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Jimmy Carter: New South Burn

Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi risk their jobs, their reputations, their lives and your patience to cover Carter’s presidential win and the New South

Jimmy Carter

President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn on Inauguration Day on January 20th, 1977.

Ron Galella/WireImage/Getty

Direct long-distance endurance driving is a practical form of psychotherapy for thousands of Americans. The act of climbing into a motor vehicle and driving 800-1,000 miles straight, stopping only for gas, is an excellent tension-release mechanism, according to Dr. Robert Lido, protein consultant to Diamond High Key Clubs of America.

Among the many people in this country who are committed to this type of therapy are Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, two TV actors who work in the National Broadcasting Company’s late-night programming division. Aykroyd is one of the best straight-shot, long-distance drivers in the country with a cross record of 42 hours. Belushi doesn’t care what he does as long as the tape deck works.

A Breather in Philly

A light rain fell on Philadelphia, and the streets were black and greasy when they rolled in from New York on Sunday morning. They hadn’t slept since Friday, and after a straight run of TV work and highway driving, they needed a day of undisturbed sleep between the crisp, white sheets of the finest hotel in town.

While Aykroyd stayed in the car and dozed, Belushi entered the grand old hotel to secure accommodations. He strode across the lobby’s blood-red, black swirl carpet and asked a clerk at the front desk for a double room. “I’m sorry,” replied the clerk, “we’re full.”

“Full!” Belushi screamed. “With what – corpses? Isn’t this the Bellevue-Stratford? The Legionnaires’ Disease hotel?”

The clerk quietly mentioned other hotels, but Belushi was adamant. Planting himself in one of the bulky leather armchairs bolted to the lobby floor, he vowed to stay until he got a room. An hour passed. “Somebody must have died by now,” he suggested to the clerk.

Finally, Belushi found the hotel’s greasy-haired assistant day manager and flashed two 50s. The man stiffened, straightened his red polyester leisure jacket and spoke to the clerk. “Give this man a double and I’ll take care of everything later.” As Belushi filled out the registration card, the manager remarked with a deadly pan: “Write down the name of the person you’re staying with … so we know where to send the body.”

Belushi had been exposed for an hour and a half.

Frantically he ran to the car, unpacked Aykroyd and two U.S. Navy gas masks (1975 regulation model). One was a cannister type with feeder hose, the other a straight nose and mouth filter system. Both are effective against toxic clouds for up to eight hours. They wore them for the duration of their stay at the Belle-Strat. Meals were tough but tasty.

Upon entering their spacious but oddly musty hotel room, they immediately began searching for clues to the mysterious plague that had recently killed 29 American war vets and put the Belle-Strat on the map. “What the heck do you think it was … the food?” asked Belushi, fingering some cigarette burns on a plastic TV cabinet.

Aykroyd gingerly picked up Gideon’s bible with his handkerchief. “In my opinion,” he said, “these strange deaths are the first signs of a biological population check, in the form of unknown viruses, which by 1979 will have eliminated one-third of the earth’s human life as we know it.”

Aykroyd stared blankly at his partner for a moment, then furiously ripped out the entire Book of Leviticus and tossed it into a sterile envelope for later chemical analysis.

The two adventurers slept with their masks on, snoring the day away in a sea of unseen microbes. That night, as they were checking out, they learned that a famous showbiz colleague, Carol Channing, was staying at the hotel. Belushi phoned her room and spoke in a public-relations voice that was smooth but muffled by the mask.

“Hi, I’m John Belushi from NBC’s ‘Saturday Night.’ I’m here with Dan Aykroyd, and as fellow performers we just wanted to phone and express our compliments and appreciation for the fine work Miss Channing has done and the entertainment she’s given us, as fellow performers, throughout the years.”

“Well, thank you very much,” replied a male voice, tentatively.

“Uh, and we were wondering if we could drop by and say hello.”

“Well, I think Miss Channing is ready to turn in for the night.”

Belushi pressed on. “In that case could we drop by right now real quick and just take some pictures of her wearing a gas mask?”

