When I first moved to the Phoenix area, I devised a unique way of learning my way around town. These days learning a new town isn’t that difficult. You simply ask your smartphone where to go, and it guides you there, turn by turn. I’m pretty sure that this is all part of a sinister plot and one day we will all find ourselves being told to turn left into a giant lava-filled hole, but frankly I’m ok with that just as long as I never have to fold up a fucking road map again.
We had cell phones when I moved to Phoenix, of course. But they were the opposite of smart-phones. Tard-phones, the size of a small brick and half as intelligent. It wouldn’t occur to you to ask your phone how to get to the bank for the same reason that you wouldn’t ask a lobster for financial advice. So without a smartphone and having a general disdain of road maps, I decided to learn my way around town by stalking people.
Here’s how it would start: My girlfriend would complain that she was hungry. We could have made some food, but we were in our twenties and there were only two ways to make food back then: Nuke it, or go totally over the top, Food Channel-style. This would require fresh ingredients, a good recipe and invariably, wine. We’d start off with a glass of wine, start chopping up ingredients, have some more wine, chop a little more, then we’d say “Fuck it!” and just keep drinking wine until we passed out.
Now that may sound like fun, and it was, but it leaves a little bit to be desired in the waking up early and going to work department. So instead of making a meal at home, we hopped in the car and started driving around. “There’s one,” my girlfriend would say. But she wasn’t referring to a restaurant, she was referring to a blue 1995 Toyota Corolla. “Look at that guy, he’s 350 pounds if he weighs an ounce. I bet he knows where all the good places are.”
So I’d pull behind him and follow him until he either pulled into a restaurant or we got tired of following him and ate at whatever nearby place struck our fancy. It was a fun little game, and over the course of a few weeks we added some rules to make it more interesting:
- If the person did go to a restaurant, we had to eat there no matter what. (After a while, we learned not to follow fat people unless we were in a mood to go to McDonald’s.)
- We were allowed to pull up next to them and ask, “Hey! Where’s a good place to eat around here?” But then if they recommended a place, we’d have to go there.
- We weren’t allowed to decide to stop following a person until at least 15 minutes had gone by.
- However, for safety reasons we could stop following a person if we heard gunfire, or if none of the people in the roadside billboard ads were members of our particular ethnic group (e.g. stupid honkies).
- If we saw a new restaurant with a mental condition in the name (Crazy Juan’s Taco Shop, for example), we had to stop and eat there.
- We could never eat at Marie Callender’s
That last rule was decided upon after we ate there once and got into an argument so fierce and so ridiculous that we somehow managed to simultaneously storm out of the restaurant without the other person knowing it, leading to this incredibly stupid conversation later on:
Me: What happened? I came back, and you were gone.
Girlfriend: What are you talking about? I walked around the block and when I came back, you’d already paid the bill and left.
Me: I didn’t pay the bill. I thought you did. Wait, you walked around the block?
Girlfriend: What the fuck? I stormed out of there! I left you sitting there by yourself!
Me: I thought you went to the bathroom! I was pissed, so I took off!
Girlfriend: Are you fucking kidding me?
Me: Oh, goddamn it! If I knew we were going to skip out on the bill, I would’ve eaten a lot more.
Girlfriend: I suppose going back to get a doggy bag is out of the question.
That was an interesting time in my life. I was young, had just been handed a large signing bonus because… Well, it was the dot com era, and that’s what everyone was doing in those days. And since I didn’t have kids I could afford to do stupid shit with my money like blowing it by going out to eat five or six nights a week.
A few weeks ago, I took my kids camping, and as they usually do when they see a car the same color, make, and model as mine, they fell all over themselves trying to point it out to me. “Daddy! Look! That guy stole our car! Hahaha!”
We were on a remote highway, 50 miles away from the next town, so I said, “Ok, let’s follow the guy.” I mean, it was either that or turn around and go home, and after I’d spent the better part of an hour packing the car, I sure as shit wasn’t going to do that. The boys, of course, didn’t know that and they were positively intrigued.
8 Year Old: Really? We can do that?
Me: Yeah, we’ll just follow him to wherever he’s going and ask for our car back!
5 Year Old: (giggling) Yeah, and if he won’t give it back, we can tell him that we have a gun!
Me: Well, wait a minute…
8 Year Old: And if we follow him to his house we can tell him that he better give us our car because we know where he lives!
Me: What!? Hey, that’s not cool!
5 Year Old: Hahaha! That’ll teach him for stealing our car!
8 Year Old: HAHAHAHAHA!!!
(One of the great joys of having boys that age is that it’s like living in a Calvin & Hobbes comic strip. Even when things aren’t going smoothly, life is still entertaining as all hell.)
The boys got more and more excited the longer that I followed the guy, and they were more than a little upset that I didn’t turn off on the same road as he did, a couple of miles outside of town. “What are you doing?” my eight year old demanded of me. “HE’S GETTING AWAY!”
It was really difficult for me to not tell my son about the experience I have following people. He’s eight, and he’s liable to repeat all of that shit in the most inappropriate places.
8 Year Old: So anyway, my dad says that all the fatties go to McDonald’s, so if you’re going to secretly follow a person, you should follow someone who’s not huge. Also, if all of the billboards have minorities on them, you’re not safe, so you can turn around. Oh, and you have to eat at Crazy Juan’s Taco Shop.
Teacher: Uhhh, that was… Interesting. Does anyone else have anything for Show and Tell? (dials child protective services)
Waitress: Hi, my name is Wendy, and I’ll be your server this afternoon…
8 Year Old: My dad says we don’t have to pay the bill if we all get mad and leave at the same time.