Atsushi always found it difficult to sleep the night before a road trip. He always stayed up late, but it was even harder to sleep when he was so filled with excitement. He knew he had to get up early the next morning, but he couldn’t stop himself from thinking about the trip. Not only would he and the other Buck-Tick members be going to Walt Disney World, one of the happiest yet most expensive places on earth, he would also experience the fun of a road trip. When he was only with Imai for the last trip, he had to depend on certain pit stops to prevent boredom, but with all the other members there would be a lot more to do in the car. They were bringing two cars with them, so they could do fun things like see who would get to the stops first or play the license plate game.
One of the questions that kept him up that night was which car he would ride in. Despite them being brothers, Toll and Yutaka were going in two separate cars because Yutaka wanted to ride with Hide. Imai planned on going with Toll, so each car already had two passengers. Like Schrödinger’s cat, Atsushi’s fate in regards to which car he would ride in was uncertain. He knew he would have fun either way, but that made it even harder to decide; if he chose one car, he knew he would be missing out on fun in the other. Ultimately, he decided he would switch cars whenever he felt like it as they made stops, that way he could have a good time with all the members.
Atsushi looked at the clock. “3:37.” Hide was coming to pick him up at 6:30, so he wanted to get up at least 5:45. Despite how late it was, he wasn’t worried about getting up the next morning. He never had trouble getting up for a trip; his anticipation made him wake up just when he needed to.
Except for that morning, when his biological clock decided to not wake him up as it usually did.
Atsushi awoke to the sound of a car honking and his phone ringing. He wanted to check the time first, but the calls from Hide distracted him and he answered. “Sorry!” he exclaimed as he changed out of his pajamas.
“It’s alright,” Hide replied, sighing after. “It’s only 6:25, but I wanted to make sure you were up. From how long it took you to answer and how you just sounded, it looks like that was a good choice.”
“Thanks,” the vocalist answered after yawning. “I’ll be right out.”
“Take your time. We’re stopping for coffee and gas anyway.”
“Good.” Atsushi hung up and rushed getting his bags together despite his bandmate telling him to take his time. Once he had everything together, he left the house, put his bags in Hide’s trunk, and got in the front seat.
The two barely talked on the way to the first rest stop on the I-95, where they were meeting the others. Both of them were tired, and all Hide cared about in that moment was getting coffee. He was glad Atsushi rushed after waking up; before Atsushi answered the phone, he was worried he would have to miss out on coffee so he wouldn’t slow Toll down.
Hide stopped at the first rest stop on the I-95, and went into the gas station first. As they were getting gas, the guitarist decided to finally say something. “So, have you decided who you’re going to ride with?”
Atsushi sighed. “I think I’ll just go back and forth.”
Hide chuckled. “I figured. Well, I won’t be offended if you don’t ride with me and Yutaka.”
“You just want to get rid of me, don’t you?”
“Maybe.” Hide was tired, and having been on road trips with Atsushi and Yutaka before, he knew how draining they could be. They were both fine separately, but when they were together they always played games in the car and were full of energy. So, Hide kind of hoped Atsushi would spend more time with Imai and Toll.
“Well, even if I’m in the other car, I’ll probably be competing with Yutaka in the license plate game.”
“Since when is that a competition?”
“We have two cars, so we’ll see which car finds more.”
“Shouldn’t you ride with Imai and Toll then? I don’t think Imai’s interested in keeping track of license plates.”
“That’s not true! Imai and I always play the license plate game.”
“Really? He said last time you just whined about not getting Cracker Barrel.”
Atsushi jumped. “H-he told you that?” Hide nodded. “Well, it was pretty late at that point, so there weren’t as many cars on the road. And it was dark, so the plates were harder to see. Earlier that day, he seemed interested in what states I was finding, and even helped a little by slowing down or changing lanes when I needed to see a plate.”
Finished getting gas, Hide pulled into the rest stop parking lot. “That’s nice of him. I hope Yutaka doesn’t expect me to do the same.”
The man in the passenger’s seat chuckled as he unbuckled his seatbelt. “That’s good though, because I doubt Toll would do it either. No unfair advantages.”
“Well then maybe I should help Yutaka out. At least when you’re in the other car; I’d rather Yutaka win.” Atsushi wanted to respond to Hide’s teasing, but before he could the younger man said, “Oh, your shirt is backwards by the way. Maybe you should fix that in the bathroom before you meet up with the others. You wouldn’t want them making fun of you, would you?”
Just as Hide expected, Atsushi seemed a little embarrassed when he found out. However, he didn’t seem surprised, and even laughed a little when he looked down and saw Hide was right. “Thanks for telling me. As long as you promise not to leave before I get my coffee, I’ll go fix it.”
“You say it like I have a choice. We can’t just leave you here.”
“I guess you’re right.” Atsushi headed to the bathroom, and Hide met up with the others on the Starbucks line. Toll was ordering, while the other two were at the front of the line. Yutaka waved at him, and he cut the line to get to them.
“Hey, Hide!” Yutaka exclaimed when he saw his bandmate. “Where’s Atsushi?”
“Oh, he decided not to come.”
“Really?” Imai responded.
“No, not really! He’s in the restroom. Damn, I thought Yutaka might not catch on but you, Imai?”
“Listen, I haven’t had my coffee yet.” Just as he said it, Toll finished ordering, and he went to place his order. Atsushi caught up with Hide and Yutaka, and the three ordered and went to wait for their drinks.
“So, Atsushi, are you riding with us?” Imai asked after taking a sip of his cappuccino.
