Leaving Los Angeles

This excerpt is taken from the story of my road trip from Los Angeles to New York, in the summer of 2001. My first stop is to be Tucson, Arizona, where I’ll be meeting my girlfriend, and then we’ll be heading to Manhattan together. I’m desperately in search of a restroom.

Leaving Los Angeles

…I’ve been up for three days straight; I’m a white guy in a shiny red Mercedes in East L.A. at four in the morning. And my gut is running out of patience. If I light a cigarette, I’ll look cool as a cucumber. Relaxed as a baby in the cradle. Maybe they’ll think I’m a doctor on call. Maybe they’ll think I’m a diplomat or something. Alright I decide. A cigarette while we wait.

One match. Damn.
Two matches. Come on come on!
Three matches, the cop’s light comes green, and they slowly cruise past the front of my car, looking ever so inquisitively at me now nearly fractured with insanity as I try desperately to look cool lighting this damned cigarette, and as the black and white demon slithers past, slowly I tell you, like a shark on a very casual patrol, finally, my cigarette is alight. Whew. That was the coolness I was looking for. Just like in the old noir films out of Hollywood. Just like they used to make right up there on LaBrea.

And finally, my light turns green. By now I’m nearly doubled over in a coke fueled, Redbull charged frothing bowel hemorrhage and I absolutely mean it when I get up onto the freeway. I’m on my way to a buck and change as I cut across all five lanes of highway 5, and begin to make my way to the left exit, Highway 10 east. Should only be another minute now. I think I can hold on.

But please, please, please, where is my exit?
One mile.
Where is my toilet?
Two miles.
Where is my God?!
Come on, come on!
Where’s my big Texaco sign? Where is the star of the American road when I need it most?!
And finally, I see it. “DENNY’S Always Open!” oh yes. Thank you Christ. You can count on your very nice clean bathrooms at your Denny’s. Oh thank you jesus. Hard on the brakes and smoking like a madman, I cut across the freeway to make my exit. (quietly to myself, I think I can make it. I think I can make it.) Bottom of the ramp, stop the car, look both ways, (looking good) toss my cigarette out the window, back on the gas, cranking up the windows while I drive (might be inside for a minute), and Jesus no! how can this be? HOW?! “Closed for remodeling” it says. Remodeling a Denny’s? Since when? And why now? I don’t understand. What is god telling me? Am I supposed to Stay in Los Angeles? Is this the message? No no no no no. I won’t do it. And it appears before me. Abu’s Random Mini-Mart Cheapo Shithole Porno Gas station. Thank you jesus. Thank you allah. Oh lord Jehovah how you do me right! Praise Shiva, I pull up to the door, shut off the car, hurry past the two armed drug dealing gang bangers with tear drop tattoos and into the vibrating fluorescent white mini-mart. Inside? Lots of porno magazines, a television playing the very late night Spanish channel, a bunch of shitty little cakes wrapped in plastic and a sort of musty, cigarette and motor oil smell, but no toilet. The bastard is sleeping at the counter.

“um, excuse me, could I please use your bathroom?”

“around back” he mumbles without really opening his eyes.
“do I need a key?” I beg.
Okay, let’s just go look. Let’s just see. I race out the door, (so as not to look like I’m racing) and finally find my way around to the back.

I find the bathroom. No doorknob, (of course). My ass is twitching now, and I’m sure I’m going to just miss the bowl. No lock on the door, (oh please no, no! no! no!), and no toilet paper. No newspaper, no paper towels, NO NO NO!!!! How how how can this be happening?! Okay, just a moment longer, red in the face, sweating heavily now, aching I run, limp, run back to the store front, back inside, wake The Bastard, “Do you have any toilet paper?!”
“I see. Well, do you suppose I could find some napkins or something?”
He gestures to a stack of paper towels over by the coffee machine and goes back to sleep.
“Thanks” I mutter to myself and quickly pinch a stack of paper towels and again back to the bathroom which by now I am absolutely dreading, knowing the gang-bangers are going to kick the door in the moment I sit down, and blow a hole through my chest with a sawed off shot gun, then steal my keys and car, but first, and only after robbing the bastard sleeping behind the counter and shooting him dead as well, and there I’ll be with a brain full of coke, a hole in my chest, and the bottom of my ass covered in filthy shit, hunched over on a toilet seat heavily etched with the tags of every gangster who’s ever taken his switchblade to the seat,-
(*Who has the desire to spend ANY time with one’s face so close to a bowl like this?!)
-and my sinful soul would just sort of haunt this little place, perpetually spraying spectral crap on travelers for eternity.

Back in the bathroom I try to push the door at least closed enough to give me a sense of privacy, and I unwillingly use one of the paper towels to fill the little hole where the doorknob should be. Okay okay, in one motion and one step from the door, the shorts are down, the belt is still fastened, I’m turning, I’m spinning, I’m squatting, I’m aiming for the bowl, my ass is coming down on the seat, piss or needles or blood or not, here I come, and there goes my ass. I blew the bottom of my ass off in there.

