No Service

AZ Sunset

Enjoy this free story & grab my book here. None of these free stories are in the book.

I pull my truck into the little town of off-gridders & cowboys in Arizona.

Lasso-lined wooden signs. Wooden board buildings.

Red desert with pine-green gin junipers for the landscape.

Mountain peaks make purple shapes against the red sky.

I own land with my friend out there in that distance.

This town consists of one diner, one restaurant, and three auto shops.

That’s it.

That big sunset means it will be dark soon.

My tire’s rubber intestine is completely distended.

I roll into the first of the three auto body shops.

“That is the biggest bubble in a tire I have ever seen,” says a mechanic there.

He’s in a trucker cap, long beard, flannel hoodie, & jeans. Sipping a Coke on his break.

I tell him I’ll buy a replacement for cash right now if he’s got it.

He says he doesn’t have it.

Time to drive to auto shop number two.

I pull up to a fenced-in auto shop number two with a closed gate. Big flapping flags advertising their services.

The guys who work there are pounding beers inside the shop.

“Closed on Sunday,” one calls.

I call back that I’ll pay a little extra if they sell me a replacement tire today.

One brings his beer can over. Looks at the tire. I tell him the size.

He doesn’t have it.

Auto shop three, save me.

Gingerly, slowly, I pull the truck to auto shop three.

Same story. They say no.

Back at the town’s one restaurant, I call the guy who helped me fix up the truck.

He recommends asking for a tire that’s a little bigger but with the same rim size.

Auto shops one and two say they don’t have that size either.

It’s 45 minutes to the nearest Walmart. I won’t make it on this bubble. It’s taken me as far as it will go.

I pull back up to auto shop three and ask for the new size.

They can do it.

The one restaurant in town closes soon.

The truck is being jacked up.

I pull my bike out of the truck bed and ride maybe ten minutes back to the restaurant.

Order a bacon blue cheeseburger & beer.

After dinner, the new tire is ready.

I bike back to auto shop three in the dark.

Pay cash. Bike in bed. Grab my map out to the land.

New tire in place, it’s time to truck out to the land.

Fire up the engine.

But the truck starts beeping like crazy.

No matter. I’ve ignored it all cross-country journey.

Shame the beep is back right now, though. Now in the last of last legs.

Time to drive out to my land.

Out where there is no service.

To be continued

Over the Panhandle, Rolling on a Bubble

Enjoy this free story, but for rare stories you won’t find online, grab my book here.

It’s probably nothing.

A small seam of rubber parting with the wheel.

I found it in the late morning in Kansas after coffee with a friend. After goodbyes.

I’m a little behind schedule, so I decide not to think about it.

The gas pump clicks. I return it to its hook. Top off the windshield wiper fluid.

Let’s put the audiobook on and roll out.

Now I need to connect my iPod to my speaker. The car’s radio is broken, so I stuck a portable speaker in the cab.

Where is it? Where’s the speaker?

I take the two boxes and two bags out of the cab.

Dig to the bottom of every pile of supplies.

Stolen.

I was robbed last night.

These old truck doors can’t lock.

I took out most of the important items last night.

But now I’m left with a broken radio & no speaker for my iPod.

No Grateful Dead, no Joe Rogan.

Eighteen hours of silence?

Tough on the brain.

I pull around the corner & stop in an auto store. Buy a similar replacement speaker.

Then it’s westward once more.

Down through Oklahoma.

Across the Texas panhandle.

You never saw a land so barren.

There are no structures, no trees.

It’s even difficult to identify plow-tracks of farmland. Yeah, this isn’t even farmable.

The distance shimmers in the heat.

I think about that seam, that little bubble in the tire.

In fact, I think about it for hours.

Pull the handle for windshield wiper fluid.

I get nothing. The glass stays dusty.

I guess fluid level wasn’t the problem. The line is broken somewhere.

Say, with no spare tire and one can of Fix-a-Flat, and nobody around, what would happen if I broke down on the panhandle?

