Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Dispatch From Escalatorville: the Lazily Snubbed Dignitary

I was listening to a local radio station this morning play a promotional spot for their weekly Doo-Wop program. The pre-recorded message concluded with a voice imploring listeners to "Keep The Music Alive!" - it was followed by, I kid you not, 6 to 7 seconds of utter silence...

This Was NOT a Test, and there was no Kool Aid, either.
Chance encounters with celebrities have dotted my life from time to time. It's a thrill to share an encounter with someone notable - a handshake, an autograph, or a brief conversation usually make for an interesting story. This particular tale is about a couple celebrities I did meet, but also about one I didn't - even tho' he was only steps away.

In Spring of 1991, I found myself backstage at the University of North Florida amphitheater - with Richard S., one of my best friends in the universe - halfway through the set of a Mamas and Papas concert. We had gone to the Jacksonville event for the day with a couple other friends from St. Augustine, and had been pulled aside by an acquaintance of ours who was photographing the festivities. Our camera laden friend had been given a backstage pass, and invited us to head with her to that area so that she could get some shots from the wings of the stage.

Having enjoyed the show quite a bit up to that moment, we were enthralled at having a different viewpoint of an actual 'Rock Star' concert. This was even more impressive than my having met the opening act, Don McLean, in the crowd just moments before; He'd seemed a bit grim, but was nice enough to sign an autograph for this goofy red haired kid who'd nearly knocked him over while heading across the amphitheater field in search of a soda. I think he seemed perturbed mainly due to the fact that his set, as great as it was, had not been that warmly received by the dwindling college-aged crowd, most of whom split after he sang 'American Pie.' Nonetheless, I was happy to meet him - but back to the crux of this story...

We stood there in awe (my inner pomposity finds this currently humorous, as the band Richard and I now play in, The Wobbly Toms - have recently performed at, yes, the UNF Amphitheater). We watched the concert, singing along to the songs that we knew - and trying to fit in with the elders and crew that were hanging out backstage.

It was then that we saw a figure saunter through the backstage area - with his gray mop and wise yet wizened eyes - and we both questioned his actual presence.

"Is that...Timothy Leary?" we simultaneously asked each other.

There he stood, gazing at the scene, shaking a few hands as he too stood grooving to the music of the folks who made up the band at that point in time.

For a few moments, we tried to convince ourselves that it was him. I knew the legend from stories I'd read in Rolling Stone magazine - but didn't know too much about him personally, hadn't seen any film or newsreel footage, hadn't read any of his literature. To me, he was the Acid Guru, a strange uncle of the psychedelic music era - the man who held the key to enlightenment via a postage stamp sized chemical conveyance - and a personal friend to every classic rock star whose tunes I held dear. I was still an innocent kid back then. Drugs of all sorts had been on my "Not To Do" list. Because of his reputation, however, he was a bigger celebrity than the beloved musicians on stage performing their hearts out.

I wondered if we should head over and introduce ourselves. From what I "knew" of the man, he'd been virtually sweating LSD since the 1950's - a handshake alone might just take me on my own little trip.

Still confused, we slowly convinced ourselves that it was not he - just a an older gent whom had come for the show, his white pants and shirt being only an approximation of a familiar outfit in pictures I'd seen of the good doctor partying with Ken Kesey and the boys on the bus back in their late 1960's heyday.

Resolved that we had exaggerated his presence, we got back to watching the show. At it's conclusion, the band came backstage - Grammy Winning Platinum Recording Artists - headed right toward us!

We were quickly introduced - the photographer acquaintance telling us "Move in closer, get in with 'em!" - we shook the hands of Papa John and Papa Denny -and hung out for a few moments. Mackenzie Phillips - valiantly substituting for her actual Mama - sat on a golf cart right beside us. Any lingering of the pre-teen crush I'd had on the one time sitcom star faded quickly, her makeup dripped down her face as it mingled with her perspiration - "I need a smoke!" she proclaimed to no one in particular.

Richard pulled a cigarette from his pocket and graciously offered it and his lighter. She said thanks and began her post show chill down. She was older than I recalled from the TV, and tired to boot, but still pretty cool.

After a minute or two, she was joined on the golf cart by Papa John himself, who'd said a few hellos and shook many other hands while we were enthralled with Mackenzies nicotine frenzy. After another moment or two, a driver bounded up to the cart and drove them both off the grounds to who-knows-where. We started getting set to leave as well, we'd have to find our friends who probably wouldn't even believe what had just happened.

We headed out of the backstage area, saying goodbye to our photographing friend, thanking her for the opportunity - thoroughly convinced that we'd not embarrassed ourselves in the presence of bona fide celebrities - and hadn't made a faulty introduction to a famous physician's look-alike.

As we left the stage area, however, a member of the backing band leaped past us across the area, and I can hear his greeting clearly to this very moment:

"Oh, hello Doctor Leary, I'm so glad you could make it after all!"

It WAS him, and we'd missed out. I turned my head, but the remainder of the entourage, Leary in tow, had been whisked inside - and we walked back toeard the open field.

I do wish that we'd kept in touch with that photographer, however.

Somewhere on this planet - there's a picture of me shaking the hand of one of the pop era's most brilliant songwriters ('California Dreaming,' 'Monday Monday', ' Creeque Alley...') - and I'm willing to bet that in the background of that shot stands the fellow whom Richard Nixon once called "the most dangerous man in America" - the godfather of psychedelia himself.

I never have taken LSD, and probably never will. But, if I do get the chance to greet any other man whose research and enthusiasm has altered the perception of as many people as Mr. Leary - I'm extending my hand graciously, whether he's tripping or not.

