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Monday, August 22, 2011

SOUTHERN GODS book release

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.

By midmorning we stopped for breakfast. Either Shoney’s or Golden Corral—I already forgot. But it doesn’t matter; it was horrible. If I could remember, I’d warn you never to go there.

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.

Now, I might suggest going there. But, um, anyway …

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.

It’s not that I wanted to go, I didn’t. But she’s a woman, and women are all about romance, so I just naturally assumed she would enjoy it. I was wrong.

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.

So I tore through the parking lot like a boss and slid my station wagon into the thoroughfare, through a section of wet pavement soaked by lawn sprinklers, and spun the front tires freely as the machine fought to gain traction.

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.

We paid five bucks to see the natural bridge and it was about as interesting as a thousand year old natural bridge could be. But my main focus was the restroom.

Where’s your facilities? I demanded, and she pointed with her head.

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.

Yes, along the way I even broke my iPod. Turns out when you drop one on Ozark granite they break into ten thousand pieces.

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.

45 minutes later and we were out the door. While I hadn't been there long enough to get into any real trouble, I was there long enough to receive a parking ticket I will never pay.


Two hours after that and Little Rock was a memory of heat and beauty and the pride I felt in seeing a fellow writer succeed.

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.


Thomas Pluck said...

This book's so damn good even the road trips to the book signings are epic.
You should've used the two holer. The satisfying thunk of your handiwork plummeting into its effluvial abyss makes a man feel like he can accomplish something in this world.

John Hornor said...

It was great seeing you, Matthew! Thank you for coming down, that totally surprised me.

Also, did the two-holer outhouse have a crib of corncobs for wiping?

Andrew Leonard said...

Man, what a journey!

Great story.

John Kenyon said...

Having made a drive of only a fraction of that length this summer with the actual destination of Branson (and the Titanic museum, which was awe-inspiring to my 5-year-old Titanic freak kid), I can say your journey was much more eventful. Might have been a pain in the ass, but it was worth it for us to have that tale.

M. C. Funk said...

Groovy picaresque, dude. A real two-holer of a pilgrimage. Glad all your casualties were acceptable and all your victories were eternal.

Ben said...

I wrote a story where I called "Cat In The Cradle" gay. Maybe I should change to "Wild World". Anyway, that's an epic one day trip if I've ever seen one.

Naomi Johnson said...

Fabulous write up, Matthew!

David Barber said...

That was some journey, Matthew. A hat tip to you for doing it, buddy. And a great write-up too.

Sabrina E. Ogden said...

Love this post, Matthew. What an adventure.

Matthew McBride said...

Thanks for reading & thanks for all the comments. Buy SOUTHERN GODS! Right after you buy FRANK SINATRA IN A BLENDER.

JHJ -- that's a negative on the corncob, but a fine idea.

Wendy said...

Hey, you drove right past me! I found you by accident (a Chuck Wendig RT on twitter) and realized you're nearly-almost my neighbor.

WOOOOOO, Southern writers rule.

Nice to meet you. :)

Big Louie said...

I think I waved at you last year when you drove by our club (Big Louie's)

Next time, let me know you are coming and I will give you a tour

Big Louie