FOREWORD BY STAN LERNER: downtownster does not celebrate its first birthday until February, but I still feel compelled to post the TEN BEST downtownster blogs of 2009. And while I think all of our blogs have been great, these are the ones that readers read the most and gave us the highest level of props for writing. ROAD TO NOWHERE, originally posted novella style, was not only a great adventure, but a chance for some serious self-reflection. Not a bad thing to do these days…
“If anybody would like to join the first downtownster road to nowhere road trip I’ll be leaving Thursday or Friday,” I said to the meeting of the Marketing Round Table. “I don’t know where we’re going or when we’ll get there, but that’s the idea. And uh, you could get on or off the trip at any time or place—providing that there is an airport of course.” NO TAKERS
Friday morning 4:30 a.m. the 1996, black, Chevy Suburban docked at the curb of my childhood home in Montebello, CA—Montebello is Italian for beautiful hills. And it is from this very spot, that I have departed for many an adventure. I am fortunate to, over an excessively well-lived lifetime, have developed a number of friends who are willing to embark on such journeys. And I should be careful to mention here that some of these individuals were mere acquaintances or even less familiar at the time of departures, but traveling and adventure make for far greater bonds than the songs of fraternity boys in their beer soaked homes.
This particular morning it was to be my old high school buddy Mike Munoz picking me up. Although he went to West Point and achieved the rank of Colonel I still refer to him as my Mexican—I find this term of endearment more special than he does.
“The 15?” he asked.
“Sure. Let’s grab breakfast in Vegas and see if Andy wants to come with…No his mom is visiting…Let’s grab breakfast in Vegas and stop by to see Andy anyway. Maybe he can meet up with us later… How many miles do you have on this thing?”
“One hundred and eighty-six thousand. Where do you want to eat in Vegas?” asked Mike, seemingly settled into our trip within minutes. Twenty-five years ago a trip in his yellow, convertible corvette took us from coast to coast…
“All these years I’ve been going to Vegas, working in Vegas, living in Vegas, and I’ve never eaten at The Egg and I. Have you?”
He shook his head. “No. Where is it?”
“On Sahara. Let’s go there.”
Forty minutes of good conversation ensued until… “Hey that’s the 15,” I said pointing at the exit. The Suburban swung across five lanes of traffic as can only be accomplished at such an early hour on the 10 Freeway. We could have wound up in Palm Springs or Arizona for that matter, but that’s the point, it really didn’t matter.
“Hey, let’s pull off in Barstow I like the new Starbucks there—cute girl baristas.”
Mike shrugged. “Okay.”
ROAD TO NOWHERE PART II
The black Suburban rolled down the highway with the mean rumble of a venerated work vehicle. I raised the cappuccino, which I held in my hand, to my lips and took the first soothing sip. Given the distinctly not stylish clothing being warn by Mike and myself and the rugged “Road Warrior” appearance of our vehicle my choice of a cappuccino, as my early morning sustenance seemed a strange juxtaposition—black coffee would have been the appropriate beverage of such a portrait.
“But this is one of the strange facts about Stan Lerner that even you don’t understand,” I thought to myself. A profoundly civilized man and wild beast doing battle in the same being…I smiled at this thought, not because there was any humor to be found in it, but because it is this type of self-reflection that makes it incumbent on all us to travel the long and winding road of life.
Soon, the sun began its ascent above the horizon—its rays of light pouring over the sea of sand, so many grains—countless as the possibilities before us. The slope of Interstate 10 toward State Line still excites my body and soul, as I’m sure it does most. Funny and comforting to think that as time passes there are still sights that can excite even the most veteran of travelers—albeit now in a comforting way. Comforting, because there is a sense of freedom that comes with being able to move around one’s own country with such a sense of anonymity. And with so many freedoms nearing extinction it’s pleasant to know that there is still one left—I wonder if in the future children will understand what I mean by this. Or will they say, “A long time ago people used to be able to travel from state to state without being scanned.”
Why take the time and effort to mention in PART I of Road To Nowhere my desire to eat at The Egg & I? Not because I was hoping to offer a micro blog / twitter account of my journey, quite the contrary, I wished to offer what should be a philosophical aspect of any adventure—things that have been waiting a long while to be experienced, should be ingested. There are many experiences to be had, but the experience that has been repeatedly at hand, yet not grasped, this creates a hole in the fabric of life, which can only be repaired, not by a patch, but by filling. And even something as mundane as a place to dine should not be ignored, because it is exactly the minuteness of this kind of hole, which causes such disproportionate damage—we are most damaged by what we do not knowis missing!
