I was here.
I’m back, 2,000 miles and just over 72 hours later.
Less than fresh, my nerves are shot, and there are bats hanging in the dark corners of the brain vault. There’s barely enough juice left in my tank to provide the energy needed to write this.
I left Siberia With a View at 5 a.m., pulling a trailer with a mechanically unreliable 1993 Chevy pickup distinguished by an absence of air conditioning, peeling paint on the hood, and a driver’s side door that does not fully latch. The destination: Los Angeles, California. Culver City, to be precise. The best route from Siberia With a View to LA involves a 12-hour motor trip of 680 miles. I make a few wrong turns, on both legs of the journey, and add 800 miles and 12 hours to the experience.
The trip is a test, one I flunk, and likely the last this old fool will take: a Virgilian journey, fraught with dead ends, detours, and dangers; flecked with glimmering bits and pieces of unconnected information; flush with unripe factfruit, fallen from tangled, thorny vines.
At the moment, I can’t make a whole lot of sense of the experience. I’m old, and very tired, the bats are taking flight. I’m wolfing down Valium and drinking gin like there’s no tomorrow.
I tote a notebook with me wherever I go. When I had an opportunity during this trip, (at high speed on straight, deserted sections of road, at stoplights, gas stations, and greasy spoons) I jotted down thoughts and observations, capturing snippets and sensations that, I hope, reflect the essence of the venture.
Here are my hastily scribbled notes from my LA road trip; put them together in whatever way you desire. Fashion a comprehensible story from these fragments, if you can. Reconstruct a journey, use your imagination.
- Though it is printed in big, black, block letters on the bumper of my rented trailer — “MAXIMUM SPEED 45 MPH” — I ignore the warning, and discover I can pull this puppy at 80 mph without the wheels leaving the undercarriage, sending the U-Haul tumbling on the pavement, a mangled, spark-garlanded clod of useless aluminum. This is clear testimony to the superiority of American engineering; we Americans make the best rental trailers on the globe. We put a man on the moon, and keep a space station in orbit; we can construct a small trailer that will travel 80 mph. What other country can make this claim? Presidents — those great, as well as those very small, and embarrassing — come and go every four to eight years, but the U-Haul trailer is forever. We can haul our crap anywhere we wish, at high speed, for a price. I love America.
- If you must make a nearly 700 mile drive without an overnight stop, find a companion to share your torture. In this instance, I take Kathy. She is not enthused about the prospect, but she likes to take a drive now and then. She mumbles something about desert flowers and In-N-Out Burger as she stuffs a pair of clean underwear in a sack. She’s been on trips with me in the past, and she’s worried I might veer off the route, and end up stalled on a dirt road, deep in the mountains of British Columbia. It’s not that she’s concerned about my safety; she doesn’t want to lose the Chevy. Kathy’s checked Blue Book prices, and is convinced she can get $250 for the truck when we return home.
I intend to hit the first truck stop I see, and procure some “eye-openers” from one of the noble teamsters who regularly travel our tip-top system of interstate highways. These highways, built during the Eisenhower administration, and resurfaced once or twice since, are a national treasure. The truckers know their trade, and their stimulants! Think about it: how the hell could you listen to crappy country and western music, and right-wing talk radio 12 hours a day if you weren’t totally whacked on meth? The folks in the OTC crowd are pros, with access to high quality speed, and, they’re Americans — agitated Americans, but some of my favorites. My Swedish great-grandfather, John, was a teamster. Of course he managed wagons with teams of horses, and he didn’t need amphetamines (Swedes drink unbelievable amounts of strong coffee), but I nonetheless feel a deep kinship with today’s truckers.
I realize my pharmaceutical strategy will precipitate a heart attack by the time we reach Barstow, but I have a plan: a skillful application of crash cart paddles by the Barstow emergency room staff will summon me from death’s door long enough to have me airlifted to the UCLA med center, where I will be put in the cardiac ICU. I’ll need someone to drive the truck and trailer from Barstow to LA. This will be Kathy. Once Kathy arrives at LA, and unloads the paintings, I will be able to conduct any further business hampered only by a portable IV and oxygen unit, and occasional breaks, during which I’ll gulp down nitro tabs, and meditate in an attempt to lower my blood pressure.
