Truck stop: 4/15/70
We make a big deal about leaving Hollywood because so few we know can actually escape
Until we bought the VW van, we thought weíd live out the rest of our known existence here, wandering these same streets in a pointless daily ritual of pretending to be hip.
I love this hunk of junk metal, this 1959 German-made ark, rust spots and all.
Our neighbors thought us strange when we parked the thing in the driveway off McCadden and used cans of spray paint to hide the rot Ė taking our cue from Easy Rider by painting it red, white and blue.
I stole the slogan ďMulti-colored rainbow roachĒ from an Arlo Guthrie performance I caught in the Bitter End back east.
Folks on the streets warned us that the other slogan ďBattlewagon for Peace,Ē would only get us stopped by the Naziís in Arizona.
Some even come out to watch when we drive out, as if they expect to see us explode the moment the van crosses Vine.
Some flash us peace signs.
Some just shake their heads. Why would we want to leave this place which is so hip for some place inland where hip doesnít exist?
To tell you the truth, Iím sick of being hip.
Hip just isnít who I am, the grandson of a boat builder, and a boy raised more on prospects for a life of labor than one of high art.
I canít even sing as well as Bob Dylan the way my best friend, Hank, can back east.
He should be here instead of me.
Heís so bent on being hip he aches to be anyone but who he is.
Heís always in Greenwich Village, hobnobbing with people like Abbie Hoffman hoping some of the hip might rub off.
Dan, the hipcat who agreed to help drive the van, is like that, too, prowling Hollywood Boulevard like a shark, gaze out for some new teenybopper high might get to suck him off, or some naive sucker from the Midwest off whom he can sponge.
Why he wants to leave this scene is beyond me. But he waves just as we wave as we make our final run along the runway of stars.
ďNext stop, Phoenix,Ē Dan tells us as he steers onto the freeway as the hip world vanishes into a haze of car fumes and distorted curved hill.
I know east is the wrong direction for me. It is where the police expect to find me. It is where my family waits for my return.
Yet I ache to go back Ė all the way east Ė not just back to Denver so Louise can find something inside of her she lost, but back to the real world and a predictable future, back to that place where I started life.
Yet as I my fingers feel the warmth of the sun on the dashboard and my body vibrates to the motion of the van over the road, I know this is only a dream, too.
Reality is where I am and worse, very uncertain.
I canít believe how hungry I am after on a few hours on the road.
Something about the rumble of tires over highway inspires a similar rumble in me.
Louise says we should have eaten before we left.
But we were all too excited to eat, anxious to get out of Hollywood before night.
Dan, who is dressed up like Clint Eastwood, except with a handlebar moustache and a floppy cowboy hat, tells us weíll find a truck stop soon.
Looking out the passenger side window, I have my doubts.
The dark Mojave Desert oozes by us with a vast emptiness I feel rather than see.
Our vanís headlights uncover a ragged unfriendly landscape I canít imagine containing anything edible except for us.
Dan insists truck stops exist even in places as desolate as this.
He says one look at the girth of most interstate truckers proves they canít travel more than an hour without a meal.
Besides, he says, trucks donít run on air.
Even if a trucker can resist the call of the wild hamburger, he still needs to stop for gas.
Where thereís fuel thereís food, Dan says.
So we keep a sharp look out for some sign of civilization in the remote blackness to either side.
Trucks pass us routinely, blinking their lights as they slip ahead of us then vanish in the deep dark, their rear lights becoming part of the constellation of stars the sky provides.
We can no more keep up with them than we can break out of the planetís gravity.
I guess I lose hope and disbelieve Dan when he says thereís a diner just ahead.
Dim lights illuminate a wooden sign.
We rattled and shake across the moonscape parking lot and when the van stops, no one speaks.
We start at the dark place and at the faces of the eating truckers framed in each window.
Louise finally says, she doesnít want to go in.
I suggest one of us might go in and get our order to go.
Dan asks suspiciously who I have in mind.
When no one volunteers, we all going, making our way into the dismal place, drawn the way Wild West travelers always were, by need.
I donít want to go in this place, but Iím so hungry I think something inside of me will devour my insides if I donít.
Girls as good looking as me donít have any business this far from anywhere, especially with so many men glaring.
Everybody these days think all hippie chicks want to do is fuck.
I agree sometimes I do. But not with any the apes I see.
I donít even know how I got where I am, how I got so turned around that Iím walking across this dark parking lot in the cold Mojave Desert with two men I hardly know.
Sure I met Ken more than a year ago, and worked with him for a while. But I donít know how he thinks except for that huge rage he has burning inside of him and the intense jealousy he shows when it comes to me.
