Ghostly Tricks on Route 66

Route 66 evokes nebulous imagery. For some it stirs thoughts of mid-century America—a time of economic prosperity when capitalism was warmly embraced. Before its prodigal hell spawn (see BP, Enron, the Koch brothers, and Monsanto) shat the bed and ruined the sleepover for everyone. Adam Smith’s invisible hand might be able to steer a complex political economy providing everybody plays by the rules. But it takes a real, very visible pair of hands to wring chunks of nutty dump out of the woollen underlay after Christopher Skase cuts a sloppy one.

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Lou Diamond Phillips

For the shrewd, Route 66 conjures up images of the post-war boom in an ironic or knowing way—with the benefit of hindsight, one can picture these historic idylls overlaid with the present-day reality of decaying gas stations and moribund towns.

For the cynical, it is little more than a very long asphalt playground overrun by gaggles of middle-aged French tourists on Harley Davidsons.

For me, however, Route 66 has but one face: that of Lou Diamond Phillips. Specifically Lou Diamond Phillips as Jack La Roca in William Wesley’s 2001 horror/action unblockbuster Route 666. According to the film, Route 666 is a disused road that runs parallel to Route 66. It’s also haunted by the ghosts of a massacred chain gang. I don’t remember why.

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The point is that Route 66 has, since its inception, earned a reputation complementary to ghostly fables; Route 666 is but one masterstroke in a catalogue of supernatural thrillers inspired by the road.

I warbled on about all this to my friend Todd over a Skype session. Todd is one of those people who uses the term ‘bucket list’ with mind-numbing regularity. He digresses entire conversations to rhapsodise about how his list changes every time he reads “a really cool article on Vice”.

He explained that driving the length of Route 66 is currently #4 on his list, but it could be bumped to #5 depending on whether Lou Reed’s grave will be located in a public-access cemetery, and therefore conducive to fan pilgrimage. (Dead bodies feature prominently in the first 10 items on Todd’s list.)

Alas, much of the route has been supplanted by monotonous interstate freeways. This means you can’t actually follow Historic Route 66 (née Route 66) unbroken all the way from Adams Street, Chicago, to Santa Monica Pier, Los Angeles. (Sorry, Todd.) But you can indulge your contempt for other sightseers by taking Rage Snaps of the loser tourists loitering about the signposts at either end.

Fuck these guys.

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Todd Longwood

Todd is a long-time horror fanatic. So he became seriously overexcited talking about Route 66 and Route 666 at the same time. He got so excited he vowed to write a ghost story that “could probably eventually be used as the basis for a horror movie script or something”. He said he would email me a copy.

Two days later, he did.

I have published the unedited version of that story below:

Emma and Dan were driving along an old section of Route 66. It was a bit of desert highway linking the New Mexico towns of Santa Rosa and Tucumcari.

A slice of moon hung like a pale piece of pie in a pretty dark nighttime sky. Whether the moon was going or waning was unimportant. Emma and Dan needed gas because they were almost out. Which is a very scary situation to be in on an old desert highway!

They pulled into a rundown gas station that had rats running around it in circles because of how rundown it was. Then they walked inside a bit frightenedly because of how frightening the situation was becoming. Behind the cash register—not the “till” ;P—was a creepy old lady who had a weird and frightening look about her, sort of like the gypsy witch in that movie Thinner.

Dan said, “We’re here to buy some petrol, please.”

Emma prodded Dan sharply with her elbow and gave him a bad look because he’d just said petrol instead of gas—when you’re in a frightened situation you shouldn’t reveal to potential killers or witches that you’re a foreigner because that just makes you a better target for killing or spells. This is because foreigners normally don’t know the emergency number to call police.

The creepy old lady didn’t seem to notice though. Instead, she just creepily said “Let me tell you a tale, children.”

Dan and Emma aren’t children but they knew the lady was talking to them because of no one else being around in the gas station (keen perception is vital in horror-survival situations).

The witch lady continued, “50 years ago this very night, a young woman was to be married to her beloved groom. She was getting ready for the wedding in a room next to the chapel. But the young woman had irritable bowel syndrome and accidentally shat herself. While she was in her wedding dress too! The shit covered all of her left leg and a lot of it got on her wedding dress.

“The ceremony was about to start so she couldn’t get properly cleaned up so she went out in to the chapel and hoped nobody would notice. But everybody noticed. Her friends and family laughed meanly at her and gave her the mean nickname ‘Shit Leg’. They chanted ‘Shit Leg! Shit Leg!’ at her.

“They threw flower petals and uncooked rice at her and shouted things like ‘Why don’t you shit on this rice, Shit Leg? You’ve already shat on everything else!’

“The woman was crying and fell over. Her groom walked up and she said to him, ‘Please help me, John! I love you!’

“‘Lol! Oh right, so you loooove me, Shit Leg?’ asked the groom sarcastically, ‘Well, why don’t you marry me then, you stupid bitch?! When’s the wedding!? HAHAHA!’

“The young woman was so embarrassed and shit-covered that she ran away, never to be seen again. She died a while after all that happened,” the creepy weird witch concluded.

Emma and Dan thought the story was really hectic and weird. So they decided to get out of there. They left the store and quickly pumped their gas. (In America you have to pay for your petrol before you pump it!)

Emma and Dan zoomed out of there in their car and didn’t look back.

