11C) Sunsets Are Free
– February 10th – March 30th, 2014
[All 3 parts to Chapter 11 span the same time – from February 10th until March 30th – separated instead, vaguely, by topic of conversation].
We woke up at 3:45am, had showers and left the airport, and dropped off the car at the parking lot. From there we would need to take a shuttle bus to the airport, though when we were dropped off at the airport, we realized we had forgotten a piece of our luggage behind at the parking lot where we had been picked up. At least we were early, we had thought, because the shuttle bus would be back here in about 25 minutes again and he can drop off our bag to us on his next go around. That happened, and it was all fine and good. Next we waited in a line (our flight was the first of the day for this airport, so originally we had arrived here early and it was quite empty, but now that we had to wait almost half an hour to get our forgotten bag, the airport had quickly grown busy with more and more people. We made it through our baggage check line up, to find that checking bags is $25 per bag (I don’t fly much, and I thought that one bag was allowed for free). We checked our two bags for $50 and carried two items each with us, two each being the maximum we were allowed to carry, and one of the items being a blanket we were intent on returning to Ontario in our ever continuing quest to eliminate “things” from our trailer, having our heater now and being in sunny California anyways and feeling a bit blanket-heavy.
Half way through the second line up, the one equipped with arbitrary power and the magic vision to see all as guilty until proven innocent, the exciting line up of imagination where shoes can be bombs and cans of cola scary grenades, the no-brainer lineup where what you look like determines who you are, we were half way through this line up, the one where in moments our shampoos would be thrown away for anti-terrorism purposes (learn to love the bomb!), we heard our names being paged over the intercom, which can never be a good thing. I thought we might have been selected for the next Hunger Game, but as it turned out, the woman from the first lineup had forgotten to give us our passports back. Now we would have been at the back of the line again (the second line), which might have caused us to be late, but the woman from the first line found pity on us and let us to the front of the second line. We were among the last to board our plane but we made it.
The two and a half hours spent in Newark waiting to board our next plane to Buffalo marks our only time spent ever for either of us, in New Jersey. Then we got on a plane, a claustrophobic’s nightmare, where I couldn’t stand up straight even in the middle of the aisle, where the overhead compartments were too small to hold our carry-on’s, and whose pilot was noticeably younger than I, for a 90 minute flight to Buffalo, a time span which broke down to 50% being the take-off and 50% the landing.
Then we were in Buffalo, and then we were driving back to Ontario, and then I was calling Charlotte to say I would see her tomorrow, and us having our first Tim Horton’s coffees in a long while somewhere near St. Catharine’s (I can quit any time I want, I just don’t want to).
We slept at my mom and step dad’s house on Parkwood Dr. in Cambridge for a few nights, and my dad and step mom had graciously rented us a car for a week, which happened to be a Toyota Yaris – same as Midge waiting for us back in San Diego, except this Yaris was five years newer and was the hatchback style (Midge is a sedan) so it didn’t feel like the same car after all.
On Sunday March 2nd Charlotte had her birthday party at Courtney’s parents’ house on Kerwood in Cambridge, where about a dozen kids came over, and a woman from a reptile zoo brought a bunch of reptiles and arachnids over to show the kids. A tarantula gave me a high five.
I took Other Yaris with Charlotte to Great Wolf Lodge for the night, a children’s place of mania and overstimulation, an enchanted lodge with magic wand quests, and arcades and water parks and wave pools, with a kid’s spa for those under 12, and a bed time story in the lobby every night, where they announced Charlotte’s name, along with almost ten others, because she was there for her birthday! After a night of water parks and bed time stories, the next morning we bought an enchantedly expensive magic wand and played a quest game, finding gems and such throughout the lobbies of the hotels and waving the wand over them to make them light up or sing or do whatever they do, to collect points for the quest. Charlotte was not so interested in the rules of the quest as she was in waving the wand over the gems to animate them, which is understandable, I think.
We spent a few nights at my dad and stepmom’s condo in Burlington which overlooks Lake Ontario, where there is a guest suite on the main floor, basically like a hotel room for temporary guests of the residents, and then a few more nights at my grandma and grandpa’s house on Applewood Cres. in Cambridge. I met up with Karen who had been subletting our apartment since I was still attached to the lease for six months when we left Ontario back on November 1st. We had left a few things behind in November, and now I had to deal with them since we were here in Ontario, and wouldn’t be at the end of April when Karen would move out when my lease was up. Our friends Mike and Tiffany took a couple things as storage in Waterloo and the rest went to my grandparents’ in Cambridge. When we get back to Ontario again in the summer, we’re going to have a serious yard sale. Getting rid of things feels good, and though we sold many things before leaving (I think it was about $800 worth of stuff and we put that money towards our time away) there is much more to sell off or give away still.
