Benjamin Joe

Passing the Time on the Road

“Well, the drug dogs went in, and the drug dogs came out, and they didn’t make a sound, now how’s that for luck?” Dan looks over to him to see if he’s paying attention, the premature wrinkles on his forehead and eyes winking in question. Tommy looks back at him, and nods hurriedly like he’s only been waiting for Dan to look over.

“Hey, think I can have a cigarette out of your pouch? I’m all out of Marlboros,” he asks. In response Dan throws his pouch over onto Tommy’s lap.

“Roll another joint while you’re at it, we’ll wait another hour before smoking it… damn we’re making good time. I’ve never got this far, this fast before.” Tommy nods his head obediently, and rolls the joint first, then a cigarette. He lights the cigarette, and takes a drag then coughs hard.

“Shit,” he whispers.

“Yeah, they get some getting used to, but they’re the only way to smoke when you’re poor.”

“It tastes like shit!”

“Well, fuck man, if you don’t like it, you don’t have to smoke it, but it’s the only tobacco in this car.” Tommy takes the hint, and keeps puffing at the butt. Dan reaches over to turn on the radio, and quickly flips through the stations until an Eagles song plays through, then he picks a cigarette off the dashboard that he had rolled earlier. For a long time neither of them say anything. They smoke quietly until the song ends, and an annoying car salesman comes over the station.

“Buy now and there will be no interest for the rest of the…” Dan shuts off the radio, and shrugs apologetically.

“Sorry, this thing only has a radio, it’s annoying as fuck.” Tommy agrees with him, and asks the first thing that comes to mind.

“So, what kind of music you like?”

“Classic rock mostly, y’know, Doors, Jefferson Airplane, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath… You?”

“Grunge, Nirvana mostly. Alice in Chains… I like Neil Young too, and some Beatles…”

“Oh yeah, Nirvana. They’re not bad. I mean they’re not great, but they’re better than a lot of the bands in the last decade, y’know.”

“Nirvana rocks, man,” Tommy tells him.

“Yeah, yeah, I guess they do, fuck load better than all that eighties metal shit, those guys just didn’t get it, grunge is a big fuckin’ step from that. Gotta wonder how long it’ll last though.” They fall silent again while Tommy wonders about that last comment. Dan turns on the radio again, and turns it to some modern rock station. Immediately a track from Nevermind comes up.

“There you go kid, a present from me to you.” There’s a hint of a patronizing tone in his voice, but Tommy ignores it. Nobody is perfect after all.  He asks Dan if they can smoke the joint now.

“Hell, it’s close enough to an hour, fire it up!” And so, he does.


Benjamin Joe lives in Buffalo and works as a freelance writer. He grew up in central Massachusetts and went to high school in Lunenburg where he dropped out of in favor of the school of hard knocks. Five years later, his son, Tyler, was born, and he returned to school earning his Bachelors in Journalism at SUNY Buffalo State College. Throughout this time he has written about his life on the road, the people he's met, and the music he loves, on top of news assignments from the Niagara Gazette and

Tristan Durst

Yangtze Villa Guesthouse

Tonight: Bruno, a dreadlocked Australian, recounting the islands of Malaysia, white sand and clear water. “I could see down, man. I mean all the way down, you know, to the ocean floor. I dunno, right, like there’s so much clarity. Like I could see all the way down to the bottom of myself.” It’s just he and I and a nearly-passed out Italian, the impossible feat of being the last people awake in a hostel.

The waters of the Yangtze are impenetrable, though, depth and contents unknowable.  Here the water is red, dye or waste or blood. Shiny-slick patches of oil glisten ten feet back from the edge. Oil or gasoline. Or blood. The current rages until it stops, diverts itself past an unseen obstacle, only to churn onwards.

River view!!! the ad on Hostel World read. I, who had felt inordinate pride at my effort to garner all information about China before coming to the country: still surprised at how unseemly a view it was. The website’s oversized, flashing fuschia font, perhaps, should’ve been my first clue. Excess exclamation points my second. 

The river looks nothing like a river should, looks sturdy enough to be another road. Perhaps it has the strength to support bicycles and food carts, maybe even a handful of cheaply made cars.

From dinner, when there were more of us, I recall that Bruno hadn’t paid extra for the isolation of a private room, that he was stuck under the sagging bunk of a fat American, in a room with four bunk beds and seven other fat Americans. “I’m sorry, mate,” he said, pointing a beer to indicate he meant me, “but all Americans are fucking fat.”
In another hotel, along the shores of a more scenic river, perhaps the guests are already abed, doors locked to drink wine, swallow the cheaply bought pills that have an equal chance of being ecstasy, valium, sugar, or aspirin. The guests here, however, are locked up with charcoal pills and bottled water and prayers the river doesn’t become sentient before the first bus out in the morning.
“You’ll be fine,” my father told me over the phone, as I shakily explained that I wasn’t coming back, not yet. Two years teaching in Korea had wiped out my student loans, and a third had padded my bank account to almost uncomfortable levels.  That much money is best invested in being an adult, but the excess zeroes were like breadcrumbs. They lead me further into the world, and farther away from home.
“My brave girl, my perfect peach, tearing up Asia. Send me a postcard every day.” 
Though I had called for permission and reassurance, his love felt like a burden, an oversized paperback that I have tried to leave behind at the past three guesthouses, always repacked at the last minute. He loves the me in my letters, taking Korean lessons every week and pickling my own kimchi. He loves the me watching the sun rise over Angkor Wat. He knows nothing of his almost-grandchild or the drunken late-night fumblings of a dozen more near misses. I do not want to carry his faith, the unconditional love that feels so wholly undeserved.
Bruno is kicking my foot under the table, and in another life I’d have been flattered that my fat American-ness were not such a roadblock to my fuckability. But the miles have taught me he’s the sort to be more interested in my private bathroom than anything we’d get up to in bed. He’s the type to tell me there’s a condom in his wallet.
I don’t know what rests at the bottom of myself, were I able to see all the way down; if that’s even a sight I’d care to know. I know his story will find a more receptive audience tomorrow, just as I know I’ll continue to pay for the luxury of isolation until it gives me the fortitude to deal with what lies underneath it all.

Tristan Durst is a graduate of the MFA program at Butler University, where she served as the fiction editor for Booth. She loves the music of Jason Derulo, and she doesn't care who knows it.