Where were we?
Ah, right. The scene in which I explain an app-based payment service to a convicted felon whose property resembled the aftermath of a natural disaster.
I have no idea what led me to believe Mike would understand Venmo. But Brandon, Labas, and I invested the last five hours bearing witness to hillbilly hijinks that made Jed and Jethro seem refined (see part 2). After what we endured, I was not leaving that man’s driveway without that boat in tow, even if I had to hold his hand through every goddamn step of the money transfer process.
Which is exactly what happened. Actually, to be more accurate, I started explaining how Venmo worked, but Mike cut me off after about 10 seconds and just handed me his phone.
“I don’t care,” he said. “Just fuckin’ make it work.”
For the average American, setting up a Venmo account is straightforward. But Mike is anything but average.
Venmo apparently did not recognize Mike’s bank — the DuVall Community Credit Union — as a financial establishment, making the linking process a far more laborious affair. I needed to enter Mike’s information manually and go through more security verification steps than it takes to get into the White House.
I wrestled with the account for the next hour, running through options and setup screens like a hacker trying to backdoor NASA’s mainframe. Each new screen required another piece of Mike’s personal life, which he’d provide and I’d record into my notebook. By the end, I had every possible nugget of info about Mike crammed onto two sheets of paper: name, address, zip code; credit card number with expiration and CVV; checking and routing numbers; wife’s maiden name; social security number; blood type; name of street where he grew up.
“Look at this,” I said to Brandon, showing him my notes. “I could literally become this guy.”
“If that ain’t southern hospitality, I don’t know what is,” Brandon said.
In the midst of my digital identity theft, Mike continued his version of the Antiques Road Show, walking Adam, Brandon and Labas around the property to flaunt his various prizes.
“That’s a really nice generator,” Labas said, pointing to a shiny red and chrome box partially covered by a tarp.
“That fuckin generator, let me tell you a story ‘bout that fuckin thing,” Mike said. “I get my 3-year-old son one of them drones for Christmas, right? One of them things that you can remote control to fly around? That little fucker gets it Christmas morning and hits every fuckin thing in sight with it. The house, street, power lines, you name it.
“The next week a guy comes over to look at some of my shit and tells me he’s got this brand new genny he’s lookin to trade. So I show him around telling him to take his pick. He looks at the drone and says he’ll trade me straight up for it.”
“No way,” Labas said in a way that could have been either patronizing or sincere.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Mike said, his cow eyes shining with pride. “A $5,000 genny for a $50 fuckin drone. It was fuckin insane. Holy fuckin shit man.”
“No way that generator wasn’t hot, right?” I said to Brandon.
“Not a chance,” Brandon said.
Mike continued the tour by bringing us into the house to show us his motorcycle.
We walked through the living room, where a teenage girl lounged on the couch staring at her phone. She wore a pair of sweatpants and a Harley t-shirt, leading me to wonder if this family dressed themselves exclusively from the Harley Davidson gift shop. An episode of Keeping up With the Kardashians played on a wall-mounted 65-inch television to no one.
If the girl noticed her dad, his mechanic, and three strangers walking through the house, she gave no indication.
We followed Mike to the basement to look at his bike. How he got it downstairs, I will never understand. Maybe he built it there, like a ship in a bottle?
Mike handed us some beers from the fridge, and Brandon and Labas played their part by oohing and ahhing at the bike (a Honda, not a Harley, by the way) while I continued to try and link Mike’s bank account to Venmo.
Somehow, some way, I got Venmo to link the account, or at least I got it to ignore enough of the inconsistencies in the information Mike provided me to send him money.
“We’re all set,” I said. “I’m going to send this over to you. $2,500, right?”
“Naw,” Mike said, shaking his head. “Price is $3,000.”
“You told me on the phone $2,500,” Brandon said. “Remember? We talked last week.”
Mike thought about it in such a painstaking way I could see the cogs and sprockets of his brain turning behind his eyes.
“No way in hell I said that,” he said.
“You did say that,” Brandon reiterated. “You said if we came this weekend you’d do twenty-five hundred.”
Mike shook himself back to the present. “I don’t remember that, but I guess that could be true. Who fuckin’ knows. Ok, twenty-five hundred.”
I finalized the Venmo transaction and scheduled the bank transfer. “It should show up in a little bit,” I said. What I didn’t say was, because Mike’s bank of choice was some bullshit credit union probably run out of someone’s garage, it would take 3-5 business days for the funds to clear. But, seeing the dollar amount in his newly-downloaded Venmo app, Mike seemed satisfied.
“Alright,” Labas said. “Let’s go hitch ‘er up and get the hell out of here.”
We headed toward the stairs, but Mike lagged behind, staring at his motorcycle.
“You okay?” I said to Mike.
“I did tell him $2,500 on the phone, didn’t I? What a dumb son of a bitch I am.”
I opened the fridge and helped myself to another beer.
By the time Mike and I got outside, Brandon had his truck backed to the boat and Labas was cranking the trailer onto the hitch. Mike handed Brandon a folder that contained the title and bill of sale.
The trailer secured, Labas gave the whole rig a final once over.
