From Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test:
Coming up over the Blue Ridge Mountains, everybody was stoned on acid, Cassady included, and it was at that moment that he decided to make it down the steepest, awfulest windingest mountain highway in the history of the world without using brakes. The lurid bus started barreling down… [Ken] Kesey felt totally synched with Cassady… It was as if, if he were panicked, Cassady would be panicked, panic would rush through the bus like an energy. And yet he never felt panic… It was as if Cassady, at the wheel, was in a state of satori, as totally into this very moment, Now, as a being can get, and for that moment they all shared it.
My son Barney’s band mates in Nicos Gun were slowly pulling it together for a tour that will start in Gainesville, FL, then proceed north and end up back in Philly right before Halloween. Barney had dropped off the band’s new CD at my house and I’d just driven him home.
Bodies began to stir, on couches and on the floor of the band’s loft apartment in an old factory building in Kensington. There’s a main room, a kitchen and bath, and a few makeshift bedrooms on the apartment’s second level, which is really part of the first. You’d have to see it to believe it. The place is OK, they told me, except when the service elevator breaks down — about once a week — and they have to haul their equipment up six flights of stairs after a gig.
I tripped over amplifier cords and chatted with the band as they breakfasted on Cocoa Puffs and energy bars. Good guys, upbeat and scruffy, all muscle and bone. A few of them were drinking from little cans of Red Bull, which they get for free because somebody’s girlfriend works for a Red Bull distributor. “You want a Red Bull?” somebody asked me. “No thanks, it would kill me,” I said, meaning the caffeine more than the alcohol.
Sunlight was streaming through a large window from which you could see the band’s RV on a lot across the street. Somebody was in the van, puttering — the band’s unofficial driver, the father of one of its members. The father can’t stand living at home because… well, I’d better skip that. I’ll call him Neil, after Neil Cassady in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, except that the band’s Neil isn’t a madman.
Barney told me Neil was there during the Midwest tour in the summer when they parked at a diner in Kansas and a tornado blew up. There was darkness and then hail that ricocheted off the RV like a million BBs. “Get down in case the windows blow,” Neil said, unperturbed. The big black whirling cloud cut a destructive path nearby, but the RV held steady.
Everyone laughed as Barney retold the story, even me, but I was trying not to think about the tornado. A few hours later I was at my computer, writing about something that involved a lot of action. I thought of Barney and the band, which was probably passing through Maryland by then. I remembered this was still hurricane season, but then I dismissed the thought — for a while.
I thought of some of the things I did at Barney’s age, 25, and wondered how I got from there to here, from risk-taking to worrying about the weather report. I can’t even tell you when the terrain began to change. All I know is that reaching middle age is good for your sense of irony, but not much else, not unless you continue to spend a healthy amount of time in this moment, Now, though not necessarily as an RV driver for Nicos Gun.