I had also played a show in Kitchener hosted by our friend Richard Garvey, and another singer-songwriter Tom Dusome, and a duo called Raydea, also performed. This marked the official release of an album I had actually finished back in late October with just enough time to bring it along with me on the road, entitled Empty Head Words. Backing in the photo below are Ryan Dugal, Russell Jennison, and Tessa Jennison, of The Short Films.
On our last full day, Kat and I went with Charlotte to see Freddy Fusion, a children’s entertainer who does science experiments and magic tricks along with some comedy, and afterwards Charlotte took us to see The Lego Movie, which she had already seen.
The time went by fast but we were on a plane again, this time to Washington D.C. for a 90 minute layover. When the plane was just about ready to take off, we thought we heard the flight attendant say “Enjoy your flight to Dallas”, to which I had to quickly ask, “Are we going to Dallas?”, because of course we were supposed to be going to San Diego, and to which she replied, “No, Dulles, Washington Dulles Airport”. My bad.
From Washington Dulles Airport we made it back to San Diego, eating a Denny’s breakfast and back in t-shirt weather even at 10 o’clock at night. Ontario, from a few weeks after we left and continuing even as we made it back to San Diego on March 11th, has seen its worst winter in 37 years, with record low temperatures, record high snowfalls, and a span over Christmas time that left many southern Ontarians without electricity, lasting anywhere from a few hours for some, to more than a week for others. The odd person here and there actually died from trying to heat their homes with barbecues and propane grills. We literally couldn’t have planned to leave at a better time for warmer weather, even if only relatively warmer in some places.
I drove us all the way back to Slab City that night, leaving Denny’s in San Diego around 10:30pm and arriving in East Jesus at 12:30, and exhausted and forcing myself to stay away the whole time. In hind sight, I probably should have pulled over at one of the few motels we passed along the way, but I forced my way through it, both of us determined to see our trailer and sleep in our own bed again. When we arrived in the dark, everybody asleep, we coasted up to where we had left the Cadet, being as quiet as could be, to tow it back to our original spot for it (when we left it behind, we moved it so that it was in a more central area and hence less likely to get broken in to or stolen, not that there was a serious threat of that actually happening). What we found in the dark in the middle of the night was our little trailer completely “toilet-papered”, covered in streamers and decorations, an inflatable Spiderman and inflatable pink alien! We had assumed it to be Daria, but in the morning Caddy told us, “That’s Frank’s way of saying he likes you”.
Coming back to East Jesus felt really right. We had spent only a few weeks here before our flight back to Ontario, but a few weeks is a long time for us to spend anywhere, and in that time we made a lot of friends and fit right in, a phenomenon I am not often familiar with. We had decided to stay another few weeks, partly because we just didn’t feel ready to leave, and partly because of Slab City Prom and the East Jesus Art Slam, both of which were coming up on Saturday March 29th.
It was only the 12th when we awoke at East Jesus for that first time again, but we kept ourselves busy from then until the end of the month. We built a mini art car out of the body of a golf cart, complete with rotary phone, computer keyboard, and mini T.V. to keep our statue driver distracted behind the wheel of his garbage decoration (lovingly named Multi-Taskoid). We dripped paint down a mannequin statue holding a black bullwhip. We made improvements to the trailer, including painting our big storage shelf; making a book shelf from a small wooden crate to replace our old cumbersome one; making a mirror frame out of discarded display frame corners and mounting it on the wall; installing an electric water pump to replace the old manual hand pump which was becoming more and more selective as to when it wanted to work anymore; buying a $2 DC power fan and mounting it under the overhead cabinet with a toggle switch by the bed, so that we can turn the fan on or off without having to get up; installing LED strip lighting in various places to illuminate the trailer with series’ of lights that barely drew any electrical current from the battery; making jars that hung from under the overhead cabinet at the front of the trailer, painting them different colours, running one light into each hanging jar so that the jar could not only unscrew and store things but also light up for decoration as well.