This was not one of those nice sorts of experiences you get at home on a Sunday when you’re reading your favorite magazine or the paper, and no one is home, and the window is open, and it’s just a nice tight little turd that comes out smooth, not too big, but nothing to be ashamed of, and there are birds chirping outside, and you’ve got your favorite toilet paper with you and all the time in the world. Oh no. This was something Very different. Well, in due time my work was done. I wiped my ass, my back, the bottoms of my arms and elbows, and tried to muster the strength to stand. And in a moment I was standing in front of the ghetto-etched mirror, rinsing my face with cold cold water, and I’m looking at myself, and I look older. Like I’ve just aged another 10 years. (Note to self, don’t look in any mirrors after 4am)

Feeling decidedly better, I towel off again, and head out to the car. The gangsters have moved to the other side of the parking lot. I unlock my car, the gas attendant is awake now and just sort of gazing at me from his perch on the shitty little stool behind the cigarette ads, as I glance back with a look of disdain, and take my seat behind the wheel. I’m feeling exhausted, and I’m still technically in Los Angeles. I take another cigarette, and I dip it into my bag of coke, I take my key and shovel a few bumps into my nose, and then I light the cigarette, start the car, and make for the highway. Finally I think I can leave Los Angeles. It’s 4:45am. I had planned to reach Tucson in the cool of the morning, but now it seemed I would be rolling into town long about the hottest part of the day.

Back on the freeway, I’m playing the music D.J. James Andrew made for me before I left. I love the music, and I’m high on the coke and I’m awake and I’m feeling much much better. I crack a Redbull and settle in for the next several hours of driving. Should be okay now that the worst has come to pass, and I’ve started thinking of these last moments as having a deep spiritual meaning, like the bowel movement is a sort of metaphor for my life in Los Angeles, and how I was leaving it behind, leaving it ALL behind, and in Los Angeles, and the late late night and all of it began to have some deep inner meaning to me, and I was really beginning to think this leaving was not a bad idea at all, and in fact I would make it to Tucson, and everything would be just fine.

I was passing cars, and cars were passing me, and it was still very dark, and everyone was moving along, and it wasn’t hot out and all of the windows were down, and there were lots of trucks out on the road and I was reminiscing about all of the places I’d been over my years in Los Angeles, and feeling sort of nostalgic and it was all nice and dandy, and before long I was coming up on Desert Hot Springs, and I thought to myself how nice it might be to grab a little motel room and hole up for a day, sort of recover or something, and then maybe head out the next night, but then I reasoned that that was just the sort of behavior that would land me halfway to the Mississippi and broke, and never ever never making it to New York, so I passed on my exits and was heading out into the desert for real. There were the windmills, and I marveled at how they looked so stark, like soldiers in formation on the craggy hilltops and laid out in rows on the desert floor, glowing in the moonlight, and it hit me.

Another pang. No a rumble. A definite Rumble. Like in that movie, Dumb and Dumber, when the laxative kicks in. Oh, this one is much worse than the last. And no exits in sight. None. Nothing behind me, nothing in front of me. Just Desert. That’s it, windmills, desert, and cars and trucks ripping along the 10 at 80. Uh, oh. This one isn’t going to wait. I’m in trouble. I jam on the brakes, pull off the road as quickly as possible, look in the glove box (thank you thank you thank you for thinking to grab some paper towels to check the oil with back at that chevron!) pull on the hazard lights, jump out of the car, race around the back, feel the shaking of the earth as a giant double trailer big rig buzzes the car, run down the embankment, any place out of the light of the passing cars will do, and there’s a chain link fence, and a sort of desert scrubby tree, and I’m fumbling with my shorts and I crash into the fence, and I grab onto it, and I lean back as best I can, not wanting to shit all over myself, and I’m holding the fence with one hand and I’m leaning back as best I can, and the trucks are rumbling by just above me and cars are racing by, and dear God, I’m awash in a blinding white light! This light consumes all of my vision, what the hell could this be?! Is it the cops? Is it a helicopter? Am I in a squatter’s den?! Border Patrol?! And then “BLAAAAAAAAAA!! (Much louder than you’ve just read it. Louder than almost anything you could imagine.) Chachungchachungchachungchachung!!!”(to infinity) it’s a freight train. A big one, and a fast one, and a heavy one, and it’s right there, making all the noise a train can make as it travels at speed across the desert alongside the freeway, next to me squatting by the fence where I am just there blowing my insides out, only briefly splashed with the light of God at the end of the tunnel, as the lead engine roared past.

Again I felt my life flashing before my eyes as I looked up to the heavens and saw my shiny red Mercedes idling patiently on the roadside, rocking like a little boat whenever the big trucks thundered by, and how pretty she was, bathed in the light of the passing cars, and how interesting it is that I was here, bug eyed, drugged out, grinding my teeth to a fine powder and spackling the desert floor with a wash of yellow brown shit, (probably dribbling down my leg) while I hold on to a chain link fence for dear life as fifty thousand tons of Midwestern grain and Japanese SUVs shake the earth all around me and I’m beginning to feel faint, weak in the knees and downright tired of this whole trip. Finally it passes. And I wipe as best I can (which is actually pretty good, even if I’m not feeling very confident at the moment), and I climb with Jell-O legs up the embankment and back to my waiting car, still running and none too interested in just sitting alongside the freeway. The temperature gauge is floating up past two hundred now, and I guess I should have shut the car off, but this was indeed an emergency. Off we go, and the sun is starting to rise now, it’s lighter out, and I’ll say it should be showing its glowing hot face over the hillside in maybe half an hour at most… So much for driving in the cool of the night...