Story by Aaron Shuttleworth
Who the hell lies by a motel pool? In Charleston?
This big beautiful piece of colonial American history and I’m lying by a motel pool
A wasp bearing distinctly inverse proportions to my taste for adventure spurs me to action.
The Kiwi lies in a darkened room, a shell of the man who drove six hours straight overnight jacked up on Monster and Advil (blood thinner… if your dealer is out kids, try this shit).
By the end of this experiment in cross country liver fortitude, we’ll have covered 3100 miles through 10 different states. What follows is a somewhat hazy recollection of anecdotes from our time spent traversing the East Coast of this diverse expanse of land we call the USA.
Rittenhouse Boulevardiers in The Rittenhouse Hotel. Fitting, albeit slightly corny. We choose to forgo the lush surroundings in search of something with a thin layer of grime coating it.
Irish pubs are usually good bets for beings bastions of inappropriateness. An Irish pub called ‘Irish Pub’ demonstrates a level of creativity and despair generally reserved for people with first names for last names. Richard James looked like he’d brought the local lawnmower retailer down for their bi-annual office drinks, and boy was shit about to hit the fan. There’s nothing quite like watching a 60 year old man in golf attire fall off his bar stool, while his boss pours a stream of something on fire down his throat, all to a backing track of Toto’s ‘Africa’. We quietly sipped our $2 PBR’s and necked our slugs of Powers whilst we watched the carnage unfold. About the time the bartender’s edibles and booze started to make love in her stomach and words became irrelevant, we decided to call it.
Bud Straw-ba-ritas. Malt liquor beverage, artificial flavour, artificial colour. I’m pretty sure there was a fourth ‘natural’ ingredient, but let’s not let that get in the way of a ballpark fairy-tale. Not to mention that the Orioles took last year’s World Series Champions to town 9-1, on the back of a fight and two straight homers. At Camden Yard. Magic.
We retire content to our motel on the outskirts of town, the sports bar next-door promising all manner of webbed fingered delights. Maybe next time…
We manage to live out approximately none of our James Franco fantasies in Annapolis the following morning. Despite this, I manage to live out a great number of slick, slippery back of the throat fantasies with my greatest love that evening in DC: Sherry.
Scene of the crime: Mockingbird Hill.
Murder Weapon: a boatload of En Rama Fino and Manzanilla. Barbadillo, Garrocha, La Guita…
Accomplice: the Kiwi and a plate of meat and cheese.
I’m eventually dragged out kicking and screaming, my dreams of making this place my home in tatters.
Luckily, we’re heading to one of the only bars that could somewhat cheer me up, The Roosevelt in Richmond. And Hark, what’s this? A collab beer with a local brewer and the bar’s house vermouth? There isn’t a right time of day to drink this. All times are the right ones. Find it. Drink it. Thank me later.
We bypass the bright lights of Myrtle Beach and find ourselves at 5am on a small outlet called Pawleys Island. The end of the earth isn’t so much a place as it is a moment in time, or a feeling. Standing on that vast expanse of deserted beach, I felt an immense calm wash over my weary being as the horizon made itself known through pinks and oranges and yellows that sang songs of never never.
An hour’s sleep is snuck before I coast us into Charleston for some much needed R+R. At least temporarily…
So now you’re caught up. The Kiwi is struggling to breathe and I’m off to see the sights. We’ve still got a lot of driving between us and Key West, and a hell of a lot more drinking to come. It’s all about to head South; very goddamn quickly.
WASP. Why Are Southern People… so goddamn nice? Some questions are best left unanswered. Deeply ingrained societal views and lifestyles aside, you will struggle to find a more polite, welcoming and hospitable culture anywhere on the face of this godforsaken planet.
This is where we started our story and where we now pick it up. 5pm rolls around and the beast surfaces. We pull our lives together. We drink gin and Gatorade. We deliberate whether it’s illegal to wear anything but loafers, a linen shirt and chinos, and decide it’s better not to risk it.
The Gin Joint is the first point of call and bar seats are quickly straddled and shots of whiskey with Negroni backs are sunk. We rinse and repeat. A table of 15 girls order 15 different ‘bartenders choice’ cocktails and the guy doesn’t even flinch. Fair play.
Rinse and repeat.
We leave the happy bartender to his devices and opt for something slightly less refined. AC’s Bar fits the bill and it isn’t long until I’m wrapped up in a high stakes game of pool with a kid who will grow up to get punched at bars a lot, and his ‘friend’ who secretly told me he wanted to punch him in the face.
