LA Weekly July 14-20,
Let’s Get Lost
by Dianne V. Lawrence
I haven’t passed an exit in the last half-hour,
but one miraculously appears. It’s an exit with
a gas station north of the Grapevine. A beautiful oasis,
surrounded by flat, golden fields, with coffee and a telephone.
My crippled wagon pulls in and clanks to a halt, and I
step out into sun and dry desert wind in my hair and the
deep quiet of all that uninterrupted space. The unexpected
has caught me.
I’m towed to the closest open garage in the closest
small town. Maybe 300 people living across a two-lane
highway from some kind of industrial farm. It’s
my lucky day, because the owner of the garage is running
for mayor. Today he’s raising money by hosting a
big picnic in the local park, and I’m invited to
go while the garage investigates my station wagon. The
manager of the garage, a friendly, nice-looking guy in
his 40s, drives me to the park and talks about his divorce
and loneliness and desire to settle down again. Sometimes
when I’ve gotten tired of big-city demands and disappointments,
I’ve joked about escaping to a small town and marrying
a mechanic. As I listen to his lonely, hopeful voice,
I turn my eyes heavenward and think, Just kidding!
At the parking lot we separate and I head off toward the
activity. There are about 50 people scattered about, most
of them eating hot dogs and sitting at picnic tables in
the shade of a stand of listless trees. Some wander around
and greet neighbors. There’s a touch-football game
in progress. I get some lemonade and pull a chair up to
the ticket table.
A young, plump woman is in charge of the tickets. I smile
hello, she smiles back, content and easy in her demeanor.
She’s okay with what’s going on in her life.
Maybe kids, a faithful loving husband, civic involvement.
Or maybe a divorce and freedom at last. Next to her is
a teenage boy, all skinniness and ears and a gosh-darn
kind of enthusiasm. When he hears I’m from L.A.
the questions start. How often do I run into movie stars?
Once a year. Have I ever seen a drive-by shooting? No,
but there was a shootout in front of my door once. How
can I stand the pollution? I quit smoking, and they have
emission controls now. Suddenly the questions stop and
the boy’s lower jaw starts dropping lower. I turn
to look, and coming toward us is a vision of tall, lanky,
movie-star blondness. I blurt out, "What the hell
is she doing here?" and the plump woman smiles, points
to the football game and says, "She’s married
to him." I think, Of course, the two most beautiful
people in town. What choice did they have? I wonder if
her beauty isolates her from other women. How does she
exercise the power that comes with that kind of beauty
in this small town? What else do they have in common?
Why have they stayed here? Meanwhile the teenager is becoming
frantic. "Damn, she’s the best thing I’ve
ever seen! Is she married? Damn I want her!" He jumps
up from his seat and sits back down. "What the hell
can I say to her? "The plump woman looks at me. We
don’t know if we should be amused at this burst
of uncontrollable hope, delusion and testosterone or be
concerned for the safety of the woman. She arrives and
asks for two lemonade tickets. The boy, grinning from
ear to ear, does not shy away from the golden opportunity.
In a tone of unbridled giddiness laced with sincere concern,
he asks if she’s enjoying herself. She takes her
tickets, mutters, "Yeah, it’s fun," turns
and walks away. There’s an awkward moment among
the three of us, and then I notice my mechanic friend
waving at me. I say my goodbyes and get a warm smile from
the plump woman and a sheepish grin from the boy.
My car needs to be towed to Bakersfield, about an hour
away. It’s late afternoon, and the sun is warm and
low in the sky and will be at our backs. The divorced
mechanic drives. I ask a lot of questions. How long had
he been married? Why had it ended? Why should his boss
be mayor? Did he have hobbies? Had he always been a mechanic?
Clouds have been gathering. We finally pull off the highway,
and as we take the exit curve he points out the mechanic’s
shop under the pass. There’s my motel, conveniently
located behind a McDonald’s and a Denny’s.
The suburban edge of Bakersfield surrounds us. I’m
having the perfect American experience: highways, broken
cars, motels and easy access to French fries. My escort
pulls into the motel lot and unhooks the wagon as I register.
I unload my suitcases in my room and it begins to pour.
I open the curtain, fall back on the bed and lie there
listening and watching the rain fall. Nothing to do, nowhere
to go, only one phone call to make. Was that thunder?
I really needed to stop. Feel completely uncompelled.
Stare at the rain. Watch a movie. Maybe three or four.
Sleep. Stare some more. Nothing to do. Nowhere to go.
The unexpected has taken me to a place I absolutely had
to get to. It rains all weekend. The sun is shining.
Excerpt from "What
a Dump! Tales from Al’s Bar,
L.A.’s distinguished demi-monde dive."
A series of short stories by Al’s habitue’s.
L. A. Style magazine July 1987
It was 1980 and Al’s was an uninviting door under
a white bulb on a street that was darker than my last
depression. The moment I stepped inside I knew I was home
free. No Westside decorator’s politics here. No
seething Hollywood ambition, desperately optimistic actors,
producers with telephones ringing within two feet of wherever
they were, writers with tears and loathing or people who
mistook their ambition for spiritual destiny. No, just
the pool table, the jukebox, those bleak, black booths,
the smell of stale beer and….comrades! Deep funk,
downtown, hardcore, easygoing poetry! All right.