NOTE: This post is rated R for pervasive strong language.
Below is a true story I wrote back in college about a road trip I took with some insufferable fellow students I met through the ride board. For any readers who can’t remember a time before craigslist, the ride board was a physical bulletin board on campus where you’d tack non-virtual flyers saying “I have room for two passengers going to Los Angeles to share gas and help with the driving” or “I need a ride to Sacramento and will help with gas.” One year I couldn’t find a ride to San Luis Obispo so I rented a car and offered to drive others. Nobody else was going to San Luis Obispo but some dirtbags wanted to go to Santa Barbara for the big Halloween party there that was so big in those days they brought in a giant van of extra cops. As you shall see, offering to drive partiers to that event turned out to be a really bad idea.
Freshmen Hoods – November 11, 1992
The Y’shua man is yelling when I pull up to the curb of Bancroft next to Sproul Plaza. As usual, he is pacing up and down, wearing his standard tight blue t-shirt with the simple “Y’shua” logo, glaring at a spot on the ground ahead of him, his face lean, hard, and cross. I can’t make out any of his doctrine, but to my amusement he shouts out his chorus with frequent regularity, and at tremendous volume: “Y’SHUA! Y’SHUA!” His cry sounds like that of a wounded animal. Shadowing him ruthlessly, matching his stride and hovering less than a foot from his face, is an obviously homeless man, scraggly and skinny, wearing a skirt of a pastel floral pattern, a ragged leather vest, and a fake fruit hat. This is Hate Man, and he heckles Y’shua Man ceaselessly to the delight of student onlookers.
“Hearken to our Master!” begins Y’shua Man.
“Masturbator!” yells Hate Man. The students laugh. A much younger, collegiate looking boy in a polo shirt and jeans also matches Y’shua Man’s pacing, and abuses him after his model in Hate Man. This is one of the several disciples of Hate Man. Yes, disciples. Does this youth aspire to one day be homeless as well, and wear Salvation Army dresses?
Two freshman-looking boys shout at Y’shua Man. “Give it up, man! Get a life! Fuckin’ queer-bait!” What makes these two freshman looking? One has tremendously baggy jeans—parachutes, really—which sag so much the crotch is around his knees like on a old man, and his torso looks twice as long as his legs. His face has that cultivated stubble look, like he’s gone without shaving for two weeks to achieve a two-day growth. His tuff scowl needs a cigarette—but then I would feel compelled to say, “Get that thing out of your mouth, son, it doesn’t make you cool.” The other youth is in a baggy blank white t-shirt and has a moussed and blown dry hairdo: hairs shoot straight up and curve straight back like the top of a hoe. I’d like to say, “Oh, wow, you look like that guy on Beverly Hills 90210.” And he would die of embarrassment.
He yells at Y’shua man, “Get lost, dude! You’re not wanted here! You hear me, man, yo! I’m talking to you man, pack it up! Fuckin’ jerk!” He pronounces “dude” like “doad.”
Y’shua Man has a pretty strong conviction of some kind, I’m thinking. As for Hate Man, he is homeless and has nothing to do. But what excuse do these guys have for bothering to participate in this pointless menagerie? A chartered bus behind me starts honking. The driver, looming high above me behind his giant flat steering wheel, is yelling and gesturing for me to move. I roll forward until he’s clear, and stop. Suddenly a young woman appears at my passenger window.
“Are you Dana?” she asks.
“Yeah, and you’re Ana?” I reply. She nods her head. This is one of my passengers from the Associated Students Ride Board. I got four other people to share the cost of a rental car and gas. Since none of them is twenty one yet, I have to do all the driving. And since they’re all going to the Hallowe’en party in Isla Vista, the student ghetto of the University of California at Santa Barbara, I have to drive them all the way there, even though I’m only headed for San Luis Obispo to visit my brother.