They only stopped about 3 hours later in Tucumcari to buy some Reese’s Pieces because peanut butter cups are fucking ace! (Product placement 😉 ) The man at this gas station asked whether they needed any gas with their peanut butter cups.

They said they didn’t because they’d already bought some from a creepy lady at a gas station in between Santa Maria and Tucumcari.

The man whizzed around startled and also looking a bit angry for some reason. And if this had been a film, the camera would have done that thing where it looks like it’s zooming in on the face of the guy while the background is getting further away.

“Damned lies!” he screamed at them. “That gas station has been closed for 50 years. The woman who owned it accidentally shat herself on her wedding day,” he continued to say very loudly in a screaming voice, “and because of the embarrassment she ran away, never to be seen again.”

Emma and Dan were suddenly more frightened than they had been at any point up until this one.

“She was a ghost! That’s why she was wearing a wedding dress!” shouted Emma as she realised the truth.

“And that’s why she had shit all over her leg!” Dan added.

THE END

A half hour after emailing me this story, Todd sent me another email explaining that he forgot to paste in the paragraph in which it is revealed that the old man at the end of the story is actually the groom who jeeringly called his own bride Shit Leg. “There are two twists in the story. Make sure people know there are two twists,” he wrote.

Now you know.

Pedestrian as Todd’s story was, it did get me thinking. It got me thinking about the power of Route 66 to capture a person’s imagination. No matter how many rutting French tourists straddle their hogs atop its bitumen, the Main Street of America retains a mystical allure, while also providing substance for pragmatic social analysis. To wit, the derelict buildings along Historic Route 66 provide proof that Americans had been cultivating the lazy, slovenly Western lifestyle way before TiVo ever hit the market; I submit into evidence these photos of of an abandoned drive-in tattoo parlour in Tucumcari, New Mexico.

 

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Drive-in tattoos.

Drive-in tattoos.

Drive-in.

Drive…

In…

“All right, mate, I've finished your sclera. Now if you could splay your scrotum across the dash I’ll just touch up the eagle’s talons”

“All right, mate, I’ve finished your sclera. Now if you could splay your scrotum across the dash I’ll just touch up the eagle’s talons”

 

Like a cactus in WeHo

On a sweltering September afternoon, on a shady stretch of a sprawling West Hollywood (WeHo) boulevard, Emma and I stumbled across something rather peculiar…

It was a big cactus.

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Emma stands in front of the cactus to give perspective of the cactus’ height and green-ness.

The cactus grew adjacent a Vivienne Westwood and opposite a Vera Wang. The setting was ripe with symbolism. The contrast between succulent and concrete, nature and non-nature, was stark. Embracing my inner Amateur, I’ll now use my rudimentary grasp of abstract undergrad social and economic theory to blog a contrived “analysis” of this scene:

The juxtaposition of plant (as nature) and the retail chain stores (as capitalism) engenders a striking metaphorical tableau, which forms a representation of commercialism’s now passively maintained siege campaign against the environment. To wit, this siege has endured so long that capitalism’s Perpetual Motion—a term describing capitalism’s final phase of development and a systematic “point of no return” that commenced in the early 21st Century—acts upon, and is itself acted upon, by the system’s ignorant footsoldiers, consumers. Pausing this cynical interpretation for just a moment: it is encouraging to see that even such an established bastion of urban capitalism, such as West Hollywood, is not immune to the creeping resurgence of the righteous natural order. Furtherm—

Ugh. Nope, fuck it. Writing that shit is simply too much effort. I’m going to write a poem instead. To save more time I’m not even going to make it rhyme. Besides, only day-tripper poets still bother to build rhyming schemes.

Beautiful cactus

No one cares about your perfect thorns

They just want Vera Wang dresses

Because they are greedy capitalists

CAPITALISM versus cactus?

It’s no contest;

Capitalism wins every time

Because it has lawyers that can

sue anyone for anything…and vice versa, buddy

They can sue the thorns off a cactus and

make it a bald cactus

But at least the cactus knows

its inner beauty is greater

than 1 billion lawyers

When will you see?

Consumerism!

Labelled a primordial “weed” by the establishment, the cactus is seen by many as a pest to be eradicated; a throwback to a time before the Industrial Revolution when nature still seemed relevant to people’s lives; an aberrant, alien antiquity! The irony is the cactus actually has the purest, most historically natural mandate to exist and assert its influence. More so than Vivienne Westwood.

Contemplating the recent Australian election, one finds the cactus’ analogous counterpart: Adam Bandt.

Bandt is thriving and surviving in a morally vacuous landscape.

Adam Bandt is like a cactus in WeHo…

BOOM

Well there is it, guys! I’ve turned a dumb observation into topical political commentary. And that’s how you write an op-ed.

EDIT: The author would like to make an unreserved apology to both Vivienne Westwood and capitalism. In hindsight, he realises his indignation was misdirected. It’s not consumerism he loathes, but the retail clerk in the Vivienne Westwood store; the one with the asymmetrical rat’s tail which sat like a tuft of trendy pubic hair at the back of his spindly neck. (It was permed for fuck’s sake!) After asking Emma about what she was doing in the US, he condescendingly opined that it would be a shame if Emma and Dan were to become sick of each other during the road trip. Dan knew what the clerk was up to. He was hoping that they would become sick of each other and, when that happened, that Emma would rush back to WeHo to be with the man who knew, all along, that’s what would happen (what’s sexier than a rat-tailed sage?). Clearly, he has underestimated Emma and Dan’s lovea love of two brains.