Jason paced his car with the surrounding traffic on one of the valley freeways. Vehicles moved in sync as other cars, vans, and pickup trucks sped past tractor-trailers in the late afternoon sun. More vehicles entered from merge lanes and others exited onto turnoffs. Randy sat in the passenger seat talking while Brian was in the back seat, his head nodded back in sleep.
“The whole day started out mellow,” Randy went on, “just me, Brian, Darren and Greg hanging out at the beach, catching some rays, tossing around the Frisbee, rapping with some bitches, pounding some brews, making a day of it.”
“Did you guys go to the Boardwalk?” Jason asked.
“Nah, we went to the beach that’s at the end of 26th Avenue, away from the tourists.”
“Nice and secluded over there.”
“Yeah, and a lot less crowded. So anyway, these other guys show up, and it turned out they were from the valley too, so we partied with them for the rest of the day. One of them had even managed to fit an entire case of Pabst in his backpack, and another one of them had a cooler full of vodka and grapefruit juice. Needless to say we were pretty well lubricated,” Randy said.
“Sounds like it,” Jason responded.
“You know, I like it down there,” Randy said wishfully. “You can do things down there you can’t do up here.”
“Like smoking a bowl in public?”
“I’ve done that up here plenty,” Randy reminded. “What I meant is that it feels less restricted down there than up here.”
“Good thing it’s close by.”
“For sure. So when it got dark we tried to get a fire going, but no luck. It was getting late so we finally decided to head back, and I ended up having to drive because I was the least wasted.”
“That’s unusual,” Jason kidded.
“Yeah, well no thanks to this pussy,” Randy said as he pointed back to Brian. “Anyways, I made it over the 17 in record time, and then we went to this party at Jamie’s, and the whole place was raging, an insane fucking party. It took me all of yesterday to recover.” Randy looked back toward Brian again. “I don’t know what this animal here did yesterday, but he was the life of the party.” Brian remained asleep.
“Guy I met through work.”
“You were partying and you didn’t even call me,” Jason chided. “What gives?”
“Aw man, I’m sorry,” Randy apologized. “I just figured you were busy with your family because your sister’s in town.”
“Yeah, but, you know…maybe I needed to get away.” Jason looked over at Randy needily, and they shared a laugh.
“So how’s Kathy doing?”
“Doing well,” Jason answered, “living the college life.”
“Good for her, I’m really proud of her,” Randy said sincerely. “She’ll go far.”
“Yeah she will,” Jason agreed. “She’ll probably end up supporting the rest of the family,” he joked. They laughed together again and enjoyed the shared moment, then Jason began to wonder if his prediction was actually going to happen.
“That was a good movie,” Randy said after a bit of silence. “But you know what would have made it better? If Clint Eastwood had starred in it.”
“I don’t know, I thought Sean Connery did a good job.”
“Yeah, but couldn’t you see Clint in charge of a submarine? He wouldn’t have to take any shit from anybody.”
“No doubt,” Jason said, “but Clint playing a Russian just doesn’t seem right, it would be like John Wayne playing a Nazi. And could you imagine how funny he’d sound if he tried to talk with a Russian accent?”
“He’s Clint Eastwood, he doesn’t have to say anything,” Randy said. “All he has to do is give you that don’t fuck with me look.”
“And nobody does it better.” Jason slowed down as he approached a silver, reflective tanker truck. He changed lanes, sped up, and drove past it.
Randy looked over to Jason. “Hey, thanks for covering me. I owe you.”
“No problem,” Jason said.
“Movies sure got more expensive,” Randy complained.
“Tell me about it.”
“I mean, when did it go up to five bucks a ticket? You can rent a movie for half that.”
“What gets me is that they have the balls to charge you two seventy five for a cup of ice that maybe has a couple of ounces of coke,” Jason said.
“Highway fucking robbery!” Randy fumed. “Remember when we used go to the UA, only pay a dollar, and then sneak from movie to movie?”
“Oh yeah, or play video games out in the lobby,” Jason added. “A whole weekend of fun with nothing but a pocketful of change.”
