(In 2006 this was 400 words and I re-wrote it this year to 1100. It’s been a while since I’ve posted… anything and I just wanted to prove to you, and me, and the demons that push me that I’m still around. My current essay (not a re-write) will follow soon and it’s an emotional rollercoaster of doom & gloom and neighborhood. Imagine that.)
They served vanilla cokes at the Waffle House. I had no idea until Andi told me and said that’s where she wanted to meet. We didn’t have too much history together but we had enough to hang out over caffeine and sugar. Both of us straightedge, both of us failing trying-to-be, gonna-talk-about-it for-a-lifetime writers, and both of us Pensacola re-locates. She’d seen Exhaust live many times in ’97, ’98, and ’99. She always stood up front and sang the words to our songs, which was impressive, since I thought I was the only person that knew them.
I’m Birmingham-bred and raised, and have been my whole life, except for the one miserable year in Pensacola, USA. That miserable year I spent faking work until sundown in a 9-to-5 law office and wasting away at night in large automotive circles of go-nowhere driving, chain book stores and Wilco songs. Andi, unkempt brown hair and dirty shirts, occupied some of those nights at the Waffle House over vanilla cokes. I had not come to the conclusion that I was living a lie, not yet, tucking in my shirt and reporting to a swivel chair and a desk for a paycheck each morning. Andi, stolen shoes and mismatched socks, I think she knew, but was too damn nice to say so. Andi, smiled a lot. And she had a great smile.
Andi was Anarchist, text book definition. She evolved from the lyrics of the wild and metal bands we danced to into a life out of a Salinger novel, or an Aaron Cometbus zine, or her own book altogether. She slept in a flat with a dozen other folks (one being the above-mentioned author Aaron Cometbus), and never worked… but when she absolutely had to, she picked up shifts at Van Gogh’s, a coffee shop run by other like-minded politicals. I wasn’t living as displaced as her, but I had no established residence either, bouncing from my sister’s couch to my parent’s couch to a couch in the guest house of my then-employer. There was an irony in not having a bed in Pensacola, me being the Alabama trash that I am, spoiled rotten on air conditioning and thread count sheets.
Andi jumped trains. She rode the iron rails from coast to coast, collecting the unimaginable stories along her way. Scary, dangerous tales that left me with a big brother-ish worry when she wasn’t around. Sexist as it may sound I worried more over her being an attractive female, but I wrote it off as my traditional Southern upbringing, and common sense, more so than sexism.
Unimaginable danger stories came from Andi riding trains, it wasn’t all makeup and glam on the back of an open train car stocked with recycled bolts or corn husks. I was in the middle of trying to explain my employer’s lawsuit database when she told me of a teenager that had run away with his younger sister to ride rails and lost her along the way. A trucker drove off in an 18-wheeler, baby sister in the front seat, the teenager busy inside a 7-11 buying them all cigarettes. Six months later the teenager was still searching. Baby sister had just turned 14.
Another night of vanilla and ice in a Waffle House and I was rushed, checking my watch every few moments, adding up potential hours of sleep, since 5am is early no matter how pointless your job seems. My mind wandered over tomorrow’s checklist, my white button down sleeves rolled up, collar loosened, tie taken off in the truck. Put a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other and I was a full-blown executive. Put a gun in one hand and open my mouth around the barrel, this aint a lot like living.
Andi, her voice a distant echo, said something about a gang of transients, and I came back down from self-destructive fantasy. A gang of transients with tattooed faces roamed their train yards and slit the airways of trespassers on their turf, she said. An entire campground wiped out overnight, all victims of rusted knives to the throat.
And so it goes. So it went.
Waffle House, Pensacola, USA, the two of us too social-outcasted for the beach scene or dance clubs. Too many military boys and teenage girls wanting to get married anyway.
I drank vanilla cokes and hung on every word. Andi didn’t shower, and didn’t shave her legs or under her arms. I thought that was weird, but she thought it was odd that I showered three times a day, and shaved my legs and under my arms. She brought me a fanzine she’d clipped together, all handwritten, proving she was a notch above me as a failing, trying-to-be gonna-talk-about-it for-a-lifetime writer. The zine was filled with poems she’d written in the middle of Nowhere America.
When she was cold or hungry.
Running away or running back home.
Lost or found.
I read every word on whichever couch I called home and felt like the biggest phony that had ever listened to Operation Ivy. I got up the next morning and put on a tie for work. I stared at the train tracks that ran parallel with the Bay and hurt for somewhere other than where I was headed.
I haven’t seen Andi since those 2002 nights at the Waffle House, but I think about her a lot. I thought about her when I got fired from that law office job a few months later, I thought about her when I drove across America in my parent’s Honda, and I thought about her when I started getting paid to run into burning houses.
And I think about her when I write.
Her friendship did something to me, something wicked between inspiration and envy. And if I ever see her face again I’ll let her know.
But for now, me and my sexist Southern upbringing hope she’s safe.
"Maybe you’ll be out there on that road somewhere, some bus or train, traveling along. Some motel room, there’ll be a radio playing & you’ll hear me sing this song. Well if you do, you’ll know I’m thinking of you and all the miles in between and I’m just calling one last time, not to change your mind, but to say I miss you baby... Good luck goodbye... Bobby Jean" - Springsteen