Tales From the End of the Bus Line is a long-distance collaboration between daughter/father Megan and Bill Broughton to collect the many adventures of Bill’s young adulthood in Van Nuys, California. Installments (and photos that should or shouldn’t see the light of day, if we’re lucky) will be penned by the two of them.
I don’t remember his name, which is bad of me, I know, but friends come and friends go in your life, and as he’s been gone out of mine for a good thirty-five years or so, maybe I shouldn’t place too much guilt on myself. He was a bouncer in a bar on Sepulveda Boulevard in Van Nuys, and I made it a point to become friends with all bouncers, everywhere, all the time. This has gotten me everything from the trivial, (a celebratory shot of scotch at Weber’s Bar and Grill, from the time I broke up a fight before it got started by bodily picking up a bouncer named Gary and moving him out of the path of an incoming fist), to the actually very important, (saving my life when I mouthed off to the wrong group of people, who happened to be armed, only to have a bouncer named Paul step in and smooth things over).
Anyway, this particular friend, (Steve? No, that’s not it), came between two brothers who were arguing about a pool game, and got pummeled when they both turned on him with their pool cues. Cops will be quick to tell you the worse thing to handle is a domestic dispute because it rallies both sides to a common goal, i.e., beating the hell out of someone besides themselves, and by the time they were pulled off of (Dave? No that’s not it either) they had kicked some goal winning points out of him.
Anyway, he wound up on the fifth floor of the hospital down the street on Van Nuys and Saticoy, with a damaged spleen, various cuts, bruises, lacerations, and a cracked ankle. I heard about the incident a few days later, and went over there to see how he was doing.
Because my mother taught me it’s always polite to bring a gift when going to see someone in the hospital, I bought him the latest issue of Playboy, (to me it was like the Constitution, I only read for the Articles) thoughtfully wrapped in a tastefully discreet brown paper bag. Because yes, it may be the thought that counts, but presentation is key, after all. I was waiting at the bank of elevators near the nurses’ station when I heard someone asking for his room number. The voice was very familiar, so I turned around, to see Valerie Traci D*** standing there. (Notice I have absolutely no problem at all remembering her full name, but it doesn’t mean I’m sharing it with everyone.) She worked in the same bar as (Sam? Nah, that’s not it.) and was going to see him as well. She’d brought a beautiful floral arrangement for a gift; the lady was all class.
We rode the elevator up together and walked down the corridor into his room. He (Fred? No, dammit) was hooked up to an IV, but really didn’t look all that bad for someone who had the stuffing knocked out of him a few days before, or maybe it was the just the painkillers, I don’t know. We talked for about fifteen or twenty minutes, but didn’t want him to get tired, since what he needed more than anything was rest and quiet, and said our goodbyes. He shook my hand, got a peck on the unbruised cheek from Traci (she went by her middle name) and then knowingly smiled and asked us, “So tell me, just how long have you two been together? You’ve done a good job at keeping it quiet.” We hastily explained we had just bumped into each other downstairs and this was nothing more than a coincidence, but he just laughed and said, “Don’t worry about it, I know how to keep a secret.” This of course, was something he couldn’t do to save his life, which we discussed on the way back down to the parking lot.
It was noon, so I suggested lunch, both so we could continue the discussion and because I was hungry. She followed me south down Van Nuys Boulevard and we hung a left onto Gilmore Street, to Won’s Coffee Shop, the best American/Chinese food in Van Nuys. (or at least it was then, I used to go there a lot after a trip to Bargain Books on Friar Street, the other side of Victory. That place has never changed and never will, thank God). It was over a shared plateful of the Beef Chow Mein that we came to an obvious answer to the problem. We would just start seeing each other.
Naturally I didn’t mind this at all, but was surprised, because she was way out of my league, as my friend Bob was quick to point out when he met her later. And she was, but really, who isn’t? I don’t have too many pretensions about myself. Anyway, it started like a whirlwind, with me calling in to work sick that night to go to spend an evening on the town with her. I went home to shower and picked her up for a dinner at a excellent fish restaurant in Chatsworth, (unlikely location, yes, but it was a great place that is unfortunately no longer there and in those pre-mercury threatened days my swordfish was great. She had a Filet of Sole with Rice Almandine and a glass of Chardonnay. Not only do I remember her name, I recall exactly what she ate) and wound up the evening at midnight on Ventura Boulevard at L’Express, a coffee shop/discotech. We had to take her car, but she didn’t mind driving, she told me flat out she was not about to get on the back of a my Kawasaki. We danced, she very well and me with my usual woodenness, but she didn’t seem to mind and led me through a few things.