“Looks like we’re in for a long trip,” she says with a sigh, gesturing with her chin over her shoulder. The horror! Approaching the car are the two freshman punks—the sagging crotch guy and the skippy hairdo guy—heading our way, dragging canvas duffel bags. With them is a zit-faced, unkempt girl with long, oily brown hair. Her shirt looks like it was made of a burlap sack.
“Dude, yah! Fucking rad ride, dude. You Dana?”
“Yeah. And you’re . . . Justin?” I’d actually pictured Justin as a gang member, a Crip or a Blood maybe, after our phone conversations. I think he’d be thrilled that he sounded like a black guy over the phone, but he’s just as white as I am.
“Yeah, dude.” He shakes my hand as tightly as possible. “Yo, and dis is Mark, man. Dude. And Tracy.”
“Wait, what about Andrea?”
“Aw, dude, she fuckin’ flaked on me. But yo, I filled her spot. So let’s hit the road an’ shit.”
I make sure Ana gets the front seat and we head out. I experiment with turning up the stereo to drown out the banter behind me, but the speakers won’t go loud enough, and then an R.E.M. song comes on and I have to turn it off. So I listen to Justin for awhile.
“Yo, so like I was tellin’ that Andrea chick, ‘Yo, so like we gotta be on da the road like 1:55, ‘cause we gotta fuckin’ get down there early, ya know, to party up an’ shit.’ An’ then she’s all sayin’ like she might not be able to get outta some fuckin’ class, an’ I’m like, ‘No, sorry, babe, you gotta totally commit or dat’s it, man. Now I’m gonna call my other homie, right, and den I’m callin’ you back, an’ if you are one hundred percent sure on this, you’re not fuckin’ comin’ ‘cause we gotta be sure.’ So den I call Mark and he’s like, ‘Yah, man, I could use a fuckin’ trip down to see my brutha in L.A. but I gotta see if he can come meet me.’ Ain’t dat what you were saying, Mark?”
“Yeah, so like he fuckin’ calls his bro’ an’ shit, and so I’m like thinkin’ fuck, man! I gotta get someone, and then he calls me back and says like “Yoah, dude, let’s fuckin’ do it,’ and I’m all ‘Yeah!’ So I call back Andrea an’ say, ‘Yo, sorry babe, you shouldda fuckin’ told me earlier, now ya can’t come.’”
Justin keeps this up, mainly amusing himself but drawing a guffaw out of Tracy every now and then. I can’t tell if Mark is pouting, or just antisocial, but he only grunts occasionally. Finally he loosens up and starts to talk, and I dare to hope he might be less annoying than Justin.
“Yah, so the fuckin’ punks thought they were all bad an’ shit, so I fuckin’ straight up poured my Coke on ‘em, kinda flung it out the window an’ shit, and one of da fuckin’ guys is like, ‘hey, man, why’d you do that?’ an’ he’s like this little Mexican fuck, they all are, an’ I’m like, fuckin, ‘What, do you wanna scrap or sometin’, you little shit!’ I’ll fuckin’ burn you, man.’”
“Dude, it sounds to me like you were fuckin’ the one startin’ shit, an’ shit,” said Justin.
“No way not even, dude, ‘cause they fuckin’ all thought they were all bad an’ shit, man. Fuckin’ fuck ‘em up, man. Shit.” He pauses for a moment. “Yo, uh . . . what’s his name?” Mark points towards me.
“Dana,” answers Justin.
“Uh, yeah, uh, Dana, like can we stop? I gotta call an’ find out my brother’s beeper number.”
Not “I have to make a call.” No, he has to mention the beeper. What a stud. “Yeah, okay,” I say. I happen to know that beepers are the new rage in the social scene in L.A., but perhaps he’s hoping I’ll think he deals drugs. We stop at a gas station and he tries to get through. After stretching our legs, we all get back in the car, and Justin takes over the front seat.
My repulsion at these kids is deepened by my pride at having made it to UC Berkeley. I'd assumed there wouldn't be any shit-for-brains dirtbags here. To realize that there are erodes my feelings about my eventual alma mater. Worse, I'd been denied admission to Cal as a freshman, and had to transfer in. How the hell did these kids make it here on their first try? A pact with Satan?
