Big-Ass Beers in San Angelo

Location: Bill’s house, San Angelo, TX
Miles: 141nn.n

Driving between Clovis and Lubbock, I had the thought “Columbus was wrong.” The world is very flat out there. There is a town called Levelland. You can see a long way across the planar plain, and what you see is… telephone poles, power poles, and the occasional silo. The poles march in straight lines across the land, criss-crossing each other’s paths without rhyme or reason.

Windmill at Sunset Past Lubbock, as it started to get dark, the land started to roll a little bit. I rolled with it, cruise control set on exactly the speed limit, along with everyone else. A few people were going a wee bit over the limit, but there were no flagrant violators that I saw. Nevertheless I saw two drivers pulled over by cops. We got law and order in this state, son. It was a relaxing drive, however, as the road was nearly empty after 8:30. They also have early bedtimes out here. The night was dark. No moon and few lights left me imagining what the terrain was like outside the splash of my headlights.

Now I’m here in San Angelo (“The largest city in the country that’s not on an interstate,” Bill tells me.), helping Bill enjoy his weekend, which occurs on Wednesday and Thursday. Bill has been an excellent tour guide, showing me the sights. (In Clovis it was more about the smells.) Last night of course we went to a couple of bars, The Steel Penny and one Bill referred to as 5-point. The name refers to the 5-way intersection outside; the bar is named something else I don’t recall. It was bazooka night at 5-point. Bazookas are big-ass beers, something like 36 ounces. On Wednesday’s they’re both big and cheap. Two of my favorite attributes in a beer. Top it off with free hot dogs and a pretty bartender (did she say her name was Kelly? Kristen?) and you’ve got yourself a good place to hang.

Hang we did. Bill’s friend joined us and did his part to reduce the world beer supply. After a couple of those big ‘ol mofos we pushed on to the Steel Penny, which was pretty quiet but they had a good beer selection and lots of sports on the televisions. We sipped Dead Guy Ale slowly until it was time to head home. A couple of my rival presidential candidates were debating on TV, so we watched them blather on for a while.

Here’s something interesting: if the electoral college splits exactly 50-50, the House chooses the President and the Senate chooses the veep. The voting rules for the House are odd, but Bush would probably win there. The Senate is close, and if the Democrats pick up a couple of seats they would probably install Edwards as VP. What would Bush do without Cheney to give him instructions? I imagine that Rumsfeld would be even more influential than he is now.

But enough of all that silliness. It’s time to go out again. No great big beers tonight, I expect, but a guy’s gotta do what a guy’s gotta do.

High Desert Retreat

Location: Laguna Vista (map – updated for much greater accuracy)
Miles 10339.0

Now I find myself holed up alone with the pups, high in the mountains. The closest town of any size is Chama (pop. 1,199), which has a couple of stores, a few restaurants, a couple of bars, and no traffic lights. I’m sure I’ll be reporting from the bars later, but I’ll have to be careful, it’s about 15 miles back home. I have no cell phone signal and only dialup Internet access, which still may prove to be too much.

This is a test for me. I have plenty of food, plenty of drink, and no obligations whatsoever except those I impose upon myself. My one and only goal: get The Monster Within to puberty. I think I can do it in four days or so if I work hard.

Last night, however, was not a good start. I did some farting around on the Internet and then I watched TV. TV! I’ve mentioned before what television does to me; I’m even stupider than most people when the box is glowing. I never built up the immunity that so many of my peers seem to have. So today, no boob tube, and only enough time online to care for and feed my Media Empire ™. And check out my favorite sites. And maybe try a link or two. Gaah! Bad Writer! Probably in the next few days the entertainment level here (if there ever was one) will be lower.

Time to take the dogs on a walk.

Back in the day, I had a very good routine going: work on Jer’s Novel Writer in the morning, take a break and go to a bar and write in the early afternoon, and come home and tend to the hut in the evening. Naturally my travels have disrupted this pattern, and it is very important for me to prove I still have what it takes to be what is called a “self-starter” in the business world. I’m not going to put much effort into the software this week, but the novel must be in good shape by October 31st, since of course I will be writing a different story in November.

Then I’ve got to figure out how to get published. That can’t be too hard, right?

Open Bar

Got up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head. I’d stayed with Bill and Joanne, leaving my car tied up to the hitching post at Callahan’s. I got up earlier than I had been, tried to come up with a good subject for an episode for this blog, failed, and just drifted around on the Internet for a while. Sometimes after an episode which which I’m particularly pleased I have a tough time coming up with something good enough to justify pushing the good one out of the top spot. But this is the Internet, and has a voracious appetite for new. I drank some tea, but was soon yearning to be reunited with my toothbrush. Ride to car, drive to Pacific Beach, clean the choppers; I’m ready to go.

