Monday, October 25, 2010

TRIANGULATION OF THE HEART

Lynette and Lu-Ann were nice looking blonds from Northern Virginia. Lynette was serious and easy to talk to but Lu-Ann was cute and laughed at everything I said.

I met them on July 2, 1976 at a KOA outside Nashville Tennessee. This campground was nestled between The Opryland Amusement Park and a Jimmy Dean Sausage slaughtering house. This bucolic spot was my first stop on my sixty-eight day, "Celebrate America, On Its Bicentennial Road Trip."
KAMPGROUNDS OF AMERICA (KOA) WAS FOUNDED IN 1962 BY BILLINGS MONTANA BUSINESSMAN, DAVE DRUM. TODAY THE CHAIN BOASTS 470 FRANCHISES THROUGHOUT NORTH AMERICA.

While playing volleyball next to the lake, I leered at Lu-Ann in her dungarees and yellow bikini top every chance I got. And I melted every time Lynette smiled and addressed me in her intoxicating Southern drawl. This was a great time...even with the constant screams of the amusement park's roller coaster riders and the incredible stink of the Jimmy Dean abattoir.AT LEAST THE AMUSEMENT PARK CLOSED AT NIGHT. HOWEVER, THE 24/7 SLAUGHTERHOUSE STENCH WAS AT THE WHIMSY OF A CONSISTENT WIND, IN OUR DIRECTION.

During a break in the volleyball action, the girls mentioned that they were on their way to Arkansas, (to a hippie commune). But they went out of their way to see the Grand Ole Opry. I injected my superficial knowledge of the old TV show, "HEE HAW." They were impressed when I rattled off the names of performers and quoted from comedy segments.  I guess it was a surprise that a foreigner (from Brooklyn) appreciated Southern culture.
IN 1976, THE ORIGINAL OPRY HOUSE WAS A MUSEUM. IT HAD ALREADY BEEN REPLACED BY A LARGER, CONTEMPORARY THEATER.


When volleyball broke-up, I tried splitting the girls up so I could make my move on the one who stayed but nothing was working. Two guys came by and hit on them.  The girls warded them off. I knew I was still in the running. I suggested that we make a barbecue together for dinner.  Lynette said, "That's such a good idea but we arranged to meet people in town." I said, "Oh. How about the three of us going to the amusement park tomorrow?" Lu-Ann pointed to their badly dented and rusted VW Microbus and said, "Can you see it? One of the back windows fell out yesterday." Lynette said, " And there's something wrong with the air-conditioning. We need to replace the glass and bring it to a mechanic. Hopefully it only needs freon but between the two problems, it could be an all day affair."

Later, at the community campfire, I had gravitated to the two guys who unsuccessfully tried to pick-up the girls. They were from Connecticut. One of them said, he was sure that the girls liked me. I told him I wasn't so sure because they refused my offer to go the amusement park. He said, "You should still try."

An old-timer who was an employee of the campground extinguished the bonfire early and said that there was lightning in the near distance. The wind picked up and changed direction. I gave a sniff and for the first time all day, I couldn't smell the odor of dead pigs.

I said good-night and took the long way back, to see if the girls had returned. They hadn't so I went back to my tent. By flashlight, I scribbled some entries into my journal. Seconds after closing my eyes for the first time away from home, the calm pitter-patter of rain hitting my plastic shelter eased me to sleep.

I woke up from a nightmare that involved falling into a deep, black abyss. I was startled and sprang up in my sleeping bag. I didn't realize that the cold, damp object rubbing the side of my head was the roof of my sagging tent. Plus, I had the eerie sensation that the earth below me had slightly moved. Any notion that I might still be dreaming ended when a blend of thunder cracks, sheets of pelting rain and far off distressed voices got my attention. I blindly groped for my flashlight but all I found in the darkness was soggy earth. Suddenly the whole kit and kaboodle beneath me moved again...causing the tent to collapse on me.

I re-united myself with my flashlight only to see some of my stuff floating around in a quarter-inch of water. I crawled out into the storm and found my tent in a rivulet. I had to grab it or the current would have taken my belongings downstream towards the lake. I put everything onto higher ground and headed to the administration office. Forty-plus soaked and freezing campers had beaten to that tiny slice of heaven. The toothless old man who put out the campfire made a reference to Nashville's great flood of 1927 and handed me a dry blanket. Soon he returned with coffee and a doughnut. Moments later, Lynette and Lu-Ann came running in. They said rain water was flooding into their microbus.