Unfortunately, once I explain my scheme to my wife, there is no stop made to establish a trucker connection. In the place of my proposal, is a second option: seemingly endless hours of nearly unendurable pain and distortion. Kathy yells at me to keep me awake. But, even she gives way to fatigue, and when she naps, I make numerous wrong turns, each taking us hundreds of miles in the wrong direction. Were I tweaked on bennies, this would not happen.
- Ever smelled the cab of a Chevy pickup after two people have sat in it for 10-plus hours, a blazing summer sun overhead? There could be fifty of those tree-shaped air fresheners hanging from the rearview mirror, and they wouldn’t put a dent in the stench. I eat a breakfast burrito in Flagstaff, Ariz. Nothing good can come of this.
- Kathy swears I hit a beaver as we speed past Kingman. She is beside herself with grief but, of course, at this point in the trip, with the temp inside the truck hovering at 110, she is hallucinating. It isn’t long before she forgets the beaver, and starts chattering about gluten, and the dangers posed by the artificial sweeteners being sprayed from government aircraft on a clueless and increasingly pliant population. According to Kathy, the spraying takes place on weekdays, between 2 and 4 p.m., with a cessation of activity on holidays.
- I suddenly realize that people waste a lot of money on illegal substances designed to alter consciousness. Why not just take a strenuous road trip? After ten straight hours at the wheel, you enter an altered state, the equal of any prime pharma experience.
This occurs for me as I steer the Chevy across the desolate plain between Needles and Dagget (I made a wrong turn somewhere in western Arizona). The U-Haul is bouncing wildly behind the truck, and I have 103.5 FM (the Needles Nugget) blaring on the radio. I sing along with Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons: “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” Frankie’s tortured teen falsetto rattles around the cab of the truck. My ears hurt, my head hurts, my teeth hurt, my vision is blurred. It reminds me of the time I tried to squat a weight four times my age: my eyes wouldn’t focus for two days; I lost touch with the basic rules of mathematics, and forgot how to spell my last name.
My consciousness began to wobble long before, at Tuba City. I had expended a lot of energy staying on the alert for shape shifters as we motored across the northern edge of the Dineh Nation, aware that the craftiest of these evil beings often disguise themselves as wounded Collies, or hitchhiking members of the U.S. Coast Guard.
By the time I roll past Andy Devine Drive in Kingman, Arizona, I suffer a major blood sugar crisis and make the wrong turn. Brain deprived of glucose, I experience an epiphany 40 miles south of Daggett. In an instant, I fully understand the concept of dark matter, and I am convinced that cold fusion will be a reality once folks at the MIT understand the tech potential of used sewing machines. What was once Heideggerian babble rings clear for me, and I know for certain which team will win the next Super Bowl, and by how many points.
I am 35 miles south of Daggett when I forget everything I learned (it’s a good thing I took the time to write it down as I drove). As we enter Needles, I also realize I am more than a hundred miles south of where I need to be, so I pull a 180, and head back to I-40. We pass Shinarump Drive just outside Needles. I pause, I ponder. Upon my return home I will petition our county commissioners in Siberia With a View, demanding they employ similarly amusing anatomical names for every new road built in our county. The names should be displayed on large, red signs: Wipeanass Boulevard, Scratchurballs Avenue, Sniffasnatch Street.
I make it back to the 40, and come to my senses to find myself standing with a crew of cretins beneath a bank of ratty TVs at a Petro station just inside the California border. We watch a high-speed chase in LA. An amped-up pinhead wearing saggy pants and a camo T-shirt has stolen a Burbank Parks Department truck and he’s driving up and down the 405, a convoy of black and whites trailing his straining vehicle. Several of the drivers at the Petro break ranks, and hustle out to their idling rigs. Though they are a good four hours from LA, a fistful of eye-openers convinces these knights of the asphalt ribbon they can get to LA before the chase ends, there to form an unbreachable, rolling blockade on the freeway, doing their small part to aid law enforcement. All accompanied by the sounds of Tim McGraw on the CD player.
I need to get a tattoo of a semi, or of Tim McGraw, in order to remember this.
