The Rip Post                                Riposte Archive


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Nov. 4, 2006

          I relish driving to SF the way I relish Regis
and Kelly, cold soup, Dick Cheney, blood-blisters. I-5 is an exercise in anti-existence. Enslave yourself to a machine for five hours. The shortest distance between two points is a cup of coffee and loud music.
          I drove up on a Saturday with the nihilistic intention of driving back Sunday night. I had to attend a recording session in The City to research liner notes for an album. I didn’t want to fly, because I know how much the Bush administration has done to protect me from admirers of Mohammad Atta.
          I managed the trip up okay, not even stopping to um, “dine” on my Subway turkey sub that tasted a lot like a turkey sandwich would taste if it was made out of turkey-flavored paper. With tomato-flavored paper, and lettuce-flavored paper, and bread-flavored paper. And not quite enough mayonnaise to mortar a garden wall.
          I also enjoyed all the sightseeing that I-5 affords, which is to say, the cow concentration camp at Kettleman City, and the pre-fab truck stop instant “town” of Santa Nella. Imagine naming a conglomeration of cheap motels, toilets and fast-food joints after a saint, and you more or less get key insight into capitalism.
          My reservation was at a stately old hotel in Berkeley called the Durant, where I had stayed several years earlier. I like it because it has an ancient, clunky elevator and historical black-and-white photos of Cal student ghosts on the walls. I figure if I get lucky, I might disappear into one of them. You know, like Jack in "The Shining."
          I got off the freeway and zipped down College Ave. for the mile or so to the Durant. Except I didn’t. College was overcrowded. The line of cars in front had no visible end, like the images in a mirror set in front of another mirror. Had I stumbled on to. . .infinity? I sat in one place, engine off, for fifteen elephantine minutes, then did a U-turn and went in many directions that had nothing to do with the Hotel Durant.
          Football! The game where thousands of people watch men either throw a ball or run with it, while other men jump on them and grunt a lot. Once in a while, one of them dies.
          No one had mentioned, when I made my hotel reservation, that there was a Cal football game. No one had mentioned that the post-game streets would have much in common with Dom Deluise’s intestines after Thanksgiving.
          An hour after arriving in Berkeley, I double-parked at the Durant. I had to double-park because the parking lot had been converted into facilities for a virgin sacrifice. A thundering cornucopia of sweating limbs and bobbing heads pulsed to a tribal bass-beat amplified by technology Einstein would have admired. I paused for a moment, looking for the virgin, but they’d obviously already killed and eaten her.
          No one had further mentioned that the hotel had been rented out to Dennis Rodman. Well, okay, I never saw Rodman, but the noise was loud enough to bother his neighbors in Manhattan Beach. 
          “Where ya goin’?”
          These poetic words were spoken---that is, shouted; that is, roared; that is, King-Konged---in my face by a bull-necked young fellow in a tight polo shirt that said “Security.” To tell you the truth, he was not my idea of safety and comfort. I checked his lips for signs of blood, and  resorted to sign language. I pointed to my suitcases, then to the hotel.
          “Oh, you’re a guest?”
          I nodded and he moved aside to let me “in.”
I have a vague memory of standing, stupefied and unknowing, inside of a “Shop ‘n’ Crap” or whatever it was called, somewhere near Kerman, around midnight.

         Of course, there was no “in” at the inn. I heard the voice of W.C. Fields in my head, from “Mississippi”---I carved my way through a wall of human flesh. Every square foot was taken up with feet and middle-aged football booster squares, and what I have now reached the age to call “young people.”
          All were doing what humans do in the 21st century when they decide it is time to be “happy.” They decorate their livers with blotches and pockmarks by ingesting titanic amounts of alcohol, then they sweat, snort, shout, laugh, urinate (sometimes out of plain sight), and generally “celebrate.” Because Cal lost the game, I assume this group was associated with the visiting team, but I won’t swear to it. Fans often show joy by burning their downtowns.
          I negotiated my way to a perky desk clerk, and stood about five feet away. She yelled at me, but I could not hear her. I yelled back, but she could not hear me. I leaned forward, cupped my mouth, and hollered that I had a room there. I probably could have hollered, “Would you like one of the small dogs crawling out my ears?”and it would have made no difference. She nodded, looked at my driver’s license, “ran” my credit card, gave me a “key” ---I mean, an electronic card, which did not work---and told me to park a block away in a parking garage, and that the hotel would reimburse the $20 fee.
          Then she gave me a circular band of paper printed with the logo of Lite Beer, and told me to “wear this on your wrist at all times.” I nodded soberly. I’d seen “Dracula.”
          I was given a room on the sixth (top) floor, in order to put some distance between me and the All-American good clean college fun below. I decided to lie on the bed for an hour or two and recuperate from the drive before meeting an old pal for dinner. I flopped down, and---
          “Da da da da-da da-da daaaaaa, da da da da-da da-daaaaaaaaa. . .”
          Yes, it was the Michigan Fight Song! Being played by a marching band. Well, probably not a marching band, because it was too crowded to march in the downstairs lobby, where the band was accompanying Satan as he boiled a vat of fresh babies for the football boosters. Drums, trumpets, trombones. If there was a glockenspiel, it was drowned out by the screaming babies.
          I put my wristband on and went for a little stroll.
          Berkeley was overrun with other spawn of Beelzebub. Great hordes of them congregated on sidewalks, hooting, shrieking, making noises entirely intelligible to capuchin monkeys and aardvarks. Many of them had machines that pulsed with bass-beats written by, or at least played by, other machines. Some of them showed their teeth to one another and made strange cries that once had been English. Others showed their teeth in return, and for a moment a herd of about twenty nearly erupted in a ritual killing.
          This, I deduced, is the much-ballyhooed “free speech” that made Berkeley famous. Well, maybe not. I seem to recall that Mario Savio spoke in sentences.
          I met my pal for dinner. We tried to solve current behavioral problems of the masses, but failed.
          By about 10 p.m., I was back at the Durant. The um, “party,” I had been told, would be over by 9, but it was still going, although now down to fat middle-aged people in the latter stages of alcohol poisoning, one of whom bashed into me as I walked to the elevator. By midnight, the lobby was quiet, but my room was stuffier than Barbara Bush, so I opened the window.
          A scintillating, Lewis Carroll view of San Francisco came in, all twinkly and Oz-like---along with every sound being made by every animal within a half mile. Floor six was a lightning rod for racket. And racket there was, for now not only were Satan’s Little Helpers still roaming the streets, but they had been joined by “grinders.”
          For those who do not know what grinders are, I envy you. This is a subculture of mostly males between 20 and 35 obsessed with trying to make a piece of wood with wheels on the bottom do things it was never intended to do. Like flip in the air three times, then slide down a stair banister, rider aboard.
          Such feats are actually accomplished, no fewer than one in fifty tries.
          In the entire history of humankind, this just might be the stupidest expenditure of time ever devised.
          Crash. Clang. Bang. Shriek. Laugh. Screech. Scrape. Bang. Laugh. Clang. Shriek.
I did not see any gnomes camped by the side of the highway, probably thanks to the coffee, but I knew they were out there.

