Running the Road
—first published in CC Motorcycle Newsmagazine—
It's gotta be a classic car—a souped up 1957 Chevy with a jacked-up rear end, or a pink and white Buick convertible with foot-high fins, or maybe just a '58 Ford roomy enough to seat six football players comfortably or a dozen teenagers if necessary.
There's a radio, of course. Rock 'n' roll blasting loud enough to make the people in the next car cover their ears. And no seat belts—we ain't talking about safety here.
Some people want a motorcycle—a big, black Harley chopper is the overwhelming favorite, though biker purists prefer the '49 Indian. No music with the bike, but exposure to the elements really grabs some folks.
Car or bike, it has to go fast. Not Indianapolis Speedway fast; this is the street, not a racetrack. But 1990s-Montana-no-speed-limit-highway fast—minimum speed eighty, maximum as far over a hundred as you can coax out of the engine.
You gotta have some kind of alcohol. A six-pack of Old Milwaukee or National Boh getting warm in the back seat, a cold one between the driver's legs. Or maybe a bottle of cheap tequila bought in Ciudad Acuna or Juarez. White tequila, just barely fermented, not the gold stuff aged for years.
And, naturally, you need a road. The old U.S. highways are the best: a long, flat road, like they had in west Texas or New Mexico, not a lot of traffic, not a lot of cops, but just enough of both to make it interesting and risky.
You've never tried it, huh? I thought everybody checked out virtual reality stuff a few times. Guess you folks with money can get your excitement other places. Maybe do a safe version of the real thing.
Oh, yeah, they definitely program traffic police into these things. You know, it's funny how few people pull over for the cops. Cop shows up in their rearview mirror, and even if they aren't very drunk, they're gonna try to outrun 'em.
Sometimes they do. When they don't make it, when they get caught, the cops invariably get pissed off and beat the crap out of them before hauling them up before a justice of the peace. The judge usually puts them on a chain gang unless they have enough money to pay him off. Most of them don't; most of them have enough for one or two more tanks of gas and maybe another six-pack.
The ones that outrun the cops usually crash and burn.
Some folks quit after one arrest, or one wreck. The pain of getting beat up or dying in a collision is too much for them, even if it ain't real. But most folks come back time after time, trying to get away from the cop, do that crazy maneuver right this time so they don't go careening off the cliff.
Funny, though, the ones who keep coming back always play until they end up dead or in jail; they never stop after successfully winning a round. They always want to push the envelope a little bit further.
But it's only a game. VirtualRisk. You can get into a gunfight with Wyatt Earp, go ten rounds with Muhammad Ali, cross swords with Miyamoto Musashi or command a starship in an interstellar war. Or, if you're not into fighting, you can climb a sheer rock face, walk a tightrope, fly a rescue mission into a hurricane. The possibilities are endless.
But Running the Road is the biggest draw. Driving a polluting vehicle that guzzles down fossil fuels at speeds far above the point of safety. Drunk. Flouting authority. And seeing how close you can come to dying without actually doing it.
Why do people like it so much? Maybe because there's absolutely nothing constructive about it. I can't think of anything else legal that completely defies every current national value. Sometimes I wonder why the government allows it.
Not that I'm bitching, you understand. I run a VirtualRisk franchise. 'Course, it ain't much of a living, since the franchise company skims most of the profit. I made more money when I worked a nine to five on a keyboard. Worked fewer hours, too.
But if you own the franchise, you can play all you want, so long as you don't chase off your customers. When I first got it, I drove every night. Sometimes I'd ride a Norton—half the fun of that one is that one minute it'll be riding like a dream and the next something will misfire and you'll be lucky if you don't bust your head open.
Mostly, though, I'd drive a late 1950's T-Bird, turquoise, with the stylized Navaho thunderbird on the side. Eight cylinders. Convertible. Steppenwolf playing "Born to Be Wild" on the radio. A bottle of mescal, complete with a worm, and a six-pack of the cheapest beer available.
I always went alone. You can set the program for other people—either make 'em up or do it with a friend. But my idea was to be out there by myself. That's how I always dreamed of the road.
Just like my customers, I always stayed with it until I crashed or went to jail. And I came back for more, over and over.
Except lately, I haven't run at all.
Running a business takes a lot of work. You probably know all about that. Keep up the equipment, pay the bills, supervise the employees, keep the big company happy.
I keep telling myself that I'm just growing up, taking my business more serious. Maybe I should settle down, have a kid before I get too old. You outgrow this stuff.
Except that you don't. Tonight, riding home on the subway, I got that same old feeling in my groin. It was almost busting out of me.
Some folks, they get that feeling, they just want to fuck. That's why the SafeSex people do so well, because that deep crying need can't be met with the sweet, gentle lovemaking folks have in their comfy, monogamous relationships. That need don't have nothing to do with love, and not a whole lot with lust.
It's deeper than that—an aching somewhere in your soul. Sometimes it crosses the line between sex and fighting.
