A corner crowd across from pier 39 in the bay stands in puzzled admiration, witness to a king of pop cover performed by an unlikely pair of troubled souls. These men hadn’t just fallen on hard times, they defined them, yet here they were bearing it all to anyone who’d stop to notice. From a lone weathered acoustic guitar played with hands disgraced by society, and a gruff voice from a scruffy face came the tune of Billie Jean. A sloppy chord change here and there, perhaps due to the Bud Light seated behind him, the song looped from the first verse to chorus, anything beyond was either forgotten or not bothered with. His performance partner, a dynamic fire to his structured ice, repeated a series of dance moves through the circle, theatrics poured out as Bud Light was poured in. The grizzled man flowed in what were probably the only clothes he had, commanding the audience with a repertoire of Michael inspired moves. Tall can in hand the man of the streets danced like nobody was watching, in rhythm with the high hum melody, flaunting shoulders, crotch thrust, and jelly legs. An awakened inner star destined for the spotlight. His unrefined moves only enhanced the charm and confidence perceived by the crowd, or maybe when one has been down and out there’s nothing left to lose. Captivated by the pairing of the familiar from the derelict, arose a humanizing moment across boundaries of have and not; or no longer. The meeting on musical grounds bonded those around in life’s simple pleasures. Yes, his dance moves were more comical than choreographed, but therein lies the beauty, not there to impress only express. Yes, his voice would never sell records, so he played because he could. They gave all they had, making of life what they could, and found the enjoyment was mutual. This was freedom.
In May 2018 I was walking downtown with a show to go to that night. Originally composed for Brad Monsma’s Non Fiction class
O Holy Night
By Tyler Mobley
Arriving under the marquee when we did by reordering our mural viewing up Main street before a premeditated pass by the tour bus parked in front of the Ventura Theatre. Just as the former frontman, now frontwoman of Against Me! leapt off the last step of narrow tour bus stairs and turned toward us. Still a recognition through the transformation to when I’d first heard a long ago live performance of “White People For Peace” on a network that no longer exists. “Hi Laura I’ll be at the show tonight” blurted out in a single breath. “Awesome” she returns with a smile, never breaking stride. Find it odd that all those years, all those times I heard her voice and screamed back the words, would lead up to an encounter in broad daylight on a street I’d traveled all my life.
Later that night the crowd was what you’d expect at a punk rock show; plenty of patches sewn into jean jackets among a herd of black leather. I moshed during “I was a teenage anarchist,” then was overwhelmed by nostalgia at “Tonight we’re gonna give it 35%” catapulted to a Tokyo balcony where those lyrics whipped up my world with latte burns. I began to recognize the same patch on many of the leatherbacks was a peaked cap with Turbonegro written below, a sign of what I was getting into. Waking up in the lion’s den.
A spotlight illuminates a man with his back to the crowd putting a load of energy into his keyboard, giving little over the shoulder teases to the crowd. The lead singer commands the stage brandishing the same black cap as on all the jackets and what appears as a leopard shawl. The bass player is in a sailor’s uniform rhythm strums away in overalls and a straw hat, and lead guitar frets about in a sequence onesies. The dots began to connect themselves, before I knew it the bear holding the mic was leading a chant of “Wooooooooooooo oooooooooooo oooooo, I GOT ERECTION” and continued for some time. Admiring the spectacle and my personal space their antics lead into the closing song which left a crater impact in my head because it was one I knew and loved. Used as the theme song to the MTV show Wildboyz, “The Age of Pamparius” occupied my playlist for years under false title thanks to the days of Limewire. Distortion resonating through my past I dissolve in the crowd then am struck by insight into the line “clock strikes twelve” as we enter the bridge.
Originally composed for a Creative Non Fiction Final Assignment, Thanks to Brad Monsma.
