The Houseboat and London Bridge
|The Boys of Belvedere and Me on Lake Havasu, 1993|
I flew into Phoenix airport. I don't remember the name. But I remember it was fucking hot, dry, lots of dead brush and Indians. I wore my Indiana Jones fedora, picked up with an ex while touring Mendocino the summer before, but NorCal summers weren't like this, and my thrift story peacoat, pale vomit green and plaid, an homage to the hobo. Had to be 100 degrees.
The Boys of Belvedere had rented a houseboat and were floating somewhere on Lake Havasu, getting drunk and high and breaking stuff, because they were always breaking stuff. They'd driven there but I couldn't, because in those days I was the responsible one with a job, working as a dayshift supervisor in a print shop. I was in charge of stuff, important stuff, and so had to show up every day, ask for time off in advance. I got drunk every lunch hour at a bar up the street. My boss used to drive by looking for me, but I hid around the corer at the far end. I was only doing the hard drugs on the weekends, and then only speed.
The thing is, I didn't know where they were, The Boys of Belvedere. Not a clue. The plan had been, I would get to the lake, leave a message on their voice mail back home in SF (remember, this is like '93; we didn't have cell phones), and somehow they would get this message and pick me up. I made plans like this often, expecting good favor from the universe to take care of one of its stars.
So I fly into Phoenix, flag a cab downtown, and immediately hit the bar. Because I drink. A lot. All I read is Kerouac, and all I listen to is Tom Waits. And I drink. I carry around a pint of gin in my back pocket. I am going to be an alcoholic writer some day. I smoke so much I cough up blood. But in reality that is probably more from the chronic allergies and sinus infections brought about by smoking three packs a day and not permanent damage; and for some reason this depresses me. I didn't bring gin on the flight, of course. Even before 9/11 you couldn't get away with that.
On my way in the bar, I step over a passed out drunk Indian, red face broiling in the blistering Arizona sun, gin blossom sprouting like tiny pinkish pedals in a hothouse. I light a cigarette, order shot or two, then a beer, and another shot, some more beers. I'm probably reading a book, because I was the sort of asshole then who was always reading a book in a bar, or worse, writing shit down on a napkin. I have no idea what I am doing. I only came here because of the promise of speed. My buddy Dan said he was picking up a bunch, to come on down; it'd be our spring break. Except none of use are in college anymore, and only a few of us, me, Dan, Jay, do speed.
Mid-afternoon, no adventures are happening to me. I always expect adventures to happen to me. And I am always disappointed. I once convinced Dan to hop a freight train, and we took her all the way to...San Jose--for adventures. Who the fuck seeks out adventures in San Jose? We ended getting drunk and passing out on the town green.
I hit the open road.
Now, I know Phoenix is not near Lake Havasu, and that since I did eventually make it to London Bridge, I must've flown into Havasu, or near there, but I don't remember any of that. I remember flying into Phoenix. I remember the bar. I remember the walk down the highway. Everything else is sort of...black.
I have a general idea where I am going because I have asked the locals, who've pointed me in the right direction. It is night now, dark, that black desert sky peppered with little white stars, the outline of sharp rock disrupting the sky, and the longer I walk, the more disorienting it is. I've been told the lake is "a couple miles that way," and I've walked "that way," and now I am told it's "five more miles that way," and still going that way that turns into "ten more miles." Now the gas stations are fewer and fewer, and then there are none. It's just scrub and rock, long expanses of nothing. Soon, I am at the point of no return.
I love this concept. Since we say it all the time but rarely comprehend its true meaning. The point of no return isn't just "getting too far out there." It is a specific point in time, that precise moment in your journey where turning around is no longer an option; you lack the physical strength, the time itself to return from whence you came. So your only choice is to move forward into the unknown.
I'd set out out walking, I'm guessing, around six? I can't know for sure, but it was light and now it is dark, and it's been more than a few hours.
A handful of cars pass have passed, sporadically, in either direction since I started, but fewer of late. Can count them on one hand. The landscape here is wide open, vast, infinite. When you see a car's headlights on the horizon, it takes that car an eternity to actually pass you. And now it is cold. The last few cars that pass, I try to wave down, but no one is stopping for a hitchhiker in a vomit green peacoat and fedora on a one-lane highway in the Arizona desert in the middle of the night. Might as well be wearing a blank trench holding a hook. And then the cars stop coming at all.
I am shivering so hard in my peacoat, my only source of warmth, I feel like I will spasm and break my back. I have not seen a car nor a sign in a very long time. Still, like Jesus, I walk through the valley. Smoking cigarettes, singing to myself, then freaking out because I have an awful anxiety condition and I am pretty sure I am dying, or have died, and still no cars. It's been hours since I've seen a car. And no highway signs. Only the sporadic baying of the lone coyote in the distance.
I finally make out the outline of sign and run to it. It reads: Beware Wild Animals Next 28 Miles.
Over the hill, coming in my direction, I see a car. I lie down in the middle of the road and feign death. The car stops, a bunch of college kids who seem scared to death when I pop up, hop in their car, and direct them to take me to Lake Havasu.
I find an unattended guard station and break in. I use the phone and leave the message. I sleep on the floor.
And somehow when I wake the next morning, the Boys of Belvedere--Dan, Jay, Rich, Mike and the rest are there on the shore.
I learn Dan jumped into the water yesterday with all the speed. So I get very drunk and take a bunch of acid instead, sleeping through most of the trip and my trip for the better part of the next three days, as we float across the water. At one point, I wake to see somebody throwing the barbecue off the top deck. A picture is snapped. I am holding a gun. It turns out to be a starter's pistol.
We do so much damage to the boat, the people who rented it to us block our cars in with bulldozers until we pay for the damages. But we escape. The boat was so torn up we'd have been stuck buying it. Rich says, "Serves them right for renting us a boat."
On our way out of town, we pass the London Bridge. It is just a regular bridge and not much to look at at all. We drive straight on through to San Francisco.