180. Going to California

When the wakeup call came I was lying face down on top of my left hand and my thumb was numb. Bart picked the receiver up and then lay back groaning. Sunlight lined the blackout curtains like white fire. I sat up and shook my hand. “Shit.”

“Wha’d you do?” Bart said, standing up and yawning. He had a severe case of bed head.

“I think I slept on my hand.” I could barely make a fist and pins and needles were starting to tingle over the back. “I guess I was too sleepy to notice.”

“Get in the shower, hot water will fix it up.” He started making his bed, then smacked his forehead and left it. “I’ll meet you in the restaurant for breakfast?”

“It’ll have to be quick,” I said as I went into the bathroom. The little room was still humid from Bart’s shower a few hours before, the exhaust fan rattling weakly as I flipped on the light.

My right hand felt weak, too, and the tap was difficult to turn. I pissed while the water heated up and then got in.

I didn’t remember any dreams from the night before. The drive seemed like it had been a dream, maybe, one long series of barely changing images. And Ziggy, that had been sort of unreal. I’d told him I wanted to, for lack of a better term, break up with him. As real as I had tried to be, as honest and truthful and open as I could be, I had no gauge of whether his reaction was calculated or genuine.

Maybe there was no difference. He wanted another chance, he said. Well, that was probably true, no matter how I interpreted it. Maybe for him there was no real answer to anything, as if giving an honest reaction would somehow betray his actual nature and therefore be dishonest somehow… Man, I was out of it. I decided to put off shaving until later.

We had our first pit stop in the mountains west of Salt Lake City and had lunch on the border of Nevada. I drove after lunch. Nevada is a lot more nothing and I was once again struck by how huge the states are out West. All six states of New England and part of Canada and New York would fit inside Nevada.

We had dinner at a Denny’s in Sacramento and I remembered that we gained an hour from the time change, which meant we’d probably even be on time for the newspaper interview we were supposed to do. We got slightly mixed up getting off the San Francisco/Oakland bridge, where I-280 and 101 and a bunch of other stuff does the mangled highway thing. But at not quite nine p.m. Pacific time we arrived in the lobby of the hotel.

I decided I liked urban high rise hotels with their valet parking and multiple restaurants, as we left the van and truck idling in the loading circle. The place lacked the easy bustle of the New Orleans hotel, but people were at least awake and moving about, bell staff and guests in business suits and evening wear traipsing around.

The hotel wasn’t perfect–they’d mixed up our reservation somehow, as Carynne told me when she came half-running half-shuffling up to me with a horse-hoof clop from the clogs on her feet. I was trying to convince a bellman to let me carry the guitars myself. She had already checked us all in hours ago. Because of the mixup we ended up with our rooms scattered over two different floors.

“Hey, whatever,” was my reaction to that news.

She handed me a card key and then flitted to the others, exchanging greetings and pecks on cheeks. I walked into a lobby lit by giant golden globe-shaped lamps that were somewhere on the tacky side of expensive. The others trailed in after me and I waited for them to catch up. Carynne had not told me the room number(s).

When we got up to the suite, I found Digger was not there yet, but a message from him was. He’d called from the airport to say he had some other business to take care of and would catch up to us later. Carynne sat on the couch in the larger room of the suite while I unpacked a few things.

“Did you hear from that reporter?” I asked, all nonchalant, like I hadn’t really thought about it for the past thousand miles.

“Which reporter?” she said. Then, “Oh, the newspaper woman. Let me check the messages in the other room. I’ve been sitting in the lobby for the past hour.” She picked up the phone. Then, she put her hand over the receiver and said to me, eyebrows drawn together seriously, “This one’s the major newspaper, you know.”

I knew. Bart emerged from the bathroom with his hair wet-looking and somewhat tamed. “Do I look presentable enough to talk to a reporter?”

“You look fine.” My left hand felt a little weak, as if carrying a case had tired the fingers out. I touched each finger to my thumb, pinky, ring, middle, fore, then fore, middle, ring, pinky, back and forth. The rhythm was steady enough but the fatigue persisted.

Carynne hung up. “This is pretty cool. People can leave voice messages for you and you can retrieve them without having to talk to an operator.” She looked at me twiddling my fingers and frowned, her red-brown eyebrows crinkling. “The reporter’s name is Susan Walsh. She just left a message fifteen minutes ago saying she’s on her way here. I guess the desk told her you were here since I’d checked us in.”

Susan Walsh was in fact sitting down in the hotel restaurant having a quick gourmet overpriced hamburger and fries because she hadn’t had time to eat yet that day, as she explained once she got settled in our suite with me, Bart and Ziggy. She noticed she’d gotten ketchup on her own sleeve and felt the need to apologize. She was wearing what in the seventies would have been called a pantsuit and now I wasn’t sure what to call it. Just a suit, I guess, but a woman’s suit, kind of casual and yet she looked uncomfortable in it. The suit was white and her shoes were black and looked like they’d been through a lot. Carynne, back in manager mode, retrieved glasses of water for everyone and then disappeared.


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