THE VANISHING POINT (1996)

by

Cuz’n Roy and I are coming back from Black Rock after Breedlove’s 600 mph mishap…

“Man they just don’t write ‘em like that anymore,” I say to Roy, as the main guitar riff to “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” comes crashing back in.

“Ah-men,” Roy howls and pounds on the Pontiac’s cracked upholstery with his mammoth mitts, simultaneous to Syd Barrett banging out the barrage of interstellar power chords that propel the Pink Floyd tune to its crescendo and coda. “It’s like this guy is talking about the car crash we drove through today.”

“… And everything will keep moving until the Universe collapses into itself-uh,” the voice on the radio rattles the fabric of the speaker cones like a dime store popcorn maker. “It is a matter of chaos-uh and prob-uh-bil-uh-tee as the tendency towards disorder is the most universal manifestation of time’s arrow. Our galaxy is traveling at 600 miles per second towards a collision with in-fin-uhh-ty and oh-bliv-ee-un-uhh….”

“This guy is cool as shit,” Roy burps and rips the tab off of a beer can.

“…and there is a man in the desert who endeavored to defy physics and common sense by uhh-temp-ting-uhh to break the sound barrier in a stream-uhh-lined, jet-powered five-wheeled ahh-tow-mow-beel. He has failed… “ The station cuts to commercials about radar detectors and military-quality ready-meals.

“Well I’ll be dipped in the primordial soup,” I laugh. “This guy is talking about Breedlove.”

“He sounds just like a weird, soda cracker version of Cleavon Little in that movie about benzedrine and muscle cars,” Roy says. “You know, the one where Cleavon played the soul brother deejay, Vanishing Point.”

The deejay cues up “Journey to the Center of Your Mind,” by the Amboy Dukes.

“That’s exactly what this dude is talking about,” I say, leaning on the accelerator. “The vanishing point. Like he said, ‘the intersection of infinity and oblivion.’ Defying the physical laws of that intersection is what makes this whole trip fascinating.” I give it a beat to organize my thoughts. “It’s like we – as a society, as individuals, as gearheads, as land speed record setters, as wannabes or whatever – go racing to the vanishing point like lemmings or something, like splinters of iron drawn to a magnet, no, like an electron to the nucleus of an atom and when we get there we disappear, like the collision of matter and anti-matter.” I pull on my styrofoam cup and silently wonder exactly where from the center of my mind that last outburst came from.

Meanwhile, Roy laughs and then nods like he understands exactly what that last outburst meant. I knew that he did. Probably even more than I did, and I’m the guy who said it.

The radio show returns from some commercial breaks and the noises in the car become a jumbled cacophony of confusion and overlapping dialogue with me trying to find the intersections of the biological and cosmological imperatives, the voice on the radio riffing extemporaneously on Craig Breedlove not heeding the laws of some Grand Unifying Theory while the intro to the Chambers Brothers’ “Time Has Come Today” tick-tocks in the background. Apropos of nothing and everything, Roy begins speaking in tongues, which I gathered was a loose recitation of chapter and verse from either Genesis or Revelations (I wasn’t sure which…) and keeping time on the dashboard while singing in unison with the Chambers Brothers (“Time has come to-day… TIME!” and then he’d knock the rear view mirror off its axis).

Finally, the deejay ducks down the music and begins a pretty heavy metaphysical/relativistic rap about the futility of attempting to go Mach 1 in a car: “Yes, my friends-uhh, time has come today. Light is always going 186,000 miles a second faster than the person observing it, but to try and subvert time is fatal… traveling through time at warp speed and beyond will require the passage of a black hole, the massive gravitational forces of which would rip the time traveler to shreds-uhh…” The voice on the radio is on fire, briefly modulating in an intermittent tremolo interspersed with emf noise as we pass under some high tension lines. “Light is traveling-uhh at the speed limit of the Universe. No vessel bound for the stars can travel-uhh any faster than that. And no man can travel-uhh at the speed of sound in an ahh-tow-mow-beel. When a time traveler-uhh moves towards an opening in the wall of spacetime, the mass of the hole increases to in-fin-uhh-tee. So, in the end, the traveler-uhh is torn to taco chips. As of today, Craig Breedlove nearly met his black hole… He nearly met in-fin-uhh-tee…”

“There are no speed limits to the Universe, you Luddite Quaker Flat Earth philistine,” I shout at the voice on the radio. I drive like ball lightning. We have a preponderance of pavement to cover before the trip is done. As Roy begins rolling a left-handed cigarette the voice on the radio segues to a rambling rumination about “anti-particles traveling backward in time-uhh” and then it hit me…the cosmic significance of the Spirit of America and potentially breaking the sound barrier in the Great Southwestern Desert of the USA are one and the same: “I know what this guy is trying to say,” I bellow to Roy, between sips of some tepid godforsaken excuse for coffee. “By going Mach 1, Breedlove’s not only trying to subvert the passage of time and prove the cynics wrong. He is a post-atomic Prometheus, trying to steal fire from the Gods, y’know?”

“Whoa…”

“Breedlove is riding time’s arrow towards glory.”

“What?” Roy asks and stops rolling in incredulity. I had lost him and I am disturbed.

I exhale. Roy whistles and then sparks up. My stomach and brain implode and then expand like a sponge, physiological effects from a night of truck stop coffee. The radio has broken for a commercial about 1-800 numbers and hand crank short wave radios that would still function despite the advent of Armageddon. The break ends and the voice on the radio continues its exegesis in excited tones.

“…uhh-ccording to Ernst Mach and the Mach Principle acceleration-uhh can be defined only relative to the distant stars, the farthest corners of Val-hall-uhh. Ernst Mach thought the universe was mostly a vacuum. He didn’t take into account the dark matter that makes up ninety percent of the heavens.”

The voice out of Reno says that if Breedlove screwed the pooch at 700-plus mile an hour that he too would join the great void of dark matter. “Yes, my friends,” he says. “The vanishing point-uhh. In-fin-uhh-tee.”

Roy drops his lit left-handed cigarette and begins laughing. The deejay cues up “Time Won’t Let Me” and conversation stops.

“I can’t wait forever…” -FINI-

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