CHEAP EATS The last thing I did before I left San Francisco, I promised Earl Butter that this time I would not kiss any gangsters on the train. I didn’t say anything about self-proclaimed hillbillies who burp a lot and don’t have front teeth — or luggage — so you wonder if they just escaped from prison or are only on parole.
This one, he flirted with me all the way from Emeryville to Chicago. That’s a long way to not kiss someone!
He was going on to Detroit and had less of a layover than me, but helped nevertheless with my luggage, which was considerable. He wanted to help more, but when he went outside to smoke, I stuffed my stuff in a locker, stepped out into the Windy City, and promptly got my nails done. Which was one of the best decisions I ever made.
One of the worst was early next morning when I stepped off the train into a frozen shit town not unlike, or far from, the frozen shit town where I was born. Did you hear me scream? Henceforth, when East Coast people in California say that they miss the seasons, I will put lettuce in their ears and flick them on the forehead.
Probably, to the residents of Erie, Penn., this snow was a non-event. But to an overtired, underdressed California girl without boots, it was the Big One, blizzardwise. To his credit, the snot-nosed station master did ask, before locking me out of the station, if I needed a ride.
“My friend is coming,” I said.
“Can I drop you somewhere?” he said. “Where are you going?”
He laughed at my apparent joke, pointed to where the Post Office was, in case I needed it, and left. In retrospect, I would have licked that booger off his upper lip for a ride to New York. Instead, I stood in the blowing snow and freezing cold, stomping my feet and, yeah, screaming, until the Post Office opened. Then I stood in there.
Probably I should have stayed on the train. I could have stayed on the train. It was going very close to where I wanted to get, but I’d thought I would keep my old ex-bandmate and good friend Rube Roy company on his way there and eat in diners for a day, instead of dining cars.
Rube Roy was two hours late and partially blind in one eye, but did buy me breakfast. On our way out of town we found a diner called Somebody’s “Dinor,” where, over eggs and potatoes and sausage and coffee and such, we talked about the old times, and the new times, and even some of the upcoming times.
There is so much time. So much time to think, in a car spinning around and around on a snowy interstate highway in Pennsylvania, bouncing between guardrails like a complicated bank shot off the cue of someone named Chuck or Lefty.
One of the things I thought about, boom, spin, was how I didn’t think I was going to die, but you never know, bang, spin. I never did like merry-go-rounds, or whirligigs, but the bumper cars I guess were all right. Now, I get motion sickness facing backward on BART. I didn’t think we were going to die, but when our car came to rest finally, facing traffic in the passing lane, I don’t know. I wondered.
Before I go, I would like to spell Papi’s name right, at least once, in the paper. They didn’t exact any promises from me, but Papi, Papa, and Coach did want one last dinner together before I left. So I said, “Brothers! Korean barbecue!”
And, like magic, that was where we went. For meat and meat for me and Papa, and some other kinds of things for the vegetarians. Ah, you know, it was all pretty good and everything, but not as probably good as the last time I went. Does it matter?
“Rube Roy?” I said, as a semitruck whizzed by in the right lane. “Can I drive now?”
He flashed his headlights at the next one and said, “No.”
I write to you from New York City. Hi. Next time, I promise you, dear reader, dear gangsters, dear hillbilly, I will stay on the train.
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