The Kiwi is wrapped up in fairly large rugby jocks begging him to come to training to teach them how to tackle. Lord knows who fared better, but High Life’s and rye quickly dispel any remaining sense of care we may have outwardly posed.
The Pringles can is empty before I get back to the room…
Savann-ahhhh. The dirty second cousin of Charleston. Beers and shots over bottles of champagne. Both are fun but you know which you’re more comfortable with. Rip that collar off your shirt soldier, and cast a knowing wink at the dame at the bar who your wife wouldn’t approve of. This is the fucking town to do it.
Somehow we manage to stumble into the home of Savannah rugby, reputedly one of the top teams in the country. The bartender is built like a breakaway, looks like he’s on a quest to destroy the one ring, and couldn’t care less about rugby. Middle Earth is high on his interest list though, and with a big whack of North Island product sitting next to me, it doesn’t take long for us to all be best friends.
Cider with shots of Jack Daniels fire in them. You won’t see this on a NYC cocktail list anytime soon, but that’s not the point.
The next time I look up I have a bottle of Aussie gin in hand, I’m sitting on a motel balcony and chewing the fat at 4am with some army types.
The gin dissipates. The Kiwi and the blonde he’s acquired disappear into each other whilst I plug my ears and disassociate myself with the conscious world…
An overnight stop in Jacksonville serves as a springboard to the fabled Route 1 and it’s scenic sister A1A. We opt for the ocean, and bar the probable serial killer in the black Dodge Charger with tinted windows and Friday the 13th hockey mask hanging just above the dash, make it to Miami without incident.
‘The South’ vanquished, we roll towards the tropics, hope in our hearts, less than 0.08% liquor in our veins, and a reputation as harbingers of hedonism intent on giving Florida hell.
500 degrees? Check. Carribean Seas? Check. Hot Mamis? Tick. ‘Ai Papi!’?…reliable as our chariot is, I’m pretty sure those accolades are for those rolling past in the Italian exotics.
They may have their shiny toys, but we’re in on a secret that only a few of them would be. Some people find their home in a home, some in other people, and some in a bar. Sweet Liberty takes every tiny good thing that Miami has to offer and packs it together in one brilliant den of debauchery.
We drink a bit. We talk some shit. Our spirit lifts as its namesake flows, and the white rabbit pokes his head out and entices us to follow him down.
The night blurs into a neon lit dreamscape. We dance with ballerinas at Bodega. Clean bar fridges back at Sweet Liberty in return for booze. Ingest all manner of extra curricular delights at god-knows-whose hotel room. When the stardust has cleared, we find ourselves by the pool at The Flamingo. It’s midday. We’re drinking Del Maguey from the bottle. Our flock has grown to 10, although two lay unconscious in deck chairs. People are up and about sunning themselves and swimming laps, not giving us so much as a sideways glance, because this is Miami.
We rise at 5 and go and bathe in the juices of excess at Shake Shack. We return to the beach and bathe in the regenerative waters of the Atlantic. We convene at Liberty and gather the troops who take us to a drag night to raise funds for Orlando. Our pleas for a quiet drink and early night fall on deaf ears and rightly so. The energy and love on display in that room will remain with me more so than the atrocity itself. It still powers to this day within me an interminable sense of hope that everything will be all right.
The end arrives and it’s blue and clear and true. The Chevy gleams, and it isn’t long before the river of grass that comprises The Everglades surrounds us. Just as it seems that we’re destined to be trapped in the southern swamps for all eternity, we burst forth into an endless aqua nothingness that promises everything.
Clichés are known as such because they’re largely based on repetitive fact, and the one concerning the journey and not the destination seems appropriate, not just for the microcosm of the Keys, but the trip in itself. We reach Key West mid afternoon; take a brief dip in the Caribbean and stock up on cigars ferried over from Cuba. I’m sure Key West and Key Largo have their own particular charms, but it was everything in between that captivated us so vividly on the drive down.
With the sun sinking lower we grab beers and rifle headlong towards our grand finale.
Surely there will be a bar on one of these small picturesque keys that we can smoke a Cuban, sip a beer and reflect on what has been?
We luck out on the first. Then the second. Residential properties tightly guard every strap of land, and that great ball of fire is slowly submerging into the sea.
Cornflower makes way for cerise as clouds ebb and flow graciously like ballerinas across Mother Nature’s summer stage. Emotion bristles as hope slowly fades that we’ll find somewhere to witness all of this.
Three piers jut from a stretch of land and beckon to us. A cheerful smile greets our inquiries at the front desk and we find our legs dangling off the pier as sweet cigar smoke flirts with the cold lagers. The sky unfolds like a grand canon as the sun conducts the same way she has for eternity.