The Dispatch From Escalatorville
Z.F. Lively, Proprietor/Flashback Simulator
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Friday, February 17, 2012

The Dispatch From Escalatorville: Us and Them / mehT dna sU

"Fill my eyes, with that Double Vision
No disguise, for that Double Vision
Ooh, when it gets through to me,
It's always new to me.
My Double Vision gets the best of me."

Once upon a time, I got a bottle of hot sauce as a gift from a couple of my best friends. On the label was the face of a man screaming. I was told that I was the recipient of this particular gift because the man screaming looked an awful lot like me. I kept the bottle for a few years, having to deny to many future guests that I had posed for the photo. "Somewhere, " I thought, "There's a guy who owes my face some royalties."

It hadn't occurred to me that someone could share my identity.

I lived in Seattle at the end of the last century. Once, as I was crossing the intersection of 14th and John in the Capitol Hill neighborhood (as I'd done many times before) - I came face to face with myself. Only, it wasn't me.

My occasionally lanky frame is six foot three, my close cropped hair colored a fading orange which favors the "red-headed" qualities of my ancestors European heritage. Given those distinctions, and with my glasses on, I always presumed I was a fairly unique looking individual. I walked, the Safeway on the corner in sight, I saw a figure heading toward me - a tall, bespectacled man a bit skinnier than I, wearing a cap that couldn't hid the rusty locks sprouting from his noggin - his countenance accentuated with the same colorful facial hair.

Wordless, we approached each other in the middle of the road. As we passed ourselves we paused to give our doubles an eerie and silent once over. Then, we both quickened our pace to get to the "other side." Each of us too chicken to break the silence. I shook my head, and pinched myself to make certain I hadn't slipped into another dimension.

I hadn't, and I never saw that particular man again. Not in person, anyway.

Six years later, however, my face turned up on the Jet City streets once again. The lovely Bess and I had moved to the Pacific Northwest for what turned out to be a memorable, but thoroughly homesick year. Midway through that adventure, we started to see multiples of a certain sticker pasted throughout our First Hill neighborhood, and along the pathways we traversed through the downtown area of the city. In orange ink, a line drawing of MY face: same balding pate, solid frame glasses, and a mottled, yet attractive, beard. The sticker began to show up everywhere - lamp posts, walls of buildings, park benches, guard railings hovering over I-5. A co-worker of mine at the Westlake Mall even asked,

"Did you do that? Is that you?"

"Uh, no - I have no earthly idea what that's about," was my embarrassed reply.

I was stared at once on a city bus, to the point of distraction. I nearly berated my persistent ogler until I noticed it: the damn sticker posted on an advertisement above my head. Weird. Creepy.

I've heard the theory that everyone on the planet has a double, or mystery twin. Somehow, at that point, within the span of a decade, I'd seen three of me - screaming, bewildered, and cartoonish. Oddly enough, those descriptives have probably been used to describe the real me at times as well.

The Seattle occurrences were simply amusing stories I told upon my return(s) to Florida, until even more look-alikes and semi-look-alikes began to make themselves known.

One of Bess and I's best friends found and married a great guy, who coincidentally resembles me (said as such only because I'm the older of us, otherwise, I'd look like him). At least one guest at their marriage ceremony questioned how, exactly, were the Officiant and Bridegroom related, reacting slightly flabbergasted when told that we weren't.

I've also been approached at concerts by folks who think I'm a member of a band they've seen at another venue - and, thanks to the miracle of modern technology - I randomly get messages from far away friends with variations of the phrase "I saw someone today that looked just. like. you."

Is it strange? Yes. It's also oddly flattering. However, there's been persistent scuttlebutt floating around over the past few years that the auburn-tressed populace have no souls. It's not true, of course - but the preponderance of folks who share my physical traits should serve as a warning to those rumor-mongers. Don't make fun of us too much; for all you know we're just readying ourselves for the Invasion of the DoppelGingers.

The Dispatch From Escalatorville
Z.F. Lively, Proprietor/Street Sweeper, Copperhead Road

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Dispatch From Escalatorville: Profiles In Caricature, Carlton Ficus

A typical Saturday in a typical summer - Carlton Ficus could be found sitting on his bed, listening to "Don Trennick's Cross Country Countdown" of the top 60 songs in the nation, and reading his favorite comic book "The Mysterious Journeys of Captain Thunder." This particular Saturday, however, his sanctuary was broken by a Grandfather's knock on the door...

As a young lad, Carlton would spend the late Spring and entire Summer at the home of his Grandpa and Gramma Yune. The adoptive parents of Carlton's mother, the Yunes never minded taking care of the corpulent but sprightly lad during his annual recess from the Yorba Linda Military Academy. His parents of course, were cruise ship entertainers on the Verdant Sparrow line - performing their cabaret magic act 3 times a day (except Tuesdays) for 9 months out of every year. The "Hocus Ficus" team loved their son, but knew the Yunes provided a much better environment for a child than the confines and conspicuous consumption of a high seas tin can.

On this Mid-July day, Grandpa and Grandma Yune, were feeling a bit randy, and in the mood to sow each others wild oats. So Grandpa came up with a plan - thus he knocked on his young housemates door.

"I got 9 jars full of coins in the den," he stated "I'd like you to take 'em down to the bank to be rolled and cashed in. I already phoned the bank to let them know you were coming."

After a long, hesitant look from the boy who had been engrossed in music and pictures just seconds earlier - Grandpa added "You can keep half of what we get."

