A DYING VAN MORRISON: ONE PIECE AT A TIME (album) – Johnny Cash
Daydreaming through car crisis
What I often wonder, what plagues my mind on many an occasion, is if given the fortuitous opportunity, between Tim Buckley and Jeff Buckley, whom would I make sweet, sweet love to? It’s a legitimate debate, but a troublesome one.
For starters, Jeff has that whole tortured soul, come-rescue-me thing going on, which to any girl who isn’t flat out lying to herself invariably makes her nethers flutter. Then there’s father Tim, who, if his music speaks anything for his persona, is just altogether all over the board; wild and crazy and everywhere in between. Which, according to my generally poor taste in men, is entirely and irrevocably alluring.
Tim Buckley has the Greetings From L.A. album. Jeff Buckley has Grace.
Jeff has a jawline that could end wars; or start them. Tim has his bum chin. That perfectly dimpled chin, matched only by Travolta, but never surpassed. And then there’s the hair. Two generations of unadulterated voluptuous locks; equally stunning in their own way, both falling effortlessly around flawless faces, eager for the brush of my fingers.
Being both dead, they equal in the mystique of being unattainable. And being that everyone wants what they can’t have, I want them both.
Thus, having yet to come to a resolution, this was the conversation that filled the infinite vortex of my mind when Van Morrison decided to break down for the second time. Not two hours after leaving the sanctuary of Leon’s Car Care Centre. On the side of a highway. In the middle of nowhere. Receptionless and alone.
A home in the redwoods
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Allow me first to digress to a happier time, a time spent inside a one-log cabin in the Redwoods of California. For if there’s one thing a person who lives in a house on wheels can appreciate it’s another unconventional house, on wheels or otherwise.
The Redwoods of California occupy two counties, Del Norte and Humbolt, yet alarmingly only represent a miniscule five percent of what used to be there. These trees are a family of some of the largest and tallest trees in the world; perfect for one man’s dream to hollow out a home, place it on wheels and create an all-american traveling attraction.
From 1946, this 2,100 year old redwood toured the United States, showing off it’s cozy interior to the masses until retiring to its permanent resting spot in Garberville, California in 1999. It took eight months for two men to hollow out a nesting place seven feet high and thirty-two feet long.
The interior is endearingly dated, with two beds, a kitchen, and a dining room. And for one dollar, or a kind encounter with a group of middle aged tourists, you can step inside and imagine life at its simplest, encompassed by redwood.
I rocked up to this roadside attraction by fluke, in desperate need to relieve myself, when I noticed (it would be difficult not to) an unexpectedly sizeable log laying on its side. Giant, yellow letters atop its “roof” labeled it the FAMOUS ONE-LOG HOUSE. How could I not?
Marveling a moment longer at the exterior, I was approached by four middle aged men and their respective partners, and what I reckon was a fairly decent amount of pre-consumed alcohol. Laughing and unapologetically giddy, I am asked to take their photo outside the Famous One-Log House. I kindly obliged, not realizing the great feat in which it would take to herd this cattle of fifty somethings into a suitable pose long enough to snap a shot.
After taking and retaking, as condolence I am offered their coded receipt stub, meaning free entry to the one-log house. A dollar saved is fourteen pesos earned.
“You’re telling us that you’re driving all the way to Mexico?! From Canada?! By yourself?!”
Before I had a chance to reply, a woman from the herd in teased up hair and long acrylic nails kindly did so for me.
“Well it’s Canada, Ed. I’d be running like hell too if I lived all the way up in Canada. What is it there, five degrees??”
“In fahrenheit? Around sixty-eight”
“Well, hell. This girl’s got balls.” Another steer piped in. “I’d say this is as much a spectacle as any tree house! Get in here and get a photo with us!”
How could I not?
“Yeah, right. Like her drivin’ across two countries’ got anything to do with you wanting a photo with her.” Acrylic nails notes with an exaggerated eye roll, flipping the stiff ends of her processed hair.
As they stumbled onward toward a remarkably large motorhome, I returned my attention to the home at hand. As I walked through the decently spaced cylinder, in awe of its sufficient use of peculiar, yet little elbowroom, it stirred in me the ambition to conquer the scale of idiosyncratic homes.
First Van, then perhaps boat? Hot air balloon? And finally, one day, I shall settle down permanently, inside the depths of a two thousand year old tree, sipping from little tin cups and basking in the lavish comforts of my single bed.
How to hitch: an impromptu lesson
As I stood on the side of the highway, head planted under Van Morrison’s hood in search of god knows what, I wondered for a moment if the traveling one-log attraction ever had car trouble. Without a bar of reception, nor a miniscule clue as to what could have caused Van Morrison to die in the throws of 120 kilometers an hour, I was officially stranded.
I took out my animal crackers and pondered my next move. Because I was far too busy contemplating which Buckley boy I’d sooner get naked with, I had paid zero attention to my maps, more specifically how near or far I was from the next town.
