Our first night in Atlanta was half a waste of time. It was all Scotty’s idea.
“I’m not wasting a four day weekend sitting around here,” he said. ”We have to dosomething.”
Scotty wanted to play it fast and loose, so we didn’t bother making reservations. We tossed our bags in the back of my truck, topped off the tank, and headed north. We realized our mistake soon after.
It took two hours to find a hotel. I drove circles through midtown, blasting Fear Factory and cursing at other drivers. A woman in a Lexus cut me off without signaling and flipped her middle finger at me. She spoke emphatically into her cellphone. Enraged, I pulled up alongside her and hurled a wad of chewed gum on her car.
My GPS proved useless. Scotty thumbed the screen, confused, attempting to pull a rabbit out of it. It turned into a game of lodging roulette. Eventually we broke down and picked a random hotel.
The woman at the counter wrinkled her face at me and told me, without looking up, that there were no vacancies. I didn’t say another word, did an about-face, and headed for the door. Scotty slid up to the counter and poured on the southern charm. She looked up, her face brightened. She opened a ledger and made a few phone calls, securing a room at a sister hotel – a trendy new spot within walking distance of the midtown bars.
I hated it.
Barhopping turned into a foot recon of a dozen places I never want to see again. A young black guy leaned out of the passenger window of an Acura and shouted racial slurs at us, unprovoked. I pleaded with them to pull over so I could beat his face flat, but his courage stopped at his mouth.
I fired off a desperate message on my phone and was directed to the Clermont Lounge. I was promised an epic dive with midgit strippers and amputees. Instead we got cheap PBR cans and fat old women in lace. Scotty paid one of them to give me a lapdance, which I suffered through politely while he laughed in the background. Another dancer groped me on my way out the door, which I almost couldn’t locate, and we hit the bricks.
“Fuck this,” I said. ”Let’s just get food and get the fuck out of here.”
“Alright . . . “
“You’re an asshole.”
“What? Didn’t you enjoy your lapdance?”
I hailed a cab and asked the driver if there was a Waffle House nearby.
“You want to go to the Majestic,” he told us.
He was right. We waited for a booth and piled in amidst all the other late-nighters. It was a brilliant retro mess of chrome and grease. I fell in love. Then I fell asleep at the table with my head in my hand. Scotty slipped into the booth behind us and tried to work his charm on the girls sitting there.
Cockblocked, he woke me up and we headed back to the hotel.
We barely woke in time for check-out. I retrieved my truck from the valet, who just looked at it and shook his head. Scotty and I decided to grab lunch on our way out of town and promptly got lost. We wandered aimlessly for an eighth of a tank before Scotty mentioned bar-b-que. I turned the truck around.
Our waitress was a punkish chick with a boy’s name. She was heroin skinny and covered in tattoos. Stamp collector. Scotty and I looked like ten miles of rough road, and she laughed at us. She was bossy and assertive. I was in no condition to make decisions for myself, so I rolled with it.
I told her we had made the mistake of going out in midtown the night before. She shook her head.
“Yeah . . . we don’t go out in midtown.”
She knelt beside our table and made a list on the back of a piece of register tape. She became our unofficial tour-guide to the seedier side of Atlanta’s nightlife.
Scotty and I headed up to Little 5 Points, a freak neighborhood full of bars and hippies. We walked around for a while, getting the lay of the land and nursing our hangovers. I busted out a pair of cigars. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but half an hour later I was curled up in the passenger seat of my truck. I vomited on the sidewalk.
Maybe a second night was a bad idea . . .
I told Scotty to drive and hit the Home button on the GPS. Halfway to the highway Scotty pulled over.
“I’m not really sure I wanna go home, dude . . . “
“I don’t either, but I’m in no fucking shape for drinking right now.”
“Well, fuck man . . . “
“I’m getting old,” I grumbled.
Scotty pulled into a gas station and bought a pair of Gatorades. We sat in silence watching a cadre of street dancers embarrass themselves on an adjacent corner. My nausea began to abate.
“Alright, here it is . . . We get a fucking hotel room. We shower, grab a combat nap, and see how we feel. Then we start working on this list,” I waved the ticket our waitress had given us.
“Sounds like a plan, man,” Scotty said.
The downtime worked miracles. We napped and showered and headed for the street. We landed at Front Page News first. We hadn’t eaten a thing since I puked up lunch that afternoon. Scotty and I settled at the bar and broke out the list. We ordered beers and food and set to work on a tentative plan.
An enormous black man came into the restaurant and sat down next to us. He was an inch shorter than me, and no less than 290 lbs. Pre-competition body-builder. He was two days out from his twelve-week lean out diet, and he wanted to celebrate with a few bowls of gumbo. I talked shop with him while the three of us waited for our food. Scotty was making conversation with the bartender when a very attractive raven-haired girl slid into the seat next to him.
