Image: Dad with his sister Betsy.
The Raw Music Company was located on Van Nuys Boulevard just north of Valerio Street.
It has long since gone to Good Bar Heaven, but when it was here it hosted live bands with a collection of local talent, some of them really good, so the place was usually packed and rocking on the weekends. Like the rest of my world at that time, it was within walking distance of the Heads- up-the-Dam’s-bursting-siren apartment. I’d not found it on my own; I’d started a new job at Delta Lithograph, as a second pressman on the night shift on a Open Web Harris four unit, and my first pressman Bob used to drink there occasionally, so I would get a ride with him after work. Somehow this did not make my commute any shorter, time wise.
We were in there one Thursday night after work, having some beers and asking girls to dance. This is harder for me to do than it sounds, because most of these girls had actually seen me on the dance floor before, and knew how silly I looked “shaking my big hips out there” as Bob once put it. After striking out for half an hour I soon turned my attentions to other pursuits. A biker had pulled into the parking lot on his Harley, you could hear it through the walls and over the amplified sounds of the band, and when he came in he sat over near us at the bar. He carefully reached into his jacket and we paid very close attention, because who knows what people pack in that place, but he pulled out a small kitten, placing it on the bar between us. Which admittedly is not a sight you see every day, especially there.
He’d gotten it as a present for his girlfriend, and the really odd thing is that neither Bob nor I thought it odd he would stop for a drink on the way to deliver it to her. Anyway, he had to take a leak, so we watched the kitten while he did that. There was a new bartender on duty that night, and when she came over to see if we needed another round, I picked up the cat and casually tucked it into the crook of my elbow while Bob distracted her with small talk. This was way before you were allowed to go into a bar with a “therapy animal” and I didn’t want to get 86’ed from (another) bar just because of that. It turns out I didn’t have to worry; she loved cats and had a dozen of them (bad sign there, if you ask me, but few do) and was absolutely charmed by this little bundle of claws that was digging its way to China through my ulna and radius.
Mr. Biker came back, to cheerful accolades from Ms. Bartender for his thoughtfulness for his girlfriend’s gift. Trying to impress her and reclaim attention, I called for a round of Glenlivet for the four of us, the kitten being left to its own devices here, and she went to get a bottle and four glasses. Now, The Glenlivet is arguably the finest Scotch Whiskey in the world, and when I say “arguably” I would be the one to argue for it. It’s name actually means “The Smooth One” in Gaelic, and it has earned the marque. After she had returned and poured, she turned to me and asked “Say, you wouldn’t happen to know what we charge for this would you? I’ve never poured one before.” After I die I’ll surely owe some time in Purgatory, because with a face as straight as Jack Benny’s I managed to reply, “Oh, that’s just the well scotch, so it goes for a dollar a shot.” Poor girl believed me, and the four of us wound up going through the most of the bottle that night. I can just imagine the conversation her manager had with her over that. I liked to think he got so mad he had kittens.
You know you’re growing up when Father’s Day gifts change from socks and “letting mom handle it” to bottles of whiskey. Over the past few years, Dad has received one bottle of Glenlivet that Georgia and I usually end up opening and finishing (though several months later, halfway out of respect and mostly as part of a waiting game). We both took flasks to our college graduations. Dad usually saves it as a preventative measure for when he’s sick (another great mark of growing up).
Georgia and I recently embarked on a nearly 2,000 mile roadtrip for a friend’s wedding in Marfa, TX. On the way back west, we spent the night in Tombstone Arizona, attracted to the storied gunslinger history and a lifetime of huckleberry references from dad floating around in our heads. We arrived in Tombstone late in the afternoon as dusk settled into empty streets. After learning we were from California, Linda at the motel paused, settled back authoritatively, and queried, “You girls know about our Monsoon Season?” There was a very small beat before we replied in unison, “No?” “Wha-” Then a crash of thunder. “When the thunder and lightning are close like that, do not go outside.” “Oh ok. Do you have an umbrella?” She gave us one, and Georgia heard her say, “Now get your asses to downtown before it starts.” while I heard, “Get inside before it starts.” Either way is accurate, and maybe we’ll listen to her next time.
Downtown was a near empty Big Nose Kate’s Saloon with a bartender in a bright pink tank top under a black corset, illuminated stained glass windows, and a subterranean gift shop. In honor of Dad, we asked for two Glenlivets neat. In the light of the next morning, we discovered a store named Trail’s End and sent Dad a picture of the Tombstone namesake-cousin of his old Van Nuys bar.
(It’s also amusing to note that Dad is highly allergic to cats.)
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.