The finish line, a quarter of a mile down Las Palmas Road. The Car wins by three feet. The Car turns and comes back slowly, followed by the Plymouth. The Driver stops and the boy gives him $400. The Girl and the Mechanic get in. They drive slowly down the road in the direction of the finish line. The Driver turns left and suddenly they are in the desert. He drives very slowly. Then he stops. He cuts the headlights. There is no noise. There are no lights. The sky and the night are completely around them. They are silent. Then the Driver accelerates to 130 m.p.h

A plaza in the center of Santa Fe. The Driver pulls up to the curb. He gets out and the Mechanic moves over to the Driver's seat.

DRIVER (preoccupied, almost morose) : I'll walk to the motel. He walks down the street. The Mechanic and the Girl drive off.

The motel. The girl jumps up and down on the bed. The Mechanic lies on the other bed, looking at her. He gets up and turns on the TV and returns to the bed. The Girl joins him on his bed. Together they watch TV.

A street, center of town. The Driver walks into a bar. It is a workers' bar, dimly lit. A few Mexicans quietly drink and watch the TV over the bar. A fight is on. The Driver sits down at the bar and consciously turns his back to the fight on the screen. The bartender comes up to serve him.

DRIVER: A double Jack Daniel's with a water chaser.

Another crowded bar. The Driver sits at the bar, drinking shots. The bar is crowded with young people. In the back a rock-and-roll band plays. People dance. The Driver is drunk.

A Spanish bar, quiet, tastefully furnished. The barmaids wear long Mexican dresses and jewelry. The Driver walks in, standing for a moment in the doorway. The driver of the Plymouth Road Runner sits at a table with his girl. The Driver stares openly at the driver of the Plymouth Road Runner and his girl. She is in her early thirties, very beautiful, her hair long and dark, her features open and floating in an intense, almost ravaged way. She is on the verge of tears.

GIRL: But you're not twenty-five. You're thirty-two. You can't play these kind of games anymore.

PLYMOUTH DRIVER (trying to keep his voice controlled) : I'm going to do whatever I want to do.

GIRL (her voice sarcastic, nearly hysterical) That's right, we're not married are we?

PLYMOUTH DRIVER (bitter, his anger showing) : No we're not.
He looks down at his glass.

GIRL: Don't withdraw on me. Just when I need you, you turn away. (She begins to cry.)

PLYMOUTH DRIVER: You don't need me. All you need is a lamppost to relate to.

GIRL. (half rising) : Oh I hate you. I really hate you. You're so cruel.

PLYMOUTH DRIVER (angry) : And you're so out of your fucking tree. If it wasn't for your period, I'd say you were clinical.

The girl rises from her chair, crying hysterically. She throws her glass on the table, breaking it. The Plymouth Driver stares at her. She runs out of the café. The Driver watches her go, then looks at the Plymouth Driver who is staring after her. The Driver gives him a slow thumbs-up signal; the Plymouth Driver looks at him and nods, then returns to his drink.

The motel. The motel is arranged around a square court with cars parked in front of the rooms. The Driver makes his way slowly to the Car. He opens the door and gets in behind the wheel. There is no expression on his face. It is quiet except for a few cars passing on the street nearby. The Driver gets out of the Car and goes to the room. He hears indistinct voices inside. He drops the key and sinks to the ground outside. The voices become more distinct.

GIRL (very quietly, subdued) : Do you like this?

MECHANIC (his voice low and distant) Yes, I can say that I like that.

GIRL: This?

MECHANIC: That too.

GIRL (moaning) : Oh . . . yes, Yes. Take me around the pool.

There are vague sounds of lovemaking. Then silence.

On the road, morning. A Texas Hitchhiker stands in the haze half a mile up the road. The GTO is going 85 m.p.h. It passes the Hitchhiker, then squeals to a stop. The Hitchhiker runs after the GTO and climbs into it. The driver's sweater is a light, very expensive yellow cashmere. The camera observes him more closely now. His blond hair is neither long nor short. He is of medium build and height. His face has regular features, although there is a puffiness around his eyes and mouth. His smile is a little too loose, his gestures a little too nervous and obsessive. He looks like an aging fraternity boy or slightly spaced young executive who has been seized by some mysterious and unconscious trauma. He is known as GTO. The Texas Hitchhiker is a small-town businessman in his middle forties. He carries a cardboard briefcase. He wears a cheap brown suit, brown boots and brown string tie. His manner is timid and bland.

GTO (a little too lordly) : Which way you going?

TEXAS HITCHHIKER (trying to get his breath after his run to the car) : Amarillo.

GTO: You're in luck.

GTO slams his foot on the accelerator and the GTO leaps forward, throwing the Hitchhiker's head back and his mouth open. He hastily straps on his seat belt as the GTO hits 100 m.p.h.

