Senior Stoner Tom Huth, author of Forty Years Stoned: A Journalist’s Romance, tells his secret of making the most mundane of sights interesting, no matter where you are!
When I’m on a cross-country road trip, I like to start my day with an aerobic walk. I used to drive to the local historic district and walk there. Now I find it easier to traipse around the tourist zone where I’m staying. And, sure, any hike that begins and ends at a Hampton Inn or a Wingate Suites is going to cover terrain which is brutally unnatural and desecrated. But isn’t there some value in the practice of seeing the world as it is? Besides, I take my wake-up walks baked. So one setting is just as thrilling as the next.
A good place to light up is descending the motel’s empty concrete stairwell. I emerge into the parking lot and exhale into the morning light. Then my trek begins as this expanse of asphalt gives way to the next parking lot and the next, past Quik-Marts and Quiznos, past Family Dollars and Dollar Generals and payday-loan shops.
While my wife is back in the motel room making herself a better person by meditating and doing yoga, I’m scuffing past old soda cups and cigarette butts, getting my fresh air with a chaser of exhaust. I hike through the shadows of the KFC bucket and the Arby’s hat, then back into the sunshine again. I troop through the Honda dealer’s lot, the Accords posing with their engines warming up and their doors flung open like a chorus line. I pass a Speedy Joe’s, a Papa John’s, an Old Navy, a Rib Crib Barbecue and a Supercuts, their parking lots separated by paltry no- man’s-lands of spoiled grass.
The Chrysler dealer is yahooing its monster year-end closeout. Old Glory ripples overhead. The loudspeaker calls: “Kurt Brand on two!” Balloons bob and weave in the stiff prairie wind. “Kurt Brand on two!” Salesmen eye me through the windows, not a customer in sight.
I pass a cineplex whose marquee says CLOSED. A Jiffy Lube with its bays standing empty. An abandoned department store whose sign has been removed but whose name, HOMELAND, stands out in clean lettering against the dirty façade.
Weeds poke up through cracks in the pavement. Dead leaves scurry past. I puzzle over a bird’s wing lying next to a crushed pink barrette. I picture these shopping strips as future ghost towns in some post-consumer America.
Then the human spirit makes an appearance. A message board in front of a dentist’s office spells out, WELCOME HOME SPC. JESSE WATKINS, and gives his phone number in case we want to call and wish him well.
This is my beat. Even if I’m just working the seams between one shopping mall and the next, I am where I most want to be: anywhere but home. As a travel writer I am always pleading to be shipped off to Tashkent or Timbuktu. But I’m grateful that I don’t have to go to the ends of the earth to have experiences that will open my eyes.
As the Chinese master said: “The Great Way is easy for those who have no preferences.”
When I walk stoned, the preferences fall away.
Tom Huth is the author of Forty Years Stoned: A Journalist’s Romance, to be published on 4/20 by Heliotrope Books.