The Decline
by Steve Lambert


It’s not Vergil or Homer, but it is
a type of Classicism, this aversion
to scenery-free travel. Like a dad who
does not believe in the bald efficiency
of interstates, you take promiscuous,
gauche, past-her-prime U.S. 1 South
by all the defunct and dilapidated
(“family-owned and operated”) motels
and motor lodges, ruins of 1950s pre-
interstate quaintness: defeated flead-out
trick dens, now, and ghost-roach rooming
homes. Equal parts corruption and
reclamation. Robert Johnson CD in the
player: from Memphis to Norfolk is a
thirty-six hour drive. A flip-flopped
hitchhiker in an open shirt holds a worn-out
cardboard sign: “I’ll buy the beer.” Having
no destination, we leave him. Coral, aqua
and citrus-orange wood rot, either side
of us, drifts by amber-hued in the spring
evening. A neon bar sign blinks on.
A Florida decays in real-time. It’s a
good backdrop for our impropriety,
for fucking around. This road was made
for fifty-seven Chevys and flatbed trucks;
for a wild, full-bore escape in whatever
beater’s at hand. Your Nissan Sentra is
not as romantic as all that, but it’ll goddamn
do: tall, thin sabal palms that lean away
from nor’easters, and clusters of dense
urchin palmettoes, glossy-leafed sea
grapes, groves of spindly Florida pines,
mossy-haired oaks and magnolias; the
obligatory roadside checkmated armadillo
bloats and rocks in the wake of cars;
turkey buzzards collude close by. A
bombed-out Quonset hut barbeque joint
smolders. A sooty-looking Jiffy and a
Circle K where day-labor drunks loiter on
the side; a strip mall with nothing in it
anymore but a tiny Pentecostal church
with a hand-painted sign above the door:
Holy Ghost Salvation Chapel. A rare
coolness is in the air. I catch a hint of orange
blossoms. We pass through an Anglo faux
Miamito, a cracker village, by a trailer
court named Frog Hollow where hollering
men in coveralls drink canned beer and play
horseshoes. A lean man leans into the
mouth of a blocked Dodge Charger, curses
the carburetor. We are not barbarians.
They are not Romans. Women and children
ignore them. We hear their coarse crooning
through cracked windows. We are attuned
to them, like Spirit-drunk Charismatics,
like a boy with his ear to a conch shell;
we ride as far as a tank of gas takes us,
fill up and start again; nobody, thank
God, cares what we’re up to. We pass the
occasional family-crammed sedan or minivan,
someone’s Florida-boy dad, just off of work,
strong-arming the wheel of a rusted-out
whale. He crests the roller, half-drank beer
between his legs (five fresh ones in the seat).
He disappears. We keep going.






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