My doughnut was already gone but I gave Lynette my coffee and Lu-Ann my blanket. I liked the way Lu-Ann was looking at me. At the precise moment that I advanced on her for a hug of mutual warmth someone said, "It's letting up." Lynette snarled, "We have to go Steve. C'mon Lu we got to get back and clean up the van."

I trudged through the mud and dragged my things to the office's porch. I draped my tent and sleeping bag over the wooden railing. Inside, I found a partitioned alcove that housed an arcade. I curled up on the floor, used my backpack as a pillow and closed my eyes. Through chattering teeth, I got two hours of semi-private, bad sleep.

The morning was bright and warm.  After tending to my wet stuff, I waited in line at the laundromat. While my clothes were in the washer, I ventured out to find Lu-Ann. It was 8:30 but she and Lynette were already gone.

At the office I bumped into the Connecticut boys. Their trailer was unaffected by the storm. They invited me to join them for breakfast and Opryland. At the same time, the owners of the campground came in. The man who gave me the blanket whispered to them. The taller owner handed me a $4.50 refund, told me the next night was free and asked me if there was anything else they could do for me. When the shock of his hospitality wore off, I explained my situation. He offered to have an attendant watch my things while I was out for the day and have my tent and sleeping bag re-packed when they dried.

Everything was going my way. I had a blast with these guys and the day got better when we bumped into Lynette and Lu-Ann at the Log Flume ride. Lynette didn't look too thrilled but Lu-Ann took my arm and said, "You boys won't mind if I steal Steve away." The Connecticut boys smiled and left me in good hands. Lynette seemed jealous and didn't take well to the "third-wheel" concept. She never left us and even sat between us on some rides. A couple of times, Lu-Ann and I locked pinkies for a second or two behind Lynette's back but that was as amorous as we got.

It was twilight time when I said to Lu-Ann, "How about me and you going on the Ferris Wheel?" It was obvious that Lynette would never make it as a wing-man when she blurted, "We have to leave!" Lu-Ann looked at her watch and said, "We can't leave him here." Lynette said, "The back seat is musty from all the rain...and besides if we take him back, we'll miss the beginning of the show." Lu-Ann said, "We're going to see Roy Clark at the Grand Ole Opry..." I said, "I love when he sings, 'Ghost Riders in the Sky.' Can I tag along?" Lynette snapped, "No, we got two tickets and its sold out!" She grabbed Lu-Ann and led her away. But Lu-Ann twisted out of her girlfriend's grasp and came back to kiss me and say, "We're leaving for Arkansas in the morning. I'll never see you again." I said, "I'm heading west too. Can I get a ride with you to Memphis?"

It was the 4th of July, the exact 200th birthday of our country. I climbed into the back of the girl's van and began a three and a half hour period of nearly dead silence. I was still hoping to get a bang out of the holiday but Lynette assigned all the driving to Lu-Ann. Lu-Ann seemed to be an inexperienced driver and Lynette made certain all her concentration was in the interstate.

The back of their bus had no seats. So I positioned myself behind the passenger seat. That way, I had a constant diagonal view of Lu-Ann's profile. But she wasn't talking much. I tried to tolerate the situation but between the quiet and the stale, moldiness, I was both physically and emotionally uncomfortable.

At a pit-stop, my eyes locked onto the chest of Lu-Ann's tight, white tee-shirt. She was unencumbered by a brassiere so I fixed on her perky chili bean-like indentations as I told them of Memphis' huge bicentennial party. Lu-Ann seemed resigned to not getting further involved with me. I added. "There's gonna be fireworks over the Mississippi River. Its a once in a lifetime..." Lynette cut me off, "We're not stopping." I continued, "Even if you didn't want to see that...Beale Street is the 'Blues Capital' of the world. It'll be so cool. We can get some drinks and listen..." Lynette blared, "Stop it! We were supposed to be at the commune yesterday."THE THREE-SPAN SYSTEM THAT CROSSES THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER INTO ARKANSAS ARE, THE HARAHAN, FRISCO AND MEMPHIS-ARKANSAS MEMORIAL BRIDGES.