Search the GPS for nearby gas stations.

None.

Search for nearby restaurants.

None.

An hour later, I check again. None.

Hold, tire bubble. Get me over the panhandle.

Into the lush- hahaha- no, it’s not lush- but-

Get me to New Mexico.

It would be like breaking down on the moon if that bubble burst now.

Here on the empty roads of the barren panhandle. Always empty, yet more so, now for the pandemic.

Burst, tire, if you must, but not yet.

Driving to New Mexico on a bubble.

To be continued

Departure Day | Trucking Past Midnight

***

Grab my book here, if interested. 

None of these free stories appear in the book.

***

Good morning from the ice-block ground under this tent, here in the backyard next to the truck.

The new sleeping setup works great, thank you for asking.

Glad I tested it in the backyard before hitting the road.

Departure day is here.

If I don’t leave today, I won’t be able to meet my friend to work on the land.

He’s only got one week free.

And we have a large to-do list.

The truck, well, she’s mostly ready.

New mid-body fuel tank in place. New shocks. New alternator.

Oil change and fluid topped-off as needed.

Good crash course in auto maintenance and repair.

No spare tire.

I called three auto shops in driving distance.

Described the make, model, year, and tire size.

Nada.

Improbable for a truck this popular.

But that’s what they tell me.

Maybe I can collect a spare at my first stop.

The town of Warren, Pennsylvania.

It’s an eight hour drive to get there from here.

I should arrive well after midnight.

It’s just forty hours for the full trip.

I have to leave after 5, when the workday is over.

Grabbing last-minute supplies on lunchbreak.

Departure time arrives.

I throw the last bags and my guitar in the bed.

Fire up the truck.

Listen to that deep mechanical hum.

The engine sends jitters through the cab.

Rhodie, you weren’t meant to rust in a dirt parking lot with ‘FOR SALE’ white-soaped on your windshield.

Let’s see this big country, you & I.

I pull off the backyard with its wet green grass matted over by fallen leaves.

The tires leave two fine grooves.

It’s getting dark fast.

I’ve got a temporary license plate taped to the inside of the back window.

The permanent was scheduled to arrive before departure day, but it didn’t.

The DMV is struggling for the same reason everything else is struggling. The pandemic.

I’ll add the permanent plate when it arrives, but I can’t wait for it.

Anyway, that’s the reason for choosing quieter roads, even if they take longer.

An audiobook about the moon landings is playing.

The GPS lost service.

Who cares? This early in the journey, all I need to do is keep going west.

No cruise control, just a forty-hour ankle workout.

Soon, I’m trucking between the reddish-grey granite walls on either side of the Vermont highway.

Thick foliage grows in the dark over rolling land.

Dark shapes of tree canopies, shiny from rain, run past the windows.

It’s getting foggy.

Deer with glinting eyes peep from the shadows next to the road.

One can of Fix-a-Flat but no spare tire.

Long way to Warren.

To be continued

Guess I Asked for This

Check out my book, Odd Jobs & After Hours here.

Guess I asked for this, to be crammed under the undercarriage of this truck, cranking a wrench on a bolt while a fine mist of metal rust showers down endlessly.

Still cursing though, even though I got what I wanted.

Job one on the new truck is getting a new mid-body fuel tank in place.

We got it home without a fireball despite a drip, drip, drip of gasoline out of said tank in the final leg of the journey.

The bolts holding the old tank in there are rusty and crusty.

Soaked ’em down with PB Blaster overnight, but I still had to fight for every centimeter of thread on the bolt.

Back on a blue tarp, and the old gas tank dripping gasoline on me for about an hour. I’m completely soaked.

Highly flammable, that’s what I am on this crystal clear fall day in New Hampshire.

It’s a matter of life and death to avoid my chain-smoking housemate in this moment.

Shing – out slides the bolt. At last. One metal strap drops down from the undercarriage. Bonks me in the face.