Mike will now attest to the quality of The Egg and I’s Egg’s Benedict and I can see why this eatery is so converged upon by locals who are in the know. The Bellagio Café is still my favorite place to have breakfast in all of Las Vegas, but the Egg and I can now be listed number two on my list and if price matters, well we all have a new favorite place.
The phone rang; Andy had raised himself from a considerable slumber. “You’re already here?” he asked, in a sleepy, not really too surprised kind of voice.
“Here? I called you an hour ago to see if you wanted to join us for breakfast…Hey I have some stuff for your new house, are you home?”
“Yeah, come on by,” he answered, happy to know that his friend since the age of six was about to drop in accompanied by a good friend from high school (Mike). And a little irritated because I have that Cat In The Hat kind of effect on people, places, and things. Meaning I screw things up, tip the apple cart, think out of the box and generally cause a commotion…I like to think of this as helping people.
Shortly there after we arrived at the front of Andy’s single story, which he had just recently moved into after sojourning for the last several months at Dave The Jew’s house. And yes, for my longtime readers, Andy who prefers, now that he is an adult, to be called Drew is the same Andy known as Fat Andy in my more satirical blogs. I handed him a set of towels (Ralph Lauren), a bunch of canned goods, and a copy of my novella “In Development” for his visiting mother, Carol—this book is probably not appropriate for my friend’s mother, but I didn’t think about this until afterwards.
“The waters nice,” I said trying out the new pool. “You want to roll with us?”
“I’ve got Jake til Monday and my mom.”
“Oh. Well you can grab Dave The Jew and meet us somewhere.”
Andy nodded indicating that he liked this idea. “I’ll ask Dave…Stan, we generally swim with trunks on. The neighbors.” He pointed at a curious couple looking on from their back porch. I waved and headed for the house.
“So where are you guys headed to?” Andy’s voice trailed after us.
I opened the door of the big, black Suburban. “I think we’ll go catch dinner with Richard!”
“Utah?” Andy shouted.
I nodded. “Utah…”
ROAD TO NOWHERE PART III
Just as the Road To Nowhere is a time and place to relax in the present, it is also a time and place to have a blast from the past. The device I used to advance this objective, an ipod, was considerably different than the Eight Track player of my original road trips, ohhh, but the music was the same! “We are stardust and we’ve got to get ourselves, back to the garden…By the time we got to Woodstock we were half a million strong…Can I walk beside you? I have come here to lose the smog…” And I plugged in the ipod filling the cabin of the big, black Suburban with timeless music and memories.
The rock formations in the land somewhere between the states of Nevada, Arizona, and Utah, for those who have not traveled the 15 past Las Vegas, are mind tingling beautiful—cliffs, valleys, streams, escarpments of every kind. And there is no doubt to the thinking man who sets eyes upon this terrain that the Earth itself has a soul. These massive protrusions are not monuments, but a quest by the Earth to reach out and be close to God. The struggle is so similar to our own; the Earth like the body of man anchors the soul so desiring transcendence from the physical realm back to the spiritual reality of all creation. I cry at the sight of these mighty boulders stretched by such an epic struggle…And I feel sorry for myself because of the futility of my own struggle…Surely if the soul of the mighty Earth, which can shift tectonic plates and create mountains can’t…
A stop for lunch in Cedar City, a nice little town with an abundance of Mexican food, a University, and a Wal-Mart—and up the road we continued. From Cedar City to Sandy the topography is that of an enormous, green valley, the surrounding mountains of which, are green as well, seemingly more content with their lot than those encountered earlier—there is a tranquility about them…Even the grazing cattle is happy. Yes, these cows that graze the natural grass are happy not mad.
And the conversation that transpired originating a few miles before St. George and lasting to a click past Beaver went something like this:
“I almost built a factory over there,” Mike nodded the direction of Colorado City. “But when they told me I’d have to meet with the elders I decided not to.”
I looked out the direction of the now well-known polygamist city and said nothing.
“What do you think?”
“What do I think about what?” I responded.
“Would you have done business with those people?”
“Of course I would have,” answered I, with out hesitation. “Why wouldn’t I?”
“Because they’re polygamist,” Mike explained, as if this fact should mean something to me.
“Oh. Well so were most of my favorite forefathers of biblical times. I don’t see anything wrong with polygamy, so I would definitely not have a problem doing business with polygamists.”
“But they marry their daughters off when they’re fourteen,” Mike erupted. He has two daughters.