The voice on the other end grew strangely hostile. “I don’t think there’s any way possible she’ll be able to see anybody tonight. She’s with her producer. She’s very busy.”

Just as well…. Aykroyd and Belushi were busy, too. They had gas mask filters to replace and miles to go before they slept again. At 8 p.m. Sunday they hit the slab for Atlanta and the plunge into Carter country.

Big Basher in Atlanta

“Break 1-9, is that a county-mounty I see sittin’ in that northbound lane?”

“10-4, Beaver [CB talk for a female], we’re all going down to Plains tomorrow after Jimmy Carter wins.”

It was Monday, election eve. Belushi and Aykroyd hit the outskirts of Atlanta during afternoon rush hour, inching bumper to bumper in a forest of citizens’ band radio aerials. It had been a rough drive so far, and the two budding journalists were in no mood for the incessant twang and drawl of CB gossip. They switched on the AM radio for some soothing Top 40.

Amendment Two, Amendment Two
We really need Amendment Two
It’s better for me, it’s better for you
So vote tomorrow for Amendment Two
Da DA da DA da DA da DOO
– Paid for by the Citizens for Amendment Two

Belushi ripped the AM cables from the dashboard and jammed the Allman Brothers into the cassette machine. The Allman Brothers are the guys who sing, “I was born in the back seat of a Greyhound bus rolling down Highway 41.” Listening to their music while driving through Georgia was a rare, near-perfect experience. Gregg Allman singing “Southbound” may very well be the best road music in the world, and Belushi and Aykroyd thought these Macon sounds were so good, they sincerely hoped that Jimmy Carter would be elected.

Atlanta’s Omni International Hotel convention center complex is a city within a city – 16 stories of rooms, balconies and boutiques that surround a lobby of natural wood and modular lounge furniture and, yes folks, a year-round, full-sized skating rink. A steel-strut and glass skylight covers the whole works.

Tired, dirty, reeking of natural bodily odors and car vinyl, resembling, in short, the two killers from In Cold Blood, Belushi and Aykroyd attempted to check in without credit cards. All their ear-to-ear smiling, bowing and scraping before the hotel staff seemed only to heighten their image as a pair of psycho-fugitives looking for beds and loose kitchen cutlery.

While Aykroyd dozed on the cold imitation-marble counter of the registration desk, Belushi pressed for accommodations. A number of quick and extremely nervous phone calls were made by the staff, and finally the two were given room keys. They settled into their quarters, ordered a few pounds of meat and some kitchen cutlery from room service and, surveying the teaming indoor courtyard from their 11th-floor balcony, contemplated the best way to cover the election.

Jimmy Carter had rented the entire Georgia World Congress Center of the Omni complex for a public victory celebration. There is enough space inside to set up a wind tunnel for testing jumbo jets. The next evening, as returns starting trickling in from the East, Aykroyd and Belushi put on jackets, shirts and striped ties, and cruised on over to the affair. Pressing their way through hundreds of “special invited guests,” they were met at the side door by the “Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit” – ten 200-pound policemen checking handbags and frisking the folks who’d come to see Jimmy. The “unit” wore round white lapel pins inscribed with green aerial-type bombs. Aykroyd and Belushi were clean.

Wandering through the convention center, they were constantly approached by reporters who refused to believe they were on a legitimate news assignment.

Reporters kept asking them for interviews and to take their pictures, but they said they were too busy on their own print media story. A particularly incredulous NBC newsman stopped them and asked incredulously, “What the hell are you doing here?”

Belushi exploded: “All right, motherfuckers, you got it. This is all a big put-on. We’re really here posing as celebrities for Carter – you know, like Paul Newman and Warren Beatty? Except that’s not true either – we’re really here to meet him, gain the trust and confidence of his family so we can take cheap shots at him on TV. Don’t tell anyone, okay?”

“Okay. That’s more like it.”

The reporters looked at their feet and shuffled them. A few seemed convinced, but Belushi decided he needed further protection. He quickly donned a dark ski mask to blend in with the crowd.