A few weeks later I went into the bar where Traci and Good Old What’s–his–Name worked. It seemed like every other guy there patted me on the back, so I assumed the “secret” was pretty much out. Lots of guys had asked Traci for a date, but looking back I don’t ever remember her saying yes to any of them. Perhaps she thought anyone going to see someone in the hospital had to have a nice side to him; and that may have been attractive to her somehow. Otherwise it was pure Beauty-and-the-Beast from beginning to end. But it worked for a while, somehow, although it never did develop much further than where it started. Her life style was more of going to see Ian McKellen in “Talking Shakespeare,” while mine was more riding my Kawasaki up to the Rock Store on Mulholland Highway.
It was while dating her I began to notice a pattern forming, which she fit, of dating women that were slightly older than me, (maybe five to ten years or so) very good looking, and somewhat mysterious (Traci had a smile that made Lisa Del Gioconda’s look like Chuckles the clown). They told me they where attracted in part to my seriousness and maturity, not realizing until after we started dating that I was still in my early twenties. It was not a deliberate thing on my part; I had just learned by this time to be myself, and to allow what happened to develop on its own. And there were several of them, God knows why, but you can bet I didn’t question it at the time. The other curious thing about them was what happened about six months after we broke up. Almost all of them called me up, out of the blue, wanting to see me again. Maybe the guys they met after me turned out to be a real bad choice for them, and left them feeling in need of a sympathetic friend, but I think they also wanted to take a second look at our relationship, just to make sure. I usually made a good friend, but the first time it happened I misjudged things badly and wound up hurting someone’s feelings (and Vynn, if you ever read this, I am truly sorry about that). Anyway, I remember Traci for a lot of things, not just for the time we were seeing one another. I still go to see friends who wind up in hospitals, which now that I am older happens more often. Now every once in awhile when I get in a hospital elevator, I’ll glance back at the Nurse’s station, and remember her.
This Valentine’s Day, I wound up at a crowded bar with a friend, failing on all fronts to talk more, drink less, and avoid drama (refer to: The New Hampshire state anthem “It’s None of My Business”). However, the world is infested with idiots and bars tend to magnify that fact as well as tease out those tendencies. As alcohol and confined spaces generally lead to tension and short fuses, it was only a mild shock when a nearby argument escalated into a slurred demand to “take this outside,” where the demander was swiftly silenced right in the mouth. This sent him in a bizarrely graceful backward arc, which finished off with a definitive cranium crack on the ground. Nothing says “Valentine’s Day” quite like being hauled off in an ambulance with your new best friend, The Neck Brace.
The crowd thinned after that, with people exiting out the far door so as to give a wide berth to the bloody tiles outside the other.
Later, I texted “Fight at the bar! Happy Valentine’s Day!” to
Georgia, who responded “Oh no!”
Mom, who responded “Oh my god, are you ok?”
And Dad, who said, “Cool! You wanna know why a billiard ball is better than a pool cue in a bar fight?”
To his credit, he seized the opportunity as a teaching moment. That being said, he retroactively tried framing his answers as “theoretical,” rather than “from real life experience.” Sounds like his bouncer friends of yesteryear would attest differently.
Though I don’t think I’ve ever been to a bar with my dad, he once took me to Won’s Coffee Shop where we split a pile of “Dad’s Bachelor Diet.” But on our last ritual visit to Bargain Books, dad glanced down Gilmore Street while stopped at a light on Van Nuys Boulevard and softly shrieked. Won’s seems to have changed ownership and experienced an inevitable 2015 rebranding. The building still stands, as does the iconic sign, but without the no-nonsense “WONS” lettering, it feels wholly unfamiliar. We have yet to determine if the menu is any less 1970s.