L.A. is a great big freeway.
Put a hundred down and buy a car.
In a week, maybe two, they'll make you a star
Weeks turn into years. How quck they pass
And all the stars that never were
Are parking cars and pumping gas
Thanks Dionne, how true.
I packed up my gear and vacated the Holiday Inn and caught a bus to the inner east of L.A. The area was cheap, well suited to my budget. The hotels were even cheaper. The first one I scoped out of a budget guide to the U.S. was, from a faded and failing memory, about ten bucks a night. I went up to the guy at the desk and asked to see a room. He handed me a key so off I trudged. The hotel may have been something good at some stage of its life but it was a busted up slut of a place when I visited. The room I checked out was mainly clean, had an ensuite bathroom, TV and fridge. Sounds great dunnit? Well folks I walked into the bathroom, the toilet was clean as was the shower recess. But. The. Wall. There'd been a pretty fucked up paint job over some bloodsatins. Nasty fuckin' drippy, pooly, splatty things which probably once spelled out Redrum. Cool you say? Yeah, very cool as were the three Balmain Butterflies playing with each other in the corner They were having a fantastic time measuring me up for sustenance. They weren't as big as the roaches you get in Sydney but they looked nastier. They looked like the sort of insects which carry switchblades and know blokes called Guido Garotte and Sammy Sawnoff. I thought it would be great to look back on having stayed there, fantastic recollections of my time in sleazeville but I wasn't really into making grunge memories a happenin' thang. Not at that stage anyway. I went back and handed the desk drummer the key with a "No thanks" thrown in. He asked me why so I told him about the three freeloaders in the bathroom not paying any rent and the botched up paint job. Or was it just art? Nup, it was a dodgy fix in a dodgy hotel and it weren't my style of dodgy thanks very much.
The next on the list was a few blocks away and was listed as having a supermarket attached. Sounded okay so I walked in. This time the clerk was pretty cool, took me to a room and pointed out the basics. It looked clean, no roaches and had the requisite bathroom, TV, fridge and a fair bed. A hunnert for the the week. I looked around, the supermarket had closed down a few months before due to being squeezed out of business. The lobby was respectable, there was a dining room but no bar. I handed over an Amex Travellers cheque for the ton, grabbed my key and said hello to my new home for the week. Uncle Jack was still half full so he sat on the sideboard next to a good sized tumbler. I unpacked, set myself up, threw down a few cold tablets, the sort which had pseudo-ephidrine and washed them down with a good slug of Jack. Zingedy zing-zing, we're back in town! Next item on the menu was food. I went out for a brisk stroll, feeling the medication zap me well and good. A block away I found a market, grabbed some food things, a six-pack of Miller, some Coke, salty snacks, ojay, and a pack of Camel filters. Lickety split back to divedom where I unloaded my shopping, took another slug of Jack and a cold tab and headed out looking for a feed place. Not too far away was a Greasy Joe's which advertised steak dinner for four bucks. I ordered and was pleasantly surprised by how it hadn't been badly cooked. The fries were generous and the salad stuff fresh. Not bad. I made a mental note to give Joe's brewakfast a go the next morning. For there to be a morning after there has to be a night before so I went looking for a watering hole. The first one I walked into was full of Latino guys looking macho and watching a soccer game broadcast on a Spanish speaking channel. A lot of surly looks in my direction led me to pretend that the door was a revolving one. A block or so further up was a cheaper than Cheers type place and when I walked in I only got a couple of dirty looks. Well, that was good enough for me so I parked my self at the bar and ordered a draught, asking to run a tab, putting a ten buck note down in front of me. The bar guy nodded sagely with the hint of a smile as he pushed the glass onto a beer mat and slipped a piece of paper on the counter below serving level, where he made the first of many marks.