“For now, I think so.”
“Oh, so it sounds like you’re going to keep switching. Why are you coming with us first?”
“Well, you seem tired, and I don’t know how well you’ll keep track of license plates.”
Imai chuckled. “That’s your reasoning? Well thanks, because I was planning on taking a nap once I finished my coffee.”
“Looks like I made the right choice then! I have to make sure we beat Yutaka.”
“How is that even going to work?” Toll asked. “We’re going on the same highway at the same time. Won’t you two see the same cars?”
“You never know!” Yutaka replied, putting his arm around Atsushi. “Sure, the East Coast states will be easy to get, but states like Hawaii are going to be hard to find. If there’s only a few of them on the road, only one of our cars might be near one, and only one person might actually notice one.”
“If anything, that makes it more fun,” Imai chimed in. “If we were on two different highways or driving at different times, it would be up to luck more than anything. But now it will be more up to who has the best attention span and eyesight.”
Hide stared at Imai for a moment before responding. “Did you just say the license plate game is a skill-based game?”
“He’s right,” Atsushi responded, and then turned to his current rival. “So, I heard you got a Nintendo Switch. Video games probably help pass the time on a road trip!”
“Don’t fall for it, Yutaka,” Hide said. “You’ll have plenty of time to play your Switch in the hotel. If you brought your dock, we can all play Mario Kart together then.”
“You’re right, Hide,” the youngest member replied. “If I want to win, I’m going to have to fully commit to it!”
“Wait, so you two are really going to only play the license plate game the entire ride?” Toll asked.
“I was teasing Yutaka earlier, but I don’t really care who wins,” Atsushi answered, “since I’ll be in both cars. I just want to make sure it’s an intense game!” He got his cloud macchiato and the five of them started walking to the cars. “Yutaka, when I go in Hide’s car, you can play your Switch, and I’ll keep track of the license plates.”
“You better not sabotage us!”
“Of course not! I’m really interested in how many license plates we find altogether, although it’s going to be fun to see who wins.” He paused for a moment while he put his suitcase in Toll’s car; he probably wouldn’t keep switching his suitcase, but Toll’s car was bigger and Yutaka needed to fit his bags in Hide’s car, so that seemed like a better idea. “Imai seems more competitive than I was expecting, though. Watch out for him.”
“He may be more competitive, but you’re more passionate. I hope you switch to our car soon!”
“Maybe at the next rest stop. If Imai’s awake by then.”
Once Yuta’s things were in Hide’s car and Atsushi’s were in Toll’s, the two cars left the rest stop. Imai fell asleep before he even finished his coffee, despite Atsushi’s excited yelling whenever he found a new state. Toll tried to ignore Atsushi and focus on the road, and would even turn up the radio in hopes that either Atsushi would catch a hint or Imai would wake up and scold Atsushi. But neither happened; the vocalist was too excited about that silly game, and the guitarist was still sleeping like a baby. However, driving got more bearable once Atsushi got the more common license plates, and there were larger gaps of time between each new discovery.
After about two hours of driving, Hide called Toll. “Hello?”
“Do you guys want to stop?” Toll asked.
“Yeah, Yutaka wants water and I gotta pee.”
Toll suggested a rest stop in Delaware, and they all agreed. Before Toll could wrap up the phone call, Atsushi shouted, “Yutaka! Did you get that Oregon plate?” Imai finally woke up after hearing the man in the backseat shout, and stretched a little before taking a sip of his lukewarm cappuccino.
“What?” Yutaka replied. “You really saw an Oregon one?”
“He wouldn’t shut up about it when he saw it,” Toll replied. “I saw it, too, so you can be sure he wasn’t making it up.”
“Toll, I can’t believe you think I’d cheat in a game as sacred as the license plate game!” Atsushi said, only half-jokingly.
“Sacred?” Imai asked, and turned to Atsushi. “So, how many do you have so far?”
“Ha! I have nineteen!” Yutaka exclaimed.
“Fuck! I just keep seeing the same ones. Good thing I got Oregon, though.”
“Do you have Alaska?”
“Yeah. Those are always easier to get than I expect. I’m guessing you got it too, since you’re asking?
“Yup!” Yutaka sighed. “Atsushi, can you come in our car after we stop? I really want to play my Switch. And maybe take a nap.”
“We’ll see. I might want to take a nap too, so it might be better for me to stay with your brother and Imai.”
“Aw, come on!”
“I said we’ll see!”
“That always means no.”
“Well maybe this time it doesn’t.”
“Hide, see you at the rest stop,” Toll said. He was tired of listening to his younger brother and Atsushi argue over the phone, and figured next time he needed to talk to Hide he would have Imai take the call off speaker.
“Yeah, see you.” Hide hung up, and started changing lanes so he would be ready to get off at the rest stop. “Don’t worry Yutaka, I’ll make sure you get that Oregon license plate. Or another rare one.”
“Thanks, Hide! I might check the cars parked at the rest stop. If the license plate game is as ‘sacred’ to Atsushi as he claims, he won’t check because he’ll be on neutral ground. And I doubt Imai will check.”
“God, what are these rules? Well, whatever. I’ll just make sure we win, or at least we get cooler states than them.” Hide wasn’t really interested in the license plate game, but Atsushi, Yutaka, and Imai turning it into a competition made him more focused on it. He wished Atsushi was spending the whole trip with Imai and Toll, just so he could have the satisfaction of beating him. Beating Imai was still worth it though, so he wanted to help Yutaka win, at least a little, and he was happy to hear that he was currently on the winning team.