“Hey Mike?” he said. “You got a tag for this thing?”
“A tag?” Mike said.
“Yeah, like a license plate?”
“Ain’t there one on the trailer?”
Mike bent over to check the empty license plate holder, his ass crack hanging from his sweatpants like a polite smile.
“It don’t matter,” he said. “Y’all ain’t going far, right? It’ll be fine.”
“It’s pretty far,” Brandon said. “We’re going 80 miles east on 66.”
“Well shit, I don’t think I got a plate,” Mike said. “Hang on.”
He walked over to the rusted trampoline frame and kicked at a pile of leaves. He bent over, offering us another hospitable view of his ass, and produced three license plates.
“Take your pick,” he said, holding them out like a street magician performing a trick. Pick a tag, any tag.
Brandon scrutinized the plates. “These are all vehicle tags, and they’re all expired by at least four years.”
“Don’t matter,” Mike said. “Cops ‘round here don’t know the difference.”
“Yeah, those state troopers on 66 are real morons,” I said. “We could probably make a tag out of cardboard and they wouldn’t notice.”
Mike laughed. “No fuckin’ shit!” he said. He jabbed me in the shoulder in a loving way. It had taken all day, but I finally wormed my way into his gigantic white trash heart.
“Take the West Virginia one,” Mike said. “Ain’t no cop in Virginia gonna look twice at a West Virginia tag. Let me get some zip ties for y’all to put it on.”
“That’s some real hillbilly logic,” I said to Brandon. “Think he’s right?”
“We are 100 percent getting pulled over,” Brandon said.
We said our goodbyes and pulled away, Mike and Adam standing on the porch waving at us like passengers on a departing cruise ship.
“Well boys,” Brandon said, turning the truck and boat onto the road. “I see a very big mistake and a fuckload of good times in my rearview mirror right now.”
Brandon had no idea how prophetic he was, at least about the mistake part. No more than 100 yards out of Mike’s driveway the truck lurched and vibrated in an alarming way. The trailer had jumped off the hitch ball and dragged behind the truck by its safety chains. We pulled over to inspect the damage, discovering the mishap crippled the trailer’s wiring harness. Now, we had no brake lights or turn signals.
“Well, if the fraudulent license plate doesn’t get the cops’ attention, our dead tail lights sure will,” I said. Brandon shot me a glare.
We monkeyed with the wiring for 10, then 20 minutes on the side of the road.
Brandon finally got the lights to work – but only when his truck’s headlights were turned off.
I looked at my watch. “We’ve got about an hour to dark,” I said.
“We can make it home by then,” Brandon said. “I like a challenge.”
“If you like a challenge, then brother, do I have the boat for you.”
The tight coils of muscle in my shoulders and neck started to loosen once we got on the highway. We passed two speed traps and breathed a sigh of relief when neither cop gave chase. The conversation turned jovial, to plans of how to customize our new 25-foot toy.
Our chatter cut mid-sentence when a new vibration rattled through the truck.
“Did we just blow a fucking tire?” Brandon said. He guided the rig onto the shoulder once again.
“No way,” said Labas.
Sure as shit, one wheel on the passenger side was nothing but rim, not even a shred of rubber remaining.
By this point I was so demoralized, I didn’t even have the energy to devise a smart-ass remark.
“What do we do?” I asked. “Do we even have a spare?”
“I’m not about to start looking on the side of 66,” Brandon said. “Lets limp to the next exit and figure it out.”
We crawled two miles to the nearest ramp and found a commuter parking lot next to an Exxon station. Labas and I unhitched the trailer while Brandon called Mike to see if there was a spare tire hiding somewhere.
Labas and I tried to loosen the wheel’s lug nuts, but they were frozen with rust.
“It’s official,” Labas said. “We just bought a two-thousand dollar hunk of shit.”
“Mike says there’s no spare,” Brandon reported, “but he’s looking in the yard to see if he has one.”
“No way in hell I’m going back to that house,” I said. “I’d rather abandon this fucking boat and cut our losses. It’s not like they can trace it back to us. It’s got a West Virginia license plate on it, for Chrissakes.”
We got out our phones and started to look for tire places that might sell a replacement, but realized within five minutes it was late Sunday afternoon and nothing was open.
“There’s a Wal-Mart five miles away,” I said. “They might have something.”
“Mike suggested we look at a place down the street that has tires,” Brandon said. “It’s called Rural King.”
How do I describe this heaping slice of hick heaven? Imagine every redneck store you can think of: Bass Pro, Home Depot, Walmart, Tractor Supply. Now put them all together into a warehouse the size of an Ikea.
Currently, the home page of ruralking.com features sales on Tarter livestock feeders, Federal 9mm pistol ammunition, a 5000 lumen shop light with built-in Bluetooth speakers, and a Stanley 2-in-1 electric start power washer.
Now imagine the type of person who would frequent such an establishment. Husky farmers wearing coveralls with no shirt underneath, biker mommas with teased hair and missing teeth, grubby, parentless children roaming about sans footwear. They were all there, thousands of them, milling around with carts full of motor oil and camo and beef jerky. The whole building teemed with them, surging and swelling like a mob of genetically-mutated Costco shoppers on a Saturday morning.