Sluka’s was next, of course, then the library. It’s funny how quickly I’ve fallen into that routine considering how unstructured the rest of my life is. I got back and Amy arrived soon after, trying to juggle her life so she could take a quick trip back to Florida to see her family, who are right in the center of the devastation from hurricane Charley. Apparently they’re getting bottled water now, but they have no electricity and no beer. Amy can’t take them 120V AC, but a transcontinental beer run is in the offing. Tally Ho!

In the afternoon Amy went to get some work done on her car to resolve a fix-it ticket (imagine that!) and I actually got a couple of things done. The big one was getting her old laptop set up so she can freeload off the neighbor’s wireless network. Amy is now Internet-enabled. Tremble in fear, citizens of the Web! Of course my reasons for setting her up were purely selfish; I can’t remember the last time I wrote a letter on that paper stuff.

Later Paul came over and the Packers game was on and Amy cooked up a fantastic meal and there was beer and all was good. It was decided: after the game we’d go to the Open Bar. We were all feeling jolly. The Pack lost and off we went.

I have only been to the open bar a couple of times before, and never as part of a group. The first thing I learned is that the pool tables suck. Two of them are so bad no one was using them; the owner of the place should just get rid of them to make more room for drinkers. The third table was usable and in use. The bar was way too hot and muggy despite having one side open onto the smoking patio. To the great outdoors I eventually repaired. Paul made a couple of attempts to set me up with women at the bar, a skill at which he far surpasses me. I wasn’t in the mood for that kind of stuff, though. I did get a laugh from one for my “Scotsman at a Baseball Game” joke.

I also ran into one of my favorite waitresses of all time, from back in the day. I didn’t recognize her right away out of the Callahan’s context; I just kept looking at her and wondering why she looked so familiar. Finally she recognized me. Tawny was there with some girlfriends and they were whooping it up. It was great to see her again. I had a thought as we talked that other people would be wondering what the two most attractive people in the bar were doing talking to me. I owe it all to regularization.

I don’t know how Amy and Paul wound up being so much drunker than I was. They must have been drinking faster back at the house. They were really starting to get on each other’s nerves, though, and it was harshing my mellow, to borrow a phrase from Halfsies, wherever he is. Amy had an unpleasant encounter with some other guy in the bar and we left in a hurry without telling Paul, who was off somewhere else. We walked back to Amy’s; it was a peaceful San Diego night and as we walked along the bay the fireworks were popping over Sea World. I breathed a sigh of relief to be out of the bar and into the quiet. Paul was waiting for us when we got back to Amy’s place. I was treated to an endless series of Paul needling Amy and Amy roaring back. Finally I went into the kitchen and turned up the music so I wouldn’t have to hear them bicker anymore.

Why can’t we all just get along?

Paul left soon after that, plenty pissed off. Things quieted down, and one uneaten grilled cheese sandwich cut into bite-sized morsels later, Amy was asleep and I had my peace, curled up with a cat on the short sofa.

Morning arrived gently, and after a shower it’s off to Sluka’s for me. I may be here a few more days if Amy needs me to housesit while she’s in Florida. I’d rather be on the road, though.

Saturday Morning

I have reported previously how much I enjoyed shooting the bull with Amy through the night. The reason I had the pleasure of Amy’s company on those late nights is that Cute Boy has a job; he has to get up at 5 am. Well, last night wasn’t a school night for him so Amy went straight there after work and I haven’t seen her since. She said something about Erica having a party.

Which left me in the dark and quiet of Amy’s place, her absence a presence. Amy has one of those large personalities, that fills the room and rivers out into the street through the doors and windows. Maybe that’s why only one of three windows on her car can be closed. (The fourth, if opened, would probably fall off.) Confining Amy in such a small place would be dangerous. I imagine there is some part of her soul, some force that comes from Earth itself, that has damaged the windows so that it might always be free.

I wondered why neither Amy nor Erica had invited me to the party. I’m not that surprised, really—if they thought of it at all they probably judged (rightly) that it wasn’t my kind of bash, but of course that doesn’t change the perceived slight of not being asked. Amy probably didn’t want any distractions from Cute Boy in any case. Chances are he’s as tired of hearing about me being in her house as I am of hearing what she plans to do to him when she gets the chance. Last night was her chance. I thought about that more than once.

One of the side effects of trying to be a writer is that when I’m in a funk I find myself nursing the feeling rather than trying to banish or forget it. It’s a strange sort of masochism to try to put the blues to work, like poking at an open sore to make it sting more.

I had decided to stay through the weekend to help Amy steam-clean her carpet and upholstery, but now I think those plans have been forgotten. Just as well; I’ve been invited to a barbecue later today and another one tomorrow, both at the houses of people I’ve met in bars. A farewell tour of sorts, with steak.

