Toedeloe to the floor of the Vespa scooter, I cruised north up Hwy 1, the Pacific Coast Highway, in real time, present time, though I wasn’t always sure what week I was in or even what day it was, and guessed the time of day from the position of the sun in the sky and its shadows on the ground. I had no plans, no expectations, great or small. I had no doubt the locals I passed along the way had some, if only to make it to and from work without going stark staring bonkers, mad as hatters, excited as the March hares, gaga and crackers, freaked out. I wondered how it all held together, the daily commutes, full of horrible honks and screeching brakes, from the kid who was off walking and whistling to school homework in disrepair but excuse at the ready, to the CEO rolling off in his Rolls to explain to his Board of Directors the various whistleblower reasons for the latest decline in stock value, still revising his business plan, the new crew hired yesterday to be let go tomorrow. The buses jostling stop to stop, the big box ambulances curling their way noisily through a mess of traffic, the delivery trucks, 18 wheelers, pickup trucks, station wagons, hot rods, muscle cars, convertibles, vans, bicycles, skateboarders, walkers, and scooters all sharing the same roads. But unlike a schoolyard where the chaos of recess empties like a beer bucket with a bell the yard quickly returning to the quiet of pigeons descending from classroom roofs to snap up the crumbs of snacks, the kids all back inside heads on desks for a rest, their teacher reading aloud a short story, or his head too on his desk for a rest, and all is quiet – unlike the school yard, the road never fully empties, all day long, every day, vehicular traffic moving like the tides, in and out, up and back, to and fro, stop and go, this way and that, all manner of folk crisscrossing at the crossroads. Back in the 1950s, hitchhiking was more prevalent than today, and a military uniform and duffle bag in hand almost guaranteed a quick ride. In the 1960s and early 70s cardboard signs signifying destination were popular with travellers on street corners seeking long rides: Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Portland. So I was surprised when I rounded the Long Beach Traffic Circle on Hwy 1, on my way to Redondo Beach, and I saw a bald man in a Franciscan robe holding a sign saying El Segundo / Mission San Buenaventura. I glanced at him and shrugged my shoulders, as if to say no room on the scooter. But I was even more surprised when, a few hours later, having cruised leisurely through the beach cities on a solid gold weekday, and again stopping at Wormy’s Orange Tiki Room in El Segundo, where I planned to spend a few nights out back, working some maintenance to pay for my stay, Wormy planning a weekend long Pip Pip at the Pup in celebration of a local annual surf festival, and who should be there standing in his brown robe at the Orange Tiki Room bar, but the Franciscan I’d seen back at the Traffic Circle. You made it, I said. Pip pip, he replied, picking up his beer and taking a long gulping drink. Ah, he said, that’s the ticket to the pip pip. Wormy came in and introduced me to the monk, a Brother Juniper, a regular, apparently, who never failed to make Wormy’s annual fundraising Pip Pip at the Pub, this weekend being the 12th year in a row, all proceeds going to help fund the surf festival. Late afternoon now, evening glassoff in the offing, but I sat with Juniper in a corner of the bar where we both relaxed after our harrowing commutes from down south through the beach cities up to El Segundo. Wormy’s place gradually filled with pip pippers, a three piece country swing band showed up, a dart tournament grew some serious competitors, and out back a dunk tank was busy with dollar a throw chances to dunk a few local celebrities. The sun went down and the tiki torches came on and the festival was going, the street blocked off, the band now playing some straight ahead surf riffs. Out in the street a travelling carnival with rides for the kids started up. Face paintings. Balloons. Arts and crafts tables. Booths for local businesses and churches to pitch their stories. A police car parked at each end of the block.
“Pip Pip at the Pub” is episode 49 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.