Tolls and Chicken Rolls.

When you’re in Athlone and you go to Monksland and you cross the Westmeath border, then you’re into Roscommon, which is part of Connaught, which is the first taste of madness as you go into the West. The breeze is like a tiger’s roar as you get petrol at the station just off the roundabout and prepare for the plunge into the edge of the European abyss. The roads along the way get steadily more yahoo. Time and death warp and battle over the green fields and volatile clouds. Now it’s rainy, now it’s sunny, now there’s hailstones and here’s Ballinasloe. A bulging town of something half cooked and overdone. A burst of rich elite and roaring poverty, all trying to buy chicken rolls in Corrib Oil. That hospital with all the people in pyjamas outside and the statues of the Virgin Mary and the sweetshop newsagent and the thumping stone floors like stubborn, immutable faith in Rosary beads and unsure doctors and vague tragedy and the smell of gloopy porridge.

Howya, toll. Two euro please. Fuck the toll. Often if you check the yoke down below there’s some change from the last fella that fired all his coins at it until the barrier opened. And then he fucks off in case some imaginary hidden army jumps up and Sonny Corleone’s him for taking more than two seconds to drive on. Many’s the day I checked and got a fistful of five cents, an odd golden batch of sub euro sweaty stuff and even a shiny Willy Wonka euro coin. The English and the lads from the north are cat entirely. Always throwing in pound coins some kind of 20ps that are no good to anyone but I do bring them home anyway in case they come pure rare and worth millions and sure who knows, lads. But nothing today, they’re on to me now, I think. The ones working there do have it cleaned I think and call it a tip for themselves. For watching people pay to make a thick stick go up and down all day. They must be under serious pressure. Even gave themselves a raise lately. So now when you use your card the (computerised) female voice in the speaker says: Thank You, and what you found depends on how you answer. The days I find money I say thanks yourself. The days I don’t I tell her to fuck off. She doesn’t care either way as far as I can tell so I just keep going.

On to Loughrea, passed Athenry, down the M18 and into Tuam. It’s usually dark by now and the roads get narrow and the cows are chatting among themselves in the fields while these headlights with engines breeze by going to God knows where or why. Eventually the car kind of drives itself and the windscreen turns into a cinema of stuff like lost all Irelands and great drinking sessions and lads you haven’t seen in a long time and you wonder should you ring them or do ya even feel like talking anymore, or does anyone, and after a while the petrol light comes on and the wheels talk to the tar outside in a loud friendly grumble and you’re cresting over hills and getting ready to touch down, and how’re ya fixed for a bagga chips.

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