Luggage in hand, I was traversing LAX looking high and low for Peter. We had not settled on an exact location in which to meet up; heck, I wasn’t even really sure whether he intended to meet me in baggage claim or simply pull up outside. We were twenty year olds. Planning and organization was hardly our strong suit. I suppose I had little idea what a living nightmare this airport would be; it felt like the lion’s share of the world’s population had descended into this one small arena with the single task of keeping me adrift and alone. I had flown five hours from Newark airport to Los Angeles and I had no ticket home. So if I failed to find Peter, I was just going to have to use my meager savings to find a room to rent and buy a junker with which to battle the psychotic traffic patterns of La La Land.
Peter had phoned me a few weeks before and barely giving me a chance to say hello he excitedly ranted, “Dude… here’s the thing. I just graduated USC. I was going to book a flight home to Jersey when it occurred to me that there was a much cooler way to go about making my way back home. Dig it… you get a one way ticket to L.A. and we drive my car across the country blasting music and getting high the entire time.” My response was concise: “I’m in.” Peter had been my best friend since we were about fifteen after meeting at a summer program called Governor’s School, a month-long excursion in southern New Jersey on a college campus for gifted artists (actors, singers, painters, poets, etc.) Me and Pete were both in the acting program and on day two we bonded over a small radio broadcasting the Major League Baseball All-Star game. We lived about two hours away from each other, he in south Jersey just outside Philadelphia and me in north Jersey about 12 miles from The Lincoln Tunnel. So, for the rest of our time in high school, we saw each other when we could, which was never enough, and then we both got accepted to B.F.A. acting programs, he in Cali and I in Ithaca, New York. For the next four years, our time together was limited to a few visits over the summer. So the idea of being in a car together, day and night, wildly careening our way across the entire country sounded like heaven.
From somewhere behind me I heard, “Hey, Faggot!” (we were young and ignorant). I spun around just in time to receive Pete’s arms yanking me into a fierce embrace and fervently whispering into my ear, “This is going to be so fucking awesome!” “Oh yes,” I said, “This shall be a most epic adventure.” We navigated the mass human traffic as we made our way toward the parking garage. “Oh,” Pete said, “Did I mention that we need to knock this out in three days?” “Excuse me?” I queried. “We have three days to get to Jersey.” “We need to travel three thousand miles in three days?! What are you, insane?! Why three days?” “I have tickets to a Floyd concert on Friday night.” This should not have made a whole lot of sense but somehow it kind of did. “Ok, ok,” I said calming myself down, “That’s a thousand miles a day. We can do that. You holding plenty of goodies I assume?” Pete grinned menacingly, “I have an ounce of very good weed, a quarter ounce of outstanding weed and a half ounce mushrooms; the magic variety.” I smiled back, “All right, three days, no problem. Although if we trip at the hotels, we won’t sleep, y’know?” “Nah, we’ll trip for four or five hours and then grab two, three hours of sack time. It’ll be fine.” So, okay, that sounded sort of solved. “You drive stick right?” Pete asked. “No,” I answered. He stopped dead, “What do you mean, no?” I stopped too, “What does no mean? No, I don’t drive stick.” “But the car is a stick,” he said with exasperation. I stared at him incredulously, “Dude, I can’t drive stick whether the car is a stick or not.” “Why didn’t you say something?!” “What do you mean why didn’t I say something? Do you mean why didn’t I ask a question that no one ever asked me?!” Pete took a few deep breaths, “Well, we have something of a problem here.” “It would seem so,” I agreed. We crossed the threshold into the garage and Pete stopped again and offered, “All right, I’ll tell you what. I’ll drive the whole way if you promise that you will stay awake the whole way.” “Oh, dude, definitely,” I shot back, “I wouldn’t crash on you. You sure you’re okay with that?” Pete responded, “Well, A) we don’t really have a choice, and B) If I’m sitting awake in a car, what does it matter whether I’m driving or sitting?” That made sense to me, and so, crisis averted. Let the games begin.
