California Dreamin’ – 1982 to 1984 – Chapter 9 – El Paso & Las Cruces

We pulled into El Paso, Texas at dusk. It’s right on the Mexican border. The Rio Grande river is right there. The part of town we were in looked and felt like we weren’t in America anymore. It looked like Mexico. The food was Mexican, and all of the songs on the jukebox were in Spanish.

El Paso (/ɛl ˈpæs/ el PASS-oh; from Spanish, “the pass”) is a city in and the seat of El Paso County, Texas, United States. It is situated in the far western corner of the U.S. state of Texas.

El Paso stands on the Rio Grande river across the Mexico–United States border from Ciudad Juárez, the largest city in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. The two cities, along with Las Cruces in the neighboring U.S. state of New Mexico, form a combined international metropolitan area sometimes referred to as the Paso del Norte or El Paso–Juárez–Las Cruces. The region of over 2.7 million people constitutes the largest bilingual and binational work force in the Western Hemisphere.[6][7]

The city is the headquarters of Western Refining, a Fortune 500 company, and three publicly traded companies,[8] as well as home to the Medical Center of the Americas,[9] the only medical research and care provider complex in West Texas and southern New Mexico,[10] and the University of Texas at El Paso, the city’s primary university. The city hosts the annual Sun Bowl college football post-season game, the second oldest bowl game in the country.[11]

El Paso has a strong federal and military presence. William Beaumont Army Medical CenterBiggs Army Airfield, and Fort Bliss call the city home. Fort Bliss is one of the largest military complexes of the United States Army and the largest training area in the United States.[12] Also headquartered in El Paso are the DEA domestic field division 7El Paso Intelligence CenterJoint Task Force NorthU.S. Border Patrol El Paso Sector, and U.S. Border Patrol Special Operations Group (SOG).

In 2010, El Paso received an All-America City Award. El Paso has been ranked the safest large city in the U.S. for four consecutive years[13] and has ranked in the top three since 1997.[14] As of July 1, 2016, the population estimate for the city from the U.S. Census was 683,080.[3] Its U.S. metropolitan area covers all of El Paso and Hudspeth counties in Texas, and has a population of 841,971.[3] The El Paso metropolitan area forms part of the larger El Paso–Las Cruces CSA, with a population of 1,056,178.[3]

It was alien and cool for both of us but we always appreciated cities that looked different than the rest of America.

We had a beer in this border town but pushed on to Las Cruces New Mexico which was so close just on the eastern edge of New Mexico. We stay there without incident.

As I write this memoir I think about what Frank and I did on the trip. When we were in Georgia his Uncle took us to the greatest strip joint on Earth and I saw things I;d never seen before.

Funny thing is, looking back on this journey, Frank and I saw some vice in New Orleans but nothing major. You would think that two boys, 19 and 21 would have terrorized the countryside as we made our way across the country. We did nothing of the kind.

We drove the van all day on the way to our destination and loved the sites we saw along the way. But never did we stop and find the vice and dark fun in any of the towns we visited. We simply crashed, drank beer and watched TV in the hotel rooms we stayed in. We could have strayed and gotten into it with the locals, but maybe with him being an immigrant and me and my anxiety we just wanted to get where we were going.

It was an unspoken goal. Frank wanted to go on an adventure with someone he trusted and eventually his friends would follow. We’d have a band in LA and see what happened. He ultimately wanted to become a barrister in London. I wanted to be a rock star meta god and that was it. So here we were.

We’ll see what happens. He’s a helluva bass player so we’ll make it happen somehow. I’ve been uprooted from my life by my father’s design but I am out from under him.

Who takes their son out of high school before senior year? Oh I don’t know… a selfish self-centered cunt? (Frank’s words not mine, but mine with out a voice.) Once Janice was in Franklin and Marshall my dad was like fuck the rest of the kids in this family I’m moving them to the shore. I’ve exhausted all of my mistresses and some of them are pregnant. We here at the Provident National Bank are buried in bad loans and I need to go. I’ve painted myself into a corner and the love of my life Eileen is gone.

