CAST OF CHARACTERS
Note: Each of the three characters could be played by one actor or two,; the present
sections are just that; the past sections, the ride down I-90, is in the late 60s. However: if
one actor plays the character, he can use a piece of costume away to show the
difference in time and age.
NICK, 20, White college kid in the 60s sections.
J.T., early 20s, Black G.I. in an Air Force uniform.
CHRIS, early 20s, Black G.I. in civvies.
Girl from the North Country plays; empty
stage; snow and late afternoon winter light.
Enter NICK—an older guy playing himself in his
early 20s. NICK carries an Army surplus
backpack and is dressed for winter, including
an Air Force issue winter parka with orange
I know, I know—Conor McPherson’s done it, right? But Dylan. Any overly
romantic—or horny—straight White boy from the time hears this, he connects it to
a girl, sometimes a specific girl, sometimes generic, but a female, not necessarily
blonde, but, well, the type. What would we have called her?
(Looks offstage, hears an answer.)
“Chick”? Not unless I want to be an exhibit in a time capsule. Which, of
course, I am. But no. She was a girl.
(To a woman in the audience.)
Sorry. I’m sure that apology for sexism is really useful.
Where was I.
Where the fuck was I? That was the question that day. And that night. And
every day since…
(Looks up, sees audience.)
So. There was this time, and this girl—Johanna. A girl long gone, only this was
before the end with her, and I was hitching back to school, riding in other
people’s cars, all day Sunday and most of the night. A thousand miles from you.
The stage goes dark. Headlights, sounds of
cars going by for a couple of beats. Finally
lights shine directly on NICK, sweep past,
The light come up, dim and snowy and cold;
NICK climbs onto the backseat of a car from
the shotgun side; the seat sits on the stage
behind two front seats and a steering wheel,
all from an early 60s Ford if you can find them.
NICK tosses his backpack on the backseat,
next to two G.I. duffle bags.
Sound of the car door closing and the car
accelerating away from the shoulder.
Note on lights: as much as possible reproduce
the lighting in the back of a car; each of the
three characters has a small ceiling car light, so
they all move in and out of shadow.
The driver, CHRIS, and the passenger, J.T., are
Black enlisted men in their early 20s; J.T. is in
uniform with a parka like NICK’s, while CHRIS
wears civvies—very low key, very cool.
Oh, man, you guys saved me. Thanks.
Cold as a motherfucker out there.
(Turns, scopes out NICK.)
I told Chris—your driver, Airman First Class Chris—I told him, we can’t leave this
man on the side of the road.
You told me? Ni—Negro, please.
(Slaps hands with NICK.)
J.T. looks for a station on an imaginary radio;
we hear stations cutting in and out until he
finds one, turns the music up and sings along
quietly: Are You Lonely for Me Baby,
(Looks in an imaginary rear-view
mirror. Cocks his head toward
Where you headed, man?
Hell if I know.
(Airmen shoot glances at each other.
NICK shakes it off.)
Back to school. College—it’s right off the highway, maybe a hundred miles. If
you’re going that far.
Man, you’re in luck—we got to be in motherfucking Ohio tonight.
Motherfucking Ohio? You got somewhere better to be? Or a better way of
(Ignores CHRIS, turns to NICK.)
What you doing out here in the snow? No, no—wait.
Oh, you know?
College boy freezing his ass at night in the snow?
Got to be a woman. Right?
Oh, man—she worth freezing your ass?
(Over his shoulder to NICK.)
Don’t pay attention to this fool. He’s harmless, long as you don’t mind
motherfucking this and motherfucking that.
He wants to know was she worth—
Man, leave the boy alone. He wants to tell us, he’ll tell us.
So you go to college?
CHRIS and J.T. look at each other and grin;
J.T. laughs, looks back at NICK.
You dig, we thought you were one of us.
One of us?
(Points at NICK’s coat.)
I mean, we could see you was White, but your coat, man—it’s G.I. Air Force
issue. Couldn’t see all that hair under the hood, so we thought…
Ah…And you’re headed to Ohio, so—Wright-Pat?
How do you know—
My dad’s Air Force. He’s…
He’s a Colonel.
Nah, it’s cool. Small world, right?
Short blackout to indicate time passing.
Searching for My Love, Bobby Moore, comes
on; when the lights come up J.T. and Chris
beat time and sing some.
(Points at the radio.)
WVON. Boy knows his radio.
(Gestures to CHRIS, points back at
Ignorant man like you, you just might learn something from—
(Pause, long enough to make NICK
CHRIS and J.T. look at each other, then laugh.