We got to Memphis and soon, the bridge to Arkansas was in sight. Lu-Ann pulled off onto the shoulder before the Front Street exit. Lynette said, "Get out!" I could see Lu-Ann was purposely avoiding eye-contact. I said,"Maybe I can come to the commune with you." Lynette leaned across the gap between the bucket seats and lifted Lu-Ann's shirt. Lu-Ann did not protest as Lynette suckled her boobs. Lynette stopped and began passionately kissing Lu-Ann. When Lynette stopped she said, "Where we are going, men are not welcome." She waited for my response but none came. She said, "What are you dense? We're lesbians you idiot. Haven't you figured that out yet?" I fought off the urge to say, "I don't care if she's a lesbian, she can go to her church and I'll go to mine." But I didn't. I just grabbed my things and slithered out of the van. Then dumbfounded, I stood and watched them vanish over the Harahan Bridge's crest.


# # #


A scant 100 editions of, "MORE GLIB ThAN PROFOUND," ago, I celebrated my 100th blog. That can only mean one thing, that with the bit of hilarity above, I have reached the rarefied air of my 200th column. Yay me, and of course, yay you.

A special thanks to RBOY who kept a journal during our 1974 working vacation in Disney World. That idea spurred me to chronicle the events of my bicentennial road trip. Then twenty years later, my itch to write was permanently ignited by my friend, crime novelist Charlie Stella, (a.k.a. CHARLIEOPERA). He heard some of my life experiences and told me that I was a natural story teller. From that compliment, I began to write. Along the way, in 2006, RFOURACRE encouraged me to start this blog.

The result is, I have parlayed all three of those influences into 200, "MORE GLIB ThAN PROFOUND," blogs, 20 short stories set in Las Vegas, two horror screenplays, a novel and an incalculable amount of personal satisfaction.

MORE IMPORTANTLY, THANK YOU MY READERS, FOR YOUR CONTINUOUS SUPPORT!

Monday, October 18, 2010

THERE'S ONLY ONE MEMBER OF THIS FAMILY WITH THE RIGHT STUFF TO BE A SUPER-HERO

PBECK and I were friends in the eighth through tenth grade. In addition to his friendship, both his parents were cordial and took an interest in me.

For those of you that know my deepest peccadilloes, you may recall, it was PBECK's mom who gave me the chocolate pudding with banana chunks hidden inside. Luckily she was a champ about a fourteen-year old spitting her graciousness into his hand. Since then, I've never allowed my most hated food back in my mouth!

PBECK's dad was chatty. He always impressed me that he knew about me and cared enough to ask how I was doing. But the one thing that stands out about him was the old-fashioned two-dollar bill that he had framed in PBECK's room. It was the first money Mr. Beck ever earned and an apparent symbol for his son to be industrious.
TWO-DOLLAR BILLS WERE RARELY SEEN WHICH ADDED TO MY FASCINATION.

In the summer of 1969, a neighbor arranged my first job...supermarket inventory. I remember planning to frame one of the bills from my pay to hang my room. My idealism was lost when my five and a half hours of toil netted me a nine dollar and change payroll check. Even worse, I was caught off guard by the idea of not getting paid for the forty-five minute car ride from Canarsie to Upper Manhattan (and back) plus my personal prep time, (ah, to be so young and so dumb...I expected two more hours pay). And let's not forget the ultimate kick in the groin: getting taxed!
THE SUPERMARKET (SLOAN'S) WAS IN HARLEM. AN ARMY OF TEENAGE BOYS IN SHORTS AND TEE-SHIRTS CONVERGED ON THAT HUGE, CIVIL WAR-ERA BUILDING, (IT ONCE HOUSED A PALATIAL MOVIE THEATER).
My pay was the astronomical sum of $1.85 an hour. If that didn't leave a bad enough taste in my mouth, I didn't like getting locked inside either. The actual mission involved manually counting every item. My co-workers were all older teens. They seemed to be seasoned veterans but unlike me, they were goofy and having fun. The job wasn't difficult but without a diversion, it was as boring as hell. IT TOOK AN ETERNITY TO FINISH ACCOUNTING FOR THE CANNED VEGGIES AISLE. I FINISHED THE ASSIGNMENT BY DOING A PYRAMID OF OKRA, SAUERKRAUT OR SOME SUCH TRIPE.

I felt like I had accomplished something when I came down from the ladder. Lenny, my seventeen-year old "supervisor" then told me to go in the back and count-down the far left wall. His hot breath smelled like rancid, decomposing meat. So to get away from the odor, I gladly burst through the swinging doors that separated the public part of the store and the "back of the house."
The storage area was poorly lit and with every step I took, it got darker. At first, the stock was stored on solid wooden shelves. As I went along, those fixtures became rickety and held less merchandise. Soon the shelves were bare, splintered and in ruins. I walked under the last, flickering 40 watt bulb as a foul stench that reminded me of wet, Canadian pennies invaded my nostrils. Tucked far away from anything clean, I tip-toed between an oily, standing water lake and a congealed puddle of molten ooze before coming to the end of my journey.