“I don’t think they all get married that young. But who cares, my grandmother married my grandfather when she was thirteen and they were very happy.”
“That was a different time. If you had a daughter would you let here get married at fourteen?”
“Yeah, if I liked the man that she was marrying. You realize that half the fourteen-year-olds in this country are sexually active anyway—I’d rather have mine sleeping with her husband than a bunch of horny boys that are just using her up. I don’t like tattoos either by the way.”
“But they’re isolated…”
“So? You think they should all move to LA, dress like hookers and start smoking crack?”
“No, but I think they should all be getting an education.”
“And you don’t think that it’s up to parents to decide how their children should be educated? Because schools in America are doing such a great job educating children. Under the premise of this being a free country I think parents should be allowed to decide what’s best for their own kids…You know the two best presidents in this country’s history didn’t attend any kind of formal school for more than a few months.”
“So you would just leave them alone and let them keep doing they’re thing?”
“I would offer them any kind of help that I could. Ronald Reagan called this constructive engagement. But yes, I would let our brother and sister Americans be free to live as they see fit. If not, maybe it’s your door the government is knocking on next, telling you that you don’t live close enough to school for your children to be adequately socialized…I wouldn’t go for that either.”
Mike thought about all of this and more that I did not write.
“I could have constructively engaged with them,” he concluded.
Exit 9000 was where I recalled Richard Zinman, Richard, Turd, Zinman, RZ, living off of. And it should be noted that since the day that Ilene Rossoff introduced us on the big red fire engine at Camp Monticqa / Montebello Park some forty years ago Richard and I have been the best of friends. Or more simply put, I’ve been hanging out with Rich since I was four-years-old.
“Hey I’m in Utah with Munoz, let’s meet up for dinner.”
“Where do you want to eat?” he inquired. After forty years he’s grown quite used to me dropping in—the wife would probably prefer a little more notice, but she tolerates my spontaneity reasonably well.
And there I sat having very good Indian food in Sandy Utah with two of my best friends—28 and 40 years respectively. I hadn’t considered that Mike and Richard hadn’t seen each other in twenty-seven years—I’m glad that the Road To Nowhere crossed for these two, as they are both exceptional human beings.
It’s always difficult to say goodbye to Rich, however he has a wife, four kids, and a real job so there was no point in asking him to saddle up…But the Road To Nowhere is for everyone even if only traveling along in spirit.
California, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah in a day, it was time for some sleep in Salt Lake City—really one of my favorite cities.
“Motel Six?” asked Mike.
We both rarely sleep more than four hours a night and our purpose is to be on the road so the Motel Six would do. Funny though, the light at this particular location was burnt out—if you know what I mean.
“Hey, I need to pick up some heavy equipment in Driggs Idaho if you don’t mind?” which is Mike’s way of suggesting our next stop.
“I’ve never been to Driggs…”
“It’s on the back side of the Grand Tetons.”
I nodded my approval. “We can be there in time for lunch.”
“We can be there in time for breakfast,” insisted my friend, clueless to what I had planned for him.
“You can’t come to Salt Lake and not have breakfast at Ruth’s Diner, my boy. We’ll be in Driggs for lunch.”
ROAD TO NOWHERE PART IV
My sleep had been deep and restful. But I awoke somewhat disappointed that nothing had come to me. No dream, no vision, nor epiphany that would change my course in life—I was hungry…
The big, black Suburban, with not even two hundred thousand miles on it yet, headed down 800 Street, Salt Lake City, towards the great mountains that make Salt Lake such a special place. On the right side of the road about two miles into the wilderness is Ruth’s Diner. Mike who has seen much of the world nodded his approval. They had renovated since last I had been fortified there, but quite smartly they had restored, rather than remodeled—Larger kitchen and bathrooms had been the primary goal. The rear patio, where one can imagine what it might have been like to have coffee and biscuits in Eden—was untouched.
The ride to Idaho Falls featured my thoughts on the economy:
“The Gaussian copula function, which destroyed our economy, was written by a Chinese national named David X. Li—doesn’t that bother you? He knew the formula was nonsense and he published it anyway…”
Mike turned his head toward me. “Stan, please tell me you wouldn’t spew this kind of bullshit to anyone else.”
My tone was even more resolved. “I’d blog about it…I don’t play the game like you and your friends in Washington. I’m loyal to the people…. What type of country bets its entire economy on the mathematical rant of a communist? What understanding does a communist have of our economic system?”