I will cling to Helen and the kids and dump my father’s inheritance into a gigantic over improved shore house a block from the beach in Wildwood NJ.

I think these thoughts as the 1969 Volkswagen mini bus carries my buddy and I from Belfast Northern Ireland across the desert on highway 10 into New Mexico.

I am away from my father. I love him but why? He has taught me everything I know. He taught me how to read, ride a bike, science, life, sex, people, women, everything. Why am I struggling?  Because he was so HARD on me.

Why did he have to say those things to me? Those words. Why was he so insecure? Why did he hit me? I can’t leave you dad or hit you back. I can’t fight a bully because you’re the best at that.

You were bullied as a boy. Why would you bully, hurt and scare me? What’s wrong with you?

You’re so nice. You’re a good father to my sisters but mom has a different story.  She’s your ultimate victim. Why dad? She’s been a victim her whole life. You describe her as this Japanese servant, That is some disrespectful shit Horace.

She suffered at the end of your tongue night after night. I heard you hurting with your words while she was raising your 4 kids while your tongue pleasures your mistress Eileen.

Fuck you.

A man’s word is everything. If you don’t have your word you’re nothing. You fucking liar.

My sweet sisters don’t know you. You told me everything you are when you were old. You told me the truth because you lied about so many things.

You’ve never had an original thought in your life. You love your wife because that poor woman put up with your crazy shit, you love your books because that’s where you stole all of the information you had in your head to get what you want, and you love your kids.

I believe that. You did love us dad. I know you did. As fucked up as you were. I know you loved us all so much. But I’m finally out from under your rule for good.

The 69 VW minibus rolls forward on highway 10. further than she’s ever been from the beaches of North Wildwood.

This family vehicle that was acquired in 1970 could never have imagined she would be making runs back and forth to Frankford high in Philly, and then becoming my vessel in Wildwood for fun and frivolity, But now here she is in New Mexico carrying the misfit son of the family to California to be a musician.

Frank hands me a Harp and I swig that sweet cold baby back. We’re going to California to be rock stars.

Las Cruces was nice and quiet and we’re nearly finished with our journey across America.

Las Cruces, also known as “The City of the Crosses”, is the seat of Doña Ana County, New Mexico, United States. As of the 2010 census the population was 97,618,[2] and in 2015 the estimated population was 101,643,[4] making it the second largest city in the state, after Albuquerque. Las Cruces is the largest city in both Doña Ana County and southern New Mexico.[5] The Las Cruces metropolitan area had an estimated population of 213,676 in 2014.[6] It is the principal city of a metropolitan statistical area which encompasses all of Doña Ana County and is part of the larger El Paso–Las Cruces combined statistical area.

Las Cruces is the economic and geographic center of the Mesilla Valley, the agricultural region on the floodplain of the Rio Grande which extends from Hatchto the west side of El Paso, Texas. Las Cruces is the home of New Mexico State University (NMSU), New Mexico’s only land-grant university. The city’s major employer is the federal government on nearby White Sands Test Facility and White Sands Missile Range. The Organ Mountains, 10 miles (16 km) to the east, are dominant in the city’s landscape, along with the Doña Ana MountainsRobledo Mountains, and Picacho Peak. Las Cruces lies 225 miles (362 km) south of Albuquerque, 48 miles (77 km) northwest of El Paso, Texas and 46 miles (74 km) north of the Mexican border at Santa Teresa.

Spaceport America, which lies 55 miles (89 km) to the north and with corporate offices in Las Cruces, has seen the completion of several successful manned, suborbital flights. The city is also the headquarters for Virgin Galactic, the world’s first company to offer sub-orbital spaceflights.[7]

Next stop… Arizona!

