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.
We’d ordered sandwiches and were drinking coffee, waiting for the food, when the night, or morning, I guess, to be really accurate, since it was about 2 a.m., got interesting. The nutjob behind us started flashing a knife around and yelling. This was the same guy who had come up in back of us ten minutes earlier, shouted, “I refuse to sit at the same counter with heterosexuals!” and stalked over to a table by the window. Bob had said, “Keep an eye on that guy, something doesn’t seem right with him.” It was not a dangerous looking knife, more like just one from the set up on his table. We were in some all-night restaurant, having something to eat after closing down the Robin Hood Tavern. And I was thinking, well, here’s yet another crazy thing that happened to me while I was drinking with Bob. At some point I should really start writing these things down. I’m getting to it, but since it’s been thirty something years forgive me if the details aren’t clear. Bob got up off the counter stool and walked over to talk to the guy. It didn’t take long for him to make the guy realize what he was doing was just wrong, that he was scaring people, and if he didn’t stop he would have to leave. Bob can be very persuasive when he wants to be, and being six feet and well over two hundred pounds and dressed in a leather motorcycle jackets helps. And he may have pushed the guy down into his chair and took the knife away too. This is admittedly the cleaned up version that I told Bob’s parents some time later, but you start to get the idea.
To really be fair about it, not a lot of crazy things happened to Bob when he wasn’t out drinking with me, either. We just seemed to have a knack of pushing an ordinary situation right over into the ridiculous, usually, (but not always) fueled by one too many beers. Many of these seemed to center around the Robin Hood Tavern, which was the after hours hangout for the Delta Crowd. The place had an English theme, Southern California style of course, but the owners, Mike and Lorraine, were actually English, so this gave it a leg up on Ireland’s 32, which was kitty corner just across the intersection. The menu was up on the wall, done in those letters with pegs on the back that stick like thumbtacks, and the never-got-boring-prank was to exchange the first letters of the Friar Tuck Burger and see how long it would take the bartender to notice. I don’t know why but the place seemed to go through bartenders on a fairly regular basis. I’m sure it had nothing to do with us.
There was Riq, and he spelled it that way, who cranked up the movie “Casablanca” on the TV every time it came on, making popcorn for the crowd. There was Ann, a dark haired thin English beauty who did modeling work on the side for a clothing manufacturer. Tom, who was six two and rode a Yamaha. There was one other girl whose name I don’t remember, but she would challenge guys to a leg-wrestling match on the pool table. She was tall, had very nice legs, and never lost. On the nights we wouldn’t get there until late, they were nice enough to let us buy several beers just prior to closing (MB: this is still Dad’s marker of a good bar…and mine), and drink them while they cleaned up.
One particular night we came in with three other guys from the shop, Max, David and Pat. Max was a binder operator who’d had a particularly bad shift, and wasn’t in the best mood, but we’d hoped to cheer him up a little over a beer. Some guy we didn’t know was sitting at the bar, but there were five open spots to his left, so we started to sit down, when he got up and informed everyone he was going to the bathroom and nobody better touch his beer. We just looked at him funny, having no idea what he was talking about, and sat down to begin the process of softening up a hard night. We finished the first round pretty quickly, and Riq was just serving up the second when this guy comes back from the bathroom and accuses Max, who was sitting beside him, of taking his beer. I have since wondered what was going through his mind; there were five of us, after all. But that didn’t seem to register with him, because he reached over and shoved Max off the barstool into me. About two seconds later he had a very nice view of the ceiling, with Max kneeling on his chest and Bob and Pat holding his arms, while David was trying to kick him in the groin. I had grabbed a leg in the darkness of the tussle, and was just getting ready to apply some pressure to the knee, when I felt a hand on my shoulder and heard David’s urgent voice yelling in my ear, “Bill, Bill, that’s my leg!” This broke the tension somewhat. We let him up and Riq explained to him that no one had touched his beer, but he should finish it and go.
