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Kids Eat Feer: A Revolutionary Road Trip to Bubba Ho-Tep
© Mark Finn
October 10, 2002

There are some things in life about which you simply have no choice. Dates with supermodels. All-expenses paid trips around the world. And while I wouldn’t put advance movie screenings in God-Awful places like Houston on the list, there were a few extra incentives that made my trip a must-do.

The movie in question, Bubba Ho-Tep, is based on a story by Joe Lansdale, a noted horror and crime writer. The plot centers on an old, enfeebled Elvis Presley in a nursing home, dealing with a growth on penis, and his old codger friends are being menaced by a life-sucking mummy that removes said souls by sucking them from their rectum. Oh, and Bruce (Army of Darkness) Campbell is playing Elvis. It’s directed by Don Coscarelli, the visionary behind Phantasm and The Beastmaster. This movie, for some strange and unfathomable reason, has no distributor yet, so going to Houston might be my only chance to see it, especially if it didn’t get picked up. You can understand how I simply had to go.

The good news was, I was getting to go the movie, period. The bad news was, I had to go to Houston. Thankfully, I had fellow Texas Revolutionaries Rick Klaw and Peggy Hailey (and Nancy, from their local Horror book group) to pass the time with. And oh god, what a conversation that was.

We weren’t even out of Austin before we were discussing the vibrator up Ralphie’s ass in last week’s episode of The Sopranos. Unfortunately, that orifice set the tone of the talk for the three-hour drive to Houston. We tried, we really did, to be witty, insightful, and intellectually-stimulating. But putting me and Klaw in a confined space for any length of time just leads to trouble. It was like a refrain, every thirty minutes; something about a gorilla . . . something going in or coming out of someone’s butt . . . here’s a cool book. And Peggy, bless her heart, was doing nothing more than playing goalie for me and Klaw. Whenever we strayed too far into unfamiliar territory, she was right there with a quip or the word "monkey" to bring us back to earth. I felt sorry for Nancy, who couldn’t possibly have known what she was signing on for when she agreed to pile into Peggy’s minivan. To her credit, though, she gave as good as she got, and was able to add her own weirdness to the mix.

I loathe Houston with a hatred that is usually reserved for college football rivalries. It’s a big, smelly, put-on-airs kind of city. People in Houston don’t even like Houston. It’s difficult to navigate, crowded to the point of inducing claustrophobia, and overpriced. For a lot of Texans, the top three places they’d least like to visit, in order, goes like this:

3. Dallas

2. Hell

1. Houston

Be that as it may, every time I go to Houston I seem to have a good time. There are pockets of coolness in Houston, mostly in the form of places to go, restaurants to visit, and scenes to check out. I think this is a concession on Houston’s part; since they know that we HAVE to be in their city, they might as well put a few interesting things for people to check out. While it doesn’t solve Houston’s laundry list of problems, it’s fairly neighborly of them.

Once we managed to swim upstream in Houston traffic, we went straight to the theater, which was one of those old school refurnished jobbers with the art nouveau-looking paintings on the side walls and draperies and stuff. We got our reserved tickets (Klaw and Lansdale are buddies; how cool is that?) and stuck our heads inside to listen to Bruce Campbell harangue his fans. That guy is so cool. I don’t want to gush, but really, you all need to read his book, If Chins Could Kill. He’s funny, sharp as a tack, and has absolutely no illusions about himself or his career. When he started to sign autographs, we bolted out of there in search of food.

See, Klaw used to live in Houston, which, I think, accounts for a lot. When this road trip was coming together a month ago, he promised us a great Vietnamese restaurant and an excursion to the House of Pies, a twenty-four hour pie place. Rick assured us at the theater that we were real close to the aforementioned Vietnamese restaurant. "Well, pretty close," he amended.

Apparently that’s how all Houstonites think. In Austin, if you tell someone from North Austin that they have to go to South Austin, you might as well have said "Guam" from the put-out expression you get in return. We don’t compute distances quite the same way. Silly me, though, when Klaw said pretty close, I was thinking, hell, it’s five minutes from here. That’s the Austin translation. The Houston translation was, "start chewing on your hand, because we’ve got another hour before you’ll see forks and napkins." And so we started driving . . . and driving . . . and driving . . . We passed by something called the Hotel Derek, a high-tech galleria that looked like the set for Demolition Man, and we cruised by approximately seven thousand other restaurants before we got to the one that Klaw said was good, including one diner where the sign outside assured passersby that "Kids Eat Feer Every Wednesday." This broke up the minivan. Chalk it up to hunger.

Once we finally made it to the restaurant, everything settled down quite a bit. And it was good food, to be sure, but I knew that we would not get out of town before we stopped at The House of Pies. Before that, there was Bubba Ho-Tep.

What can I tell you about this movie that won’t sound like I’m horribly biased, which I am? Okay, how about this: Campbell’s Elvis was one of the most respectful portrayals of the king that I’ve ever seen, and yet it was a completely Campbell character, too. I loved every frame of the film, so help me god. It’s the Citizen Kane of Elvis vs. the Mummy films. Truly. If you’re a Lansdale fan, you won’t be disappointed. If you’re a Coscarelli fan, you won’t be disappointed. If you’re a Bruce Campbell fan, you won’t be disappointed. Hell, if you’re an Ossie Davis fan, you won’t be disappointed. His JFK was better than Martin Sheen’s, I swear to god.

By the time we had made it out of the theater, back to the House of Pies, scarfed up quantities of its namesake and coffee, and got through with the Rick Klaw Tour of My Formative Years, it was after midnight and we had a long drive to go. The rest of the night was kind of blurry. I have only a vague impression of making Peggy and Rick laugh so hard that we almost crashed the van. For the life of me, I can’t remember what was said. All I can remember was the sheer Elvisness of the evening. One SHOULD eat pie after watching any Elvis movie. One SHOULD discuss Jeff VanderMeer in the same breath as crazed Beanie Baby consumers. One SHOULD buy as much RC Cola on Texas road trips (or Dr. Pepper) as one can stomach. And late at night, in the dark, one SHOULD recall of the road trips taken with friends, past and present, and be thankful for the people in your life who get you, warts and all, and still want you as a friend.

In our modern world, we make our own epics. People need stories, and they need to be in them. We bond through shared experiences, and the telling of tales from these bonding experiences become incidents in our personal mythology. My tapestry of experience is so crowded, I sometimes lose track of all of my adventures. To my friends, all of you, wherever you may be: thank you. Thank you very much.

Mark Finn is the author of Gods New and Used and Year of the Hare, available from your local bookstore or from www.amazon.com. He can also be found at www.clockworkstorybook.com.

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