Cold rain fell from the darkness and pounded the windshield as we left the driveway. The sky was black and starless. Lightning flashed in quick bolts and thunder made a deep slow growl that rumbled through the hills and shook the barn.
The clock on the dash read 6:02.
I made my way south, toward Little Rock. I brought with me a blonde navigator—her hair thrown up in a failing bun—a Pomeranian, a long haired Chihuahua, and a small caliber pistol I bought at a pawn shop with cash money and few questions asked.
As the rain let up, the sky came to life and a dull yellow blur to my left became sun. It brought with it a powerful blast of Ozark heat and it welcomed the day with promise.
I drove our Volvo at a high rate of speed and we made good time.
What I do remember, was that it was in a little town called St. Robert’s, and it was directly across the interstate from a Gentleman’s club called Big Louie’s.
A short while later we were back on the road and breaking speed laws with reckless abandon. We rolled into Branson around 12:00. If you ever have the opportunity to drive in Branson, Missouri at noon on a Friday, don’t.
But I had to. I had a surprise for my wife. A trip through The Titanic Museum.
Wife: This looks kind of stupid. Wait, it’s $22.00 a ticket? WHAT? Let’s just go to that medieval castle instead.
Now, that’s my kind of girl.
An hour later we were back on 65. We crossed into Harrison; our destination was Lead Hill. Site of a medieval castle being built way out in the Ozarks. Way out. In fact, it was well over fifty miles out of our way, but that’s fine. I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kinda guy. So we drove. Through the two lane back roads of Arkansas. Up monstrous hills and down into the cavernous valleys.
We arrived at the castle much later, only to find it was closed. A quick googling of Ozark Medieval Fortress revealed this was the only day they really ever closed.
Undaunted, we headed back to 65 and blazed a hot trail down toward Little Rock. To the book release of my pal John Hornor Jacobs debut novel SOUTHERN GODS.
We didn’t make it far when that terrible breakfast I’d had earlier at the place I can’t recall came back to taunt me. I’ve gotta find a bathroom I told my wife, and about that time we saw a sign that advertised a tourist attraction. It was a natural bridge formed from rock that was a thousand years old. The settlers used it.
Surely that place’ll have a restroom.
My wife: I dunno.
We traveled down the side of a colossal mountain that was steep with solid chunks of Ozark granite for walls and deep channels carved into the side by the hand of God.
There were signs everywhere that told you to put your car in low gear.
When we got to the bottom we found a small parking lot with a beat up sports car parked up close to an ancient ramshackle dwelling that looked as old as the hills themselves.
I stepped out back to find an antique shit house that looked like it would fall over and die in even the slightest gush of hard wind. I looked at my wife. I’m not going in there.
I opened the door and told her there was no way I was getting in this two holer. A man has to question the structural integrity of an ancient outhouse beside a thousand year old bridge. I’ll just wait.
We were only 3 hours from Little Rock.
At 4:00 we rolled into a town that sits just above Little Rock and let the dogs make logs next to an Outback Steakhouse. Then we ate.
Then we spent the next hour and twenty minutes in traffic, with the air conditioning on high, but we found Little Rock, only to travel in circles for the next ten minutes, but finally we arrived at the Butler Center. I put the car in park and turned off the key.
The clock on the dash read 6:02.
After exactly 12 hours behind the wheel we’d finally reached our destination. Sure we made horrible time since it was only a 6-hour trip, but still, we had a grand adventure—and adventure is the name of the game when you travel with a wife, two small dogs, and a handgun that may or may not be legal.
SOUTHERN GODS book release
When we stepped into that precious air conditioning I was in awe of the beauty of the gallery that was hosting John’s event. It was vast, and decorated with beautiful artwork of every shape and size.
Then we were in the signing room—and there was the man himself—rubbing elbows with his fans, looking happy. But as badly as I wanted to say hi, I wasted no time finding the OPEN BAR. That’s right, drinking is important, and nobody knows this more than John Hornor Jacobs, so I was delighted to find a bartender and a table adorned with top shelf booze.
For the record, the event was glorious. I’ve been to a few signings in my day but nothing as fancy or extravagant as this. All in attendance were dressed handsomely and smartly. With the exception of me, who wore shorts and flip-flops.
And it must be said; the guest of honor was a magnificent host. He wowed the crowd with a bold a capella rendition of The Cats In The Cradle and then performed a martial arts demonstration that left the audience wide eyed and slack jawed.
Okay, that last part is a lie. But the only reason he didn’t do these things is because he didn’t have time. He was busy signing books and shit. Making people laugh. Making people proud.
Especially his dad, whom I spoke with at great length. He's a real southern gentleman with a presence that commanded respect, and he gave me a look that felt like he was sizing me up. But he was beaming with pride; he had a wide happy smile that said that’s my boy!
He told me John had a great agent. I gave him a clever look back and said trust me, I know.
I’d stood back in awe and watched the line grow and grow until it ran the full length of the wall and wrapped back around toward the door. There were several hundred people and I’d bet my broken iPod JHJ sold at least 100 books.
By 9:00 we were back in Little Rock. I’d taken a wrong turn, and of course both our iPhones were dead—which meant no navigation. Before we left the house that morning my wife suggested we bring our old atlas. Just in case.
We don’t need that, I assured her. We can use our phones.
I forgot the phone charger stopped working.
It was midnight and we found ourselves on a two-lane blacktop road called 92. We were still in Arkansas. In a town called Choctow. But it wasn’t a town. It was just a yellow sign someone jammed into the dirt on the side of the road.
But we ran north. Eventually we found 65, and we drove into the hot black night through the hills of Arkansas and we crossed back into Missouri.
There were no other cars on the road. All I could see was a blanket of darkness as moonlight illuminated my copy of SOUTHERN GODS through the window.
I thought about that phantom radio station John wrote about.
I thought about Bull Ingram and Ramblin’ John Hastur. I’d seen the forests of thick green trees and Ozark Mountains and the jagged bolts of Arkansas rock that inspired John Hornor Jacobs.
When I looked down, the dashboard lights flickered and it felt like the motor could stall. Static came through the speakers like white noise, and suddenly a cold chill ran through me I cannot explain.
I reached down and turned off the radio—just to be safe—and listened to the highway whine.
Buy your copy of SOUTHERN GODS right HERE.