After a day loading up Peter’s apartments between lengthy bong hits and large swigs of mountain dew, we were prepared for our impending adventure. “Where are the drugs?” I inquired. “In my gym bag in teh back seat.” Luckily (or not so luckily), about a year before, I had been pulled over on route 95 on my way back to Jersey from Miami with my buddy Logan with a pipe and a about a dime bag of weed in the front console. We spent two hours in handcuffs as a drug dog tore the living crap out of my Toyota Camry. I had two hits of acid in my wallet that, by the grace of God, they failed to recover and, in the end, we ended up with a high-priced ticket we needed to pay to the state of Virginia. It had taught me a valuable lesson. “No, dude. Roll four joints and open the trunk. As he expertly inserted and encased the marijuana in the short, thin papers, I located a Sega Genesis in the bottom of the trunk. I put all the drugs in a plastic bag, which I then put in a paper bag, which I then stored underneath the console and taped the box shut. “Pete, we have enough drugs to spend a good long time in lockup if we get caught. Put the four joints in the middle console. When we run out, we’ll pull into a gas station and reload. I also put bottles of Evian water at the foot of both of our seats. “What’s that for?” he asked. “Just trust me. Let’s party like lunatics without making lunatic decisions. The chances of a cop demanding a search of the trunk and managing to find our stash are minimal. This is the way to go, k?” “Coolio,” he said as he threw the car into drive and we hit the open road.
We smoked up the four joints within the first hour and a half of the drive and were, to be candid, higher than a tightrope walker on stilts. The music was blasting and we were playing catch up on the last six months or so in which we had had barely any contact at all. This was working beautifully for the first few hundred miles, but eventually all the pot was making us quite a bit sluggish and tired and dreary. “Man, we have 800 miles to drive before we can stop and I am baked to the gills and ready to fall unconscious. Pete smiled his most devilish smile and proclaimed, “Then it must be time for the ‘shrooms.” “‘Shrooms. We can’t stop and trip now. We have a boatload of driving to do.” “No man,” Pete carried on, “I mean we do them in the car.” “Uh… Pete… you-uh… can’t drive on hallucinogenics… can you?” “I don’t know,” he honestly answered. But there is no better way to find out then to try.” “Pete, all due respect, your logic might be a bit sideways here. I’m all for an experiment. But not one in which if the experiment fails, we die in a fiery blaze of metal and steel.” “Dude, listen. We’ll just take a cap and a stem each. There’s no way that that much will make us insane. It’ll just give us a well-needed boost, a whole lot of giggling and probably some pretty hallucinations. There’s practically no one on the road and we are on a highway. All I have to do is keep the car straight. I’m fairly certain I can handle that. Worst case scenario, it is too much for me, and we pull over and lay in a field until they wear off.” This was not sound thinking. Clearly. And it should not have resonated as sound thinking to me. And yet, I found his game-plan sort of brilliant. So we popped the trunk, untaped the Sega, popped a cap and a stem each, re-hid the stash, slammed the trunk and continued on our way. The next half hour was a strange mix of morbid fear and rampant anticipation. I vividly recall passing a waffle house (they appear at nearly every exit on I-95, and seeing that the sign had been botched and read “wobble house.” “Did you see that,” I asked Pete, “That waffle house totally said wobble house.” “No, it didn’t, you asshole. You’re tripping.” “I am not. I’m fine. Are you tripping?” “Man, I am tripping balls!” I laughed hysterically, “So am I.”
