Good Luck: Episode Twenty-Six


Well, it was a bad idea to wait to try and write this in the car, while all these beautiful things are flashing by outside. The last thing I want to be doing is looking at my phone. I’ll do it for this hour, and then, as I promised my brother, William, we’ll switch and I’ll drive the rental car into the Grand Canyon.


Into the Grand Canyon. Yeah. I’m gonna drive this Nissan right into the Canyon.


We were just at a rest stop near Sedona and there was a big sign giving a history lesson about the white guy who found the Grand Canyon. First of all, imagine being the guy who thought he found that, think about him having to tell his friends, “I found this reallllllllly big canyon” and his friends going, “Nice, what are you going to call it?” and he says, “The Grand Canyon.”


America is funny like that. What’s this big mountain range called? “Rocky Mountains.” “Okay, I guess that’s good, let’s check and see if anyone else already is using it…wow …no one has. Rocky Mountains is available, I can’t believe it.”


Surprised they didn’t try and name the Mississippi, the Wet River.


Are there any mountains in England? Probably not. If they’d had more practice naming mountains and canyons they would have come here with better ideas.


We stop the Nissan every so often and get out so William can smoke a cigarette. There is a $250 cleaning fee if when we return this car they find even a single flake of nicotine ash. If their forensics team finds one cigarette butt. The Marlboro Man wouldn’t last a single day dealing with Avis rental car.


We are in God’s country, I guess. I mean it’s something. It’s something’s country. It’s the county of someone or something astounding. William lights another one.


It’s raining in Arizona now.


William points out the window at some cactuses in the rain and says, “A lot of people think if you get lost in the desert that you can slice open a cactus and get moisture but really they’d just make you really sick.” I say, “If you need moisture, man, just hang your palm out the window, it’s raining in Arizona right now.” “That’s not what I mean. And did you know you can eat certain kinds of cactus?” “You’re hungry already?” “No, not yet, I’m just saying.” “You didn’t like In-N-Out Burger?” He laughs. This is hour one into ten days in the car together.


Where are we going?


I don’t know where we are going. I don’t know where we are going for the next ten days. Nevada? California? Wyoming? Idaho? Washington? North Dakota? Oregon? Utah?


I do know I have a bunch of stamps and envelopes and paper and a pen and I’m sending letters and postcards from the road wherever we go. Where are you? Want a postcard? Let me know. I just bought ten more of them from a woman named Molly. She says she has to lock the gas station bathroom not because of what I think (people shoot up heroin and die in it), but because a tour bus will pull up and 80 people will get off and all use the bathroom and not buy anything from the store. Not a Mountain Dew. Not a Hall and Oates CD. Not a t-shirt with the Grand Canyon itself on it. Molly says she has to pay to have the water brought in. And I tell her, “I know all about it, even though I talk like Tony Soprano. The first time I was out this way, out west here, there was a drought and I hadn’t showered in a few days, so driving along I saw someone had a sign on their house that said ‘Showers $5’ so I stopped and used their shower, and they sold me a bar of soap too. I had my own towel.” “Where was that?” “That was Humboldt County, California I think. Around the year 2000.” “Oh, yeah, sounds like California. Around here you get a free bar of soap with every paid shower. Keep us in mind next time you’re in need.”


When I come out of the gift shop there are a bunch of men dressed up like they are on their way to be killed in the OK Corral. But I don’t know. They have the big cowhide coats and the silly hats, and the long silver hair and the boots. There is a modern girl, from my own time period, who runs past the gas pumps and starts taking pictures of a bank of fifty assorted mailboxes belonging to the trailer park behind the gift shop, and the hostel attached to the gift shop, and any number of houses and trailers, I can’t see, down the red dirt roads that snake too far for the postman into the glory of nowhere. This girl must be from Jersey City too. This is the first time she’s ever seen a mailbox. She’s only heard about them in the legends of old. Before this, she’s only conducted business with P.O. boxes.


I get in the car and keep writing.

‘Cause I don’t know.

If I keep going maybe I’ll find something out.


All I know is I’ve got 200 pages left in Don Quixote, and I’m gonna read some more if I fall asleep before my brother, or if I wake up before him. I read a hundred pages on the plane and I kept poking him in the ribs and telling him what Sancho and Don Quixote were up to and he looked really happy, he smiled and laughed at each episode. I’ve cut that thousand page paperback in half. All I know is no sensible American would travel aimlessly while carrying a thousand page book with them.


And I know I gave my brother a National Parks pass and it’s in his wallet right now and so we’ll go to as many of them as we can in ten days, but which ones I can’t guess right now.


And I know we stopped at a place and bought sleeping bags because we are going to camp as much as possible, which is good because I don’t have a job these days. I’m broke and surviving off of paperback books. My job is looking out the window and thinking how much Arizona looks like Spain and then telling you about it.


On the flight to Phoenix, as we were boarding, passing through first class, I saw a woman reading a novel that said “The Banker’s Wife,” but I thought it said “The Bonkers Wife.”


