The Big Loop
The chances that I’ve touched this very issue you’re reading are pretty good, considering. If you live in the area of Gainesville, Jacksonville, Daytona Beach, or Melbourne/Brevard County, then I have personally hauled every issue of this magazine that you’ve read in the last four years, from its birthplace in the Tampa area to your neck of the woods.
Distribution (“distro,” in Ink Nineteen hip lingo) has come a long way since the early days, when we could drive down to Pt. Saint Lucie in Helen Callahan’s Mustang hatchback to pick up the print run. It gives me strange fatherly pride these days — not to mention horrible visions of a multitude of dead trees – to witness pallet upon pallet, five feet to a side and as high as my chest, of neatly folded Ink Nineteens.
For the last four years, since the October issue of 1994 at least, I’ve rented a minivan, left the back seats in Melbourne, and headed out West to stuff the loaner to the gills with paper. Sometimes I’ll find a trusty copilot, but lately it’s been mostly myself. The route has changed surprisingly little in that time. We used to pick up the papers from an Orlando rendezvous with the printer’s van, which would be filled with workers willing to do anything to get the hell away from the web press. For a while, though, the papers have been getting picked up at the printer’s, first in North Tampa, then Ybor City, and now in Clearwater. From there, it’s on to Gainesville, Jacksonville, and then all the way down I-95 to home, with a stop in Daytona Beach, about 575-600 miles all told. “The Big Loop.” At each stop, we unload a certain amount of magazines for our city distributors to take around town.
Some quick math: I’ve done it 48 times… times 575… 27,600 miles. The diameter of the earth, according to the much-respected “Our Solar System” placemat, is 7,926 miles, or a circumference of 25,013 miles. Huh. Sometime in the last few months, I’ve finished my first lap of dragging Ink Nineteen around the planet, and now I’m starting my second. It’s another strange feeling.
Which brings me to the point of transportation. At first, I viewed these trips with horror only barely overcome by duty. Depending on your pace, the trip tales between eleven and fourteen hours — and usually faster is not better. Driving in Florida is notoriously boring for good reason. The first few trips were a bit stressful, but I started noticing that the stress of the drive itself was far less than the stress of my thinking of how stressful the drive was, if you know what I mean. As I’ve grown familiar with the monthly event, it has come to be some sort of bizarre and decidedly-Western form of meditation. After spending seven or eight long, long days (and nights) surrounded by deadlines, malfunctioning computer equipment, beepers, faxes, e-mail, backups, proof prints, ad changes, yes-we-got-your-record, etc., the drive is a welcome free-fall. A day spent in a nice quiet room with a great view, just you and a couple of tons of ballistic newsprint. A really good time.
It’s not always easy. Sometimes it rains, and handling a Windstar filled to the rearview mirror with bundled magazines becomes a bit more like swimming than running. But for the most part it’s almost a brainless drive. It works out into pretty regular hour-and-a-half stretches, usually separated by a brief exercise in loading or unloading the van or pumping gas. Staring at the landscape on each side of a straight line not only makes you an expert on the differing foliage of Florida regions, but can also lead to odd observations and thoughts.
I’ve learned a couple of good things from this drive. Faster is not earlier. Once, a red Testarossa and I passed each other a good four or five times between Tampa and Gainesville. He’d zoom by, then I’d catch up to him cowering with his radar detector, behind some semi. Similarly, the shortest and quickest route is not always the best route. Sure, I could take the expressway to I-4, but then I’d miss out on all the South-of-Kissimmee weirdness.
I’ve gotten to see a lot of interesting things, because I see the same things over and over again. Each section of the drive has its own particular shade of green, and despite a landscape that barely qualifies as three-dimensional, Florida has some subtle and interesting curves to it in certain places. There’s also a fair share of personal landmarks — Bill Pancake’s State Farm office in Kissimmee, the Oi! Factory en route to Tampa, the World’s Greatest Gas Stop in Wildwood, Dead Man’s Straight in Volusia/north Brevard. And every drive I see something unique on the road. There was the commandeered ambulance, relabeled “ambivalence” and bearing an “Emotional Rescue” banner on its white and orange flanks. The horse trailer with human eyes peering out of the vents, or the bat-truck. I think I have a picture of the bat-truck around somewhere.
Circumstances can put a strange twist on things too. One time our reservation was given out under us, so we were forced to rent a Ryder truck for Memorial Day weekend. The two pallets that usually have to be greased into the Windstar sat forlornly in the middle of the truck, which we called the “Yellow Peril” due to its boisterous handling. Another time, I made the trip with my mom. It was a strange blending of contexts, I tell you.
Is there a point to all this? Not really. I was just wondering about the fact that odds are one in five that I’ve lugged this magazine you’re reading at least partway to your willing hands. Like the Big Loop, it all ends up where we started. Another truth from the road.