- Kathy tries to kill us, driving at 85 mph, compulsively gulping bottled water as she admires the “gorgeous desert colors.” It is 10 p.m. and so dark I can’t see the side of the road.
- Shooting through Barstow, we cruise west on I-15, listening to LA radio, and a Jack in the Box commercial, in Farsi. The commercial is followed by some of the damned best Qawwali singing I’ve ever heard. The tabla is an underappreciated instrument. I resolve to become a tabla master as soon as it is convenient to do so, but I first need to find a good source for cheap tablas. I imagine myself seated on an ornate rug, my tabla clutched between my knees, a gang of admiring Pakistani pals gathered round, and a fistful of eye-openers dissolving in my gut preparatory to a stunning display of drum wizardry. With but a few hours of practice, I am destined to return to the music biz, after five decades absence. This time, I will make it to the top! I would become fast friends with George Harrison, were he alive.
- Through the haze in a desert valley, a cluster of structures in the distance looks like debris deposited there by a freak wind. Think about the state of mind of someone living in one of these hovels, their brain baked by a cruel sun, eyes bleached by blinding light, their body wasted due to a steady diet of hot soft drinks and chemically-flavored tortilla chips. Each of the run-down abodes has a satellite dish nailed to its roof. I imagine the inhabitants plop for days on end on battered recliners, watching Fox News, ululating every time Sean Hannity mentions the need to imprison Welfare Queens, and assorted people of color. Throw enough of these people in jail, they think, and jobs will return to the Borax mine. Sean makes a lot of sense when you’re unemployed, without marketable skills, and suffering from heat stroke and tortilla chip poisoning.
- What time is it? Where am I? I have wandered far to the south of the best route, then backtracked to the north to find this direct line to LA. I orient myself when I see a sign displaying a weathered image of Dale Evans. As a child, I tried to imagine what Dale’s breasts looked like. I couldn’t do it, but I knew all the words to Happy Trails To You. Still do.
- Approaching Apple Valley, I wonder: who, besides Roy Rogers, would I most like to be at this moment?
Perhaps Gary Coleman, even though he’s dead.
Or Dinah Shore, even though she’s dead.
Or Bobby, the tallest Mousketeer, as well as a featured dancer on the old Lawrence Welk Show, together with his fetching partner, Cissy. Rumor has it he is hung like a horse. Even though he’s probably dead.
- As I hasten down the west side of the Cajon Pass, I see an unbroken string of cars stretching back on the opposite side of the roadway. It is the LA crowd heading for Vegas. I realize there are more people driving vehicles in a one-mile stretch of this highway than reside in all of Siberia With a View — my less-than-idyllic home town, tucked away in the scenic armpit of the southern San Juan Mountains. I also realize one out of a hundred of the motorists will soon move to Siberia With a View, and begin to complain about the place shortly thereafter. Many of the new arrivals will take seats on a property owners’ association board of directors, where they can determine the color of their neighbors’ garage doors, issue liens, and thus inflate a rapidly sagging sense of self-worth.
Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons are playing on the radio; there’s no getting rid of these seedy fucks. “Dawn, go away I’m no good for you . . .” The song mirrors an indisputable fact: rich girls should avoid poor guys. If I learned anything at prep school, it was this, and I pass it along to you: rich girls should stick to fucking rich boys. Preferably privileged, Episcopalian rich boys, with guaranteed futures in investment banking, or corporate law. With this as a starting point, I float on a stream of associations to my prep school saddle shoe fetish. Thank god I am not Bobby from the old Lawrence Welk Show; the thought of saddle shoes would prompt the rapid departure of blood from the upper half of my body, and I’d have to pull to the shoulder of the highway before I black out.
- LA is the center of a special world, inhabited by people who mistake the irrational and poorly informed rustlings in their thought boxes for the presence of mighty intellectual and spiritual beings. There are more undereducated but advanced “thinkers” in LA than anywhere else on the planet, aside from Washington D.C., though my home turf is vying for the per capita title, what with increasing immigration of retired mid-level bureaucrats, and colonels in the military who were passed over for promotion.