Aykroyd began a crisp commentary:

“John, the walls here in the convention center are lined with wide-open bars, party lounges, cocktail waiters in bow ties, state policemen and TV sets, all here for this one big night. One conference room I saw had a hardwood floor and was wired with color TV sets for news, speakers and a mixing board for disco.

“I’m trying to get a feeling from the folks who have come here tonight to support the local favorite for top federal executive.

“And what is your name, sir, and where are you from?” Aykroyd directed this question to a 6’4″ guy who wore an Abe Lincoln beard and a bandage on his wrist.

‘Roy Pace,” the guy answered in a thick drawl. “I’m from Atlanta.”

“Roy, what happened to your wrist, it looks very heavily bandaged.”

“I rolled a car on the Alaska highway this morning trying to make the flight to catch this party tonight.”

“What, sir, may I ask, were you doing in Alaska?” probed Aykroyd.

“I was campaigning for Jimmy Carter.”

Aykroyd quickly summed up: “Well, there you have it, John. We’ve been speaking with a Mr. Roy Pace of Atlanta who is celebrating here tonight with his broken wrist – home, finally, after months of devoted effort trying to sell a Georgia peanut farmer to the American Eskimo.”

Belushi commenced his coverage. “Well, Dan, there is a predominance of young voters and celebrants here tonight, and we’d like to draw a bead on their feelings.

“What is your name, sir, and where are you from?” he asked a tall young man with a shiny face and a French-cut suit. He looked like a computer time salesman or a Coca-Cola rep.

“Johnny Grape,” he said. “I’m from Madison, Georgia. When I first came to this country I was running down a dirt road, trying to get away from immigration authorities. And I had a pet tarantula, it saved me. I played with him all the way over here on the front end of a banana boat. I fed him what I could pull off my fingers, and he teased me and I teased him.”

For some reason this last phrase caused several women in the vicinity to laugh raucously. Grape continued.

“But you want to know about Jimmy, I mean he’s, uh … I’ll tell you what: I never thought I’d see a nigger, uh, ice-skating at the corner of Peach-tree and 14th Street; and I never thought I’d see a peanut farmer, you know, in the White House.”

Belushi stepped in quickly. “Thank you – Johnny Grape, here at the World Congress Center on this very, very crucial election night. Dan?”

AYKROYD: Thanks, John. I’m standing here with a rather short, stocky gentleman who has chosen to wear a dark ski mask to blend in with the crowd. Sir, uh, your vote today, where did it go? Did it go to the American Independent party, which has received a growing amount of popularity, relative to its new foundation here in this country? Or did it go to the traditional Democrat or Republican platform? Where are the wheels on the band-wagon, and where would you like to see it go?

MASKED MAN: I’d like to see some better movies on television … (muttering) … some bad ones on last night.

AYKROYD: And will you be watching the election returns tonight on television? What will you be doing in terms of covering it for yourself?

MASKED MAN: I kind of play it by ear. If there’s nothing on, I usually go out. A lot of those commercials, those political commercials …

AYKROYD: You’re kind of tired of them?

MASKED MAN: Yeah, faces, faces, faces … (drifts off)

AYKROYD: (capsulizing in dignified, Cronkitean tones) Okay, I think that about sums up the feeling of the American people here tonight. No one… really … gives … that much … of a shit. Thank you.

A Pledge to Jack Carter

Belushi rang up Jack Carter on the Omni house phone.

“Jack. This is John Belushi.”

“Hello John, how are you?”

“Just fine. Hey, is there any way we can see you tonight and bring a photographer with us?”

“Sure, come on up to room 1502 and talk to Abby, our Secret Serviceman, He’ll let you in. But not too many pictures, okay?”

The elevator opened on the 15th floor, where the Carter suites were located. The corridor was jammed with campaign functionaries, Secret Servicemen and Atlanta cops. To the right of the elevator was Jimmy’s half of the floor, so heavily guarded that there was no chance of us sliding in for a quick blast of presidential hopefulness. To the left were the kids’ rooms and staff suites.

