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Jackie smoked one more cigarette before he called it a night. He sat sprawled on the sofa in the lounge of the bus in his underwear watching the smoke curl up and disappear when it hit the air conditioning vent. Tomorrow it would be the same familiar routine again: Wake up at the motel, smell the stale stink of the bus, drink some coffee to chase away the headache, kill time until the gig, play the same songs... He felt dead just thinking about it, and he wondered why he did it, why he had done it all these years. He wondered how many more years he would have to do it. But then he imagined himself as an accountant, or a plumber, or a rodeo clown. Again, there would be a deadening routine to follow, and he wondered what the value of it all was, and why he had to do it. Why anybody had to do it.

Jackie was almost forty years old, had been playing since he was ten. His Dad had been a Western swing guitar player who had worked all over Texas and Oklahoma and got him started with the guitar early. He would take Jackie to some of his gigs around Houston, and musicians were always dropping by the house to sing and pick and drink, and Jackie sometimes had trouble showing up for school the next morning after he'd been up all night with them.

At 14 he was working honky tonks around Pasadena, the Houston suburb where he'd been born. At 18 he'd gone on the road with a rock'n'roll band that had a couple of top ten records. At 25 he'd been married and divorced and had spent all his money and was living in a crash pad in Austin with an Indian girl he'd met in San Francisco, doing dope and reading Sartre and Camus and playing blues. By the time he was thirty he'd nearly partied himself to death, but a runner-up in the 1980 Miss Texas beauty pageant married him and brought him back from the grave and he straightened out for a while. They were divorced now, but they still kept in touch. Since then he'd been drifting back and forth between Nashville and Texas working with an assortment of blues, jazz, and country acts, making enough money to keep going, but not enough to stop. Jackie could play a whole bunch of guitar and he could have been making big bucks as a Nashville studio cat, but that called for serious commitment, and Jackie, though he had an existentialist's belief in free will and the facility to make choices, had trouble deciding what shirt to wear sometimes. When a producer would call him for a session he'd be off somewhere partying, or playing jazz, or just lost, and the producer would go back to his Rolodex.

He'd had a song running through his head ever since they left town, some old jazz standard he'd heard the other day. He could see the chord changes on the neck of his guitar in his mind's eye and he softly hummed a solo under his breath that worked over those changes. He'd remember it tomorrow and play it on his Telecaster.

It was lonesome out on the road at four in the morning, even on a bus full of people. He looked past his reflection in the window out at the hilly, lonely Texas landscape and a sensation of unreality washed over him. Time seemed to be flying by, taking him with it, as though the bus were the only thing existing in a dark, alien world, and he imagined he could see the bus hurtling along through the night at the speed of light from some far-off vantage point.

They passed an occasional house, and Jackie wondered what kind of people lived in them. Were they farmers, ready to get up in an hour or two and milk the cows or collect eggs or something? Happy families with kids and a dog and vacation plans to go to Astroworld or Six Flags over Texas? Did they believe in God all go to a little white frame church together on Sundays and have a big turkey dinner with all the relatives on Thanksgiving and Christmas? Were there some high school seniors getting ready to go to Texas A&M or UT in the Fall?

Or did the wives in these house, sleeping snugly next to their husbands, ever cheat on them? And did the husbands get drunk on the weekends and beat their wives? Probably. And their kids probably smoked grass and watched MTV and fooled around in the barn with each other.

They passed an exit, some farm to market road, where a few dark houses and businesses sat in the black Texas night. One house had a sign out front, a banner, really, that said “Welcome Home Lil' Bobby”.

Where had Lil' Bobby been? In the hospital? In the Army? Up at Huntsville doing time for sex crimes against small farm animals?

Two police cars sat side by side in the lot of a closed gas station, parking lights on, the drivers talking to each other. Were the cops hoping that some big murder would happen to give them a chance at fame? Were they discussing payoffs from the local bootlegger? Maybe they were talking about some horny teenage girl who lived in the old house down on Elm St. who strolled around her bedroom nude on a hot summer night like this with the shades up.

Well, whatever went on, it really didn't matter, it didn't make any difference. Like the evening news - a war in Africa, a murder in Los Angeles, a president deposed in some country you'd never heard of. What difference did all that make? Most of the people watching those stories weren't going to be affected by them, and if they were, there wasn't anything they could do about them, anyway. It was all too absurd. Jackie sighed, put his butt in an empty Coke can, and staggered off to his bunk with his last beer.

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My eBooks

I wrote some books all by myself that you might be interested in if you like country music, steel guitar, the 60's and/or mysteries.

Steel Guitar Insanity, the book

My latest book. A compilation of the blog of the same name. Buy now.

 

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My 2nd ebook: The Beast From the Back of the Bus

A musician procedural. What it's like to be on tour through Texas with a murderous White Supremacist on your trail.

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My first ebook, a mystery, available at Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and the the Sony Reader Store.

Hot Rods, girls, music and murder from 1963. More at Chevy Summer.

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