I was so stupid that I wasn't afraid until I stepped on the pallet against the buckling, farthest brick wall. Several water bugs scattered under my feet as I bent down to look at the pile of deteriorated packages that I was sent to tally. Without a flashlight, the only identifiable product was the remnants of a Swanson TV dinner box. The rest of these former food items seemed fused to the floor. Suddenly, a giant greasy rat scurried under the wooden slats below me. The taste of bile rushed up from my throat. I turned and ran...only to be cut off by a group of hysterical boys.

Their laughing and finger pointing was humiliating. I was taken aside by my supervisor. I was too innocent to doubt his subsequent reassuring, yet stinky words. He led me to a gigantic, medieval-looking, wooden door with a tiny window. He unlocked the big silvery handle and we went in. This refrigerated room had cases of beer neatly stacked all around us. I noticed the lilting fragrance of stale urine. Compared to everything else, it smelled like roses. After Lenny explained a multiplication short-cut, he left and closed the door.
I was dressed for a hot August day, so within five minutes, I needed to warm up. That's when I realized that those bastards locked me in. I didn't panic...for the first twenty seconds. Then I looked through the little window, saw nobody and screamed my head off. Luckily the hazing wasn't carried off by hardcore sadists. When the geniuses came out of the shadows, they pretended to not hear my pleas for another minute or two. I was shivering when the gang led me back in the store. By that time, I was laughing with them. But I never did supermarket inventory again!

My son Andrew will be embarking on his first real job tomorrow. I'm confident that there won't be any rookie rites of passage but my wife and I are coming along for support anyway.

Andrew was hired as a party character. He will be in costume, playing Batman at the Absecon Family Fair, (Memorial Field on New Jersey Avenue, in beautiful downtown Absecon).
UP TILL NOW, ADAM WEST WAS MY DEFINITIVE BATMAN. BUT HE WASN'T THE FIRST ACTOR TO PORTRAY OUR HERO ON THE SILVER SCREEN. CHECK THIS OUT ALL YOU TRIVIA BUFFS, IT WAS LEWIS WILSON, IN 1943. OF COURSE, WE ARE MORE FAMILIAR WITH MICHAEL KEATON, CHRISTIAN BALE, VAL KILMER AND GEORGE CLOONEY IN THE TITLE ROLE. HOWEVER, I'M CERTAIN THAT MY BOY WILL BECOME THE NEW STANDARD FOR ALL FUTURE CAPED CRUSADERS.

To get this position, Andrew had to pass two tests. The first was an in depth interview. Then on another day, he was suited-up for the Atlantic City Women's Expo where he auditioned for the Batman part. Having successfully scaled both obstacles, my little guy will officially become a crime-fighting tax-payer in the morning.

EGGS-ACTLY WHAT I THOUGHT YOU'D THINK...BUT NO THAT'S NOT ME, SILLY. IT'S VINCENT PRICE AS BATMAN'S ARCH NEMESIS, EGGHEAD.

Unlike the tedium of my first job, I'm willing to bet that our latest Batman will face his harshest challenge in the form of amorous pre-teen girls.

BACK IN SEPTEMBER, DURING ANDREW'S TRYOUT, HE SAVED MANY LIVES IN GOTHAM CITY AND PUT MANY VILLAINS IN JAIL OR ON THE ROAD TO A CLEAN LIFE THROUGH BETTER LIVING.

To prove his value, our noble champion of justice has already been scheduled for two more gigs, (a school's book sale and a Halloween party). Maybe someday soon, I can find PBECK's dad and show him the framed picture in my room of Andrew's Batmobile and the DeLorean my industrious, super-hero bought me, for cash.

Monday, October 11, 2010

BAD THINGS HAPPEN IN THREES

Here in the Mid-Atlantic states, autumn is ushered in with September's last gasp of summer together with remnants of far away tropical storms. Early October signals a great change as lush green leaves gradually change to robust gold, rust and burnt orange. The beautiful celebration ends as the foliage wither and fall off the trees. November is a raking nightmare as barren limbs dominate December's ominous, pre-winter landscape.