Abby, the Secret Serviceman recognized us and took us to our standard double room, tightly occupied by 15 people – wives and close friends of the Carter sons – watching the returns. We later found out that we had been the only reporters admitted all night.

Aykroyd entered to considerable reaction. He’d done one of the first comic impersonations of Jimmy Carter ever seen on national television, and it was obvious from many exclamations of “Oooh!” and “Look who’s here!” that the folks in the room had seen the impression.

“Okay man, you can call me out and drop me for imitating your old man,” Aykroyd blurted to Jack, expecting some kind of heavy confrontation.

“What do you mean … you do it pretty good,” Jack said.

“The question is, do you have the guts to do it here and now?” asked a friend of Jack’s.

“No, I have made a pledge,” Aykroyd said, “not to replicate your father while below the Mason-Dixon line.”

As everyone sat and watched the returns, Aykroyd suddenly cursed loudly at his malfunctioning tape recorder. Jack heard him and then whispered a warning to Belushi that a Baptist minister from Calhoun was in the room. Belushi hit Aykroyd in the ribs, hissed, and then fixed himself to the minister’s right arm.

“How do you do, Reverend? Jack tells me you’re the Baptist minister of Calhoun.”

“Yes I am, sir.”

“It just so happens, Reverend, that I was raised in Wheaton, Illinois, which is the headquarters of Youth for Christ, the location of Wheaton College and the Wheaton Press. As you can well imagine, many people call Wheaton the Buckle of the Bible Belt, due to the fact that Billy Graham attended Wheaton College.”

“I am aware of that, sir.” The Reverend began to smile.

“Now I went out with many good Baptist girls in my time, and in a situation like that you really can’t help but absorb some fundamentalist doctrine. Like John 3:16: ‘For God so loved the World, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.'”

“Well sir …” the minister paused. “… I do believe you were a Baptist.”

With this they were redeemed and no more offensive language passed their lips that evening.

There were shouts of delight as Texas lit up in red on one of the network’s scoreboards, but it was still a close race. In order to lighten things up, Jack asked Belushi and Aykroyd to “do something funny … and nice.”

Aykroyd launched into his on-the-spot-reporter. “Well, judge, it looks like you have pretty well lost it locally. Are you going to settle for that county clerk position? Just what are you going to do?”

Belushi growled a reply in a thick, old, southern cadence. “I’m not going to be a county clerk – I’m running for that surrogate court position.”

“Well, you have not won that surrogate court position this term, judge. From the look of the numbers, it appears your campaign for a third term has really gone down the tube,” continued Aykroyd.

“Hmmm … yes. Well, I’m very resilient. I’m still a lawyer. I guess I could run for county clerk in a couple of months.”

“And if that bid for power goes down the pipes, what will you do?”

“Well, I still have my position on the school board.”

“And if the electors of this county refuse you another term on the school board, then you’d pretty well have to forfeit your career in local government in this county – is that correct?”

Belushi grabbed Aykroyd by the throat. “I will always be involved in local government in this county. Should I fail to win back my seat on the school board, I will volunteer for an appointment in the county veterinary services bureau as a representative in the canine control division!”

On the TV, a black and white choir was singing. A preacher with tinted glasses and purple robes appeared in the foreground and began to speak:

“Devotion, sacred and holy. All of us need help in our sacred devotion, the kind of help that comes when praying to a beautiful cross.”

The picture cut to a red velvet background and five crosses in various woods with mother-of-pearl inlays like Tex Ritter’s guitar.

“A beautiful cross from the Almont Cross Company. Yes, Almont offers finely made crosses of beautiful design to aid you in your devotion. For any one of the crosses you see here, send $12.98 to: Cross, Box 120, Atlanta. If you order now, we will send you, free of charge, this miniature family Bible.”

Jack turned to his brother. “Look, Chip, you can buy crosses on TV!”

“Truly.” Aykroyd remarked reverently, “I have seen crosses come in all materials, from aluminum to plexiglass.”

To which Jack replied – with impeccable timing and a fine edge of sarcasm – “Yeah, but they don’t burn as well.”