I know less about Dan, except that making love doesnít mean much to him. He uses women like tissues, and I donít want to end up crumpled up in some corner of Hollywood or Denver aching over him.
Den doesnít understand how one kiss won me over to him and keeps me hook.
Even when I want to break way and go off on my own, I caught, caught on some barb in him and hooked better than any of my daddyís fish.
Even when he left for service and I left for the west, that kiss lingered. At first, it burned my lips, and then started a fire deeper inside of me until I became a blaze I canít figure out how to put out Ė no matter how many other men I fuck.
Maybe thatís why I need to go back to Denver Ė to pickup the pieces of another life thatís not part of Kenís, find that man who said he might want to take care of me.
The only question is how do I get rid of Ken if I find the man again?
It ainít like we ainít seen hippies before.
We see them day in and day out, dotting the sides of the road the way pa always said hobos did in his day.
Only hippies ainít hobos and they donít want to work even for a meal.
So seeing them walk in here gives me an ache so deep in my stomach I fell like someone stuck a butter knife in me.
These look even more ragged than most, and thatís saying something since nearly everyone I see is generally covered in road dust.
The raggedness is in their eyes.
They come in, refusing to look around at us, only for the gaps in the line and they had straight to the first vacant booth they see.
Like most hippies, these are young, even younger than my kids, the oldest one looking the most foolish since heís dressed up like a cowboy Ė though by his ďdoe in the headlightsĒ look I make out that he must be stoned.
When they get the menu they canít agree, acting like millionaires instead of paupers, glaring at the diner man as if heís to blame.
One, the girl, looks out the window at the deserve, as if she can see something there even daylight wouldnít give up, and night keeps deep in its pocket.
I drive this desert day and night and canít make out why these three chose this place to come to when we all know it ainít safe.
But for a man like me everythingís a mystery, even why I drive the desert and find comfort in being alone with it.,
I guess Iím a little jealous of these three and their freedom to look around at life before they get to settle into something.
Me, I never got to look at anything. I got dumped into my life by a practical pa who didnít see any use for someone like me to learn too much by staying in school too long.
Maybe I want a little of that free nooky TVís always talk about, nooky I got at 17 just before I had to get married to keep the girl honest.
No use complaining.
I get up, pay my bill and head back on the road, looking back at those three only once.
My customers hate them the minute they walk in.
I cook slop for hardworking men, mostly gritty white truck drivers, even some Negros thrown in.
But every once in a while a flock of fairies floats in, hippie types coming from or going to LA, usually looking for a free glass of water or to use the toilet.
These three side down in one of the booths and ask for service.
Two boys Ė if you can call them that with their hair so long Ė and a girl.
She clearly doesnít think we clean to well because she complains about how sticky the table is.
I want to order the three of them out. I want to tell them to find some other place if my place isnít clean enough.
But I donít.
You donít make a living by turning customers away, even if you got the only truck stop on this side of the Mojave.
So I ask them what they want and begin to get peeved when one of them orders a stale roll and looks at me like Iím crazy when I tell him I donít sell stale rolls even if I had them.
Then he gets weirder and asks for a bagel.
I tell him I got burgers and fries, and some other things truckers like, but no bagels.
He groans and orders a burger and I go back to the kitchen to cook up their orders, thinking the sooner they eat the sooner theyíll be gone and things will get back to normal.
He carries the plates to our booth one on top of another with the grease dripping down his dirty apron only once.
All but the food in the top plate is flat and none looks remotely like we ordered.
I look at Dan then Louise, they look at me with the same startled look.
Danís food looks the worst since he dared to order breakfast.
But I canít tell if I got French fries or scrambled eggs.
The only way I can tell I have a burger is because my bun is round and Danís toast is square.
I pickup a French fry and it oozes grease, looking as bad as a van did before we stopped the oil leak.
When the cook vanishes back into the kitchen, Louise lifts what should be a minute steak, takes a bite and stops suddenly, asking if steaks should be crunchy.
I say no.
She does her best to spit the remains out into her napkin.
Dan eats even less, and suggests we fill up on coffee.
This suggestion dies when the cream floats to the top.
All I really wanted was a buttered roll. Dan suggests we tighten our belts and wait for Phoenix.
At least there he knows we can get tacos.
He leads Louise back to the van as I pay.
Iím too sick from the grease to be jealous. But I do wonder what weíre going to do when we get where weíre going, and what will happen if Louise decides she doesnít need me any more.
The cook takes my money with his greasy hands and dares to ask me how the food was.
I say just as I expected it would be and then hurry out to the van, wishing we could go all the way back to that kitchen where the food isnít greasy or full of strange men.
But I think: I can never go back there again.