An open letter to my shadow

Dear Federales,

I can only guess you didn’t care if I noticed. I mean, it was 6am in my little suburban neighborhood. Nobody, not even the old lady who stays up late smoking and drinking sherry, was awake. I was the only car pulling out of the cul-de-sac at 6:13am. So, your man in the black Crown Vic didn’t go unnoticed. His black sunglasses in the middle of the night did the rest to give him away. Federales, thinking they gotta look all federal.

So, follow me if you like. We’re going to be among just a few cars on state 25 north through the Blue Ridge foothills. If you’re confused about my almost immediate stop in Traveler’s Rest, it’s because none of us have eaten in 13 hours. Sure, we maintain a lot of disdain for McDonald’s, but that’s not going to stop us from getting a couple Egg McMuffins to fuel us through the mountain drive. Sure, you hang back. I’ll pretend I don’t notice you. It’s too peaceful to care anyway. The sun isn’t going to come up for an hour or so, the kid is watching his DVD player, the dog is sedated, and the wife is knocked out on some sort of therapeutic pillow. Me, I’m listening to XM-12 X-Country. I’m not unconvinced that this alone isn’t the reason you’re following me in the first place.

You, like me, are probably happy we left so early in the morning. It means we’re going to miss rush hour in Asheville. Sure, it doesn’t seem like it would be a big deal, but the drive on I-26 into the Southeast’s coolest city can be a real bear in the mornings. Zipping through there at 7am means we’re going to be outside of Knoxville by 8:30. It also means we’re going to watch the sunrise in our rearview mirrors. If you struggle with believing in a higher power, as most people do, your first stop should be a sunrise in Appalachia. It’s not going to make you believe in God, but it’s going to make you wish you did. Oh, yeah. The God issue. That might be the reason you’re following me.

I feel fairly confident in my driving as I cross the Tennessee line, but less so after I absolutely demolish a fearless squirrel. Sure, it was just a hapless rodent, but seeing it flatten and spin as it went from the front of my car to the back was a little odd. Being forced to look back, though, I noticed your Crown Vic was gone. A black SUV fell in behind me. Black SUV? Are you kidding me? Are you just trying to be cliche? Should I be looking up for the black helicopters, too? Listen, I’m driving a lot more today. Wouldn’t it be easier just to track my cell phone and then fly to meet me? It’s not like I’m going to do anything that could threaten democracy, the church, or Haliburton in the next 600 miles. This whole, “Make me feel like Henry Hill with the gravy on the stove and a noseful of blow” bit may be fun for you, but it’s a little much for me.

I need gas. And a soda. Halfway between Knoxville and Music City, I pull the family mover into a place call the Bean Pot. At the counter, the lady tells me to have a “super Thursday and a great winter day.” I had barely noticed that summer had somehow turned to fall in the last 24 hours. Back on the road, I think I’ve figured out the federale tail. There are four laptops in this vehicle and explaining all of them to the authorities might be difficult. I remember when the polygamist guru from Salt Lake finally got nabbed, the federales made a big deal out of the fact he had way too many laptops with him. Well, so do I. And that’s probably why you’re following me. Does it worry you that I’ve now moved to the passenger seat and have achieved Internet access and have a power source juicing this machine? Yeah, it probably does.

Behind a cattle truck, the wife expresses a little concern for the cows.

“I hope they shoot them up before the put them in there. It’s gotta be a little disconcerting,” she says.

“I’m sure they get used to it,” I say.

“Well, I doubt they ride the trailer more than once,” the wife says ominously.

And with that, we’re in Music City.

(10:43am CT) — I am opposed to parkways, loops, bypasses, and the like. However, in the interest of saving time on what is already going to be a long drive, I have chosen to follow a piece of my dad’s advice and hopped on Briley Parkway. It looks brand new and, at least in the first couple of miles, is making Nashville look like every other city I’ve seen.

“Hey, look,” my wife says with no small amount of bemusement, “Bass Pro.”

Back when I was a kid in Skokie, Illinois Springfield, Missouri, Bass Pro was just a local place with taxidermied bears and a big fish tank (not to mention a lot of effin’ boats). Now, you can’t go to a major Southern city without seeing a Bass Pro outlet.

This is why I’m opposed to parkways. I just missed seeing Nashville in favor of saving some time. In the long run, I’m sure I’ll have the chance again (like, five days from now), but it’s this kind of progress that makes America boring. The fact that I’m writing this from said Parkway is probably the reason I can’t see you following me anymore. Federale rules, I suspect, mandate covert tailing when dealing with a guy who bad mouths capital P Progress.

To offset the potential Gitmo offense, I make a Monkees joke as we take the exit for Clarksville.