My melancholy has carried over to today, and the weather seems sympathetic. The marine layer has been much more persistent this morning, keeping the world slightly gray but the world keeps moving anyway. Sluka’s is fairly crowded, most people choosing to sit outside and probably appreciating the cooler morning air. Later the sun will be out and the beach will be crowded. Sluka himself is bustling around, putting up advertising for his latest venture as a flight instructor.

After the road trip novel sells a million and I follow it up with the blockbuster boat trip novel, I’ll have to go on a plane trip.

Just Another Day in Paradise

Location: Pacific Beach Library (map )

I chauffeured Amy to the Sandbar last night so she could party with her coworkers unencumbered by vehicular responsibility. By the time the cab deposited her at the door midnight was just a distant memory, but our tradition of staying up and chit-chatting was too entrenched to allow her to go to sleep when she got home. It was a later night than usual. I interrupted a story about Cute Boy to tell her I would be leaving on Monday. She wasn’t happy about that at all. She proposed a date a few weeks from now. She asked me to wait at least until she had a day off so we could hang out, but she’ll want to be spending her rare days with Cute Boy, I’m sure. Now she wants to find Cute Girl for me so I’ll stay. She better hurry. Still, it’s nice to feel welcome.

We did make a pact to get married if we’re both still single when she turns 35. Lord help both of us if that happens. Fortunately we still have a few years. I guess I better figure out when her birthday is.

This morning I loaded up the laptop for my daily pilgrimage from Amy’s (map) along the shore of Mission Bay, pausing to watch the Hobie Cats dart about, soaking up the sun, listening to construction workers curse at each other, and generally enjoying myself. On my way up Cass street I heard Rich practicing piano through his open front door. I was tempted to drop by and say hello to my former coworker, but I didn’t want to break his concentration. I’ll flag him down later if he walks his dog past Sluka’s (aka Javanican) (map) while I’m there. Usually I go to Sluka’s and then come to the library, but I wasn’t very hungry and I was interested in seeing what had happened in my media empire overnight. (One of Amy’s neighbors has an unsecured wireless network, but to get a reliable connection I have to stand on the arm of the sofa in one corner, my head almost touching the ceiling, and holding the laptop up at eye level. Makes it hard to get much done.)

Now I’m hungry, though, so I think I’ll just throw this to the wind and go grab some chow. I’ll make this episode more worthwhile later by adding a picture from my commute.

Can’t keep this up

I stayed up with Amy into the wee hours again last night, for the third night in a row. She works until late to start with, and when she gets home she is filled with stories and adrenaline. I laugh and tingle and share stories of my own, and we drink wine. I’m tired now; she must be beat. I don’t sleep a whole lot more than she does, but that little bit can make a big difference. I also don’t have two jobs to hold down.

I’m going to have to leave soon, whether or not I have taken care of all my stuff here in town. I’m not making much progress at it anyway, and the road is calling. Sharing a small apartment with an attractive woman who just got herself a new boyfriend (Cute Boy is mentioned frequently and explicitly) doesn’t help. Sure, it’s fun, but… you know. Last night was the toughest, even while it was the most fun. I hauled out the camera and we took pictures. Most of the pictures suffer either from a harsh flash or long, long exposures without a tripod. The wine didn’t help, either. I’ll go through them later and see if there are any worth trying to rescue. A very few of them look really good on the camera’s little screen, so we’ll see.

Amy wants me to stay longer, and she can be persuasive. She wants me to meet some of her new coworkers. They sound like a good bunch. Also I think she enjoys having me around. I’ve agreed to stay through the weekend to help her steam-clean her upholstery, which doesn’t even begin to repay her for the use of her couch for so many more nights than I had intended. After that it’s time for me to go. Best to be gone before the welcome mat is revoked.

Next stop: Vegas. A world of its own; the place to overwhelm dark thoughts with sensory overload. Among the braying lights and churning music and honest graft exhaustion is natural and the equation of life is easily simplified. It is a contest of physical endurance and losing the battle is preordained. Brain cells die. The ties from my past, reasserting themselves while I am in San Diego, will be burned away. I will emerge from the desert crucible purified and unbound, so light I won’t leave footprints as I trek across the desert sand.

That’s the plan, anyway.

A Day at the Races

I had thought to stay at Amy’s last night. I was sitting quietly while she was a work (B.B. King and Dr. John at Humphrey’s), just kicking back and writing. The phone rang. It was Amy. New Boyfriend was in town early and she waned to know if she could have the house to herself. Well, duh. It’s her house, and there are several places in town that I can stay. I hit the road with confidence.

The one catch: it was already pretty late. I headed out, but actually the idea of a hotel room appealed to me. The thing about being a guest is that you put a burden on your host. The morning before, Amy had missed her morning TV because she didn’t want to bother me. Not that she minded terribly much (I think), but people have routines, and I don’t like to disrupt them. Some days I like to live free of the burden I place on others. So a hotel seemed like the right idea.