Reluctantly, but with a glimmer of possible minor luxury in his immediate future, Carlton agreed.

"Use the red wagon from the basement, then you can walk 'em all over at once. The cars in the shop, and I can't walk that far on account of my foot."

Grandpa Yune had fought in a war a while back, and still carried shrapnel in a few of his toes.

"You think you can do it, without any trouble?"

Carlton grumbled, but quickly rose up from the bed.

"I'm twelve, Grandpa, I'm pretty smart about a few things."

One thing he knew was that it would be a three mile walk into town, meaning that he'd probably have to stay up late tonight to catch the re-broadcast of the Countdown. The offer of cash, however, was certainly appealing to the 7th-soon-to-be-8th-Grader, so he embraced the challenge, and the exercise that such a trip would bring to his stout frame. Grandpa became especially enthusiastic after his grandson's agreeance, figuring that the chore would get Carlton out of the house for a couple hours so that he and Gramma Yune could get in a little exercise of their own.

The diligent grandson loaded the wagon with 8 of the jars, as the 9th wouldn't fit. Being a smart child, he distributed that jar's coins among the 8 and left the empty on a shelf by the front door. Noting a rickety right front wheel, Carlton reminded himself that he'd have to guide the wagon a bit more carefully than usual. He opened the door and started his trek, pulling the wagon behind.

A perceptive tyke, Carlton passed the time by observing the sights along the walk; His Grandparents house being only two blocks from a local cinema, he admired the posters for "The Hounds Of Freedom" - Now Showing. He witnessed the ice cream parlour signs beckoning to try two new flavors, ads for said ice cream parlour on the side of Parkin's Sandwich Shop, Coupons for Parkin's littering the street and clogging the rivulets leading from the highway underpass to Lake Beriberi. Across the lake, Carlton noticed a tiny skiff skimming through the water, perception making him believe the boat and it's passengers looked a lot smaller than they actually were.

[Side Note: While this would normally be an apt perception for such a bright child, Young Ficus' eyes had tricked him: Petite Lula Macanally and Wendel Perpell were, in fact, each only 11 inches tall and on one of their many maritime adventures. This is life in Escalatorville, folks.]

Forty five minutes, and about 20 blocks later, the bank was at last in sight. Feeling a bit tired, Carlton decided to take a short cut, he'd cross the gravel parking lot of Sooty's Scrap Metal And Recycling Company ("Established 1937"). Although convenient, there were a few bumps along the way. Not metaphorical, mind you, actual bumps - divots in the gravel left by spun-out pickup truck tires, and tiny remnants of dropped cargo.

"Holy Cow," Carlton exhaled as he reached the curb, "Finally."

The door to his destination within yards of his grasp, the jovial juveniles anxiety got the best of him. He sped up his approach, the little wagon striking the bank buildings sidewalk pretty hard. Already weakened by Sooty's lot, the right front wheel gave up the ghost. It crumbled on the sidewalk, as expired as a wagon wheel gets. Axel bolt rust coated the cement like suicidal blood spatter across the wall of a decaying hotel room.

Carlton dove to the pavement to stop the jars from falling out of the wagon bed and shattering at the bank entrance. Amazingly, he blocked the majority from toppling out - but because they had all slammed into each other, all 8 jars had a few cracks or chips. Terminal glass - they'd hold no more coins after this day.

It took a bit of balance, and all the remaining strength he could muster, but Carlton jostled the jars back into position, tossed the broken wheel into the wagon bed, and then lifted the transport with both hands.

He was greeted at the banks front door by Prudence Baddger, a teller whom had heard the crash - and would be Carlton's favorite bank employee for years to come. Inside the building, Prudence pointed to a table where our protagonist could lay his burden down.

"We're glad you came in today," the bottle blond and beskirted Prudence purred - "You can help us break in our new coin counting machine, would you like to watch it work?"

In between a few heavy breaths came a mumbled but emphatic "Yes."

As he watched the coins dance around in what resembled a spinning washtub, Prudence explained how the machine separated and added up the coins. She pointed to the readout as Carlton's fortune slowly grew.

When the 8th jarful began to spin through the hopper, young Mister Ficus found the banks water fountain. Upon his return, he was met by a smiling Prudence with a handful of cash.

"That was a pretty good haul," she said, making Carlton blush with pride, "You got $31.72 today!"

She handed him six Five Dollar Bills, a One Dollar bill, and a smattering of change.
Carlton took three of the Fives and shoved them in his back pocket -"Grandpa's Take" he thought. Then he imagined how to spend the remaining $15.72.
He muttered a quick thank you to Prudence and turned to walk out the door.

"Carlton?" he heard Miss Baddger call "We're glad you came in today - but aren't you forgetting something?"

That's right - a broken down wagon and 8 cracked, useless jars that now had to be dealt with. He pushed his portion of the fortune into his shirt pocket, and carefully balanced, then lifted the wagon full of jars and headed to the exit. His head sunk upon realizing that those 3 miles home would be along way to carry a bunch of junk.

Midway across the bank parking lot, however, Carlton raised his head to the glow of the mid-day sun. A grand idea traversed his mind like a sled across a snow covered suburban driveway. His eyes focused on the solution not 100 yards from where he stood - Sooty's!

It had been a couple years since the elder Mr. Yune had taken his grandson to cash in some scrap metal from the house ("Wasn't it a water heater, or maybe a couple bicycle frames?" the boy struggled to remember) - but Carlton had always been fond of the multi-colored signs that proclaimed "Cash Paid."

