Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Sunset Boulevard

Sunset Boulevard has changed very little since the last time I was here. We are moving along fairly well in this modern automobile; I have spent more time in a car in the last 48 hours than I have in the last 48 weeks. I am a cyclist. I ride a bicycle and mostly I am out doors moving at the speed of slow. Not here, though. Here it is cars and I am in one now with my son Beauregard headed west. We are going to Malibu. But we are taking our time getting there and enjoying the ride, as they say.

Back in the day, long, long ago, Los Angeles was a little Pueblo where they raised cattle. It is where downtown L.A. is now. But it was still Southern California and those Pueblo cattlemen saw, somehow, the need to take their cattle to the beach. Go figure. And they were not that far from the beach, there in the Pueblo, but it being California, they decided to follow an old game trail that roughly paralleled  the curve of the nearby mountains on their right hand when facing Northwest. They cleared and cut and pushed their cows Northwest for twenty three miles and created a cattle trail that one day would come to symbolize everything wonderful and shining and hopeful in what would be known as Popular Culture. The first residents of Malibu were the Tongva Indians and the Downtown Cows and I don't pretend to understand any of it but here am I now, riding in a swift whispering ship with my firstborn on my left hand. The sun is glowing happily over my right shoulder and the Pacific Ocean and a colony of stars are directly in our path.

As we pass the Chateau Marmont I start to make a wisecrack, but I don't. I lived in a cheap motel here a couple streets over for almost a year in my youth and some of my illegal duties involved visits to that place; I am revisiting my deepest past and really, there ain't that much joy in it. For me, being on Sunset Boulevard is like sitting somewhere with my ex-wife and her rich new boyfriend as they tell me about their recent trip to an exclusive nudist colony in Sri Lanka.

But here I am on my mystery tour and it was only yesterday when this powerfully built, confident and cocky young guy driving me all over the place was a little kid sitting in my lap and telling me stories of his daily fears and conquests. It was only yesterday.

“This place hasn't really changed much at all, Beau. This is how I first came to L.A., down the Pacific Coast into Malibu, then I saw a a street sign for Sunset Boulevard. We took a left and we ended up at the Tropicana Motel."

“Really? Didn't Jim Morrison live there?” There is no way to be in this area without Morrison's name coming up every few minutes. His spirit so absolutely permeates the very atmosphere of the place that it is inescapable. Oddly, as an Indiana high school hick-kid I never really understood the Doors and to tell the truth, when I heard them on the radio I visualized a lounge act, with matching suits and fancy hair. But that is not surprising, given my clueless youth. I never heard of Hunter Thompson either until one day when I was blasting down Sunset Boulevard in my '68 red Plymouth convertible and some guy at a light yelled “Hunter Thompson!” at me and when I told the story later a guy handed me a copy of Fear and Loathing...

“Yeah, son, a lot of guys lived there but I didn't know anything about all that. It was just a cheap motel and a place to crash.”

“You could have made it big, Dad. You were doing all the stuff.”

“Yeah, Son, I coulda been a contender but now it's your turn. You're doing pretty good.”

There are a lot of really tall palm trees that line the sides of the Boulevard as we blast along. The sun is seriously getting up there and I had mentioned back in the slap-dash planning part of this adventure that if he was going to rent a car he should get a convertible. This is the best place in the world and the best time of the year to drive around with the top down. There is an aesthetic that goes with convertibles that alters the automobile reality. But at least in this car we have a T.V. that shows us where we are going when we are going backwards.

“Hey Dad, do you remember that time I was in detention up in Virginia?”

“Yeah, I have some vague recollection.” I had spent five days one winter in Williamsburg in a corporate motel doing down time while he did real time over at the town juvenile center. It is a story unto itself and maybe I'll tell it, someday. I have been chastised, criticized, threatened and incarcerated during the raising of this kid. Every moment of his existence is etched onto the movie screen of my life and now here we are, blasting merrily along in Movie Land on the trail of my past and the memories...well, they don't bring a smile to my face.

