Saturday, June 11, 2005

Small Town Boys - Chapter 7

A Day in the Desert - 2000

Labor Day weekend Sunday morning Donny slept late, meaning he was up by seven. He made coffee and took a shower, then drove out to the convenience store to pick up the paper. He knew the Gateway would be packed, and he didn’t want to have to eat and run. He picked up a Sara Lee coffeecake and a half-gallon of orange juice. On the way back he drove past the café, and saw that he had made the right choice. There wasn’t a parking space for a block.

He did laundry and tidied up the house for no other reason than it needed it. He thought about calling Chris, then realized he wasn’t that horny. He flipped through the TV pages, and saw nothing interesting. The backyard was in good shape. The Suburban wasn’t too dirty from the trip, but he hosed it off anyway. Then, without any destination in mind, he got in and drove out of town just to be doing something.

He had gotten to know the roads around the area pretty well, especially the ones that led to the large ranches. But most of the time he had not bothered to look around and see where he was – all he thought of was being on time for the delivery and getting on to the next one. He knew most of the ranches by heart now – which roads were bad, what gates were tough to open, where to leave the load when no one was home. But this time, in his own truck, he wanted to see where he was going…to finally look around.

It was a cloudless day, even far off to the west where the Sandias bumped up against the horizon. Nothing but blue fading to white in the distance. He crossed the interstate and headed south down the familiar state road passing the occasional car or truck heading north. It was hot, with heat waves shimmering off the road like distant pools of mercury. He opened all the windows and let the air roll over him.

About ten miles south of the interstate he crested over a small hill and came upon a pick-up and trailer parked on the side of the road, its emergency flashers going. Donny slowed down and saw that the trailer, a U-Haul, had a flat tire. He braked to a stop about a hundred feet ahead and backed up. The driver got out of the truck.

It was the actor from yesterday morning in the café. Donny got out, nodded to him, then went around to the side of the trailer and inspected the tire. The sidewall had blown out, and pieces of the tire were shredded back several hundred feet along the road.

“Looks pretty bad, doesn’t it,” the actor said. Donny agreed and went around to look at the other tire. It seemed in good shape. “I wasn’t going that fast – maybe fifty, and blam! Good thing I was able to pull over. This would’ve sucked if I tipped her over.”
“What’s in there?”

“Some yard art and stuff that I picked up at Jackalope in Santa Fe for my house. Damn, another mile and I would have made it.” He indicated down the road. Donny could see a construction site out in the middle of the range, probably a quarter of a mile back from the road, a dirt road leading to it and a construction trailer next to it. The metal roof shimmered in the sun. “And,” he continued, pulling a small cell phone out of his pocket, “these fucking things are useless out here.”

Donny wanted to say the fucking things were useless anywhere, but didn’t. “I take it they don’t give you a spare tire with the rental.”

“Nope. Just an 800 number to call for twenty-four hour roadside assistance,” the actor said sarcastically.

“Got a jack?”

“Uh, yeah, but I’m not sure where. It’s not my truck, either. Borrowing it from a friend.”

“Well, then, the best thing to do is get the tire off, go into town, and get a new one. Send the bill to U-Haul.”

“I don’t want you to go to any trouble.”

“No trouble. I was just out driving.”

Donny went to the back of his Suburban and opened up the spare tire well. It took about fifteen minutes to get the jack set up and the tire off. It was hot, and by the time they were done, they were both sweating. The actor helped – Donny had to give him credit for that – and he noticed a plain gold ring on his left hand. He secured the jack and put the tire in the back of the Suburban.

“You want me to come along, or you think I should stay with the trailer?”

“Up to you. Probably take me an hour or so.”

“Think anything’ll happen if I leave it here alone?”

“Nah,” Donny said. “It’s off the road enough, and there’s not a lot of traffic, anyway. I kinda doubt that a roving band of thieves with a taste for Jackalope stuff is going to come along in the next hour. I could be wrong, but I don’t think so.”

The actor laughed and got in the passenger side of the Suburban. “I’m Tim Ford, by the way.”

“Nice to meet you. I’m Donny.”

“Weren’t you in the Gateway yesterday?”

“Yeah. Next booth over.”

“You were doing the crossword.”


“So, you’re from around here?”

“Am now.”

“Where were you before that?”

“L.A,” said Donny, not taking his eyes off the road.

“Really? What brought you here?”

Donny thought for a moment. Did he really want to go into it with this guy he’d just met? He decided not to, and just shrugged and said, “Oh, just looking for a change of scenery. This is a nice little town.”

“Yeah, I know…I grew up here. My folks used to own the Indian Country Inn.”

“The place out on Old 66.”

“Yeah. When the interstate opened, they kinda lost interest in the hotel business, so they got into real estate. My dad had a chunk of land out here, and I got it when he and my mom sold the business and retired to Tucson.”

“So you’re moving back here?”

