We have turned onto a little country road. The river disappears for a
moment, and we are driving through freshly tilled fields with little shoots
of green emerging. “Soybean,” says Andy before I ask about the crop.
At a crossroads sits an empty tobacco shed; then there’s an old metal
fabrication shop, a welding facility, that has elaborate wrought-iron
gates and odd sculptures sitting in an overgrown field. It appears to be
abandoned. This reminds me of the Life after People series I watched at
Christmas. There’s a second season out now. I think, This is what is left
of the People’s Art. We pass a structure that was once a gas station; now
it’s a produce stand. Homemade signs advertise fresh produce: peaches!
cantloups! tomaters! watermellons! Too early for produce, so all
the wooden bins are empty, the place sad and deserted.
We turn left and begin a descent back to the river. I know that a couple of miles away is a burned-down textile mill. The road pretty much
peters out and turns into a gravel lot that overlooks the river. It’s not a
big river, but at this point it is somewhat impressive. The roadhouse itself
is weathered almost colorless, with a large porch on the front, a screened
porch running along the side, and a rickety wooden pier that juts out
into the river. There are only six cars in the parking lot and Jesse’s truck.
“What’s the name of this place?”
“It’s a late-night place. People come after ten, and by midnight, it’s
wall-to-wall drunks. Bills itself as a private club, so the law doesn’t
bother folks. You can pass out in your car without worry or, for a few
bucks, get a cot in the bunkhouse out back.”
We stare at the place for a long moment. “Do I have to become a
member or something?” I look at the faded metal signs on the building
that advertise Pabst Blue Ribbon, Miller High Life, Marlboros.
“I was afraid you might. That’s why I wanted you to look the part.”
Now Andy looks a bit sheepish. He nods at the dock. “But Jesse’s sitting
out there. We got lucky. You won’t have to go in there after all.”
“What about you?” He’s not dressed for a roadhouse: he has on dress
trousers, expensive leather loafers, a crisp collared shirt the same pale
cream as the leather interior of the Cadillac. He looks a lot younger,
cleaner, thinner, taller, a lot more everything than he ever did at AA
meetings. “So you weren’t planning on coming in with me? You weren’t
going to play protector?”