Texas was Texas. It was dry and vast and it leaned in on you, let you know what it was all about. Billboards for gun shops, for strip clubs, for all-you-can-eat buffets. Car dealerships with nothing but AmeriCan pickups for sale. 7-11’s the size of strip malls. Neon signs for family-owned hotels coming at me from ten miles down the unlit Interstate. State Troopers cruising by in Hummers tricked out with bull bars, off-road light racks, 10,000-pound winches. The Lone Star flag hung in every window, trailing from every CB whip antenna.

I cruised through the Texas nighttime in my pristine blue BMW, pegged right on the speed limit, Chevy trucks and Ford sedans whipping past me and cutting back in with their brakes locked up, trying to force me to rear-end them. I can’t tell you if it was to force me out of the car, make it easy to gut-shoot me with a concealed .45, or to pick up a quick insurance claim against a wealthy out-of-stater. Texas’s mix of home-orientated xenophobia and severe poverty let me assume it could’ve been either, or both. But I can guarantee it was the CT license plate on the bumper that inspired it.

I drove into daylight, heading south. Traffic got heavier, oil tankers and commuter minivans clogging any lane they wandered into, half of them twenty miles over the limit, half of them ten miles under. I took a random right, some state highway tracking dead East even through desiccated farmland, empty except for the occasional teenager blazing down the road in a jacked-up old hunk of Detroit iron.

I stopped for gas here and there, made small talk with old men who forced casual friendliness into their voices as they asked where I was from and what brought me to their neck of the woods. I bought Mountain Dew and drip coffee from insulated aluminum carafes and packages of chocolate cookies and Fritos and the occasional plastic wrapped egg salad sandwich. I paid cash and smiled and offered compliments about the rugged beauty of the landscape, the majesty of the open sky, the astounding tranquility brought on by the countryside’s solitude. You don’t, I said, smiling, get this kind of stuff back East. They smiled back. I made small, short friendships and managed to keep myself from getting lynched across five hundred miles of shitkickers and rape-‘em-‘fore- ya-eat-‘em rednecks. Wearing earrings, glasses, and chinos, no less. As survival skills, bullshit friendliness and transitory charm are highly underrated.

I drove away the daylight and into twilight. The landscape got harder and angrier, flat plains of brown sand and red boulders, the road a wavering strip of cracked blacktop threading its way over dunes and around mesas the size of NYC office blocks. I drove under stars as bright as diamonds, under a sky as dark as tar. I drove past the silhouettes of collapsed farmhouses picked out by the bright stars. Tumbleweeds moved across the road, appearing for a brief moment in my headlights, thrown back into the desert by the wall of air in front of the BMW. I saw smears of fresh roadkill appear a moment before I rolled over them, my tires going shushshushshush over the leftovers of the rabbit or whatever that was just a tad too slow getting across the highway.

I drove into the night, no radio, windows rolled up tight in their frames, listening to the wind slip around the BMW’s skin. I don’t remember really thinking anything. I was just there, in small moments, watching the dashboard, the road, occasionally taking in the spray of pulsing stars spread against the horizon. Just driving.

Passing a sign announcing that I had just entered the Fort Stockton city limits, pop. 400, est. 1874. I wondered, momentarily, if there would be 7-11 or Circle K in town where I could pick up more cigarettes & Mountain Dew and then the BMW blew up.

Y’know, I’d given up expecting subtlety from the Voice, but, still, I’d figured there were some rules. Number one amongst them was to not kill my fucking ride in the middle of fucking Texas. I hadn’t articulated that out loud, but it seems obvious, doesn’t it? If you’re in such a rush that you go to the trouble to hire a messenger and send out into the middle of nowhere with all possibe haste, it seems self-defeating to destroy his means of transport.

The BMW blew up about ten feet past the Fort Stockton city limits sign. Mental recreation allows me to consider that it actually blew up precisely at the Fort Stockton city limits sign, and that the forward momentum produced by two tons of German steel travelling at about 65 mph was enough to delay evidence of the explosion till about ten feet past it. Given the unnaturally precise way things had been happening, that the car blew right at the sign seems likely, but in any event, I didn’t notice anything until about ten feet past the sign.

And when I say the BMW blew up, I’m, perhaps, exaggerating. The engine blew up, not the whole car, and even it didn’t really even blow up. What it did was, apparently, shear off the bolts that connected the pistons to the crankshaft and then throw every one of those pistons, all eight of them, through the cylinder head, through the hood and as far up into the sky as it could. So, yeah, KAPOK KAPOK KAPOK, eight times in a row, the ka being, I guess, the initial impact of a steel piston driving up through an inch of aluminum cylinder head and the pok being the noise that’s made when the vacuum created by a couple pounds of machined stainless launching itself into the deserts of Eastern Texas at a couple times the speed of sound fills in. I heard a sonic boom at sea level. How amazing is that?

I know that I screamed. I know that I yanked the wheel to one side and sent myself into an ass-first skid into the sand off the edge of the highway. I know that an empty coffee cup and my Red Sox cap and a few cigarette butts flew across my field of vision and bounced off the inside of the driver-side window. I know that I didn’t actually piss myself, but that I could feel a gallon or so of cycled caffeine pressing up against the inside of my cock as the car came to slewing stop in the sand. I know that I was holding my breath and bending back the steering wheel and refusing to blink for a good minute after everything had come to rest.

And then I noticed the flames licking up through the holes in the hood. Because, of course, the electrical and fuel systems were working just fine and aerated gas was being sprayed into the torn-open cylinders, the spark plugs were igniting the spray and I had a remarkably sudden and complete realization that my fine, beautiful German driving machine had just become an incredibly expensive gasoline-fueled bonfire machine and that I was about to get roasted alive.

I grabbed my bag, the package and my cigarettes, shoved the door open against the sand that piled up against it and starting running. Twenty strides down the road I heard the whump of the gas tank going up. I was not showered with burning debris. I couldn’t even feel heat from the inferno behind me. I slowed to a walk and shook a cigarette from the pack, dug a book of matches out of my pocket. I lit up and started walking towards Fort Stockton while the leftovers of the finest car I’d ever possessed crackled and popped and melted behind me.


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