“It took a lot more than a formula…You say this dribble and get away with it because you’re an intellectual bully!”
“Of course it took more than a formula…I don’t even care about the Guassian copula function, people a lot smarter than me warned banks not to consider using it years ago. A second grader knows that you can’t couple debt variables and come up with a risk average. No, what is destroying our economy is a culture that would embrace not only such an idea, but the derivatives it was meant to enable. A credit debt swap, is by my definition, toxic at its inception—it’s insurance against failure, there’s no such thing. And there should be no such thing…What type of a people would rather make money through transactions than production?”
“Someone has to provide capital to producers…” said Mike, still more agitated with me.
“Credit debt swaps and collateralized debt obligations, otherwise known as the toxic assets choking our system have nothing to do with providing capital to producers…Nothing…They were instruments created for nothing other than sell in the financial sector. They were making and selling their own products out of nothing…And giving them a triple A rating. And then in the middle of the night our government gave these guys three hundred and fifty billion dollars and told them to work things out…”
“Stan, you don’t understand how things are done…”
“You’re right…I don’t understand giving private companies the public’s money with no accountability for it. In fact now that you’ve shed such light on the matter, I’m sure that the Fed will be issuing a check for ten billion dollars to downtownster tomorrow. And we could use the money.”
“Are you done?” asked Mike.
“Yeah, sorry. It’s such a great country I can’t stand to see what’s happening to it.”
I wanted to see what was going on in Idaho Falls so we drove around the town for a bit. Suffice it to say that it’s a nice town, but like all of small town American it is in need of capital for business and capital improvements.
Not long after, we pulled off of the road to do some shopping at an open-air produce stand. While Mike waited in line to pay for some sweet corn and peaches, which I had selected, I struck up a conversation with an old woman whose son had mortgaged her home to invest in the last several years of real estate scam.
Five hundred thousand he had borrowed on the home she had lived in for fifty years. And there is no government program to help this old woman because her home is still worth a little more than what is owed—and the banks have no problem foreclosing on little old ladies if there’s a profit to be had. And the son? In jail for beating up his girlfriend who not only cheated on him, she was the genius who devised the plan of borrowing the money and getting into the real estate game. So, I took down this woman’s name, address, and phone number and promised to get her the money she needed to live the rest of her life out in her home, which is all she wanted to do.
The rural beauty passed by my eyes for a few more hours as the black beast, whose back we rode on, continued to eat up asphalt. At a junction close to the Snake River I took the time, while Mike quenched the thirst of the Suburban, to find an old fashioned payphone—not easy to find in the modern age, but still useful for certain types of calls.
“I need half a million dollars that I can’t pay back,” I said to the person on the other end of the line, to whom I needed no introduction.
“Nice to hear from you Stan. How’s the weather up there? How’s the family? How’s my family you ask?”
“I can’t talk now…I just need the money.”
“Where are you?”
“On the Road To Nowhere.”
“Now you’re kidding…”
“Somewhere in Idaho.”
“Okay, but this better be good.”
“It’s for an old lady…”
“Pendejo…” was the last word I heard before hanging up the phone. Some of my old friends are still having difficulty accepting me as I am today.
Driggs Idaho, home of the now defunct, bank owned, Bergmeyer Manufacturing Company—until last year a fine maker of furniture. This would be the place where the blower motors, bought by Mike at the liquidation auction, needed to be loaded onto a trailer and towed from.
I leaned against the hood of the Suburban and stared at the back of the Grand Tetons off in the distance, letting Mike speak with Moritz Bergmeyer privately. Mr. Bergmeyer a tall, thin, man of seventy is the type of genius who used his hands and mind to build this country. His factory in this beautiful valley was far from what someone would normally think of as a factory—I found it to be the artist colony that I’ve always wanted to build somewhere, someday.
As Mike spoke with this fallen-giant of another generation I knew what he must have been thinking, it is what we should all be thinking, “Will this be me? Will I be honest, work hard, innovate, invest all of my time and money and still fail?” Mori now lives in his motor home. But Mori at least had his health and a motor home the old woman had neither. So I needed to help Mike load up, no small task since the forklift had already been carted off, and I needed to lose Mike for long enough to dig up some dough, quite literally, and deliver it to where it might do some good.
Mike approached. “C’mon, we need to find a forklift.”