Time kept moving on. National Geographic came back for some more aerial footage of Slab City, touching their helicopter down at the helipad, maybe a hundred feet from our trailer. I got better on piano, often playing the studio grand piano which had been sitting out here in the desert for years now, and recording two new songs. The piano is shaded from the sun, and is more or less still in tune. We drove out to Bombay Beach expecting it to be kind of ghostly like Salton City on the opposite side of the sea. But it was just a really sad trailer town. Someone yelled something incomprehensible at our car as we drove by them. There was one mini-mart that we didn’t go into, and a bar that was closed. Bombay Beach is also where Walter the ex- N.Y.C. coach bus broke down years back. Wanting to abandon the bus they had been living in, but not wanting to abandon it in Bombay Beach “where it would probably get turned into a meth lab”, unquote, they took it to Charlie Russell and asked if they could half-bury it in his property, so that it looked like it was driving out of the ground. To which Charlie apparently said, “Sure, but I’m not going to help you.” Walter now rests, half-buried, at East Jesus, and has become one of the many guest suites for passing visitors, along with the Bastard Suite (named after Cat Bastard, one of the short-lived caretakers of East Jesus in the year between Charlie and Frank holding the position), the Sunset Suite (an open-to-the-sky truck bed raised up about six feet from the ground), the double-decker bus, Rabbit Camp, and probably a couple others. There’s also Green Acres, which is technically Bob’s trailer, but Mopar the Wizard was living in the other room while we were there, and Bob says that anyone can stay there when he’s away in northern California for half the year. Mopar the Wizard is a man of great wisdom. He might be fifty, or a hundred, perhaps ageless. I never saw him without his black vest on the back of which read No Human Is Illegal, or without his tobacco satchel or pipe, or his walking stick decorated with totems and charms. He offered much insight and inspired thought with his words. And his beard was fantastic.
Art Slam came and went. Royce comes out from his home in Prescott, AZ, as much as he can, to sleep in the back of his truck under the stars. He is largely in charge of the events at Art Slam, the frontispiece being the Tower of Barbarella, a massive looming tower in the East Jesus Art Garden. Each year at Art Slam, different groups have one hour each to work on a sheet of plywood, decorating it however they like but with only one hour to do so, after which the pieces of plywood are added as new walls to the Tower of Barbarella. I found a bag of doll heads with which we were able to create a theme.
Slab City Prom followed that night. Builder Bill and the Range had brought in a lead singer from L.A. who was then backed by a bunch of local Slab City musicians including our friend Barry A.K.A. Barry the Bassist to play a few sets of cover music. I had assembled a strange outfit to wear back at Value Village in Kitchener Ontario, but Kat hadn’t found anything that particular day. Jenn, who has many costumes and much jewellery, was able to pick out one of her outfits for Kat to wear, a beautiful green dress that Jenn had made herself. There were Slab City Prom photos, so we got our photos taken, just me and Kat, and then another photo with the two of us plus Jenn and Caddy. Another great East Jesus couple is Sue and Ken. Sue is an elementary school teacher in the next county over. Her and Ken have a house in that county, where Sue stays during school nights, but Ken stays with their trailer and dogs at East Jesus, Sue coming to stay each weekend. Sue would show up every weekend with the best pies for dessert, maybe three pies a week, and always different flavours. Ken was ex-military, taught us to shoot a pistol, and helped me better understand the walkie-talkies we had bought back at the beginning of our trip. Sue is also a part of the Slab City Board of Directors, and at the Slab City Prom, they were named Prom King and Queen of 2014!
We awoke the next morning on Sunday March 30th. The prom and the Art Slam were over, and so was our time here at Slab City and East Jesus. Time goes by fast out there in the desert, and what we thought might be a week long visit back in early February turned into almost two months, split in half by our 12 days in Ontario. It would be hard to leave no matter how long we stayed, and though we do plan to come back next year, we both felt ready to move on. There is much more to see. We have spent almost five months getting to the west coast of southern California, the furthest possible distance we were going to ever get from Ontario on this trip, and now we had to keep moving forward, not too briskly but still keenly aware of our time constraints, in order to keep our pace. The month of April will be our month to spend driving north up the Pacific coast, past the beaches of L.A., through San Francisco and the Bay Area, into northern California and through the redwood forests, and onward to the states of Oregon and Washington. We leave East Jesus more equipped for our road life than ever, with new knowledge, new visions, and new friends. Now we drive back to San Diego.