 

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California Dreamin’ – 1982 to 1984 – Chapter 8 – Ozona, Texas

“Ozona’s been dry since 1891!” the old cowboy croaked. Frank’s heart sank…

A lot of this country looks the same. Especially the east coast. It’s all woods wherever you go. But once we left Sealy and kept on highway 10 the landscape starts to dramatically change. Texas becomes miles and miles of rolling chapparelle country. That’s when you know you’re far from home. Most of our days were spent on the road driving six to eight hours a day. I remember when we first hit the high desert. It was the first day the sun had come out. Frank pulled a couple of bottles of Harp out of the cooler and we sipped them in celebration that we were well on our way to California.

There’s not a lot to tell about this part of the trip. We just took turns driving the van and kept going towards our destination. There were great sights to see along the way and I was happy to be on an adventure with my buddy. No parents. No curfew. Just us and the open road. I’ll never forget this wonderful trip with Frank as long as I live.

The desert gets cold at night. There’s nothing to hold the heat in because it’s so barren. I remember one morning Frank got out of the van to take a piss. I’ll never forget when he said: “For fuck’s sake, Chaz, I’ve never been so cold in all my life!”

From years of my dad taking the van on the beach to go surf fishing. The salt air and water coming off the wheels had rusted out a small part of the floor boards on the passenger side. If you lifted the rubber mat you could see the right front wheel spinning and the road under you through a four-inch hole. “Fuck sake! The wind is coming up through hole and freezing my leg!”

I just laughed and handed him a little box of cereal and a banana to shut him up.

 

We pull into Ozona late that night. It felt like a one horse town.

Ozona is an unincorporated community and census-designated place (CDP) that serves as the county seat of Crockett County, Texas, United States. The population was 3,225 at the time of the 2010 census.  Ozona is the only Census Bureau recognized community in Crockett County, which is named for Colonel Davy Crockett, a hero of the Alamo.
Ozona is called the “Biggest Little Town in the World”. Located on Interstate 10 some 200 miles (320 km) west of San Antonio, rural Ozona is also 82 miles (132 km) southwest of San Angelo. Crockett County is one of the nation’s leading producers of wool and mohair and is situated in the Edwards Plateau region at the western edge of the Texas Hill Country. Hunters come to Ozona in search of white-tailed deer, javelina, and game birds.

The county was organized in 1891 under a giant oak tree, which still stands and shades the historical marker describing the event. The Davy Crockett Monument is a large statue in the City Park on the town square. Across from the monument is the Crockett County Museum.

Ozona was known as “Powell Well”, after land surveyor E.M. Powell, when it was founded in 1891. In 1897, it was renamed “Ozona” for the high quantity of its open air, or “ozone”. A flood in 1954 killed 16 people and destroyed about half of the homes in the town.

A “Heritage Appreciation Monument” honors pioneer families who came to settle the land. The three-story Crockett County Museum at 404 11th Street features a blacksmith shop, ranching artifacts, and a wool/mohair room. A scenic drive from Ozona to Lancaster Hill, west on Texas State Highway 290, provides a panoramic view of the Pecos River Valley.

We crash in this little motel owned by a nice old couple. She’s chubby and jolly and he’s a skinny grizzled old cowboy.

“Hey man. Can you tell us where we can buy some beer around here?”

“Ozona’s been dry since 1891!”

Frank’s heart sank. But I suddenly remembered something.

“Go back to the room Frank. I have a solution.”

I went out and opened up the back hatch of the VW bus.

I remove a box and head up to the room and set it on the table.

“What’s all this?”

“Open it.”

Frank reaches in the box and produces a bottle of Beringer Merlot.

“There’s like six bottles in here! How did you…?”

“At the last-minute my dad put that in the van before I left Jersey.”

“We’ll drink to your dad tonight!”

“Sounds like a plan. I miss him.”

“I miss my ma and dad as well.”

I could see we’re both getting a little misty.

“How are we going to open these?”

I reach in the box and feel around then produce a corkscrew.

“Your dad is the best!”

“That he is my friend. That he is.”

