It was a Thursday morning. I remember that much. The day was much like every other spring day. I woke up around 10 in the morning. I turned on my computer. I stared at it for a while. I ate breakfast.
Then I put in Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited.”
Now, I’m no child of the 60s. I didn’t grow up loving Bob. I always considered him some kind of awesome guy that I just didn’t “get.” Until I got my heart smashed against the radiator of my soul. Then he started making sense.
Well, this day, I just put him on, hoping to pass the time until I headed to work. But the line “Because something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is. Do you, Mr. Jones? From Ballad of a Thin Man. It struck me. Hard. So hard, that I packed up a bag of clothes. Filled a box with cds. Made sure I had my camera. My road atlas. My journals. And I left. Living like the Missing Persons. Destination Unknown.
All I knew was west. Always west. It was advice I tried to follow. Never east. If you’re going east, you’re heading back. To wherever you came from. Yeah, it’s silly. Dumb really. But it helps me get through the dull days. Just follow the sun.
Work? Well, I didn’t care. I wasn’t even going to call. Figure in a few days they’ll figure out that I’m not coming back. Or maybe they won’t. Who cared at this point. I was driving west. Something would be at the end. It had to be.
I passed through Durham, North Carolina. Onward to Tennessee. Nashville. Memphis. Then Little Rock, Arkansas.
Finally, I figured out where I was going. California. I hadn’t been there since two winters before. And I was only there for a day then. Just flew out to drive back. It was a defeatest road trip for sure. But it was fun. Sleeping in cars. Seeing redheads. Drinking Lone Star beers in Lukenbach, Texas.
Now, I’m going to the big state. Where the gold was.
Then I got there.
“What the fuck am I going to do now?” was the only thought I had. I’d once driven to Florida. Just to stick my toe in the Gulf of Mexico. It seemed smart at the time. When I got there, I stuck my toe in the water. Looked around and turned around and went back to North Carolina. That was a strange weekend off.
“You should go see a movie!” Mandy, my waitress at some small pizza joint I stopped at in Palos Verdes. I’d always wondered what Palos Verdes looked like. It was where the Burge twins were from. I went to school with them. Even watched them play in two NCAA tournaments. I had a crush on one of their teammates. Never even talked to her. I was quite a basket case at the age of 18. Was. That’s a microwave oven.
Being here in Palos Verdes certainly couldn’t be the end of my trip. But Mandy seemed to be smart. So, I ate my spinach pizza (no New York style here in California) and tipped her 20 bucks.
“Thanks mister,” she said.
“No, thank you Mandy.” I said as I exited into the sunny day. It’s always sunny here, right?
I got back in my car. Turned it to Hollywood. Figured I could see a movie there.
It was 9 p.m. when I got into town. I drove around. Aimlessly. I hadn’t driven in L.A. since I had my old Knight Rider Firebird. That car sucked. How the hell did we drive from Phoenix to L.A. in that piece of shit? I barely even remember doing it.
I saw a Marquee up ahead. I looked for a parking spot. Found one. In between a Ford Fiesta and a Pontiac Fiero. Both light blue in color. I thought about North Carolina for a second. But it passed.
The Marquee had in big red letters “Barfly: One night only.”
Now this had to be a sign. I went up the ticket window. A large guy was ready a copy of Fangoria and sipping on a big-ass drink from Circle K.
“One please,” I said.
“Damn. Why the big cost?”
“You get a Miller High Life or a scotch and water with admission.”
“I’ll take the scotch.”
“Course you will. Enjoy, bro.”
I walked into the old theater. It was hot inside. And it smelled bad. Like cat pee, but not quite. The velvet ropes were worn to the plastic insides. I wasn’t going to touch those.
“This place used to be a porno theater,” the ticket taker said. “Up until three months ago. Before Ivy bought the place and started showing one-night only movies.”
Didn’t ask, but nice tidbit, I thought.
“Where do I get my drink?”
“Over at the bar, man.”
