By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
The driver pats the cooler lid with a casual grace that suggests he feels pretty at home behind the wheel of a rented white Ford Explorer. He ought to. He’s been driv ing one on Disney’s dollar since he went home to Houston for Thanksgiving.
"In lieu of In-N-Out Burger?" the passenger asks fearfully.
We are 120 miles into the trip and nearing Barstow. The digital display says we have 185 miles until empty, the voltage is good and the oil life is 99 percent. All systems are go. We’re in rhythm, which means we can stop looking ahead and start looking at each other. When you’re driv ing 14 hours with someone you’ve just met, you’re going to make some silent assessments. One is that the two people onboard would probably have intimidated each other in high school. The driver unduly pegged as an intellectual snob. The passenger dismissed as a smug jock.
"No. Not in lieu of In-N-Out Burger," the driver decides. "Let’s stop at the next In-N-Out!"
It’s a little early for that, but when you’re driving 14 hours with someone you’ve just met, a roadside In-N-Out Burger, like a lot of things you thought you’d given up, has a certain siren call. It’s a bonding thing.
"Hell," says the passenger, "it’s 12 o’clock somewhere. We can even drive through."
"We will drive through, believe me."
A wicked grin slips across the driver’s sharp face. With his round glasses and ’70s shlub clothes, he looks a bit like Mr. Rogers gone to pot, in pursuit of grease instead of grace. Soon enough, he’s ordering double-double with cheese, fries and Coke for the passenger; single with cheese, fries and vanilla shake for himself.
"Can you put it in one of those to-go trays please?" he says to the girl in the window.
We grab the stash and point toward Needles on Interstate 40. The colors of the Mojave — brown, blue and fading green — clash outside the white bubble of the Ford Explorer. As we dip fries into the same puddle of ketchup, it’s clear we’re in this together now. To break the ice, the driver asks the passenger how he typically passes the day. The passenger admits to being in the throes of a debilitating Beverly Hills 90210 addiction (reruns four times daily on FX). Painful admission that it is, it doesn’t stop the passenger from lobbying the driver to do for Luke Perry what he did for Bill Murray in Rushmore— the inspired casting-against-type that earns the actor rave reviews and shines him in a new light.
"How can you miscast him? As a Mexican or something?" the driver asks.
"I suppose as a bus conductor or an airplane pilot."
"He’d just become that," the driver says with conviction. "He’s such a chameleon."
Alas, ultimately Perry just doesn’t have the kind of face that interests Anderson. He likes a face like that of Jason Schwartzman, the 18-year-old acting novice he cast as Max Fischer, the lovesick, mildly sociopathic playwriting prodigy and lead character in Rushmore. The actor’s face becomes a billboard for teen angst and a sight gag at the same time.
"But Luke really needs this, for the indie credibility!" says the passenger, appealing to the driver’s magnanimity.
Finally Anderson relents. "Okay, I think we can do that. I think we can push him through the system. Man, Amarillo is a long ways away. At the moment, we’re still in California. We still have to go through New Mexico and Arizona, two of the biggest states in the U.S."
Centuries ago, a wise man said even the longest journey begins with the first small steps. The journey of the artist might be the longest and scariest of all. On this path the biggest step is a leap of faith: It is making the terrifying declaration, to yourself at least, that you are chosen, that you possess the tools to be an engineer of the human soul. Thanks to Mrs. Torda, Anderson began groping his way along that path a long time ago. You see, back in 1977, when Anderson’s parents were getting divorced, his fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Torda, was into experimental teaching.
"She was doing this thing where she was making everyone do these weird meditation exercises, that thing where you drop a tissue and catch it in the air, you know?" he says. "And while everyone would be doing this meditation thing, she started giving me massages. It was a little odd. It was not a thing I enjoyed. She sized me up as being extremely anxious and a problem."
Part of the problem was that Anderson was embarrassed about the divorce. He saw it as a failure — not his necessarily, but the family’s. It drove him crazy. He denied it was happening and tried to keep it from everybody. Not surprisingly, the 10-year-old began verbally acting out, telling lies, running through the hallways, throwing things.
"I kept getting in trouble. I kept getting little demerits."
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