Conspiracy in New Orleans

New Orleans always offers good coffee, Dixie Beer and strip clubs to visitors and residents alike. The two stayed there with Dave, an old friend of Aykroyd’s who has a pool table in his living room, a partially restored Vincent Black Shadow cycle in his garage, a sweet lady named Clare and foam slabs for guests to sleep on. Dave views America from ten years as a multiskilled blue-collar participant. He has laid trunk rubber strippings on Pontiacs in Grand Rapids, welded oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico and barked the ring-toss game at sideshows in Florida. He is a card-holding member of the Seafarers International Union and, when he feels like it, a merchant seaman. What did Carter’s victory mean to him?

“Eventually, income gratification. The Carter energy could be good to this laborer’s pocket.”

While there, Belushi suggested they interview Jim Garrison, the controversial district attorney (from 1962 to 1974) who once indicted Clay Shaw and David Ferrie for conspiring to assassinate John F. Kennedy.

“From the stuff I read, Garrison sounds like a psycho,” said Aykroyd.

“Dan, aren’t you a psycho, with papers to prove it?”

Aykroyd nodded humbly.

Arrangements were made to meet Garrison at his law office.

“Mr. Garrison!” exclaimed Belushi.

“Please call me Jim.”

“Okay, Jim. We drove from Atlanta to New Orleans in eight hours just to see and experience Mardi Gras. We even wore our costumes. Dan was dressed as a 105 howitzer, and I was dressed as a wallet. But no one was on the street dancing, drinking, having fun. What the hell happened to Mardi Gras? What’s going on here?”

“The problem could be that Mardi Gras is in February and today is November 4th. It’s just a matter of timing.”

(The following is a tape transcript.)

BELUSHI: Many people feel that it doesn’t matter who gets elected president. Will Carter make any difference?

GARRISON: I think the fundamental significance of this election is that the forces of empire have – at least temporarily – lost a battle, because Ford’s administration represented the whole Nixon regime. The key Nixon people were nearly all kept on in prominent positions. The Carter victory means the Nixon regime has finally been beaten – that’s the real significance.

During the election, Carter – although he did it in moderation – repeatedly pointed out the need to control the excesses of our intelligence and secret police machinery, while Ford virtually avoided any recognition that such secret machinery existed. I think we’ve seen enough of Jimmy Carter and his background as a human being to conclude that there is an excellent possibility that we are now in the process of swinging away from the police-state trend that began with John Kennedy’s death.

BELUSHI: If Jimmy Carter takes the same strong position toward the intelligence community that John Kennedy did, could it be likely that he would be assassinated?

GARRISON: The forces in America that accomplished the elimination of John Kennedy would not hesitate for a moment to eliminate a Jimmy Carter if he became a threat to their policies of establishing the American empire and worldwide counterrevolution in an age of revolution. What I’m saying is that they are not above it.

On the other hand, they are exceedingly practical men and most certainly they must recognize that they have been to the well much too often, with the assassination of Robert Kennedy and the shooting of Wallace to ensure conservative votes for Nixon. These boys would like to remove a Carter if he became a problem to the empire, and might even consider it. But I think it would be most unlikely that they would be moved to action because there is too much awareness of what they have done in the past. They are not likely to go to the well again, for fear of being recognized.

BELUSHI: If you could be any animal in the world, what would you like to be?

GARRISON: Vice-president.

Editor on the Horn

Telephone call. 4:00 a.m., C.S.T. Thursday, November 5th. Somewhere in Louisiana.

PEREZ: (heavy Cajun accent) Hay-lo. May I speak to Mr. Wayner?

WENNER: This is Mr. Wenner. It’s two o’clock in the morning. Who is this?

PEREZ: Mah name is Shalomon Perez. I am the sheriff of Plackman Parrish, Louisiana. Mr. Wayner, I have in custody two gentlemen who say that they are in your employ. One is a Mr. Daniel Edward Aa-kar-roid, and the other is a Mr. Jean Ba-lu-shee. Do these two men work for you?

WENNER: Could you tell me again whom I’m talking to?

