“The noise was outrageous, palpable; talking was impossible. I watched Teatime as we sat on the deck of the grainer, barelling along. I could tell he’d been altered since our meeting a year prior. Both of us had been moving since then. His worldly selflessness was gone, to be been replaced with a gravelly, meat-grinding crunch in his voice. It wasn’t a smoker’s throat; rather it was that of a terrific, depressed alcoholic, living a metal-on-asphalt life. He’d long surpassed his days of youthful dabbling in travel; his evolution into this new persona was nearing completion. His tone was different and strange, as though he was a child impersonating an adult; it was desperate, like a Lost Boy.
When he spoke, though, him drunk for ten hours now, I only saw his cherubic, hyperactive side. He was rolling himself another cigarette and leaned over. “I LOVE NEW ORLEANS, I LOVE IT!” he yelled to me over the din of the freight on the tracks. “Watch for all these bayou’s and marshes, they’ll only get thicker all over the place, man, oh JESUS, HOO!” His long hair and beard whipped in the wind. He pointed to the passing landscape, either a million swamps and bogs or one gigantic, soupy mass poured over gnarled elder trees. Southern Mississippi was waking up with us in this moronic AM adventure, tipped and mossy, hanging and wet, a cruel landscape in the charcoal mist. We were flying, the freight car coupled to ours screeching, scenery a blur of green, brown, blue…
We blasted out of the bogs and over Lake Pontchartrain. It was just us and water. Seabirds were diving and swooping over grey frilly waves moving and long, battling to nowhere, as though the whole world had been flooded and drawn out. Teatime leapt up and climbed the ladder to the top of the train. I could hear him mindlessly hollering, bellowing to announce his arrival to a city still miles away. I stayed in my same spot so damned cold and exhausted, I was immobilized in my fury. I looked up to see he was clinging to the ladder, in his wet socks, quiet, staring down at me. He was wild-eyed and lucid with a grin years wide. He raised his eyebrows at me, the lake sneering well below us on this rickety wooden bridge. The train stomped. I watched him disappear over the edge of the top once more.
I realized then what I would NOT be anymore, or pretend I COULD be, or even thought reasonable to pursue: the stupid fruitless gluttony and excess that Teatime, once Peter, an old road friend, had crafted his new identity under. While I felt torn between a responsibility as his roaddog and my own selfishness, I already knew our time together was over. There was more to life than just moving; there was living. I couldn’t see a sliver of meaning in the pursuit of more drink! More! He was a hoarder of vices, a self-destructive magician, and a total madman. It must, I justified to myself, be a psychosis, him so spiraling, mindless. The romance seemed to drain from the paisley of our time as I realized the folly’s of our jaunt.
I’d failed. I couldn’t make it to Florida this way. I couldn’t keep up with him. Finally, someone from my past had gone deeper into the rabbit hole of The Road than I had, and become nothing less than the extremes of the lifestyle itself. Worse, perhaps, was an uncertain realization that it didn’t matter whether I joined him or not. He’d continue with another fifth, another kid, another train. New Orleans would be another ending, another beginning.” – February 2011, The Thousand Mile Thumb