June 27, 2002
Two months of losing my mind and making friends in Texas.
Part One: the plan
Around about April 12th I loaded up the Duke with spare deer antlers and bowling pins, grabbed me a double rum & OJ from Ms. Maes, took one last deep snort of that voodoo-polluted New Orleans air and steered toward Texas. I knew from the get-go that there was trouble brewing under Duke's hood, but I couldn't abide it. You see, when the road bug gets you real bad, it's kinda like an obsession. You go with it, and it goes with you, carries you, pulls you. Pretty soon nothing can stand in the way of you and your road. The loud engine knock and the threat of throwing a rod fell into that fuck-it category. By the time it was time to go, I had done all I could to grease, tune, lube and duct tape Duke together, and away we went.
The plan went like this. Drive the 360 miles to Houston, overnight there, then cut north in the morning and make straight for Dallas and my soundproof suite at the swank downtown Magnolia Hotel. After Duke's three-day appearance at the Deep Ellum Festival there, it would be back to Houston with roughly a week and a half to prepare for the Nth annual Houston art car throw down. Then, at party's end, I would steer Duke back toward New Orleans, or, if he was still knocking real bad, leave him in Houston and ride back with Jules & Co.. Once back in Louisiana, I would give notice on my rental house and spend my last prepaid month there final-editing Wal-Mart Boy. On Memorial Day weekend, I'd pack up and head for cooler climes for the summer. I'd heard nothing but horror stories about the humid summer heat of the South, and wanted no part of it.
What actually happened was quite another story. A horror story, for the most part. But like all tales of travail, there were moments of bliss and many instances of kindness from others. And as usual it had been my intention to record the events of my long Houston ordeal in detail as I went. Alas, the experience was so exhausting whilst in it that I could find no inspiration or energy to write. And when I finally escaped, well, mental self-preservation moved quickly to smooth my harried mind and put the past in the past.
What happened instead was this. Duke's engine bought the farm in Houston. Enough! he said. And he chug-chug-chugged and blew a lot of smoke and knocked and pinged and wheezed and sneezed and sniffled. I figured out two things from that wheezing: one, Duke's engine was shot; and two, there wasn't enough time before the big parade to install a new engine (not to mention that I was broke), so to hell with it. Rather than worry about mechanical concerns, I decided to shelve that nightmare for a moment.
Given that Duke had enough umphf! left in his engine to make it through the parade, I opted instead to get down to the business of glueing. And glue I did. Glue and glue and glue. I glued a shitload of stuff on Duke in that week before the parade. And I painted, too. Spruced up whole sections. On the rear trunk hood, I totally refurbished the American Flag scene. I tore off all the old, dead toys and stuffed animals and replaced them with a 21-gun "rack" spoiler and an entire landscape of toy guns laid flat comprising the new, freshly painted flag with the unspoken theme, "The United Guns of America."
I did good work. And many people helped. Jan Elftmann donated glue and good spirit. Michael "Hunter" Splawn was not only a great host but donated wood scraps, corrugated roofing, paint, the use of his hot tub, Saint Arnold beer and much more. His buddy Dan painted an outrageously cool Ralph Steadman rendering on Duke's passenger door. Scott the sheep king Shuey painted the "10 Years Rolling Art" sign I had so long wanted to make but not gotten around to. Patrick Daley drove Duke like a pro in the parade and lent his ever-present ebullience and laughter. And on and on, and that was only the beginning.
(To be continued..)