We get to Hederton just as the sun is setting, which is probably for the best—it’s not the kind of place that you really want to see. It’s some hole-in-the-wall little town that would have dried up and blown away years ago except for the interstate highway that brought all the trailer trash to the place. It could have been a beautiful place, if humanity had left it alone—there are tree-covered mountains and fog-filled canyons surrounding the area that make it quite the postcard location. Only problem is, the damn trailer houses.
It looks like some sort of a drunken god just loaded up a shotgun full of the things and fired into the mountainside. Contrasted against the evergreens on the hills, the trailers look like horrible little decorations on a novelty hillbilly Christmas tree. It’s amazing the things that poor people can fuck up. Don’t get me wrong—I think the area would look befouled even if there were mansions littering the mountainside. But there’s something about seeing cheap little aluminum-sided trailer houses strewn recklessly throughout the beauty that can really make you bitter about things.
“Where’s a forest fire when you need one?” I ask as we drive.
“Everyone has to live somewhere,” she says.
“Yeah, too bad about that, really.”
“This is us, up here on the left.”
“What a shithole.”
“You’re just spoiled, that’s all.”
“I grew up in a place like this, did I ever tell you that?” Immediately after I say it, I wish I hadn’t. She shuts the atlas and stares at me. “Get rid of the overanalyze-everything face, babe—it was just a statement, not an invite to evaluate my mental health.”
“Oh, I already know what you’re mental health is like—fucked. I was just thinking that I never would have suspected you coming from a trailer park.”
“Where I come from, we were jealous of the kids that got to live in the trailer parks,” I say, and give her my shiniest smile. She doesn’t laugh, though, just keeps looking at me. “Knock it off, Jessica. Think about chocolate or something—chicks like chocolate, right?”
“Such an asshole.”
“There, that’s more like it.”
We’re in the parking lot by now, and we begin the usual routine of checking in and lugging our shit to our rooms, getting washed up, stuff like that. We have three separate routines, depending on what time we get in to a place.
If we get in before noon, we go straight to the job, introduce ourselves, grab a bit to eat around two or three, and then work until evening. If we get in in the afternoon, we check in to our rooms, swing by the job for a cursory glance, not introducing ourselves at all, and then discuss what we think about it over dinner. If we get in like we are now, in the early evening, we check in, rest up, grab a bite together, and go to bed early, so that we can rise and shine the next day.
“I don’t feel like going out and finding a place to eat tonight,” she tells me as we make our way up the stairs. It’s one of those places where the doors are all on the outside of the building, and you can get to all of them by walking down a long concrete hall that over looks a parking lot. “I’ll probably just grab something to eat at the pancake house next door—you down?”
“What the hell—I haven’t had waffles in a while.”
“You had waffles this morning.”
“Maybe pancakes then, whatever—it all tastes the same with enough syrup on it.”
“You know, that’s exactly what you said about strippers.”
“Words of wisdom, babe, you should be writing this shit down.”
“Yeah, right—it’d probably get me arrested.”
“Probably, but it would be totally worth it.” We reach our landing and head our separate ways—she’s at one end of the hall and I’m at the other. We make it a point to stay at different ends of the hotel—preferably on different floors—since we had an…incident. I guess you could call it an incident—she came out of her room for ice one night and found my door open. It doesn’t sound so bad until you factor in the cheerleaders that were in town for some national competition, and until you factor four of them into my room. At the same time. Jessica would have known something serious had gone down by the way I was walking the next day, but due to a stray pair of bloomers that snagged the door handle and hung up on the edge of the TV stand, she didn’t even have to wait until the next morning to find out what happened. It was a bit awkward that next morning, but we got over it. That’s why I dig the chick—she can get over stuff like accidentally seeing you in a wild orgy with a bunch of supple young teenagers…and one of their moms.
I toss my stuff onto one of the single beds and turn on the TV. Most motel rooms seem a little off unless the TV is on, and some of them are actually even depressing unless you have some moving light and a little background noise. Without basic cable blaring, this room would be flat-out suicidal.