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David Brenner was a popular stand-up comedian for decades. He holds the record with 158 guest appearances on Johnny Carson's, "TONIGHT SHOW." The Comedy Central Network placed him #53, in their, "TOP 100 STAND-UP COMEDIANS SURVEY." In the fall of 1976, he had his biggest opportunity. He was to be the star of NBC's new sit-com, "SNIP."
                    STILL ACTIVE, BRENNER WILL TURN 75 ON FEBRUARY 4, 2011.

"Snip," was a take-off of the hit Warren Beatty movie, "SHAMPOO" with Brenner also playing a hairdresser. NBC produced five episodes but at the last minute, without citing a specific reason, they pulled the show. However the common belief was that the portrayal of Brennan's openly gay boss was too far ahead of its time. This reversal of fortune was such a shock that "TV GUIDE," still included the program in their September 30, 1976 issue.

The "Snip" pilot never aired in the USA. However, a few episodes aired in Australia and got good ratings. But it too got sucked into the unknown maelstrom and was cancelled within a short time.
Brenner still enjoyed a great career. I remember him joking a lot about growing up in Philadelphia as well as life in his adopted home, Manhattan. In my opinion, his most memorable line was his solution to the New York City Sanitation Department strike. First, he primed the audience with descriptions of sidewalks piled high with great masses of trash heaps. Then he got into its stink and the vermin it attracted before saying, "But I never have any problem getting rid of my garbage...I just gift wrap it and leave it on the front seat of my car."

My friend ZYMBOT should have heeded Brennan's message. In the summer of 1984, Mr. Z bought a Saab.AMONGST OUR CLIQUE, A BRAND NEW SAAB WAS A MAJOR STATUS UPGRADE.


Flowglo, (Zymbot's wife) and all his friends, never saw that fire-engine red car. The reason was, on his virgin trip home from the showroom, our hero stopped off at a Hagen Daz for a celebratory ice cream. In the assumed safety of his own neighborhood, (Park Slope, Brooklyn), the genius left the car running and double-parked as he indulged his fat attack. So much for the home field advantage, when he returned, his face was as red as the Swedish nightingale that he'd never see again.

Six weeks later in early October, the collateral damage of a distant hurricane wrought havoc to New York City. During that afternoon, Zymbot, an antique dealer, drove his replacement, beige Saab through rain torrents into the Tribeca section of lower Manhattan. His luck seemed to change as the raw, violent storm magically subsided and vanished. The thick black-gray clouds parted and gave way to blue skies and a clean, crisp breeze. He turned onto a narrow, busy side street and approached his destination. His good fortune fully blossomed as a boat-like Cadillac vacated the enormous, rare and primo parking spot out front.

Zymbot resisted the instinct to grab his beat-up umbrella. He realized it wasn't raining and if it started back up that he was only fifteen feet from the door. Plus, on the way out, he'd be better off if his hands were free to carry his fragile purchases. An hour later when the last of the merchandise was safety stowed in the trunk and back seat, Zymbot went back in to schmooze a little more. While chatting, the lights flickered and a loud crack of thunder was followed with a sudden downpour.

When Mr. Z. came back out, he was initially glad that it wasn't raining. Then he became shocked to see his passenger side window smashed in. He stood in bewilderment, scratching his head trying to assess the situation. A light drizzle limited him to a brief scan of the empty street. When his booty of semi-valuable goods were accounted for, he weighed his options.

Zymbot accepted the breakage as a random act of vandalism as the rain became steadier. He decided to immediately replace the window. Homeward bound, at the crest of the Brooklyn Bridge, the skies opened up. He turned the windshield wipers onto the hyper-setting as a harsh crosswind tingled the right side of his body with cold raindrops. A wild idea came to mind; to rig his tired, old umbrella as a shield.  However, upon a quick scan of the floor where he had left it, all he found was broken glass.

Had Zymbot listened to David Brenner's schtick, he would have at least known to keep the car door unlocked, sacrifice the umbrella and avoid a broken window.
The Saab was driven with plastic covering the window for three weeks because that model was so new that the dealership had trouble locating the proper replacement glass.

On the last Sunday on October, the autumn foliage was in its prime. Together with my wife Sue, another couple, plus Zymbot and Flowglo, I drove the whole motley crew ninety minutes north, to West Haverstraw, in upstate New York.

Our outing was a three-part mission. First was to get out of the city and enjoy the scenery. Second was to go apple picking and lastly, have a country picnic.
SUE'S PHOTOGRAPH CAPTURES THE CONFUSION REIGNING SUPREME AS MIKE, FLOWGLO, DARYLE AND ZYMBOT CAN'T FIGURE OUT WHICH DIRECTION THE APPLE ORCHARD IS.

