On Leaving America – Part 34
I sold the van today, My 1971 Ford Econoline. I bought it new. It’s lasted all these years. I couldn’t see shipping it to Sweden, though I might have made money on the deal. There are a lot of Old-American-Car freaks in Sweden. They have shows and clubs.
[I already see this is about a love affair between a man and his ride. Women will probably not understand.] I’ve had this van for over 40 years. We’ve shared some wonderful times. Just two seat’s–driver and passenger. The rest was open space, enough to hold a double-bed mattress perfectly in back. There were wonderful visits to Harbin Hot Springs, a couple hours north of San Francisco. Harbin had pools filled by natural springs and acres of deck . . . soft wood grown warm under a cloudless blue sky and beautiful people, all naked. It was like a Maxwell Parish painting. You didn’t go there if you were fat. I never saw anything sexual happen there; though I’m sure a lot of it happened.
The perspective van buyer asked why I had an airplane’s level gauge bolted to the dashboard. It was because if I parked on even a one degree slope, people would feel like they were always slowly rolling out of bed. So I took care of that, and had some incredible nights relaxing with lovers. Vans were parked near a creek at the end of a trail that led uphill through the woods, to three large pools fed from the hot springs. Cabins could be rented by we always stayed in the van. The peacefulness was ecstatic . . . floating in pools surrounded by trees and woods. Moonlight and stars reflected on the water. Nights inside that van . . . I was still in my thirties then.
A few years later I was working contracts, Job Shopping it was called. Some jobs required moving one state to another, and if one agreed to relocate they threw great chunks of money at you. Some big company had fallen behind or made a big mistake and needed help fast. Chevron, Litton Ships and Monsanto . . . I did gigs in all of these. The minute the job was done all contractors became unemployed. It was kind of like prostitution, but I enjoyed it. Had no children and was single most of these years. I did a few months St. Louis, Portland, Oregon . . . a year in Pascagoula, Mississippi. Can you imagine a bunch of California guys spending a year in Pascagoula Mississippi making more money than most locals ever dreamed about? And some of these California guys were black.
Things were different down south. A buddy of mine and I discovered this really cool negro bar just outside of town. It was so nice, dim lit and crowded with maybe twenty people . . . small place. We were the only whites inside. I asked the bartender if it was cool for us to be there and he said, Yeah. Sure. So we sat at the bar and ordered a couple beers. By the time our bottles were empty the place was empty. The customers slipped out left so quietly we didn’t notice till we looked behind us. They must have wondered what the hell is going on? Who were these white guys? Cops? We were probably the only whites ever in this place, before or since.
They had great food in Pascagoula. There was some big farmhouse we went to for lunch. It was run with by fat ladies who knew how to cook. There was mashed potatoes, gravy, beef and ham and biscuits, corn, tomatoes. Salads and fried chicken . . . all incredibly delicious—and inexpensive.
The van’s automatic transmission was sticking in second gear when I was in Pascagoula. You had to kick it up to forty MPH or more to make it drop into high. We been to a very nice restaurant along the beach and I’d had a few martinis. On our way home I went roaring past a pair of cops waiting in a squad car in the shadows of a grove of trees in a small park. The cop’s car left the park to follow, lightbar lit up like a pinball machine. The pulled me over.
“Step out of the car, please.”
I tried, but missed a step. I fell out of the car, and was taken directly to jail. My wife was relatively sober and they allowed her to drive the van home. The ticket was for seven hundred dollars. The jail cell was cold and dark, two metal bunks with no mattresses. A drunk was yowling from another cell. My wife was back with the cash in an hour. It seems like there was always lots of cash in the house. No time to spend it. We were working ten and twelve hour days and Saturdays. I came across the arrest record papers while sorting through the Ford files yesterday.