Laura turned down the radio. “Has Rusty seen your butt yet?”
“Not yet,” I said, changing lanes somewhere on I-40 West.
“How have you avoided it for this long?” she asked as we whizzed past the vast gas-station-dotted nothingness of the American Southwest at night.
I thought about it a moment. Rusty and I had been doing it for two weeks, so it was actually rather impressive that I had hidden my butt from him this whole time. Specifically, the tattoo on my butt: my ex’s whole name drawn into the Aerosmith wings, occupying the entire left cheek. It seemed like a great idea at the time, but now, less than a year later, I did not respect or love either Aerosmith, who had begun to resemble their own groupies, or the person whose name was Xavier Roberts-ing my butt, who, I might add, had gotten my name in Metallica font over his heart.
I considered how big the tattoo was and finally answered, “I think Rusty is just really inattentive.”
“So Rusty is rusty?” This seemed like a pretty accurate assessment. Laura worked with both of us at the record store, so she was as good a judge as any. Laura had also been the one to tell me about the accident.
“Do you know that Rusty fell into the subway?” she’d whispered while we put away a shipment of metal T-shirts at our job the month before.
“Yeah, dude,” she said, keeping her voice down. “Twice. The second time, he was dragged through the tunnel until the train came to a stop.”
“Whoa,” I whispered back, hanging up a Gorgoroth shirt of a bloody pentagram.
“Yeah. He had to learn to walk again and everything. He said it’s all scar tissue on his left side.”
We both looked at Rusty where he sat at the counter, angrily cataloguing 45s. He only really communicated by arguing about black metal bands with the tourists who flooded the store on weekends, or fighting with me and Laura in that viper’s-nest-of-elitism way that dudes who work at record stores are wont to do. He was kind of muppety and had a red beard, like Beaker if he were into Nordic church-burning music. That wasn’t usually my thing, but after moving home from a soul-crushing ass-tattoo sort of break-up, I wasn’t exactly sure what my “thing” even was anymore. As my best friend, Laura probably should have known that there was no greater incentive for me to get someone’s clothes off than to tell me they were covered in 40% scar tissue.
We made out a couple of days later.
The car slowed down through a work zone in Arizona, and Mo dug for the map under my seat.
“Whoa, whoa, wait,” she piped up from the back. “Your new boyfriend hasn’t seen your Aerosmith butt yet?”
“No. It’s kind of miraculous. And he isn’t my boyfriend.”
“But hasn’t he said I love you?” Laura pointed out.
“Yes,” I said. “Twice.”
Ali put down the map. “What did you say when he said he loved you?”
“I said thank you.”
“You’re his first girlfriend since the accident,” Laura said. “This is not going to end well.”
“I’m not his girlfriend. He hasn’t even seen my butt.”
We drove on through the desert, past orange construction barrels lit up under blinding work lights. Laura turned up the radio, and I thought about my butt. I had gotten it tattooed in the same spot Cher had her Greg Allman rose, but ironic soft-rock chic didn’t seem like a good reason to carry an indelible reminder of failure until I died. I had an appointment for a cover-up when I got back from this trip, but I was still unsure of what would take its place. I felt confident inspiration would find me. Road trips are good for that sort of thing.
We were on our way to California for me to do a big reading at the San Francisco Public Library. I had moved back home with no money, but I knew I had to make this trip.
There was another reason for the journey: the gravitational pull of destiny. Another friend had pointed out that the Eagles, a band I hated, were always playing wherever I was. At first I didn’t want to believe it, but the theory held up over time. Whenever I started the car or walked into a grocery store, “Hotel California” was there, singing out about its dark desert highway. When the Aerosmith logo was being seared into my butt, “Take It to the Limit” fuzzed from a little boombox in the tattoo parlor. And when it was New Year’s Eve and I decided to leave my boyfriend in the nowhere town I had moved to, I stopped somewhere in Maryland at midnight, turned on the radio, and caught the last two minutes of “Heartache Tonight.”
When I was planning our route to San Francisco, I saw that we would pass through Winslow, Arizona, the sleepy Route 66 town mentioned in “Take It Easy,” as in, “Standin’ on the corner in Winslow, Arizona, such a fine sight to see / It’s a girl, my lord, in a flatbed Ford, slowin’ down to take a look at me.” I Googled a little deeper and found that this town featured something called Standin’ On the Corner Park, which had both a mural of the girl, my lord, in a flatbed Ford and a bronze statue of Don Henley.