“Well, Dad, you gave me that copy of 'Autobiography of a Yogi' and I read the whole thing while I was in there.”

“I remember. That's a good book for jail. Over five hundred pages, though. I never knew you finished the whole thing while you were inside.”

“Oh yeah. You know how jail is.” Indeed I do. He and I share the singular father-son relation of having both been in the Daytona Beach jail at the same time, once, on unrelated offenses. He for a minor drug charge and me for my usual behavior inside a saloon. Politics and manic depression and tequila just don't mix. But I gotta tell ya, it is a particularly heart-warming experience walking the exercise yard with your child on a sunny Florida afternoon. A real Hallmark Moment.

“So anyway, Dad, the Self Realization Fellowship is just up ahead somewhere. Wanna go?”

“Sure.” Not really. I don't know why. My world, my reality, has become a kind of microcosm experience of bicycles and country rides and trailer park repair. At times it is cause for despair and desperation and at other times it is sublime. To be old and free of ambition and responsibility is a kind of freedom it takes a lifetime to achieve. Some people never get there. My parents died failures only because they never understood that cars and houses are not the mark of success.

“Hey! There it is!” This whole trip has had a feeling of being scripted. It was my idea to take this route but I suddenly find myself thinking we would have ended up here anyway. He makes a u-turn across six lanes of mild traffic and we pull into the parking lot of the meditation center of the guru Yogananda Pramahansa. I know this place. It is a whole lot of acres of prime LA real estate with its own spring-fed lake and some beautiful shrines and it is the home of one of those damnable cults that seem to be everywhere and in control of so much money and land and human spirit. The Autobiography was a beautiful book but the Yogi has been dead many, many years and this is the franchise that grew up around his name. We park the car and I go over to look at the entry sign. I'm wondering how much this is gonna cost and if once in, will we be able to get out. Beauregard lights a cigarette. No smoking in the rental car.

“I gotta pee,” he says.

“It says no smoking,” I say, pointing at the beautifully carved wooden sign of regulations.

"Damn! Well, I gotta pee.” He strides over to a nearby dumpster corral. It is the nicest dumpster corral I have ever seen. Redwood and carved block. I myself have peed in dumpster corrals many times under beer-induced duress, but this place...well, it just doesn't seem like the kind of place to piss in the parking lot.

“Hey!” Someone shouts behind me. I turn and a guy is coming towards me with a big tray of ornamental flowers on his shoulder. He is accompanied by a mild-looking Mexican gentleman with a small gardening spade in each hand.

“Is he with you?” the flower guy asks. “What's he doing in there?”

“Uh...” I can't think of any answer that won't result in yet another father-son Hallmark Moment. The two guys hustle on down to the dumpster. I can see puffs of smoke coming up over the walls of the corral. They go in and I hear shouting and I briefly consider going back out to Sunset and sticking out my thumb. I consider hustling on down to that dumpster myself and helping him overpower the Guru's gardeners. I find myself wondering what kind of security staff the Self Realization Fellowship employs. Probably ex-Sri Lankan Rebels armed to the teeth. I suddenly remember that Leslie Van Houten was once a member here and had to sneak away in the middle of the night. They all come out of the dumpster corral and Flower Guy is still yelling. The Mexican gentleman is raking the two little hand spades back and forth over each other like a movie villain with knives. He doesn't look so mild-mannered now. Beauregard is backing slowly towards me and if Flower Guy doesn't calm down real quick Beau will be within ten feet of where I stand. My Son  knows what he is doing and where I am standing. He knows this ain't no movie showdown; that boy has been on the road with me since he was fifteen years old and he knows that I can cover ten feet really fast and that stupid nazi gardener won't be yelling anymore except for help and that other guy will find those two little shovels in a place he doesn't want them to be.  But brawling in the parking lot of some highbrow meditation center isn't why I came out here.  At least, I don't think so.

“Hey!” I yell. “Back off! He was only pissing in your fucking dumpster. We're leaving.”