PEREZ: This is Sheriff Shalomon Perez, of Plackman Parrish. Are these men in your employ?

WENNER: They are … uh … writing an article for us as freelancers. What is the problem?

PEREZ: They have been in an accident. The vehicle which Mr. Aakaroid was driving hit a man earlier this evening.

WENNER: Oh no. Is the man all right?

PEREZ: Well, sir, he is in the hospital now. We don’t know yet what will happen, but the man is in critical condition. These gentlemen were driving 80 miles an hour.

WENNER: Oh, fuck! Where are they?

PEREZ: Mr. Wayner, I must also inform you that upon searching their vehicle we found what we suspect to be Class A narcotics. (There is a short silence.) Mr. Wayner, would you like to speak to either of these two men?

WENNER: Yes, I would. Let me find a pencil. Could you just tell me again what your jurisdiction is, and your phone number there?

PEREZ: Plackman Parrish. The number here is 362-4730. (Voice in background: “Let me talk to him.”)

AYKROYD: Ahhh, Jann? Listen, man, we were on a two-lane road. This black guy ran out and hit the front of the car. It was real dark out and I couldn’t see him. He bounced off the hood and went right over the car. He’s in pretty bad shape. I’m really sorry, man.

WENNER: Fuck, Danny, this is gonna be bad.

AYKROYD: Listen, Jann, they searched the car, and they found some stuff. See, John ran into some people at Carter Headquarters in Atlanta, and …

WENNER: I understand. Don’t talk about it on the phone, okay?

AYKROYD: Jann, look, don’t worry. We’re gonna be okay. John wants to talk to you.

BELUSHI: Jann. It’s John. You okay?

WENNER: What’s happening!

BELUSHI: Don’t worry. Everything’s okay. But look, I’m sorry. They searched the car. In Atlanta some people laid some really good …

WENNER: John. Please do not get into details…. Just give me a few hours to find a lawyer and figure this out.

(The facts in the above conversation were created solely for the purpose of Black Comedy at the expense of the editor of Rolling Stone, who was sucked in completely at the time.)

Strange Legacy of the Desert Fox

Aykroyd power-steered west on the concrete viaduct slabs built over the Louisiana bayou. In Baton Rouge they met a Vietnamese family living under the freeway. The Suongs run a small sea-food restaurant next to an overpass support pillar on Interstate-90. Conversation was impossible since the Suongs only understood seafood menus, but it was clear from the anguish in the waiter’s ancient eyes that the last years of his life had been spent in Army cargo planes shepherding his family from refugee camps in the Pacific to resettlement bases in California. Now he had finally set up a modest business for himself, under three decks of freeway in the New South.

Belushi and Aykroyd silently roared down two pounds of breaded shrimp, momentarily assuaging the bitter taste of 25 years of American rape in Vietnam, then hit the slab again for Texas.

The stretch of Interstate-10 from Lake Charles, Louisiana, to Beaumont, Texas, is armadillo country. In some counties there are thousands of them, marching along the road in well-ordered rows, protected from cars and trucks by their unique thick skin. Two miles outside of Beaumont, the two spotted a brightly lit billboard:

MIKE ROMMEL’S
DESERT FOX
MEMORIAL ARMADILLO RANCH
Five Miles North off Route 10

It is, of course, common knowledge among World War II buffs that Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, Hitler’s favorite general, vigorously studied the natural armor of the armadillo. The famed “Desert Fox” was a keen admirer of a book written by his military foe, English strategist Sir Archibald Wavell, The Great Southeastern Armadillo Battles, 1805-1812. As adversaries in North Africa, both men applied the principles of armadillo warfare to their mechanized tank battles. In 1942 Rommel suffered a devastating defeat at el-‘Alemein.

On October 14th, 1944, after Rommel participated in a futile conspiracy to assassinate Hitler, two generals were sent by the Führer to offer him poison and the option of avoiding a public trial and disgrace to his family. Rommel, however, chose not to take his own life, and escaped to America with the help of the O.S.S., who financed his asylum in Pine Island, Louisiana.

