"To Richmond and Back"

by Grant Carrington
TWIGS VI, 1970

    "To Richmond and Back" began life as a letter to George Wagner that I wrote in January, 1963. I drove from East Riverdale, Maryland, down to Richmond (these were the days before I-95 existed), and back, stopping at Georgetown and the National Gallery of Art before returning home. It took me 6� hours for the trip and another 6� hours to write the letter longhand, which I then kept a typewritten copy of.     Eventually it was published in Twigs VI for no money. It was rather weird, for all the other stories in the magazine were Southern fiction (even one about a pineapple plantation in Hawaii), while "To Richmond and Back" was a beatnik pastiche.
    Several years later, I attended the Dunehills Writers Conference in Augusta, Georgia, where one of the instructors was David Madden, who awarded me the short story award for "Andromeda, Unchained." A couple of days later, I looked at Twigs and discovered that the story before mine in the magazine was David Madden's "The House of Pearl"!

    And so to Richmond and back.
    Why is it I have been digging out whenever I can get the seconds, the minutes, the hours-- moving, man, a rich man's Dean Moriarty, a pitiful hobo with twenty dollars in his Woolworth pockets--neither a mad beat bum Jack Kerouac nor a rich sonofabitch riproaring blood-of-Porsche- mongering James Dean, but just a solid Joe with a little dough and not beat nor nothing, with an itch to move and enough scratch to move--but not far: just far enough to hear the Florida surf, the New Orleans trumpet, the cattle bleating in the Kansas City stockyards, and the incessant swish-swoosh of freeway traffic in California? O mad, halfmad--no, completely mad Carrington, for he is trying to attain the beatnik bum nirvana of Jackie Duluosz and Dean Moriarty and the stolid security stagnated conformity of the Joe Doaks--yes, mad beyond the comprehension of John (Ti Jean) Kerouac, torn from the womb of college and planted in the government-nourished-manured soil. Carrington; mad crazy fool idiot Carrington, driving a poor man's sports car, a goddamn dirty new Sprite, and thinking he's Dean Moriarty in a wired-up Plymouth with only a nickel in his jeans for coffee, but really he's got a job where five fools tell him he's crazy and ought to get married--this is the mad poet-artist-mathemagician in his dirty chinoes and green sweater and blue imitation-leather jacket who drives out into the cloudy scroungy Maryland-D.C.-Virginia weather just to get the feeling he's going somewhere, doing something important, with a mission in this meaningless merry-go-round.
    Ah, yes, and so to Richmond and back.
    I didn't know where I was going at first, just south, away from the snow and the cold (ah, mad fool Carrington, revel for a while longer in your dumb ignorance and believe yet in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny), and so I whipped down Florida Avenue and past that carved empty buffalo on the Q Street bridge, down Wisconsin, and onto M Street through Georgetown and out to Virginia, stopping at traffic lights and reading a few more paragraphs of Lonesome Traveller because I'd already renewed it once and had to finish it before another two weeks were up. (Child Carrington, only a few paragraphs to go and two weeks in which to read them.) Then I got onto the Shirley Highway which I'd heard about on the radio when there'd be this guy, "This is Sergeant Krupke in the police helicopter" (fand all the while there's this roar-krunk- smash-smash in the background and you can hardly understand what he's saying) "traffic is pretty heavy on the Shirley Highway this morning and it's piled up for three miles where there's been a three-car accident but if you take Glebe Road it's just a 45-minute delay because there's only a two-car accident there." So I zoom on down the seventeen-mile Shirley Highway into the heart of Virginia, and all the while there are these signs: Fredericksburg 45, Richmond 90; Fredericksburg 40, Richmond 85; and I say to myself , "It's only a couple of hours to Richmond; I'll go to Richmond and turn around and come back after maybe walking around for a while." And so the Shirley Highway turns into Route 1, the same mad U.S. Route 1 that goes through New Haven, Connecticut, my mad masters, but it's not the same ("Get your fun/on Route U.S. 1") because there are hardly any lights on it all the way down to Richmond and probably beyond, just a handful of yellow blinkers, and so this mad fool poet goes past this cement monument to those idiots who planted a flag on Iwo Jima some millions of years ago, and a red beetle Alfa zooms by and I get into the outside lane. Suddenly this truck goes by in the other lane, going the other way; the truck is heading north and has been going downgrade and gathering up momentum so it can soar to the top of the next upgrade to go rolling down again and up, all the way to New York City with its truckload of Florida grapefruit, and, this truck, it comes roaring past me doing a thousand miles an hour, and my little lifeboat of a car rocks and rolls, the canvas of my top goes flapping up and down. (Dumb, dreaming Carrington: he thinks it's spring and he took down his side curtain and drove all the way down to Fredericksburg with the wind whispering icily in his ear and gloves on his numb fingers before he finally put it back on.) Then my bladder begins to get full but it's only thirty-eight miles to Richmond and I can make it, yeah; but no, it gets fuller and fuller and the windshield is dirty, so I figure I'll stop and get a cup of coffee but there are no places to stop and when I do see one--whoosh!--it's past or, no, it's fancy, I don't want a fancy place, just somewhere where I can get a cup of coffee and take a leak. So there's this Esso-fleet, a truck stop, and I go in and there's no john; so I get a cup of coffee and leave. (Goddamn fool nut Carrington: he thinks that those old ladies will call the cops if he asks where the men's room is.) I buy some peanutbutter crackers from the machine outside, wipe off my windshield with my glove, and I'm on the road again; God, it's good to be able to see where you're going. I look at the map and, geez, I could go all the way to North Carolina but, no, that's from some other time. After a while the roadsigns to Richmond stop and I'm on Route 1-Route 301 and, Christ, maybe I made a wrong turn, maybe U.S. 1 doesn't go to Richmond, just skirts around it, and I missed it, but where? Just then I top a little rise and there it is: a little skyscraper-building skyline and it's beautiful, nothing like it in New Haven or Washington, like New York, only not as good, not as beautiful. (When I was on the Turnpike one Christmas, there was this goddamn Empire State Building half below the horizon and still it dwarfed the buildings that actually were on the horizon and I never realized before really how big that phallic finger is. My old roommate Max and I were going to go up and watch the dawn from way up on top some night but we never did.) I didn't realize Richmond would be like this; but when I got down to the main drag it was worse even than New Haven or Washington on a Sunday afternoon, just these few little meager souls on the street and everything's closed. I drive down that mile-long street under the railroad tracks into a beatup dirty shabby Negro shanty town, turn around, go back up Main Street past the Trailways bus station, and park on a side street next to the Greyhound station. I get out and start looking for a place to get something to eat and relieve myself just when these three Greyhound dirvers go into a place right in front of my eyes, and I say to myself, what's good enough for Greyhound drivers . . . (Wise bodhisatva Carrington: he knows that Greyhound bus drivers can't afford the prices in the Greyhound cafeteria or stand the bland tasteless fare.) So I follow them in and go straight back as though I'd been there before (as I have in a hundred cities on a thousand Route 1's) to where the john is. Then I come back and order coffee and an egg sandwich, which costs me thirty cents all told, and the place is a modern-type little hole-in-the-wall all neat and clean, and behind the counter is this guy who looks like he's in his early thirties until you look close and see that age has been kind to him and he's really fifty with fine kind happy spiderweb wrinkles and thinning hair all over to cover it up and little fat pockets that don't seem obvious unless you know how to look.