Skip to content Skip to footer

The twisted-up mind, fever dreamt with drink or un-anchored high, is capable of cognitively reconstructing any phenomena. Here, the event was a birthday— my 20th reconstructed as a microscopic “Fear and Loathing.” No Hunter S. Thompson. No drug-infused lawyer. No company. No mescaline. No acid. No coke. No Vegas. Just a trove of California Delta highways sans guardrails and a rented bed in Locke. My less-lived, white woman reinterpretation of  “a savage journey to the heart of the American dream.” 

You ever end up in these situations that make no earthly sense, other than there must be some significance to unearth? That was my birthday trip. What was initially a bender romanticized as a writer’s rite of passage — a solo retreat at the end of an existential catastrophe — turned into the engulfing torment of fork-in-road life decisions. Perhaps the productive, aspirational girl buried alive within, beneath the doubt and shame, was coaxing me to this brink. Hoping this fragile exterior breaks, freeing her from the prison of my, well, fear and loathing

A weekend seclusion in an unincorporated town proved unintended therapy. Either a subconscious cry for help from a slow drowning or another type of immersion altogether: a defeated, headfirst dive into disappointment, flipping off whatever potential exists in me and leaning into the shanty life that already feels inevitable.  

Whatever the subliminal discourse, it had me racing mom’s old Toyota Highlander up Highway 4, headed to a place where the law is futile and the population’s capped at 30. Oblivious to the pending detonation of my life.

In choosing a destination, it seemed to me that when the whole of America turns to a lizard-seeing, upside-down Vegas ether trip, the so-called dream would beat in more unlikely parts. The town — I imagined — would sit sequestered, cast aside by strip mall and interstate. Still sputtering out ghostly reminders of the enigmatic olden days. A poetic vision of Poe, a heart that beats under molded, rotting, American-hickory floorboards: Locke.

I’d been there two months earlier — on Feb. 9 — just for a day, and solely to walk up and down its lone street. Mostly, I passed through its companion towns, Walnut Grove and Isleton. The flu, previously lying in wait, appeared to me on the ninth. The addiction issues, rapidly escalating for three months prior, ricocheted off the flu-induced quarantine and dug in twice as deep. In the two months between the first Locke trip and my spring break birthday, I smoked and drank myself from the threshold to the farthest corner of my still living-at-home bedroom. Alone, inebriated and selfishly self-secluding in an act of pseudo-suicide.

“Where are you right now?” was Dad’s leading question. When he called, I was 15 or so minutes from the CA-160 changeover, northbound. “We’re…we’re like halfway there, on the 4.” 

“We,” the denotation of plural. This was the paramount fallacy. I’d told the parents the trip was dual participation, that I’d be joined by — who, for the sake of simplifying Gen Z situationship ordinances, will proceed unnamed. This was not true. One: she had some shit go down and wasn’t feeling up to an overnighter. Two: I, who is ostensibly ruled by self-centered naivete, needed this.

“Who’s we?” was Dad’s follow-up. Trap. 

“I’m with [redacted].” 

“That’s funny,” he rebuffed, “because she’s at our doorstep right now.” Touché. 

In fairness, I did forget to let her in on the updated solo plan. She’d showed up at the parents’ house with an uninformed bouquet.

Pulling over was necessitated by the shock of the thing. I sat parked for 24 minutes on call with the parental unit. The ensuing lambaste was, admittedly, deserved. 

I hadn’t accounted for the sudden deceleration. Actually, there’s a tendency to assume that when riding an alcoholic ascent, the climax’ll be some accelerated conclusion. It’s the cliché, Hollywood’d scene familiar to any culture/liquor consumer. Repute on the line, barf on self, relationships on the rocks, fast car on wall, face on t-shirt, etc. The way the scene inoculates the subconscious makes it easy to forget, to take for granted the fortuitousness of being forced to brake. If I hadn’t taken the edibles, I might’ve remembered this then. 

Worse, anyway, than the parent-provoked contrition? The side-of-the-highway break definitively hijacked the ingestible-weed timeline. 

I was somewhere around Isleton on the edge of the delta when the drugs began to take hold. All 85 milligrams. Two bags worth of those notwithstanding, I had 16 joints, a pack of American Spirits (light blue), 375 ml of peach soju, 300 ml of ginjo sake, 187 ml of prosecco rosé and a remarkably unnecessary pack of 24 red Solo cups. 

