The road trip. It’s a time honored tradition in which you get a bunch of your buddies together, cram into a small car, and talk about Magic for several hours while you drive to the PTQ/Grand Prix/Pro Tour/bathitorium. Road trips are part of the reason many people play Magic – it’s an opportunity to travel with your friends for several hours, with nothing to do but shoot the breeze. Friendships are formed on these drives, tech is distilled, and many a fast food meal is consumed. Most trips to the tournament site go off without a hitch. Every now and again, you’ll get a minor inconvenience. Danny might leave his deck on the kitchen counter, and you need to drive back to his house to get it. Joe could need to hit the rest stop twice an hour along the way. The tire on your car might blow out. A dinner along the way might take longer than expected. It’s those truly horrific road trips that not only stick out in the mind long after the tournament has ended, but they also make for good stories and bonding experiences.
Back during 1998, my vehicle was an Isuzu something-or-other. I think it may have been a Trooper, but we referred to it as the Isuzu Deathtrap. Within a month of buying the car, the brakes failed completely. This might not have been a problem, except it happened as I was driving up to a red light at a major four way intersection in New Orleans. Anthony DiNatale was in the car and nearly peed himself.
Anthony:”Ben! Slow down!”
Ben:”The brakes aren’t working!”
Ben:”****!” (Car starts barreling through intersection with traffic on all sides)
Anthony:”Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!” (reaches over and starts honking my horn).
Ben: (Navigating safely through intersection)”Hold on!”
Anthony: (Still honking horn)”Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!”
Ben: (Rams the car up against the sidewalk, running it straight into a tree, and finally coming to a halt)”Wow, that wasn’t so bad.”
Anthony: (Jump out of vehicle)”Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!”
I did supposedly get the brakes fixed, but they had a tendency of going out at the worst times possible. No matter how often I’d get them fixed, they’d die within a month or two of use. This would lead me to ramming the car into large inanimate objects to stop all forward momentum, banging up the frame of the car quite a bit. Since I had purchased the car in New York and had driven it down for school use to New Orleans, I simply didn’t have time to return it as a lemon. In addition, the back of the car had one of those racks which are supposed to hold a spare tire. My first tire went out pretty quickly, and the rack came undone for good the first time we undid the latch. Eric Lewandowski, the creator of Netdraft and one of my best friends in New Orleans, used his Boy Scout training to tie the rack onto the truck using a large length of twine.
Cannon Boling, Jeff Taylor, Dustin Flora and I took a road trip to Houston, Texas to participate in an Extended PTQ. We made our way to the Book Browser without a hitch, and proceeded to have a great day of Magic. We stayed overnight to hang out with friends, and went on our merry way late-ish on Sunday evening. So far so good – the four of us had packed a ton of long boxes worth of Magic cards into my car, so we had all the cards we had needed to make last minute metagame changes. We stopped for some burgers at Whattaburger, and partook in Canada’s finest export: IBC Root Beer on the tap. As the full moon shone over Houston, we pulled out of Whattaburger, where I was immediately pulled over by a cop.
Okay, no big deal. I was certain that I hadn’t done anything wrong, and so nobody was really worried. The police officer asked to see my license and registration. He then informed me that my front left headlight had gone out. Sure enough, I stepped out of the vehicle and it was non-functional.”I’m sorry officer,” I explained,”but we’re all from New Orleans and we’ve been in town playing in a card tournament all weekend. We need to get back for school tomorrow, but I’m going to get it changed first thing in the morning.” The officer thought for a moment.”Okay, look. I’ll let you go with a warning, but you need to get it fixed.”Yes sir!” I exclaimed, hopping back into my car.
We were finally off on our return to Louisiana.
Or so we thought.
New Orleans is about an hour from Baton Rouge. On the way to Houston, I drove from New Orleans to Baton Rouge to pick up Jeff Taylor and Dustin Flora. We then drove another two hours due west to Lake Charles, where Cannon attended high school. It was another two hours of travel West to arrive in Houston. The way back was the same in reverse, except for that pit stop at Whattaburger, and our second unplanned interruption of the evening.