Some friends of mine like to go dancing when they get this need. Only most modern dance halls don't play that pounding, drum-driven music that makes you dance like you're about to bust. These days everybody waltzes—that retro-Victorian thing with the fancy dresses and all.
Really? You like that stuff? It always makes me uncomfortable—too stiff, too formal. I worry about tripping over my feet the whole time.
I get that urge, I want to drive. So I thought about getting off the last subway and walking back to the shop to Run the Road all night instead of sleeping.
'Cept I didn't want to run no fake road. I wanted to drive, really drive. I wanted the real road, the real car belching its real polluting smoke. I wanted to really get stinking drunk. I wanted to really go ninety-seven miles an hour and try to outrun a real cop.
See, that's the trouble with VirtualRisk. There ain't no goddamn risk to it. You drive and crash, and then you take the headset off. You can't kill yourself playing VirtualRisk.
And if there isn't the chance you're really gonna kill yourself, what's the fucking point?
Okay, so I'm crazy. We've spent the last hundred years in this country trying to get rid of risk. And I'm as glad as anyone about some of it. When's the last time you heard about some kid getting run over by a drunk driver? Accidental death's so rare today that when it happens it's the lead story on the national news.
We got good public transportation, clear skies, universal health care. I may be in hock to the franchise company, but I do own my own business. No one lives on the streets; the mentally ill are whisked off to humane institutions.
You know all that. Of course, we got more crazies than anyone expected, like all those folks who got caught trying to kill themselves. Personally, I think that if we didn't have all those nice protections everywhere—barriers on the windows in tall buildings, alarms that go off if your head gets underwater in your bathtub—we'd have a hell of a suicide rate.
Anyway, you don't care what I think. I came about the motorcycle. I know, I know, it's not a Harley. It's a Honda. An electric Honda. And it probably won't go faster than fifty.
But I saw your demonstration the other day, when you showed your collection at the museum. I know it still runs.
Look, I'll give you my business for it. No strings attached. Complete ownership. I got the right to do that, anyway. And my assistant can run it for you; just let him Run the Road all night, and he'll do everything. You'll just take in the money.
A rich guy like you that collects all this stuff, you'll get a better deal than I ever could from the company when renewal time comes up.
Not enough? Okay, look, how about we say I stay with the company, after a short vacation. It's yours, but I'll come back and run it.
What if I don't come back? What, you think I can run the road for real forever? Nobody can do that.
So you figure I'll try. Of course I'll try. But we both know what the odds are.
So there's this life insurance policy on me, you see? Business principal insurance. Triple payment for accidental death was only a few extra bucks. The company gets the money, so it can run without me. You'll own the company, you'll get the bucks.
Still no deal? Oh, hell . . .
I'm sorry, man. I just gotta have this bike. Jesus, I guess I hit you harder than I thought. I must of learned something Virtualboxing with Mike Tyson. You okay? I wish you'd say something. Shit, I never hit anybody real before; I hope I didn't hurt you too bad.
I really didn't mean to hurt you. I just got to have this bike.
I figure the cops will come after me sooner or later. You'll call 'em if you come to. Or somebody'll find you. I guess they'll lock me up for hitting you and stealing the bike.
Plus nobody's supposed to drive any kind of vehicle without about a hundred and seventeen licenses. It's going to be tricky enough just getting out of the city.
But I'm gonna get all the way out to a piece of real road. You'll see.
I hear that some parts of old Route 66 still exist out in the New Mexico desert. I'm gonna try to get there.
I'm not out to kill myself, you know. I just want to see how close I can come to it.
Oh, one more thing. You know that bottle of twenty-five-year-old gold Tequila you had locked in that glass cabinet? Maybe it's too good for the road, but it just fits in the saddlebag.
I don't need a radio; I know all the words to "Born to Be Wild."
Nancy Jane Moore's collection Conscientious Inconsistencies, part of the showcase series from PS Publishing, will be published in May 2008. Her novella Changeling is available from Aqueduct Press as part of their Conversation Pieces series. Nancy's short fiction has previously appeared on Farrago's Wainscot and on other online venues, as well as in magazines ranging from Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet to the National Law Journal, and in a number of anthologies, including Imaginings, Imagination Fully Dilated: Science Fiction, and Polyphony 5.
Nancy is active in Broad Universe. She blogs on literary matters at Ambling Along the Aqueduct and expresses her political opinions on In This Moment. Building on her years of study in Aikido and other martial arts, she blogs on self defense at Taking Care of Ourselves.
After living for many years in Washington, D.C., Nancy recently returned to Austin, Texas, where she's catching up with local music.
copyright © 2008, Nancy Jane Moore
—Shadows in My Mind
—All Roads Are One
—Three Views of the Maiden in Peril
—She Has a Nice Personality
—Running the Road
NANCY JANE MOORE
ADRIENNE J. ODASSO
—Four Last Things
ADRIENNE J. ODASSO
KRISTINE ONG MUSLIM
KRISTINE ONG MUSLIM
—Archetypical Metafiction: Scrutinizing Fallen Archetypes
TOIYA KRISTEN FINLEY