misery of spider-webbed piping and flanges that were used to mule chemicals back and forth in the process of concocting chemical compounds for the use of making household products.  Most people have no idea what it takes to make their soap or their mosquito spray.  The intrinsic nature of it is a dirty process, in a dirty place, carried out by dirty people.

It was our job to make sure these companies didn’t leak chemicals into the atmosphere, to make sure they complied with EPA regulations that most of them had little use for.  We were often in the unfortunate position of being hired by the company so that they could live up to the obligations of the federal government, a job they found too cumbersome to handle internally.  This made us the enemies of everyone in the plant save for the person who hired us to take the burden off himself and who often just wanted the job to be completed without any headaches.  It was my job to make everyone happy, the government, the company we were hired by, the bosses back at the office, and the technicians out in the field.

I thought about all of that for a second and looked into the painting hanging over the wall behind my bed.  There was a woman holding her child in a park looking out over a pond.  They seemed oblivious and happy, smiling at ducks that were waiting for strewn pieces of bread.  I thought about Claudia, my wife, and I missed her deeply.  I missed her smell and the way her hips curved into her torso.  I longed to lay my head on her belly and let the warmth of her loving nature sweep into my brain and expel the anxiety and misery of dealing with the world.  Thinking about things as comforting as that could make life damned near unbearable though so I lifted myself up and flipped on the television.

I turned on ESPN and watched the talking heads blather on about nothing important for a minute.  I undid my belt and unbuttoned my pants, and enjoyed the freedom of letting myself sag in the glorious nature of gravity.

I awoke an hour later to the ringing of my hotel phone.  I reached blindly for the phone and heard Jack’s voice on the other end.

“What the fuck are you doing in there looking at gay midget porn?  It’s almost 5:30!  Time to go out!”

Jack’s enthusiasm revealed that he had already started drinking.

“Give me twenty minutes.”

With that I hung up the phone and stumbled to the shower.  The hot water on my face felt good and I perked up for a moment.  The night was young and debauchery would soon be afoot.

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