I slept in the belly of the black beast, the moonlit field aglow all around—Mike slept on top of the trailer next to his blower motors, which had been loaded with a forklift and crew whose requested remuneration was a half-rack. Because the request was so little for such a large favor I urged Mike to buy a full- rack and he did. And not to worry, Mike did not know that a half-rack meant a half-case of beer either, for those readers pondering what all this means. But once the trailer was loaded electrical problems curtailed any idea of a night journey. Good news, as I had required some time to myself to deal with the problem of the old woman and her soon to be foreclosed upon home.
As I pulled my jacket snug around me, Driggs Idaho gets chilly at night, I fought fiercely the desire to withdraw my trusty MacBook Pro and begin penning this part of the tale, but something about this felt wrong—very wrong. It seemed the Road To Nowhere needed to pause for me there, in the dirt driveway of the defunct Bergmeyer furniture factory, next to the expansive field growing something. I reclined in the front passenger seat and thought about why this might be. “Simple,” I thought. “There must be at least one mourner for what had once been.” And then terrified I contemplated my reason for existence. “I write about life. I want to write about life…Have I become a eulogist? Please let not my reason for breathing be to tell the story of a dying land…” And as stated previously I drifted off with these thoughts in the belly of the black beast, ironically called a Suburban, in the driveway of a place once called industrial—now a wilderness at the edge of a field…
A few hours passed and before the sun came up I relieved myself in the field, picked up a stick, and gave the sleeping bag heap a good whack. “Get up little girl it’s time to go.”
There was a moan then some rustling. “Why are you always lashing out? It’s your own fault that you don’t have a wife and kids…”
“Maybe so,” I said getting into the beast and closing the door. “Maybe so,” I said to myself before Mike opened the door and slid into the driver’s seat.
The drive from Driggs Idaho to Missoula Montana is as beautiful as one could possibly ask for. Missoula, a scenic little wonderland, is the home of five valleys and seemingly as many rivers. The University of Montana elevates this isolated city of thirty thousand or so people above normal small town status…And thankfully it is not plagued with Hollywood’s elite coming to express their California buying power—as they have done in other parts of the state. In all, Missoula can best be described as Santa Monica Beach California, at the base of some truly beautiful mountains.
As I traversed Main Street, which in Missoula is a street named Higgins, towards a coffee house known as Break Espresso I could feel the metaphorical waters of economic disaster nipping at my ankles. The prices of everything in the large, empty, state of Montana, particularly Missoula, are stratospherically high. It is troubling to see such a nice place, with such nice people, and know that the tsunami that came ashore in California, passed through Nevada, Arizona, and Utah is on its way to the high country—there’s a lot of property for sale. And the industry of Montana is what? Timber and beef do not make for four hundred thousand dollar homes in the middle of town. So white flighters beware!
With the black beast in the shop for reshoeing, and yes I’m aware that there is no such word, and a new plug for the trailer—Mike secured us a quaint cabin on ten acres of mountainside up in one of the Valleys. I prefer the Suburban to the Motel 6 or cabin hideaway, but a hot shower and some of the world’s best hiking trails are consolation enough.
It is pertinent to mention here, that humans seeking the great outdoors are not the only creatures that appreciate the loveliness of Montana. On contraire, wolves, mountain lions, and the mighty grizzly bear all frolic in nature’s playground. In fact, on average, four people a year are mauled to death by ursus arctos horribillis (Grizzly Bears) in Montana. A male grizzly bear can easily reach a height of nine feet when it stands erect on two legs and a weight of eight hundred to a thousand pounds. The grizzly’s claws are longer than other bears, such as the black bear, and they usually swipe at humans horizontally causing painful, life ending disembowelment—in the worst instances of encounter. Because death at the claws of a grizzly bear or any other type of wild animal does not appeal to me, I chose to venture out with two highly trained dogs—again supplied by Mike. Now while the dogs would stand little chance in the event of an attack, they would supply the distraction necessary for a safe getaway—basically they’re meant to be bait.
The good news, after such and ominous foreshadowing, is that I did not come across a single grizzly bear in the thick woods of Montana my first afternoon on foot. The bad news is, I did encounter an extremely voracious mountain lion of seemingly prehistoric size. And while I’d like to report an easy escape or being saved by man’s best friend—neither transpired. And so now I must digress and state a few sad facts for those who might have some recollection of the Stan of the past. Twenty-something-year-old Stan that stood six-foot-one and carried two hundred and fifty-seven pounds of mean muscle mass capable of bench-pressing four hundred and fifty pounds and squatting a thousand no longer exists…Or more simply put, I ain’t what used to be.