           I lapsed into tortured “try to sleep” mode, a purgatory of sweat, leg-twitching, hypnogogic hallucinations of oh, volcanoes, earthquakes, terrorist attacks, Architectural Digest, Oprah Winfrey.
          At 3 a.m., I gave up and watched the tube. The Jack La Lanne Power Juicer Infomercial! It was as bucolic as Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony. Jack and Elaine La Lanne, combined ages of 523, what a team! The logic of it all was so certain, irrefutable. Put veggies in, juice comes out! Even that woman “host” with the horse dentures---cute as a button! I watched every minute.
          “Sideways” got me through the rest of Walpurgisnacht.
          The next morning, I went to Ethiopia. It was right down the street, in the parking garage. Right behind the glass window where an attendant asked me to pay a $40 ransom for my car. Okay, he might have been from Egypt, or Morocco, or Reseda, but he was definitely not from this country. I explained that the hotel said the price was twenty bucks.
          “I don’t care hotel,” he eloquently responded.
          After a few minutes of essentially widening our respective cultural and possibly evolutionary gaps, I told the Ethiopian that I didn’t care him, either. Of course, I said this using only the best American vulgarities, so as to more effectively bridge the language barrier.
          My suitcase and I returned to the Durant, where I told the manager that I was upset. Of course, I had already mentioned this to him when I checked out, but he had seemed preoccupied. Perhaps his navel piercing was itching. Oh, he had automatically deducted twenty bucks for parking, as promised, but didn’t so much as say, “tough luck, jackass” for my night of no sleep, let alone "thank you for your patronage." He did allow me to go free, which at the moment seemed sufficient reward.
          This time, though, I sought to convey my frame of mind more specifically. And while I did not employ crudities, I turned my eyeballs into Svengali’s and my voice into a tone that, if harnessed, would have reduced the Durant to fine, cold ash.
          By the time I finished, Manager pulled $20 out of his own wallet and thrust it at me. My get-out-of-Ethiopia-free ticket.
          What was left of myself and I went to the recording session, which was as magnificent as my notes later proved illegible.
          I headed home at 6 p.m.. Like Dracula, I must rest in native soil after a long night of no sleep. I figured five hours on the 5 at night wouldn’t be so bad. At least I wouldn’t have to actually see Kettleman City and Santa Nella. But. . .
          The 5 was not available to me. The Bay Bridge was partly closed for construction, which I figured had also been arranged by the Ethiopian parking attendant. Cars were backed up like Neocons in line for Fox interviews. So I had to take the 101 down to the 152 (the Pacheco Pass, sometimes known as “Blood Alley”) to the 5. This added an hour.
          I have a vague memory of standing, stupefied and unknowing, inside of a “Shop ‘n’ Crap” or whatever it was called, somewhere near Kerman, around midnight. I recall walking around the same donut display over and over, trying to decide between death-by-cruller or death-by-twist, until a nervous security guard said, “Can I help you, sir?” prompting me to grab a cup of coffee and hit the road again. This added another hour.
          I did not see any gnomes camped by the side of the highway, probably thanks to the coffee, but I knew they were out there. I had seen them before, when I once drove to Phoenix and back in 24 hours. They sat around little fires, with pointy beards, grinning, beckoning. . .
          Just as I was about sail triumphantly, and nearly awake, back into Law Sangeles, Caltrans closed the 5 just north of Valencia. There must have been four or five cigar butts that needed sweeping up.
          Ever been in a traffic jam at 1 a.m. after 7 hours on the road and a night of no sleep? I’d rather watch all of Bush’s State of the Union speeches back-to-back. With William Kristol. Naked.
          At 2 a.m., I stood at my door. It took a moment to figure out how the knob worked. When I dumped my stuff on the counter, I noticed the name at the top of my bill from the Hotel Durant:
          “Creative Hospitality Corporation.”

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