In 1970, I decided to take my girlfriend on her first camping trip to the Eastern Sierras. Along with my black and tan hound Brady, we loaded my 66 Dodge Camper Van and headed up 395 with the mountains and lakes west of Bishop as our destination.
All was going well until a radiator hose blew as we climbed the grade toward Little Lake. After assessing the problem and advising Brady and my girlfriend to find some shade from the desert sun, I began hitchhiking north toward a location known as Pearsonville, a tiny settlement that consisted solely of an auto parts store, a race track and junkyard.
I suspect it was the blond in shorts and a halter top bending over to give a bowl of water to a large dog that first caught the trucker’s eye. I may have been an afterthought when he spotted me with my thumb out, but I was thankful he stopped and with few words provided a ride to my destination. I entered the parts store, explained my problem and purchased two hoses. I can only describe the employee who helped me as a dead ringer for Randy Quaid at his goofiest best in Vacation.
“If you’d like.” he said, “and can wait a few minutes until my lunch break, I can take you back to your vehicle and give you a hand replacing your hoses.”
Judging from the mechanical grime on his large and calloused hands, I instinctively knew that he’d done more mechanical work that week than I’d done in my life, and gladly accepted his offer. A short time later we climbed into a very shaky dune buggy that was almost certainly assembled from miscellaneous parts he found in the neighborhood, but instead of heading west toward the highway, we were heading east.
“Hope you don’t mind if we stop off and tell my wife I won’t be home for lunch,” he said. I figured it was no problem considering the help and transportation he was offering. The brief detour took us past a large inventory of dead vehicles. Twisted and rusted, the cadavers appeared to be more destiend for the scrap pile than to have even a single part worthy of transplant to save the life of another vehicle.
“Home” turned out to be one of several dying single-wide trailers for employees that were carelessly strewn about the automotive graveyard. All had made their last moves and were clearly long suffering victims of the conditions of life in the high desert.
“C’mon in,” he said, “I’d like you to meet my wife and show you our ticket out of here.”
Cautiously I followed him inside the trailer, to the rear of which was a bed and the largest woman I have ever seen – far larger than either of the trailer’s two doorways or its largest window. Worse, she was wearing a “baby doll” negligee that fell woefully short of providing adequate coverage, a fact that appeared to bother neither of them as much as it did me. After briefly acknowledging my presence with a nod that jiggled her jowls and the trailer, she resumed dipping a large scoop into a half-gallon of ice cream.
“Babe,” he said, “I just wanted you to know I’m gonna give this feller a hand and won’t be home for lunch today.”
She grunted a thankful acknowledgement and continued to paw at the ice cream carton like a campground bear scraping the bottom of a dumpster for the carcass of a discarded trout it knew was in there somewhere – if it just dug a little harder and deeper.
Much of the side wall of the trailer was lined with dozens of homemade rabbit-wire cages, each home to a striped ground squirrel, the same small rodent that is commonly called a Chipmunk and famously used as the model for animation and stuffed animals.
“And these,” he said, turning to the cages and their captives, “are our tickets our of here. Cute, little suckers ain’t they? I been trapping and selling these chipmunks to pet stores in L.A. for ten bucks apiece and they’re everywhere around here. When I save up enough money, the old lady and I are gonna get the hell outta here.”
As we drove toward my disabled van, I couldn’t help but think about his dream, all those chipmunks he’d need to catch – and what it was going to take to get his double-wide wife out of that single-wide trailer.
As Promised, the Recipe for the Cocktail of my Youth
The iconic Hotel Nelson sits at the north end of Tijuana’s Avenida Revolucion. In my pre-drinking age youth, and with the border just 17 miles from San Diego, it was one of the places where we went to legally drink alcohol.
The only drink I ever had there was their signature cocktail – The Hotel Nelson Special. I drank a lot of them and sometimes I suppose too many. With the help of a friend who recently stopped by the bar on my behalf, I can now share the recipe:
Rub lime on the rim of a tall cocktail glass, dip in margarita salt and fill with ice. Add 1.5 ounces of light rum, one finger of lime juice, three fingers of Sprite and finish with a splash of Coke.
I think you’ll like it.