(Kiss Off) Driving Highway 101

I read a quick post in The Stranger the other day about how a woman in Georgia was shot by her husband’s gun.  Not on purpose.  He wasn’t even awake.  But, he slept with a gun nestled into the bed next to him and, in his sleep, he jostled and the gun went off and she got shot.  And I remembered myself sleeping next to a guy who kept a gun in our bed.  Not in Georgia, but in Florida.  Which is kind of the same.  I thought about how I was glad that I never got shot.  And about how I was glad that I didn’t sleep in that gunned bed with him for long.

There are two direct routes from Los Angeles to Seattle.  One is to take I-5 all the way up.  The other is to take the 101.  I-5 is quicker.  But, at points and for a long stretch, the air smells like sick cows and rotten garlic.  The 101 can be windy and twist-y and slow when the road merges for miles and miles and you get stuck behind an RV somewhere up near Big Sur.  And it gets and foggy and dark and you begin to worry about all those signs warning you about random moose and bears jumping and rocks falling into the road because you begin to realize, meandering around up there in the dark, that those are real things that could actually happen and that your Hyundai might not really protect you enough.

I’ve taken them both.  Both routes.  And, given the opportunity again, I’ll take the most dangerous one the next time.  Again.


“Don’t take 101, Sister!” I IM’d her just a week before her journey up to Seattle.

“I’m taking 101.  It will be good for my soul and for my thoughts.”

“Okay.  Then promise you won’t drive it at night by yourself!”

“I promise.”

“And get a road-side safety kit for your car!  The kind with flares!”

“I already asked Santa for one, don’t worry.”

“And make sure that you have chains for your car!”

“Okay, Sister.  Sheesh!”

“And text me every night when you get to where you’re going to!”

“Stop it.”


The cliffs dropped off as soon as you stepped up to the ledge of Big Sur and you thought about the Dharma Bums and wondered where they’d stashed their packs and your right hand itched a bit with what you wanted to write and you remembered that time that you went up to Lowell, MA to see Kerouac’s scroll and you wondered whatever had happened to that copy of On the Road that you had loaned to that friend of yours who never gave that copy back to you.  Your mom gave you that for your 16th birthday.  And it had a lovely inscription in it.  You wondered if and why your thoughts had become too cliche and as you stood there, looking out toward the Pacific with your jeans tucked too high into your weird Pirate-type boots with your hands in your pockets, you picked out a coin, tossed it out and over and thought of the best joke you’d heard lately:

What do you call cheese that doesn’t belong to you?

Nacho cheese.

And you hung your head low, because that shit is just pathetic.


The wind in Oregon hits like a fresh, chilly breeze in November and Sister says,

“Remember the Sneaker waves?!”

I look at her.

“The Sneaker waves!” she laughs. “We had to watch out for the Sneaker waves in Bandon and Seaside!”

“I never lost any of my sneakers,” I said.  “But you did almost lose your fingers to the Oregon gulls and there was that other time where you fell off of that Oregon horse …”

And we laugh, singing “Kiss Off” in the car

One, one, one ’cause you left me and

Two, two, two for my family and

Three, three, three for my heartaches and

Four, four, four for my headache and

Five, five, five for my lonely and  

Six, six, six for my sorrow and 

Seven, seven for no tomorrow and

Eight, eight I forget what eight was for and 

Nine, nine for a lost God and 

Ten, ten, ten, ten for everything

Everything, everything, everything

That was the first song that my sister and I ever sang together in the car.  I was 16 and she was nine.  We drove together in my Jeep.  She held a portable yellow Sony cassette player in her lap.  It had my Violent Femmes cassette tape in it.  And we learned how to harmonize our way through the Hollywood Hills together, singing that damn fucking song.  We sung it really well together, still, 20 years later

Everything, everything, everything

They do it all the time.  Do it all the time.  Do it all the time.  Do it all the time.


Boston to Seattle is pretty, too.  Cratered deserts and snaking lakes and bits of Earth all patch-worked together, looking out of 36 C, flying in the right direction.


This time, Sister drove.  And I held my left arm out the window, reaching back toward California, my head perched just above my shoulder.  My cigarette dropped out 150 feet away and the wind hit my nape, blowing my hair toward my crown at 70 miles an hour and I just waved, my right arm holding onto the passenger-side headrest.

And I caught my breath.

Driving backward on 101, pushing the hair out of my eyes, reaching toward the Volume knob and turning it up to 10.

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