The Intersection Between Life and Death

Like most, Adriana Hernández was not a “real” fan. She had just happened to hear that there was some kind of homage set up to James Dean near California’s rural State Route 46 (getting there by way of State Route 33) where he crashed his 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder. Maybe he wouldn’t have were it not for that pesky college student from Cal Poly in the oncoming car that forced him to slow down his speed too abruptly. But James Dean was never one for slowing down, adhering, in the end, to that old adage, “Live fast, die young.” Adriana had passed the mark for such an opportunity, one that technically ended, in her estimation, by the age of twenty-seven. If one managed to survive through that year, they had officially transcended into being “old.” 

While Adriana had only seen one of Dean’s three movies (surely you can guess that it was Rebel Without a Cause), she was drawn to his tragedian flair. If she was famous, she reasoned, she probably would have been just as reckless. Something about fame makes one realize the true extent of life’s meaninglessness. For once you have everything that society tells you you’re supposed to have—and it still doesn’t make you happy—you start to see the arcane truth about everything. The lie of “reaching the top” to find there’s only rock bottom… even there. She supposed this was what compelled her to seek out the Forever Young Restaurant located inside of Blackwell’s Corner, to be known henceforth from 1955 as “the last place James Dean stopped for gas.” Not exactly the best claim to fame, but then again, maybe it was, knowing how humanity gets erect for calamity porn and all. How they can attach so easily to the ghoulish aspects of life—which is to say, death. And oh, the marketing potential. Marketing potential that was precisely why, upon walking into Blackwell’s, Adriana was met with “branded” James Dean’s Last Stop snacks for sale. 

And while one was at it, why not get a photo op with the massive cutout of James Dean placed at the corner of what is now a Shell gas station with Blackwell’s still attached? Celebrities being prostituted for more cash long after they’re gone is nothing new. And in Dean’s case, he was almost an anomaly for being able to hold public interest outside of more than being merely a flash in the pan matinee idol of the 1950s. Had he not died so tragically and early in his life, it’s highly likely Dean wouldn’t have secured his immortalization so easily. At twenty-four, he likely assumed he was invincible, as so many people in that age bracket consider themselves. Or, at the very least, that they have “ample time.” Adriana, at thirty-one, could already feel that her “allotment” was slipping away. This, in part, was why she had arbitrarily decided to take a tour of famous sites of Americana. Few things being as emblematic of Americana as 1950s pop culture. 

Dean’s “last stop” was her first as she planned to make her way up the length of California and into Washington to see what this route had to offer in the way of fulfilling her objectives. She knew it was highly possible that part of what had compelled her to take off in this manner was the recent breakup with her boyfriend, Barrett. A classic Anglo-Saxon unable, ultimately, to understand her because of the “cultural divide,” she had been the one to end things after three years of trying to make it work. The attraction that had sustained them during their first six months together waned, and they spent the rest of their time together attempting to recreate it. Adriana reckoned that’s what happened between many couples lying to themselves about the viability of monogamy and the genuineness of “love” as advertised by capitalist propaganda. James Dean never had to deal with this shit. As he put it, “No, I am not a homosexual. But I’m also not going to go through life with one hand tied behind my back.”

That Dean could use his sexual magnetism to engage in sex with anyone of any gender “for trade” was probably a more pragmatic (and profitable) approach to existence. Adriana was starting to wonder if maybe she ought to do something similar. The way the men at this glorified truck stop were ogling her, she figured she probably could. The question was, had she sunk that “low” yet? Making an honest living was not doing her much good, which was also why she had chosen to take her two weeks’ vacation in order to go on this little “soul-seeking” journey. It might just be worth it if it resulted in a sudden career change. 

Watching people worse than her (in terms of actually giving a true damn about James Dean) shamelessly pose for pictures next to the large-scale effigy, she shuddered in uncontrollable disgust. She suddenly wished she hadn’t come here. Everything about it was foul. The very embodiment of Hollywood crassness. Profiting endlessly from someone else’s misfortune and demise. Nonetheless, she was given no choice but to patronize the overpriced establishment as there was no other gas station close enough nearby, and she was dangerously low on fuel. The last thing she wanted was to be marooned in a location as haunted as this. She wondered whether he would have thought it was worth it to die for the sake of his “need for speed.” He was like one of those fetishists in David Cronenberg’s Crash, which, yes, features a reenactment of Dean’s car crash for the arousal of onlookers. 

Something about living in this society made it seductive to simply crash and burn. Fade out in a swift blaze of glory. Adriana wouldn’t mind doing the same. But she wanted it to be her choice, not that of the white pickup truck behind her as she drove away from the gas station and back toward SR-33. The truck was filled with three of the ogling men she had seen at Blackwell’s Corner. They kept edging closer and closer, until finally rear-ending her. A light tap, at first, but then another severe one that gave her whiplash. She stepped harder on the gas to try to outpace them, but they kept catching up, hitting her again until finally she pulled over. Maybe if she could trick them into thinking she was going to stop, she would be able to speed away before they could gather their bearings again. But no, the driver stayed perched inside, while one of the passengers got out to approach her. 

After she had given them what they all wanted in the backseat of her car, she was left alone. Having treated her like their plaything for the past thirty minutes, they subsequently barreled down the road cackling like hyenas, a sound she could hear echoing out their window and into the wind. A sound that she would never forget. 

Trying not to look at the cuts and bruises that had formed on her arms and legs from the unwanted encounter, she pulled her ripped skirt back down and got into the front seat. James Dean may have died on State Route 46, but a part of Adriana died on the intersecting State Route 33. Which is why she decided she might as well finish the job, speeding back toward Blackwell’s so she could go up in flames on the same highway as Dean. When she was recovered from the wreckage, her body was too mangled for anyone to ever determine what had happened to her just before she perished.

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