So where were we? Oh yeah, hanging out in Los Angeles.
I’ve been traversing the San Joaquin Valley since then, going from L.A. to Bakersfield to Fresno and back again. The only west coast shop authorized to do interior work on The Traipsemobile is in Fresno and it was way past time to get the bounced-out microwave back in its proper place. I have not made Nachos in weeks. My suffering has been unbearable and, I believe, was the real catalyst for the Egyptian people demanding justice. I am a powerful force.
Fresno, to my surprise, seems to have a lot of hippie artist-musician types, lots of women with long hair and peasant dresses, lots of men with long hair and handlebar moustaches. (Unwaxed.) I’m not sure what I expected exactly. Raisin moguls, maybe. Commuters on combines. Lots of people in 4H jackets. But that’s not what I found.
At least not in the Tower District, which is a little stretch of bars and restaurants about a mile north of downtown, one of those urban neighborhoods that was abandoned in the 60’s but has now become trendy place for hipsters. Sort of like Fresno’s Echo Park. William Saroyan grew up not far from there and the house where he died, in 1972, is just five miles away.
I ended up at a place called The Starline Grill, one of a half-dozen bars/restaurants in a 3-block cluster, most of them with live bands 3 or 4 nights a week. The beer is cheap – Sierra Nevada for $3 a bottle — and everybody in the place seems to know each other – mostly because they all seem to be in each other’s bands.
The ones on stage were an act called The Suicide Lounge, which does covers of 70’s rock songs with lots of bad jokes and bad puns tossed in. But you can tell they are all capable of quite a bit more. They’ve got chops, but they’ve smothered them in shtick. Too bad. The jokes aren’t that funny. But the musicianship is pretty impressive.
Particularly when they did a version of “Ball and Chain” Janis Joplin’s screaming signature song when she was with Big Brother and The Holding Company. Suicide Lounge’s lead singer, Joy Mohler, made it hurt, the way it’s supposed to. It was soulful and sad and powerful. And then they went back to shtick. Dick jokes and such. It was kind of a shame. If you know Joy, send her a message from me: You’re better than that.
I ended up sleeping in an industrial south of town, outside the Sportsmobile property, which was surrounded by chain-link fence and locked for the night. So, because I’m an
idiot, I found a spot up the block, tucked in among the corrugated-metal warehouses and tire repair shops. There wasn’t much light. There were helicopters circling overhead. I parked there anyway.
It’s the first – but surely not the last – time I felt like I might have made a mistake. It was spooky that there were no other vehicles on the street. There seemed to be a lot of razor wire on the adjacent properties. But it was cold and raining. I was tired and had to be at the shop at 8 a.m. I was too lazy to find another spot.
I heard voices around 5:30, car doors slamming and guy speaking Spanish, loudly and very close. This is what people warned me about, parking in dark neighborhoods that I didn’t know. This is why people told me I should carry a gun. Instead, I have wasp spray. And a broken foosball handle that I’ve had since 1978. Also, a blowgun. I’m not sure why.
Not that I knew where I’d put any of them. It’s amazing how much stuff can be misplaced in such a small space. I lost my first extra set of keys within a week of getting them. They’ve got to be in there somewhere.
So, instead of arming myself, I peaked through the side window and decided – without any supporting evidence – that this was simply the early shift reporting for duty at the tire repair shop. They probably didn’t know I was in the van. A smarter person would have kept it that way.
Instead, I decided to put on my pants (yeah, it was that serious), pop out of the van and act as if I had every right to be there – which I did not. “How ya doing?,” I said, climbing out the side entrance. There were 3 guys, smoking cigarettes by the trunk of a car that had pulled up next to me. They seemed confused by my sudden presence.
“Yep, kinda chilly isn’t it?” And then I got into the driver’s seat, started up the vehicle and, yes, waved to them as I drove away. I felt like that long-distance in “Help” who climbs out of the surf in the middle of the final Bahamian battle scene and inquires, “White cliffs of Dover?” Then, he turns around and goes back into the water.
They didn’t follow me. I drove a couple of blocks away, turned in a parking lot they couldn’t see and went back to bed. The Sportsmobile gates opened at 7. “Yeah, you shouldn’t have done that,” the service manager told me. “The cops don’t really come down here. It’s kind of a no-man’s land.”
So next time I’ll be more careful. Because next time those voices might not belong to the early shift. I don’t want to have to go all Foosball on their asses. Also, I’m out of blow darts.