And then, a little while later, looking out the window of the plane, I saw puffy clouds below, as they hung over an arid land (Texas or New Mexico), but my eyes wondered, “What are those purple lakes that dot it all?” Looking longer, I realized it was the shadows of the clouds, the rising sun creating them. Cool.


A few minutes later, William leaned over me and looked out the window, fascinated. Eventually, he said, “Are those lakes?” And I said, “No, you fucking idiot, those are the shadows of the fucking clouds.”


Now we are driving on I-40 West and the song “Truckin’” is playing. It’s by the American rock and roll group, The Grateful Dead.


Half an hour ago, William set the trip meter to record how many miles we have driven, so that at the end of the ten days he’ll be able to know exactly how far we’ve gone.


Five minutes ago, he said, “Fuck, I hit the wrong button.”


“For what?”


“I accidentally reset the trip mileage…”


“So much for that.” I laughed and laughed.


He’s never been across the Continental Divide. Until now.


I thought he hadn’t been off the east coast, but at the airport he said he once got on a plane and flew to Dallas, just to see Metallica. I wondered how the two things worked together for one person. You’d fly across the country to see Metallica, but your hometown is fine and good all the other weekends of your life.


Hey, look, there’s a cactus, have you ever seen a cactus before this? Yes, I’ve seen a cactus before, I’ve seen one in Disney World.


I carried the tent on the plane. Put it in the overhead bin. It must have been six years since I last used it, so last night I made him help me set it up in the living room of my apartment, right there in the middle of loud loud scream all the time Jersey City. Someone was outside the window smoking a cigarette, leaning against the fence of the Catholic girl’s academy, and they were looking right up into the room, and could see us working with the tent poles. My brother and me were like a lame TV show. The man shook his head as the tent was assembled. I gave a little wave. Here was a person who may have been living out on the streets, and here were two goofy guys in an apartment painted pink, setting up a shelter within a shelter.


A shelter within a shelter.


How much shelter can two dumbasses stand?


And here we were rubbing it in.


Now I say to my brother, Arizona almost over,  “I’m sorry I’ve been quiet over here. I’m just trying to finish this. I won’t always be this quiet on this trip.”


“I don’t really have to talk…”


“Well, I just mean…”


“If I’m quiet it’s not because I have nothing to say.”


“Okay,” I said, typing on with my thumbs.


“It’s just I stopped saying things just to hear myself talk.”


“I’m just finishing this thing and then I’ll be talking a lot.”


“All right, sure.”


We went over a big hill and then all of a sudden there were a bunch of trees. Trees in Arizona. Neat. “All of a sudden trees,” I said. He said, “You know, I was just thinking that.”


Last night, after we found out the tent was good, he asked if I had camping lanterns. Rae remembered that we have two of them, battery powered. We’d bought them to get ready for a hurricane that was supposed to drown New York City, but it didn’t—this was the year before the hurricane that did drown New York City.


I showed him the lanterns. He packed them in his army bag. When we got to the airport, I said, “Oh, they might give you trouble with those lanterns in security.”


“Why? They’re just lanterns.”


“I know. But take them out, put them on the belt or in a bin or whatever.”


He said, “Yeah yeah yeah.”


He yeah yeah yeah’d me.


I forgot all about it. And so did he. And twenty minutes later, as we went through security, he stood there with his belt off, his shoes off, while the TSA agents angrily searched his bag.  


“Why would you need lanterns?”


They’d x-rayed the bags and thought they were bombs. Well shit. No, they are battery operated lanterns (batteries removed, and left at my apartment, no less).


I sat down on the bench, checking my Twitter as they completed their big ol’ investigation.  


He’d told me earlier that the trick was to put the lantern shining on a jug of water and it lit up the whole tent. We’ll see if that works later. I’ll let you know.


“Why do you need lanterns, plural?” they said, mad too. These goofy dorks and their motherfucking lanterns and tents and shit.


“I need them,” he said. He was wearing a Punisher hat.


We got on the plane. The plane took off. The plane did some fancy things in the sky. The plane landed. We rented a Nissan. We got batteries for the lanterns.


We mean business.


The sun comes out. We are just fifty-six miles from the Grand Canyon. I’ve seen it before. I imagine it will look the same. A great big, wonderful looking hole in the ground. I’m excited for my brother to see it for some reason. It’s a nice country we live in.


Outside the car, he points to a hill and some houses dug into the side. He says, “Preppers.”




“Yeah. They’re prepping for the end of the world.”


“Oh, is that what they are doing?”


On and on he drives, staring straight ahead. I decide I’m done writing. This is enough. Time to pay attention now.

A minute later he says, “Yup. Preppers.”

BUD SMITH lives in Jersey City and works construction. He is the author of the novel Teenager (Vintage, 2022), among others.

One response to “William and Me”

  1. Rae says:

    Incredible Story!!! I love every word!!

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