“In the Right Place the Trees, at the Right Time the Stars”
Sputnik – Roky Erickson
You’d be hard up for a reason as to why Pumpernickel Valley has a reputation for missing persons or UFO sightings other than it being two hundred miles northeast of Reno Nevada, and a working definition for the middle of nowhere. Day three of driving the mind bends in consideration of catastrophic outcomes provoked by the sheer destitution, if something were to go wrong. Entertainment procured to lighten the mood, an Audible app opened, thumbing up Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, hoping the information dense volume I’d been nibbling at for years would fill the empty space. From the road, distance is measured in mining operations, turn offs for Iron Canyon or Copper Basin with big red ice cream scoops taken from passing hillsides. A polished London accent is quick onto the Great Oxidation Event; an epoch of earth where single celled life forms released an abundance of oxygen into the atmosphere. A transformation necessary to arrive at the world as we know it, evidence of such mass oxidation is rusted rock, million year old banded iron formations, staggered red streaks the nectar of buzzing operations. Both rich for reason complements of scope and scape as though Bryson’s words were pregnant with impeccable timing.
Other cars involved in the migration would pass with, “solar eclipse 2017” written on one or more windows, some detailing their final viewing destination. The shared enthusiasm was comforting, witnessing the flock to totality a shadow predicted to swoop from Oregon to South Carolina. I’d planned to be in its path in Mackay Idaho, a tiny box town on the Western most valley of a series of basins and ranges, formed just north of Craters of the Moon National Monument; a geological headache, a volcanic wasteland home to such places as the Great Rift, Devil’s Cauldron, and Hell’s Half Acre. After turning up the basin many of the locals along the road displayed signs offering camping on their property. Circles and rows of tents and trailers occupied most of the well spaced yards as I drove deeper into the valley.
In Mackay a street fair for the eclipse had closed the main road through town. A bosomy old woman sitting behind a display of artwork greets me as I graze over the pieces. I paused on a recreation of a painting called, “When the Land Belonged to God,” buffalo top a golden ridge, distant hills of pink, sensing the rumble of the herd, I thought it was an appropriate title.
“So what is it you do?” she asked.
“I’m a writer.”
“Follow that, just let the words take you, with hardwork in between.”
“I’ll do that, thank you.”
Further up the street I consulted the BLM booth about a place to camp. I’m handed a map and pointed toward the hills rising behind town. Main street becomes the mountain road as you head west, but due to the street fair everyone was forced up and over a block becoming knights aboard a game of chess. Polaris and quads crowd the flatland with masked campers on dusty supply runs. I’m tailing a row of trucks heading up the hills on winding dirt roads and craning at abandoned mines. Rotted skeletal structures of an industry a hundred years past its boom litter the landscape. Operations were suspended in 1980, the ruins are now relabeled part of a self guided tour, decrepit history with the appeal of a ghost town. A tight pine lined trail cuts North mid ridge before swinging down to a finger of land covered in summer grass, providing a clear view over the valley for the solar spectacle. At night the flicker of campfires scattered over the 10,000 feet of Mackey Peak reassured me of why I’d come to the grand stands.
Eclipse day had risen set to go dark at 11:33am, priming myself with Modest Mouse’s “Night on the Sun” while preparing breakfast. My eclipse glasses resembled the 3D paper cutout ones you’d find in magazines despite the official ISO stamp ensuring the UV wouldn’t fry my eyeballs; putting them on every 5 minutes to check for the moon entering the solar disk. A subtle shade sneaks up on perception, dimming details of the valley floor, its’ begun. Celestial coordination, alignment inevitable, we gather to witness something greater than ourselves. Twilight descends upon the mountains the valley haze clears, stars much further than our own, out shine the corona spilling over the moon. Peaking, the shades come off, a rustic orange coats simmers on the horizon, as if the sun was setting in every direction. As everything always seems still it is not, the moon continued its path letting light escape from where it had first entered, it was over. Cheers echoed up and down the mountain, we’d gained a perspective of totality then things returned as if it never happened.
The Following Summer
One night while scrolling through Instagram I came across a post from an old friend about a trip to Glacier National Park planned for later that summer. The idea had stuck with me and in a months time I was packed for a trip North. The morning of my departure I stopped at the local Starbucks for a road brew; the line was to the door, a man of many years sat at the first table typing on a laptop, a stack of books on the edge.