She could have sat anywhere. There was no one else at the bar. She lit a cigarette and within minutes she was laughing at Scotty and touching his arm. She had a dancer’s body, despite the smoking. The big man and I just looked at one another, then at Scotty and the girl. I smirked and ordered another beer.
Their conversation dragged on. I looked at my watch, then at Scotty and the girl. The beers were fading out already.
“I think I need a shot,” I said.
“That’s more like it,” replied the bartender. ”What’re you drinking?”
“Hey, I got this one,” said the big man.
“You don’t have to do that, hommes . . . “
“Don’t worry about it. I can’t drink for three months, somebody ought to.”
I couldn’t argue with his logic. He ordered another sweet tea and paid for a double for me. I toasted to his success in competition before heading to break the seal. When I returned, Scotty informed me that Ms. Raven Hair was taking us to another bar.
Scotty’s patience paid off. I realized that I might be forced to listen to them fucking later. I frowned. Raven piled us into her Audi and drove us up to Virginia Highlands. The bouncers recognized her at the door and waved the three of us through. We descended a few flights of stairs into a crowded basement.
The bar was a stocked pond – the ratio of cooze to cock seemed abnormally high. A band stood shoulder to shoulder on a tiny stage. A small screen was mounted on the ceiling, and some drunken idiot was slaughtering a cover song.
“What’re you drinking?” Raven asked me.
“I’ll get the first round,” I offered.
“No,” she insisted. ”I used to work here.”
“Uh . . . alright. Jack and diet.”
She headed to the bar. Scotty and I looked at one another and shrugged. Raven brought us round after round, on the house.
“She just broke up with her boyfriend,” Scotty told me.
“You’re in,” I replied.
Raven tugged on my sleeve.
“What’s the matter?” she asked.
“Nothing,” I said. ”Why?”
“You look so serious!” she said.
I looked down at her. She was trying so hard to accommodate. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. Girls that attractive don’t go out of their way for approval. She wanted somehing.
“My face is broken,” I gestured to one side of my mouth. ”It hurts when I smile.”
“I don’t believe you,” she said, laughing.
She went back over to Scotty. The band played a blistering cover of Master of Puppets. I was deeply impressed. I excused myself to piss, and when I came back Scotty and Raven were gone.
I asked the bartender. Then the bouncer. No one had seen her. I headed back downstairs, thumbing a message into my phone. I bumped into Scotty in front of the bathroom.
“What the fuck happened? Where’s your girlfriend?” I asked.
Raven dragged Scotty off to a dark corner while I was pissing. She started to put the moves on and right when things were getting interesting she stopped.
“I can’t do this,” she told Scotty. ”It’s too soon.”
“Are you trying to convince me, or yourself?”
“Don’t roofie my drink, alright?”
Raven excused herself to the bathroom and never came back. Scotty made a lap of the bar, but she was gone. The place felt very stale. Scotty and I headed for the street. We flagged a cab and grabbed an early breakfast at The Majestic.
Cabs were lined up outside. Scotty and I climbed in the back of one and directed the driver to the Super 8. I stared vacantly at the meter as we rolled through town. The driver was Haitian. He babbled incoherently into his cell phone as he drove.
Scotty and I had a problem with a Haitian driver the night before. I watched the meter climb and realized we were not in the right neighborhood. He pulled the cab over, our motel nowhere in sight.
“We here . . . ” said the driver.
“No we’re not. Where’s our motel?”
“You say downtown.”
“The Hell I did . . . ” I growled, my temper rising.
Our argument was brief. I was stern with him, but not unreasonable. The driver sighed and put the van in gear. It lurched forward, the transmission slipping and clunking as we pulled away from the curb. The rest of the trip I watched as he slowed and stopped for yellow lights, yielded needlessly, and took several unnecessary turns.
I watched the meter climb, clutching a twenty in my fist.
The drive over had been less than fifteen dollars. The fare crested twenty and kept rising. My blood began to boil.
“Stop the cab,” I said. My tone was flat, my voice hoarse with whiskey.
“What? You say Super 8. Super 8 up this way . . . “
“Stop the cab.” I ordered again.
“I don’t understand why you say . . . “
“Look, I’m not gonna fucking argue with you! You have driven us all over the fucking city. Stop this cab right now. Right fucking now! Pull it over right here before I break your arm at the fucking elbow . . . “
I kept my voice low and lethal, to prevent further enraging myself. The cabbie pulled to the curb. I threw the twenty on the front passenger seat and jumped out.
“You’re lucky I’m paying you at all.” I snarled at him. I left the cab door open and stormed off up the street.