As I write this, I’ve just spent the past four hours up the ass of a total stranger. Well, no. That’s not technically accurate. It was more like three and a half hours, with the first thirty minutes being more foreplay than anything else. It was an interesting experience, becoming intimately familiar with the nuts and fiddly dangle bits of a stranger’s backside, but it’s not one I necessarily wish to revisit anytime soon. Or ever.

Let me explain.

After work today, I drove my 11-year-old stepson – who is orders of magnitude more mature than I ever was at his age – into Texas so he could take his girlfriend to a dance at her school. (They met when we still lived in Texas, went to school together for a couple of years, and became best friends. It’s only puppy love, but shut up. They’re adorable.)

Apart from the fact that I didn’t have an actual girlfriend until I was a high school junior and therefore suffer from equal parts irreconcilable jealousy and unmitigated pride at my child’s innate ability to just be infinitely cooler at 11 than I’ve ever been or ever will be, I was really pretty excited about it.

The dance started at 7pm. It takes about an hour to get to where she lives from where we live, so we left a few minutes after 5:00, and made the drive (after stopping to pick up a Pokémon plushie and a giant Hershey’s bar to give her because everybody knows girls like chocolate, Papa) so we’d arrive a little early for pictures and whatnot.

Once we’d done that, I dropped them off at her school and watched as my kid who was only two-years-old yesterday walked into a middle school dance. My feelings were feeling a lot of feels.

I then spent the next couple of hours wandering the mall on a Friday night like I was one of the cool kids, which was boring and awful, but they recently upgraded the arcade, and that was pretty cool. However, they’d saddled it with one of those pre-paid debit card systems that eschews quarters in favor of reloadable plastic cards you’ll always carry a remainder on no matter how much you try to balance it out to zero, so I didn’t bother playing anything. Instead, I went to the food court, which was basically a desert of a few random eateries I’d never heard of and a Subway. (Chick-Fil-A is also there, but that’s only because we live in the Deep South, where Chick-Fil-A franchises automatically sprout in every shopping mall and near any Hobby Lobby and/or Walmart within a three block radius. It’s probably down to God’s will and all that.)

They did have a Hot Dog on a Stick, though, which was pretty cool and very retro. Of course, by the time I wandered over there, it was already a few minutes after 8:00, so naturally the girl in the funny hat working the place had already started shutting down for the night since the mall closed an entire hour later. There was one lone hot dog on a stick left under a heat lamp, though, so I ate that. And it was just a corndog. I was disappointed.

After the mall closed, I drove around town for awhile, got some gas, and eventually gave up any hope of finding anything at all interesting to do while I waited for the dance to be over, so I just drove back to the school, parked in the visitor lot, and stared into the empty nothingness of my soul for about an hour before the kids came hopping out, amped up on Dr. Pepper and rap songs that were popular half a decade ago.

As I drove the girl home and the kids recounted the night’s events, it became clear that my own quiet, well-mannered child had gone completely mental at the dance, like an Amish kid on the first night of Rumspringa. I’m not even exaggerating, either. He not only fast-danced (which I never did in middle school and still don’t do today due to the fact that I have freakishly long tentacle arms that could easily put someone’s eye out), he also launched into some breakdance, including – but not limited to: the moonwalk, the worm, pop-and-lock, whatever that one move is called where you put one hand on the ground while kicking your legs about in some kind of ritualized way designed to attract a mate if you were a preying mantis or something, and “the terrifying liquid man.” (He invented that last one, and it’s as amazing as it sounds.)

Have I ever mentioned how obsessed this child is with the ‘80s? I really need to get him some parachute pants.

He even “got the circle” – which I translated as that moment that happens to cool kids in movies when everyone gathers around and encourages their sweet dance moves. His time in the circle also involved a dance-off with some other kid, because of course it did. He even had too much to drink.

I shit you not.

After eating three slices of pizza, drinking three Dr. Peppers, and taking to the dance floor like a swivel-eyed lunatic who learned he could do a full split at some point in the evening, he “chugged” another Dr. Pepper while the kids around him chanted like some kind of frat boy entourage. He’d basically become John Belushi in Animal House, at this point.

