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Report From Indiana: Happy Valentine’s Day

“What's the matter with you?” they keep asking. “Why on earth would you come to Indiana from California in the middle of the winter?”

The beer is cheaper, I tell them. The beer's cheaper, but according to Indiana law I can't purchase it without a valid ID even though I'm 37 and balding, with crow's feet reaching from my puffy eyelids, from reddened cheeks that betray the vice of dozens of years of unbridled guzzling. They flattered me at first, but now I realize they card systematically, unconditionally. It's this unpopular new law in Indiana. They actually have cameras installed to bust cashiers who will get fired if they're caught selling alcoholic beverages without carding, regardless of apparent age. So I am once again in the position of the teenager trying to find somebody to purchase beer.

This situation in my case has something to do with Boonville and the state of California. It has to do with California because I lost my ID card several years back and never bothered to replace it because by that point the folks in Mendo who did transactions with me knew who I was.

“You'll need you an ID card in Indiana,” my friend had warned a good month before we were expecting to make the cross-country trek with our damned dogs and stuff. “You got to understand this here is a police state.”

We got our first taste of state police in Wyoming on I-80 one night when the temp was below zero, and our encounter with the cops was partially my fault even though I wasn't driving. I made a mistake, one I've committed numerous times with the same inevitable result. On arduous road trips, don't bring up the subject of old girlfriends. Love them and leave them but don't mention them on I-80 rambling over the antelope plains west of Cheyenne. The next thing you know, the guy behind the wheel is remembering some gal at some county fair some night somewhere and the foot goes down on the accelerator. There is apparently a direct connection between the part of the brain that remembers the best sex and the tip of your right foot — at least this is the case for men. I can't honestly speak for women on the subject, but somebody ought to look into that. I've seen it happen to guys maybe a dozen times, and I'm pretty sure some women do it, too.

The next thing you know, just as the driver is passing through a memory with the vivid somatic reminiscence that reverberates in every cell from toe to nose hair, that long gone gal and her belly button smiling like the pupils in Love's very eyes, the red lights are flashing in the rear view mirror. “Oh, shit.”

Of course I had just purchased a 30 pack of PBR at the first rest stop in Wyoming, glad to be through barren Utah. The girl at the cash register carded me originally but I told her that California was slacking on sending me the ID card I'd paid 26 bucks for in early December. “That state must be really broke.”

Her hair was dyed blue and she had a ring in her nose, I thought. “Where in Cali?”

“Oh, you probably wouldn't know. Boonville — it's in Mendo.”

“Yeah, I been through Boonville. My sister lives in Clearlake.” Then she went ahead and sold me the beer.

There it was, then, the red, white, and blue box taking up most of my legroom riding shotgun. The lights were flashing, the Maglite or whatever searching our faces and floor space--our two dogs were going ballistic in the camper shell. Of course my friend at the wheel was completely sober, one of the soberest people you'll ever meet. His vices are cigarettes, coffee, and women. The latter vice might be linked to sobriety. I had a college swim coach who lectured me about all the beer I drank and said he always got laid at the end of parties because he drank Diet Coke. He held up a can of Diet Coke and took a hearty swig to emphasize his point.

My friend, driving, was therefore cold sober except for the reminiscing on past loves, but the state trooper hauled him back to the patrol car for more grilling.

Crap, I said to my teen-aged son who sat wide-eyed in the back seat. “I never should a got on the subject of women. Next thing you know…"

Next thing I knew the spotlight was on me. “I'll have to ask you to pour that beer out,” said the Wyoming Trooper. He was fresh out of somewhere on the Great Plains with a few lingering zits, I noticed, when he shut the damned light off and I could see again. “Sorry. I know it's alcohol abuse to dump out good beer, but it's the law in Wyoming. I'll have to ask you to put the rest in the camper shell with the dogs."

“It's okay. It's just PBR,” I said. “If it was import I'd be pissed.”

I dumped the contents out in the snow and carried the 30-pack that was now a 28-pack to the rear of the truck, hollering profusely at the dogs to stay back. Stay!

The young trooper apologized again and commended us on our honesty, bid us safe travels, no tickets or nothing, and I couldn't help thinking as we resumed our eastbound efforts that this poor cop was going to be a lot more jaded, someday.

Now I'm still waiting for California to get their act together and send the ID card in the forwarded US mail, still asking people to please purchase boxes of beer for me. I have people buying beer for me who were only six years old when I turned 21. It's a pickle. The other day I asked the 63 year-old friend who'd hauled our carcasses back east to get the booze as we were headed north from this farm in the Hoosier Hills to the great metro of Indy. We stopped in a liquor store in Brownstown, two in Seymour, to no avail. This fellow had turned 21 in a federal pen, Fort Leavenworth military, 1969. He was incarcerated because he'd been drafted and married simultaneously, married to this high school cheerleader from his hometown in Colorado. At boot camp in Virginia the cheerleader nymph had retreated with my friend for three days of R&R minus the rest, “fucked my brains out,” he says. “Then when it was time for me to return to the barracks, she told me she was filing for divorce and leaving me for another guy.”

Happy Valentine's.

That was 1967. My friend consequently laid down his gun and spent the next two years in Fort Leavenworth which we actually drove past on our way from Norcal to Indiana, on account of the blizzard in Nebraska that forced us to drop from I-80 to I-70. Had it not been for my parents living in eastern Nebraska and urging us to take the state highways due south to Kansas we might have plunged blindly into a killer blizzard. The goddammed news was befuddled by the snow in Atlanta and New York, not even mentioning Nebraska where we passed literally scores of tractor-trailers blown off the snowy road, splintered and jackknifed in the ditches. I'd never seen such roadside carnage.

“They act like the Midwest doesn't exist,” my friend lamented as we tried in vain to find a forecast for Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois.

“Go south,” my dad urged us on the cell. “Skip Nebraska. We're snowed in. Mom's stuck in Norfolk at a friend's."

Needless to say, we made our destination.

“It must be quite a shock to be in Indiana, feeling the cold after sunny California,” they tell me.

“Naw, I wasn't in Hollywood for Christ's sakes. It was the same latitude as southern Indiana. Anyway, all I gotta do is call up my folks in Nebraska. It's below zero there, that relentless wind blasting all day.”

“Glad I ain't in Nebraska,” they tell me. “Why on earth did your folks move up there?"

“Well, they met there, fell in love back in 1971.”

Happy Valentine's.

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