The Makings of a Book. . .
Las Vegas is a place that encourages you not to speak of the affairs that take place there, so I’ll honor that and skip forward to the next day.
I intended to stay in the city for a few more nights, hustling some extra money on the streets and in the casinos. But Ashley and Slater insisted that I come with them to Los Angeles immediately.
“We’ll take the bus; it’s not expensive.”
“I’ll just hitchhike,” I insisted. I didn’t have money to spend on transportation when I could get for free somewhere else. “I wanna see some friends in Joshua Tree, anyway.”
“We’ll buy your ticket. Come on, man. Please?”
So, Jerry dropped us off at the Greyhound station on South Main St in downtown Vegas. It was too quick of a farewell to the man that became our uncle for three days. A couple handshakes and a hug from Ashley, and he was off to northern California alone in his loaded van. Larry was off somewhere else, probably in a gutter somewhere.
I helped Slater and Ashley schlep their six bags of luggage across the street and into the crowded station. An hour later we were boarding. I took a seat near the front because I didn’t want to risk motion sickness in the back. I was still tired and ill from no sleep. Ashley and Slater sat behind me, excited and eager to get to the coast.
Across from Ashley was a fellow wearing a canvas work jacket with a hood crawling out of the back and over his head, resting against the window. His arms were crossed, and he’d immediately fallen asleep. His bag was on the seat next to him. I sat in a similar fashion because if you look asleep with your luggage beside you, passengers often bypass to an empty seat, leaving you with room to spread out during the haul.
But eventually, a woman wearing a Greyhound badge stepped onto the bus, demanding all the seats stay open because the ride was sold out. I saw her shake awake the guy across the aisle.
“Sir, you have to leave this seat open. Sir?”
He woke up in a panic. “Oh, sorry, sorry,” he said. “I was comatose.” His eyes were red.
The bus filled up quickly. A couple walked aboard. The man sat next to the comatose guy, and his cute girlfriend sat next to me. We introduced ourselves, but I soon realized she’d rather sit next to her boy, so I offered to change spots with him. They thanked me graciously, and I moved with my bag across from Ashley and next to sleepy Joe, who wanted more than anything else to sleep.
“I fucking hate buses,” said Joe. “I’ve been on this same one since Denver with no sleep. 24 hours it’s been. Or more? I don’t even know.” He’d left his home in Colorado with a ticket to Claremont, California, to a begin truck driving school. “There ain’t no work up there in Denver, so I decided I could drive trucks. It’s a real great company. They paid for my ticket to Claremont and back, my food, and my hotel for two weeks while I’m out here. But the training is 12 hours every day for those two weeks. I start tomorrow at 5:00 in the morning, but I’ve gotten no sleep, like I said. I wish that bitch who just came aboard would have left me alone at least until the bus left, cause I can not sleep on these buses. All the rattling and shaking and moving. It’s a drag, man.” He pulled out a half eaten gallon bag of beef jerky from under his seat. “This is all I’ve been eating the whole ride. You want some? I got a lot, as you can see.”
I took a handful.
“Jerky on the road is good,” he said, “but after a whole day of it, it makes me sick. All I want is an In-N-Out burger. Oh shit, how I love In-N-Out Burger.”
“Ah man, me too,” I said. “Best burgers in America. One reason I come to the West Coast,” I said, chewing tough meat.
The bus left 20 minutes after it was scheduled to. . . 4:30 in the dry afternoon. The city was sad, rolling by us like a film, shining in a lonely desert light. The bright lights of the city glowed even in the afternoon, trying so hard to be noticed. Advertisements for strip clubs and magic shows were plastered on the sides of buildings. The mini mirage of New York, New York stuck out of the downtown as its own sad city; the Luxor pyramid glistened blackly in the sun like an Egyptian spaceship; and the red and yellow sign for In-N-Out passed by the windows of the bus, just out of Joe’s reach. He was irritated, chewing painfully on his jerky. The bus rushed out of the sleazy city of Vegas and into the empty desert on Interstate 15. Casinos still sprouted out of the sand, then disappeared. But traffic slowed us down in the valley. We tugged along for hours behind lines of cars and trucks and automobiles alike. Purple mountains and baby blue skies surrounded us, not moving.
