Riot and Devotion

An Ode to the Tollbooth Operator

His heart went out to the tollbooth operators, the grizzle-haired men and women with cigarettes nodding on their lips, their left hands forever clutching a quarter and a dime in change. They were the interstate’s guardians, unmmoved movers amidst the relentless current of people going someplace else. After looking into the eyes of thousands of travelers and handling their crumpled bills and sweaty coins, these cashiers probably understood the mood of the modern world better than anyone: its reckless teenagers, hungover commuters, and road-ragers; the cheating spouses and insomniac prophets. They peered into the lives of the broken-hearted and the hopeful with their belongings jammed in the backseat, their plastic-wrapped suits and blouses pressed against the windows like ghosts. Perched in nests of space heaters, thermoses, and radios, the tollbooth operators watched the taillights of desperate vehicles red-shifting through the night, darting across state lines in search of fresh lives, hoping to give Plan C or D a shot. And each time they told him the fee for a six-axle vehicle, he thought he saw a flash of compassion in their eyes, a look that reminded him of his mother’s cool hand against his forehead when he had a fever. They saw him for the man he had become, just another soul searching for deliverance beneath the highway lights.

Riot and Devotion

The First Two Paragraphs of My Novel

He is an old man, beleaguered and muted like the last televised days of Richard Nixon, a bleary man with washcloth skin, all jowls and inflamed joints. He is a failed philosopher, a fading gentleman frightened by the sensations of the modern world. The painful taste of breath mints, the velocity of hand dryers in the men’s room. Everything is extreme these days. But he has always been a coward. He was afraid of the sun for years and he still jumps at unfamiliar noises, sudden changes in temperature, and the sight of Antarctica on a map. Looking at all that blank land feels like leaping off a rooftop. When he had a door, he would check its lock at least three times before getting into bed. He is afraid of many things and he has imagined his death via car wreck and home invasion many times. Now he is an antique in an overheated world of plastic and pixels, a silly and superstitious man who calls the crusts of bread ‘bones’ and refuses to eat them. But perhaps his fears have kept him alive for these ninety-one years.

His lover was a dangerous woman who feared absolutely nothing, not even when they came after her with fire and guns. She once told him that she made a deal with the devil and now he believes her.

A Description of Riot and Devotion

Fast food restaurants burn in the night. Discount superstores explode into bloody riots without warning. When the cameras arrive, witnesses provide conflicting accounts while shivering beneath a wool blanket or moaning on a stretcher, saying there was a strange vibration, the sound of a dial tone or maybe a demon. Conspiracies spread. Factions emerge. People invent makeshift gods. An old man who is afraid of the sun watches all of this through his windshield as he crisscrosses the country, searching for the woman he loved and lost. She had told him the future would be filled with dangerous signals moments before she disappeared into a crowd. But that was a lifetime ago. Now he dreams of retreating into the quiet halls of a museum or a far-flung desert town. Until one night he turns on the radio and hears her voice in the static, calling his name—and humming a song of riot. Reverberating with the echoes of ancient myth and speeding towards a broadcast that will grip the nation, Riot and Devotion is a modern fable about anxiety, compassion, and faith in uncertain times.

Riot and Devotion is complete at 84,572 words and I’m currently seeking an agent or publisher.