Since moving to the great American southwest, I have grown increasingly troubled by some of the local customs, color, and culinary transgressions associated with the high-desert peoples. Normally, the thought of stopping at a jerky stand would never even enter my consciousness, but here, in the land of dirt, dust, and more dirt, I can not help but notice any and every business I pass in my travels, mainly because I’ve only seen four of them. Somewhat disturbing was the moment I realized that the scant few ‘establishments’ found outside of civilization’s kindly influence involve a suspiciously high amount of jerky. Two jerky related incidents struck me with considerable angst in recent weeks. The first occurred north of Phoenix in a town called North of Phoenix where a fat man with a straw hat sat in the blazing heat selling jerky products to passersby. It was over one hundred degrees at this particular moment in time and this man had no cold beverages to peddle, as if man can subsist on jerky alone. I’m not just saying that…that’s what his homemade sign read: Man Can Subsist On Jerky Alone. Granted, this is a free country, but that guy’s life insurance rates should be higher than mine, just on principle.
Even more disturbing, he kind of reminded me of that guy from Motel Hell. You know, the movie that brought us the timeless passage: It takes all types of critters, to make Farmer Vincent’s fritters. What kind of critteresque roadkill was jerkied-up for my enjoyment on this hot Phoenix afternoon? What would compel someone to stop at this remote desert jerky stand in the first place? Is every fifteenth customer thrown into Farmer Vincent’s vat? Or was the customer-to-vat-count much higher?
Do you feel jerky, well…do ya?
What point of desperation and depravity could lead a man to eat some unknown jerkied meat-product from a Motel Hell-looking guy? But then it hit me. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, between Phoenix and my destination. This was the proverbial it, as far as choices were concerned. He had a veritable jerkyopoly. To complicate matters, my stomach and my curiosity were peaking like Janet Jackson’s tit at a halftime show. So, I pulled over and I stared at the straw hat wearing Farmer Vincent looking dude through my clip on sunglasses. He stared back at me warily and somewhere nearby the theme music to Fistful of Jerky whistled through the dunes. Thankfully, I remembered the granola bar in my glove compartment. So I waved at the impressive stranger and turned my Explorer back onto the Carefree Highway. One would pretty much have to be on a road called the Carefree Highway to chance the dietary unknowns associated with private jerky stand in the middle of Nowhere, AZ (Actually, in retrospect, Nowhere, AZ, was about fifty miles northwest).
My second, and arguably worst, desert jerky encounter (DJE) came complete with much fear and loathing amidst a Vegas trip to see fellow Discordian, the Great Bald One himself. A typical road trip for me back east involved stopping enroute at every coffee shop and brew pub, where I would often write witty articles blissfully devoid of any and all jerky products. It once took Pokey McDooris and I three days to make it the hundred miles from State College, PA to Harrisburg, PA. We were actually shooting for Philadelphia, but never made it further than a brewpub called Bube’s Brewery (best of both worlds). But here, in the Valley of the Sun, well, just north of the Valley of the Sun, my road trips tended to involve (gulp) driving to my destination.
Here in northern Arizona piss breaks usually involve cactuses (if I’m alone), or the electric window (if I’m not). For my first trip to Vegas I wanted to stop somewhere along the two hundred and fifty mile trip and get something iced or brewed or maybe even some non-jerky-related sustenance. The only thing between Kingman, AZ and Las Vegas, NV, a two hour haul, was a stand on the west side of the highway called Rosie’s Jerky Mart, or some such place for all of your jerky needs. I’m not just saying that, that’s what the sign said: A Place for All of Your Jerky Needs. OK, I’m making that part up (won’t be the last time).
This was the only place on the way to Vegas? This? It looked downright dangerous, and I have been known to blunder, nah frequent, some rather unsavory establishments in my time. Besides, if I needed a jerky it was going to involve a Vegas hooker and some Manishevitz. Right now, I wanted a friggin beer.
What is the southwestern fascination with this shit? Is jerky used for some other purpose in this region? Do all of the pickup trucks out here have a jerky indicator that blinks on if jerky levels are low? I felt like a stranger in a strange land.
The words Rosie’s Jerky Mart, or some such, were, if memory serves, spray-painted onto a large crude sign in the same style, though admittedly more grandiose, as the Motel Hell guy’s truck of business. There was a small sign that said coffee, but I decided, hell, it’s only another sixteen thousand miles to the next jerky stand.
I don’t know what I was expecting. My last trip out this way, involving a man known only as Shag, was no different. People have said to me, Mick, why did you expect lots of stuff in the middle of the desert? And to these hypothetical intruders I would reply, it’s not the hundreds of miles between things that are concerning me, it’s what people are choosing to open hundreds of miles between things. You know, without the kindly influence of civilization, business sense, or even rational thought. If I stay in this region will I become one of the jerky boys? I already have a healthy fear of jerky, but each lonely drive through this groovy jumping wasteland brings me closer to that jerking fear (little too Lovecraft?).
Do you feel jerky, well…do ya?