“You know, the place we were just at had at least ten screens,” Randy said. “We should have sneaked into another movie just to get our money’s worth.”
“I would’ve loved to, but then we’d have to drag this guy around,” Jason said and pointed back at Brian. “Plus, we’re all supposed to go to TGI Fridays tonight. Mom doesn’t want to cook after last night.” He drove quickly to keep up with the rapid, weekend traffic.
“Right, family stuff,” Randy said. “Doesn’t your dad work on parts that go into submarines?”
“He used to,” Jason answered. “I’m not sure what they’re having him do now, but he’s going to retire pretty soon anyways.”
“Did he get to work on anything that had to do with torpedoes?”
“Maybe,” Jason said. “But he wasn’t much into talking about his job. Whenever any of us asked what he did, he would say that when he was home that was his time, and he didn’t want to spoil it by talking about work.”
“Got to agree with your dad there,” Randy said. “Work sucks.”
“Right,” Jason said doubtfully. “How’s that coming along?”
“Aw, more problems with the boss,” Randy griped.
“He’s not giving me enough work. I keep telling him that I could use some more hours, but he says he doesn’t have anything for me.”
“It’s summer,” Jason pointed out, “this is the busy time of the year for landscaping.”
“Lots of competition out there,” Randy said, “at least that’s what he tells me.”
“Sounds like he’s jerking you around.”
“The guy is a prick anyhow,” Randy bitched. “One time when we were done for the day and getting ready to leave ready, but that asshole wanted us to keep working just as it was getting get dark because he scheduled us for another job the next day. How the fuck are we supposed to work in the dark?”
“You know what, there’s got to be something better for you out there, certainly better than that headache of a job.”
“Well,” Jason tried to think, “a skilled job, like a welder, or a plumber, or construction.”
“Sure, or a tow truck driver, or a garbage man.”
“Why not, it’s steady work, and more money than what that prick is paying you.”
“Yeah, that all sounds good. But you know what,” Randy said, “I don’t need a lot to be happy, just the basics; a roof over my head, a place to crash, food to eat, and hanging out with my buds. Why do I got to bust my ass for?”
“Believe me, I wish I could do the same,” Jason said, “but prices keep going up, especially for the roof over the head. If I let up now I’ll fall behind and up living under my parent’s roof for years to come.”
Randy turned toward Jason. “You know what we should do? We should just say the hell with it and go live on a beach somewhere,” he said eagerly. “Nothing but sun, sand, and hanging out. We could do that, I’ve met some people who live that life.”
“Yeah, they’re called bums.”
“Aw c’mon, you know it ain’t a bad idea. Who needs all that rat race bullshit anyway?”
“I can’t just drop out of society. What would Christine say?”
“Bring her along.”
“Serious?” Jason laughed.
“Why not? We used to do stuff like that all the time, remember?”
“Yeah, when we were kids,” Jason reminded.
“What’s wrong with having a good time now? ”
“There’s nothing wrong with having a good time, but things change, and sometimes you have to adjust and change along with them.”
Randy looked away. “You used to never talk like that.”
“What? I’m still the same old me.”
“You used to be fun.”
“I’ve got more responsibilities now,” Jason said defensively, “and I’ll probably end up with more in the future, but I make time to enjoy life.”
“Shit,” Randy said disbelievingly, “pretty soon you’ll be driving a minivan.”
“A minivan? Now that hurts.”
Randy kept staring ahead as the pavement quickly disappeared under them. “You know, I’ve been hearing all that straighten up and fly right talk from teachers, principals, and bosses for as long as I can remember. But you know what, I don’t sweat any of that stuff. It’s all bullshit anyways.”
Jason noticed wisps of steam from the front of the car, then a steady vapor rose from underneath the hood and blew over the windshield. “Aw, shit.”
“Uh oh,” Randy said. “Looks like we’re going to need a ride.”