11:19am CT–Now in the Middle of Nowhere, TN, you might think I’d be happy, what with my Luddite tendencies and general disdain for suburban sprawl. However, it’s a bit boring. The lack of anything to look at (including your agents–where are They?) have left me to write and send a report for work, send some money I owe someone, and check up on the news. I’m doing all of this from a laptop at 75mph on I-24. While the kid watches “Cars” on the built-in DVD screen. While the wife listens to her iPod on a FM modulating device (Charlie Robison’ “Barlight”) and the dog sleeps in the backseat.

See, it’s not progress that bothers me, Mr. Man. It’s your means to this end. Yes, I want economic success. Yes, I want rapidly-advancing technology. Is the current state of America what I have to pay for my little toys and convenience? If so, I’ll give it back. Pull me over right now, confiscate my four laptops, my Blackberry, and all of our Pixar DVDs. Leave me with the acoustic guitar in the back and enough gas to get home and we’ll be fine.

This technology isn’t perfect. Mapquest.com did its best to send me 70 miles out of my way in an effort to keep me off a country road for 20 minutes. Even good progress ain’t perfect. Now, when I’m doing the Pee-Pee Dance, I’d kill for…well, I guess since we’re doing this little “You follow me and I pretend it doesn’t bother me” thing, I shouldn’t be talking about what I’d kill for.

12:02pm CT–Very clever, Mr. Federale. Old ladies? I never would’ve guessed you’d employ some post-retirement chicas to keep tabs on me. Fast food and bathroom stop and I’m barely out of my car when an old lady pops from her vehicle and says, “Do you know how to work this?” I think she called it a grommet. Either I mis-heard her or she mispronounced the name of her GPS navigation device.

“I’m sorry, ma’am” I said, giving her the “I know you’re a G-Lady” look. “Our car doesn’t have one of those.”

The lady looked at my laptop and the obviously working Internet service.

“Okay, then,” she said. I get the sense that she has slipped a bug in my car and I vow not to say much until I can sweep it at our next stop.

It makes me feel no better when my wife suggests a few miles down the road that we pull off at Ft. Campbell to protest the war.

“Probably not a good idea,” I said, checking in the rearview for the ladies

“Peaceful protest,” she said. “Throw some limp french fries at the gate?”

I didn’t answer. The wife belched loudly, and then said to herself, “That was hot.”

As if to answer her, two helicopters appeared on the horizon, obviously from Ft. Campbell. They’re desert camouflaged and have double rotors As I struggled to remember the name of helicopters with double rotors, the dog barked. It was the first angry noise she’d made since we left G-Vegas.

“Helicopters are probably wigging her out,” the wife said.

“I can’t hear them,” I said, thinking and I’m obviously a little sensitive today.

“Yeah, but you don’t have dog ears,” the wife said. Again, it was logic with which I couldn’t argue.

I tried to wrench my son’s attention from Toy Story 2. My sudden screams of, “D! Helicopters! Helicopters! Helicopters!” probably sounded worse to the surveillance team than the war protest, limp french fries or not.

12:46pm CT–“I will not be picking up anyone along this stretch of road,” the wife said out of nowhere.

We had just passed the Lake Barkley Classic Car Museum aong I-24. It was the first structure I’d seen in miles that hadn’t been a rusted or rotten barn. A sign promised Elizabethtown in two miles. As I wondered if the town had anything to do with the movie I didn’t see (really, it can’t be…who would make a movie about Western, Kentucky?), I wondered why the wife was spontaneously refusing to pick up hitchhikers.

“Prison nearby?” I asked.

“Yep,” she said.

By now, we’ve just about finished our time in Kentucky. As we cross into Marshall County over the Tennessee River, the wife’s iPod plays “Livin’ on a Prayer” (not my fault–driver gets to pick the music) and the wife mumbles, “I hope this isn’t among the 70% of sub-standard bridges in America.”

I’m neither killed by the bridge or Bon Jovi. When the wife utters out of nowhere, “My ass is starting to hurt. I have restless leg syndrome!” I know it’s about time for me to take over the wheel again. I’ve lost sight of the federales, if they were ever there at all. I feel better about the idea of driving. Plus, we’ll be back to X-Country on XM radio. That’s worth it right there. Here in a bit, we’re going to cross into southern Missouri. Provided that part of the world has cell towers, I’m going to turn this over to the wife. She or may not begin it with the line she just mutterered too me while pointing at a 4×4 truck driver.

Check in over here in an hour or so.

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Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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4 Responses

  1. Otis, you are just gosh-darned interesting. 🙂

  2. Anonymous ss tiltstien says:

    Can I get into trouble just for reading this blog. It’s been well over and hour and people are getting worried about you. We need an update. Should I ride by MT.Otis to see if it had been raided? I hope all is well.

  3. Anonymous KenP says:

    For the gods’ sakes, don’t pull into that grassy knoll up ahead.

  4. Hey, I’m familiar with Springfield MO. I lived there for 3 years at the MCFP-SP, in a cell right close to John Gotti.

    I’ll tell you the story sometime over some Keno crayons.

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