There was a lot of curiosity about how the fuck an Aussie tourist was sitting in a cheap bar in East L.A. watching soccer on TV and sprouting all sorts of crap. The silly barman had asked where I was from, thinking I was a Limey. He'd then started asking me about the Wide Brown Land and a few of the other bar flies chipped in with their own inquisitions. Tweren't long before I was teaching them our native lingo, Strine, and checking out their wimmin folk. I had to slip into my faux American accent a few times to be understood and found that it was becoming easier to speak like that the more I heard them talk. The TV was tuned into a baseball game before too long and the barman brought out some bar snacks. Happy Hour kicked in and my head was soon kicking off. Too many cold tablets. I was drinking Miller so I wasn't getting hammered at all. Their regular strength beer seemed about half the strength of Aussie brews so it was smooth sailing. The bar crew I'd joined up with was Eddy, Steve, Felipe, Jean, Roberta, and Alissa. The singles were Alissa, Steve, Eddy and myself. The odds were two to one against but I started pitching anyway. To straighten out my noggin I switched to Jack, me old mate. Cheers boys and gals! After a couple of those free pour style I'd settled into a nice little fugue. Well, Brain had anyway, I was still pitching at Alissa. Despite my best drunken Aussie efforts she left on her own. Jean gave me a tip,
"Be here on Friday night, handsome." The guys shook their heads and laughed in that rueful way practiced by blokes who recognise hit and miss tactics when they see them. Through the enveloping mist of L.A. bar life I realised that I hadn't tipped since the first round. I asked the bar bloke to add up my tab and pulled a couple more twenties to show I meant business.
"Fifteen bucks." I looked amazed which he took the wrong way, frowning. I quickly interjected,
"Thought it'd be more like fifty." I'd been wrongly thinking that drinking in cheap places in the U.S. would still cost plenty. I was wrong, very, delightfully, wrong.
I laid a twenty on the bar covering the tab and the tip and told him I'd see him again real soon. Eddy and Felipe came outside with me, making sure there no undesirables around. To me, that was for show, but I appreciated it. These people were the real deal. Working stiffs who enjoyed a boisterous drink, a ball game and salty snacks. They didn't bullshit too much and had given me some good tips about their country. Particularly about bars. If people are mainly drinking bottled beer, stear clear of the draught. If there's a lot of good bar snacks on offer then tip extra. Don't use overly crap lines on chicks in bars, in fact with my accent, they'll probably be the start up pitchers anyway. Thanks guys, see ya on Friday. Now where the fuck did I leave my hotel room? Must be back at the hotel. But where the fuck was that? L.A. Thanks Therbs, nice answers but stop being a fucking smart arse and sort yourself out. I looked up the road and then down the road, only to see Steve having a chuckle at my expense.
"You lost, buddy?"
"No mate, but my hotel is. The fucker was here a moment ago and now its fucked off. Bastard of a thing!"
"I wouldn't walk back there guy, a cab'll cost you five bucks at most with tip. Don't give the fucker any more than that."
"Cheers Steve, thanks mate. I'll buy you a beer on Friday."
"See ya, buddy. Sleep well."
I hailed the next cab, showed him the key tag with the hotel name and pointed straight ahead. Which meant that we then did a u-turn and within a short drive I was in front of cheapsville USA. I handed the cabbie a fiver and waved bye-bye. He said thanks and drove off. Back in my room I turned on the TV and found Letterman. He was crash testing appliances off the top of a building. This was back in his early years when he was younger, rougher, took more risks and had fewer interns to Clintonise. Jack was looking at me from the sideboard, teasing me, challenging me in that playful way I knew so well.
"You're a real fucking charmer aren't you Jack? Well there's gonna be less of you now."
I poured a healthy slug into the tumbler on top of some chunks of ice. Then added another slurp. Topped it off with some Coke and tasted it. Yes. Perfection. I got into my shorts and t-shirt and slouched on the bed, watching Letterman go through his paces. It was the first time I'd seen him and was impressed. I then started thinking about where I was and what I should really be doing. Sightseeing. Yeah, sure. I'll do some tomorrow, starting off with the greasy Joe's breakfast, followed maybe by a visit to Rodeo Drive or Hollywood. That was enough thinky shit for that night. I went to sleep well pleased with myself. I was boozed up, had met some decent folk and maybe had a chance at one of the local beauties on Friday night.
Greasy Joe's breakfast special was a small stack (butter and maple syrup) with a side order of bacon, toast, ojay and coffee for three-fiddy. Once again the small stack required the hire of a scaffolding gang to hold the thing up so I fed well, stacking it on to save on lunch. My cold symptoms were prettyuu much reduced to an occasional sneeze. I like to thank the likes of Jack Daniels or Bundaberg Rum for my epic cold cures. I was proven right again. Its a case of attacking the thing with generous amounts of good spirit and maybe some ojay. Another ingredient is greasy food. You also need to make sure you drink enough water to let your innards clean out the bad stuff. After breakfast I caught a bus downtown and lobbed onto a sightseeing bus. L.A. in a day seemed good enough to me. It was one of those voucher jobs where you jump on and off as you please, the voucher lasting the day. It gave me a good opportunity to see all the main things like, Hollywood, Rodeo Drive, Sepulveda, the studios, the Hollywood sign, the walk of fame with all the dabs of the stars set in concrete and all that sort of shite. Glad I saw it but wasn't going to explore it too much. I did eventually go back to Rodeo Drive and do some people watching but Hollywood was a bust. Was not impressed. I did like "The Ol' Chinne Thee-ate-er" as one old gent called it. The Red Carpet wasn't out so I was going home. I spent a few days like this, getting on buses and checking shit out but just never quite got into the L.A. vibe. Another visit out to the beach was fun but it still seemed unreal, fake. Before I left L.A. I had one Friday night back at the bar.