Tony the clerk (or so read the patch on his shirt) recalled the young lad and knew exactly what he'd come in for, before Carlton could even ask.

"Hey, long time no see - Carlsie!" he cried out (Although Carlton Ficus would forever correct those whom used that particular appellation to address him, Tony was a fast talker whom didn't leave time for anyone else to get any words in, edgewise or otherwise).

"I can't use those jars, man," he continued, uninterrupted "but, I can give ya three bucks for the wagon. Heck, I'll throw in a buck for the jars too, maybe they ain't too broke to hold some nuts and bolts or somethin'. That looks like a heavy wagon, man! Put that down and I'll grab your money."

Carlton, lazily obedient, lay the wreckage atop the sales counter and peeked around a corner toward the back of the shop. There he saw the furnace that would soon meld the old wagon with silverware sets, garden spades, tea kettles, and a couple shot guns which had long ago said goodbye to their fox hunting days.

Tony's outstretched hand held four singles to Carlton's face.

"Here ya go, man. Four buckaroos, like I promised. Don't spend it all in one place, heh heh. Tell your Grandpa to drop by sometime. See you later, O.K. man?!"

The boy felt as if the sheer force of Tony's words had whisked him through that big metal door and back into the parking lot - for there he was, counting his share of the days riches. A total of Nineteen Dollars and Seventy Two Cents. He was elated, he was wealthy. He was also tired and hungry.

That smidge of energy he'd gained from the banks water fountain had withered, however, Master Ficus knew there was a nice restaurant about five blocks from where he stood. Thirteen minutes later, he took his seat at a table for one in The Happy Tapper.

The Happy Tapper is a Bar and Grill, with the emphasis on the Bar - but they also had the best french fries in town. A fact Carlton knew from accompanying his Grandparents to this very place for their weekly Friday night ritual. He ordered two servings of those fries, as well as a double decker ham sandwich and slice of apple pie for dessert.

His waitress, "Minnie," jokingly asked what type of beer the young man would like.

"I'd rather have a gin and tonic with a root beer chaser - hold the gin, hold the tonic" He joked back.

With a slight guffaw, Minnie headed to the kitchen to put the order in.

The boy wolfed down his food within minutes of it's arrival. This had been his first solo trip to the Happy Tapper - no grandfolks urging to him to slow down and chew. After two more root beers, he asked for his check. Twelve dollars and fifteen cents later (plus a two dollar tip), the satiated lad headed toward the outside world once more.

During his meal, unfortunately, it had begun to rain. A lot. Outside the restaurant, it was a gully washer, a toad strangler, a lake-maker of a storm. Carlton wouldn't be walking home in that.

An observant kid, he had seen a phone booth next to the bars jukebox. He put two quarters in the slot and dialed the number for Trixie's Cab Service, whose business card had been taped, and taped again to the back "wall" of the booth.

Minnie offered Carlton a few mints to nibble on while he waited. Carlton declined. He stood and glanced through the window at the rain, the reflections of the Happy Tapper's neon signs appearing to give those drops on the glass a glow like a string of free flowing Christmas lights. Within moments a cab pulled up.

Carlton Ficus entered the cab, giving his grandparents address as he took his seat - even before the driver could ask. He'd seen enough people in motion pictures do as such, and thought expedience was key.

"You got it friend," mumbled the cabbie. "Right away."

It was a fairly straight shot, directly back on that long road to the Yune residence, but Carlton enjoyed how the precipitation changed his perception of the world he'd walked not that long before: the reversed trees viewed in puddles, the color change to pastel storefronts, cowering and drenched pets hiding in doorways until the weather lessened.

After a short bit, Carlton saw the familiar steps leading to the front door of the Yune household. The cab ride cost four dollars - after giving his driver the fare and a one dollar tip - Carlton headed into the house with his Grandfathers share of the cash - and seven cents of his own.

Grandpa Yune greeted Carlton in the front hallway -

"How'd we do?" he asked

Carlton handed the old man 15 dollars, then slipped the remaining seven cents into the jar he'd left behind.

"A good start for your next trip to the bank." Carlton stated.

"My next...What? You don't want to make that run anymore?" Grandpa queried. He'd noticed the wagon was missing but decided not to be too inquisitive toward the exhausted child.

"Well, to be honest," Carlton responded, "If you and Grandma want me to leave the house so that you can have sex, I'd rather you just send me to the movies."

Flabbergasted, slightly embarrassed - Grandpa Yune stammered and uttered a slow "" - but couldn't find a decent response to his accurately deductive progeny.

"I'm twelve, Grandpa," Carlton spoke, "I'm pretty smart about a few things"

With that, he sauntered back into his room - he'd returned just in time to hear the Top 9 on "Don Trennick's Cross Country Countdown." Carlton Ficus shut the door, turned up the volume, and resumed reading "The Mysterious Journey of Captain Thunder..."

The Dispatch From Escalatorville
Z.F. Lively, Proprietor/Change-Gamer

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Dispatch From Escalatorville: Revisionist History

"If these weren't 50% off, what would they go for?"
-Random retail customer, Fall 2011
I live in a town replete with biographic antiquity. A lot of folks around here pay the bills either portraying or retelling stories of iconic (and not so iconic) personages from the towns past.

On occasion, however, the modern world will intercede and create some interesting juxtapositions...

I strolled past an archaeological dig the other day. (Before something can new can be constructed in the old city, someone has to check the grounds to make sure no primitive treasures have gone previously undiscovered). Looking up from a ditch, one of this burgs diligent dirt sifters had engaged in conversation with the 18th century come to life - a re-enactor clad in full colonial regalia: buckled shoes, wool stockings, breeches, ruffled shirt, waistcoat - and motorcycle helmet.