“Are these for sale?”.
I picked up a copy from the stack, Open Spaces My Life With Leonard J. Mountain Chief Blackfeet Elder, Northwest Montana, by Jay North.
“I’ll take one, I’m on my way to Glacier,” handing over a twenty. Taking one off the top,
“Who do I make this out to”?
Thanking me and wishing me luck, I set off with coffee and a skeleton key.
Zig zagging North to Tahoe night as falls I’m in eye shot of a forest meadow where cattle graze, at Crater Lake I watch haggard PCT hikers crowd the ranger station for mail and chocolate. An unexpected sight stands in Maryhill Washington, a replica Stonehenge nestled on a lump in the Columbia River Gorge. A vision of Sam Hill built in dedication to the soldiers of Klickitat County who gave their lives in World War I. Since 1929 it has baffled the ribbed hills with the charm of an English countryside.
A bookstore in Spokane displays Lonely Planet guide to Glacier National Park, and The Best American Travel Writing of 2017, edited by Lauren Collins, I return with the titles to a text from Mom, a link to a National Park Service website evacuations for all of West Glacier due to fire. If I had rushed I would’ve been right in the middle of it; I’d come too far to be turned back now. That night at the Missoula Club which has been serving beer and burgers since 1890, the interior was lined with framed team photos of every sport played in Missoula over the past century.
At East Glacier it was getting late and the sole campground was full, I was directed North to Saint Mary. The sun dipped below the mountains when I’m still twenty miles away. Turning around to inspect a turn out with a trail leading up the mountain, a sign demarcating Blackfeet Reservation, vowing respect I carry on with belief that it’d be too remote for anyone to enforce anything. Not far in the trail leads to a field of gravel pitched at forty five degrees, evidence of the hillside unbuttoning its pants. Imagining my truck rolling down the mountain coming to a rest wrapped around a pine in a steaming twist. I crossed on foot to ensure it was even worth attempting, as luck would have on the other side a flat spot lay just off the road with a view West into the mountains. Trusting the tire track barely distinguishable in the gravel I slide in a gear and crept over bumps and dips at times the angle so acute the ground seemed to be in the passenger seat. Exhaling, the dice had stayed on the table, now there was just getting back.
In the morning the crunch of a mama elk on the gravel draws my groggy head out the window, pleased to find her two calves in pursuit.
The road into Glacier from Saint Mary is called Going to the Sun, which takes its name after a mountain on the way to Logan pass. I met a guy from Texas, he said it was the road featured in the opening scene of the movie The Shining,
“it’s the road they take to the hotel you know”
“I even put on the song from the movie as we were going,” his excitement left me wondering just how far the recreation would go. He was there with his family, after listening to the song during the entire drive in they might be ready for some redrum.
I snagged a campsite before leaving to find some water to swim in, just before sun down one of the park rangers came around to inform everyone of the nightly program at the campfire that evening. Before heading down I made the rare choice of wearing socks with my Rainbow sandals, because why not it’s a campground full of people I don’t know. A minute into my walk I hear,
Looking to my right, I see Brendan with his camera, sitting out the back of an SUV.
“What are you doing here?”
I explained to him and his girlfriend Michelle that it was his Instagram post months ago that inspired my trip. With half the park closed due to fire, they had been redirected leaving Banff as I had been in Spokane, still neither of us had any clue our trips would overlap. Even better Michelle had just been teasing Brendan about wearing socks and sandals.
“See Michelle I’m not the only one, thank you for showing up on my side” Brendan applauded.
“You guys are ridiculous,” she declared.
Promising to stop in for a beer on my way back, I made my way to the little amphitheater of log benches fanning out from the fire pit filing in with others as the program was already underway.
