Friday, February 08, 2013

Death Valley trip, vol. one

A slightly edited excerpt from The Irish Hungarian Guide to the Domestic Arts, with photos to prove it's veracity.

* * *

Erin O'Brien and Associate, summer 1996.
It will not surprise the readership to learn that, inclement weather notwithstanding, I almost always drive with all the windows open, the A. C. turned off and of course, music blaring. Although not the most comfortable way to drive, it imparts a certain credibility to transforming I just drove through to, Yeah, I've been there.

These practices are never more important than when a drive becomes a road trip. 

The idea of traveling in a polite temperature controlled box at high speed represents the zenith of affable mediocrity. What's the point? Any good road trip is metaphysical as well as physical, but an Erin O'Brien road trip is a violent tumble through time, space, and life.

Associate on the open range.

In my early thirties, I took such a trip with a friend. It was an extended and beautifully pointless jaunt from Cleveland, Ohio to Death Valley, California.

Humble hostess enjoying prelude to the Purple Mountain Majesty.

When we arrived at our destination, I took a swig from a fresh bottle of Wild Turkey, poured the rest out in order to memorialize my brother who had committed suicide a few years before, and got back in the car to head home. We were as such, en route back to Cleveland on Interstate 80, when we crossed Nebraska and discovered that the Erin O'Brien-style roadtrip, by its very nature, sometimes imparts more than "a certain credibility."

Erin O'Brien in Death Valley.

"Do you smell that?" I yelled over the whirring noise of the road. The speedometer was hovering around 80.

My associate yelled back, "I wasn't going to say anything until you said something." She was smoking, no small task with all that hot humid road air whipping around us.

"Hot balls, that stinks!" I screamed.

"Must be some sort of factory around here," she said. We were Cleveland girls. What else could create a stench such as this?

Associate, who is also shown wearing a leather jacket in this post.

I eyed the flatness of Nebraska that stretched all around us. "No factory out here," I said. "Must be some sort of livestock."

"Cows?" she said.

"This smells different from the cows," I said. We'd had plenty of experience with them through Amarillo on the trip out (we had opted for Interstate 40 westbound).

"Wait!" I yelled. "What about pigs?"

"Like one of those gargantuan pig farm factories," she said.

"Holy shit!" I said after several minutes. "It still stinks."

 "It's like … toxic," she said.

"Keep smoking," I said.

"I will."

On and on we drove as the vile odor lingered, thick and strong enough to nearly qualify as a taste.

Authoress and Associate in Las Vegas.

* * *


Joe said...

travelogues are in vogue.

Erin O'Brien said...

They may be, but my associate and I surely were not.

Anonymous said...

"I took a swig from a fresh bottle of Wild Turkey, poured the rest out in order to memorialize my brother..."-EO'B

I do not expect nor request a rationale for this behavior but comment because it seems incongruent to me.


Erin O'Brien said...

It seemed the most economical and poetic way to express how he lived and how he died.

And of course, it is a nod to McTeague, which John threw at me like a pebble from his grave via the early pages of The Assault on Tony's.

You are the only person to ever ask me about that.

Joe said...

Given the tiny sliver of knowledge I possess of your brother, I thought the Wild Turkey tribute was proper and appropriate.

Anonymous said...

"I thought the Wild Turkey tribute was proper and appropriate."-Joe

My comment says more about me than John or Erin.

In another lifetime I spent a brief period of time in West Africa and the indigenous people I met, when drinking the "homebrew", would pour a little out of their cup for the deceased elders and consume the rest. I think I retain a good bit of my African genetic heritage.


Erin O'Brien said...

Now that I think about it, only my associate and a very few other people knew about the bottle of Wild Turkey in Death Valley, which was a definitive drink between John and me and a private pact of sorts.

I don't talk much about things like that. I referenced it in The Irish Hungarian only because it was the truth and it seemed appropriate and straight forward.

On April 10, 1994, sobriety and all the things that might have been for John came to a screeching halt courtesy of a single bullet.

So I'm alive and he is dead. If I were to talk about the the things that were not to be for John, it would only be self-serving and I daresay cloying.

If ... (sniff sniff) ... only he had HELD ON. He (sniff sniff) ... he ... he ... TRIED!

No he didn't. John was a drunk and he died a drunk. I say that because I know he would endorse it. Some things are nonnegotiable.

To that end, I threw the empty bottle out into the desert that day. I wonder if it's still there.

Kirk said...

To someone reading you for the very first time, the off-hand mention of your brother's suicide in what's otherwise a humorous piece would come across as quite shocking. However, I like it, (though not what inspired it) 'cause it's so real. In this world, the shocking and the humorous exist side by side. It's all part of the disharmony of life.

Erin O'Brien said...

I guess you're right, Kirk. I reviewed this passage so many times and it still came out this way, the real way.

I couldn't omit the purpose of the trip and I couldn't stop the formidable momentum of the book with an elaborate dissertation on John's life and/or death.

Thanks for the perceptive comment.

Anonymous said...

John brought me here. This is always a melancholy subject for me but I was thinking of something Warren Zevon said as he was dying..."That was my life, those were my choices." I go through these funks where I listen to Hank Williams, Townes Van Zandt (who was alcoholic but died secondary to surgery), Gram Parsons, et al. There is a place for artists like John and they enrich our lives. Their lives were theirs. They made their own choices


Anonymous said...


Perhaps nobody's ever asked you about that because given what alcoholism did to you and your family the comment speaks for itself. I know I didn't think twice about it, but as you might recall I have a pretty personal awareness of what alcoholism does to alcoholics and their families.


PS-When I saw the landscape of your road trip what came to mind was Hunter S Thompson: "We were somewhere outside of Barstow when the drugs took hold." Sorry if that's not an exact quote.

Anonymous said...

PS-You are a separated-at-birth ringer for my sister in the radiator photo.


philbilly said...

RE: "Erin O'Brien in Death Valley."

The blatant eroticism of this photo caught me off guard at first. As my eyes began to take in the whole package, my pounded ever faster. One is first struck by the immense voluptuousness, and then the subtle, yet substantial, streamlined stance takes over the panorama, and finally the viewer becomes entranced by the raw, pent-up power, a vision of fecundity.

And O'Brien looks hot as hell, too.

philbilly said...

"my _____________ pounded ever faster..." Fill in the blanks as you will. I really do need new glasses.

Erin O'Brien said...

RJ and MR: Thanks, gents.

Phil, you are crackin' me up.