Preschool-level solipsism is becoming the favorite mode of thought in a declining Western civilization: “Because I think it, it is real; because I can understand it, it must be true.” LA is a perfect place to witness this phenomenon, if you can’t find time to attend a Trump rally.
- By all means have breakfast at Coco’s, on Sepulveda, in Culver City. Ask to be seated in Steve’s section. Steve wears what appear to be ballet slippers, and says things like “Howdy doody, I’m your server, Stevie,” “oopsy daisy,” and “alrighty ditey.” He calls decaf “unleaded.” Steve is somewhat obsessive, and no one aligns the labels on the condiments like Stevie!
Do not look at Steve’s hands; do not display alarm when you spot the gigantic cold sore on Steve’s upper lip. Stevie is sensitive, and cries at the drop of a hat. Need help with that stain on your pants after you spill your syrup? Stevie’s the man for the job; he totes a wad of Handi Wipes in his front pocket.
- My gallery contact person in Los Angeles is Karen. She sports a metallic shirt, Mylar pants, and lime-green boots. There are orange sparkles all over her face. I make a mental note not to stand next to Karen during an electrical storm.
We unload paintings from the trailer as Karen informs me she channeled important information from Marcel Duchamp the previous evening, during a “session” at her “facilitator’s” house. According to Marcel (and a group of original Dadaists who joined the conversation, uninvited), the exhibit will be a huge success; I will make tons of money, and she, Karen, will be elected to the board of directors of the LA County Art Museum, and will be the featured guest at numerous parties in Brentwood for months afterward. As she speaks, the orange sparkles on her face start to move, falling into the deep wrinkles at the corners of her eyes and mouth, forming Hebrew letters. Any Cabalist worth his or her salt knows there is a direct connection between Hebrew letters and certain elemental, divine forces. Karen’s now channeling Moses Maimonides, and I think the letters are spelling out “This bitch is nuts.” In Hebrew, of course. I tell her what I’ve read on her face, from right to left, and her mood changes directions as suddenly as a Volkswagen hit by a speeding cement truck.
Perhaps things will not go as well as Marcel and the Arps predicted.
- The exhibit hung, after a night’s rest, we are back on the road, spit out of LA like a tainted sunflower seed out of a fat boy’s mouth, speeding east, going uphill, toward The Divide, and home.
If you stop at Denny’s in Kingman, Arizona, and you see that the corned beef hash “Slammer” is on special, believe the claim . . . it is special! Do not, under any circumstances, eat the corned beef slammer. As a matter of fact, don’t ever put anything, or anyone, called “Slammer” into your mouth.
If you ignore this warning, and eat the corn beef hash slammer, the nearest rest stop with toilet facilities is located 70 miles east on I-40. That’s a long way to go without springing a leak.
If you ignore my admonition regarding other types of “slammers,” don’t say I didn’t warn you. Consider making an exception, however, if you are incarcerated for more than three months. It pays to have a friend named Slammer, when you’re in the slammer.
I use a case of sudden-onset gastric distress as an excuse to double back to Laughlin, Nevada, for the night. I promise Kathy I will not gamble.
- I am the youngest man in Laughlin. I walk through the casino at the Ramada Express, and I am swarmed by a legion of old guys with pants pulled up to their clavicles, and gals with tight perms, the dames clad in sweatsuits and lugging fanny packs filled with nickels. All these people smoke cigarettes. How did they live so long?
A gaggle of aged goofs loiters at the entrance to the “Theater of Heroes.” The show is “On the Wings of Eagles,” a 20-minute quick-cut display of war footage featuring planes, vehicles, and facilities of hostile nations disintegrating under a hail of America gunfire. Feeble cheers can be heard coming from inside the dark enclosure as missiles enter the windows of Bagdad apartments during Ramadan.
Mickey Rooney is the featured performer in the main showroom, (is it The Mick or an animatronic facsimile, and does it matter?), providing avid but hearing-impaired listeners with an ad-libbed monologue brimming with whatever Mickey can remember about his millennium in show business. Rumor has it that Mickey is every bit as well hung as Bobby, from the old Lawrence Welk Show. When you consider Rooney’s diminutive stature, this must be an extraordinary sight. Rumor also has it that while Bobby was on the set, buffing his tap shoes and dreaming about the old days with Cubby, Mickey was in flagrante delicto with Cissy, the duo thrashing wildly on the floor of her locked dressing room. Had Mr. Welk learned of this, Cissy would have been working the swing shift at Arby’s in short order.
