Going There

The radio begins to sputter, weak transmissions overlaying the music. Ronnie reaches over and works the scan expertly, stoppping at a nonconfrontational Old Rock station, music that once offended a generation now bled of substance by jingle-seekers.

"If I remember right, this station should get us quite a ways." Nate lights a Marlboro Menthol from the butt of his last. "You know, it's been a long time since I took a road trip without a destination."

Ronnie smiles and opens a bag of pretzels. "Yeah, we're always going somewhere, aren't we." The highway tup-tup-tups under the tires of their Civic. The trunk is loaded with clothes and coolers; the backseat holds rods, reels, a tent, and a large plastic tub tightly packed with essentials.

The air smells different here, drier and hotter, dust and tar. An hour from home is another country. Nate pulls off the freeway into a rest stop that is barely more than a parking lot, a bathroom, and a historical marker telling the story of local atrocities dressed up as heroic settlers defending themselves against the savages who lived there first. He digs a bottle of soda out of the trunk and walks around the ticking car while Ronnie vanishes into the glass and cinderblock building.

By the time she comes out, Nate is back behind the wheel. Ronnie slides the seat back a notch and lights a Parliament, and they reenter the nearly empty interstate. The music stops for an hourly news update, focusing on the antics of the state legislature.

"I didn't vote for any of those bastards," Nate grits.

"Well, at least you tried."

Nate drives in silence for a while. When the words come, they are in a steady, nearly inflectionless stream. "The convention was interesting. Seeing the candidates scuffling for votes, fighting for the party's money -- eye opening. It was a weird place to be.

"The first night, after the party business and platforms, but before the actual campaigning started, the candidates all had rooms on the ground floor, by the pool. We went from room to room, and the liquor flowed. There was one guy. He didn't have any money to spend. He was the rebel, the outlaw of the party. He had a tailgate going on in the parking lot. He was the only guy with beer. The bigger the office, the bigger the party. The women had more information in their rooms, more handouts and leaflets, and better snacks, but less alcohol. There were only a couple, though. Mostly men.

"The prospective candidates stayed away that night, let their staff do the schmoozing, the boozing. They were interesting people, more interesting than their bosses, really. There was one. She was working for one of the hopeless ones, a son of politics, his dad's ambassador to somewhere now. Wendy.

"She drank whiskey staright up, and she was in every room I went to. She had long black curls, and a sharp jaw." (Ronnie closes her eyes and lights another cigarette, her third of the day. Nate stares straight ahead at the raod and talks.)

"The second day, the speechifyin' and voting started. We were up in the bleachers, in Small District gulag. Whenever a vote came up, we'd scurry down to the main floor with out handlettered signs and march, march in circles, trying to get the mob to form, to swing our way. It was a mindset we were trying to capture, that we were there for something more important than just giving the keys to the warchest to the most popular guy. And, that high up in the field, it was all guys. Testosterone and rhetoric in the air.

"That night, the parties were different. A couple of them were tiny and somber, trying to put a brave face on their inevitable defeat, being avoided by everybody. The guacamole was warm and the cheese curds were cold in those rooms, and the staffers drank more than the visitors, throwing their arms around our shoulders and breathing bourbon into our faces while they told of which of the surbivors their guy supported. The two leaders appeared that night, sober, serious, shaking hands and taking a few extra seconds with those of us their staffers had labeled as on the fence.

"They had adjacent rooms. The party spilled out of the front- runner's first, and the other guy's people started rounding up tables and setting them up. We took over the whole pool area.

"Wendy came and sat down across from me."

Ronnie waits, but Nate just stares at the windshield. "Nate?"

He flinches. "She had her shoes off. We went to her candidate's room. He had gone home, defeated already, and noone was there.

"She locked the door."

The radio begins to sputter, weak transmissions overlaying the music. Ronnie reaches over and turns it off.

(c)2001 Eponymous 1 2 2.9 3

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