by  Michael Ferrin

I call “shotgun” as soon as I step into the early evening. The others groan, but they know the rules: everyone has to be outside, you have to see the car, no early declarations. Dad chuckles and herds us towards his red Chevy Blazer. He carefully balances a cardboard drink holder—three smalls, one large, all sweating in the humidity—and fishes his car keys out of his pocket. We clutch our Happy Meals, eager with anticipation. It’s a road trip weekend. We are headed to the Wisconsin Dells. Three days of water slides and delicious draft root beer. Three days of tiny hotel soaps and breakfast buffets. Dad manages to unlock the car and we scramble in, my brother and sister in the back and me seated up front, safe from the violence of sibling slug bugs. We were only inside the McDonald’s for twenty minutes or so, but the car is uncomfortable, and my legs stick to the upholstery. Dad turns the ignition and the engine roars to life. The A/C thrums; its sound provides relief before the cool air does. A small black box blinks on the dashboard. Dad calls it a fuzz buster. I have no idea what fuzz is or why it needs busting, but Dad slows down whenever the thing makes any noise. We pull out of the lot and get back on the highway. I pass out the sodas. In the backseat, my brother is already playing with his Happy Meal toy, his nuggets forgotten. Beside him, my sister takes small, careful bites of her hamburger—”No pickles, please!”—perfectly rationing her French fries. I haven’t started eating. Coming from the stereo is the Faustian bluegrass masterpiece, The Devil Went Down to Georgia. We sing along with every word. The eclectic fiddle of Charlie Daniels is a perfect accompaniment to us racing up the interstate. Tail lights twinkle ahead as the Devil starts his show. We’ve heard the song a million times before; as far as we know, Dad only has one mixtape. In the end, Johnny saves his soul. He outduels the Devil and wins a golden fiddle in the process. Dad turns the volume down for a split second, a failed attempt to protect us from hearing a curse word. It’s the last track on the side. The tape ends and out it pops. I waste no time flipping the cassette and reinserting it into the stereo. I finally dig into my Happy Meal as the next song begins, the reflections of the road in rhythm with Jimmy Buffett’s Cheeseburger in Paradise.

Born and raised on Chicago’s Southside, Mike Ferrin has thoroughly enjoyed his return to undergraduate study. He is on track to graduate from LaGuardia Community College in December of 2022; from there he will be pursuing a BA in Creative Writing & Literature and eventually an MFA. The plan is to be an English professor someday. When he’s not studying or writing, Mike works as managing editor of a literary magazine called 86 Logic. 86 Logic is building a platform for artists in the service industry (bars, restaurants, hotels, etc.) to be heard creatively. He lives in the Bronx with his wonderfully supportive partner, Elizabeth; they are expecting their first child in August.

Image credit: “Road,” Yoann Jezequel. Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.