The traveling salesman has become the stuff of legend. He’s not a person anymore, but an icon. From Willy Loman in the Arthur Miller play to the nameless hero of a thousand dirty jokes. We know this guy, even though we’ve never seen him. In this case, he’s called Alfie Zimmer and he’s been doing his job for much too long. His only comfort when he travels is reading the scrawling and graffiti on the bathroom walls of nearly abandoned rest stops on the side of highways. He’s written down his favorites in a little notebook and feels that it will stand as his final legacy when he blows his brains out in his hotel room that night. Of course, this is a Stephen King story, and Alfie’s inner monologue doesn’t have an off switch, so who knows what the night will bring?
Actor Kent Vaughan nails the part of Alfie Zimmer so perfectly that it’s hard to believe he’s only been in two movies including this one. When Alfie is doing his rounds trying to sell his wares door to door, Vaughan’s voice and demeanor is exactly what you’d think a man that’s been on the road for 25 years would be like, worn and sad and lonely, and just… tired. His smile is so ethereal that when he stops it’s as if he had never smiled in the first place. He’s a living ghost haunting the endless American highway. Alfie Zimmer’s not committing suicide; he’s just making his death official.
Yet, in the back of his mind hides a timid dream, perhaps his last one. He wants to write a book about all those weird messages left on walls, a kind of history about them. However, old Alfie can’t fool me. He doesn’t want to write a book so much as remind himself that his life had been worth living. And what better way to prove to yourself that everything you’ve seen and done had value than to spend a year or two writing it down?
Besides, I perfectly empathize with the fascination for the old decrepit rest areas and the ramblings of a million travelers. It’s not what they wrote down that’s interesting, but the little story you tell yourself about the person behind the words. I mean, who came up with some of this stuff? Because I’ve taken maybe ten thousand s***s in my life, but never once have I had the urge to write: “This is a teepee / for you to pee-pee / not a wigwam / to beat your tom-tom.” on the wall while I was doing it. Never. Which brings up another question. Look in your pockets. Do you have a magic marker in them? Neither do I! Not only are these people a little crazy and get inspiration in the weirdest of places, but they also carry around markers. What are the odds?
Scott Albanese is a great storyteller. What could have come off as a depressing and dark movie about a pathetic loser; instead is the reaffirmation of a life that was thought wasted. Even better is that this sweetness isn’t sugary, but earned.
I also have to give the original scribe, Stephen King, mucho cool points for being so open to letting low budget filmmakers make versions of his stories. Just when I thought that copyright law had become nothing more than a prison for ideas, King decides to parole all his convicts. Personally I can see nothing but good coming from this. I’m sure we’ll get some real howlers, but so what? It can’t be worse than some of the big studio releases of his work; and at the very least the guys making these films will have inexperience and no money as an excuse. Can’t wait to see what’s next.