Another time Bob, Pat, and I had rented an old Buick LeSabre from a little off brand place on the corner of Van Nuys and Burbank, just down the street from the shop. This was when the concept of unlimited mileage on a rental car was just starting to happen, and we wanted to see how it worked.
It was early Saturday morning and the plan was to drive to Vegas, gamble awhile, then head back to Van Nuys and turn the car in after one day with about 800 miles on the clock. Getting up there wasn’t a problem; we even stopped in Victorville and went to the Roy Rodgers and Dale Evans Museum. He’d had Bullet, Trigger and Buttermilk, (his dog and their horses, respectively, for the younger set) stuffed and on display. There were lots of stuffed animals he’d shot over the years as well, and I remember thinking that for Dale’s sake I hope Roy passes away first, or she could be sitting up on Buttermilk for while.
Anyway, we got to Vegas and actually started winning, so much so we kind of lost track of time and realized at about 2 a.m. we needed to be heading back home. We made it past Baker (tallest thermometer in the world, or maybe it’s the home of the biggest ball of twine, but it’s something weird like that) in good time, but then the fog just socked in the freeway bad. This happens in the desert sometimes, God knows why, I always thought you needed water to make fog, but I guess not, because you couldn’t see more than 60 feet, which at freeway speeds doesn’t leave you a whole lot of reaction time. I was driving and Bob was asleep on the back seat. Pat was riding shotgun, but he was asleep as well. The speedometer read around fifty. I knew I was outpacing the headlights, but I figured no one but an absolute crazy person would be driving like this in such weather, so I was reasonably safe, ‘cuz what were the odds there’d be two crazy people on the road at the same time? Maybe I was little tired, and the logic wasn’t clicking like it should have. I could just make out two fog-fuzzy red lights ahead, and remember thinking real fast that I should just pull in behind this guy, then follow him safely. Problem solved, right?
It was at this point that I felt the right side of the car dip as it went off the edge of the freeway and onto the shoulder, and realized I was headed at fifty miles an hour for the back end of a car that was stopped on the side of the road with his lights on. I yanked the wheel left and missed the parked car by six inches, the suddenness of that action waking up both Pat and Bob, who jerked their heads up just in time to see, as Bob would put it later, “Nothing but chrome” go hurtling by. Pat looked in the rear view mirror a moment, then turned to me and asked drily “You OK there?” “Well, yeah,” I replied, “I mean, I might have been a little tired for while, but I’m wide-awake now.” The fog lifted by the time we got to Barstow, and Bob took over the driving. We made it back in time to turn the car in without late charges. The guy behind the counter wanted to know where we’d been, but I don’t think we ever told him.
Georgia’s been visiting for a week and we’re on the 128 like the start of some bad joke: a geographer and a map-oriented artist 20 minutes past where they thought they were going, several miles of sharp curves out, under-caffeinated, and rapidly approaching “hangry.” I don’t know how many times I’ve said, “Sorry…I meant Healdsburg, not Calistoga.” My dirty windshield perfectly intensifies the sharp Northern California sunlight and my contact lenses are shriveling up to create the distinct impression that my eyeballs are disintegrating. This all adds to the general air of “not exactly what I signed up for.” Georgia offers me her sunglasses, which I again refuse, having broken mine the day before and still being in a mourning phase with a side of unnecessary loyalty issues.
And then the curves begin. Unexpected curves are one thing. Unexpected curves when you wanted lunch an hour ago are another thing.
It’s all going fairly alright, especially if you ignore how it’s going badly, when we swing around a blind curve and out of nowhere it’s nothing but chrome on the left and I’m bellowing, “FUUUUUUUUUUUHHHHHHK” (like a foghorn, as Georgia would later say) as an 18-wheeler comes barreling past just a few inches too close.
The cab was orange. The color of terror.
Georgia, bless her, immediately begins laughing.