Two minutes down the road, I was passed by the single whirring steed of a Continental Moped Regiment.

That instance brought to mind a similar sight from a few weeks prior. Heading past the college auditorium one evening, I witnessed a fully bedecked/photo ready "Pedro Menendez De Aviles" - a founder of our fair town. He stood broad shouldered, mustachioed face lit by the moon as he uttered a hearty "Adios y Buenas Noches" to his fellow costumed amigos - then hopped into his waiting Sport Utility Vehicle.

I can only assume he placed his Espada in the gun rack.

Of course, every once in a while brings an encounter with someone who completely rewrites the accumulation of human events inside their own head. An example follows:

In the gift shop that employs me, we sell engraved paperweights. These soapstone talismen feature random, interesting, and irrelevant symbols. Nonetheless, an enamored yet historically misaligned shopper picked one up with the pronouncement -

"This was probably carved back when the Aztecs were kicking the Pilgrims asses!"

For a buck ninety five, plus tax, I highly doubt it.

The Dispatch From Escalatorville
Z.F. Lively, Proprietor/Ghost Wrangler

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Dispatch From Escalatorville: Car Talk

This weekends Dispatch is a volume from the "Rerun til the New One" series. I'm working on a brand new story for ya, but it needs another day or two to steep. In the meantime, I'd like to present a couple older stories from the road...
Pull Up If I Pull Up
I believe I may have mentioned my good friend Dave to you at some point in the past. I bring this up because Dave plays a key role in the following tale. However, as my memory fades with age (and, being self-centered as I am means I am apt to dis-include any element of a story that doesn't directly pertain to ME) - I have invited Dave to corroborate and fill-in some details.

Dave and I used to have a band, called Powhite Trash. We pronounced it "Pow-Hite" as an inside joke that only residents of Richmond, Virginia might get. A fact that, I realize, makes even less sense to my current international readership, but there you go.

The two of us, as a band, decided to work on/record some tunes up at a cabin that Dave's folk owned about 90 miles north of Richmond. For the trip Dave offered to drive, and his family had a choice of vehicles.
Dave: My parents had such a crazy assemblage of cars, didn't they? At that time, there were seven of them (there are now just a scant four, and only one of those original seven is also in the four). The stable included:
-a shit-brown Audi which was sold to my mom by some Russian mob-types for cold hard cash
-a 1965 VW Karman-Ghia
(which, in high school, could occasionally squeeze my lanky frame into the back seat -albeit painfully - for a trip to Kings Dominion, or a ride home from Richmond Community High School - Z.)
-a mid-80s Honda Civic (very depressing to think that this car got 45 MPG even then)
-a 1969 Cutlass Olds with absurdly little rust for its age
-a mid-80s Buick Century with very bad steering problems
-an indestructible Datsun (before they became Nissan) 1981 hatchback that managed 195K miles before it was sold to a very happy woman for $100 in 1991.
But you came here to hear about the Impala. The army-green, widest-car-ever, 356cc engine block 1976 Chevrolet Impala, with its truly awful/incredible 9 MPG city, 15 MPG hwy (yes, rilly).
Now, Dave thinks this story takes place in the Winter, while I believe it was Spring. Nonetheless, due to either a dousing of rain or a semi-frost, the roads were slick - and the earth was muddy. We took no notice of this on the way to the cabin, but after a few hours of Rockin' Out - we needed a break, so we hopped back in the Impala.
Dave: The feeling of driving a 1976 Impala is the feeling of
driving a boat, truly. The seats are so sproingy that you glide around
on a surface of hovercraft-like cushion. And because of the severe weight of the
car, they had to equip it with the most responsive power steering I have ever seen anywhere. Turn the wheel a degree, and the tires moved 10-15 degrees, it seemed. God help you if the power steering failed. (Yes, at some point this did
happen to me, and I will tell you that wrestling a kangaroo to the ground would be easier than changing lanes.)
We managed to find, as I recall, a Chinese place called (no lie) Fuking Gourmet. I don't recall the food, but I do recall being fairly glad we found it, since we were running out of places to look for food, and we'd nearly died five minutes earlier.
Ah yes, those of you waiting for the story to get interesting have arrived at your destination (and I'm not strictly speaking of the Fuking Gourmet). I refer to the 'near-death' part - oh, had we not mentioned that yet? As I'm pretty certain that it was Dave's driving that keeps this as a "near" death experience, I'll allow him to continue -
Dave: Well, the road back out to Route 17 is still very narrow, not designed for vehicles traveling more than 45 miles an hour. Of course, this means that locals travel a bit faster than that, on the average, which tends not to be a problem until you actually meet someone or something going the other direction. In those days, you had only a scant probability of that happening.
But you wanted to hear about the dump truck. We were headed north on the road, back to Route 17, so that we could head south (Yeah, that makes no sense, but that's how you had to get back to the interstate). That truck was headed back toward our little street in one of the turns where there is a pretty
good hill. We were going a normalish speed of maybe 45 when this truck came over the crest, going at a similar pace. So - two vehicles maxing out the safe, both very wide characters.

The Impala just fits in the lane, and a dump truck only
fits if you take a kind of "tennis approach" whereby "fitting in the
lane" includes being on the center line. It does NOT help matters when said truck
decides to travel the turn without regard to lanes at all, making the generally-safe assumption that you can drive half in the other lane. That would be MY lane.