After the laughter died down some, I asked the question that I had feared asking for the last fifteen minutes or so. “So, uh, are you like… all right?” I was fairly sure that I would have been unable to safely operate a vehicle under the present circumstances. “I think I’m all good, man. I’m some really interesting streaks of color and stuff, but it doesn’t seem to be impeding my ability to handle the vehicle. As far as you can tell, are we in one single lane and not careening back and forth?” I took a good look; or as good a look as I was capable of taking. “Near as I can tell, you are doing a bang up job.” So we cranked up the tunes and starting yelling “woo-hoo’s” and “yippee kay yay’s” out the window like a couple of psychotic cowboys. For the next eight hours (or so, it’s hard to tell), we stopped and popped a cap and a stem each hour and just kept the party going all through the dark of the night and early morning. We were laughing so hard and so maniacally for hours on end that we had to stop a few times because it felt like my innards were apt to blast right through my stomach lining and splash the dashboard. We were making amazing time. Part of the reason for this is that Pete was completely ignoring the posted speed limits. Now, you’d think that if you are driving on federal highway stoned to the gills on illegal chemicals, you’d at least have the sense to obey the speed limit. Nonetheless, I’d say we traveled for at least five straight hours with Pete pushing his battered old Celica up to 110. We were jettisoning down the highway at top speed as the world flew by in a panacea of light and color swirling and dancing and beckoning further on into our hedonistic hullabaloo.
We tripped and smoked and drove into the early morning light. The next thing we knew, it was 8:30am or so and we were stuck in morning rush hour. Our brains were not currently wired to handle this imposition with any level of reasonableness. Having knocked out 1200 miles on day one, we were ahead of schedule and decided it was time to find a motel and get some shuteye. We checked in, dumped our bags, hit the sheets and were unconscious in minutes.
We awoke around 2pm, fresh and rested, and ready for day two. As I finished packing my bag, Pete expertly rolled four joints for the console. We each popped a cap and a stem, threw the car into drive and sped off. Unfortunately, it was dank and a bit rainy out which made for less than an exuberant sendoff, but, at the end of the day, when you’re really really high, the weather is but a minor factor. We were joking and busting balls looking forward to a repeat of day one. This daydream was crushed in short order by a blinding array of red and blue lights emanating from somewhere behind us. “Oh, shit! Cops!” panicked Pete. I went right into action. I handed him a joint. “Eat it,” I said sternly. “What?!” he asked. “Eat it. Eat the joint. Grab the water at your feet and swallow the thing. Now!” I didn’t want to overwhelm him and considering that I had planned for the possibility of this very event, I took the brunt of the responsibility and downed the other three joints using about half the bottle of water to choke them down. The Oklahoma state trooper sauntered out of his vehicle ambling in out direction decked out in mirrored sunglasses despite the utter lack if sunshine. Having, I imagine, already noticing the New Jersey plates, he approached the drivers side window to find two raggedy looking kids, both with three days and growth and hair sprouting in every possible direction. There was a glow in the dark condom hanging from the rear view window that we had found in a rest stop vending machine. The car was littered with empty soda cans, and half-eaten bags of circus peanuts, spice drops, cheese nips, Pringles, and pork rinds. Pete handed over his license and registration. “You know how fast you boys were goin'” he asked with a wry grin. “No sir,” answered Pete, “How fast.” The trooper answered, “Too damn fast; that’s how fast.” He leaned in closer sniffing like a motivated Beagle. “You boys been smoking some dope?” We were both utterly panicked. In an inspired moment of semi-brilliance, I answered, “To be honest officer, we shared a joint before we got on the road and that is probably what you smell. I know we shouldn’t have done it and we’re sorry.” He waited a few beats. “So no drugs in the car then?” I knew what the correct answer was but somehow, all of a sudden, I couldn’t make my mouth form words. And then it occurred to me. I am tripping in mushrooms and I just are three joints. My whole world was melting right before my eyes. The troopers face kept elongating and expanding and contracting as if it were made