After another hour of excruciating wannabe-badass banter the kids either wear themselves out or run out of things to say. The silence is a relief. For the first time since we started out, I can hear the car’s engine running. The sun is beginning to go down now, and within half an hour everybody in the car is asleep. As I flip up the rear view mirror to nighttime mode, I catch a glimpse of a touching scene: Tracy has slumped over on Mark, her head cradled in his armpit. As he snores loudly, his mouth hanging open and his head tilted forward, a long strand of drool drips off his lower lip and makes a glistening pool in her shiny hair. This continues all the way to Isla Vista. I won’t bother to describe the endless chore of dropping them all off at their various friends’ houses. Then I drive a hundred miles back to San Luis Obispo.
Sunday at 2:00, I’m back in Isla Vista, at the Chevron station where we all agreed to meet. The gas tank is on empty, so I have to wait in a long line of cars, all college students preparing to head back up north. Though it was cool in the morning in San Luis Obispo, it’s already getting hot. I hear a string of familiar profanities, and sure enough my three least favorite passengers come loping up, eyes bloodshot and hair ravaged. They’re all wearing exactly the same clothes they had on two days before. Ana had only been with us for the trip down, so these three alone are to comprise my company for the drive back. I begin reminding myself of all the reasons why Greyhound is a loathsome way to travel.
Gas is $1.49 a gallon at this Chevron. I wonder if they raised the prices for the Halloween weekend. “Okay guys, I need gas money. Four bucks a person.”
“Sorry, dude. I don’t have any money. My fuckin’ friend stiffed me on beers and I’m totally broke,” Mark says. Does he tell the theater usher he spent all his money on popcorn and Milk Duds? I wonder.
“Wait a second, dude,” says Justin. “We shouldn’t have to fuckin’ pay all that ‘cause you took all the gas driving back and forth between here and SLO.”
“Now hold on. You should be grateful I drove you guys all the way down here and back. It’s not like I enjoyed the extra four hours in the car.”
“Yeah, man, but wait a second. Fuckin’ wait a second. Just wait a fuckin’ second. You fuckin’ need us, man. The rental wouldda been hella bank without us.”
“No, I could just pay more. None of you could rent a car without me. You would have been stuck up in Berkeley.”
“No, dude, not even. I couldda fuckin’ had any of my buddies drive me. They’d have been stoked to drive down here an’ shit.”
I decide not to discuss it. I finish pumping and go in to pay. Then I go to the restroom and change into some shorts, and walk back to the car. Just behind the car, Justin is frisking Tracy playfully while Mark practises his best scowl.
“Dude, there’s no fuckin’ way driving to SLO and back takes that much gas. You must’ve driven all over the place with our gas,” Mark says.
“Just shut up and get in the car,” I snap, throwing my jeans in the trunk and slamming the lid. I slide in behind the wheel and hand Tracy my drink. Reaching in my pocket for the car keys, I realize they’re still in the pocket of my jeans. In the trunk.
“Guys,” I snort, “We’re fucked.” My foul epithet falls flat, rendered impotent by its overuse throughout the trip. “I locked the keys in the trunk.”
“Aw, fuck dude. What’r ya gonna do now?”
“Well, you’re all so street smart. Break in there. Jimmy the lock.”
Justin rolls his eyes. “Aww, dude.” Mark stares blankly at the back seat, struck dumb. The gears in his head grind to a halt. He picks tentatively at the upholstery. Finally he speaks. “Uh, ya gotta cut out the seat, dude.”
But Justin has a better idea. “We’ll be at Jack in the Box,” he tells me. They trot off into the shopping center beyond the gas station. I look down the long line of cars waiting to fill up. I glance towards the cashier. How long will he wait before having my car towed? The students behind me are in no hurry yet. Good thing I’m not in Berkeley. I’d have been lynched by now.