With nowhere to go, we went off the shoulder. Now, this would be
messy anyway, but the particular spot we went off the shoulder was a steep drop from pavement to grass. That would only have been concern for the paint job and
suspension if it had not been for the fact of the ditch.
The "ditch" he says. The Impala had stopped, certainly, we were unhurt and safe, I assumed (I'll state this for the record - as this was a pre-airbag vehicle, it is a credit to Dave's driving/swerving skills that we had no bruises or abrasions - there were many occasions in our youth wherein Dave saved my neck in different respects, but none so literal as this day). It was then we looked straight out the windshield and into what Dave calls a ditch. I would call it a massive ravine.
Reverse. The one gear we desperately needed was the one that didn't want to work. I feared that if we spun the wheels backward too much, that we'd alter the cars center of gravity and send the Impala -and us- over the edge. Slowly, carefully, we scrambled out of the vehicle. Once we were a couple yards away, and calmed down slightly, we realized that the situation itself was sticky, but not as dangerous as the view from the Impala's front seat would imply. Treacherous, definitely, but only slightly life threatening.
"Y'all all right over there?" we heard from the road.
Momentarily, we'd all but forgotten the dump truck. Forgotten that, indeed, there was someone else on this lonesome road - and as we turned toward the pavement we saw him.
Walking towards us was a massive chunk of a man - about 6'4'' or so with the darkest five-o'clock shadow I've ever seen in the mid-day sun. He wore a grubby green jacket, with a tattered ball-cap, and hair to match.
"Y'all wait here 'bout 20 minutes, I'll go dump my load, come back, and use my chains to pull y'all out."
A nice and kindly gesture, from the man who had just nearly killed us - and one that I almost didn't hear. Sure, we were still a bit shaken up from the accident, but I couldn't concentrate because I was staring at this man's face. His words were coming from a mouth so mangled that he resembled, to me, a horror film antagonist.
I mean no disrespect to our new acquaintance, however, his face was shocking. His mouth, you see, was disfigured. It looked as if his lips had been ripped or bitten off, in pieces - and then badly rearranged and sewn back on. That description is as accurate as I can get, it could have been worse for all I know, but this is the one detail of that day that has consistently stuck in my brain these many years. He was kind enough, but extremely frightening at the same time.
I didn't have much time to process that at the site of the accident, as he was soon off to dump his load. So, by the road Dave and I sat, waiting to be rescued by our tormentor.
The entire time I wondered if maybe the accident was just the beginning of our troubles. Perhaps he wouldn't come back after all - and we'd be stuck for hours in the mud. Or worse, perhaps he would come back, and then kill or kidnap us as he was "helping" to pull the Impala back to the road. Perhaps, I was right about the lips - maybe those weren't his lips at all, maybe they were the cobbled together lip parts of his many victims - and maybe we were next.
As the truck made it's slow return down the road back to us, I silently shuddered at the thought.
I was also totally and completely wrong.
I can now assume that the driver was as shocked as we were in those moments after the incident - and that his initial terse commentary was simply his gut reaction to offer a fix to a situation he had helped to cause. Within minutes of seeing his truck heading toward us again, we had helped attach the hook and chains from his truck to the car, and managed to yank the Impala from its perch above the ravine. In a few more minutes, we had gotten back on the road, and were headed for food (although, had I been the man then that I am today, Chinese food would not have been the first thing I inhaled after the incident).
I never caught the truckers name, and neither did Dave. I would like to thank him, if he's still around, for helping us out of what could have been a long, long day slogging through mud and calling tow companies who might be willing to donate their services to two out of work musicians.

So, if you happen to be in northern Virginia, and run into our monstrous, malformed Savior - please give him my regards, but make sure your running shoes are tied, just in case

Me, Myself, and I-95 (Volume 1)
In my 24th year, I purchased my very first car. I bought it mainly out of convenience, and for a fairly lengthy Christmastime road trip that I would be taking a couple months after its purchase. However, if this experience wasn't humorously anomalous, I probably wouldn't be telling it. The tale of my first owned vehicle - and it's brief history in my universe - is one that left me weary and wary of vehicle ownership. In the 15 years since the advent of this story, my history of travel has improved a bit, yet to this day - each adventure arrives with a hint of trepidation.

At the time of this tale, I was employed by a local museum - where a co-worker hipped me to his friend the mechanic, who happened to be letting go of a car. After a couple meetings with said "friend," I checked out the car and test drove it. $1300 later, it was mine.

The 1983 Honda Accord Hatchback was imported from Japan - as Honda's production facility in Ohio wasn't running at 100% capacity yet. It featured a four-speed automatic transmission, as opposed to the three-speed which had been standard until then. What it did not include was an Idiot Trigger -a fictional light/sound device I just made up that would begin to glow/buzz with increasing frequency as one begins making bad automotive decisions. 'Coulda used one of those.

A month to go before the trip, I began to get the car updated, upgraded, and generally combed over by a fix-it shop in my neighborhood. I took it in for an overall inspection and to see if there were any other peccadilloes that I may have overlooked.

After having the car in the shop for a couple days, I called to check on it's progress. Like every decent automotive inspector/repairman would, they had found quite a few things that needed to get fixed. I asked;

"What would be the best things to do for the car?"

Then the mechanic said (and this is an exact quote, folks):

"The best thing you could do for this car is to drive it into the river and then piss on it."

Instead of taking him up on this advice (which, in retrospect, would probably have been more entertaining), I authorized his team to make the repairs necessary. All tolled, the amount I spent on fixes and repairs for this vehicle in the first two and a half months of ownership equaled the amount I had paid for the car in the first place, $1300.

