The Asphalt Warrior by Gary Reilly came to me a few months ago. My friend Mark Stevens helped get it published, posthumously. I’ve been hearing the buzz about this book for over a year, but just hadn’t made it out to get a copy.
Finally, back in September, Mark pushed a copy into my hands and said, “just read it already.”
So, I started it. And I loved it. My sticky tabs will attest to that. It’s laugh out loud funny in places and so completely spot on in its observations of humanity as a species.
“There are few things in this world as humiliating as getting nailed by an authentic personal screw-up. I wrote the book. My book states that mankind’s greatest fear is not death, but humiliation. Some people would rather die than be laughed at.”
Gary Reilly is an astute observer of the human condition and he lays it all bare in this book. It’s raw, and real, and gets to you in places generally reserved for close friends.
This book, the first in a series, is a touching and deep look at the machinations of being human in the modern world, through the eyes of a Denver cabbie and failed writer. It is perhaps all the more poignant for knowing that Gary Reilly, like so many great artists, had to die before his work was recognized by the broader public.
Asphalt Warrior follows Brendan Murphy, “Murph”, a cabbie who wants nothing more than to do absolutely nothing. Of course, in this day and age sloth is an impossible occupation, so he takes the next best thing – being a Denver Cabbie, making his own hours, calling his own shots – working exactly enough to pay the bills and not one fare more.
“One of my dreams as a boy was to get my high school diploma, leave home, and start dawdling. That was the only dream that ever came true.”
The book begins to pick up steam when Murph breaks the first rule of driving a cab – NEVER get involved in with your fares.
But, sometimes there’s no hope for it. Sometimes your fares get involved with you, whether you want them to or not. There are those people you just can’t shake.
The plot of the story definitely takes a back seat to Murph’s observations and musings on life, the universe and everything.
“I once saw a twelve-year-old boy on TV solve the mystery of the (Rubik’s) cube in less than a minute. But I figured it was just a trick – he probably already knew how to do it. To me, knowing how to do something is like cheating.”
For me, that was where the real magic lived. In these quirky sentences that made me cock my head and look at the world from a slightly new angle.
“When someone you know makes it, you’re happy for him, even though you’re jealous. His success means there’s still hope. It’s a shame hope hinges on success. Why can’t hope hinge on failure? Think how successful everyone would be.”
This pretty much sums up Murph’s philosophy on life – that it would all be so much easier if nothing was expected of any of us. And yet, time after time, Murph goes above and beyond to deliver a favor, right a wrong and set the world back on its proper course.
He’s an unlikely hero in the best sense. Blatantly, unapologetically reluctant, he plods into the fray, head down, shoulders hunched, looking around all the while for the real hero to make an appearance and save him from having to act.
“I intensely dislike doing anything at all, such as brushing my teeth, or shaving, or even tying my Keds, since those little chores add up to wasted minutes when I could be doing nothing.”
As a Colorado native, the observations on Denver were particularly astute.
“Architects strike me as a rather egocentric horde, concerned primarily with making their reputations and getting the hell out of Denver, sort of like local rock bands.”
This is particularly bitter-sweet line. Denver has been the birth place of a number of great bands, many of whom have left us and tried to erase us from their stories as soon as the coastal city spotlights hit them. On one hand, we’re proud of our artists, on the other we feel personally rejected by them…
But then we remember that here in Colorado, we’re all rugged individualists…
“I don’t know how rugged the average cab driver is, but I have never met one who wasn’t an individualist. We’re all the same.”
And that’s just it – out here in the Wild West, we’re all so busy being different, we forget that we’re all the same…
One of the pieces that I found interesting in this books, was the way Murph approached women.
“She walked past my car bearing an anguished frown. I didn’t know how to read that. I’m good at interpreting body language, but I don’t speak woman.”
In Murph’s world – women are definitely Other. They are unknowable, unfathomable, indecipherable. They are an alien species put on earth specifically to torment and taunt Murph, to remind him there will always be things beyond his ken.
He also talks about some of the things we, as a society, fail to teach our young men.
“A fare is a fare, but I wasn’t thrilled because twenty-year-old males don’t tip. For reason’s that I’ll never understand, society has never explained tipping to young males.”
He goes on to say that all women know about tipping, and waitresses especially. He calls it Savvy, I call it Manners. Either way, we’re definitely failing our young men when we don’t teach them generosity.
One last note about this book – it is an absolutely wonderful resource for writers – first, again, because of Gary Reilly’s astute observations – something many writers could learn from, but also because it chronicles the life of a failed writer.
“My unpublished manuscripts differ somewhat from my uncompleted manuscripts. The uncompleted manuscripts are holdovers from my college days, when I had not yet found the inner fire necessary to finish three hundred pages that had no possibility whatsoever of being accepted by a publisher. I developed that skill after I started cab driving.”
Just as we are happy for people who are successful, there is some small part of us that needs to be doing better than someone else. Us flailing writers can take comfort from Murph, who is so comfortable in his writing failure, that it inspires us to surpass him. Seeing his acceptance of his lot in life reminds us how silly it is to give up, to stop trying – even this man who KNOWS he will never be published, who wants nothing more than to do NOTHING, not even brush his teeth, still writes, still finishes books, and still starts again and writes another. If he can continue on, so can we.
In fact, Murph has the writing bug so bad, he even muses about the need for a Writer’s Anonymous Group, like alcoholics anonymous, where writers can get together and support each other in their efforts to, “stop hanging around office supply stores while their children starve.”
There’s a lot in this book that I could identify with – and a lot more that showed me another side of humanity, one I am less familiar with. An underside I tend to avoid, and sometimes outright deny.
I’ve only read the first book in the series, but I’ll be adding the rest to my list. I like riding with Murph, seeing the world through his eyes. If nothing else, he reminds me just how good I’ve got it!