From atop my seat in the truck, the ride to Salt Lake City was invigorating. Once we pulled onto the three lane motorway, or as Randy called it, the ‘Interstate,’ all conversation dried up, and there was nothing but the scenic snow covered mountains, the roar of the truck, and our own thoughts for company. Thomas had retreated to somewhere deep inside himself and I figured it was just best to leave him there for the time being.
I had almost forgotten about our tragedy of a business trip, enamoured as I was with our truly American adventure, riding in a truck, coasting along an enormous road through vast and beautiful valleys. The petrol stations and truck stops we passed in the middle of nowhere ignited scenes from old Hollywood movies, and formed a formidable distraction to the chaos I knew that I would soon have to address.
A large sign with a picture of deep red rock formations surrounding a blue lake approached on our right with the words Welcome to Utah – Life Elevated painted on the bottom in white. “Hey Randy? What does that mean?”
Randy was checking his mirrors to shift over to the right lane. He eased the truck over to the sound of angry car horns. He stuck his finger up at a passing car. “What’s that?”
“The welcome to Utah sign. It said ‘Life Elevated.’ What does that mean?”
“These road signs say all kinds of shit. They recently passed a law in Colorado legalizing marijuana. That would be life elevated, wouldn’t it boys?” Randy laughed and nudged me with his large shoulder.
I grinned. “Yes, I suppose it would.”
“Wow,” said Randy, serious again. “I haven’t blazed up in over a week.”
Thomas’ head was resting against the truck window and rocked with the vibrations from the road. He still looked pale and a bit sweaty. “You alright, Thomas?” I asked, leaning over.
He pulled his head away from the window. “Yeah, that tobacco just made me feel really awful. Remind me to never try that again.”
“Oh, there’s nothing wrong with it, son,” said Randy, overhearing. “Swallowing it isn’t going to do you any good, but if you take your time with it and respect it, it’ll give you all the stimulation you need to get through the day.”
Thomas turned to me. “See, Matthew? I just didn’t respect it.”
Randy flicked on the indicator and pulled over to an exit lane, and gently eased his speed. “Okay, boys. About another ten miles. If you feel like I do right now, your butt will be as dead as raccoon that forgot to look both ways.”
I snickered. “Yeah, that about sums it up.” My lower back was also beginning to cramp and twinge.
“Where’s this shop?” asked Thomas. “Is it a big toy shop? I wouldn’t mind having a look, see if there’s anything I can add to my collection.”
Randy’s brow furrowed and he stole a quick glance at Thomas. “It’s pretty big. I haven’t really had a good look around. I just drop off the deliveries at the back.”
Thomas nodded and returned his gaze back to the door window.
We were driving down a main road in the middle of a large residential area. All the houses were bungalows and laid out on a huge grid system. In fact, it really was quite remarkable how all the roads were straight and intersected with many crossroads. In the U.K., roads always meandered like rivers until they just happened to come out somewhere. If the semblance of order did start to present itself, it was soon lost as the road continued on drunk over the land.
The truck cruised to a stop at a red light with a squeak and what sounded like a puff of air. The junction was so wide, and the encased yellow traffic lights dangled from large metallic black arms that hung precariously over the roads.
“Randy, I still can’t believe how everything is just so spaced out. There is so much room in America. It’s like when the colonists left England and arrived on the American continent they looked around and said, “You know? I’m sick of government tyranny and all, but I also want to spread my shit out.”
“Ha!” Randy laughed. “I know I do.”
I glanced at Thomas and saw him smirk. “Is that a grin?” I teased.
He nodded. “Yes.”
The light turned green and we rolled over the junction and made a right turn at the next one. “It’s just down here boys, on the left,” said Randy.
I looked all around, but I could only see houses, and the occasional carpet or furniture shop. I had been expecting to enter a large commercial area. Randy indicated left, waited for a car to pass in the other lane, and then turned down a small concrete driveway next to a single story purple building.
“We’re here?” I asked, confused.
“Yep,” he replied. A loading bay appeared to the right, and a light turned on to illuminate the back of the store. It was only then that I realized it was starting to get dark. A young man with short blond hair, wearing jeans and a red tartan coat came out to greet us. He descended a few steps and approached the truck. Thomas rolled down the window.
Randy yelled across us. “How’s it going there, Mikey!”
Mikey called back. “Wondered if you’d get here today. You’ve bought some friends.”
Thomas raised his hand, timid, and waved. “Hello.”