In the meantime, the guy whom sold me the car had split town with his girlfriend, and left no forwarding address.

Again, where was that Idiot Trigger?

After depleting the bank account for repairs, the day of the trip came into focus. I had been lucky enough to attend the wedding of two good friends a few days earlier, and the night before my journey, I joined them for dinner along with some other close friends of the bride and groom.

We finished our meals, then said our goodbyes around 10PM. I drove home, took a quick nap, and made preparations to leave. I gassed up the Honda at around 3AM, and headed off for the adventure.

Driving from St. Augustine to Richmond isn't really that difficult. You simply turn onto Interstate 95, drive north for about ten hours, then turn off interstate 95. Simple. I thought I might make it home in time for lunch.

The first trip to the filling station went fine, I even checked all the cars fluids just to be safe. "Hunky Dory," I thought, and I was on my way again.

My plan to head out early worked, I was making great time, as there was almost no traffic. Then, about 730AM - the car made a sound. A discomforting sound. A sound which resembled a coughing competition between a room of octogenarian smokers and a German Shepherd.

As we are taught in Drivers Ed, I did what anyone in this position should rightly do: I cursed. Loudly.

Next, I noticed the smoke. Pouring out from under the hood, thick and Grey - puffing up into my face to laugh at me for buying the joke of a car from whence it came. I managed to pull over safely to the side of the road and let the car come to a complete stop.

Then I cursed some more.

Moments later, as I paced beside the billowing, belching vehicle, I tried to put ideas together in my head as to how this situation could be resolved (hopefully, before lunch). Still fairly early, the traffic wasn't heavy - but there were a few rubberneckers straining to see where the plumes of smoke were escaping from - yet no one willing to stop and help.

That is, until an odd little camper van type vehicle slowed down, and pulled up behind the Accord. A man and his young son emerged, carrying two bottles full of water. As they approached, I recognized them. The day before, they had been visitors to the museum at which I worked. Austrian, I remembered, as we had had a bit of language difficulty at the ticket counter.

The man spoke very little. His son spoke less. The man offered water to cool things off, and I opened the hood to spill the H2O in whatever way would have been the most helpful. Alas, the water, though a very polite gesture, didn't cure anything.

The man and son went back to their camper van after indicating to me that they would try to alert any police or sheriff that might be patrolling. They hopped back in their vehicle and puttered off, vanishing like ghosts into the off-ramps and exits that laid before us on the highway.

10 minutes later, a proud member of the South Carolina Sheriff's department stood at the side of my car. This being the days before everyone was was constantly telephonic, the officer indicated the pay phone was available one exit away. Looking toward an upcoming highway mile marker - I was just outside the towns of Turbeville and Florence, South Carolina - about half way through my journey home.

The officer offered to drive up to the next exit for me, as he knew of the only garage open in town on Saturday morning. Desperate and thankful, (although in retrospect, this seemed like sketchy behavior on behalf of the cop - didn't it?) I watched the officer drive off - and return 15 minutes later, tow truck close behind.

Apparently the only garage in town open on a Saturday morning was, as it turns out, a one truck establishment which I can only remember as being named something similar to "Old Man and Sons." It was run by one Old Man, a very nice but tired and quickly aging gent; and his two sons, both in their mid-30s, still acting as though they were in their mid-teens - the type of fellows who only string together a sentence or two at a time, half of which are sex or fart jokes..

We all piled into the cab of the tow truck and drove my sorrowful vehicle back to their garage. Now when I say "garage" here, what I'm actually talking about is the barn located behind their double-wide trailer - in the suburbs of Outskirt Village. I sat on a doorstep made from a railroad tie, in front of an AstroTurf welcome mat, while the Old Man inspected the damage.

After a few moments, the Old Man's wife (herewith called "Old Lady") came out and asked me if I wanted some water or to use the phone. Both please, I requested, and I was let into the house to make a collect call, letting my folks know what was going on at this point, and also to let them know that they would be expecting more collect calls from me throughout the day.

In the mean time, the Old Man had inspected the car - and determined the damage. A split engine block, cracked head gasket - major damage. That car would not be running again that day. After he made numerous phone calls to parts reps/dealers/service centers, etc - the man came back with a few answers. It would take at least 7 days to get everything - and the cost, you guessed it: $1300.

I took this as an omen, and really wanted to get to something that resembled "home" at this point in time - so I struck up a deal with the man. Take me to the nearest airport, let me get back to Virginia. Then, I would call him within two days - if I wanted him to fix the vehicle, I'd figure out how to get the money to him, and pick it up on my way back through. Or, I would mail him the cars title, allowing him to do with the car as he pleased, with a promise to send me a bit of the profits should he see an monetary benefit.

He agreed, and then offered his sons services in escorting me to the Florence airport, 40 miles away- via their own pickup truck.
"Thank you," I said, and started grabbing my things.

It was no problem, they replied, and it would only cost me 40 bucks!
(Strange as it is; sometimes, when your caught between a rock and a hard place - it actually helps to be kind to the rock.)

Grabbing the belated Christmas presents I had loaded the car with, I made space within my luggage and said goodbye to a favorite blanket which remained in the hatchback of the Accord (not to mention a glove box full of totally awesome cassettes, damn!).

We clambered into the cab of the brothers pickup truck, and I knew immediately that I was in for a "fun" ride. I sat in between the two brothers, and could see a couple freshly opened beer bottles sitting in the floorboards - which would be emptied and replaced by the time of our airport arrival. I glanced at the dashboard clock, it was 10 AM.