of rubber and I was both suppressing the instinct to laugh and scream simultaneously. His voice brought me part of the way back to reality, I asked you a question, boy! Are there are any drugs in the car? Somehow the power of speech returned just long enough for me to spit out, “No sir, no drugs.” “We’ll just see about that. Both of you, out of the car.” Now I was really losing it. This was going to be bad. Really bad. I suspected that the smell of pot smoke might be enough to grant him permission to check the trunk. Plus, it was Oklahoma. Who knew what these backwoods cops were capable of? We were like little squeaking mice dropped headlong into the snake aquarium. He handcuffed us both and did a thorough search of the car. He found nothing because there was nothing to find. He uncuffed us. He looked at me and said, “back in the car.” Then he looked at Pete and said, “You… come with me.” I watched Pete and the trooper climb into the squad car and was left with my now insane mind to skitter straight down the rabbit hole frantically imagining every horrible thing that could possibly take place as a result of our present circumstances. Suffices to say, I was thinking very, very, bad things; and growing more terrified as each second passed. I don’t know how long Pete was in that car but it felt like an eternity. Finally, I see Pete step out of the car while the trooper stayed inside. Pete slowly walked back to his car, gingerly opened the door, carefully sat down, slowly put the keys in the ignition and cautiously started the engine. I was flummoxed. “What is going on?” I whispered. Pete, frozen, not even looking my way said, “Say nothing. For now, just say nothing.” And we pulled out onto the highway and Pete began to drive.
We made our way down past three exits or so in absolute silence. Finally, Pete pulled over at a gas station, stopped the car and pressed his forehead into the top of the steering wheel. “Are you ok?” I asked. “I think so. That was like the scariest ten minutes of my life. He kept grilling me angrily asking me about who we were and wheat we were doing and what we were hiding and what could happen to us and then, for a reason I cannot possibly comprehend, he said, ‘Ok. Go on back to your car and be careful out there.’ I don’t know why. It was surreal. I’m still feeling a little shaky. But I think I’m good to go now. You ok?” He finally took a good look at me and realized in an instant that the answer was decidedly ‘no.’ “Shit, you look like you’re totally buggin’ out. Are you totally buggin’ out?” “I am totally buggin’ out.” I felt crazy and sick and exhausted and frenetic all at the same time. “I think I need to lay down somewhere,” I said. “Dude, we can’t. I see that you are in bad shape, but we have to keep going. Forget the promise of staying awake. Just put the seat back and close your eyes and I’ll push us through.” I tried that and it was something less than a success. My mind was going at a million miles an hour and it wasn’t traveling anywhere good. Pete tried every kind of music he had available and no matter what he put in, it either freaked me out, depressed me or made me feel like putting my fist through the window. Then, all of a sudden, Pete had a brainstorm. “Hold on. I think I know what’ll calm you.” He pulled over to the shoulder and went rooting around in the floor of the back seats. I heard him say, “A-ha!” He popped in a cassette and gleefully said, “Enjoy!” The next thing I heard was something in the ballpark of, “When my agent called me and told me I had the gig, I could never have dreamed of what it would actually mean to be a Brady kid.” The voice emanating from the speakers made me feel both warm and more than a little bit confused. It became clear, in short order, that I was listening to Barry Williams, the man who played Greg Brady on the popular seventies sit-com The Brady Bunch. It was a book on tape recording of his memoir/biography called (I think) “I Was A Teenage Brady,” or something like that. In any other situation, I would surely have asked, “Pete, why in hell do you have this and where did you get it?” But I didn’t. For some odd reason, it was working. Barry’s voice was soothing and easy to listen to and the story, go figure, was quite compelling and enjoyable. Many hours passed as Pete drove like a trooper through the rain-drenched streets, occasionally puffing on a joint, obtaining the progress we so desperately needed which I was completely unable to participate in. To his credit, Pete added 800 miles to the odometer before calling it and pulling in to a motel. I thanked him for taking care of me and for bearing the burden of wet isolated driving and we both crashed quick and hard.