Jason decelerated, merged right, and coasted onto the shoulder of the freeway. “The last fucking thing I need,” he said with frustration. He came to a stop and turned the ignition off. The engine hissed and steam wafted from underneath the hood.
“We home yet?” Brian asked groggily from the backseat.
“No, go back to sleep,” Randy said.
Jason reached under the left side of the dashboard, pulled a handle, and the front of the hood popped up. He got out, walked to the front of the car, and carefully reached underneath the hood while trying not to burn his hand. He found a metal lever, pushed it aside and lifted the hood all the way up as it released a cloud of steam.
Randy appeared alongside the car and looked down into the engine. “Hope it’s not the water pump,” he said.
“Probably just a hose.” Jason looked down behind the radiator and saw a thin jet of steam spraying out of the thick, black hose connected from the bottom of the radiator to the lower engine block. He leaned downward to get a better look.
“Yeah, looks like a hose,” Randy said as he also leaned in closer. “At least they’re cheap to replace, could be worse.”
Brian wandered up to the front of the car. “What happened?” he asked.
“We’re going to have a picnic,” Randy joked, “right here next to the freeway.”
Brian leaned in closer under the hood and looked down at the engine as vehicles sped by in a constant coming and going hum of spinning tires on pavement. The sun glared down on the arid landscape of fractured asphalt and dry dirt and weeds alongside the freeway. Exhaust haze permeated the stagnant air.
“I got some rags in the trunk,” Jason said. “I think I can tie it around the leak and get us to a gas station. Then I can put more water in the radiator.”
“Duct tape would be better,” Randy said.
“Well, unless you can cough up a roll we’ll just have to make do with what we got.” Jason walked to the back of the car, opened the trunk, reached in, found a rag, and closed the trunk. He returned to the front of the car and saw Randy still peering down at the engine while Brian stood around lethargically.
“Let’s find a pay phone and call Todd or someone and get a ride,” Randy suggested. “No, we’ll call Stu. He’s got Brian’s van.”
“What’s he doing with Brian’s van,” Jason asked.
Randy looked to Brian. “Why did you let Stu borrow your van?”
“He had to move some shit,” Brian muttered.
“He had to move some shit,” Randy reported to Jason.
“I’ve got ears, Randy,” Jason said.
“So who else can we hit up for a ride,” Randy wondered.
“We’ll make it home,” Jason assured. “There should be a gas station at the next exit.” He went under the hood.
“Maybe you can get a new hose there,” Randy said.
“If they have the right one.” Jason found the steam sputtering pinhole size leak on the hose and began to tie a rag around it. He tried to avoid getting grime on himself as he reached down between the radiator and motor and cinched the rag into a knot. “If they don’t, I’ll probably have to get one from a dealership, and those places love to rip you off.” The rag became wet as it minimized the leak.
“For sure,” Randy agreed. “We should get into that kind of business, something a little shady.”
“Nah,” Jason said as he closed the hood, “too messy. And I don’t think Christine wants to see me with grease underneath my fingernails.” He looked over at Randy and Brian as they stood around by the car. “Thanks for the help, guys.”
“Anytime,” Randy replied. Brian crawled into the backseat and Randy got in after him into the passenger seat while Jason got into the driver’s seat. “Look, about what you were saying. I know you’re just trying to help, and I appreciate it, really.”
“It’s all right,” Jason said as he put the key into the ignition.
“Tell you what, since you paid my way, I should do something for you.”
“Now, I know you love Christine,” Randy said, “but maybe sometimes you get a little curious as to what you’re missing out on.”
“Thanks, but I don’t need any of your hos.”
“No, I’m talking about Brian,” Randy kidded as he pointed his thumb toward the backseat. “Serious, I’m going into the pimping business, and Brian’s going to be my first ho,” he laughed.
Jason was unmoved.
“Hey, lighten up, man. No need to get all serious.”
Jason tried to remain upset, then finally relented and laughed along with Randy as he turned the ignition and started his car.
“Hey, what are you guys talking about?” Brian asked.
“Quiet, bitch!” Randy ordered.
©2017 Robert Kirkendall