Now, I will veer off-topic here for just a moment to say this: I have always enjoyed the music of AC/DC - however, I much prefer their earlier works, as opposed to the stuff they've been cranking out since, say, the "Thunderstruck" era. That's may own personal opinion, make of it what you will.

That said, the only music these brothers had on hand, was the cassingle (yup, another "C" word from the land of the '80s) of AC/DC's "Ball Breaker" - which was played in its entirety, repeatedly, for the entire 30 minute drive. Yes - we drove the 40 miles in 30 minutes. [Just for the record, I am against this type of offensive or reckless driving. As the lovely Bess can attest, I drive like the really old people in public safety films of the post WW2 era (however, in this particular case; I felt that asking them to slow down was akin to a man faced with a firing squad asking for sunblock).]

Nonetheless, we arrived safely - and I stumbled out of the truck, head still rumbling with the sound of Angus Young's guitar.

I had asked to be taken to an airport - not because I love to fly - but I figured that's where one could rent a car. It would be cheaper, and - since I may be returning to this very town in a matter of days to retrieve my soon to be miraculously fixed vehicle, why not rent a car that I could return to this very place? A simple plan, which worked marvelously - until I got to the rental counter. I produced my ID when I was asked, only to be rebuffed by the clerk:

"We can't rent to you." the voice (whose face may or may not have been an actual blur) stated.

In my head, I went through a litany of reasons why I should be allowed to rent a car; no traffic violations, no criminal record, finances relatively secure (I had one paid-up, until that point, credit card), and was having a not great day. So why shouldn't they rent me a car?

Alas, at 24, I was told, for probably the last time, something that I have only wished I could hear more often in the intervening years: "You're Too Young."

Too young to rent a car, eh? I looked into my wallet and grabbed the credit card. I went up to the nearest ticket agent, and asked for a seat on the next, cheapest flight from Florence, South Carolina to Richmond, Virginia - a distance of 343 miles.

At approximately 1040 AM, after being awake all night, leaving a trashed car 40 miles away on a lonesome morning highway, and having to endure a ride from hell with the brothers goof-nut; I was told that I could easily make the next flight- in 7 hours.

I bought the ticket, and made the calls to folks back home, letting them know the new plan for my arrival . My Dad would meet me at the Richmond airport later that night. Everything was worked out. Now, there was time to kill.

A lot of time to kill.

The Florence, South Carolina airport is about as big as a kittens paw and had, at that time, more Christmas bows on the walls than paying customers in the halls. There were a couple of televisions, playing local news, followed by whatever the Saturday Matinee B-Movie may have been that week. There were a few benches, and I believe a food/coffee cart - which sold three magazines, 'People,' Newsweek,' and 'People En Espanol'.

I wanted out.

Coming onto the airport property, I had noticed a sign for a museum near the airport grounds. After I had stepped outside for a breath of slightly different air, I saw another sign leading from the airport parking lot .

The museum was a couple hundred yards away - I could easily walk to it, lose myself inside a museum for a while and make it back to the airport proper with plenty of time to make my flight. So, I started walking. The museum wasn't that far at all, but had plenty of advertising on the short distance along the dirt road leading from the airport to the museum. I filled my head with the many time-wasting and interesting exhibits that lay ahead, hoping I could spend at least a couple hours filling my brain with things that didn't involve expenses, cars, or any combination of the two. I got to the the museum grounds, turned a corner and headed directly toward the front door, where was posted the following:

'Closed On Saturdays'

Dejected, I turned around - and since there were no windows low enough to peak into, I started the walk back to the airport. Slowly.

I made it back in time to watch the end of the Saturday Matinee from a bench next to my departure gate. I started doing a crossword puzzle - and then must have either succumbed to the demons of slumber, or just faded into oblivion, for the next thing I knew, I was within an hour of flight time.

Excited, I was finally headed homeward. I had neglected to check the details of my ticket. I was indeed traveling toward Richmond - however, I'd be taking three separate flights.

At this point, I simply didn't care. I hate to fly, but I desperately wanted out of Florence.

I boarded the plane - a simple 60 seater, which transported 15 of us from Florence, South Carolina to Atlanta, Georgia - where I had a brief layover before boarding a 24 seater which flew me to Raleigh, North Carolina - there, I boarded a 12 seater, which carried me from Raleigh to Richmond . If you want to compare mileage flown to the amount I paid for the ticket, I suppose I got a bargain.

Finally, somewhere around 11PM, I stepped into the final airport I would see for quite a while - and sat enjoying the ride as my father drove me to his house, where I knew a meal and sleep were finally going to make their appearance.

As it turns out, I chose to rid myself of the car. Upon returning to Florida, I sent Old Man & Sons the title to the Accord, and wished them well. I hold no grudge against the town of Florence, however - I do get more anxious any time I have to travel through that area. There's a strange vibe in the air, I guess, and it causes things to happen. In the years since, I've had radio stations change themselves, cars suddenly backfire, momentary gas pedal failure, but no more breakdowns. I call it the "Florence Shudder" - and sure enough, it's there nearly every time I am.

Perhaps, however, it's my old vehicle calling out to me across the woods and back roads of South Carolina - trying to draw my attention once more. I wouldn't doubt it's carcass is still there, somewhere, slowly rusting it's way to the netherworld.

Plus, it's been a decade and a half now, that Old Man hasn't sent me a dime.

Returning to new quite soon. Thanks for reading!

The Dispatch From Escalatorville
Z.F. Lively, Proprietor/Slowhand