A night of storytelling and song from “Montana’s Troubadour,” Jack Gladstone. A citizen of the Blackfeet nation who knew the families in West Glacier whose multigenerational cabins along Lake McDonald that were lost to the fire. Each song he played on guitar came with a backstory or hand gestures that he taught the audience to accompany certain verses. Each time he said “The Bear Who Stole The Chinook,” we’d mime a bear pawing a wispy breeze, waving in unison on “our hero’s journey to release the wind turned west to the mountain bear’s den.” In conclusion he performed his own mash up of “Over The Rainbow,” and “Let It Be” as a feel good send off. My arms full of goosebumps a shiver down my spine, eyes melt with ambience. The gathering dissolves, parents retreat into the night with sleeping children in their arms, I return for a warm beer, cheersing life.
We walked into a social experiment analyzing things as they unfolded.
The asphalt was cold under my feet as Emmie and I scurried across Highway 1. We found our path in the shade of the trees, avoiding little acorns that had fallen. Two women were on the bench near the pay phone as we approached.
Me: “Hey, are you guys waiting to use the phone?”
She: “No, we’re just waiting for a friend.”
Looking her dead on she had a striking resemblance to Rachel McAdams, her equally beautiful brunette friend looked happy to have the company while waiting. They were in their mid to early 20s and were dressed in casual camp comforts.
Brunette: I like your hat, it’s really cool.
She must have tossed out the complement as a way to make Emmie feel comfortable as women sometimes do, or perhaps it was just a nice hat. McAdams began to explain that the young couple using the phone had suffered a flat tire on their Prius and were without a spare. At this point, appearing on the scene was the friend of the girls. Scraggly, fluttering about in a bright orange puff blazer, as though he belonged under a tree at some park in Boulder, Colorado. After being filled in on the situation, he went on to express his plan of action as if it was him in this predicament.
Mr.CO: “Yea, I would just post up on one these benches, light up a couple fatties and wait for the tow truck that’d be pretty rad.”
All of us thinking we could do better than that, the brunette took a crack at it.
Brunette: “Maybe they could find someone to bring them a spare from Monterey.”
All five of us diving deep into the counterfactuals to figure out the best way to resolve their abandoned situation. Over at the payphone things were heating up, a few steps away the boyfriend saw she becoming increasingly flustered decided to come join us, and was quick to fill us in on their misfortune.
BF: “Yea the rock just came off the mountain and landed right in the middle of the road.”
Making a sphere with his hands the size of a bowling ball.
BF: “Just smashed into the tire and broke the whole wheel of the car”
Mr.CO: “Wwwoooooo so it hit you guys while you were going?”
BF: “No, she ran it over and it wrecked the whole wheel.”
Suddenly, I didn’t feel so bad for them, the boyfriend did make it a point to say that his girlfriend was Asian and a very good driver. We offered up our conspiracies as hopes of goodwill and sincerity.
Emmie: “Hitch a ride South to Cambria, and pick a spare then come back.”
None of our propositions made much sense, or perhaps the circumstances were undeniable and called for hours, perhaps days of waiting in anguish. Just then, an idea planted itself in my head.
Me: “Maybe you could find someone with a prius and buy their spare tire off them. They’re plenty of priuses around someone is ought to help out.”
The boyfriend and the rest of our little group standing around the bench took a moment to play the events through their minds, resulting in a faint nod of agreement.
BF: “Yea, that could work, but who is gunna give up their spare up here.”
Me: “I don’t know, you only need that one.”
Mr.CO: “Yea dude, just imagine the white prius all sick coming around the bend, it’s got divine light all shooting out from the inside, fucking glowing right. Just pulls up next to you guys on the side of the road, and fuckin Ram Dass gets out of the car. He is wearing a dhoti, with his beard down to the ground and shit. Ram Dass just smiles, and, BAM! your tire is fixed.”
Emmie and I turned to face each other, locking eyes through her sunglasses both taken aback by a stranger bringing up Ram Dass, knowing we weren’t about to get into any family ties. Playing it off we offered up some new outrageous unnecessary act to be performed by Ram Dass.,”Or a flock of birds erupt from his car as he drives off into a mountain of light.” Mr. Colorado righteous banter n all, had touch on something worthy of pause, and what else is there to do other than admire such perplexities of our world.
The young couple disappeared into a car, and Emmie and I went to make our phone call, not getting through.