To recap, my mild-mannered 11-year-old went to a middle school dance with his sweet, quiet girlfriend, became the life of the party, earned a nickname (“split guy”), then binge-drank until he vomited. Yes, he threw up. IN A SOLO CUP, of all things.

I am now terrified of the college years.

When all that was done and the sugar and caffeine high started wearing off, we dropped the exhausted girl off at her house, then headed back home. We were making pretty good time, too – right up until we hit the outskirts of Orange, Texas.

A few words about Orange, Texas…

Literally the most East Texas town in East Texas, Orange is the last Lone Star shithole you drive through before you hit Louisiana. Just before that is Vidor, which is one of those little pockets of the Deep South where they still believe having a good, old-fashioned cross burning every once in while is good for the soul. Once you get through that, you’ll know you’ve hit Orange when you pass a billboard advertising a local “personality” who is – and I’m not kidding here – a puffy white man in blackface doing a character he calls “Mammy Welfare Queen, Shirley Q. Liquor”.

Yeah, it’s like that.

(The whole SETX region recently endured devastating flooding from Hurricane Harvey, and I do not wish to belittle the many good people living there. But y’all gotta do something about all the not-so-good people living there.)

Basically, every person of color knows to make sure to top off their tanks before passing through this particular armpit of racist hell, because stopping for gas is how horror movies start. The one saving grace about the whole area is that it only takes a few minutes to zoom right through all of it. Or, at least, it normally only takes a few minutes. Last night, it took about three hours.

As we were leaving the first town that God forgot (Vidor), we hit traffic on the outskirts of Orange, which quickly slowed to a standstill. I checked my Waze app, and the red line extended for miles. And miles. And miles. Two hours of traffic over a 10 mile stretch of road. Joy.

This is when I met last night’s stranger. He was a truck driver, because that’s how these stories tend to go, and we became acquainted over the next several hours by way of the ass-end of his truck being the only thing I had to look at while I sat there wanting to die.

I studied every single feature of that truckbutt last night, from the hard, sharp angles of its trailer, to the dangly undercarriage bits swaying in the breeze beneath it. I memorized its license plate, the number to call if I ever decide to give up on life and become a truck driver, and every other bit of text I could find. I developed a keen understanding of every scratch, dent, and smear of dirt that man had on his truck’s backside, and I feel we really got to know each other as people.

It was a magical time.

I stared at that wide load ass for three long hours over the next 10 miles as I searched and scanned for any sign of what, exactly, was causing this massive traffic jam. Eventually, inch-by-excruciating-inch, we made it out of Texas, but there was still no indication of the massive, multi-car pileup of twisted wreckage that must be just up ahead.

Nope.

I finally discovered the cause a little ways into the Bayou State: the right lane was closed.

That was it! No tragic wreck, no DUI checkpoint, and no Border Patrol sting. (In case you didn’t know, the entire perimeter of the country is monitored by the Border Patrol, which includes all coastal areas. The BP has a strong presence along Interstate 10 because of this, and are constantly stopping brown people for inspections and making the occasional headline-grabbing bust because we live in the dystopian future all those ’60s and ’70s science fiction stories warned us about.)

The only thing that caused my three-hour delay was a damned lane closure that lasted exactly 0.9 miles. Or maybe it was an even mile, because it took me a second to remember how to reset the trip counter in my car. Either way, it was ridiculous.

Once we’d made it through the lane closure, traffic sped back up and I felt like I was doing Mach 10 once I hit 70mph. The most interesting thing, however, was how the massive jumble of cars and trucks I’d been tangled in for hours only moments before just seemed to disappear once the road opened back up to three lanes. I don’t know where they went, but apart from the occasional headlights coming up from behind, I was pretty much alone on the road for the rest of the trip.

Well, alone with my truck-driving concubine, anyway.

We stayed with each other for as long as we could, but as these things so often go, we went our separate ways in the night. As I took my exit and watched his lovely red brake lights trail off into the darkness, I whispered my goodbyes and headed home.

My day started one morning at 6:00am, and ended the next morning after 2:00am. I laughed, I almost cried, and I for damn sure wanted to shank a bitch for cutting me off more times than I can count – but it was still, somehow, a good day.

To my anonymous trucker lover: safe travels, my friend. May your mudflaps never falter.

I won’t forget you.

© 2017, Kristian Bland. All rights reserved.