TEXAS HITCHHIKER (gasping at the sudden acceleration) : Great God Almighty, mister.

GTO (smiling with satisfaction at the Pontiacs' performance) : She's got a hard pull, doesn't she? Zero to sixty in 6.4. She'll do a quarter mile in 13.40.

The Texas Hitchhiker nods his head in timid approval and sneaks a cautious glance at GTO. GTO's mouth is pulled into a firm line, his hands are over the steering wheel in nine and three o'clock racing position as the GTO hits 120 m.p.h. and then eases off.

GTO: Performance and image. That's what it's all about.

TEXAS HITCHHIKER (shaken, his hands pressed together) : Mighty fancy auto-mo-bile.

GTO: It's out of sight. It's more than just a factory car. It's an institution.

The Texas Hitchhiker nods his head in desperate agreement and sneaks a glance at the speedometer, which registers 100 m.p.h.

TEXAS HITCHHIKER: I can see that.

GTO : I bought her in Bakersfield, California. I was testing jets at the time and it got so I bad to have more action on the ground. You know what I mean?

The Hitchhiker nods cautiously.

GTO: I mean you can't stay high the same way forever. So when the 455 came out with the Mach IV Ram-Air with tunnel-port heads, beefed lower end and a Holley high-riser setup, I was on line -- 390 h.p. and 500 foot-pounds of torque, whatever that is. It's in the folder in the glove compartment. But she's a Road King, all right.

TEXAS HITCHHIKER: How come you ain't in Bakersfield?

GTO: Because I'm in the Southwest.

They ride in silence for a moment.

GTO: What kind of sounds do you like?


GTO: Rock, Soul, Hillbilly, Western. What's your taste

TEXAS HITCHHIKER: It don't hardly matter to me.

GTO takes a cassette from the dashboard, looks at it, and puts it in the tape recorder to the left of the glove compartment. The sounds of Bluegrass fill the car. The GTO holds a steady 100 m.p.h. on the narrow straight road across the desert.

The Car, New Mexico. The Car is pulled over to the side of the road. The Mechanic is working on the engine. The Driver and the Girl lie on the scrubby sand near the Car. There is no traffic on the road. The immense space around and above them stretches for miles until it fades on the horizon. The road cuts through the desert in an exact line.

MECHANIC (on his way to the back area): Fouled up spark plug.

The Mechanic takes two wrenches from his tool kit and goes back to the front end where be pulls the spark out with a wrench, gaps it and replaces the plug.

DRIVER: It's straight like this clear across Oklahoma.

GIRL (vaguely) : I wish we were back in Santa Fe.

DRIVER: What about San Francisco?

GIRL (brightening): San Francisco is groovy. Or Denver. I was in Seattle once. I ate a lot of fish and sprained my ankle.

DRIVER: New Orleans, Miami, Boston and Chicago.

GIRL (sitting up): New York. What about New York?

DRIVER: That's definitely a town. The Big Apple.

In the distance they have come from, a small point approaches. As it gets larger the point becomes the shape of the GTO.

DRIVER (to Mechanic) : The fan belt sounded a little funny. It squeaks.

MECHANIC: I'll tighten it.

The GTO, traveling. The tape recorder plays the same cassette: Bluegrass music. The Texas Hitchhiker stares straight ahead, his face frozen into an artificial smile. GTO keeps the car at an even hundred m.p.h. He is driving with his left arm out the window, his, right hand on the steering wheel, a cigarette between two fingers.

GTO: So after I got shot down twice over Korea I decided I needed some fun and games, you know what I mean. I just wanted to take off a few years. I ran out of cash and had to take a job testing jets. But I had to have more action on the ground.

The Texas Hitchhiker nods cautiously.

GTO: I mean you can't stay high the same way forever. Right? So when the 455 came out with the Mach IV Ram-Air with tunnelport heads . . . .

They pass the Car. The Mechanic is working on the fan belt. The Girl and Driver are lying on the ground next to the Car. GTO slows, looking them over, then speeds ahead.

GTO: Those sons of bitches have been following me clear across two states. Three states. They keep wanting to challenge me. They come up behind and honk and then when I keep my cool and don't get into it they get hysterical. A bunch of small-town car freaks. They'd run over you if they had the chance. But that homemade stuff can't stand up to the old 455. I'd lose them in twenty minutes. Color me Gone, baby.

TEXAS HITCHHIKER: Well, I'll tell you one thing, you sure have one hell of a fast automobile.

The Girl and the Driver lie on the side of the road. The Mechanic looks at the engine.

DRIVER (watching the GTO disappear into the distance) : I've seen that GTO a couple times before. Believe he passed us in Arizona. Some kind of weekend warrior.


reprinted from April 1971
Esquire Magazine
4 of 13 pages ---