“He was pissing on the Yogananda's flowers! And smoking! This is a church! You can't do that here! And no cussing!"

I begin to realize that this might be a challenged person and I drop my aggressive posture. The atmosphere is crackling with menace and there is no chance that this will turn out good.

 “You guy's get out of here!” he says. I'm getting pretty mad. I'm tired and hungry and I haven't had a drink for two days and now here I am in this ludicrous situation. A double shot of rum and a cold beer would be a good thing, right now, but no doubt also against the rules.

“Let's get out of here, Beau. We're probably on camera.” He turns and looks at me. He smiles.

“Are you sure, Dad? Don't you want to see the SRF?”

“Maybe some other time. I'm hungry.”

“Okay, Dad."  We get in the car. The two guys are still standing there. They aren't very smart.

“Should I run over them, Father?”

“Yeah. But do it in reverse so I can watch it on the little video screen.” He laughs and pulls out of the parking lot.

“What did he mean you were pissing on Yogananda's flowers?” I ask. We are headed west again on the Boulevard of Broken Dreams.

“Oh, there were a bunch of those trays with flowers in there. But I wasn't pissing on them. I'll bet that stupid fucker never read the whole Autobiography of a Yogi while sitting in a detention center for five days.”

“That's probably a safe bet. But you might want to think about reading it again.” We both laugh and he puts the pedal down.  The day ain't over yet.

Whispering Pines Trailer Park on location:  Back To LA!


  1. Didn't see that coming. I've never been to LA but somehow all of this sounds so...right.

    I'll have to tell you about the time Tohner visited me at a bar where I was working the door. It didn't go well for a particularly nasty customer. Who was lacking cross hoes/spades, luckily.

  2. I think of the Tropicana as the place Tom Waits lived, rather than Morrison. That makes it much better in my head.

    (Must be in a Waits mood as I indirectly referenced him earlier today in a blog post.)

    1. Yeah, Shawn, I was neighbors with some guts who are now legends. And as I said, clueless. It was a wild-ass place but I was holed up in my room with a ream of paper and a little portable typewriter and big plans.Had I gone out and mingled a little I would probably be working for Rolling Stone now. Or dead.


  3. TJ,
    Every time I read something from you, I think, "This guy is something else." And I love it.

    Stay true, my brother.

    1. Thanks for hangin' in there, Brian. The ride is almost over.

  4. I see a book of short stories here Velo Brother, very good stuff, that I probably shouldn't be reading in the coffee shop because people are looking at me funny when I laugh out loud.

    1. People look at me funny wherever I am, Ryan. You get used to it. Not.


  5. TJ,

    Is it any wonder that "California Mix" is the granola with the nuts and fruits in it?

    Keep an eye out. And enjoy your time with your son.

    Steve Z

  6. what a tale. Thanks. Ages ago I read Autobiography of a Yogi, and tracked down one of his yogi descendants in Varanasi a few years back. I somehow managed to gain audience before him and that was a trip.

    Then he moved to Australia and his devotees started emailing and asking for donations. Go figure.

    1. Piss in their dumpster and see what happens.


    2. that is a valid suggestion on many levels.

  7. I am totally immersed in the tale at this point. This post reeled me in like velveeta on a hook.
    "To be old and free of ambition and responsibility is a kind of freedom it takes a lifetime to achieve"
    Strong words that I hope I can find that status when I get to the retirement thing....maybe ten years hence. It has always been one of my self fears that after living the "responsible" life I would be one of those guys you hear about that dies two months after he retires. Part of the motivation to get out on my bike and push it. Prove all those fuckers wrong who would be standing in the line to collect on a lifetime of work and saving by me.
    You are the fisherman TJ, keep playing us bottom-feeding carp with you tale!
    Your friend, Jim

    1. Thank you so much, Jim. I'm glad you liked it. Have you read "Siddhartha?" That book and the Duane Allman/Eric Clapton coda for the original Derek and the Dominoes cut of "Layla" is all I needed to show me the way. But for the Love of Lob, don't listen to me.

      Freedom's just another word.