I woke up flat on my back on a tarmac somewhere in the middle of nowhere or the Texas panhandle, which are one and the same. I was staring up at an unforgiving, cloudless sky. My clothes were stiff with sweat and my mouth felt like Id gargled with sand. It took a minute to get my bearings. Then, I pulled myself up and looked around. About 25 feet away sat Mickey, checking to see that all his parts were still attached. Our jeep sat in the middle of the tarmac, all by its lonesome. Mickey stood up slowly and squinted towards the horizon. Are we still in Shamrock? he asked.
Just yesterday, our cross-country road trip took us across Oklahoma. Anyone wanting to try hell on for size before making the big move should visit Oklahoma in mid-July. At a mind-melting 113 degrees, one cant run air conditioning in the car for fear of ending up a steaming roadside spectacle. Rolling down the windows felt like opening a blast furnace. The ice from my big-gulp was long gone and I was sucking the last lukewarm fluid from the bottom of the cup. Who in his right mind would live in a place like this? I asked.
It may not be fit for man nor beast, said Mickey, but the aliens LOVE it!
Not that I know first-hand, but Ill bet the Mexicans hate this as much as I do.
Not MEXICANS, dude! ALIENSyou know! Little grey men with big eyes! ETs! Believe me, dude, there are more UFO's out there, he pointed out the windshield at the shimmering landscape, "than you can shake a stick at."
"I'll write that off to brain cells left to simmer too long in the summer heat. The day I believe in ET's is the day one introduces himself and shakes my hand."
"Dude, my family is from Ireland. Ever heard of leprechauns? Never seen one or shook his hand. But I believe in 'em. Are ETs any less believable?
"Let me not answer that."
By evening, we crossed into the Texas panhandle. Around nine, we cruised into the town of Shamrock. A truck stop and run-down motel comprised the entire town. In the parking lot, idling tractor trailers belched out clouds of exhaust. Mickey got us registered while I stretched my legs. "Heads up!" he yelled and threw me the key to our room.
The room was hot, stuffy and infused with the odor of mothballs. It wasn't Oklahoma, though, and for that I was thankful. Mickey and I showered and walked over to the truck stop restaurant for some dinner. By then it was late and the place was empty with the exception of a couple of big cowboys settled into a booth. We seated ourselves. Soon, our waitress, a middle-aged woman looking a little wilted from the heat, arrived at our table. "Coffee?" she asked.
"I need something cold," said Mickey. "Got beer?"
"In fact," I said, "skip the dinner and just bring me a six-pack. It's been that kind of day."
"We don't serve alcohol in the dining room, but you can sit in the lounge for a beer." The waitress pointed towards a doorway at the opposite side of the room.
Mickey and I walked into the lounge. A smoky haze hung at eye level. Evidently, indoor smoking bans had not reached Shamrock. Foil shamrocks and leprechaun cutouts covered the walls. "Speak of the devil, dude!" said Mickey as he punched me in the arm.
We had a choice between a beat-to-hell dinette set with green vinyl-covered chairs mended with strips of duct tape or stools at the bar. We grabbed the table. Some scrawny, drunken cowboy was singing karaoke to All My Exes Live in Texas on a makeshift stage. Looking around, there was the strangest collection of cowboys, bikers and truckers I had ever seen. There was no one remotely resembling us in the place. Everyone was doing a good job ignoring the singing cowboyexcept me, it seemed. How can you stand that? I asked Mickey. It makes me want to stab my eardrums with a sharp object. How can anyone think?
Dude, they are not here to think. WE are not here to think. Shut up and order a beer.
A couple of beers later, the singing cowboy didnt sound half bad. A couple more and I was actually enjoying his rendition of Friends in Low Places. There was no hope of conversation over the din, so I gave up talking to Mickey. I started people watching particularly the leather-clad bikers at the bar.
Mickey elbowed me in the ribs. Dude, check out the little guy over there leprechaun in disguise? Whaddaya think? He cocked his head towards the far end of the bar. There sat a guy about 3 feet tall in a black leather jacket with Bandidos and a sombrero-wearing hombre wielding a knife and gun embroidered on the back. Somehow, I was expecting green knickers and pilgrim buckle boots, I said. I think youre a little off the mark.
From then on, though, I kept sneaking peeks at the little biker on the outside chance there was an inkling of leprechaun there.