The orchard owners charge a nominal fee to get in and then you pay by the pound on the way out. To expedite the fun, everyone is provided with a long apple picking pole. This device has two key characteristics; a claw-like twisting mechanism that allows you to remove the fruit from high branches plus a basket to catch it in. WITH THE APPLE PICKING POLES, WE FORMED A GIANT "W" LIKE IN THE MOVIE, "ITS A MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD." BUT THE OUTER ARMS OF THE "W" WERE CROPPED-OUT OF THIS SHOT. AT LEAST WE STILL HAVE THE BURIED TREASURE IN THE MIDDLE.

Sue and I took home five pounds of apples. Mike and Daryle had a bigger family and took home more. Zymbot and Flowglo decided to give them as gifts, so they filled two bags. TO REDUCE THE COST, ZYMOT TRIED TO SMUGGLE OUT A McINTOSH AND A GOLDEN DELICIOUS IN HIS PANTS...UNTIL FLOWGLO BUSTED HIM.

Zymbot pretended to be catatonic after Flowglo's embittered tongue lashing over the his "apples in the sweat-pants" antics.
NICE GUYS FINISH LAST. I CARRIED BOTH OF ZYMBOT'S APPLE BAGS BACK TO CIVILIZATION AS WELL AS MY OWN, AFTER HE BAMBOOZLED ME INTO BELIEVING THAT HE WAS MENTALLY CASTRATED BY HIS WIFE'S SCREAMING.

We finished our country excursion near West Point, New York with an open air lunch at Bear Mountain State Park.
STILL PREYING ON OUR SYMPATHIES AFTER BEING SUPPOSEDLY EMASCULATED, ZYMBOT TOOK A LITTLE SOMETHING TO EASE THE IMPLIED PAIN. AND EVEN WORSE, HE WASN'T SHARING ANY WITH THE REST OF US.

Zymbot got back his repaired Saab the next day. Flowglo took one bag of apples in her car and he took the other. On that Tuesday, Zymbot was frustrated when he struck out on an antique call on Yellowstone Boulevard in Forest Hills. But he was absolutely livid when he found the new window smashed in and his five pound bag of apples...missing!

October indeed brought Zymbot many changes. From Saabs of fire-engine red to beige...to a luckier, new Oldsmobile of black. It was just about that time that Mr. Z started losing his hair. And even a thousand David Brenners couldn't make that funny.

Monday, October 4, 2010

MY HOLLYWOOD DEBUT

Frank Sinatra's mother, Natalie "Dolly" Sinatra died in a January 1977 plane crash on San Gorgonio Mountain, near Desert Hot Springs California. Six months earlier, during my cross-country escapade in 1976, I was in that tiny suburb of Palm Springs.  More specifically, I didn't set out to go to this insignificant dot in the Mohave Desert, I wound up there.  
SNOWY SAN GORGONIO IS SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA'S HIGHEST PEAK.
This road trip celebrated my last summer of childhood together with our country's bicentennial. The majority of my travel was by bus. At the time, Greyhound offered its Ameri-Pass. This great deal provided sixty days of unlimited travel for $250.00. Even better, greyhound had a reciprocal agreement with Trailways and other smaller lines, so theses passes were honored by the other companies. The catch was, in 1976, there were tons of places that were still inaccessible by public bus. Therefore, my trip included a lot of hitchhiking.



SALTER BUS LINES (NEW ORLEANS TO RUSTON LOUISIANA),  STOOD OUT AS THE WORST OF THE SMALLER BUS COMPANIES.  COMPARED TO THE COMPETITION, THAT DILAPIDATED RATTLETRAP LOOKED LIKE IT WAS FROM A 1940's, THIRD WORLD COUNTRY.  MY BUS WAS FILLED WITH LITTER, THERE WAS NO AIR-CONDITIONING AND NOXIOUS ENGINE FUMES WERE CONTINUOUSLY BOMBARDING THE RIDERS.  IN RETROSPECT, AN EXTRA FEE, TO TAKE YOUR CHANCES SITTING ON THE ROOF WOULD HAVE BEEN WORTH THE RISK.