Now how or why the lion missed my fearless lead dog I have no explanation for, frankly I never saw it coming, but I felt a thud that literally launched a galaxy of stars before my very eyes, which luckily cleared about halfway down the steep embankment the mountain lion and I found ourselves tumbling down—over and over we rolled…As a youth I enjoyed fighting, never lost a fight, the FBI would not think of arresting me without a S.W.A.T team and even as an out of shape middle-aged-man I fear nobody, but my maker. However, a mountain lion trying to eat me had never even entered my thoughts as a reasonable possibility, and had it, I might have had some further contemplation as to what on this earth gives me pause.
For my readers who appreciate a good MMA fight, say of the UFC variety, you haven’t seen anything, trust me, until you’ve seen someone go at it to the death with a wild animal—like a mountain lion! Forget about ground and pound, like a mongoose, a man’s only hope against such a predator is to get its back and go for a choke. I can tell you from experience, now, that they don’t choke out like a human because they have incredibly strong muscles in their necks and a nasty set of rear hind claws that they rip at your legs with in an attempt to sever your femoral artery. And even when the coveted artery alludes them, they leave nice long gashed in your quads that require hundreds of stitches. Oh, they also roar terribly and try to get their jaws around your choking arm in attempt to bite it off. If, as in my case, you suffer from a ripped left pectoral major, they will sense this weakness and use their front claws to mercilessly tear at your weakened left arm.
So I stood, bleeding profusely, and looked down at the dead cat and then looked over at the barking dogs, “What the f*ck?” I said out loud. “Now you bark!” They continued barking, but my mind was already on the long walk back to the cabin. Mike, having spent most of his life in the military, would be able to stitch me up, no doctors allowed on the Road To Nowhere, I just had to hope that I didn’t bleed out before I got there. I gave Mr. Mountain Lion one last disgusted look, “Wrong hiker…C’mon dogs.”
Two Hours Later
“What happened to you?” Mike asked, looking me up and down.
I smiled. “You should see the other guy!” And then I blacked out for twenty-four hours.
Sorry for missing a couple days of blogging, but I’m feeling much better now and I will be finding a nice place in Montana to rest for a few more days—maybe Flathead Lake.
ROAD TO NOWHERE PART VI
Although I’d become accustomed to the forward motion of a life lived on wheels, a few days in Missoula were an extraordinary detour into the Land of Normal. True, this was not my idea; indeed it was Mike who thought it best to give my old-body a few days of healing time before moving on. And since I was finding it difficult to move without a variety of pains formerly unknown to me—I acquiesced.
Interestingly, as I settled into life in Missoula and watched all of the normal people go about their normal lives the pain of my spectacularly failed life began to hurt more than my body, cut and bruised from head to toe. Husbands, wives, and kids everywhere seemingly happy and content. Not a single one bothered by Osama bin Laden’s still being alive and well, his hands dripping with the blood of our fellow Americans. The national debt? It doesn’t exist for these people with bright eyes and warm smiles.
And I gasped for air, suffocated by this reality—that for a plan beyond my understanding is not my own. My escape, the written word, only because of this life source does my heart beat. And I sat at Break Espresso for as long as my body would allow the pen and I to do our dance. There are several stories, which spawned from these days, Heather the most interesting, but her story, quite involved it is, shall remain for another occasion.
Nightfall came on the fourth day, the black beast was saddled, and the comforting lines, which I fever for, passed at seventy-miles-per-hour.
“I’m worried about you, Stan,” said Mike.
“I’ll live…And if I don’t…” I shrugged.
“You need to get married and have a family. I feel like I need to make this happen for you.”
“Mike, knowing everything that you know about my life, who exactly do you think is going to marry me? And even if there was some incredibly understanding girl, who could overcome my age and the fact that I don’t actually live anywhere or do anything remotely resembling a typical job or business—I don’t think I could put her through my life.”
“You could play the game, Stan. You don’t have to always be the outsider. You don’t always have to do things your way. And you don’t have to always be right. Why don’t you try being charming again, nobody does it better than you?”
I looked out the window at the blackness. “You don’t understand how much the forces of mediocrity hate me.”
Mike let out a single laugh. “I can imagine.”
“I could walk into any failing Fortune Five Hundred company, guarantee them that if they did exactly what I said for a year that they would be twice as successful as they ever were and they wouldn’t do it. Keep in mind, we’re talking about people who know that I could save them, they don’t doubt my ability…They’d rather fail without me, than succeed with…That’s how much they hate me…It’s frustrating because I don’t care about the prestige or the money, I want things to be right—And that’s what they hate most of all.”