“Sorta. This is going to be my get-the-hell-outta-town place. Sometimes Tinseltown can get to be a bit much.”

Donny glanced over at him. Okay, he thought, Tim assumes I know he’s THE Tim Ford. “Yeah, no shit,” agreed Donny.

The Chevron station had the right tire, and it took twenty minutes to get it mounted and balanced. In that time, Tim went to the payphone and made some calls. When the tire was ready Tim paid for it with a gold card, and they loaded it back into the Suburban. They drove back out to the disabled trailer, chatting about nothing other than how hot and dry the summer had been. They remounted the tire, Donny took the jack off, and the trailer settled onto the new tire easily.

“Thanks a lot. You really saved my ass,” Tim said, shaking Donny’s hand. “Listen, let me make it up to you. How about I buy you dinner tonight at the steak place.”

“Sure, okay.”

“Great,” Tim grinned. “I gotta get this shit unloaded and get the truck and trailer back to Moriarty, pick up my car, and get cleaned up. How about I meet you there at seven?”

“I’ll be there.”

“Thanks again.”

“No problem.” Donny put the Suburban in gear. Tim gave him a wave as he drove off, continuing his journey south. As he passed the house under construction he wondered idly if helping to fix a flat and being offered dinner as thanks—and accepting—could be interpreted as being hit on, even if the guy was wearing a ring. To some guys that wasn’t a barrier.

Donny knew what Tim meant by “the steak place.” Aside from the Gateway, there were two other restaurants in town if you didn’t count the microwaves at the bars. On the west side of town there was a barn-like structure. It was officially called The Tumbleweed, but the big sign outside said STEAKS in bright red neon and that gave it the name. It was country in décor, with antique farm implements and license plates nailed to the walls. It had a dining area with tables and booths, a bar, and a large dance floor with a bandstand at one end. Most of the community events such as weddings, wakes, and charity dances were held there.

There were a dozen or so cars and pick-ups in the parking lot when Donny arrived. He was a little early, and he didn’t know what Tim was driving, so he went inside and went to the bar. A small combo was warming up on the bandstand. There was a private party booked on the dance floor – some small tables had been set up, a buffet line was laid out, and couples were sitting and talking. Donny ordered a beer. He’d taken a couple of sips when Tim walked in. He had changed out of his jeans into slacks and a collared shirt, and Donny felt momentarily underdressed in his black Levi’s and faded blue polo shirt. Tim clapped him on the shoulder and got a beer for himself. He looked around the bar and grinned.

“I haven’t been in here in years,” he said. “Still looks the same, though. So, how was your drive?”

“Not bad. Just wasting gas, I guess.”

“This is a good place to do it.”

The hostess came in and said their table was ready, and guided them to the far end of the dining area. Tim sat with his back to the door, and Donny remembered that that was a common practice with celebrities – it made it harder for people to recognize them and bug them for autographs. Donny smiled a little, shook his head, and opened the menu.

“So,” Tim said, “what brought you to the garden spot of east central New Mexico?”

“Looked like a nice place to be. Not a lot of traffic, the folks are nice, and the rent’s cheap.”

“You working?”

“Driving truck for Gene Romero. Making deliveries and helping out in the warehouse.”

“What did you do in L.A.?”

“Typed a lot on a computer, mostly.”

“You don’t look like the clerical type.”

“What do I look like?”

Tim closed his menu and looked at Donny. “Sorry, that was kinda smart-ass. I just meant….”

“No,” said Donny. “I know what you mean. Actually, I started out working for a little computer company that got to be a bigger company that eventually sold out to an even bigger company. I used to work construction in Ohio, though, back when I was in college.”

“So how’d you end up in Los Angeles?”

“Got tired of being cold. Came out to visit relatives for a couple of weeks and ended up staying eight years.”

The waitress came over and took their orders. They both ordered steak and potatoes with salad, and Donny noted to Tim’s credit that he didn’t ask the waitress a lot of questions about the food. They ordered a couple of more beers.

The conversation drifted into favorite places to eat and neighborhoods they knew in Los Angeles. Tim seemed to know a lot of the same places, and Donny was impressed that he didn’t drop a lot of celebrity names into the conversation. For his part Donny kept it pleasant but circumspect. And he noticed when Tim picked up his beer glass that the ring was gone.

They ate their salads in silence. It wasn’t until their dinners arrived that Tim said, “So, did you get to know a lot of people out there?”


“Anybody in the business?”

“Yeah, my fair share.”


“Yeah, well, it’s a company town. You meet people from the business no matter what you’re doing.”


Donny mentioned a couple of names of producers and studio executives that he’d met through work, and Tim nodded. Donny cut into his steak and took a few bites. “And then,” he added, chewing thoughtfully, “there was Mike Lankowski.”

Tim drew a blank. “Who’s that?”

“You know him as Lance Michaels.”

Tim was impressed. “Wow, how’d you know him?”

“I was his lover.”

Chapter Guide



Post a Comment

<< Home