An hour and a half into our trip, we were cruising along at seventy miles an hour when an unmarked van pulled up behind us and started sounding a siren. Within seconds, another van pulled up in front of us and began with the flashing lights as well. Wedged between the two cars, we pulled off the road. It wasn’t the state police this time – it was the DEA pulling us over at eleven at night.
DEA Agent:”License and registration please.”
DEA Agent:”Would you boys mind if we searched your vehicle?”
I knew there was nothing illegal in my car, so there was no point in refusing this request. All we had in the car were backpacks and boxes upon boxes of Magic cards. This would not have been a problem, except that the DEA agents proceeded to pull out the drug dogs. They had to search each individual long box one by one, allowing the dogs to sniff for drugs. In addition, I kept a box of laundry detergent in my car, because I traveled frequently from my off-campus apartment to the campus Laundromat do clean my clothes. I learned that night that laundry detergent masks the smell of drugs from drug-seeking dogs, as the DEA agents rifled through my detergent with yellow gloves, looking for maybe a bag of cocaine or something.
DEA Agent:”Boys, I’m going to need to see your identification.”
DEA Agent:”Ok, you’re Mr. Bleisss….”
DEA Agent:”How do you pronounce that again?”
DEA Agent:”Ok Mr. Bleiweiss, you’re from New York City?”
Me:”I used to live up there, and that’s where my license comes from. I just moved back down to New Orleans to go to school at Tulane and haven’t gotten the license changed over to Louisiana yet.”
DEA Agent:”Ok. Mr. Taylor? You’re from Baton Rouge?”
DEA Agent:”So are you, Mr. Flora?”
DEA Agent:”……Mr. Boling!”
DEA Agent:”Mr. Boling, did you know that we have a curfew in Texas?”
DEA Agent:”All persons under eighteen years of age must be indoors unless accompanied by an adult after 10pm”
Cannon:”Well, we’re on our way back from a card tournament…”
DEA Agent: (Incredulous)”A card tournament?”
DEA Agent:”Sir, I’m talking to Mr. Boling!”
Cannon:”Yes Sir. A card tournament in Houston. It’s a game called Magic, and it’s like a mix between Chess and Poker.”
DEA Agent:”Mr. Boling, are you going straight home tonight?”
DEA Agent:”Ok. We’re going to be a while, so you boys might want to take a seat on the side of the road.”
He was not joking. An hour later, they had still not even gotten through half of our belongings. I marked the passage of time because at this point, a Texas State Trooper pulled up to help with the investigation.
State Trooper:”Well now, what do we have here?”
Me:”The DEA is searching my car sir.”
State Trooper:”New York City, huh?” (My plates were still from New York)
Me:”Well actually sir, we’re all from Louisiana.”
State Trooper:”Did you say you’re from New York City?”
Me:”No sir. Jeff and Dustin live in Baton Rouge. I go to school in New Orleans….”
State Trooper:”New York City? There’s a lot of unsolved murders in New York City.” (I swear to God he said this.)
Me:”Yes sir. New York City sir.”
State Trooper:”I thought so, boy.”
Two hours later, at one in the morning, the DEA finally finished their very, very thorough examination of the Deathmobile.”Mr. Bleiweiss,” the head DEA officer intoned, as his comrades made their way back into their unmarked vans.”Did you know that you have a front headlight out?” Sigh.”Yes sir. I already was pulled over for it once tonight, but the officer told me to just make sure I got it fixed tomorrow.””That’s good advice Mr. Bleiweiss. You and your friends can leave now, and be sure that you drive safely.” We piled back into my vehicle, and sat as the DEA vans pulled off into the distance.
Cannon:”Man, that sucked.”
Dustin:”I can’t believe we had to sit out there for three hours. I was freezing!”
Me:”Well, let’s just get back home. Can we crash at your place tonight, Cannon?”
As I turned the key in the ignition, Jeff spoke up.
Jeff:”I sure am glad that the dogs didn’t pick up all the residue on my backpack. I borrowed it from my brother this weekend and he sure does smoke a lot! I thought for sure we were going to be busted!”
Jeff had to sit on the roof of the Deathmobile for the rest of the trip to Louisiana. At least we had the twine to keep him from falling to his death.
Ben can be reached at [email protected]