J.T. looks back at NICK.
Ofay. Mother-fuck-er. Ofay. Guess you learn something in college, huh?
I didn’t mean any—
Nah, man, it’s cool. You surprised us. A little.
Short blackout. Music comes up louder.
Lights come on and all three are more relaxed,
quieter. J.T. is stretched out in his seat, eyes
This college you’re at—many brothers there?
Some. More than a few.
I’m tight with two guys—one’s from Chicago, South Side, the other’s from D.C.
Brothers got some African names?
Not exactly—Reggie and Greg.
And you come from the base. Mother-fuck-er.
But you never…
Man, go ahead. Ask.
Brother wants to know if you served. You know.
No. I…I’m not…
(Long pause while he thinks.)
(Glances at J.T.)
I guess. Partly.
(To CHRIS after an awkward pause.)
Good thing we stopped, man—for the General’s boy.
Jesus, don’t promote him. Don’t know why I told you—Colonel’s bad enough.
Hey, we got no prejudice. Not all officers are assholes. No offense.
None taken. I mean, I grew up with them, you know, and believe me—most of
my old man’s friends are jerks.
Still–you not going in. Tricky, huh?
I don’t know. I mean…It’s where I’m from, you know? I grew up in it, and there
are cool things. Lived everywhere, went everywhere, met people all over the
place. Funny—my first job, in D.C., Bolling—
We know the place.
My first job was delivering papers in the barracks. My father was, I don’t know,
some kind of commander or something, and here I am, with his name—
You a junior? Colonel Junior—shit.
Yeah—guys got a kick out of that. I was like ten, maybe eleven, and the first
Black guys I ever knew, you know, really talked to, were in those barracks. They
were cool, mostly, funny…
What you mean cool?
I don’t know–nice, funny. Like, “Hey, here comes the Colonel. Tip him good”—
that kind of thing. It was something, I mean I was a little kid, with these guys.
My friends at school, most of them think the military’s all evil, especially officers.
My father—everybody I was raised with.
I can’t just dismiss it.
The little Wing Commander.
What about you guys?
I mean, you’re in, so it’s gotta’ be hard sometimes hearing people like me
bitching about you. Why’d…
Why’d you sign up?
The draft, motherfucker.
And this thing, you know, the Air Force—made more sense. I mean, supply,
support, development—when we’re done, back where we’re from? Won’t hurt
to have it.
Mister motherfucking recruiter.
Fuck you, man. Boy asked. And I ain’t wrong.
Blackout. Music—Baby I Love You, Aretha.
Now this woman—
Man, leave the boy alone.
No, that’s cool. It’s all right. This girl—
What’s her name?
As in visions of.
Woo-ee. My man’s in love.
Nah—little Colonel’s too smart to fall for that shit.
Am I right?
Oh, man. You got to think this out—
Freeze. Blackout slowly. When the lights
come back, NICK gets out of the car and
speaks directly to the audience. The car is
frozen, out of the light. Music: 61 Highway,
I don’t know what it’s about, but this girl…
Disappear. Right? Just stop in some lost town, get a job, any job, get a place,
send for her. Figure out the rest later.
Was that it?
That afternoon, I was off the Interstate, east of the Mississippi, between
Fountain City and Arcadia, after a strange ride on Highway 61–I mean, how
could I resist Highway 61? And I didn’t much care how or when I got back.
It was that kind of day out of Minnesota, gray and cold but clear–sad, and even
though I couldn’t figure it exactly I must have seen it all coming–late fall, just
starting to snow and in that part of the country snow is a threat.
That day I left you, going back to school and I didn’t want to go and I’m still not
sure why I did—all of it some confused late adolescent myth, ends of seasons,
the dying heart of the heart of the country, but Jesus it was sad and cold and
tired and I wanted to stop.
I ended up that afternoon in a small, dead nowhere, at a counter in a café with a
hamburger and a Coke. I thought, Why not just stop, here…Disappear, fall off
the map, right here, even though this really wasn’t the country any more, the
world had already passed it by, the place was faded, forgotten. Not just quiet:
silent. Good place to disappear.
I didn’t stop. Night fell and the snow came and I found the Interstate and kept
going south, back to school, to what I knew. Got picked up by two Black airmen
driving down to their base—
(Points at the car and grins.)
—and I relaxed, because they were from my world, me in the back of an old fast
Ford next to their duffels while they listened to a Chicago soul station on the
Music fades. NICK gets back in the car as the
You got to think this out—
Don’t have that much to do with thinking.