Surely, this was no coincidence. This was fate. I had survived, and now the radio was raining supernatural coincidences like George Bailey ringing a bell and giving out wings in my new wonderful life.
I had been covering every available shift at the record store to pay for the gas to San Francisco. The stars had also aligned so that I could pick up Laura and my two other best friends in their respective states on the way. We had two and a half days to drive 3,000 miles and three days to drive back home. Laura and I both had to work that Sunday, but we figured out that with time-zone changes and by only stopping for gas, we could make it to San Francisco exactly three hours before the reading. We hopped in the car after work on Sunday night, tailed by a drunken Rusty, who blurted out his second I Love You of the week before I got in the car. He said it the way you would tell a waiter that a restaurant toilet is clogged: a short burst of embarrassment with no eye contact, followed by stumbling away in a fast and undignified manner. “Eagles suck!” he slurred into the night as we drove past.
“He’s going to freak out on you when you dump him,” Laura said as she buckled her seatbelt. We picked up Ali in Philadelphia and filled her in on our current dating mistakes on the drive to get Mo in Charlotte. My friendship with Mo was one of the few good things to come out of the butt-tattoo relationship. The other good things were these lessons:
1) Failure can’t kill you if you don’t let it.
2) Surviving remarkable failure will give you a magnificent, fireproof Teflon exoskeleton that will make you unstoppable and let you plow through life like Mario high on starpower. At least until the next remarkable failure.
3) If a tattoo artist tells you something is the kiss of death, listen to them.
I took a sip of coffee, accelerating the car while bugs turned to vapor on the windshield. Ahead, I saw the exit sign we had been waiting for. “Dudes! Winslow! We’re almost there!”
Laura felt around in nest of chip bags on the floor and located the Eagles greatest hits album I had spent months listening to, like a schizophrenic looking for clues in SRO wallpaper. “Got it!” she said, gently inserting it into the stereo.
“Track nine!” I commanded, and took the exit. The frontage road led us into a town lit by streetlights in soft orange, the parked cars and houses glowing like a thirteen-year-old experimenting with self-tanner. At this point, I had no directions to go by, just instinct. I assumed that Standin’ On the Corner Park would be at the center of Winslow, a desert piazza of ’70s soft rock much celebrated by the townsfolk. Even though it was 11:00 PM on a Tuesday, I imagined it would be full of long-haired dudes teaching each other the ins and outs of acoustic guitar. Equally long-haired ladies would probably be lying out on blankets at the feet of the bronze Don Henley, braiding each other’s locks and looking dotingly at their boyfriends. Winslow was a town that knew how to take it easy, a lesson we could all learn.
“Where the hell is this place?” I said, hitting the repeat button to hear “Take It Easy” a third time. Winslow was a town under construction with a lot of one-way streets.
“Hey,” Laura pointed. “There’s a Sonic that’s open. Maybe we can ask directions.”
“Good thinking,” I said, trying to stay motivated. I drove toward the green neon of 24-hour fast food, taking note of a man in a seasonally inappropriate puffy coat walking in the middle of the street. He was strutting with purpose. More lessons. Do everything with purpose.
I left the car idling and got out to ask the cashier where the park was. “Excuse me. Um, I’m looking for Standin’ On the Corner Park. Do you happen to know where that is?” I felt strangely anxious. At any second, this could easily turn into the set-up for a Rob Zombie movie.
“That got a statue?” she said.
“Um, yes. Of Don Henley.” I smiled, overcompensating for my lack of direction.
“You gotta go back down where you came and make a left on Second.”
I thanked her and ran back to the car. “We’re hot on the trail!” I said to my three friends, who were listening to their fifth rotation of “Take It Easy.” Excitement was still in the air. Everyone looked out their windows, squinting at street signs, eager for the left we had to take.
Laura saw it first.
“There! On the corner!”
We all turned at the same time, and there, on the corner in Winslow, Arizona, in plain sight on a Tuesday at 11:40 PM, lit by streetlights and a neon bank sign, the determined man in the black puffy coat we had seen on the drive to the Sonic was giving some other dude a blowjob. With purpose.
“THAT’S WHAT HAPPENS ON THE CORNER IN WINSLOW, ARIZONA!” I was beyond elated. Everyone else was screaming.
“Hey!” Ali pointed to a street sign. “There’s Second!”
I turned left, toward destiny, toward my future, toward the empty public park and the bronze statue of Don Henley that we all took turns pretending to give blowjobs to. Then we hopped back in the car toward our second destiny, our continued future. And as the sun came up over California, I realized that an eagle would cover a set of Aerosmith wings quite nicely.