I could walk, but it was already well into the afternoon and who knew how many potential hours on foot lay before me. I could just call it a day and live on this highway. If you squint well enough, California kinda resembles Mexico. Ish. I certainly wouldn’t go hungry with the lifetime supply of animal crackers that now took up the majority of my petite floorspace.
Or I could hitch.
I filled a bag with a good handful of crackers, a bottle of water, and Charles Bukowski then locked up Van Morrison, and made a home on the meridian a few feet down, prepared to wait as long as it could take to be stumbled upon by a sympathetic do-gooder.
A vehicle approached moments later. I stood up. Stuck out my thumb. And apologized to my mother.
As swiftly as it came, a white Honda just as swiftly passed me by.
Watching its rear end soar into the unknown, I resigned myself to my animal crackers and the idea that this routine could go on well into the evening.
Not but five minutes later, in the distance I could see the makings of a small white truck. I proceeded with the routine. Stood. Thumb. Sorry. And would you believe, as the vehicle approached, it began to slow, then pulled up and stopped in front of Van.
The window rolled down to two men; a scruffy looking passenger, and the driver who wasn’t exactly hard on the eyes.
Discovering the illusive Emerald Triangle
“Hello!” The passenger spoke jovially, a large smile framed by his frizzy, long hair.
The driver leaned over and spoke, “Van troubles, I presume?”
“Any idea what the problem is?”
“Are you… French Canadian?”
“Ha. Figures.” I looked up to the heavens and shook my head. “I’m Canadian.”
“Ah. Parles vous francais?”
“Not a chance. But I fancied one of your lot once.”
“Sorry to hear that.”
We both laughed and so did the passenger, though I wasn’t completely convinced he knew why.
“It’s got to have something to do with my battery. I thought it’d been fixed back in Eureka, but clearly I thought wrong.”
They both got out of the truck and took turns scratching their heads under my hood. This is not a euphemism, though I wouldn’t be mad if it were.
“Well, doesn’t look like there’s much we can do to help apart from offering you a ride into town. Laytonville is about a thirty minute drive from here.”
“I would love a lift, you’re both lifesavers.”
“Ah, just get in.”
Halfway into the drive I had learned that the passenger was Italian and worked for the French Canadian on his property.
“What kind of property is it?”
“It’s… just property.” The French Canadian spoke curtly.
“My family owns property all over this area. My job is to do the rounds, check in on progress, oversee it all.”
The truck went silent. The owner and the passenger exchanged a look and just as I was beginning to believe his family owned some kind of human collection plantation where they abduct the unsuspecting and executed life threatening and dysmorphic experiments on them, the driver continued, now with the glint of a smirk.
“Do you know where you are right now?”
“Of course I don’t. I’ve hardly known where I am since I left Canada.”
The passenger chuckled. The driver spoke.
“Have you ever heard of the Emerald Triangle?”
I gave my head a single shake and allowed him to go on.
“The Emerald Triangle is the largest cannabis producing region in the U.S.”
“So your property is… Ohhhh.”
“We’re not too much further. Hopefully a mechanic will still be open.”
I reached into my bag to check the time on my phone. It wasn’t there. Neither was my wallet.
“Uh, guys. Wee bit of a hiccup here.”
The passenger turned around, the driver peered through his rear mirror.
“Yeah, I don’t have my wallet. Or phone. Or anything.”
Needless to say, the driver was less than impressed. The passenger laughed, which at this point I presumed was the only reaction he was capable of. I apologized to a point that the words nearly lost their meaning as he turned the truck around and made what should have been a thirty minute drive into an hour and a half.
Mechanic camp out #2
There are two mechanics in Laytonville, California. I was dropped, with pleasure, at the one that was open. I entered a modest, single garage occupied by a large pick up truck and a forty-something man in coveralls bent over it.
The man in the coveralls was the owner. He was large and awkward, soft spoken and kind. When I had finished my winded explanation of recent events, we got in his truck with a pair of jumper cables and headed back, again, toward a deserted Van Morrison. He pulled his truck around to face Van head on. We both looked under the hood.
“It’s probably your battery.”
“It’s not my battery.”
He fished around a few moments longer, prodding at this and that, lifting one thing or another, accompanying his gestures with the occasional perplexed grunt. He raised a thick, detached and hanging wire from the left side of Van’s insides.
“I wonder what this is meant for,” he asked himself. My confidence in this stranger was beginning to waver. “Well, we’ll give you a boost and hope she’ll make it back to the shop. I’ll drive behind you just to be safe.”
“Oh, good god.”
We got Van to start, he got in his vehicle and I heedfully got in mine. As I pulled slowly out from the safety of the highway’s shoulder, Aerosmith’s I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing began ringing in my wired and anxious head. And I’ll tell you why.
Whenever I drive through treacherous conditions, whenever a situation behind the wheel is less than appealing, the only way to sooth my solicitous soul is by singing, nay, belting the lyrics of Steven Tyler’s ultimate love ballad. I can’t explain it; quite frankly I feel there’s no need to.
By the time I got to mimicking the very height of Tyler’s illustrious screaming notes, the lights on Van’s dash began to fade in and out. I was losing him. I held my breath.
