A Long Trip with Lucius, Part 4

“You must not think of me as a reliable witness, as someone immune to bias and distortion.” Lucius read this to me a few months after our trip, while he was working on “Crocodile Rock.”

“What makes this great,” he said, “is that people will resist the advice. You can push their credulity. People hate being told what to think. Damn I’m so good.”

Lucius’ tricks are easier to appreciate than emulate, but I’ll give it a shot.

You must not think of me as a reliable witness.

So far I haven’t gotten to the notes I sent to Mike Bishop. I’ve been relying on memory, and I’m aware of a problem. I described how my wife dropped me off at Lucius’ house. I can picture it clearly, but it doesn’t quite fit the logic of my narrative. You see, the luggage is important, and I have a competing memory of loading our bags directly into the back of our rented Chevy Blazer. If that were the case, then Karen would have taken me to the airport to pick up the car; we would have said our goodbyes then, and I would have driven the rental to Lucius’ place. I contacted Dave Boone and asked if he’d driven us to the airport. He didn’t recall. But it seems that we initially loaded the bags into his car, or maybe even Bill’s car. The gap bothers me.

The trip has become unmoored from time. The things I remember; the things Lucius said, his mannerisms – these things are all true. But did I observe them sixteen years ago or just several months ago? By now, you should understand that this is really not about a small set of days bridging 1997 and 1998.

* * *

Over a week has gone by since my last installment. I took a family vacation to Vancouver and Victoria, BC, but that’s not a full excuse. I’ve been reluctant to keep going. The first leg of the trip with Lucius didn’t reflect well on either of us, and I’m not sure how best to frame it. By getting him to the movies on time, I may have given him the impression I was an organized, competent young man. Or maybe he just didn’t give it any thought. Lucius had been gruff but charming, still operating in the mode of teacher and confidant. We didn’t know each other very well, but we would quickly, to our mutual dismay.

A couple of weeks before the trip, Lucius asked me to plan our route and get a TripTik. I heard this as “triptych.” I pictured Hieronymous Bosch paintings, and couldn’t shake the idea of a pleasant, garden-delightful excursion becoming twilit hell. Lucius mentioned something about Triple-A. I didn’t have it at the time, and I didn’t know what it had to do with Bosch. I used MapQuest instead. The quickest route left the state-highway system in the Dalles, Oregon, and I made a printout to follow it. A few days later, in a U-District bookstore, I picked up a few old National Geographic maps as backup – they were cheap, and a quick glance revealed most of the continental states in evidence. Recently, after Lucius died, Gullivar and I reminisced about the trip and he charitably suggested that Lucius might have foisted the maps off on me.

The maps were my mistake. In the last post, I alluded to a mistake, but this isn’t the one I meant.

At the Seatac car rental, the attendant asked if I wanted extra insurance and told me that windshield chips wouldn’t be covered. I hesitated. Lucius said, “You get insurance on your credit card, right?” I looked to the attendant, and she shrugged.

“Maybe I’d better call my insurance agent.” More huffing. A long queue of people fidgeted behind us, and Lucius pointed this out with a sidelong, baleful nod.

I said, “I’ll just waive the extra insurance.”

This was another mistake, but, again, not the one I meant.

Dave Boone drove us to the outside parking spot. We’d rented a gold Chevy Blazer. Lucius had insisted on a four-wheel-drive vehicle with a little extra room. As we transferred luggage from Dave’s car into the hatchback space, Lucius fished a stack of CDs out of his bag. “Good luck, Bud,” Dave said, looking uncertainly over my shoulder.* Gullivar offered to drive. I handed him the keys and got in the back. Lucius wiggled into the groaning front passenger seat. After a wrestling match with the safety belt, he delicately inspected his CDs one by one and rearranged them, head lifted to shift his gaze below his glasses. Now and then he glanced up to check the view, even before we’d left the parking lot. He did this whenever he became absorbed in a task, as if he’d developed the habit of checking in with the world to keep from slipping too far into his thoughts.

When he had apparently become satisfied with his play order, Lucius put the discs into the armrest nook between the front seats – “How do you get this f’ing thing open?… Oh” — and engaged his son in talk about Captain Beefheart, the Mekons, and the Young Gods, while I sat ignored in the back seat. We made it about forty miles, to around Olympia, before Lucius glanced down, started pawing at the space below the car stereo tuner, and moaned, “Oh shit.”

The car had only a tape deck.

This instantly became a big deal. “Man, I really wanted to listen to this Laibach CD. I can’t believe you got a car without a CD player. How’s that even possible?” Lucius used the words “due diligence”; it was the first time I’d heard them, or grasped the concept really.

I finally got circumspect and began to obsess in earnest over not having double-checked the car rental agreement.

We stopped in Centralia for lunch at a Shari’s family diner, and Lucius rejected the waitress’s offer of a booth table, which gave us all time to loiter and brood. Lucius brooded like a champ. Nervous, I excused myself to check the car agreement. When I’d initially set up the rental over the phone, I’d made sure to request a plan with unlimited free miles; otherwise, the trip would cost a fortune. I pulled the papers out of the glove box and found the terms: they said “100 frml.” This looked suspiciously like “one hundred free miles.” My stomach felt queasy. I carried the agreement into the restaurant, and found that Lucius and Gullivar had finally been seated. I placed my order and excused myself again.

“What’s up?” Lucius asked.

“I need to call and double-check something on the rental.” Lucius’ eyes narrowed.

After a lengthy hold on the pay phone, customer service verified that we had only a hundred free miles. I complained that I had booked unlimited miles. I said I’d have to come back and change the agreement if they couldn’t do it remotely. After some negotiation, they admitted it would probably be doable and that I could check in the next day to confirm the change.

I went back and fessed up.

“Okay, well, it sounds like they’ll fix it. We’re not going back,” Lucius said.

“What if they don’t fix it?”

“You’ll need to get this shit straightened out then. But they said they’d fix it, right?”

The food came, but my appetite had disappeared and suddenly the swirled carpet, the doughy patrons, my fish sandwich, Gullivar’s burger, and Lucius’ giant Cobb salad looked surreal and distant. Less than a hundred miles, and the trip had already become a bad dream.

Lucius complained again about the lack of a CD player. I had an inspiration. “We can buy a cheap Discman with a car adaptor.”

“How’s that work?”

Gullivar said, “It’s got a cassette insert and plays the CD through that, just like a tape.” Gullivar had built up his own store of bodily tension; that became apparent now, as he relaxed.

Maybe things weren’t so bad after all.

I took over driving from there, eighty miles down to Oregon and then up the Columbia River Gorge. We crossed the river, got off on I-84 east and then, a few miles down, took the Wood Village exit up into Gresham to buy supplies. At Fred Meyer’s, I quickly found a thirty-dollar CD player that looked promising. Lucius got some orange juice, bread, and lunchmeat; a bag of Cheetohs; and a half-gallon bottle of shampoo. I puzzled over the shampoo. Why so much? I still don’t know, but if you think it sounds like an implausible setup for a plot development, then you got it right.

Back in the Gorge, well away from Fred Meyer’s, Lucius tried the CD player with the tape adaptor.

It didn’t work.


*This never happened. My fishing buddy, Clarion grad and Clarion West admin Dave Myers, drove us to the airport, according to notes I just found. [7/4/2014]

About robertpkruger

Writer, editor, and software developer. Former president of ElectricStory.com.
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