Having arrived at Locke’s lone public parking lot — hardly on time for check-in — the in-car setup was as follows: ice chest tucked between the driver’s and back seats with liquor, mixers and edibles inside, Solo cups on the floor and using the ice box as a makeshift bar for drink-making. Self-indulgent bartending was succeeded by the leveling of several. Un-downed cocktails accompanied me to Room 5.

I was alone at Locke Bed & Breakfast — very stoned and now partially tipsy. Room 5, the cheapest of the six, had missing a wall and a beige curtain substitution. In front of the curtain was a mid-sized, 1990s TV-mounting dresser. The B & B’s manager, a red-cheeked middle-aged woman, decorates and cleans the place all by herself. In my room, she’d set up the 16- by 14-, at least 20-inch thick TV to play “Forrest Gump” with a click. Viewing came later.

The manager told me I’d have the place to myself the day before. This in mind, I made a playlist and packed a speaker accordingly. It was Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin for the ride. “How does it feel? To be without a home? Like a complete unknown? Like a rolling stone!!!” …hard to say, but “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose!!!!” Then, for the stay, Muddy Waters, Hendrix and Joni Mitchell. “Bring me champagne when I’m thirsty, ‘nd reefer when I want to get high!!” 

The loosened-up body — inundated by a crazy sake/soju/cannabis mixture — half saunters, half dances over the second floor, the floor with the rooms. (The first floor is the diner, with complimentary breakfast for guests.) I was drunk now. I wanted a smoke — two joints and a cigarette. “NO SMOKING ON PREMISES,” was spotted on the way to the deck. It was advised that should a guest require such toxic inhalation, they’d find the best place to do so three doors down in front of Al’s Bar. 

The bar was occupied by Hell’s Angels knockoffs, as evidenced by the chain of gargantuan Harleys guarding it. These were no conditions for a freshly 20, classy, innocent young woman like myself. Figured I’d just walk the street instead. 

Locke is America’s last-standing, half-standing, rural Chinatown. In its prime during the early to middle 20th century, you’d see opium dens and brothels and Chinese folk — the ones who built the transcontinental railroad and Delta levees. Now, it’s just the one street with the decomposing clapboard, mixed-use buildings: business at the bottom and house on top. Most have decks, some stableand some saggers, all different heights. Room 5 sat beside the managers. Back there (post-smoke), I inhaled spicy ramen and lapsed into a “Forrest Gump,” booze-induced coma. 

Breakfast was at 10:30 a.m. Eggs and toast. Under the stories of books she’s writing and the cross-country hitchhiking trip (via antique airplane) she took at 29, the manager played a record she and her two kids had made a few years back. Something casual. It was a cross between folk, jazz, reggae and indie. It was good. As were the eggs and toast, if not slightly slimed. As I ate, she pulled out this old brass trumpet and serenaded me with an improvised birthday ballad.

Whatever’s left of the long-since-abandoned Catholicism produced a solemn guilt at the night’s belligerence. I thought it wise to get in some pre-checkout writing as repentance. I set up at the little table on the B & B deck. It was 68 and sunny. The wind was breathing cigarette puffs and yawning the release of expanding wood. Under the deck, out in front of the diner, an old man with a Chet Atkins voice played guitar. A monarch butterfly materialized from nothing. I’d like to say this serendipitous moment of sobered reflection was it: the part where I decided to de-juice.

It was more like the part when I got home — where the parental unit goes, “We found the bottles in your closet, Olivia. You’ve got a problem.” Something like that. The distinction between this trip being my “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” or my “Leaving Las Vegas” proved slim. 

Media is a cultural funhouse mirror. Done well, and whether intentionally explicit or not, media can be a faithful beautification of abused mortality. Listening — sober — to all the bluesy, twangy songs and albums that fueled this and countless other binges and benders, is a complicated affair. Love for the music always overcomes

I’m reminded again of “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” The aphorism being true, I’m reminded, also, that this may well be the last time I have so little to lose as to write a thing like this. Really though, I’m quite disappointed by freedom’s abysmal descent. 

Hunter S. Thompson starts the media in tribute with the epigraph: “He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.” A quote from 18th-century author, Dr. Samuel Johnson, it reads true as Joplin’s lyric. And yet, the unclogged mind exposes a less self-centered truth: She who makes a beast of herself scares or hides from all she loves.

For that reason, it is recommended to simply consume media, rather than cognitively apply it to any given phenomena — especially, your 20th birthday. 

Olivia Fitts is the News Editor and Opinions Editor for The Express. Follow her on X, formerly Twitter @OLIVIAFITTS2.

Show CommentsClose Comments

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.