With Paul Markland at the wheel, one can expect highway conditions to be dry and wry.
The cartoonist, musician, and part-time school bus driver - who produced a collection about the Schuylkill Expressway 20 years ago - is on that renowned road again with a fresh trio of volumes from Tate Publishing.
Markland's new Buckle Up series stars Off-the-Wall Paul, his green-hatted alter ego, in a variety of vehicular vignettes jammed with clueless drivers, fearless truckers, and apocalyptic traffic backups.
"My character is a guy who's driven a million miles to take all these passengers on white-knuckle trips," says the cartoonist.
Like his creator, Off-the-Wall Paul "is lovable, a great driver, and he'll do anything to get you to the airport," Markland says.
"He'll take any shortcut. He'll go off a cliff with a parachute on the back of the limousine."
Although Markland, a Browns Mills resident, can recall more than a few close calls on the expressway - including a near-fatal encounter with a garbage truck - he says he has never been in a collision of any kind on the Schuylkill.
And on the page, the perils of the road are silly, not scary.
"Look at this one. You'll love it," Markland grins, handing me a drawing of a car encountering a rock slide from Mount Rushmore. A sign warns: A head ahead.
"I'm corny. Without a doubt," says the author, 71, a steelworker's son who grew up pencil sketching at the kitchen table in Swedeland and scouring local record stores for the latest 45s.
Markland learned to draw by copying cartoons from newspapers and magazines. After graduating from Upper Merion High School in 1960, he worked as a pants presser, forklift operator, and lounge singer.
"I do Tony Bennett, Dean Martin. . . . I do a decent Paul Anka," he says. "And everyone loves my Elvis."
But it was as a driver for an airport limousine service in the 1970s that Markland jump-started his cartooning career.
"Paul did caricatures of everybody who worked there . . . the whole bunch of cutthroats, bums, and hobos," says his former dispatcher Howard Goldstein, 65, now retired and residing in Margate, N.J.
"I believe that's how his very first book got started," Goldstein continues. "He'd do a drawing and say, 'Give me a caption.' "
Markland and other drivers often carried performers and their entourages to and from the Valley Forge Music Fair. Passengers, their situations, and their conversations with the man in the front seat were "my education," he says.
And the under-designed and overcrowded expressway was a vivid dramatic backdrop.
"Who hasn't been nuts on the Schuylkill?" says Jim Ryder, 73, of Willingboro, who met Markland 15 years ago when the two drove delivery trucks for competing newspapers in Trenton.
"Paul's sense of humor isn't abrasive or insulting. It's good, down-to-earth stuff that everybody can relate to," says Ryder, a pastor at Red Lion Faith Chapel in Southampton.
Markland, for the last dozen years the music director at Browns Mills Baptist Church, says Jesus long ago displaced Elvis as his "King."
But the grandfather of three still loves the singer, whose tonsorial and sartorial styles he emulates. "I wore leisure suits when I drove, back in my limousine days," he recalls.
Markland hands me a CD of his versions of Elvis' hits, which include a credible "In the Ghetto." Another CD includes selections from among the 80 original Christian songs he sings in a warm, reverb-ready tenor.
He used to pray before he drove. Now he prays before he takes up the microphone. Or the pen.