On a run from Tucson to Portland with 300 kilos (660 pounds) of marijuana loaded into a Dodge minivan. My running partner Becky is riding shotgun, acting as navigator, lookout, and all-around pessimist. She checks the map every ten minutes, informing me of upcoming cities and alternative routes that I never bother to consider. I’ve driven this run five, maybe six times in the past, always with successful results. My route is plotted out and investigated days before I ever turn the key in the vehicle’s ignition.
“…I think that’s a cop ahead of us…”
“…There might be a cop car behind us….”
“…That looks like a cop parked on the shoulder up ahead…”
Her refrain continues like a broken record for the entire duration of our trip. I’ve long-since given up on requesting that she stop with the minute-by-minute commentary, as this only incites her anger and makes for an even less pleasant journey. Her assessment of law enforcement being in close proximity has only been correct on two occasions out of fifty or so possible sightings. As a result, I have developed a mental cut-off switch to silence her endless prattle.
Besides, we’re not getting busted on this run. How can I be so sure? Because even if we do get pulled over, I’m wearing the perfect disguise — Priest’s vestments, white collar and everything, a look I’d salvaged from last Halloween. However, unlike some cheap costume, it is totally authentic. I’d acquired it from the Catholic Church in Nogales, helping clean out the basement for bingo space.
“Looks like we’re getting low on gas,” Becky announces, interrupting my musings. “And I’ll need to pee soon,” she informs me.
“Okay Beck,” I tell her. “Pick an exit coming up.”
“Santi, Santi!” she squeals, looking at her map. “Listen to this. Coming up in about fifteen miles, there’s a town called ‘Weed’. Really, Weed, California! How funny is that? Let’s stop there, please. I’ll watch the highway signs as we get close.”
“Sounds great Beck, just let me know.”
As mentioned, I’d traveled this route a few times before, so I was aware of the oddly named town already. In that moment, however, I thought it best to stay quiet and let Becky think she’d found the location herself.
Let me assure you, Weed is an actual town in California, not some fictional place made up for the sake of this story. It exists near Interstate 5, north of Sacramento, with a sensational view of Mount Shasta.
Soon after exiting the highway, we locate a gas station with the word ‘Weed’ painted in large letters on its side. I pull up to the gas pumps and Becky hops out of the van, making a bee-line for the bathrooms.
After I’ve finished refueling, I pay for the gas and grab a few items for the road. The station attendant has long hair, a tie-dyed shirt, and sunglasses looking as though he had escaped from a Rainbow Gathering. I approach the counter and he greets me with a smile.
“So, like, welcome man,” he says. “Everything cool?”
“Certainly my good man,” I reply.
“So you, like, a Priest or something?”
“Yes, like a Priest or something.”
“That’s cool. That’s cool. Do ya need help finding something?”
Suddenly, Becky pokes her head in the door.
“Hey Father,” she says, “grab me a Coke and some Doritos, please.”
“So that’s it, then?” the attendant asks. “Two cokes, peanuts, and fifteen dollars gas.”
“Ya know what,” I tell him, “give me a pack of Marlboro Lights as well, will you please?”
“So, that woman there your wife?”
“No my good man, she is an administrator for the church. Priests aren’t allowed to take wives; it’s in our vows.”
“But it’s okay to smoke?” he asks. “Isn’t that, like, against the Bible man?”
“Can’t say I follow all the rules,” I reply. “I am only human after all. Your body is a temple, but it’s your temple, and sometimes, well…”
Damn, I make a pretty good priest if I do say so myself. Quite possibly I missed my true calling in life.
“So, Father man, no souvenirs of our famous little town?”
“No souvenirs, thanks. But tell me, why is your town so famous?”
I’m feeling playful and enjoy the banter. Becky at times wears me out, going on and on with her worrying, complaints, and things beyond anyone’s control.
“This town is famous because of its name… Weed. Do ya get it? Weed, man.”
“Sure I do. Like dandelion. Seems to me they could have named the town Dandelion, which is a much more delightful name, don’t you think?”
“No no no, like weeeeedddd. Ya get it? Weeeeedddd, like marijuana.”
“Are you trying to tell me you sell marijuana here? That’s illegal, young man. If you get caught quite possibly you could go to prison. Not a wise decision. Especially selling from this gas station.”
“That’s not what I mean!” he cries, his voice going up by an octave or two. “I’m not selling weed HERE! I’m just trying to tell ya the name of our town, Weed, is another word for marijuana.”
“Like a code word someone looking to purchase marijuana would use? Sorry, I understand now, but I do not wish to buy any.”
I am thoroughly enjoying myself, although my once mellow station attendant is presently coming undone. He smacks the counter with the palms of his hands before running them through his hair, gasping sharply in frustration.
“I’m NOT selling marijuana, do ya get it, Father guy? Don’t start telling people I’m selling weed here, please?”
“Of course not,” I reassure him. “I am a priest, not a policeman. It is not my place to judge you and I won’t inform the authorities of your activities. You have my word.”
He gives me my change and quickly bags my items, shoving them across the counter at me in contempt.
“You know,” I tell him as I turn to leave, “there are treatment centers for drug abusers and addicts like you. You might want to look into that as an option. I sincerely hope you consider my suggestion. May God be with you my son.”
He can only stare in disbelief as I exit the gas station.
“Father guy, you got all wrong!” he hollers after me. “I’m a USER, not an abuser!”
I try my best to keep a straight face as I return to Becky, who’s been waiting impatiently in the minivan.
“What the hell were you doing in there?” she demands to know. “Listening to that guy’s life story? Come on, move it! Let’s get back on the road.”
I buckle myself in as she continues.
“AND you forgot my damn Doritos!” she whines, whacking me in the shoulder. “You know I don’t like peanuts! You know what, Santi? You’re a real piece of work.”
Ah, back to being a bitch-magnet for Becky. Her words fill the space between my ears, threatening to burst my brain. I’m long overdue to explode back at her with my own pent-up rage, but for now I’m just Father guy, hitting the highway and heading north from “Ya know man, like, Weeeeedddd California.”