Road trip. Old friends. Los Angeles. Wormy.
Time for a road trip, distraction from this god business. A visit to Refugio. Get out of Dodge. But first a bit of unfinished business required me to be in Portland. I got a rental car, one way. I was to meet Joyce at Nick’s on Hawthorne. We often met there to review the Portland books. Joyce was god posing as a real estate broker in Portland, among other things, and handled my local properties. He was another friend that went back to high school days, the surf junkets. Joyce had entered the seminary after high school. He could have been a professional baseball player. I always get a kick out of old Joyce. He spent two tours in Vietnam, olive drab Jesuit, nothing jejune about that, although there was plenty of fasting. I headed south on the I-5 out of Seattle, past the dark ball park and the orange stork dock creatures, a ball of lightning curving down and away, a foul ball, and past Boeing Field, not too much stop and go, up above Kent, through the Federal Way suburbs, made the turn west down through the flat Fife stretch, around the Tacoma Dome where once again I would miss Dylan, on through Fort Lewis. I took my time. I didn’t need any more traffic cops pointing out to me the speed limit in Washington is more than a mere suggestion. Traffic thinned out after Tacoma, the sky finally opening up. Nisqually Valley was lovely, the river running high and fast, but the bridge was quickly behind me and I wished I would soon be out in the warm water in some good waves, or maybe I would take a hiking trip somewhere on the eastside and fish some trout. Maybe even a raft float trip down the Deschutes, float the Trout Creek area. I passed the Sleater Kinney exit before Olympia and rounded the I-5 left curve south of the capitol around the brewery and pulled off on Trosper Road for the Starbucks there. The yellow Hummer that I had first noticed pulling on in Tacoma pulled off behind me. Back on I-5 with Grande Americano in the console and Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited in the CD slip of the rental and I fixed the cruise on 70 and turned the volume up but pulled off about twenty minutes later for a Centralia pit stop. The yellow Hummer again got off behind me. Coincidence, maybe, so I decided to get another Americano, even though the Trosper Road one hadn’t cooled enough yet to get more than a couple of hot sips. The yellow Hummer also stopped at the Centralia Starbucks. The yellow Hummer was getting curiouser and curiouser. I got back on the I-5 south. I stopped at each rest stop, the last one just before Vancouver, the yellow Hummer still in tow. Then I didn’t stop again until I hit Portland. From the I-5 I took the I-84 east and got off at the first exit, Southeast 33rd Avenue. I wanted to drive by Brewski’s stepson’s place in the Laurelhurst neighborhood. I lost the yellow Hummer at 33rd and Glisan, at the intersection by the Greek Orthodox Catholic Church. The Hummer stayed south on 33rd. I turned left onto Glisan. Jack was a young god posing as a local Portland lawyer who had helped me a few times on real estate deals. I might find him home since this was a Saturday, but rain was falling in Portland too, and no one was outside. Jack’s lawn was clean of the three feet deep leaves from the gargantuan maples that canopied the streets when I was last in Portland in the fall. There were cars in the drive. I cruised slowly past, not wanting to be seen (Jack’s wife didn’t care for me, and it would spell trouble for him if she thought we were meeting up), and came out onto East Burnside, went up 39th and over to Hawthorne where I parked behind the Fred Meyer on the corner of 39th and Hawthorne. Hawthorne was busy in spite of the rain and gloomy and cold weather. Nick’s was packed. College football was on the TVs. I found Joyce at the bar drinking a Heidelburg. I got a beer too and we both ordered doubles loaded. As I put away my Coney Island dogs Joyce described the Portland situation to me. We drank another beer and enjoyed the football and the noise and talk in Nick’s. No sign of the yellow Hummer at this point. I left Joyce at Nick’s and drove out to the Portland airport where I would catch an Alaskan flight down to Los Angeles. I drove slowly out 82nd toward the airport, no sign of the yellow Hummer on the way to the airport. I landed in Los Angeles a few hours later, grabbed my overnight bag, and walked out to the curb. The air was warm and moist with a hint of fuel in an onshore breeze. The palm trees swayed slightly as the cabs and shuttles jockeyed in and out of the traffic. A couple of traffic cops blew their whistles and waved cars to move on. The ubiquitous voice over the loud speakers continued to soothe the lonely or weary travelers in its Sisyphean cadence: The red zone is for the loading and unloading of passengers only: no parking. The no parking gal’s voice and the powder blue sky invited balloons or made you want to join the Hare Krishna and go sleep up in the hills above Santa Ynez where all you had to do was chant and be happy, or be happy and chant, not sure what comes first. I felt Los Angeles, first in the nose, then in the eyes, then in the mouth and throat. I caught a shuttle to a car rental agency off of Century where I rented a silver Taurus and pulled onto Sepulveda south, drove through the tunnel under the runway, and into Refugio. I was on my way to the Orange Tiki Room where Mariposa Avenue dissembles up in the dunes above Santa Monica Bay. I