5. Road Trip 2009: Of Mice and Men

You are about to enter another dimension. A dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land of imagination. Next stop, the Twilight Zone!

“Twilight Zone”- Opening Narration

After bumping along over gravel roads, I finally arrived at the Peterson farmhouse where I spotted Paul’s rusty, beaten car parked out front.  Driving up the lane, I could see Paul and his brothers arguing next to one of the trucks.  When I stepped out of my car, they didn’t pay me any mind and continued berating each other.

“Whatever!” Josiah shouted. “I wouldn’t have thrown them if you hadn’t attacked me.”

“Dude, you should have just let me have the keys to drive, dumb ass,” Paul responded, “Come on Andy, we have to go find his truck keys.”

During the drive he filled me in on the events leading up to the missing keys.  After working in the fields that afternoon, Paul asked to drive Josiah’s truck back to the farm.  When Josiah said no, Paul decided to tackle him, but as he went to take his brother down, Josiah tossed his keys up in the air.  As a result, they spent 30-minutes looking for the keys. We were now returning to the scene of the crime armed with rakes.  Upon arrival, we began combing the dry dirt, searching for the missing keys amidst the scattered weeds and patches of grass.  After about 10 minutes, Paul suggested the keys may be hiding beneath a mammoth piece of cement.

Josiah, believing this had to be a joke, challenged Paul to look underneath the concrete. With a shovel in hand, Paul lifted, while Josiah and I pulled up with our hands, and lo and behold, there sat the keys.  Paul made sure Josiah knew he was right, but even I didn’t know how the keys ended up under the heavy cement.

Paul knew his keys were under the cement when he heard his Phil Rizzuto keychain shouting, Holy Cow!

Paul knew his keys were under the cement when he heard his Phil Rizzuto keychain shouting, "Holy Cow!"

Back at the house we sat down in the living room to cool off with a glass of ice water.  Paul came back from the fridge with what looked like a couple brownies in his hand.  “Try my homemade energy bar out. They rule.” Everyone, including Paul’s resting dad, began laughing.

“I don’t know if I’d eat that Andy,” he chuckled.

“Just try it,” Paul insisted with annoyance.

As his mom passed through the room she warned, “I’d be careful eating that…”

“You said they were good!” Paul called after her.

She stopped with a smirk on her face and answered, “Actually it was really good.  Just make sure he isn’t giving you the contaminated ones.”

As she left the room, I gave Paul a confused look.  “What?” I asked.

“Tell your tall-tale Paul,” Paul’s dad said sitting up with a grin on his face.

“It’s not a tall-tale,” Paul said.

“What happened?” I asked.  Josiah and Caleb sat down nearby, obviously ready to hear Paul’s story.  He paused for a moment, irritated by his family’s disbelief, then began his epic tale.

Originally, Paul had planned to get to his parents farm a few days prior to my arrival in order to spend some good family time.  Of course, he procrastinated and found himself still sitting in Idaho making homemade power bars the night I would be arriving in Omaha.  Realizing he needed to get on the road, he quickly threw everything he owned into his car, including his power bars packed nicely in zip lock bags.

While driving in the wee hours of the night, he thought he saw something move across the arm rest of the passenger seat. He tried to take a gander at the movement, but could see nothing in the dark. When he thought he saw more movement a bit later, he took his I-Pod ear buds out, suspicious that he was not alone in his beat-up vehicle.  Moments later, he could hear a scurrying sound in the back seat. Just then he felt something brush his right arm, and when he looked down he swore he saw a small rodent sprinting up his arm rest toward the back seat. His attempt to crush the intruder failed.  He stopped his car on the side of the road and inspected the interior. Nothing.  With his maternal nature taking over, he decided to move his precious power bar creations to the passenger seat. He then checked the trunk, again finding nothing but a baseball bat.  Jackpot – he now had a weapon to battle the beast.

Unlike Gandalf, Paul found his Foehammer in a trunk rather than a troll cave.

Unlike Gandalf, Paul found his Foehammer in a trunk rather than a troll cave.

Back on the road, with a bat at his side and power bars keeping him company, he continued his challenging journey. With his ears perked at full alert, moments into his drive he once again heard a rustling noise to his left. They were after his treasure.  He gripped the bat tightly and diverted his eyes down to the right, hoping not to make any sudden movements. By the light of the overhead streetlights he could finally make out his enemy: a field mouse (or rather, a mountain mouse).  The criminal was tip-toeing toward the power bars, ever so slowly.

Instinctively, Paul raised the bat swiftly, swinging it up into the windshield and slamming it down in the vicinity of the crook.  He lifted his weapon to see if a squished mouse remained, but all he found were flattened energy bars and a cracked windshield.  Just when he was about to burst in frustration, he heard a muffled squeaking in the back seat – a squeak of pain. Even though he damaged his window and his baked goods, he had connected on his homerun hit.

I wonder if Morneau has ever made a victim squeak upon impact?

I wonder if Morneau has ever made a victim squeak upon impact?

This was not the end of the battle though.  As night was becoming morning, Paul looked in his rear view and could see the silhouette of a mouse darting across his back window.  Was he battling a zombie mouse? Or were there two, three, a dozen mice in his car?!  Maybe he was just seeing things?  It was almost four in the morning after all, and the only thing keeping him awake at this point was his fear that his power bars would be held captive and destroyed.