Maybe not. I just…I think I want something more than she does.
So what do you plan to do? Boy, you’re young, there’s plenty of time–
Says the ugly-ass Negro giving advice to the General’s—
You right. Although, truth is—none of us got control over this kind of thing.
(To NICK. NICK and CHRIS start to
laugh as they listen to J.T. talk.)
True? So there you are, blue as a motherfucker, whipped, freezing your sorry
ass, thumbing a ride from two brothers who your old man might not choose as
your companions—no offense, but you know how that shit works. You dig? Two
sorry-ass Negroes driving all night to get to the base and here you are, all in
love with some sweet little girl—man, I bet she’s some General’s child, right?
Sweet, soft, and you spoiling her, roaming all over the motherfucking country
just so you can get a taste—
A taste—I like that. I was thinking a whiff.
I told you, man—you can learn something from this college boy. Build your
motherfucking vocabulary. A whiff.
And I told you, don’t pay no mind to this fool.
Long pause as they listen to the radio: You’re
Gonna’ Make Me Cry, O.V. Wright.
He’s right—nobody can school you about women—shouldn’t pay any heed to a
fool who tries.
Freeze in the car: slow black; CHRIS gets out,
looks back at the car, finds a chair downstage
and sits. A few seconds later, J.T. comes
down, sits on the edge of the stage.
“Shouldn’t pay heed”? I agree with the fool part.
NICK gets out of the car, sits back down on
the edge of the front seat. CHRIS motions
Kid’s o.k. He’s cool. I mean, he’s a boy—no disrespect, but without…
Fact he’s White?
It’s not just that.
Luck? Privilege? His…
(Gestures to CHRIS as if to say, come
(To the audience.)
Y’all realize, this account of the ride is from the brain of a guilty-ass White boy.
A guilty-ass White boy with the blues about the girl he left.
Man, what have you got to have the blues about?
I don’t know, man. It’s not just a Black thing.
Boy’s got a point.
Maybe so. So—where you at now? Here?
(Points at the audience.)
Who knows. Still guilty, but not so much. I mean, I’ve tried to get a grip, only
the older I get the more I think what I do doesn’t matter much. If at all.
So then what?
This—you, us, whatever—don’t matter. So what does?
I don’t know…Only I think…
He’s a deep mother—
I know I didn’t understand…That night, after I popped off—
Think on it, man.
Blackout. Then the ride continues. Music:
Sweet Little Angel, Buddy Guy.
The lights come up. Only the characters are
older, in the present.
So you’re schooling me. Still. Like you did then.
Nah, man, we don’t mean that.
(Pause. He and CHRIS laugh.)
CHRIS AND J.T.
Look, I know I don’t understand…I mean, I can’t, but I understand some…
(Hands off the wheel, gesturing come
The whole thing—officers and enlisted, Black and White, rich and—
Poor ass? Nah, man. That ain’t all of it.
Maybe you’re right. Maybe I can’t. Older I get, more I think—and I got nothing
but a hunch here—that mostly it comes down to that. Money, class—
That’s what you don’t get. Because.
You mean I’m Wh—
Yes, I mean White. Not that it’s only Whites don’t get that—there’s plenty of—
Nah, Chris—not in front of company.
O.k., so I don’t understand it. Where I’m from—
The Officers Club.
Right. But they’re related—the class thing and race.
I don’t know if I should say it, but an intelligent, a really good man—flawed, but
good—he was a professor, CCNY, I think, and he taught a fair number—excuse
the use of fair—of Black students. Graduate thing. He—this professor—used to
say—and I’m not sure if he’s right—that Black kids, Black men, who know the
code, how to talk White, have an advantage. I know it’s wrong, but.
(Studies NICK, finally speaks.)
It ever occur to your wise, good friend that yeah, we know what it means to
know the code, speak the code, write the code, dress the motherfucking code,
but you know what? Ofay? There are many here among us, many angry
motherfuckers among us, who want no part of your code.
Really? Dylan? In the barracks.
And your blues, the girl—Johanna. How’s all that fit your ideas about—what was
Maybe more about power. Or so I thought.
Feminist thing? All right.
Blackout. Music: Foxey Lady, Hendrix. When
the lights come up:
You remember later? That night?
Back to the car. Blue and white lights, police
lights, sweep the stage. They are in the past
It was nothin’, man. I mean—
—”We innocent, officer.”