“Don’t die on me now, old friend! We can do this. Just a little further.”
I was losing him, and I was losing it. Between the chorus and verse, I continued to reassure us with words of delusional affirmation. But somehow, don’t ask me how, for I remember not a thing, dusk found us barely rolling into the single garage; my throat hoarse, my knuckles ghostly white.
“You look terrified.”
“Just tell me you can fix my Van.”
Together we tested the battery, then we tested the alternator. He was stumped. I was exhausted. Seeing no other option, he decided to change the battery and test everything again in the morning. Once again, Van Morrison and I would spend the evening camped out in the car park of a mechanic’s garage.
Buzzing nightlife in Laytonville
But the night was still young, and this time I wasn’t locked in, so I left Van to rest and recover and braved the main drag of rural Laytonville in search of food and a good, strong, consolation bourbon.
I now sat at a picnic table splattered with ketchup puddles, and what I sincerely hoped to be the remnants of old mayonnaise, in a quaint back garden belonging to a tiny Louisiana style restaurant/pub. The restaurant was called The Big Chief, the pub was called Draft Punk. Both were adjoined to a laundromat.
Brown pine needles blanketed the ground and the incessant roaring of Highway 101 traffic was muffled by the impressively lush foliage growing along the half wooden, half wire fence surrounding the area. Tables were dispersed to avoid large, overgrown trees in inconvenient positions. Nineties hip hop permeated as their mood music.
I sipped my nine percent craft brown ale and surveyed my fellow patrons. There were three occupied tables and a bizarre gathering of stragglers in the far back where it looked more like someone’s unkempt yard than an extension of what I’d loosely call a patio.
Everyone had either a half shaved head or dreadlocks. Both men and women alike donned layers of earth tones and chunky work boots, and the ever present fetor of sweat and nature hung heavy to the air.
I knew this kind all too well. For I come from a land of orchard ridden landscape. Miles upon miles of fruit to be picked, calling to the masses of patchouli scented, freedom following, tent inhabiting, vagabond pickers. But this wasn’t home, this was the Emerald Triangle. And these weren’t pickers, they were trimmers.
It didn’t take long for conversation to get rolling, mostly because I shamelessly admit to having once been one of those pickers, though patchouli free and generally dressed in pink. After devouring a most tantalizing gator po’boy, our conversation, the trimmers and myself, rolled on to a pub called Wheels.
It was a fairly standard dive bar, darts on the wall, a pool table in the back, one token drunk at the end of the bar, spouting his mouth over tales of yore. I ordered my bourbon and immediately bonded with the genial bartender who quickly informed me of whom to humour and whom to avoid.
Several rounds of pool later, I was knee deep in sorting the logistics of my brewing employment with a man who was certain I’d make his top trimmer.
“Why don’t you come to the property tomorrow and work for a day? Like a trial run. Two hundred a day.”
“Two hundred dollars? To trim?”
He nodded with a mouth full of lager. The thought was tempting. Van’s medical bills were mounting and I wasn’t exactly flush.
“You can come back with me tonight. I’ve got a spare room. Save you a night sleeping at the garage in that van of yours.”
“Oh, that’s sweet, but Van Morrison and I kinda come as a package deal. I could drive up early in the morning if you leave me your address.”
“Oh, it’s a bitch to find. Totally confusing. It’d be best you just come with me tonight.”
Alarm bells began to chime. My second grade teacher’s voice rang between bells reminding me never to get in a car with a stranger, not for candy and certainly not for a two hundred dollar weed trimming paycheck. Considering I had already done this once today, I wasn’t entirely keen on testing fate a second time.
“You know, I think it’s past my bedtime. It’s been a real pleasure though. You have a good night.”
And with that I slipped from my stool and out the front door; pocket knife in hand until I reached the sanctuary of my one true gas guzzling love.
Kindness and conclusion
The next morning my mechanic friend tested and double tested and concluded that everything seemed good to go. He charged me for the battery but nothing more; not for labour, and not even a mention of driving all the way out of town to rescue my sorry self. I told him he was crazy. He merely asked that I write a nice internet review.
He had been unfairly let go from the one other mechanic shop in town and was trying to make it on his own and business was slow. As he tried and failed at printing out a receipt, he apologized and explained that his receptionist had quit and he had not a clue as to how to navigate through the system she had set up on a computer he had never before opened.
It’s moments like this, with kind people like my mechanic that make me wish I didn’t have a destination. Because in that moment, I would have stayed. I would have been his desk girl.
Three hours later Van Morrison died a third time. In San Francisco. During rush hour traffic. But I do not blame my mechanic. Again, Van gave me a glint of light in the darkness and lost his power minutes from a repair shop.
This time they were from El Salvador. A father and a son (not unlike Tim and Jeff). The son picked up the solitary wire that fleetingly crossed the mind, and palm, of my Laytonville mechanic and informed me that this wire connects the battery to the alternator… Ok maybe I blame my mechanic. Five minutes later and eighty dollars deep, Van Morrison was finally fixed. For good. Pinche carro.