“You should disengage. Let them fail. Maybe even stop blogging,” suggested Mike quite seriously.
I shook my head, although admittedly I had entertained such thoughts. “Downtownster could be a national media giant…Not that I really care about that, but it would be a shame to not continue to grow it—and there has to be somebody that doesn’t just let big corporate America and government screw the people at will. They think their money can buy anything, especially votes; we’re going to change that. And I don’t mind sleeping in a Suburban, in every town in America, if that’s what it takes…”
“Look, even I like that you stick it to the man…”
“You are the man…”
We both laughed at my timely theft of a line from an IBM commercial.
“Write something commercial and get an agent to represent you. Even if you keep blogging, move out of the city for a year and write something commercial—that corporate America can get behind…I just don’t know if you can do both, blogging is a pretty big distraction. But I guess you can try.”
“What if I just stop writing period? Maybe I could go back to business…”
“No, I’ve thought about that, you’re skill set is too highly developed to be repurposed—
you’re business is writing.”
“I’m all in?”
Mike nodded. “You’re all in.”
Only an hour and half on the road had passed when the big, black beast pulled onto the gravelly trail. Mike wasn’t sure how I would handle seclusion, but we agreed a cabin on Flathead Lake would be a good start.
As the early morning rays of sun caused the immense coat of night to recede into its closet somewhere on the opposite side of the planet, I stared from the balcony at Flathead Lake—forty miles long and twenty miles wide with at least three islands that I could count from my vantage point. And for the sake of full disclosure, this cabin on the Road To Nowhere is not typically what one might think of when reading such a word “cabin.” Measuring five thousand square feet, it sits on thirty lakefront acres with a dock and several boats to choose from.
Two very commercial ideas in need of being committed to pen and paper floated through the air of Montana into my mind as I stood there in that spot.
“I’ll need to take the big, black beast out for a drive and look around…I think I like it here,” I thought to myself.
ROAD TO NOWHERE—BIG MOUNTAIN
The email from Tilly on facebook said something to the effect, “I think you may know Paula Greenstein. And if you’re in Montana, anywhere near Whitefish, I think she owns a restaurant there called Wasabi—it’s supposed to be really good.” I read the email again, amazed at the Lord’s hand in all affairs. I had just found a former Camp JCA counselor named Gary Rappaport on facebook and while I inquired as to the whereabouts of Eric “Rico” Abrams, I could not for the life of me think of Paula (Plunger) Greenstein’s name—so I just asked about Eric and made a mental note to think of the name of that vivacious girl, who always wore green.
“Paul “Plunger” Greenstein, that’s her,” I thought to myself as I examined her picture on facebook. “It’s been thirty-five years old-friend, I wonder what you’ve been doing. And how did you come to live in Montana?” I decided that I would do some writing in the morning at City Brew in Kalispell and then continue up 93 to Whitefish.
Perhaps a reader of this arranged assortment of letters is wondering why I could so easily make a plan to find Paula Greenstein? And this very question is a testament to inspired human thought. Because the human mind intrinsically knows that all of life is a story. Even creation is a story in which God used the power of letters, to make words, which in someway beyond human comprehension caused matter to continuously congeal into the world as we know it.
Three Days Earlier
Subsequent to taking in the beauty of Flathead Lake from my balcony vantage point I ventured down the staircase. The sound of rustling dogs reminded me of my valiant protectors, who apparently feeling profoundly guilty about the mountain lion incident, would not budge from my side unless locked up—in this case in the laundry room. So I freed Thing One and Thing Two, as I call them, since I did not and still do not know their given names. Happy, as only a dog can be at the sight of a master, we strolled across the lawn to the lake and sat. And this, after eight hours of sleep, would be the end of my seclusion. Leaving the dogs to guard the cabin I fired up the Black Beast (Suburban) and made a right onto 93 for Lakeside and then Kalispell.
Kalispell, a nice little town at its center, is the home of several well-run establishments. Norm’s News is a must first stop for all travelers through this town—my father’s name was Norm (a sign). The hundred-year-old building features a soda fountain counter manned by two adorable teenagers who are the kind of kids I hope my daughters might be one day, if I ever have children. And, although the residents of Kalispell are not aware of it, the ancient “Los Angeles style” bar behind their soda fountain counter holds mystical powers. The wood, carved in Italy two centuries ago, had originally been part of Xerxes the King of Persia’s traveling throne. And because it has traveled so many lands its hand carved maidens have seen much. To the surprise of my young ice cream purveyors I inquired as to whether I could see the old opera house upstairs.