turned right on Mariposa off of Sepulveda, stopped briefly at Center Street but the old place looked deserted and like Nickels was not home. I went on up and over the Mariposa hill and came down to the high school and crossed Main Street. Nothing much looked changed since my last visit. I glanced over at the trees and the green grass in the library park. I might have stopped and gone for a walk, but the god in me frowned on sentimentalism. And this was not that kind of road trip. I was thinking at one point Sylvie might have been riding shotgun in the yellow Hummer. But why would that be? Thicken the plot a bit. But she could just hop a flight in Seattle and meet me at Nick’s in Portland. Why would she need a Hummer? My itinerary was not a big secret from anyone who knew me well. And a yellow Hummer wasn’t an easy thing to hide. I didn’t want to get aggressive with the Hummer. I would wait for the right opportunity. Anyway, I passed the library park without stopping. The Orange Tiki Room was lit up with new green neon lights, the tacky fake bamboo fence at the entrance. Inside the only light was the glow of an old juke playing a Duane Eddy thick stringed surf riff. A sandy grit covered the floor, and a couple of longboards leaned against the wall behind the bar. A waitress I did not know wearing a yellow polka dot bikini came over and asked me did I want a drink. I ordered a Pacifico and a couple of fish tacos. The evening was starting to jell in the basin. You could feel the air tighten a bit. There would be an evening glass off. The dry air was a relief after Seattle and Portland. Wormy around? I asked the yellow polka dot bikini after the tacos. Who should I say is calling? Tell him Woody’s outside covered with rain. Wormy came out. He was covered with the shavings of a surfboard blank. He still wore the long droopy mustache and had his hair pulled back into a long pony tail. His skin was a burnt bronze where not covered with the white foam shavings. He wore trunks and sandals and no shirt. He had the thick neck and strong upper body of the swimmer and surfer. His knees bulged with surf knots. My old lady! Wormy yelled. Been a long time coming this time around, man. Wormy, what’s happening? Shaping some new boards, man, come check out this new design. I followed Wormy into the back yard outside the bar. How’s business, Wormy? Not bad, not bad. We still got the wrestling Monday nights. Yeah? The nuns still take over the place Sundays, put the food out for all the homeless surf cats, you dig? Whoa! What’s this? Surfboard shop, man, dig it? Wormy Surfboards, right here out of Refugio. Check out this five-fin. Far out. That’s Hoppy’s. You remember Hoppy. Of course. I’m working on this retro line, man, dig it, simple clean lines, single wide skeg, 9 and 10 foot boards, long, but not too slow, not so long. Good for the chop, the three foot slop, man, that’s what we get here, you know that. But when the good stuff comes in, this board, quick, smooth, rides high up in the water, you can sit on it and it won’t sink, you know what I’m saying, yeah, dig this board, man. I’m real happy with this board. So what’s up, man? What brings you down to Gundo and environs out of the wet country? I need a ride, Wormy. Where to? I’d be looking for a back door that no one’s watching. I think we might find an opening, yeah. How much? How far? When? What do you need exactly? Need to dissemble for a few days, few weeks, not sure yet. I don’t know, maybe this one’s the last trip, maybe I don’t come back this time. I’m thinking a boat out of King’s Harbor, fishing or something, diving maybe, south, Ensenada, Baja, then a small plane somewhere, then a big boat off of Peru to the South Seas. Any islands for sale these days? Nah, man, satellite tracking, zone right in on your bare naked ass, the only guy on an island, you kidding me? You’re better off someplace crowded nowadays, somewhere you can get lost in the crowd. Outback maybe, if you insist on being alone, takes forever to get there and longer to find your way out. Bounty hunter find you someday though, and they can satellite in on your butt in the Outback too. Dig it man, takes a crowd to be alone these days. Not easy, big important dude like yourself, wealthy like a horse fly, easy to swat, not so quick, some kind of god. You’re just too damn big, man. Who are the interested parties that might be coming in here next week asking after you? There’s no one on my tail. There’s a dozen hungry women tracking your every move, man, don’t kid me, hungry, angry, frustrated, and really mean women just wanting to make a meal out of you, a plate of oysters, like a beach after a night of storm surf, sea girls picking your parts, man. Ever the romantic, making up stories. New war, new stories, old war, old stories, same war, same stories. We’re talking sorties here, not stories. Wormy got on the phone, hung up, and said ride can be arranged. Drive down to Redondo. Stay close to the Strand. Pull over and leave the car running, walk out onto the pier. Someone will ask you if you’re the poet looking for the collector’s copy of Two Years Before the Mast. You reply, what’s the water like? But I’ll tell you what, man, you need to rethink this whole caper. Go homeless, man, go homeless right here in Refugio. Best place to hide. Disappear right here. Into the surf.
“Out of Dodge”
is episode 14 of
a Novel in Progress
in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
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