Rommel opened two Armadillo breeding farms near the Texas/Louisiana border, and peacefully studied armadillos until his death on November 7th, 1968, at the age of 69. In one of his last earthly campaigns, he assisted the Israelis in their tank battles during the 1967 Six-Day War, dispatching to them a division of his crack armadillos. In 1970, Rommel’s son, Mike, established the Desert Fox Memorial Armadillo Ranch.

Since Aykroyd and Belushi were in the area, they decided to visit this dynamic German-American landmark. They left Interstate-10 and drove up to the heavily guarded front gates. But they were immediately surrounded by black security guards who turned them away for being non-Aryan.

Aykroyd looked at Belushi and shrugged helplessly. “I don’t think we’re ever gonna understand the New South,” he said.

Back on Interstate-10 they spotted another billboard:

Welcome to Beaumont 
HOME OF THE ORIGINAL SUONGS’ 
Seafood Menu Spoken

A few minutes later they picked up a hitchhiker, a long-nosed man wearing pince-nez and heavy armor plating, who informed them that Mr. Suong was in fact a millionaire ex-paratroop commander with plans to franchise breaded shrimp worldwide.

“How did you come by this information?” asked Belushi.

There was no reply, and when Belushi turned around, the man had vanished.

Lone Stars in the State of Texas

In the dark Texas night all that was visible were stars, the white lines on the road and the Nite-Glo markers on the sides of the highway. They could well have been riding an asphalt ribbon suspended in space, with those Nite-Glo lights marking the edge of the universe, passing through an anti-matter black hole. A void. Yes, about the car we rented … we lost it near the Manned Space Center in Houston. There was this time warp….

A drive through Texas naturally arouses man’s car consciousness. The vehicle they’d selected was a silver gray 1976 General Motors Chevrolet Caprice Classic, one of the last of the big chrome automobiles. Body by Fisher. Aykroyd spoke of it with solemnity.

Aykroyd reminisced about a designer who started his career at British Ford, designing Consuls in the early Fifties. He came to America to perfect the mechanism of the 1957 Ford hard-top convertible, which involved the entire roof folding into the car’s trunk at the touch of a button. He had passed this wisdom on to Aykroyd: “When they die-cast the fins on the 1959 Cadillac, part of the American Dream blossomed, and now, with these compact cars, part of it is dying.”

Belushi responded to Aykroyd’s auto ecstasy by turning up the volume on the tape deck. On the Lone Star stretch they listened to the Eagles sing “Desperado,” perfect Texas sounds, about a group of hippie outlaws who can’t go dancing on Saturday night because they’re running from the sheriff.

The floor of the car was a morass of multicolored wires which looked like a Bell Telephone overseas switching trunk. The vehicle was completely wired for long-distance endurance driving. Belushi would fasten on the tape-deck headphones and chain-smoke his way through two or three tapes, while Aykroyd got lost on the citizens’ band radio.

The Texas nights are alive with people talking to each other on CB as they roll along at 75 miles per hour. They pass each other for an instant, say hello, goodbye and good luck, and then greet the next set of headlights and taillights, offer information, and say goodbye, like a continuous allemande-left in a radio square dance down the highway.

“Heyeaaaah, how about a west bounder on this 10?”

“Yeaaaah, go aheaaaaad.”

“Yeaaaah, what be your 20 [location] good buddy?”

“We be comin’ up on a mile marker in a short order…. Okayeaaaa.”

“Heeaaaah Roger Okayeaaa.”

“We be ha-ere at the 332 [highway marker] … gi’ back.”

“Yeaaaah. Okayeaa. Roger. I got your back door here at the 330.”

“10-40 roger on that, keep it closed back there okay. We be givin’ ya a shout if we see anything up here.”

“Yeeeeaaaah roger you got the ‘Toy Man’ here, who we got up there?”

“You got the Black Top Vampire.”

“Yeaaah okayeaaa ya Vampire how far ya goin’… back?”

“Yeaaaah we be goin’ to that Shakey-side [earthquake territory] … Frisco.”