I sauntered over to the bar. It was set up to kind of look like the famous Boulevard of Broken Dreams poster. Except all the people were Steve Buscemi. I was impressed even more with this Ivy.
“Scotch and water,” I said to the bar keep.
“Coming up!” he said, turning his back to me. Five seconds later, my drink appears. It was strong.
“Many thanks!” I said, throwing a five down on the bar.
“And many more!” the bar keep said, pocketing the Lincoln.
I wandered into the theater. It was empty. That saddened me. But it also made me happy. No annoyances during my favorite movie not named “Barton Fink.”
The movie started. “Hip Hug Her.” Love that song. I melted into my seat. I was mesmerized. I’d never seen it on the big screen. And here I was in a urine-smelling, ex-porno theater finally doing so. Only one thing could make it better, but I knew better than to go there. It would ruin the moment. I took a swig from my glass.
Halfway through the movie, a big “Intermission” sign popped up.
In walked a tall woman. Uma Thurman looking. With big hands. She walked straight up to me.
“Like a refresh?”
I didn’t understand at first. I must have shown that.
“Ahh. Yes. I would.”
She bent down, took my glass. I got a whiff of her. I had to.
“You smelling me?” she said smartly.
“You smell like watermelon, and what is that?”
“Gin. Just gin, honey.”
“I like it.”
“So. Do. I.”
She wandered off. A few minutes later, the lights went out again. The movie started up again.
“I done you good old man. I done you good.”
I laughed out loud. I’ve seen this movie 100s of times. I’ve read the words another 100 times. But it still gets me.
“No one swallows paste like me.”
On cue, my drink arrived. My Uma Thurman waitress sat down next to me. She had her own drink.
She leaned toward me. I could smell that smell again. It was intoxicating. “I never want to fall in love,” she said. “I don’t want to go through that. I can’t.”
“Don’t worry. Nobody’s ever loved me yet.”
We clinked glasses. We watched the rest of the movie in silence.
When the credits finished rolling, she looked over at me. I looked at her.
“My name’s not Wanda,” she said with a smile. “It’s Tara.”
She looked at my face a little. Before I could say a word, she jumped back in. “You look disappointed. It’s because I’m not Ivy, isn’t it?”
“Not at all. I guess I was figuring it was your name, but hey, Tara’s one of my all-time top 5 names.”
“What are the others?”
“Sidney. Chloe. Tara. Sandra. And Hank.”
“Artimus. Gary. Ronnie. Steve. And Allen.”
“Nice to meet you Mr. Skinner.”
We laughed for a full two minutes. She touched my arm. That’s always a good sign.
“You want to go get a drink?” I mustered.
“No. But I’d like to go to a record store tomorrow. You game?”
I hadn’t planned anything. Not even where I could stay tonight, but this I could not pass up.
“Sure. Where you want to meet?”
“Here. 10 a.m. Cool?”
“Don’t say that again. Ever.”
“Hey, you know a good hotel around here?”
“You propositioning me?”
“Not at all. But I just drove 3,800 miles. The last of it Palos Verdes to here. I’m beat.”
“Palos Verdes? You into some weird things….shit, I don’t know your name!”
“Henry. But I go by Randy.”
“Well, Randy, there’s a dive about two blocks from here. It’s called the One-Arm. Why? Because the guy who owns it has one arm. True story.”
“Nice. I like it.”
We walked outside. It was still hot. She paused for a second. I paused for two.
“We’re not going to kiss,” she said. “I don’t believe in it that soon.”
“Fair enough. See you tomorrow Tara.”
She waved and kiss her hand, blowing me that kiss. I smiled. Way too much. And then I kept smiling. The desk guy at the one arm, who had two arms, asked me if I was “smoking something?” I said “Nah, just fell for a gal. Drove almost 4,000 miles, and it ended with a girl on the other end.”
“Good luck with that,” he said.
I went straight to bed. Setting my cell phone alarm for 8:35.