Riding Shotgun with The Asphalt Warrior

Hey ya’ll – I’m handing over the blog to my friend Mark Stevens, publisher of the late, great Gary Reilly’s Asphalt Warrior series (as well as Gary’s other phenomenal books.) Pickup at Union Station, Gary’s newest book hits shelves on June 19th and  I invited Mark to drop by and talk a little about the ways Gary’s work has influenced and inspired him.

Enjoy.

pickup at union station gary reilly

Rule #1: Never get involved.

Riding Shotgun with the Asphalt Warrior

By Mark Stevens

Murph makes me laugh. Always has—and always will.

From the moment my late pal Gary Reilly handed me one of his “Murph” manuscripts, I knew I was sinking into a different world.

Do you know that feeling?

On the first page of a book, that little wave of excitement you feel? You hear a voice. You get—really get—a fully developed attitude.

Herewith the first paragraph of The Asphalt Warrior:

I was first in line at the cab stand outside the Hilton Hotel in downtown Denver when a nervous man in his thirties hopped into the backseat of my taxi. I was immediately annoyed because the man hadn’t come out of the hotel. He was what I call a “pedestrian” and pedestrians rarely want to go to Denver International Airport. I don’t know who they were, but I love the masters of inconvenience who thought up DIA. They placed it twenty-five miles northeast of town.

Easy, chatty, self-deprecating. And how much do we learn about Murph in a few quick strokes?

This is the voice of Murph, a.k.a. Brendan Murphy—The Asphalt Warrior. That paragraph was the beginning, seven books ago.

Here’s the deal, here’s the hook:

Murph will make you think about ….

Practically everything.

Murph notices everything. He thinks about everything. He has a comment on … everything.

Murph slows the world down into micro-moments. He wonders so much about what motivates him to do anything that he has to wonder and ponder about all the others rushing around him tick, too. He understands his needs. In the race of “one-upping” your fellow man, Murph gladly opts for “one-downing” him. He is a master at keeping his life simple. At least, the basics of life—his foundation.

He works hard to minimize his income, to only earn a certain amount of money each day, each week. Just enough. He only seeks to cover basic expenses—rent, food. The laundromat.

Murph relishes free time like nobody you’ve ever met. Of course, he’s supposed to be writing a best-selling novel with his free time, but that only leads us to other warts-and-all True Confessions about that struggle. He’s got a steamer trunk full of unpublished novels and wonders (as Gary did) why others succeed while he fails. “I have read a lot of how-to books trying to find out what the ‘trick’ to writing novels is,” muses Murph. “It took me ten years to learn that the trick is getting paid.”

Murph is the direct opposite of an unreliable narrator. His routine thought process is to-the-bone exposure of how he would prefer his life—and the world—to function.

And he sees that world, quite literally, pass through his back seat. He sees every passenger as his ticket to free time.

Murph is tantalized by free time. Ideally, he has a mini “Spring Break” every week. As long as the money comes in just right and as long as, well, he doesn’t get involved in the lives of his fares.

After all, he’s vowed to never get involved. He knows the risks, understands that getting involved means complications, and if Murph hates anything, it’s complications.

And yet, he has heart.

Humanity.

He goes undercover to a hippie commune to search for a pair of missing girls last seen at Red Rocks. He inadvertently gives a ride to a bank robber—and must deal with the fallout. He reaches out to an odd man with strange stories who appears to be leaving him cryptic notes on five dollar bills. He has played marriage counselor and career counselor. He’s hung on the back end of a south-bound train and he’s been grilled by the cops so many times he knows the detectives by name. At every turn, Murph tries to do the right thing on behalf of his fellow human beings.

Murph knows he’s supposed to keep to himself. Yet Murph knows himself well enough to know that, when the moment comes, he won’t have a choice. He has a true desire to make matters whole. Having tampered with the world’s big course of events, he wants to make amends so he can tiptoe away, unnoticed.

Despite all his snarky feelings about humanity and the crazy organizations where he made it a mission to avoid work (The U.S. Army, his former employer, “Dyna-Plex”), Murph ultimately can’t help but do the right thing.

There are many great novels about being alone—pursuing quests and chasing the dream. Cervantes. Melville. Wharton. Proust. Salinger. On and on. Man vs. Society. Man vs. The Rules. Man Finding Himself (DeFoe).

Murph, in fact, is a bit of Robinson Crusoe—alone in his own world and finding ways to patch things together. (It’s no wonder Murph’s favorite television show is “Gilligan’s Island.”)

The key to Murph, and where the laughs reside, is in his keen self-awareness. He understands his delusions and psychological tics. He embraces his against-the-grain approach to life and he works very hard to keep it intact.

Yet being spotted as a fraud—being noticed at all—drives Murph’s war with identity issues. Cab driving, he claims, is the perfect job for someone who wants to remain anonymous (and being anonymous is his holy grail).

He likes being by himself. He likes doing as little as possible but that doesn’t mean he’s slothful (say, like Oblomov in the Russian novel by Ivan Goncharov). We see Murph take charge over and over again. At crunch time, he’s all action.

I can imagine college term papers analyzing Murph as compared and contrasted to Ignatius Jacque Reilly (“A Confederacy of Dunces”) but again I’d assert that Murph is more action-oriented when the time comes; he’s also not as much of slob as either Oblomov or Ignatius Reilly. Murph may know he’s deluded, but he is upfront about those delusions—and relishes them.

In fact, about the only element of his character that he doesn’t explain is why he feels compelled to break one of his solemn vows, to never get involved in the lives of his passengers.

Over and over, he lets us sneak up right to the dark places inside and then chases us away with a laugh.

“I had lived most of my adult life with the belief that everybody could see right through me. Also my teenage years, as well as my child years. Authority figures had something to do with this. Also my vivid imagination. Case in point: a bathroom mirror with a towel draped over it, but I don’t want to talk about that.”

He may not want to face himself in the mirror, but Murph knows himself very, very well. And in knowing himself, he is able to shed remarkably fresh light on everything around him, making us see our own world in a whole new way.

Gary Reilly’s newest book, Pickup at Union Station arrives June 19th – preorder your copy now!

Hey – this is Bree, just a quick note, I’m currently reading Pickup at Union Station and you can follow along on twitter at #PickupReilly and join the conversation!
I’ll be posting my review as soon as I finish later this week!

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