HUNDRED-DAY HAUL: 27,000 Miles in 100 Days. By Chris Huff. Vitallight Press. 285 pages. Soft cover, $19.90.
M aybe you know Chris Huff because back in the 90s he mowed your lawn. Or because in that same party-hardy epoch, you and he knocked back some serious drinks at the Lamppost, the Rare Duck and the Ritz. Or you joined the throngs who donated, over the brand new World Wide Web, cash to fund the guy’s road trip throughout the 48 contiguous U.S. states, this madcap laying of rubber to take place in the last hundred days of 1999.
The adventure was crazy, delirious and you’ll wonder if Mr. Huff was rocketing out of his own brain’s manic chemistry. Or else you’ll ask what the heck this dude was smoking. You’ll find out what he was smoking, snuffling or otherwise imbibing when you read his book.
Hundred-Day Haul, 27,000 Miles in 100 Days (now on sale at Bunch of Grapes Bookstore) is tagged a “fictitious memoir.” This is designed, we can only guess, to spare the author a 10-year-delayed rap for some of the crimes and misdemeanors committed along the way. On the other hand, the free-wheelin’ young traveller refrained from murdering anyone along those 27,000 miles, so the statute of limitations should cover him.
Perhaps Mr. Huff, like Jonathan Frey, author of A Million Little Pieces, is keen to avoid the smear of “exaggerator.” Accordingly, he changed his first-person narrator from Huff to Finnegan although, just coincidentally, the basic outline and epic adventures of Hundred-Day Haul were experienced really and truly by Mr. Huff.
Where to begin? There’s so much bio crammed into these 285 pages that the reader similarly explodes in full blown mania just hanging out for the ride. Huff/Finnegan is a Gen Xer who, back in the late 80s and early 90s, bounces in and out of college in the Northeast, in between bopping over and back to the Vineyard to play, drink, sample various chemical substances, and set up his own lucrative lawn care operation.
By the end of the 90s, he launches a shutterbug habit that lands him an outdoor booth at the Artisans Festival in West Tisbury.
What he has going for him is the power of persuasion. “Call it middle-child syndrome or neglecto-complex,” he says by way of explaining how he can frequently convince people to help him, hire him, and hand him money for all manner of nutty enterprises.
The idea for the Haul started back at Buffalo State College when “The Finnster” is gobsmacked by one of Emily Dickenson’s lesser poems which even his teacher identifies as a loser, but here goes: “The Poets light but Lamps / themselves go out / the Wicks they stimulate, / if Vital light.”
Now Dickenson, like Huff, was scribbling without a copy editor, and probably she meant the “if” to be an “is.” All the same, this poem, identified as number 883, Huff/Finnegan discovers on the same day he counts down 883 days left to the millennium. He takes it as a sign that he’s to traverse every Interstate Highway — east, south, north, east again, then west, north, west, south, east and south, north, and more north — starting at Plymouth Rock and ending up at Mt. Cadillac in Maine for the first sunrise to light up the continent on Jaunary 1, 2000. And while he’s at it, he’ll snap off three rolls of film per day.
The goal: to stimulate fans into their own “Vital Life.” And besides, it’s fun! The plan has a kind of pure American conceptual art about it, like draping canvas over the Grand Canyon: There’s no real logic to it, but people will stare, amazed, and gasp, “Far out!”
Mr. Huff’s literary idols are clearly John Steinbeck (though he’s traveling without a dog) and Jack Kerouac (sometimes Huff calls a man a “cat” in throwback 50s parlance), and maybe even Louis Fernand Celine, who at the end of World War II escaped from Paris to Berlin so fast that all he could do was dash off mad exclamatory sentences. Too, Hunter S. Thompson’s paranoid drug-fest of a road trip, Fear And Loathing in Las Vegas, is such a strong inspiration for Finnegan/ Huff that he references it on audio tape from his truck cabin.
The tale is picaresque in the extreme: After any number of opening-salvo shenanigans, Huff/Finnegan does a stint as a teacher on the toughest reservation in the Navajo Nation. For a few years he chases Phish concerts and major sporting events. He has a grandma named Rocky who in her late eighties runs circles around her already over-stimulated descendant. Another primary character is the brand new truck dubbed Millennium Phalcon, finessed from a Cape Cod car dealer.
On the Haul itself, our hero follows bizarre festivals from Key West to Venice Beach, endures spinouts barreling through a snowstorm in the Rockies, and faces mutilation at the hands of a knuckle-dragging arms dealer in Paris, Idaho. And oh the miles he’s ridden, the strangers’ couches crashed on, the fast food corn-dogs devoured, and the restless nights in one-night cheap hotels.
Chris Huff is Don Quixote writing as Quixote or even dictating to Sancho Panza rather than having the tale refracted through the authorial lens of Cervantes. It’s a tremendous rush to read, if only because who among us has spent the last days of the millennium — or any other days for that matter — engaged in such a turbo-charged pursuit?
One caveat: The reader will have to ratchet up the will to digest text as written these days by Gen Xers and the so-called Millennials as they frenziedly tap out their e-mails with run-on sentences, a total disregard for punctuation and the placement of quotation marks, and typos up the yin-yang. Maybe once again Mr. Huff is on the cusp of a cultural revolution. However, it might occur to anyone perusing these pages that this saga, with its 10-year lag from the original trip, could stand one last wash-and-rinse by an expert editor before making its final 100 day — or longer — dash to a larger reader base.
Or the book cover could show a circle with a red line running through it banning its sale to anyone over 40, signified by a blue-haired lady with hearing aids.