I shower up and get dressed, debating on how I want to look for the evening. On some trips, you want to look nice, because there’s a good chance that you can find a bit of action to bring back to your room. To be honest, though, I would be a little embarrassed to bring anyone back to this room. On the other hand, if I brought anyone back, they would be from Hederton, so they might actually think that this was a step up from the trailer house. On the other hand, I’m not sure I need to be dressed to impress in order to bring anyone back that would be willing to come. In the end, I decide to dress casual and throw on some cologne. It’s not real likely that I’m going to find a hottie at the waffle house, of course, and even if I do, I’ll probably be smelling like maple syrup and grease by the time I leave the joint anyways, but it’s all about attitude.
I meet up with Jessica out in the hall, and she’s dressed a little more casual than I am—it’s pretty much a given that Jessica won’t be dressed as nice as I will at dinner. She doesn’t have the desire to bring her A-game, what with her being married and all.
“I don’t think that outfit’s gonna work around here,” she tells me as we walk down the concrete stairs. “You should have definitely gone with jeans, if you want a chance of picking up a girl here.”
“Yeah, well, I forgot my trucker hat at home, and without that, there’s really no point.”
“Yeah, the trucker hat makes the outfit, totally.”
We walk past the murky-watered pool, ignoring the thing that looks like a dead cat that’s floating in it. “Motel Six this ain’t,” I tell her.
“Is it possible for an entire town to be the apartment of that skanky guy I used to buy weed from when I was in college?”
“You smoked weed?”
“It was college—everybody smoked weed.”
“Hm.” I open the door of the waffle house for her, and we step in. The smell’s what I notice second. It smells like a backed-up sewer, which is not the scent you want mixed with the smell of syrup fried eggs.
The first thing I notice is the chick standing behind the counter, licking what looks like blueberry sauce off of her fingers. She’s strung out, man, you don’t even have to know about dope to realize it. If you didn’t know about home-made crystal meth, about the shit they used to call bathtub crank where I grew up, if you didn’t know about the lunatic oilfield workers that snorted that shit even if it blinded them for a couple hours, and shot it up after mixing it with muddy water, even if you didn’t know about any of that, you still knew this chick was fucked up on something.
Her head keeps tilting back and forth, and she’s licking the front of her teeth with a vengeance. She walks over, moving quickly and precisely, but giving the impression that she’s slow and staggering all over the place. I grew up watching my mother walk just like this, and I don’t even have to search fro the track marks—I know right where they’re at.
The third thing I notice is the giant cockroach on the floor in front of me, upside down, kicking it’s legs in a vain attempt to right itself. It’s stuck in a small puddle of something—syrup or blood, I don’t know which. Maybe both, maybe neither.
The junkie chick steps over to us, crunching the roach underneath her dirty sneaker. “Two?” She asks. “Smokin’ er no?”
“Pardon me?” Jessica asks. Crank-junkies sound weird when they talk—they talk fast but slurred, it comes out as a sound that’s almost completely unnatural to your ears. A little hard to understand at first, unless you’re used to it.
“Do you want to smoke or not?” The chick is shuffling the menus in her hands, constantly moving, shifting her weight back and forth from one foot to another, blinking too much.
“Actually, we’re just trying to get directions,” I say. No way am I eating here. A chick this strung out, and she’s not even trying to hide it, so whatever’s going on back in the kitchen is probably at least as bad. No way am I eating here.
“To the nearest bar,” Jessica says.
“There’s one ‘cross the street, ‘bout a block that way.”
“Thanks,” Jessica says, and we leave.
I let out my breath, and that’s when I realize that I was holding it. “What a shithole.”
“What the hell are we doing here?” The places that hire us, they don’t establish business in town like Hederton. “I mean, what the hell?”
“I guess we’ll find out tomorrow.”
“What a shithole.”
“Yeah. Hey, where are you going?”
I looked around, realized I was heading back to the motel. “I don’t know—back to my room, I guess.”
“You want to grab a beer?”
“Man, we’ll be drinking on empty stomachs.”
“Maybe if we get drunk enough we’ll eat something.”
“They don’t make enough booze.”
“One beer. You down?”