I sit down in the back seat and tug at the seatback. No way. Then I spot the plastic casing from which the shoulder belt issues. I easily pop it away from the seatback, and slip my finger beneath the stiff carpet extending horizontally from the top of the seatback to the rear window. With a tug the carpet is free of the seatback, and I can run my hand along the steel frame of the car with the trunk just beyond it. A long cut out in the steel just allows me to get my hand through. If I had a light, I could see into the trunk. But I can’t get my arm through. I pull my hand out and call to the attractive blonde at the next car. “Excuse me, could you come here?”
“What for?” she asks, walking over.
“I locked my keys in the trunk. Can you fit your hand through this hole?” Her hand is nice and slim her wrist too small for a man’s watch. But she shies away, giving up just after her fingertips entered the hole. “Sorry,” she says.
“Aw, that’s all right.” Fishing for a stranger’s keys is above and beyond the call of duty. I stare at the exposed metal some more. Suddenly I notice that the stereo speaker comes right through the frame: Aha. If I could remove the speaker, I’d have a large hole right into the trunk. The cut out I’d been putting my hand into might just be close enough to the speaker to give me a shot at the speaker. I slip my left hand through, and grope for whatever simple clip I know must hold that speaker in place. My fingertips brush something. I shove the hand farther in, scraping off a thin layer of flesh. (Even as I type, tonight, I can see the faint pink scar.) Now, I can feel the little spring steel clip. I try pushing it one way, then the other. Now it is disengaged, and I wiggle the speaker back and forth. Suddenly it pops out, and I let it drop. Now I have a generous five inch hole into the trunk. I thrust in an arm and triumphantly haul out my jeans, like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat. In five seconds I’ve got the engine running. A miracle. Where one minute ago I had a giant steel anchor to tow away, now I’ve got twenty four valves allowing the proper mix of gasoline and air into six huge cylinders, to power one hundred glorious explosions per second, perfectly controlled to move the car forward that precious ten feet that saves me getting towed, and stranded, and thoroughly distraught.
Easing the car forward, my euphoria spikes again as a wonderful and devilish thought seizes me. I reach across the car and lock the two opposite doors, then those on my side. I crack my window. Slowly taxiing through the Jack in the Box parking lot, I spy my freshmen hoods, talking and laughing at a window booth. I honk the horn loudly, three times, and slow to a halt. They come running out, amazed to see the car mobile. As they come within six feet, I put the car in gear and begin to slowly roll away. Tracy reaches out for the door handle, and finds it useless.
Justin, clinging to my door handle, yells at me through the cracked window. “Yo, dude, what the FUCK?! What the fuck you doin’?!”
I yell back: “Justin, the freshman attrition rate at Cal is like 30 percent. You’re not going to make it.”
He yells, “Dude, what the fuck does that have to do with anything?!”
I reply, loudly but matter-of-factly, “I’m going to start the attrition process a little early.”
I drive through the Drive Thru, the kids clinging to the car like leeches, slapping the windows furiously. I keep creeping along, laughing hysterically, turning up the stereo to be deaf to their cries. Justin sprawls out on the hood, shouting and making obscene gestures. I cannot hear his voice, but his lips spell out those all too familiar words. Then he slides off.
Now I’ve reached Hollister Avenue, where I signal a right turn and carefully pull out of the parking lot. Reaching but not exceeding the speed limit, I easily outrun the three screaming teens. Perhaps they can just see me getting on the 101, headed north. Twenty miles later, in Gaviota, I’m still grinning from ear to ear.
Ah, but of course I couldn’t really bring myself to do it. I guess I’ve just become too soft over the years. (I had driven over the Jack in the Box, all right, but I had dutifully picked them all up like I was their damn chauffeur.) As we pass Gaviota, Justin breaks the silence following our second argument by slurping loudly on his Coke, clearing the phlegm noisily out of his throat, and saying, “Dude, I just cut a big greasy fart! Haw, haw, haw!”
Never again, I vow.