As printed in:
Wake Up and Smell the Shit: Hilarious Travel Disasters, Monstrous Toilets, and a Demon Dildo (Travelers' Tales).
Love in a Black Jeep Wrangler
By Kyle Keyser
We just exited Highway 31 in Maui and we’re parked at a shopping center, located at the crossroad of what he wants to do and what I want to do. It’s after sunset andwe’re in a rented, black Jeep Wrangler with a dome light that never goes out. My boyfriend, Adam, is struggling. He doesn’t want to drop his shorts.
“I don’t know Kyle,” he says, assessing the well-‐lit parking lot. “Do you think anyone will see?”
This isn’t a ploy. He’s genuinely shy and has a hypochondriac’s sensitivity to people looking at his junk. Still, I’m ready to go. It’s a two-‐hour drive to the chilly summit of Haleakala and a sky full of stars awaits me. Pants are certainly a requisite. I understand he’d prefer an evening walk on the beach. But relationships are compromise, you know?
“I’m sure it’ll be fine, Adam. I mean, really, who cares?”
He tentatively tugs at the tie of his waistband. I know it isn’t helping that he’s not the underwear type. Neither of us are; I’m just less concerned about it. “You know you’ll be miserable if you’re wearing shorts. It’s really cold up there.”
“I know. But the beach is warmer,” he says with side eye and a smile.
I’m pushing him a little and I know it. Haleakala is long dormant but even if it were the towering inferno that originally birthed this island, Adam wouldn’t necessarilybe the one running up to explore its hills. Nor would he think it’s a particularly good idea if you did. But with a little coaxing, he’d follow (and love it). If you extended your hand, he’d probably even join you at the caldera’s edge. He’d complain that the heat was singeing his nose hairs but he’d meet you at that edge. And he’d damn sure be wearing pants.
Me, I want a night sky inflated so big it might pop. I want a million shining opportunities to share my knowledge of the cosmos and connect stars to constellations that may or may not really exist. We had a solid day on earth. Let’s go dream at the heavens. It’s not often a cloudless night, a moonless sky, and a road 10,000 feet up leads you straight to a place where you can do just that.
“Alright, let’s do this.” I position my thumbs along the sides of my shorts, encouraging him to do the same. “We’ll take them off together, on the count of three. No one’s watching; I promise.”
Adam reluctantly gets into position. I do a quick look-‐around – the coast is clear – and count, “One, two, three.”
A ruffling noise fills the Jeep as we both start slipping off our shorts. I lean into the steering wheel, looking outward as I reach down to pull the trunks from my ankles. Adam takes the lean-‐back approach, bringing his legs up toward him in order to pull his free. I can’t help but chuckle. We take different roads but we always end up at the same place.
Naked from the waist down, I reach back to grab my pants. Adam has his in hand and starts to slip into them. I steal a glance at the soft whites of his upper thighs while I turn toward the front.
That’s when I glimpse someone standing outside my window. I recoil, startled. “What the hell?”
The face looking in is of an older man. He has long, wavy hair with a white streak down the front. His mouth is closed but very noticeably wide. He’s just standing there, staring, as if taking in a fine art piece: Two Naked White Boys, Illuminated in Dome.
Adam shouts, “Oh my god! Kyle!”
The man continues to stare blankly into the window. His face, on stark display under the high beam of a parking lot light, has deep lines, yet the skin around his eyes is taught. Is this guy real? No, he’s a wax figurine someone rolled into place. He kind of looks like he belongs in a museum.
That’s when I recognize him.
“Oh my god,” I say, trying to place his name. “That’s… that’s….” And it comes to me: Steven Tyler, of Aerosmith. Wait. Yes. Oh my god. It’s Steven Tyler.
Suddenly I’m starstruck and all I can do is return the stare.
Who would have thought? Steven Tyler! What the hell is he doing here? Does he live in Maui? Is he on vacation? Is he on tour? Where’s J-Lo? What are the odds of this? I mean, really… Steven Tyler. He’s like a hundred years old and has so many famous songs. He’s a legend! A true legend!
A weighty feeling tugs at my right hand and I realize I’m still holding my pants.
Oh my god, that’s really Steven Tyler! Staring at my penis!
Unfazed, I lay my pants over my lap and automatically reach out to roll down the window. I have to say something, anything. This moment is too good.
“Kyle, what are you doing?” shrieks Adam. I turn toward him, smelling sun block and sweat, and see panic crawling down his neck, red as sunburn. It’s no match for the frozen grip he has on the passenger side seat.
I attempt a limp save, “It’s Steven Tyler. Of Aerosmith. We should say hello.”
“Kyle do not open that window! You’re embarrassing me!”
Adam’s declaration echoes in the sudden stillness. His tone carries an alarm that, in our five years together, I’ve never heard before. It’s an alarm that sounds a wave, a tsunami straight from the Pacific Ocean, that fills the cracks of our history together and crashes against the sides of our Jeep. I’m on a new island now, just the size of us, and he is the only one I see here.
Perhaps I pushed too far. Or I was too careless with my attention. Whatever it was, something unlocked in his history that’s bigger than me. I don’t understand it and maybe I’m never meant to. But like the experience of negotiating a foreign land, so is my relationship with this person. It’s the smile that crosses your face when a local welcomes you to dance with her in an unfamiliar custom. Or the song you sing with gusto, even though the words are Chinese.
Adam is a foreign country, with all the riddle and mystery that it entails. And I am the dutiful, deferential traveler who, in this particular instance, finds himself just slightly off the map, and needing to get back home.
I reach up and cover the dome light so he can finish dressing.
After taking a few minutes to get situated, I pull onto the highway and head north. Adam is calm, fumbling with his phone in his lap, and obviously thinking about something.
“Honey,” I say, contrite. “I have a confession.” Adam looks at me, curious. “I don’t think Steven Tyler saw us naked. In fact, I don’t think he saw us at all.”
“What do you mean?”
I explain. As Steven Tyler stood there, under the high beams of the parking lot lights, he turned without reaction and entered the car next to ours. Instantly, he pulled down the sun visor, poofed his hair, and scrunched his lips into a mirror. He’d been admiring his own reflection in my driver’s side window, not us.
“So basically,” I continue, “we were watching Steven Tyler watching us while really he was only watching himself.” Adam pauses to consider it.
“And if I can be frank, Adam… dude kinda looked like a lady.”
Adam breaks into a laugh. “Kyle, you did not just say that.” He smiles, shakes his head in mock disapproval, and resettles into hisseat.
“Well,” he says after a minute or two, “you could have opened the window if you wanted. I mean, it was Steven Tyler.” He throws me a guilty smile and a proverbial hand, one accepting a little more help onto the edge.
Ahead, I see a sign for Haleakala National Park. At the next intersection, the volcano’s summit will be 50 miles to the right. The Ka’anapali beaches will be 32 miles to the left.
Adam looks down at his phone. “I need to play a song to mark this occasion.”
As the first few uh-mm-mm-mm-mm-mmmms of Aerosmith’s “Love in an Elevator” ring out, I slow to approach the coming intersection. Adam is focused on his lap, consumed with Aerosmith’s discography. He scrolls with one hand and finds mine with the other, grabbing it firmly as I, we, hold the main gearshift. He caresses the top of my hand with his thumb.
My turn signals remain a blank slate in the night sky and it’s not until I’m upon the intersection that I decide to turn left, toward the beach. There will be plenty of stars there I imagine. The air fills with a sweetness, of pineapples, and long strings of street lights lead the way to theshore.