Kissing E with the Hair Band

Travel Stories: When Mark Edward Hornish hit the road to see America, he hoped for adventure. But the last thing he expected was help from a Rock Group on Tour.

06.02.02 | 12:39 AM ET

highway, roadPhoto illustration by Michael Yessis.

I‘d started driving two hours earlier with a quarter tank. Now, 75 miles later, I was kissing E, and my prospects were looking grim.

Northeastern Wyoming is largely desert—red dirt, brown rock. And desolate. Though I was on a major interstate, I-90, not only were there no truck stops, there weren’t even any crossroads. The three exits I passed did not lead anywhere; they simply curled onto abandoned dirt tracks. Ominously, they each had names that warned of abandon and despair: “Crazy Woman Creek,” “Dead Horse Trail,” “Dry Gulch.” By my calculations I’d gone halfway to a city called Gillette on a quarter tank of gas. If I didn’t find a truck stop soon, I’d be screwed.

When I left New York City two months earlier on a soul- searching walkabout of early Bush I-era North America, I had anticipated the sort of fun New Yorkers only dream about: drunken knife fights with surly nihilist Sioux, flood rescues alongside decent men, maybe some fishing with a revivalist minister, and lots of material for new songs. I called it the Great Excursion. Lord knows I needed a change. I had lost my job, my girlfriend had left me, my dog died, yet none of these things had been sufficient to propel me across the Hudson and out into the great beyond. But when my band broke up, I finally had an excuse powerful enough to achieve escape velocity. I bought a dented orange 1978 AMC Hornet for $500 and hit the road. Now, two months later, I was about to run out of trail, and out of gas.

I tried to keep my composure. I slowed to 65, took to the right-hand lane, cranked the Pixies’ “Doolittle,” rolled down the windows, and tapped my fingertips on the roof of the Hornet in time with the music. The mud-red scenery had started to blur when I suddenly felt a caress of air on my left cheek. I turned to find a huge bus pulling up beside me. The driver and another guy seated on the dash facing backwards - both long-haired dudes with beards - were looking at me, smirking, nodding their heads in my direction. I smiled and waved. They’d obviously caught me unabashedly singing to myself. They broke out into big grins, gave me the thumbs-up, then gunned the engine and sped past. The bus had a big Western motif. Rodeo? I thought. Then a second, identical bus followed. It too slowed, momentarily, long enough for the next driver to also give me a wave. NASCAR?

In the wake of the second bus, a Honda Civic with Wyoming plates sped by. Inside were four cowgirls, each with big hair. Several were topped with Stetsons. I could discern little in the brief glance other than: young, denim, makeup. Now there was one thing I could be sure of: I’d just been in the presence of Rock Group on Tour.

I’d also noticed that both tour buses had New York plates. Perhaps they had spotted mine, and that was the explanation for the thumbs up. Or maybe I had it all wrong, and they were just rodeo clowns in a jovial mood. Whatever it was that created that brief sense of camaraderie, I might never know. Now they were gone beyond the dirt-cloud horizon, and I was left dropping further and further below E.

“No-Buffalo Highway.”

“Yellow Water Hills.”

The dirt track exits continued along the interstate, laughing at me.

I realized I had to take a chance on one. Not because I thought that it would help to read yet another federally funded historical marker, but because in this otherwise empty lot stood my last hope: two magnificent, gleaming, silver tour buses.

Their doors were just closing as I came running up, past the ready-to-party Wyoming groupies and their catty stares. Surprise turned to amusement as recognition lit the faces of the two longhairs who’d earlier given me the nod. With the buses idling, they swung open the doors.

“Hey, man, can you guys help me out? I’m, like, completely out of gas!”

Their persistent glances toward the back of the bus told me that these guys, as friendly as they seemed, were getting pressure from The Man to get the show on the road. Literally.

“Sorry, dude, we run on diesel,” one of them called. “We don’t carry any gasoline.”

“Oh, all right. Thanks anyway.” I turned and slowly walked away, passing again the groupie-wagon, whose stares had gone to mockery. Just as I reached the Hornet, however, I heard the bus driver’s voice.

“Yo! How ‘bout this? How ‘bout you pull in between the two buses, and we’ll, like, draft you in?”

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Mark Edward Hornish is a film editor based in Los Angeles. He has driven cross-country six times. He ditched the Hornet in 1994 at a barbecue stand outside Yuma, Arizona, where he'd met his future wife earlier in the morning.

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