There is a slot machine called Triple Threat Wild Cherry II. For some reason, I can’t resist it. I tell Kathy geriatric gypsies mugged me in the elevator.
- As we drive past Devil Dog road, west of Flagstaff, Kathy and I simultaneously realize microwave ovens are Satan’s handiwork. If a loving God created the appliance, you could use metal containers and tin foil in an oven, without a care.
- How do you remove a massive amount of dried yogurt from a three-year-old boy’s chin? Do you take the kid to a car wash? I see no harm in power washing my grandson, Bodhi. He’ll be stronger for it.
- Is that a comet?
- At eighty-five miles per hour, east of Kayenta, we’re surging across the final gap to home when we spot a figure ahead, walking along the opposite side of the highway. It a young Navajo man. He wears a hooded Megadeath sweatshirt; his expression is impassive. He is 50 miles from nowhere. Where is he going? Where has he been? Is he a shape shifter? Will a charitable salesman from Des Moines pick up the shape shifter? Will the tribal police find the salesman’s vehicle on a gravel road, its tires gone, with nothing remaining of the commission-only samaritan but scraps of torn clothing and a film of grease on the seat covers? This is rough turf out here. One must be vigilant.
- Frankie Valli and the four Seasons are playing on a Farmington, N.M., radio station: “Sherry Baby.” It sounds like feeding time at the Humane Society shelter.
- Aside from a sumptuous repast at Coco’s, on Sepulveda in Culver City, I ate little of interest in a metropolis loaded with great restaurants. My daughter Ivy and I ditched Kathy, leaving her, our older daughter, Aurora, and granddaughter Forest, with glittery Karen, and we sped to the Kabob King, just off Jefferson, north of Slausen.
We shared a gyro, and a wad of hummus (the boys at the King spell it Hommus). This version had a bit more tahini than I like, but the cook plopped a couple slices of ripe tomato and some thinly sliced red onion on the goo, and topped it with a drizzle of good olive oil, and sprigs of mint. Two freshly baked pitas did yeoman service as scoops.
I’d love to make gyros, but for the life of me I can’t figure how they get a cow and a lamb to mate. I imagine you have to live in Arkansas to orchestrate this kind of genetic symphony: witness the long history of cousin blending in the region. A cow and lamb combo would be child’s play in the Ozarks.
- When I get home, I’ll whip up some hummus. It’s simple and makes a whopping good appetizer, or a snack to accompany a cocktail or three.
- If I get home.
- I’ll plop two cans of drained chickpeas, and four or five cloves of minced garlic, into a processor. If I wasn’t so damned lazy, or if I had access to a fistful of eye-openers, I’d go to the effort of soaking dried chickpeas overnight. I’d stay up, watching the pot, the swelling legumes and I would discuss the latest novel from Don DeLillo, then I’d cook the beans. Lacking a dose of central nervous system motivation, I’ll pulse the pre-processed garbanzos until I produce a mix with a grainy texture, then I’ll plop the stuff in a bowl
To the processed chickpeas, I’ll add three or four tablespoons of tahini — pureed, roasted sesame seed that gives a nice, nutty flavor to hummus (and to a variety of Middle Eastern sauces and dishes as well). I’ll add a quarter cup of high-grade olive oil and the juice of two lemons, along with salt and fresh-ground black pepper, mix well, taste, and adjust by adding more of any or all of my ingredients until I have the flavor and texture I desire.
I’ll slice some tomatoes, red onion, and cucumber for use as garnish.
The dip will be served at room temperature, with wedges of warm pita bread. And wine. Plenty of wine.
When I get home, I’ll slap together the hummus, pop in my CD of “Rapture” by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the essential genius of Qawwali, and practice my tabla technique while I try to remember the score of the next Super Bowl.
It’ll be good to be back, at 7,500-plus feet, in good old Siberia With a View, at my house on Cramacrack Circle.
I’m sure the big check from Karen will arrive in the next few days. Marcel and the Arps told me so.