Post traumatic stress of the magnitude I was experiencing is difficult to describe. It’s a kind of severe anxiety exacerbated by only recently or still experiencing conditions responsible for the mental turmoil. In this case: still driving a highly not incognito and potentially offensive Wicked Camper through rural United States of America. I felt more like curling into a ball and disappearing than driving for a couple of hours in a rolling police bullseye through the sort of country where horror movies begin. I also still hadn’t paid the fine, which meant as I aimed the Dragon due west toward a tiny shit heap of a town called Merced sitting on California’s Highway 99, I was still under probation and if served with so much as a parking fine would be hauled back before Yosemite’s judge to face a larger fine and possibly jail time. Every police vehicle I passed inspired terror, while I white-knuckled the steering wheel as perfectly within the right lane as I could. The fact the road west was dead straight for the last 20 miles agitated me to no end. To those driving past I would appear placid; within my mind whirled innumerable crises. It might also have been a smart move not to have been suffering ridiculously in the wake of the previous night’s pre-trial hard liquor binge. I didn’t trust the Latino motelier one little bit, but paid for one night beside the highway service road anyway. I don’t know why I didn’t get anything done that day, even though I arrived in Merced early in the afternoon. I remember feeling a paralysing sense of anxiety, paranoia and pure if largely unfounded fear. The town didn’t help. As I walked around it after reluctantly leaving my room in search of food, it screamed rape, murder and gun crime. After drinking a few Budweisers and watching some television – which included one awful pro-Republican advertisement in which a wealthy immigrant seemed to support a political party that would certainly make it more difficult for others of his background to achieve a fraction of his ‘American Dream’ – I gladly went to sleep.
I felt better, purposeful and not completely wracked by fear and loathing the next morning, which happened to be Halloween, actually. But I hadn’t reckoned with the potentially sadistic motelier.
“Are you here to see something?” he asked, slightly shocked, after I requested another night’s lodging.
“No, I’m just keen for some breakfast,” I inadequately replied, still shaking off some of yesterday’s residual stress. I would register the suspicion on his face only in hindsight. Obviously anyone would wonder why a man in his late-20s, with an obvious penchant for booze, driving a wildly painted and irreverently aligned Wicked Camper van, or RV (recreational vehicle) as the Americans call them, would stay longer in Merced than a time period needed to eat, buy some gas and spit contemptuously on the pavement like all the locals did anyway. The bastard even put a couple who had loud sex from 1 to 5am directly above my room that night. For all I know it was him and his wife – or a prostitute. But I had bigger fish to fry. There were two reasons I’d asked for another night at the shithole motel within the greater toilet of that large highway straddling town. First, I frustratingly couldn’t pay my fine online and had only a basic idea of how to pay it by post. My Fresno attorney said I needed to acquire a money order. Second, I knew that the payment would not be received, and my probation concurrently ended, until a couple of days after it had been dropped into a blue US Post Office box. This was risk management of a type I’d never done, in a place I’d never been and would never visit again, several thousand kilometres from home. This was Goddamn torture. In my addled state I’d chosen accommodation an hour’s walk from downtown and was still too tender to risk driving. Naturally, the post office could not do a money order using my foreign credit cards and the local bank couldn’t help non-customers. I guess this is where my looks and charm finally came into play. When I first found out the bank couldn’t assist me I was ‘served’ by a middle-aged, surly woman. On the second attempt I was well received by a clearly homosexual young Latino with enough grease in his hair to dislodge a fat man trapped down a well. He even suggested we could go out for dinner or a drink after he’d finished work, “if I was still in town”. Unfortunately I would be, but he didn’t need to know that. I thanked him for his help and fled the scene. The fine was finally away.
I agitated to buy some lollies in case the worst case scenario occurred after I failed to provide diminutive ghosts, ghouls and goblins with loot, and they took their revenge upon the Dragon with toilet paper, eggs or worse. Thank God none ever darkened my doorstep. I used the gummy bears later on in the road trip for sugar rushes during moments of fatigue. Despite my avoidance of pre-teen diabetes risks, the night was not uneventful. I’ve already mentioned the motelier’s suspicion of me, and well-documented events in Yosemite. Well, while at my Merced motel hovel every time I wanted a cigarette with my crappy American beer I’d sit on the back of the Dragon to abuse my lungs. This Halloween 2012, about the time I was drinking my fifth – and sixth – beer, I noticed a cop car sitting on the corner of road the motel occupied. Considering what I’d been through and the fact I was still most definitely under probation, this sent my paranoia into overdrive. I was sure the cop would pin some heinous crime on me then drag me kicking and screaming back before the Yosemite District Court. I was convinced the only other person staying at the motel in the room beside mine was engaged in some sort of organised crime and I would become caught up in an exchange of semi-automatic weapons fire or even hostage drama. I tried to reason that it was Halloween night and the officer was most reasonably simply maintaining a watchful presence in the area by way of protecting families wandering around collecting sugar. But I was not in a reasonable state, and none of the arguments within my skull could be settled. So I finished the cigarette, turned back to my room while trying to avoid glancing at the patrol car and eventually fell asleep in the foetal position. I handed back the keys in the morning without saying so much as thanks to my bastard of a host.