“There’s an opera house upstairs?” they asked in unison. This building holds many secrets my dear friends.
“There is, and I’d like to see it.”
“I’ll take you up there,” said the woman, who seemingly appeared from nowhere, clearly in charge of what goes on at Norm’s. Now my reason’s for sitting in front of the bar carved from the wood of Xerxe’s throne and wanting to see the forgotten opera house upstairs are for another story, but suffice it to say that it was the woman who showed me this place who suggested I go to Whitefish.
“You need to see Whitefish,” she said—exactly.
“What’s Whitefish?” I asked.
“It’s a small town up the road at the base of Big Mountain,” she answered, a tone of satisfaction ringing in her voice, no doubt because she had for a moment traveled on the Road To Nowhere with me.
I thanked her and the girls for their hospitality and headed back to Lakeside…
The following day I traveled to Whitefish—and took a good look around. I made a mental note of all that was there and then I sat at the Montana Coffee Traders thinking that a girl that worked at this coffee house, named Amy, might have something to tell me, something, which I needed to hear—the name of Mike’s wife is Amy. But this beautiful, hard working young lady seemed disconcerted by my presence…Also a story for another time. And I headed back to Lakeside, thumbed through my email, and read the message from Tilly, which begs the question, “Why the first trip?” but as I read the message I put this vexing thought out of my mind and resolved to drive back…
IN SEARCH OF PAULA GREENSTEIN
I stopped to write “Road To Nowhere” part something at City Brew on the south end of Kalispell. City Brew is a small Montana chain trying to emulate Starbucks—and in several ways doing Starbucks better than Starbucks. However, I can write anywhere and I am more than familiar with Starbucks and every variation thereof. No, I chose City Brew for a completely different reason…
The sign stated that Wasabi opened at 5:00 for dinner, it was 4:30—next door was a tea house and although past high tea I entered…After ordering, I inquired of the young tea maker, “Does a woman named Paula own the restaurant next door?”
“Yeah, Paula owns Wasabi.”
“Does she own this place too?”
“No, this is a different owner…But Paula owns the building, she’s our landlord.”
“I haven’t seen her in…” I told her the story until she interrupted me with, “That’s Paula.” She pointed at a woman who looked exactly as I would have expected Paula to look thirty-five years later. “Thank you,” said I, to the tea maker.
Ignoring the fact that Paula was there to join some friends for their daughter’s sweet- sixteen-birthday party I turned to stand in front of her. “Paula “Plunger” from Camp JCA?”
Stunned, she nodded and whispered, “yes.”
“Stan Lerner,” I continued, “Camp JCA 1972 to 1975, Eric Abrams was my counselor. I’ve come here to see you and find out what you’ve been doing with your life…”
She nodded again. “Okay…” we spoke for a few minutes. “Can you stay and have dinner? I own the restaurant next door…And I own the Haymoon Ranch Resort, I’d like to show it to you.”
“I’m on the Road To Nowhere,” I said, then explained the concept to her. “I can stay as long or as little as you like…I have nothing to do and no place to be—I’m all yours.”
I spent much of the next twenty-four hours with Paula roaming around Whitefish. A perfect snapshot of the experience being my time, magically spent, at the Tuesday farmer’s market. There was a girl there named Heather who grew flowers from seeds on the Purple Frog Farm—I could not take my eyes off of her as her beauty and that of the flowers had somehow melded together in a way most commonly described in fairy tails involving love in the enchanted forest. I wanted to touch her and see if she was real, but I refrained. An Amish man named Steve sold me some Kettle Corn; his business is masonry, but Kettle Corn is a family tradition that he enjoys involving his three young daughters in. And then there was Dora, who lured me to her table with homemade granola—Dora’s Granola. I could have just stayed there with Dora until the sun went down or my stomach burst, whichever came first…I kind of miss Dora right now…Strange since we’ve only spoken a few dozen words to each other.
Later that night I sat across from Mike on the Woodsmith made alligator couch, the best couch in the world, and I said, “Take me to the airport tomorrow, I need to go back to LA and take care of some things.”
“Why?” asked my old-friend.
“I know what I have to do now,” I answered.
“And the Road To Nowhere?” he asked, after assessing my entire state of being for a moment.
“We’re back on the Road To Nowhere in three weeks.”
The corners of Mike’s mouth tightened and moved upward into a smile and he nodded. “I like what you’re becoming…”
The End…For Now…