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Long Road to Luckenbach by James H Duncan

A lot of bad ideas disguised as great ideas crop up during long nights of heavy drinking in the strings of dive bars along the outskirts of mid-sized Texas cities. You start promising to help people move apartments, you get engaged, you make plans to go tubing down filthy little rivers. Happens in any bar on any night, and this particular night was a Sunday at a spot called the Silver Fox. The dart machine was acting up, playing its victory song when nobody was playing it, and after a refill round of Lone Star beers the barkeep went over and turned the damn thing off. Someone put Waylon Jennings on the jukebox, a pleasant respite from the shit “New Country” they’d been playing, and it sparked the idea in our minds that, hell yes, we ought to drive up to Luckenbach, Texas, just like in the song, maybe the following Saturday, go check out the honky tonks there, grab a piece of the good life, some restful rowdiness with the good ol’ boys and girls out that way—never really thinking those good ol’ boys wouldn’t want New Yorker ex-pats horning in on their women and alcohol. But when you’re neck deep in a long night of heavy drinking in the dive bars at the edge of mid-sized Texas cities, you don’t think of cautionary things like that.

Jeffers, Guy, Robbie, myself, and the kid, or “Brandon” as we originally knew him before the nickname stuck. We agreed to pile into someone’s SUV or F-350 diesel supercab and drive up through Canyon Lake, Blanco, Johnson City, and eventually Luckenbach itself, find ourselves a wood-paneled saloon with friendly waitresses, or more likely a cinderblock fixture with half-lit neon signs along the side of the road, and see what we could see. The problem was we were five days away from the excursion, which left an awful lot of time for plans to go sideways, or south, whichever came first and hit hardest.

Jeffers had a particular loquaciousness with women who were trapped in liquor bottles, as he was often of the like mind and lifestyle, and on Monday he found himself at O’Malley’s just off the highway talking up a young bartender named Erika he’d been working on for months, wearing down her defenses with drinks and scandalous talk. At some point that summer, Erika had gotten herself situated with an ankle bracelet that one wouldn’t find in the local mall or jewelry store, and on a judge’s orders a friendly neighborhood mechanic had installed within her car a breathalyzer to help her get it started each time she wanted to go somewhere. After sharing several handfuls of shots and cocktails, Erika and Jeffers decided to find where she’d hidden her Johnny Walker stash back at her place, but on the way a sheriff’s deputy became curious about the methods Erika employed in order to start her car, being twice over the legal alcohol limit with coke powder on her upper lip. And so, Jeffers declined our offer to join us to Luckenbach. We caught up 8 to 12 months later.  

Unaware of Jeffers’ situation the evening prior, Guy happened upon O’Malley’s on Tuesday, inviting all who might to join him for a celebratory drink for the successful sale of a cherry red 1967 Ford Mustang he’d spent three years rebuilding in his garage, sweating under the hood and beneath the axels night after night, ignoring his wife and child to the point where she left him the Christmas prior. It was nearing completion and he wanted to drive it around to get use out of the machine for all it had cost him, but when he drove it to the corner for gas a man approached him and offered him thirteen thousand cash for the vehicle. The car still needed a full renovation of the interior and electrical system, and Guy was behind the ball on certain bills his lawyer advised him to attend to, so the money became too tempting for Guy to pass up. He stood at the corner of the bar nearest the cigarette machine retelling the story and buying shots and beers and whiskey for all until he woke the next morning on the grassy median between the highway running north-south between Austin and San Antonio. A receipt in his pocket showed a $980 expense at O’Malley’s, but nothing else remained of the thirteen thousand cash in his wallet, due to the fact his wallet was gone. Phone calls to Guy went to voicemail, and it was rumored he was unseen on the bar circuit for some months after, lamenting his financial and personal loss.

Robbie took a swing at a man who called the Steelers a “yellow-assed pussy team” on Wednesday night and broke a man’s jaw, another man’s arms and kneecaps. It wasn’t at O’Malley’s. I forget where. But he’s still up in the Bexar County Penitentiary, if I recall.

The Kid’s story was the happiest of the bunch, although he appeared longer in the face than the rest combined when he told it. Thursday evening at the Lion & Rose Tavern, the Kid met a young woman named Rochelle, and let us say it had been some time since the Kid had met a woman who was as eager as she to let him drive her home. The Kid’s dry spell went waterpark for the next four days straight, during all of which he avoided his place of work and refused to answer his phone. But as Jeffers was known to warn, a night of heaven (or four) can give you a lifetime of hell, as the Kid attested to six weeks later when I discovered that the Kid was having a kid, and Rochelle wanted a ring on her finger by the week’s end.   

Of course on that Friday night as I began calling around to see who the hell wanted to volunteer their car for the drive up to Luckenbach I had no idea pregnancies, fisticuffs, intoxication, and financial ruin had already sidetracked our plans for an indefinite period of time. It was a disappointing weekend, and following autumn, piecing together everyone’s misfortune, and it makes the long nights of heavy drinking in the strings of dive bars along the outskirts of mid-sized Texas cities that much longer when your only companions are new faces behind the bar at O’Malley’s and Waylon Jennings crooning in your ear about waylaid plans and paradises you’ll never see. Not in this lifetime. Or at least until Robbie gets out on parole. 

James H Duncan is the founding editor of Hobo Camp Review and is likely riding a train right now His work has appeared in such publications as Pulp Modern, Red Fez, Reed Magazine, Plainsongs, and elsewhere, and he’s the author of such poetry and fiction collections as Berlin, What Lies In Wait, Lantern Lit Vol. 1, and so on. For more, visit