Road to Ruin

by Mark Hahn

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There was One Stop between Winkleman and Hayden. It’s been gone for years and is slowly falling into ruin. It is still filled with the remains of what it once was and what it had been to those who stopped here. In some ways, it could have been anywhere. The people who shopped here were like people everywhere. We all have the same basic needs.

It’s forty degrees outside. The woman walks in with no shoes. She is missing teeth.

“You back already,” asks the girl behind the counter.

“It’s still Friday,” laughs the woman.

“Remember, you made me promise not to sell you anything till next Friday.”

“It’s not midnight yet! I meant starting tomorrow.”

Without speaking, the clerk grabs a pint of cheap bourbon, two travel sized bottles of Courvoisier and a pack of generic smokes. She puts them on the counter in front of the woman. The clerk knows exactly what she wants.

“Listen honey, I’m not going to be your babysitter. You came in and made me promise not to sell you any more booze until next Friday. Now you’re here buying more. You have to make up your mind.”

The woman seemed defeated.

“That starts at midnight.”

The woman is drunk and continues on with the argument that the whole world will be new tomorrow —  the lies we tell ourselves to get on with our lives the way they are. In reality, it was already 10:45 so she would probably still be up drinking her bourbon when the new day started.

* * *

The rise of the modern convenience store in America corresponds roughly with the post-depression post-WWII mobilization of the country. This, by extension, was the birth of the Beat Generation. Jack Kerouac completed his famous novel On The Road in 1951 and in 1952 the 7-Eleven chain opened its 100th store. Fast food chains were just starting to spread across the country at this time as well — McDonald’s started selling franchises in 1953. Ten years later, Bob Dylan would proclaim, “the times they are a changing.” Only, for Kerouac, he didn’t see it coming. Instead, he looked back at the old American landscape and tried to find something new in it. Perhaps all of us want to look back and find something we’ve missed in our youth. Kerouac lived on apple pie and ice cream as he crossed America.

Ginsberg once told Neal Cassady that he could do anything he wanted to, including living an open and honest existence and being the greatest poet since Rimbaud. Cassady spent his time working menial jobs, fucking women and going to the midget car races — watching little cars go around in circles never getting anywhere new. Cassady was always on a schedule. Drank, fucked, worked and watched the races all by the clock. The schedule was important to keep, maybe more important than what he did. We have to keep moving. We punctuate our time with the little things we do and the products we consume. One Stop offered all the basics.

As a young man living in Detroit — between colleges and jobs — I spent a period of my life working on a novel. Night became day and day night as I fed myself amphetamines and booze. I hammered out fucked up stream of consciousness prose on my dad’s old Smith Corona typewriter. When I could, I tried to sleep during the day.

On cool nights I’d throw on my dad’s old gray cable knit sweater and ride the Honda to one of the all night 7-Elevens to get cigarettes. When no one was around, I’d stay and talk with the cute girl working the graveyard shift. We talked about authors, writing and classic literature. She was taking courses at the local community college.

I should have asked her out — that’s what she wanted. I never figured out how to do it without it coming out like I was looking for a dumb date. What I really wanted to do was just ride around on the Honda with her on the back — her arms around me as we sped through the dark streets of Detroit. Then we could go back to her place and talk about music and literature. I should have just asked her if she wanted to take a ride. It never happened.

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During my move from LA to Tucson, I came across the yellowing unfinished manuscript. It was better than I thought it would be. The characters seemed real. The story was developing into something new and I cared what was going to happen to the characters. After so many years, the novel was as new to me as to anyone else who would have stumbled across it. Then it just ends — like a lot of things.

All the notes for the novel are gone and I can’t remember where the story was supposed to go. I don’t remember where the characters were going to end up — I probably never knew. I also don’t remember much about the girl at the 7-Eleven other than that she made me happy when I talked with her.

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