I stopped counting drinks, but I know I had enough to feel laid-back and ready for a good nights sleep. Mickey looked pretty wasted. Ready to call it a night? I asked.
Lets have one more for the road, said Mickey and he flagged the waitress.
It was midnight and still hot as Hades when we started back to our room. Mickey stopped at the jeep to get some things hed left there earlier. I steadied myself by the rear bumper hoping for a breath of fresh air, an impossibility at the truck stop.
Hey you! someone shouted. The mini-biker and two companions were moving quickly towards us across the parking lot.
Christ! Mickey blurted out. Its the friggin leprechaun!
I heard that, asshole! said the dwarf.
I wasnt afraid of the dwarf, but his two friends had me worried. I stepped forward to block their access to Mickey. Dude, hes drunk. He doesnt know what hes saying, I told them.
I saw you guys staring at me in there. What are you, gay or something?
No, noits a long storyabout the desertaliensleprechauns. We didnt mean to starebelieve me.
Aliens? the biker asked. His friends turned away and sniggered. You actually expect me to believe that?
We may not be able to show these guys aliens, but I can sure show em stars, said one of the dwarfs friends, as he punched a meaty fist into the palm of his other hand.
So you jerks are interested in aliens. The dwarf stroked his beard thoughtfully.
NO! I said, just as Mickey blurted, Shit, YEAH!
I suppose youve heard of the Levelland sighting of 57? The little man arched an eyebrow. One of his friends struck a match on the sole of his boot and lit a cigarette. He took a long drag and blasted me in the face with a thick cloud of smoke.
I suppressed a cough and fanned it away. To be quite honest, no, and tonight is not the night I want to. I just need to fortify myself enough to get the hell out of here and arrive in a major metropolitan area tomorrow.
Was that here? Mickey asked. I could have punched him.
Not right here, but we see em here all the time. course, its hard with all the lights at the truck stop. If you want to follow, Ill show you where to look. It wont take long. You, he winked at me, will be back in plenty of time for your beauty sleep.
Mickey was already halfway behind the wheel. Youre shitting me! I said. Youre an ass!" When he started the engine, I had no choice but to get in. The dwarf and his compadres headed away. He got on his bike as the big dudes peeled off back towards the bar. We followed him west about 7 miles and pulled off onto an abandoned rest stop off old Route 66.
The unadulterated night sky was enough to make one forget the brutal heat. I craned my neck back as far as I could to take it all in. Our new friend said, Take a load off. You can see more sitting on that hill. He pointed to a small rise further out from the road. The hairs on the back of my neck were signaling a warning, but Mickey was already on his way, so I thought what the hell and started walking.
The three of us sat on the hill pointing out constellations. The dwarf asked if we wanted to smoke some weed. I was too far gone to argue. He lit a joint, took a hit and passed it to me.
Wow! This is smooth stuffkinda like citrusIve never had any like this before! I passed it to Mickey. This was some powerful shitespecially on top of five or ten or tens of beers. My earlier precognition of peril faded. I just wanted to lie down and take in the stars. When I did, I saw this amazing comet streak overhead. It actually stopped at the horizon and turned aroundNah!
Dude! Did you see that? Mickey asked.
I did, but I didnt, I said and closed my eyes.
Dude, hes not a leprechaun hes a friggin a Mickey stopped abruptly in mid-sentence. I wanted to see what he was talking about, but my eyelids felt stuck to my eyeballs and I was too tired to force them open.
Well, that brings us back to this morning. Mickey and I were laid out on the tarmac of the rest stop, thankfully still in one piece. Our little biker friend was gone. We got up, dusted ourselves off and got back into the jeep. What were you saying about the dwarf? I asked Mickey. I fell asleep.
Mickey shook his head. That was some kick-ass weed! A couple of hits and I could have sworn that midgets eyes got big and alien-like.
Do NOT go there again with me!
Yeah, but could he have drugged us, dude? Could that comet thing have taken us aboard and probed us? I feel violatedI even think my ass is a little sore.
Im done with your alien crap! Do you want to drive or should I?
Nopenope, Im fine Mickey started the jeep.
Lets go, then! I reached for my seatbelt, got a stabbing pain in my ass and winced. I looked at Mickey. He looked at me. Silence. He put the jeep in gear.
Is there anything in Shamrock you need to go back for? he asked.
Mickey floored the gas pedal. We blew out of the rest stop heading west towards Albuquerque.