“Fine.” I change direction, heading to where the junkie waitress pointed us. I don’t want a beer. I want to sleep through the night, ignore whatever nightmares the town of Hederton has to offer, I want to wake up in the morning, finish this job, and get the hell out of here. The whole place gives me the creeps.
But she wants a beer. Or two. She’s a pretty light drinker, from what I’ve seen over the course of our friendship, so it shouldn’t take her long on an empty stomach. She’ll get drunk, get all rowdy for a minute, ranting about whatever’s on her mind, and then pass out. I’ll carry her back to her room, dump her on the bed, go back to my room, and give her all kinds of shit tomorrow.
It has only happened twice during the tenure of our friendship. Once because of something her mother-in-law did, and once because of some shit that was going down at the office. She’ll be all embarrassed about it in the morning, apologizing all over herself, and she’ll assure me that it will never happen again. And I’ll tell her everything’s fine and to get over it, and eventually she will.
I don’t have to ask why she’s ready to hit a bar. She’s probably been planning on getting wasted since she decided to come to Hederton instead of going home and trying to bust her husband banging some internet chick. Maybe before that, I don’t know.
As much as I like Jessica, trying to figure out what’s going on inside her mind is just too frightening to contemplate. We’re friends, but if she wants someone to sit around and eat ice cream with her, and someone who knows what the hell she’s talking about more than 45% of the time, she should be looking elsewhere.
The bar doesn’t have a name, I guess, or if it does, it’s “Bar.” That’s what the wooden sign in the window says. The letters are sun-faded black, and the paint is chipped away so much that if you didn’t know what you were looking for, you probably wouldn’t even know what it was supposed to say.
I open the door for her, half-expecting it to be one of those bars where as soon as a stranger walks in, the music stops and everyone turns and looks at you. Thankfully, it’s not one of those kinds of bars. It’s a place to drink away your problems, drink away your past, your present, and your future. It’s a place to drink away your life.
No one turns to look at us. There are five men and two women, all lined up at the bar, all drinking and staring down at the countertop. There’s a few small tables sitting around in the corners of the place, there’s a pool table, and there’s a jukebox that’s piping out some old-school country tune—one of those songs that really is about the guy’s wife leaving him and taking his dog and all that shit. I order a couple of beers, anything in a bottle, and Jessica and I take a seat in one of the back shadows.
“Wow,” she says. “This place, huh?”
“Not quite what I expected,” I tell her, and I realize that I’m almost whispering. This place, it’s almost like being in a library or a church. It feels wrong to talk using your regular voice—only hushed tones are acceptable.
“I’m glad,” she says.
“Oh, yeah?” I reply, not really understanding what she’s talking about. That’s one of my eighteen standard responses when I don’t know what the hell she’s talking about. I used to only have five, but when you spend three years with a chick, you have to make some life-changes, even if you aren’t getting laid. Others include: “Really?” “You’re kidding me.” Stuff like that. She probably knows that I’m not listening or understanding when I say these things, but I try to mix it up a little, sometimes using these phrases when I really am listening.
“This is the kind of place I wanted to be in tonight.”
“That statement makes me truly wonder about the state of your mental health. Are you going to try to kill me with a butter knife or something?”
“Probably, but not tonight.”
“What a relief.”
“I feel like a real drink,” she says, glaring at her beer.
“That’s less of a relief.”
“What do you shoot?”
“Mostly just my mouth.”
“I’ll get you whiskey,” she says, and stands up.
She returns to the table about forty seconds later, carrying two shots of whiskey and two beers.
“What are we drinking to?” she asks.
“How about to an early morning?”
“Here’s to friends—and to getting to know each other.” She slams her shot glass into mine, tosses back the whiskey, and polishes off her first beer as a chaser.
I toss back my shot, hoping that the alcohol will kill any of the parasites I just got from touching the nasty-ass shot glass to my lips. “Okay, we had our drinks, babe—let’s head back. Early morning and all that jazz.”
She pops the cap off her second beer and takes a few swallows. “We can always call in sick. Tonight, I need to unwind. And you know, we should really get to know each other.”
I feel a headache developing behind my right eye. Shit.