After having sold my soul to a few different bars around L.A. I went back to the first and in my mind the best. The others were mix'n'match, sterile sorts of places for businessmen having a sharpie on the way home.
The Bell Bar seemed like home away from home. Steve, Felipe, Jean, Eddy. Alissa and Roberta were there on Friday night when I walked in freshly showered with clean (and pressed) clothes. They cheered me all the way to the bar where I set up a tab. The barman, Jeff, pulled out a cold Corona for me. First time for everything so I downed half of it, held up the bottle and sang,
"Mah mah mah mah mah mah My Corona!"
Just call me cheap and cheesy 'cos that what I was. I got a few laughs but I knew not to push it too much. I asked Jeff about the Corona and he told me that he got it cheap from some guys he knew. Fair ebloodynough. He was charging the same as a mug of draught for it and it was heaps better. It also seemed to have a familiar kick to it, like the beer I'd been brought up on. Good. I now knew what I was dealing with and it was tasty. It was a grand night. We played darts, watched some baseball, danced to some old kickin' rock classics and I even twirled Alissa around the floor to "L.A. Woman." Not really relevant except in the title. Alissa wasn't alone and she didn't have the blues. I s'pose I wasn't "Mr Mojo Risin'" either.
I was still being quizzed a lot about Australia and then about Europe so I told them about some of the things which happened when I'd been ratsacking around in previous overseas sorties. They were disappointed in how Americans were viewed by other people and I went into how us Aussies as tourists aren't necessarily the best ambassadors for our country either. Some of the crap dished up by my fellow countrymen to various cities around the world is best left hidden under the carpet if at all possible. At the last, just deny all knowledge. Say it was most likely a bunch of Kiwis or Seth Efrikens. This bit of ratting on drunken bogans didn't seem like treason at all to me. I thought it may feel like it but, nup. An idiot is an idiot no matter the language they speak or the accent they drape it in. At this stage I was draping mine in a big boxing kangaroo. There was one important point as well to this laying bare of the national soul. It got Alissa hooked in. By the time I'd settled my tab (thirty bucks including tip) she was hooked onto my arm. I said my goodbyes to the gang with a promise to see them the next day before heading north. North to San Francisco and beyond. Via Greyhound. That was going to be fun. Not.
So I asked Alissa if she wanted to come and stay the night at chateau de sleaze. She agreed. We cabbed it there and by the time we ended up in my room our clothes were flying in all directions. It was like some sort of sexual washing machine action. After a little while we settled down and stopped acting like excited teenagers. I poured a couple of tumblers of my ice, Jack ' coke throat soother, lit up Winstons for two and we stretched back on the bed, still slightly clothed but comfortably bound together by intertwined limbs. It was a mighty fine evening.
We slept in till about ten, well sort of slept anyway. I took her to Joe's for the day's breakfast special - a big plate of ham and eggs with french toast on the side. Outside of Joe's we said a passionate but temporary goodbye. I had to pack, reserve a seat on Greyhound and hit the Bell Bar one last time. I did all that. The farewells were fine and fond, but Alissa's was a bittersweet moment. I'd had these before and knew what was coming so I braced myself with a pre-poured double slug of Jack. Before long I was a little misty eyed as a cab took me from the bar to the Greyhound depot. It was getting dark as the driver pulled up and as I settled the fare plus tip he advised,
"Don't stop, don't walk slow just move quickly into the main terminal. Holy shit! Look at these whackos will ya? Jesus!"
That sounded really encouraging and as I stepped out and hitched my pack I noticed what he meant. Outside the Greyhound terminal was a pack of scurvy looking sharks waiting for some fresh meat. I strode purposefully forward, not looking askance, and ignoring any pleas for money, smokes, change, food, whatever. I got inside with twenty minutes before drive-off, checked in, got a seat assignment and waited. I had to get used to this 'cos I there were a few more months of it to go. But first, San Francisco here we come!