The tank creaks and droops down.

Wires and the second metal strap hold the fuel tank in place.

The rest of the bolts might need another night in PB Blaster.

What is the truck for?

Teamed up with a friend to buy land out west.

This is going to be the work truck on the land.

I’m working on a pressing deadline. My friend has one free vacation week in which he can meet me on the land.

I’ve got to get the truck ready to trek well before then. I need it ready to drive across country one week before my friend is free.

Right now, soaked in gasoline, covered in rust dust and fingers sliced to ribbons on metal bits, that seems unlikely. I mean, this truck needs so much work.

The to do list is extensive.

The sun goes down.

I decide to slide back under and attack the bolts again.

To be continued

Master the Death Touch: A Guide to Middle School Martial Arts

If you got a chuckle out of this story, grab my book for stories you will not find published online.

Many cultures develop their own martial art.

Some are ritualized and traditional, some are field-tested and highly practical.

One collection of non-lethal yet crippling techniques is taught and practiced beginning in middle school in the US.

Its practitioners diminish, but do not disappear through the college years.

In adulthood, the artform is often all but forgotten.

This martial art is yet unnamed, but recognizable by a few consistent techniques replicated in schoolyards and above-ground pools everywhere.

The Five-Star

Technique: The assailant opens his hand with five fingers spread (hence the name Five-Star) and delivers a whip-like smack across the back of his target.

Outcome: A bright red five-finger mark and fire-hot pain. This technique takes on a particular brutality in aquatic combat. Expect a pool noodle lashing in retaliation.

Notes: What makes the Five-Star insidious is that if delivered the proper distance from mom, the telltale red mark on the victim’s back will vanish completely before any tattling can be completed. It is a crime that disposes of its own evidence.

The Wet Willie

Technique: In this maneuver, the assailant wets his index finger with saliva and uses it as a poking weapon.

Outcome: Useful as an intimidator, the Wet Willie can clear a room with a single, threatening pointed finger.

Notes: In our pathogen-conscious era, it could work on full grown adults.

If you try this, you might get arrested, or you might feel like you have the Force from Star Wars. This is not legal guidance.

The Purple Nurple

Technique: The assailant grabs and tweaks the nipple of the target.

Outcome: Revulsion and recoil in the victim.

Notes: As with all techniques, this typically a man-to-man maneuver.

Guaranteed to be obnoxious.

The Noogie

Technique: The assailant executes a headlock, then rubs the knuckles of his free hand into the scalp of the victim.

Outcome: Red face, temporary hair loss.

Notes: If the Noogie is happening to you, the raid is over, your cabin is burning, and you are being scalped.

The Sack Tap

Technique: Assailant delivers a quick flick to the crotch of the victim.

Outcome: Victim doubled over.

Notes: A brutal technique, known to end friendships but also entire bloodlines. The Sack Tap is Old Testament warfare. It is against all Geneva Conventions.

The Defecator

Technique: Assailant makes blades of his hands by joining his fingers. He approaches his target from behind. He jabs the target just above the kidneys with his fingertips.

Outcome: When the target turns, the assailant explains the maneuver is supposed to result in the target defecating himself.

Notes: Ineffective by most credible accounts.

The Death Touch

Technique: Not recorded in detail by any credible source. The theory describes a nerve cluster in the foot which, if smashed with the end of a bo staff, will result in the instant death of the victim.

Outcome: Instant death.

Notes: The Death Touch is preached by the one kid with a rattail hairdo.

The one who carries a bo staff whenever he is allowed to do so.

Though mouthy, he will never demonstrate the Death Touch, despite pleas and extended sneakers from brave volunteers.

He will swear up and down he took a life at his last school, yet here he is, walking and breathing freely among you mortals.

Foolish doctors can not identify the Death Touch as the cause of death in autopsies, after all.

Now you are armed and ready for your life’s true calling; to fight with middle schoolers. Go forth; avenge yourself of the old wounds.