“Officer, we soldiers—”
“Thas’ right, Officer. Look here at the uniform, you can see.”
“And we doin’ extra duty, Officer—this here’s a General’s son, and we are makin’
sure the boy’s safe.”
(He and J.T. slap hands. Into the
mirror to NICK.)
Why you think I’m in uniform?
And he thinks he understands.
(Leans across the back of his seat,
stares at NICK. Finally.)
CHRIS AND J.T.
Something you don’t know, mister military ofay.
(Heavy silence. Then…)
You’re right. I didn’t mean…I know I don’t get it. I am—I was—wrong.
It is unclear at this point whether we are in the
past or the present.
You’re right about that. You can’t really get it—and you’re lucky you can’t.
For us, man—we’re in motherfucking Wisconsin—Chris, your driver, he’s from
here, you see.
Minnesota, actually. Not that it’s so different. I mean, it’s not the South, not like
my grandparents, I suppose. Only it still…Case you haven’t noticed, we ain’t
White. And that’s real anywhere in this fucking country, you see? We can’t…I
mean, this ride, my Chuck Berry V-8 Ford–we could be flying. Straight to jail.
(Turns around to NICK.)
Think it won’t happen here? Shit.
(Stretches the word.)
These people, round here, just as White as any Florida cracker–my part of the
country. Even here, man–just suppose, my brother—suppose it was one of us
out there, like you, raggedy-ass military surplus, hitch-hiking? How long before
we’re in jail—if we made it to jail? Man, you got the world looking at you in a
way we don’t.
(Very quiet and clear.)
Think on it. Tell the truth—if you were coming down this highway, at night, and
you saw us—what would you do, boy?
So yeah, man—we’re careful. WE – HAVE – NO – CHOICE.
Freeze. One pool of light; CHRIS gets out of
the car and stands, staring at the audience.
What this boy doesn’t know—what he can’t know, man, that would fill libraries.
Church women, preachers screaming for hours about how easy it is to be lost, to
My aunts and uncles, told tales about Mississippi—Mississippi! How they missed
it. Fucked up nostalgia. Boy wants fucking Highway 61? My father, who was no
Colonel, schooled me, explained what is, tried to tell me how to be…
(Walks back to the car, stares at NICK.)
It’s not his fault, I know it isn’t. Does no good thinking on it—boy just happened
into the car, couldn’t have known.
(Tightens up, clenches his fist. To J.T.)
So why do I want to—
Nah, man. You don’t.
(Gets out of the car. The lights come
up, but all three of them are in and
out of light and darkness..)
That’s not you.
All those cool G.I.’s, first Black cats you really talked to when you were a little
boy—what you suppose they were thinking? ‘Bout you? About your father?
I don’t know.
Thing’s not your fault, we know that.
He’s right. It’s not on you. Except it is, you know? God damn—
Hey, Chris. It’s cool.
You think? I mean, it ain’t about him, all right, but you said it. We get our
fucking heads blown off for nothing, but not when he’s in the car.
Your lucky night, boy. You got us for your ride—you might learn something.
Blackout. Music: Sail Away, Etta James.
Minnesota. Jesus. Minnesota—
(Smiles into the mirror.)
Two years with NATO—Belgian women don’t all speak English.
So is anything different? All those years, and here we are. Maybe my knowing
that’s the best I can manage.
Shit—we only had a hundred miles.
C’mon, man. I mean, the three of us—what were we supposed to do?
Supposed to be?
You’re right. Wrong as it all is.
(To NICK. Laughing.)
Man, you are not my first target, you know? You weren’t that night either.
Good to know.
What about the little girl? I mean, she got all this started, you know?
I do. Told me to break a beer bottle a thousand miles from her.
Instant blackout. Silence for a bit as the stage
is cleared, J.T. and CHRIS leave. NICK listens
to the radio: I’d Rather Go Blind, Etta James.
Finally.: NICK goes into the house, lugging his
backpack. Snow if possible.
So what changes?
What was the point when I knew I was going to lose, and the snow was falling
pretty hard now, the two guys had grown quiet, maybe they were getting down
the closer they got to their base, and God knows I was blue. If I could give
myself more credit I’d say that I had the sense that I was moving too far, too fast,
but I know now that’s wrong.
That night and that car and those two fine souls, the afternoon idyll next to
Highway 61, the early snow and all that sorrow–was how many lifetimes ago
Anything changed? Surely not enough.
(Looks where J.T. and CHRIS exited.)
They come back out.
White boy mother-fuck-er—