 

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California Dreamin’ – 1982 to 1984 – Chapter 7 – Fun in Sealy, Texas

“Frank got out of the van holding a steel ice pic in his fist, while I remained inside the van filling my diaper.”

I love this one!

We left Louisiana and were headed west on highway 10. It’s like an elevated road through a swamp which was actually pretty cool. It had been overcast for most of the trip so far. I was hoping for some sunny days.

By nightfall we crossed the border into the state of Texas. We’re tired from driving all day so we decide to stay in the town of Sealy for the evening.

Here’s a little history.

San Felipe, Texas, sold part of its original 22,000-acre (8,900 ha) township to the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railroad to create Sealy in 1879. Sealy gets its name after business tycoon and majority stock holder of the GCSF RR, George Sealy of Galveston. In 1881, Daniel Haynes, a cotton gin builder, filled a request for a cotton-filled mattress which started a company. He named this the Sealy Mattress Company after the town. Business grew exponentially, which led to more innovation and several patents, such as a machine that compressed cotton.

We were always looking to save money and this would be the first motel we would stay in on the road. I don’t remember the name of it but it was off the main highway. I suppose it was one of those places that was once vibrant and busy but when the new highway came in not many people came by to stay there anymore. Sort of like the Bates Motel.

We pull the van up in front of the lobby and go in. It’s a dingy, dimly lit office. Sitting at the counter is this guy who appears to be in his late twenties or early thirties. Drab clothing and long greasy hair. Sort of like some character out of oh… I don’t know, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre?

He’s sitting there coloring. Yea. With crayons. In a coloring book. I swear to God.

So we fill out the registration card and give the guy the money for the room. I don’t remember how much it was. Maybe $22 for the night.

Frank’s been going on all day about how he wants to watch the Superman movie on TV tonight. “Fuckin’ Supermon! It’ll be brilliant!” he said in his Irish accent. I guess he hadn’t seen it when it was in the theater and was all excited that we could watch it on TV tonight for the first time. It was supposed to come on at 9pm and it was only 8pm so there was time to get beer, settle in and watch it so Frank wouldn’t lose his shit. (This is the Superman starring Christopher Reeve for all you youngsters reading this.)

So the weirdo gives us some bath towels the keys and assigns us a room down the end. (No one will hear our screams) We go back to the van and get in. I toss the towels on the seat behind me and we slowly drive down to our room and park in front of it. Over the door is a dome lamp emitting very little light because it’s so clogged with dead insects. I put the key in the door expecting to be snatched inside by Leatherface, But happily that doesn’t happen.

However, I do realize we’re the only people staying here. There are no other cars and all of the rooms are dark.

We go inside and I find the light switch on the wall. It’s a dingy little room with two beds, a night table between them and TV on a stand on the opposite wall. The room smells like mildew. I walk to the bathroom to see what’s doing in there. The bathroom is always a good barometer of the level cleanliness in a motel. Frank’s busy playing with the TV.

The bathroom looks ok. Not great, but ok.

That is until I pull back the shower curtain. (Oh a bloody dead body? Kidding!)

On the wall I see the biggest fucking roach I’ve ever seen in my life.

I’m originally from Philly. Born and raised. I grew up in Lawndale in Northeast Philly. Everybody had roaches in their basement. My mother would say it was because we live between two rivers. I don’t see how that had any relevance to why we had German cockroaches in our basement, I just knew those things creeped out me and my sisters growing up. I may at some point write an exclusive piece about my hatred and respect for cockroaches as a species.

But this thing appeared to be over two inches in length.  I was immediately terrified and looked for something to smash it out of existence forever in Kubrickian glee.

And that’s when it opened it’s wings and flew right at my face. I squealed like a schoolgirl and ran out of the bathroom.

“Wot the fuck’s up with you?”

“I just saw the biggest goddamn roach ever… and they can FLY down here!!!”

“Fuck off mate. We’ve got bigger problems.”

“Rats?”