Note to investors: owning a hotel in San Diego in the summer is a friggin slam-dunk sellout. It’s crazy. There were a couple of places with rooms in Mira Mesa, but they were $150 and up. Mira Mesa. Rather than range north, this time I headed south to Hotel Circle. Amazingly, there are lots of hotels there. Not on Hotel Circle, but not too far away, is the Padre Trail Inn. It’s a dump. Until last night I assumed that the only way it stayed in business was because of the military inductees, who sleep their last night as civillians there before they are swept away to basic training. We used to go to the PTI’s lounge after playing softball across the street. The lounge is awesome only because of Melissa. She is an institution there, an icon in tight jeans and low-cut top, a figure that makes it work, and pure Jersey attitude.

I did not see Melissa last night. By the time I got there the lounge was closed. Also, the hotel was full. Padre friggin’ trail was full, and by the look of the parking lot it wasn’t all MEPS. Out of curiosity I asked, “How much would it have been if you had a room?” The answer: $130 plus all the taxes imposed on hotel rooms in San Diego. (This seems to be the one tax the locals are willing to accept.) Wow. A year ago, this was a place the truckers stayed. Sure, it’s near old town, but still.

PTI aside, I had to find a place to sleep. It was getting very late. I tried a couple of places on Hotel Circle, and at the second one the desk lady suggested I try driving out to Chula Vista. That was a long way away. At that point I was considering calling Amy and telling her that I had nowhere else to go. There was no one else I could call by then. I drove east to get on the freeway. Toward Chula Vista.

I passed the King’s Inn and almost didn’t stop. I kind of liked the look of the place, though, and I thought since it wasn’t a big chain perhaps it would have a room. Bingo. The room seemed cheap compared to the other places I had checked, and it was more than adequate. Any idea I had about using the privacy for writing was lost in the bliss of sweet, sweet, sleep. I slept from the moment I hit the pillow, and I nursed it as long as I could in the morning, and then a little longer. I emerged from the room in a magnificent mood.

It was race day. And Cake day. Cake is a band, and they were playing after the races were over. I like Cake.

I was late to Mikie’s place because I stopped at Waffle King forf breakfast, even though I could see that they were busy. I’m glad I did. There was nothing worth reporting here, but there were archetypes at work. Something I saw there will show up somewhere.

While I was sitting there, it occurred to me that the Tabasco boys should make an extra-hot version. Hot hot hot sauces are all the rage these days, but there is no brand with the power of Tabasco. Just a thought. As I ate, Amy called. Her boyfriend hadn’t come over after all. It didn’t matter. I was feeling cheery. Amy had bought a new hat and was drinking a margarita.

Breakfast chowed, running late, I headed to Mikie’s folk’s place, where my car would rest while Mikie, Mike, Kendra and I made our erratic (Mikie was driving) way up the concrete to the place where, as Bing put it, the surf meets the turf. We pulled into the parking log to be greeted my a big flashing sighn reading “No alcohol in any parking lot.” So much for tailgating. Mikie and Kendra had done a masterful job disguising the alcohol anyway, so we loaded up chairs and cooler and headed inside. Not long after that Kim, Ben and Michelle joined us.

It was a great day to be at the racetrack. The sun was shining, the sunscreen was abundant, there was a good crowd that steadily grew as the day wore on, and for the first half of the day the right horses were winning. Mike Sr. and I paid a lot more attention to the numbers, and I had fun sitting by him comparing notes. After a while, though, as the alcohol started to take effect (Nothing close to the effect it was having on Kendra, however), my diligence waned and so did my fortunes. No matter—I was having a good time. Over the day I lost more on overpriced beer than on horses.

The Cake concert was short (what do you want for nothin’?) but excellent. Maybe it wasn’t that short after all, we spent the first part of it in the beer line. It gave me plenty of time to see that the beertenders were not very efficient, but I didn’t make any recommendations when I got to the front of the line. Since the only limit to their business was the rate they could serve customers, I expect they could have made thousands of dollars more if they could have kept their customers adequately beered. No matter—I was having a good time.

Cake played, and played well. The crowd was large but not pushy, and there was plenty of quality people-watching. I ended up dancing to the music, something I don’t do spontaneously at concerts very often. After the show we made our way back to the truck. I went back to the homestead with Mike Sr. while the others, not content to let the party stop, took off to Michelle’s house, teetotaller Ben behind the wheel. The couch was already made up for me when I got back to the homestead, and I crashed with the TV on, just in time to see the last out in the bottom of the ninth inning of the Padre’s latest loss. I’ve got to leave town so they can start winning again. No matter—I’m having a good time.