I awoke on day three, refreshed, relieved and looking forward to sitting in a car without fantasizing my own death. I came out of the shower towelling off to find Peter rolling joints and separating the caps and stems of the mushrooms. “Um… what in the name of all that is holy are you doing?” I asked with more than a note of incredulity. He looked at me confused and said, “What do you mean? Four joints in the console and a cap and a stem each hour, right?” I suppose something inside my compromised brain thought, “Cops!? We aint scared of no stinking cops!” because my answer was nothing but a single word: “Right.” We popped our ‘shrooms, set fire to the marijuana and began the last leg of the trip. Because we had shut it down early the day before, we were able to get a really early start. It was a great day. Seventy degrees with a nice cool breeze; windows open; tunes a blarin’ and high as a couple of kites. The only alteration from the basic framework was that Pete was now driving the speed limit (or, at least, wasn’t exceeding it by more than ten miles). We talked and argued and laughed about movies and books and baseball and women and a whole hot of utter nonsense. Over the years, Pete and I had developed enough inside jokes that just rattling those off in a stream could kill two or three hours. At one point, we pulled over at a scenic overlook, having just popped some ‘shrooms and blown through a joint in record time. There were a bunch of families there taking a break from their own journeys, and Pete and I struck up conversations with the lot of them. We all hung out for almost an hour as Pete and I held court with the adults and played with all the kids making them laugh. It was a strangely ironic scene; these nice wholesome families enjoying and trusting two twenty-year old drug-addled juvenile delinquents. I mean, we weren’t dangerous or anything. We were basically reasonably nice guys who just really enjoyed getting high. Nonetheless, when we got back into the car, Pete asked, “Was that a little messed up?” I laughed and answered, “A little.”
From then on, we did nothing but drive. We stopped for gas once (maybe twice) and pulled to the shoulder when we had to pee. The speed limit was 70, so we were able to safely do 80 miles an hour with a mostly clear highway and before we knew it, we were on the east coast. We had crossed into Pennsylvania (which would turn out to be a much larger state than I thought) and grandly announced, “Next state, New Jersey, baby!” A few hours into the state, our odometer told us that we had completed 950 miles. With only 50 short miles to go, Pete suggested, “Hey, my friends at the show will have plenty of goodies. Let’s make this last fifty miles count and finish off what we have.” Again it’s hard to say why, but this sounded like an excellent idea. We stopped, rolled up the rest of the pot, gobbled down the rest of the mushrooms and got ready to cross the finish like in style. In about a half an hour we were blown out of our minds. I kept asking Pete if he could keep handling the car and he kept saying yes, but just barely. This probably should have been a concern but we were way too blasted to be worried about anything.
About fifty miles later, we weren’t noticing any signs that suggested that New Jersey was about to appear. We stopped in at a gas station and were greeted with some mighty troubling news. The idea that New Jersey is 3000 miles away from Los Angeles turned out to be a sort of estimate; more specifically a sort of rounding down. In truth, the trip we set out to make was about 3250 miles. Dejectedly, we got back into the car and got back on the highway looking at another two to three hours of driving while realizing we were already coming down from our intake and that we were fresh out. About 150 miles later, we looked like a couple of deflated balloons. We both had fairly intense headaches as well as stomach aches. We were bleary-eyed and tongue-tired. We were running on fumes. The last hour of the trip was a mild nightmare as we both just watched the mile markers pass by wishing and hoping that they could do so at a faster rate. As I had mentioned earlier, Pete lived two hours away from me. The Floyd concert started at 8:00pm. He pulled into my driveway at 6:00pm. We were both pretty shot but I had a bed to look forward to and he would be high again in a few hours. I grabbed my bags out of the back and gave him a big hug. “We made it,” I said. “Yes we did,” he answered back, “Thanks for doing it with me.” “I don’t think we’ll ever forget this one. The good and the bad.” As Pete got back into the car and threw the gear shift into reverse, he looked at me, smiled, and said, “Sometimes… y’know what I’m sayin’?”