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) are penned by the two of them.
“One white boy to the Rovin’ Thirties and return, only good for daylight hours.”
This is what was written on the pass Paul had just handed me. I looked at him and asked, “Will I have a chance to show it to anyone before the shooting starts?” He just laughed and said, “As long as you’re with us, you’ll be fine, just don’t start anything and say “Yes, Sir” a lot.” We were in his little Chrysler Rampage pick up, heading over from Van Nuys to his Mother’s house somewhere in the 30s of Southeast LA to move yet another refrigerator.
We weren’t going to move it far, just into the yard to defrost it. It was an older machine and she was getting up there in years, so he had corralled me into helping him after I had taken the cover feeder off his Perfect Binder a couple of days before. He and David, who also ran the Binder, had the cover feeder unbolted, but needed to lift it out of the way to make some repairs, so they called me over to help them. It was a big awkward looking unbalanced piece of metal. There was a huge flat area on the top, where the covers rested, and a long steel shaft with gears and cams on the other end. I asked them if it was completely free, and they said, “Yeah, it just needs to be lifted out.”
I asked where we were going to set if down, since they had a few hours of work to do on the Binder, and they indicated a wooden pallet behind me. Finally I asked how much it weighed.
“It’s not too heavy,” said Paul, “the three of us can handle it.”
“I’m sure we can” I replied, “but how much does it weigh?”
David thought about it a little and said, “Probably 175 or 180 pounds, it’s just hard to move because of the shape, if we pull it straight up we should be OK.”
Or in other words, it was about forty pounds heavier than David and about fifty pounds heavier than Paul.
“Good”, I said, “that’s what I wanted to know.”
Then I reached over, grabbed the top of it in both hands, and by myself lifted it up and away from the Binder, turning in a half circle and setting it down on the pallet. David’s jaw dropped, and Paul came up with a Cheech Marin line from Up In Smoke (“Well, God Damn, Tarzan!”). I told them to give me a call when they needed it put back on, and went across the shop to continue cutting the job they had interrupted.
Paul had gotten me several part time jobs in print shops all over the Valley and downtown. He knew virtually everyone who owned a small shop and was not averse to hiring for cash. They trusted him enough that he was allowed full access, and they would often leave him in the shop overnight unsupervised. Me being vouched for by him meant that trust was also extended to me, and there were plenty of times we would get out of work at 3:30 in the afternoon on a Friday, head down to Absolute Perfect Binding in East LA, and work until seven or eight Saturday morning, getting a job ready for a rashly promised Monday delivery date. Anyway, I owed him, and he was fun to work with, and as long as I stayed by him he told me everything would be cool.
We picked up his girlfriend on the way, she laughing when I showed her the note, and drove down the 170 until it became the 101, then turned onto the 110 South, getting off somewhere in South Central. I asked him why it was called The Rovin’ Thirties, and he told me that it was named thusly in honor of his little brother’s gang. Most of them grew up in the middle of the 30th block of South Central, and when they made the gang they were too young to drive, so they had to walk everywhere. They couldn’t cover more than five blocks in any given direction, so they became known as “The Rovin’ Thirties” and the name stuck.
Paul had slowed his pick up truck down to walking speed himself as he explained this to me. He had the unnervingly singular habit of slowing his cars down whenever he spoke. I remember going about five miles an hour one night on the 405 freeway when he was telling a complicated story to me.
Anyway, we got to his Mom’s house without much further incidence. He introduced me to his Mom, a real sweet church going type lady, and she in turn introduced me her brother-in-law and sister, who were visiting, and to her old Auntie as well, saying as she did, “You don’t have to worry about Auntie, she likes white folks.” Paul’s younger brother Jon was there, home from the Marine Corps, I’d met him a few times before. Jon and Paul had the same build, so it was up to me as the muscle to get the Fridge out of the kitchen, through the living room and out onto the porch, where we’d defrost it so the water wouldn’t get all over the kitchen floor. It was an older model from the fifties, like you didn’t see much any more, and it reminded me of the one we had in Boscawen, with the rounded top and all. It still worked fine though, they knew how to build things in those days, and the freezer was so full of thick ice we resorted to heating a pan of water to lukewarm and setting it inside. For the rest we used the hose from the yard. Paul’s mom and his girlfriend had scrubbed the kitchen floor to brightness by the time he and I had finished, and when maneuvered back into place and plugged in the old Frigidaire started right back up.
We left soon after, (well, it was starting to get dark) and on the way home I asked Paul if he and his brother had been named after the Apostles, and he said, no, just after family members who had moved to Los Angeles from the Deep South after the Second World War, looking for better jobs and less problems. Paul was the first of his family to work in Printing, it had started by accident when, as a teenager, he’d jumped out of the window of a girl’s bedroom as her father was coming through the doorway, baseball bat in hand. Paul ran around the corner and down a handy alleyway, (he could move fast in those days) and ducked into the back of a print shop. Thinking quickly, he picked up a small skid of paper stock with a pallet jack and was moving it around when the girl’s dad pulled up, boiling mad and looking for trouble. When questioned about seeing anyone, Paul very innocently pointed down the alley and the man jumped back into his car and left, peeling rubber in his haste. The shop manager came over to Paul and told him he liked a guy who could think on his feet and offered him a floor boy job, moving stock, subbing for anyone who was off, and learning the trade in the process.
Paul would help me on other days, using his truck to tow my sister Nancy’s Fiat from Santa Monica to the Valley to have a new clutch put in it for her, and taking me to LAX a few times when I flew home to see my folks. I’d help him out at times as well, lifting a Ford Pinto engine up into his pick up truck when he was taking it to have it rebuilt, but when the company moved to Valencia in 1985, we parted ways. I’d talk to him from time to time, learning that his mom had passed away from diabetes, and that he had inherited that little house in the Thirties. He went into semi-retirement and is now that guy on the block that everyone brings a broken appliance to so he can fix it. He was always good at coaxing machines back to life. And I think he still stays close to home and on foot these days, but out of choice, not necessity.
I have let this story sit for too long because I was unsure of what to write in response. What I love most about dad’s Tales are how often they paint friends in a loving light, and how immersed in “classic 20’s somethings life events” they are – I have never really helped someone in the same way Dad did for Paul and his mother (helping people move between school studios doesn’t really count…stakes too low). Dad, rightfully, asked repeatedly when this would be published but I kept stalling. Now, I think, I have a story.
I bought a loveseat in Los Angeles the other week.
I live in Northern California now.
It will not fit in my car by one inch.
Problem #3 will be how I’ll transport it to Northern California, but that’s a bridge to jump off some other time.
I bought the loveseat because this Lebanese grandmother I don’t even know convinced me to and then declared fate brought us together. I mean, she wasn’t wrong.
Mom spotted it first and beckoned me over. As we fussed over it, the woman walked by several times with her cart, peering over and slowing down each time. Finally, she’d had enough of the perseverating and asked point blank “Look, do you want it?” with her hand on one hip.
Much haggling and convincing ensued; followed by the realization the couch wouldn’t fit in the car.
It’s surprising how easy it is to forget the name and location of each one of your friends when you need to remember if anyone has a pick up truck.
I was reminded of all dad’s stories of being called upon to move weird things, or drive things out to the middle of nowhere, and, most importantly, the stories where it all went wrong. For instance, a fridge falling off a pick up bed in the middle of the desert.
Eventually, it was picked up with the help of an old friend and taken to my parents’ house where it now temporarily resides in danger of being stolen (by them). If anyone reading this would like to drive a loveseat from Los Angeles to the Bay Area around August 2017, just say the word. Maybe dad can drive up with you.