Every Saturday night, cast in shadow and fog, our Crew – a Melvillian band of shadow laden pranksters – lingered curbside near a moon-shined fire hydrant.
“How many years we been submerged in America’s academic shackles?” one boy snorted and spit.
“Damn long,” another barked.
“Need out,” one said. “Need to get away.”
The Crew were the directionless scraps of the late baby boomers. If you took the time to look at them, really look at them, they were nothing but Northern California boys and young drunks too keen to lean on the liquid. The edge of they-knew-not-where or what was waiting. They could feel it, and they didn’t like it.
The sputtering of a spit-shined car exhaust pipe collided with our shifting faces as a rouge pair of headlights cut through us.
“Hush, quiet, cutty, cutty, cutty,” a voice ordered.
One shadow began to flee.
A rough hand grabbed their shoulder.
“Chill,” they said. “Chill.”
The headlights passed. Someone called someone a soft bitch. A fist hit a soft stomach. A mouth sprang and spoke.
“That looked like that a mom back late from Whole Foods.”
“The one who flirts with all the cashiers?” Someone asked.
“Yeah, her, yeah her,” they said. “She never forgets to leave her wedding ring in the drink coozy whenever she comes in for a shampoo and La Croix. Frisky Mrs. Dixon with the short cherry-red hair and wandering eyes.” They licked their lips and smiled Cheshire. “I fucked her once, you know.”
A round of bullshits spilled out like a poorly tapped keg.
“Bull-yes,” they defended. “Some of us got some game.”
Shoulders bobbed in hushed chuckling.
After a pause, the existential question of “what next” quietly settled back amongst the ranks. As Larkin wrote, till then I see what’s always there/ Un-resting death, a whole day nearer now/Making all thought impossible but how/And where and when I shall myself die. Our end was not a literal one but merely a transition of identity. Secondly, our individual demise was the disintegration of the tribe, a security that would soon be dispelled by circumstance and time.
The Crew’s bodies shifted like rusted gears in the now silent night. The flushed orange lamp post, coupled with the oily sky, bled on. We were silhouettes in transformation. The 101 curling south droned in the distance. All those cars with all those people with all those bodies were going somewhere for something for someone. The Crew wanted something, somewhere, someone on their terms. Agency was their only weapon against the buzzkill of determinism.
“San Francisco,” a voice piped up. “She’s out there, far and away yet right within reach. She has all the answers. The city by the Bay is the way. Let’s go.”
Rowley, the only one with a ride, asked, “Should we take out the old The White Whale?”
The 10-seater, 10 miles to the gallon, white Ford suburban brooded by. Dr. Dre’s The Next Episode thumped against its metal walls. The White Whale was anxious. It wanted to go somewhere. It needed fulfillment.
“I’m down,” The Crew muttered as one. “Very in. Very dope. Let’s roll.”
In celebratory sugar-infused maple and molasses joy, the Captain Morgan got passed around, freewheeling. Each one of us took a hit of the liquor, struck by its smoky, chemical sting as it flowed over our virgin throats, burning our guts. A faint hand appeared in the middle of our pow-wow with a lit cigarette. Another hand plucked it and brought it to their mouth. The drag showered us with the warmth of deadly light.
Drizzle stabbed at our backs.
Another hit of the rum.
The White Whale roared for our attention.
We piled in, five in the back, three in the middle, two in the front. Time turned off, and the stereo turned the fuck up. Wu Tang’s 36 Chambers slapped the Pacific wind that shot in from the windows. The smell was a concoction of stale liquor, beer, sea salt, and nicotine. Elbows jabbed into torsos as Rowley slurred onto the highway. A faded In N’ Out shuttered by. We climbed up and over the 101 South to San Francisco.
“Cop,” someone whispered.
The music cut. A faceless form murmured something. I said nothing. I was not me. I watched as the cop’s blue and red firework lights sped off into the darkness, seemingly unconcerned with our shenanigans. Everyone exhaled in their beer-soaked seats.
“Who cares about us?” I said aloud, “But us.”
Like Jean-Paul Sartre said, Existentialism is a humanism.
Rowley curled his fingers over the steering wheel. His sober eyes squinted into the rearview mirror. “Clear?”
The Crew nodded in the shadows.
Rowley fought off the rain spilling over the White Whale’s body by pressing down the gas. Bodiless heads bounced up and down in their seats. More rum, more beer. An ambulance suddenly whipped past us, their red and white lights whirling. We all opened a round and roared at their selflessness. The frothy suds bubbled over onto our hands. Drunk off our presumed infinite youth, we reveled in our haughty disobedience, steering blind into one synchronized kaleidoscopic future.
In that moment, we did not know ourselves as individuals.
We only knew each other as one.
The Crew was the Crew was the Crew.
The White Whale breached Robin Williams Tunnel. We saw the Golden Gate stretch out her rusted hands toward us. Soft, blinking amber lights lined the muscular tubes of her veins curving upwards. Across the Bay, a million square fireflies’ whirled, row after row; a swarm of zip codes. A smile appeared on my face.
Maybe this would be it, I thought. Maybe this is where I should be next.
Rowley caught my eye in the rearview mirror. “There is little time for sentimental revelations. Snap out and snap-in.”
With shot gunned beers and cheerful annihilation over choppy waters, we hurtled onward aiming for infinite escalation.