“No! There’s no reception on the TV. How the fuck am I going to watch Superman now?”

I’m still trying to process the flying monster in the bathroom. Because where there’s one, there’s more you can’t see. Apparently what I witnessed that night was my first Palmetto Beetle. They look like roaches but have hardened wings so they can fly. Leave it to the state of Texas and the South in general to come up with some scary shit and then make it even scarier.

“We can’t stay here. Gotta see Superman.”

“Will you shut the fuck up about fucking Superman?!”

 

We decide that’s we’re going to drive back up to the office and tell the coloring book guy that we saw a bunch of roaches and the TV doesn’t work and that we just want our money back and we’ll go.

We do just that and after some back and forth with this half wit he begrudgingly opens the register and gives us back our money. We thank him profusely and hop back in the van. We’re on the winding road through the woods back to highway 10 only a few minutes.

Suddenly, this car comes roaring out of the darkness behind us flashing its headlights. I’m thinking, what kind of Urban Legend has been wrought upon us?

Frank rolls down the window and sticks his head out and starts barking at the driver of the late-model convertible behind us. I’m thinking he’s going to get a shotgun blast to the head and that’s going to be the end of it.

“For fuck’s sake, Chaz, It’s the guy from the motel!”

At this point my heart is pounding and I’m terrified.

“I don’t think this old horse can outrun him. Should I pull over?”

“Ya… Fuckin’ pull over I’ll see what your man wants!”

I bring the minibus to a halt. I pull the emergency brake but leave the engine running. Frank grabs this foot long metal ice pick out of his rucksack.

“What the fuck, dude? Where did you get that?”

“No worries let’s see what this fucker wants.”

Coloring book boy doesn’t know that Frank was formerly in the junior wing of the IRA back in Belfast. The Irish Republican Army is any of several armed movements in Ireland in the 20th and 21st centuries dedicated to Irish republicanism, the belief that all of Ireland should be an independent republic. It was also characterized by the belief that political violence was necessary to achieve that goal.

Yea. You don’t want to fuck with Frank.

He approaches the guy.

“What the fuck do you want?”

Of course the coward that I am, remained safely in the van filling my diaper waiting to hear the sound of someone trying to start a chainsaw.

The guy is saying something to Frank but I can’t hear the exchange because of the blood rushing through my ears in fear.

Then I hear it.

“My tails!”

“What?”

“I want my tails!”

“What the fuck is he going on about, Chaz?”

And then I get it. The Southern accent. He’s not asking about the hindmost part of an animal, especially when prolonged beyond the rest of the body, such as the flexible extension of the backbone in a vertebrate, the feathers at the hind end of a bird, or a terminal appendage in an insect.

I reach behind my seat. (My Gun? Kidding!)

I walk back in the glare of his headlights carrying the bath towels he had given us back at the office. I totally forgot about them!

“My tails!”

“Yes. Your towels. I’m sorry, sir. We totally forgot about these.” He grabs them from me with a suspicious look on his face. I apologize again and we walk back to the van.

Frank and I both sit in silence for a moment taking in what just happened. We see the guy turn his car around and head back down the dark road. We watch as his tail lights vanish in a cloud of dust and darkness.

I pop the brake and we both explode in fits of laughter. It was that kind nervous, fearful, relieved laughter. We had just experienced our first harrowing night on the road together.

We got back out on the highway and within a mile or so pull into the lot of a brightly lit motel with several cars in the lot and people out and around laughing and drinking on their balconies. We checked in and went to our room.

Frank goes into the bathroom. The place was lovely and clean. We’re both elated to be where were at that moment.

“Fuck sake, Chaz. Look at the bathroom! It’ll dazzle ya!”

Place was really clean. I hop on my bed and pull a couple of cold ones from the cooler and hand one to Frank.

“What time is it?”

“Nine.”

Frank leaps up and turns on the TV.

We clink our bottles together as the opening scene of Superman appears on the big color TV.

 

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