I only had one problem with Greyhound. Somewhere in the 285 miles between Las Vegas and Los Angeles, they lost my luggage (backpack).
YOU MIGHT NOTICE THAT I'M ON CANADIAN SOIL, (BANFF ALBERTA).  FORGET THAT!  THE SIGNIFICANCE HERE IS, I'M CARRYING ALL MY CROSS-COUNTRY POSSESSIONS...A BACKPACK AND A SHOULDER BAG.

In Los Angeles, a Greyhound public relations representative named Norman Gildersleeve (his real name), told me they "tracked" down my bag in Idaho. He told me that I'd be paged on the PA system when my back pack came in the next day.  Unfortunately, it took a week, (maybe there's a town on Guam called Idaho).

I spent nearly all my time, for the next three days, at or near the bus station.  On a limited budget, this inconvenience forced to wear the same clothes. I felt like a vagrant. At night, I even rode the bus back and forth from San Diego, so I could sleep.
THANK GOODNESS THE WAITING ROOM HAD PINBALL MACHINES AND COIN-OP TV's, (20 MINUTES FOR A QUARTER) CONNECTED TO THE HARD PLASTIC CHAIRS.
I was playing pinball just after dark when I struck up a conversation with a guy my age named Bryan Friend, (his real name). He suggested eating at a taqueria. L.A.'s bus depot was enormous.  Bryan led me past a wall of a twenty opaque exit doors until we got to the rear entrance. This taco stand was in the heart of Skid Row. A who's who of annoying undesirables lined the streets as well as the inside of this greasy spoon. During dinner, Bryan told me he was going back home to Desert Hot Springs. At that point, as I dreaded the walk past the unsafe dregs of society, I asked him if I could hang-out with him for a couple of days until my stuff was returned to me.
AT THE CORNER OF SKIDMARK AND SYRINGE, THE BACK ENTRANCE OF THE LOS ANGELES GREYHOUND STATION.

Bryan lived up to his last name by feeling like a good friend. On the midnight bus to his town, I found out that even your best buddy can leave-out major details. First, he mentioned that he owned a brown, 1969 Pontiac Le Mans. Then he said that he lived nine miles from the bus depot in Palm Springs. It was only when we arrived, after 2:AM, that he said that his car was parked at his house.

Palm Springs is not only a ghost town in the wee hours but the open road on the outskirts of this desert oasis (even in summer) left us exposed to a stinging breeze. I was shivering my ass off as we combined walking and hitchhiking. In thirty minutes, five hundred tumble-weeds bounced past us but only three cars. Luckily the third, a 1960 Ford Meteor stopped for us.
PICTURE THIS CAR AS A CONVERTIBLE...EXCEPT IT'S A RUSTED-OUT HEAP WITH NO ROOF, WINDOWS OR WINDSHIELD...BECAUSE THEY WERE ALL SAWED-OFF.

The fifty-ish driver was wearing a bloody chef's apron and funky World War I aviator goggles. We told him where we were going and he slurred in a heavy German accent, "Get in, schnell." It was desperation time, I would have taken a ride from Charles Manson...and perhaps I did.

Bryan sat up front. I discovered the hard way that the back seat had no upholstery, so I sat on raw, rusty springs. Within a half-mile of swerving, we knew our savior was a sloppy drunk as he accelerated out of town.

At 75MPH without a windshield, this would be the last time I remember my hair getting in my eyes. But far worse, the tiny, omnipresent, airborne, desert dust particles continuously stung my face. Between this sot speeding, me freezing, getting sand blasted and having a rusty spring up my butt...the situation couldn't get worse...WRONGO!

Our driver said he was a cook at one of the hotels in Palm Springs. He starting complaining about Ed Goldfarb, his manager. Then between hiccups, he turned his eyes off the road and asked me, "Neither of you boys are Jews...are you?" I found lying to be prudent. Seconds after he turned back around, he slammed on the brakes, skidded to a stop and said, "Let's get something to eat." He was making a derogatory comment about his Asian ex as we bounced over the curb and into a SAMBO'S restaurant parking lot.
SAMBO'S WAS FOUNDED IN 1957.  BY 1979, THEY HAD 1,200 OUTLETS IN 47 STATES.  AROUND THAT TIME, CIVIL RIGHTS GROUPS PROTESTED THAT THE NAME AND INTERIOR DECORATIONS WERE OFFENSIVE TO BLACK PEOPLE. LAWSUITS WERE FILED.  DESPITE CHANGING THE NAME AND OTHER CONCESSIONS, THE COMPANY CRUMBLED.  TODAY, ONLY THE ORIGINAL RESTAURANT IN SANTA BARBARA CALIFORNIA REMAINS.