“At least we ain’t in Nebraska or something,” I said. “We have something pretty to look at.”
Joe agreed but wanted more than burgers to get to California. He was immediately fed up with the traffic. And to make matters worse, an In-N-Out truck showed up beside us. It remained in our pocket of traffic for the whole ride, taunting Joe.
“Ah, come on!” He said with his mouth gaping and watering. “That’s fucking torture!”
But the tension was eased as the two of us paid attention to the bus driver. He was a short, round man with a bristly mustache who resembled the Monopoly man. He clearly had rage for meaningless traffic, which was an entertaining thing for everyone in the bus because his hatred was a hilarious sight to witness. Joe and I quietly laughed at him from behind the seat as he drove through the unexplained herds of traffic.
He’d say, in his whiny, baby-like voice, unusual statements like, “Don’t get in m’ way or I’ll drive over you and your kids, dame it!” and “Who in their right head would give you a license to drive, Gramps!” and “Don’t make me go Army on your wheel whealding arse!” He’d murmur to himself throughout the entire ride about the condition of drivers in America. It eased the tension.
Joe and I just sat back and laughed. Sometimes, the traffic cleared; and we thundered on.
At one point, where in the desert the Joshua trees stood like tarantula legs, the traffic was getting heavy again. The driver was aware of it but was still going close to 70. Then, in a swift and uncontrollable moment, the car directly ahead of us slammed down on his breaks, causing our driver to curse hysterically, punch the air breaks, and cut the wheel sharply to the left to swerve and miss the red taillights of the car below our snout. His quick reaction shot all the passengers forward and blasted the bus into the sandy ditch between the highways. It shook, rumbling over shrubs and coming close to tipping over; no one could find their breath. Dust erupted between the highways, but the driver reacted so smoothly that we were back on the road as quickly as it happened without tipping or sinking into the sand. Everyone laughed and clapped for the driver with relief. We thundered along as if nothing happened.
I tired to sleep after that, but couldn’t.
Night fell slowly. In Barstow we stopped for a 15 minute break for food and cigarettes. I bought a sandwich.
Joe talked about books endlessly, saying that Hunter Thompson was the only writer of this generation that people 100 years from now will read. “He’s up there with such classic writers as Oscar Wilde and Edgar Poe,” he said. “Poe is another of my favorites.” He insisted I read The Gold Bug. “I’ve read it over 12 times.” Red and serious were his eyes when he said this.
We crossed into California and arrived in Claremont around 11:30. The Greyhound station was next to a hotel. I spotted holiness was across the street and pointed it out to Joe. “There’s your In-N-Out, Man.” It stood glowing in the night like a savior. The neons fed into his eyes. He lit up like fire, and everything was okay for him after that. He could see his meal in front of him; sleep would come soon enough. We shook hands, and he blasted out of the bus and shot down the street with his bag slung around his shoulder, legs prancing.
I spread out across the two seats as we hit the road again. Ashley and Slater were asleep.
The lights of Los Angeles peered from behind the mountains like the last pages of a book. The road was ending, and I had nowhere west to go any longer. I felt cheated. The second half of the continent had slipped away from me. Somewhere in the middle of Texas, I’d entered some kind of highway vortex that spit me across the desert like a tennis ball and into Los Angeles without a thought to stop or sleep.
But at the same time, I was eager and ready to be in the greatest land of America. The Golden State.
I pushed Ashley and Slater awake, and their eyes got big. Our thoughts got wilder. The night got brighter. The road got wider. The end of the road was nearer. . .
Outside the station, we piled their luggage into a taxi bound for North Hollywood. We sat forward with eagerness as it climbed into the hills out of the city. Palm trees stood tall, and the freeways expanded like spider legs. The Hollywood sign glowed to the north. Everything was big. The night vibrated with unseen excitement. I wished with my heart that the boy from the Grand Canyon could have seen it.
Written in Los Angeles, CA 2012