Here Thar Be Monsters!

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The Freedom of the Road

As I recall, it was the late summer of '79. As fast as they put a diploma in my hand, I blew the town. Houston was not big enough for both me and my dad, and he didn't appear to be going anywhere. So I did the honors.

First stop was Santa Fe, New Mexico. I had been there once before when I was about 7 or 8. It was a magical time, because it was snowing when we landed in Albuquerque. It was Easter time and everyone was remarking that it never snowed that late. We stayed at La Fonda on the square. Even now, I can recollect the scene out the hotel window of the snow falling on the Plaza in Santa Fe. Magic.

So when I was thinking of somewhere to run away to, that place just came to my head and my dachshund Lucy and I hit the road. Not long after I got there, I met George. He was a piece of work. Rich LA family with a ranch north of the city. He was there for college, complete with Saab 900 Turbo and a care-package from his buddies back home that would make a DEA agent blush. Shrooms, coke, sinse, uppers, name it. We struck it off right away and spent a lot of time charming chicks and making runs to the ski basin in the Saab. We had some magic moments.

There was the time we packed up a couple fine coeds, some beer and care-package contents, and a TV George and I had bought that ran off a car cigarette lighter. We smoked it up to a very cool place I had spied with a view that looked clear out to Albuquerque. It was early fall and the air was crisp, and the aspen trees had started turning. At one point, we sped through a tunnel of gold, with the silvery fall light spun through like gossamer, and the stark white trunks of the trees lining both sides of the road. I was standing in the seat with my upper body out the sun roof. The wind combed my long hair and parted my ample beard. I kind of looked like the illegitimate son of Billy Gibbons and a biker moll.

We spent the night at the overlook watching Saturday Night Live, tripping our heads off and macking on Shoshana and Lucia. Magic.

George was always going on about LA this and back home that, so one night we were sitting around bored out of our minds, full of pizza that we got free from another buddy after closing time. I looked at George and said, "You wanna go to LA?" Within hours, we were speeding down the highway at 115 mph, heading west. The next afternoon, LA rose out of the horizon like the Emerald City, and there I was with Scarecrow and Toto, and Glenda had just made it snow, in a manner of speaking.

We swung by a couple of George's buddies' houses and ended up with some blue dragon blotter. That night we sat on the cliffs watching fog roll in from the sea and smog roll out from the city. They met over the beach like a silent scene from "Braveheart", and fought it out for hours as we spun through the Book of Mysteries, climbing into our own navels and sliding out through our mouths. Magic.

The next day, we beat a path up the coast highway to San Luis Obispo, and to his family's ranch. We were greeted by the Mexican maid and George's two Rottweilers. To her credit, Lucy the dachshund held her own. We broke up a foot-long bud of sinse he had snagged from a bud earlier and we bonged a bit before taking the vintage WWII jeep out on the ranch to do a little 4-wheeling. We were listening to Lee Rittenauer and Dixie Dregs, and climbing the jeep up a steep hill until we had a commanding view of the entire valley. Magic.

George's folks hardly seemed to bat an eye that he had just quit college after three months and had shown up at home with an out-of-work roadie in tow. We stayed there a week before beating it back to the city, this time to the home of a famous movie star's son up in the Hollywood Hills.

The guy was so happy to see George that he took his radio phone (cell phones hadn't been invented yet) out to the pool and within an hour, the buffet was covered with a king's feast and the coffee table was wall-to-wall fantasy land. There was a serving platter of Peruvian marching powder, yellows, blacks, reds, and my choice...shrooms. That night I sat in the hot tub looking over LA lights like electric fireflies while mushroom visions formed in the clouds and minor starlettes kept me entertained. A well-known band showed up and gigged until dawn. Magic.

Two days later, we were in a 24-foot sailboat in LA harbor. I was at the tiller and the guys were rolling and tugging like there was no tomorrow. I lost my hat to a stray gust. It was my lucky hat. I wore it wherever I traveled. Bummed me out, but I got over it pretty quick. Later, when we docked, some guy walked up and handed me my hat. He had been not far behind us and had fished it up. A lucky hat, I tell ya. Magic.

After a while, I started to feel the need to work again. I had met a couple of bands that were starting tours soon and I managed to get on the crew of one.

The tour was kicking off in Miami and I had about six weeks to get there. I would just about make it on time using my personal travel agent: my thumb. I packed my bag, rolled up my blanket and pulled on my lucky hat, and George spun me out to the edge of town on I-10. I worked hard to get out of California since the hawks cruised the highways looking for young hitchhikers to pick up. If you didn't put out, they dumped you within a mile or two. Took me two days of that crap to get to Arizona.

In Arizona, I met Geronimo's grandson sitting on the side of the road. He looked about nine years older than God and had a bullet lodged in his side from WWII that he was only too happy to show off. He never put his thumb out. When he was ready for a ride, he just put the idea out to the Universe and someone would stop. I was dubious.

We spent the night on the side of the road talking and drinking whiskey. The next morning, he looked at me and said, "OK, I'm ready." Almost the next car along stopped and gave him a ride. Magic.

I gave it a shot. A guy in an old Dodge van pulled up and asked me if I knew anything about mechanics of motors. I offered that I could use a wrench in a pinch, so he gave me a ride to TorC, New Mexico from Flagstaff.

All I had to do was keep the old rattle trap running, which I managed. We broke down just over the state line late at night. I was doing my best in the dark when some guy appeared out of nowhere and started praying over the engine to exorcise the demons. The van started up and we were on our way again. Magic.

I said goodbye at TorC and told the Universe I was ready for another good ride. A semi pulled over and the passenger door swung open. I looked up into the cab and the driver asked, "Can you roll a decent joint?" I allowed that I could do a fair job in a rain storm, blindfolded, using newspaper.

I was in charge of rolling, changing tapes in the stereo and keeping the coffee cup full.

I must have done a fair job because he let me off about a mile from my folks' house in Houston two days later.

I made it to Miami with three days to spare, which was good since I made a few extra duckies doing a load check.

Never have figured out what happened to that hat.

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