Normally, a microcosm such as the Rural King would send my curiosity about humanity into overdrive, but I got my fill of hayseed culture already that day and was ready for a return to the real world.
Brandon, Labas, and I hurried past the 40 people waiting to receive their bucket of complimentary popcorn and waded through racks of Mossy Oak and Harley gear (aha! This was where Mike outfitted his clan!) to locate the tire department.
Hundreds of tires lined the back wall, black rubber donuts of all sizes for wheelbarrows, ATVs, monster trucks. We found a tire that matched our specifications, but it had no rim.
Brandon collared a Rural King employee, a greasy teen named Jett who wore a Carhartt sweatshirt that looked like it had lost more than one battle with an arc welder.
“Do you sell rims?” Brandon asked.
“Naw, just the ones that already got tires on ‘em,” Jett said. He wiped his nose on his sleeve.
Brandon explained Jett our situation and showed him the tire measurements. “Do you think any of these would work in a pinch? We just need to get home.”
Jett considered the tire rack for a moment, using, I noticed, the same dead expression Mike wore all day. “How many lugs you got, four or five?” he asked.
“I figure any tire with five holes should work, long as it bolts up alright.”
Now, I don’t know a lot about tires. I did mount and balance them during a summer in high school when I worked at a gas station, though, and something about Jett’s hypothesis didn’t sound right.
Brandon thanked Jett and grabbed two tires that had the closest dimensions to what we needed.
“More hillbilly logic?” I said.
“Right now, it’s all we got,” Brandon said.
Spoiler alert: Jett was dead fucking wrong. We drove back to the parking lot, lathered the lug nuts in WD-40, and put on the new tire. It didn’t even touch the ground.
Brandon called Mike again to see if he’d found a spare in the catacombs of his shipping container.
“I got a spare rim here from the other boat, and my buddy says he got a tire that’ll fit,” Mike told us on speakerphone. “I can get it mounted and run it down to y’all if you want.”
Could it be true? Was good ‘ol Mike about to save the day?
“That would be amazing,” Brandon said.
“Can y’all get to an ATM?”
“Probably, there’s a gas station next door,” Brandon said. “Why?”
“If y’all go up there and take out some cash, I can bring this down. Hundred dollars should do it.”
“You want $100 for the tire?” I asked.
“Well, it’s my rim and I gotta pay my buddy for the tire, then it’s gonna cost money to mount it. So, yeah, a hundred dollars give or take. Maybe a hundred-fifty.”
“We’ll call you back,” Brandon said, ending the call and trying to gauge our reaction.
“Absolutely not,” I said. “I’m not playing any more games with good ‘ol Mike.”
7 pm. Back to Rural King with the old rim. Popcorn line out the door. Return the wrong tires. Buy the right tires. Find Jett.
“You mount tires?” said Brandon.
“Not on Sunday,” Jett said.
“Of course not,” I said. “No tires mounted on the day of rest. It’s in the Bible.”
Back in the truck. Drive to Walmart. The tire center was just about to close for the night when we came rushing in. Labas told the girl the whole, sad story while we waited.
“What moron told you any five-hole tire would work?” she asked.
“A guy at the Rural King,” Labas said. “Jett.”
The girl laughed. “That’s my cousin’s boyfriend. He is a dumbass.”
She felt so bad, she didn’t charge us.
8 pm. Back to the parking lot. Change the tire. Hitch up the trailer. Hold our breaths as we pass three more cops on the way home.
I’ve never felt so relieved as I did when we turned onto Brandon’s street and backed that monstrosity into his driveway. I was Odysseus, returning to Ithaca after years at sea, battling the siren song of the banjo and the cyclopses of the Rural King.
“We did it, good buddy,” I said to Brandon as we admired the hulking mass of aluminum and vinyl that stood before us. “We bought a boat.”
Though the boat was finally in our possession and our transaction complete, it didn’t stop the ghosts of God’s Country from haunting us.
Mike called and texted me almost hourly for the next three days, letting me know the money still hadn’t deposited into his account.
“I’m not tryin’ to be an asshole,” he said, “but my ol’ lady is bitchin’ at me that she’s got Christmas presents to buy.” I tried to help, sending him links to Venmo FAQs and a number for the customer service line. But eventually, I just let them go to voicemail. A week later, he texted me to let me know the transfer finally went through. Bye Mike, see you never.
That next week, I went over to Brandon’s with a six-pack of Labatt to help him clean the boat up and make a list of stuff we needed to get done. We ripped out all the rotting furniture and cleared out the trash.
While tearing out a piece of furniture, I caught my finger in a hinge and broke it. I convinced myself it wasn’t broken so I didn’t have to go to the doctor’s, but it hurt like hell for a month afterwards and healed crooked. Now, my index finger will forever be a lumpy reminder of the 14 hours I spent in Strasburg with Mike and Adam.
Oh, and what did Brandon and I find after clearing three trash bags worth of leaves from the boat’s deck?
A perfectly good spare tire.