WARNING: If you look up zombie mouse on Google Images, some pretty disturbing stuff pops up.

WARNING: If you look up "zombie mouse" on Google Images, some pretty disturbing stuff pops up.

He decided he needed to catch his wits and some shut eye, so he pulled into a rest area.  With a pillow in his right hand and a bag of power bars in his right, he ventured out to a covered picnic table where he set up camp.  Despite his drowsiness, he couldn’t get to sleep, continuing to hear noises. Had the mice left the car in search of the bars?  If they could get in the car through one of the body’s rusted holes, they could surely get out.  As he laid there looking out toward the dog shit riddled rest area lawn, he swore he saw small figures sprinting toward his picnic table. This was war.

He jumped up from his concrete bed and began strolling the premises. As he turned around the corner of his covered area, he saw one of the thieves, running alongside the wall, trying to escape Paul’s watchful eye.  His anger crescendo-ed in a furious downward stomp, aimed in the direction of the interloper. “Ha!” Paul thought; got him!  He lifted his foot slowly, relishing in the destruction of one of his foes, but would be disappointed once again, finding nothing.

It was at this point in the retelling of his tale that Paul’s dad cut him off. “Now wait a second. Was this a magic disappearing mouse?”

“No! It just wasn’t there. I swore I got it, but it somehow escaped.”

Now let me get this straight grandpa. First there were zombie mice, and now there are disappearing mice?!

"Now let me get this straight grandpa. First there were zombie mice, and now there are disappearing mice?!"

His dad began giggling, and soon his brothers joined in. Finally, his dad joked, “Sounds like an episode of ‘The Twilight Zone’.”

Josiah chimed in, “Yeah, and in all my years of working on the farm, I’ve never heard a mouse whimper in pain.”

“How often have you seen a mouse in pain, dumb ass,” Paul retorted. “It made this noise… EEEEE…EEEEE….EEEEE!”

As Paul demonstrated his squeaking ability, his dad and brother’s shook their heads in disbelief. “Wow, you sure can tell a story Red Green,” his dad added, sending both his brothers into uncontrollable laughter. I laughed along with them, although I didn’t really get the Red Green reference. Doesn’t he just talk about duct tape all the time?

The Peterson family mocked Paul’s farfetched story for another hour, reiterating the Red Green/Twilight Zone jokes, while Paul continued stressing that he was telling the truth.   Despite their pessimism, Paul insisted that they leave one of the farm cats in his car while we were on our trip, or to fill the vehicle with mice traps.  I told him the mice would probably get bored and come out to explore the farm, but he persisted that precautions be made before we left.

When we finally made preparations to begin our trip, Paul stopped his mom and asked, “Do you have any copies of The Fellowship of the Ring around this place anymore? Andy’s read The Hobbit like a dozen times but has never read the trilogy.”

“What?” Josiah interjected.

“I know,” Paul responded, “that’s like owning Neil Young’s ‘Harvest’ and never checking out any of his other albums.” He had a point.

His mom sent Caleb downstairs to look for the first book. While we waited on him his mom said, “Yeah, Paul’s dad gave me the trilogy as an engagement gift and told me he wouldn’t marry me until I read all the books.”  The Peterson family’s adoration of Tolkien caught me off guard.  I knew Paul loved the books but not every member of his devoutly religious family.  If Harry Potter is evil, Tolkien has to be, right?

Maybe the word Lord in the title threw them off.

Maybe the word "Lord" in the title threw them off. "On the third day after his death, Jesus arose from the hobbit-hole." Tolkien 16:2-6

Unfortunately, Caleb came back upstairs with only a copy of Return of the King, but Paul vowed that I would read “Fellowship” by summer’s end.

Eventually we said our goodbyes to his family and headed west down a gravel road.  Ahead storm clouds loomed. “Just another sign of things to come,” I thought to myself. As the rain picked up, our trek up the dirt road slowed to tortoise speed, but we didn’t care.  Despite the fact that we’d been talking on the phone almost daily, planning our trip, we somehow still had a lot of catching up to do.

An hour later, when the rain had finally died down and we were actually on a paved road heading toward Laramie, Wyoming, Paul decided the time had come to put on some music.

“Uh oh, dude! You better pick something good. It is the first song of our trip after all.”

“I know just the song,” he replied.  Moments later, a buzzing bass line vibrated through my car speakers. A catchy guitar riff began building, and my interest was rising. When the drums erupted, I was forced to ask Paul what amazing band we were listening to.

“Japandroids my friend,” he said with a smile.  Being a band that we both hoped to see on our trip, I perked up and listened intently to the lyrics from the opening track “The Boys are Leaving Town”, a musical anti-thesis to Thin Lizzy’s double guitar lead classic:

The boys are leaving town,
The boys are leaving town,
The boys are leaving town, now.

Will we find our way back home?

I don’t know.
Will we find our way back home?
I don’t know.

“Good question,” I thought to myself. Would I make it back home to San Antonio? Who knew. But at that moment, riding with my comrade Paul, heading across Wyoming’s hilly terrain, I didn’t care where we were going or if we’d come back.  We were on our way to God knows where, and for the first time in weeks, I was ready to throw caution to the wind.

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