In the empty restaurant, the drunk told us to get anything we wanted.  A chubby waitress took our order.  Bryan and I just got coffee. Our host pinched the girl's derriere as she turned away. She responded with a harsh glare.

During our awkward wait, an Hispanic motorcycle cop came in and sat at the counter. The waitress hustled over, whispered to him and pointed in our direction. The officer approached and said, "Werner, you okay to get home?" I was shocked that the policeman knew this nimrod's name. Rather than nod our chauffeur blasted, "Ya, ya leave me and mein friends alone." The cop asked Bryan and I to identify ourselves. When he was satisfied that we weren't run-aways, he gestured towards the waitress and said, "Werner, just keep your mitts to your self."

Werner MF'ed the police, Latinos, blacks, Jews and Asians as we sped away. To avoid being bludgeoned to death in his sleep by a potential psychotic, Bryan had us dropped off three blocks from his place.

On the frosty, three-block walk home, we passed dozens of identical, tiny, shack-like houses. In the distance, I sighed in relief when I spotted a brown Le Mans. Up close, beyond the weed-infested, white pebble garden, Bryan's flimsy house looked like four pieces of galvanized sheet metal stapled together.

Inside, up against the bare cinder block wall, Bryan pointed to a beat up sofa and said, "I'll get you a pillow and blanket." I emptied my pockets onto a coffee table that was a sliver of wall paneling set atop three stacks of, "POPULAR MECHANICS," magazines. I asked, "Where's the bathroom?" Bryan pointed to a finger-shaped sign above the kitchenette's door that read: REST ROOMS OUT BACK. To this day, other than port-a-potties that would be my only exposure to a genuine outhouse, (yes it did have a crescent moon cut out of its door). In the morning, I found out that the shower was also out back.

Bryan lent me some clothes and took me to a laundromat. He was out of work so we spent most of the next two days watching TV, (yawn), seeing both local points of interest (YAWN!) or visiting with his CB friends, (DOUBLE YAWN !!). We ate all our meals in burger joints but on the last day to show my appreciation, after he turned down my offer of gas money, I treated him to a regular restaurant. He chose Sambo's.
BRYAN DROVE AN HOUR IN EACH DIRECTION TO THESE SAHARA-LIKE SAND DUNES.  ALL FIFTEEN MINUTES THERE WERE MEMORABLE.

After two days, Bryan dropped me off in the Palm Springs bus station. I slept the whole ride into LA. I hoped that my odyssey would end when I retrieved my back pack. Instead I wound up arguing with Norman Gildersleeve until he gave me a small stipend for my four nights in motels, (I did good considering I didn't have receipts). I also got him to extend my bus pass, eight days.

I decided to get away from Southern California and chose San Francisco. I had two hours to kill before departure. I wanted to go to the taqueria again. I was passing the long wall of doors when I realized that it would be a shortcut to leave through the side rather than the back. But all the exit doors had yellow, emergency tape on them. I didn't care, I ducked underneath the tape and pushed through an opaque door. Simultaneously, someone outside yelled, "CUT !" Then another voice profaned me. I had walked into the middle of the set during a filming of TV's, "BARETTA." I wasn't embarrassed that I ruined the scene.  I even thought it was cool until some assistant to the assistant director gave me the bum's rush past Robert Blake and Antonio Vargas. He escorted me beyond the rope that cordoned off the public...and was told to stay there.

I watched the actors complete their scene. After, I went for more tacos.
IRONICALLY, I'VE BEEN TO LOS ANGELES SIX TIMES AND I'VE NEVER LAID EYES ON THE ICONIC HOLLYWOOD SIGN.

At Christmastime, I sent Bryan a holiday card and thanked him again for his hospitality. In my note, I included my Baretta experience in LA-LA-Land. Jokingly, I finished with, "I wonder if my debut in Hollywood was lost on the cutting room floor. " My friend never responded.



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EDITOR'S NOTE - A FRIEND OF MGTP, RGERM7, WAS LIVING IN LAS VEGAS IN JANUARY 1977 WHEN FRANK SINATRA'S MOTHER DIED IN THE PLANE CRASH MENTIONED ABOVE.  RGERM7 WAS, (STILL IS), SUCH A SINATRA FAN THAT HE AND HIS PARENTS RENTED A LIMO TO PALM SPRINGS AND SUCCESSFULLY CRASHED THE FUNERAL.