We left our luxurious room, went up to the breakfast nook for pancakes, eggs and sausage, read the newspaper (side note: when I first moved to LA from New Jersey, I used to think the LA Times was a piece of junk, growing up reading the New York Times as I did. But now that I’ve had a decade of exposure to the podunkery of the San Francisco Chronicle, the LA Times looks like a good paper.), and, feeling extremely civilized, checked out and got back on the road.
The route through Port Hueneme borders the navy base, on wide streets with moderate to heavy traffic. It’s not particularly pleasant, but it’s not very long before you get back on Highway 1 and it rejoins the coast. The traffic is fairly heavy at this point, but the road is wide and the scenery was the best we’d had since Morro Bay, so the ride was enjoyable. The picture at the right actually has three dolphins coursing through the surf, but of course the photo didn’t come out well.
At Sequit Point we met up with a group century ride out of LA; they were at the turnaround point of their ride, and we talked, as cyclists who meet on the road do, about riding and the weather and our equipment. One of them had a broken spoke with a stripped nipple; I pulled out the vise grips and spoke wrench to help him out.
John’s got this weird hangup about not wanting to paceline with unloaded cyclists while you’re touring–he thinks they might be insulted if someone with a ton of luggage pulls for them. So we let the group take off ahead of us, and then John’s competitive instincts took over and he tried to pull us up to them. I still felt not as strong as John and couldn’t take big pulls on the front, so we didn’t have much chance of catching a group of 8 or 10 unloaded cyclists. Eventually we gave up and took it a little easier.
Joni Mitchell knows what she’s talking about.
When we came to Malibu, we stopped for lunch at–what else–a mall, this one across from Pepperdine University, home at the time of Jelani Gardner, poster boy for the ridiculous nature of NCAA regulations (where students who accept money can still play, and institutions where everyone involved has already been fired are punished). At least I like Pepperdine’s mascot (“The Waves”).
We had some “California Cuisine” and headed back down the highway. The character of the road stayed about the same into Santa Monica, with gradually increasing traffic. By the time we got into commercial areas, it was pretty much LA. John made the wise choice to go straight to the airport, but I was scheduled to spend the evening with my buddy, Felix Gallo, who lives in Santa Monica, so we parted ways outside my cheap (but not inexpensive) motel.
The rest of the evening, I’ll have to let Felix tell you about:
In the course of a man’s life, there occur a number of particular moments — moments fixed in their specificity, decision points, if you will — where in hindsight one looks back and realizes that the branch diverged there, and another way could have, perhaps should have been taken.Tom cycled down from San Francisco last week, so I arranged for us to meet, have dinner, and walk around the beach a bit. But as I put down the phone, I felt a momentary chill, as if someone had held a subsonic tuning fork to my ear. I was to look back at this moment…but, let me continue.
I went to visit Tom at his ramshackle hotel room, and instantly knew something was amiss. The Spanish maids were gathered by the stairway, clustered, nervously talking in low tones amongst themselves, pointing and staring in the general direction of Tom’s flung-open-wide door. As I watched, the alarm clock sailed out and landed with a splash in the pool. The cheap brown coffee maker was next to go, shattering into a hundred plastic pieces near the maids and sending them crying and crossing themselves down the stairs.
I peeked my head around the corner of the door.
It had been a while since I had seen Tom, but he had changed so much that I could hardly recognize him. The gawky boyish features were drawn, gaunt; and his red-rimmed, bugged-out eyes made it look like he hadn’t slept for years. The TV remote control smashed against the doorframe just as I ducked. “Oh shit, is that you Felix?” Not perhaps an auspicious beginning. In the distance I heard police sirens, probably bound this way.
“Yeah. What’s going on?”
“The fucking maids, man. They’re trying to poison me with that shit.” With that, he indicated a well-trampled and almost certainly inocuous chocolate pillow mint, smushed into the carpet.
I considered the likelihood briefy as he motioned me in. All he was wearing was a tiger-print thong; I looked the other way as he hurriedly dressed. Without any further words, we hurried out the back way as a cruiser’s tires screeched into the front parking lot.
As we hotfooted it along the beach, I glanced over at Tom. It was clearly worse than I had originally glimpsed. Little spots on his jugular were either very weird shaving accidents or needle marks; and specks of unidentified white substance clung to his left nostril. I tried to make small talk, welcome him to Santa Monica, but all my words trailed off lamely at his sullen silence. I asked him how work was, but at that moment he became angry at a seagull that had alighted in front of him — he chased it down, caught it by a wing, and wrenched it into a lifeless mass of feathers before throwing it into the surf.
Anxious to get out of the public view for a few moments, I suggested we go on the pier’s rollercoaster. He thought that was a great idea, and as mothers frantically led their kids out from in front of us, we climbed aboard.
“I have an idea,” he said, rummaging in his pockets. “Let’s make this the best roller coaster ride ever.”
“Oh?” I managed, voice breaking slightly.
“Yeah,” he said, slapping a grungy-looking adhesive patch on my arm as the coaster tractors lurched forwards, dragging us up the slope. Just then, all the colors blurred and the sunlight turned a mystic flavor of gold. I became extremely anxious, and all the sand in the beach below started reordering itself in very, very complicated ways. And then, as Tom’s lips curled back from his teeth in a silent rictus howl, the coaster started to descend.
How can I chronicle the events of the next few hours? I feel sure we only rode the coaster seven or eight times, but time had no meaning. I remember leaning up against a wall, sick and sure of death, as Tom wrestled a prosthetic limb away from a screaming prostitute. I have a memory of Tom charging into a fine restaurant demanding service, wearing nothing but the thong…and a nightmare that I am sure cannot be true of Tom leering and pressing his whole body against a grade school chain link fence as children on the other side watched somberly with the awe of the fearful innocent.
I know now that Tom keeps his lovely girlfriend chained up at home, feeding her a “red diet” of nothing but tomatoes and catsup. And that his drug ring is run out of New Jersey, where he frequently travels. And shameful, horrifying details of what he does when alone on a road with only an unwitting bicyclist friend…details I cannot possibly relate, details more sordid than his plan to import Malaysian “honeys” for their kidneys, their corneas, and eventual use in the slave trade.
When I finally awoke from the fever dream, and the colors had settled back into the drab blues and greys of night, I found myself alone in an unmarked alley, with a black eye and a Venice Beach T-shirt neither of us had been wearing at the start of the night. Alone except for the memories; that skull’s grinning rictus will haunt me to the end of my days.
So I warn you. If Tom comes to your town, make some excuse; heed my cautionary tale. For Tom has changed, from a nerdy but nice guy to an addled fiend hellbent on obtaining pleasure from the naive, the innocent, the weak…even now the thought brings horrible memories bubbling up….that poor cocktail waitress…those dogs…oh, it’s too horrible!