All this talk to avoid highway patrolmen and exceed the speed limit is strictly illegal, but that’s what makes CB a romantic medium. Eleven million Americans own CB radios and they all sound like Lee Majors or Jimmy Carter on the air. It’s the highest form of public broadcasting. Get a CB and take on a persona, use the 10 code and all the language, and be anybody you want to be.

However, CBers are soon going to have an even heavier force than the FCC to reckon with. At the present rate of carbon emissions and the forecasted increase in sunspot explosions, the ionosphere, the layer of atmosphere off which the citizens’ band signal bounces, will soon turn into a useless, ragged atmospheric canopy which will render the crystals in current CB sets obsolete by 1981…. 10-4, good buddy.

The nonstop, trans-Texas burn was 800 miles and Aykroyd took it in 16 hours. About noon they braked down the exit ramp to El Paso, the legendary outlaw city of the Southwest, now a smog-trap ozone metropolis in sun-bowl country.

“Look there, Dan. It’s a Holiday Inn! You know who lives there, don’t you? Remember our friend, Mr. Sleep?” In front of the motel was a sign: WELCOME TRUCKERS! WE MONITOR CHANNEL 19. 

Their nerves, heads and bodies were raw from hours of CB static, rock & roll music and unceasing fast-forward motion. The Holiday Inn was something they could depend on, so they wheeled in, fell out of the car and stumbled around the corner of the building.

The main parking lot was roped off. It was filled with furniture. Men, women, children, families and socket-eyed cowboys were carrying armloads of furniture out of the motel’s rooms. Orange shag rugs, desk lamps, naugahyde chairs, dressers and – Dear Lord, no! – beds.

Aykroyd and Belushi dropped to their knees.

An auctioneer was standing on a pickup truck barking through a bull-horn. All the Holiday Inn’s furniture was being sold. Aykroyd began to weep as happy Mexicans carried away mattress after mattress.

Burning Out in the West

WEBSTER’S TEXACO – THREE MILES – GASOLINE, RESTAURANT – SLOTS. CAVALCADE OF FATE, UNIVERSAL CHURCH. WEDDINGS – SLOTS. VEGAS STAR DISCO. DISCO AND FOREIGN MASSAGE FROM 9 A.M. DISCO TRIPLE XXX MOVIES – SLOTS.

Sunday morning. Las Vegas, golden dream town of the Southwest. Belushi woke up and suggested that they stop awhile. He had never been to Vegas before. Aykroyd was determined not to stop.

“It’s part of the trip,” Belushi insisted.

“Yeah, right, and Bob Goulet is expecting us.” Aykroyd jammed the accelerator to the floor, ran several red lights, northbound, out of the city onto the freeway slab.

How much can be done in eight days? Who is Jimmy Carter and what happened that night he saw a UFO? What is the solution to street crime in Galveston?

Belushi and Aykroyd left New York City at 3 p.m., Sunday, October 31st, and hit San Francisco at 8:30 Sunday evening, November 7th. Five days’ driving and three days’ rest. Total driving time: 96 hours.

They had had New South rock & roll and straight-line driving up the pipes. It was time to try an alternative.

The alternative was western Nevada, eastern California and Yosemite. They took their time cruising through this country and programmed Richard Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries into the tape system for the passage through the mountains. Wagner – great old Nazi music for high-altitude driving, the perfect music-mobility link-up. As they rounded each tight curve, spectacular vistas would explode before them, perfectly coordinated with each Wagnerian burst. They hairpinned slowly around the peaks, lows and riffs of these forbidding Nevada-California border ranges, putting the accelerator to the mat to burn across flat valley floors. Wagner’s magnificent Nordic overture crescendoed at the top of every winding climb, only to diminuendo to whispering horns through flatlands and ranches and small towns, all ringed with the bright orange, yellow and red leaves of a California autumn.

And in the sky above each pine-covered, chalk-colored rock base were the crisscrossing vapor trails of jets, test-flying for California’s booming aerodynamics industry. 

In This Article: Coverwall, Jimmy Carter

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