“Yeah,” called Randy. “This is Tommy and Matt.”
“Nice to meet you guys.” Mikey pointed to the large purple bay door. “I’m going to open up the back. Let’s get these boxes in.”
“You boys wouldn’t mind helping with the boxes, would you?” Randy pleaded.
Thomas pulled the door handle. “No, of course not.”
I followed Thomas out of the truck and slid straight off the seat onto the hard icy ground. I raised my arms to keep balance and grabbed hold of Thomas to steady myself. It felt so good to be out of the truck. Once I was sure on my feet, I slammed the truck door and took a moment to dig my knuckles into my lower back.
The bay door clicked and then withdrew mechanically, pulling back into the ceiling rails. There was a large empty space like a garage, with a blue door in the side wall that led into the main part of the shop.
Randy unlocked the trailer and swung open the doors on their silver hinges. “I’ll pass you down the boxes,” he said, and handed the first one to Thomas. I followed Thomas to the loading bay with my box and we quickly fell into a system of passing them on the Mikey, who then stacked them away in his storage area.
They weren’t heavy, and even felt empty at times, however I was glad when we finished because the cold air had turned my throat and lungs sore.
Randy hopped out of the trailer holding a clipboard, and then closed and locked the doors. “Phew! That’s that for a few days.” Randy ascended the steps into the storage area. “Good job, boys,” he said. We followed him towards the boxes. Mikey took the clipboard from Randy and began to check off items and scribble notes.
Thomas folded his arms, rested his chin in his hand and stared down at a box by his foot. “What do you suppose is in there?”
Mikey smirked and handed the clipboard back to Randy. “You want to take a look?”
“Yes please,” said Thomas, immediately.
Mikey pulled a box cutter from his pocket and knelt down beside the box. He slid the cutter over the tape and pulled the box flaps aside. At first, all I could see was more plastic sheeting, but then Mikey grabbed hold of the contents, and lifted it up so it unrolled next to his body. It was a two-dimensional plastic woman with a rather large circular mouth.
Thomas continued to assess the ‘toy,’ and I began to wonder if the penny would ever drop. “What is she?” he said at last. “An inflatable super hero?”
“Pretty much,” Mikey nodded. “Say hello to Zalia, the generic super hero sex doll.”
“Sex doll!” Thomas screeched. “Who would want to have sex with a doll?”
Mikey glanced at Randy, half-amused, however I could tell he was not sure what to make of Thomas. I intervened and tapped Thomas on the shoulder. “Umm, Thomas?” I said. “You see all of these boxes that just came off the truck?”
“Well, economically speaking, they are to address the demand.”
Thomas drew a deep breath and flapped his arms by his sides. “Well, who am I to judge? Each to their own, I guess.”
Mikey looked at Randy and flicked his head towards the blue door.
“Just be a minute, boys,” Randy said, and followed Mikey into the shop.
“What did you say, earlier?” I said. “He’s just delivering toys in time for Christmas. And that makes him A-Okay in my book?”
“Well, I’m sure these will make a lot of people happy, Matthew,” Thomas replied, sarcastic. I laughed and slapped Thomas’ stomach with the back of my hand. He returned the laugh and for some reason we started to fight, rotating our hands like we were swimming doggy paddle, attempting to slap each other’s chests. Thomas’ cheeks glowed and his lips were curled up into a delicious grin. I grabbed his hands, interlocked his fingers, and tried to prevent him from hitting my body. I knew we were playing, but I noticed his elbow fold over my arm and was suddenly reminded of his mad Kung Fu skills.
We both relented at the sound of the door opening and Thomas released one of my hands, but held onto the other, swinging it casually between us. Mikey noticed. “Randy told me you guys are just here for one night. What are you planning to do in the City?”
“I’m not sure,” I said. “Maybe just go to a bar, have a few drinks.”
“Have a few drinks,” Thomas repeated.
Mikey nodded. “I think I know a good place. I’ve been there a few times.”
I shrugged. “Sounds good.”
Randy opened the door and joined us. He was fishing more chewing tobacco out of his tin. “Mikey will take you into the City this evening, and will give you a ride back tonight. I’ll meet you here in the morning so we can head back.”
Mikey pushed open the blue door. “Follow me, guys. I just need to get my keys.”
“What’s the name of the bar?” Thomas asked, holding the door open for me.
Mikey called back. “Flare.”
“Sounds nice,” said Thomas.