© Leonard J. Cassamas
PO Box 29381
Atlanta, Georgia 30359

The Adventure, Parts I - IX


Len Cassamas

Part I: A Man, a Plan, a Canal, ah, Forget It

The first weekend in February, I went on a good, old-fashioned adventure. Oh, sure. I could make the timeworn references to Odysseus and his son, uh, Geoffrey. But that's not how I am. I'm the simple sort, as plain as a hoe and as unlettered as a yokel. In fact, I enjoy nothing more than to chew on a piece of straw while I sit in wait for a city slicker to happen by. We don't cotton to no strangers 'round here.

But I'm getting off the track.

I went for an overnight trip to California. From Georgia. The Firesign Theatre was on tour along the edges of the West Coast and a couple of Internet acquaintances of mine were slated to go to the show in San Rafael. Due to an unexpected upsurge in income, it was decided that I could waste a couple of hundred bucks on the trip out.

First, I had to get a ticket. Fortunately there were still a few left, so I logged on to Ticketmaster. The seat was distant from the stage, but not as distant as Atlanta. I cyber-grabbed it, and proceeded to the next of my challenges.

That turned out to be booking a motel room and reserving a rental car. The motel bragged of offering in-room blow dryers and a view of "the bridge." "The bridge" turned out to be the Richmond Bridge, not the Golden Gate, and I was able to overlook it entirely throughout my stay. Still, the rate was decent, and the rental car they practically gave me, so no complaints there. I booked them and ventured forth, bold and fearless in a Barney Fife sort of way.

That left only one major hurdle: the flights back and forth. I started looking about three days before I actually had the cash to book anything and was heartened by the low-low prices. The best deal was actually a nonstop on an airline I'll call Smelta. The world looked pretty cozy right about then, and I allowed myself all the contented sighs I wanted.

That was before the price started going up. The first time, it jumped up by about $80, which matched the jump in my blood pressure on a dollar per point basis. It was still possible, but I started looking to other airlines just in case.

When it jumped another $80 the next day, Smelta was stricken from the list of possibilities, as were any other nonstop flights. Decent prices were disappearing quickly, thanks to a case of the jitters on the oil futures market. Somebody blows up something 10,000 miles away, and I'm taking it on the chin because a bunch of gamblers and speculators are losing their nerve.

When the day that I could purchase finally came, the competition was down to one competitor: We'll call them North-by-Northwest. The itinerary called for me to fly from Atlanta to Memphis and then on to San Francisco. I had half-an-hour between flights, but that should be fine if everything went well. The theory was sound, but only real life could tell us how good the practice was.

Part II, "I Run Pretty Good for a Middle-Aged Fat Man"

My plan was a thing of beauty. According to my machinations, I would get in to San Francisco at about 11:30 a.m. PST. This would give me plenty of time to drive to San Rafael, get a bite to eat, check in, and nap before Mark and Bernie, the Internet Wraiths, got there. There would then follow a couple of hours of carousing and merrymaking before departing for the Marin County Veterans Memorial Auditorium for the show.

As I worked over the logistics of my journey, I realized that it would be easier for everyone if I took the bus and train to the airport rather than dragging my wife and son on a 60-mile predawn school-day schlep. The downside of this plan was that I would have to get up at 5:00 a.m., a full seven hours before my preferred time to rise. (This is just a joke; I rarely sleep past 11:30.- ed.)

It turned out that getting up at 5:00 was no problem, since I slept as peacefully as a condemned man. Tossing and turning and rapid, shallow dreams made sleepy time about as pleasant as a mild electric shock. Still, I woke at 5:00, sweating adrenalin and ready for most any emergency.

Showered, dressed, and clutching an overnight bag, I delivered myself into the clutches of the mass transit system, which worked out just fine. The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority safely completed what would have been a half-hour car ride in only slightly more than an hour. With plenty of time to spare, I got myself in line for security, boarding pass, license, and DNA sample in hand.

Everything was as smooth as a Scandinavian's complexion until I got to my appointed gate. The flight was delayed just so that the crew could get their proper rest. The delay was a short one, though, and I could still make the connection as long as the Memphis airport was as small as I fantasized that it was. Hope smoldered in a corner of my soul.

After they stuffed us on the plane, it was discovered that there was ice on the wings, and this ice would have to be removed. My seatmate grumbled about it, but, preferring tardiness to fiery death, I remained sanguine. There was always the chance that they could make up some time in the air. My connecting flight could be delayed. The Memphis Airport could be really tiny. Dozens of unlikely scenarios zigzagged across my consciousness.

At last, we were in the air. It was a short flight, and the flight crew was forced to pass out and collect snacks and drinks with the vigor of a crack addict. My seatmate continued to whine about her missed connection until I pointed out that Memphis was in Central time and therefore an hour later than Atlanta. As the flight progressed and no time was caught up, no fighter squadrons arrived to escort us, and the crew and passengers continued to be uninfected by "Let's Fly to Frisco Fever," I began to weigh the options that lay before me.

We landed at right about the time that my connecting flight was supposed to be pulling away from the gate. If we got right to the gate, I might still have some small chance. Unfortunately, when landing in Memphis, one must apparently drive the plane through Little Rock in order to get to the terminal building. Along the way, I saw another North-by-Northwest plane just getting ready to join the line up on the runway, and I had the feeling that it was the plane I was supposed to be on.

I removed myself from the plane as quickly as I could and sprinted (or a reasonable facsimile thereof, as adjusted for age and girth) to the gate my connection was supposed to be at. Fortunately, although the gates were on different concourses, the Memphis airport is compact enough that I was able to run the distance without having to stop for either oxygen or CPR. However, when I got to the desk, my worst fears were confirmed. The flight to San Francisco was gone, and now a flight to Tampa was getting ready to board.

Part III: The Shortest Distance Between Two Points Does Not Go Through Minneapolis

"I was booked on the flight to San Francisco," I said to the lady behind the counter. She asked for my name and looked up my new itinerary.

"They put you on a flight to Minneapolis," she said. Minneapolis. About a thousand miles north and approximately 16 feet west of where I was standing. "You have a connecting flight from there." She printed out my new boarding passes and pointed me in the direction of the gate I needed to be at. The flight to Minneapolis was already boarding.

My newly recovered track skills were once again put to the test, packs of skinny people parting around me like the wake around the hull of a boat. When I regained self-consciousness, I found myself seated on a plane as it meandered around the tarmac in Memphis.

We followed the Mississippi north, farmland splayed out on either side of it, seemingly without end. The cabin crew distributed drinks and snacks with feverish abandon. I tried to recover as much of a sense of my own being as I could scrape together in order to plan my next moves, all of which were essentially out of my hands.

Once I had deplaned or unplaned or plain gotten off the plane, I did what I always do. (No, after that.) I found the gate for my next flight. During my copious free time in Memphis, I had been able to phone my wife to ask her to email Mark to let him know that I was running late and to give him my cell phone number. As a result, I landed with a couple of voice mail messages waiting, and Mark and I were able to make voice-to-voice contact for the first time.

Having loads of time to kill, I made my way to the inevitable Food Court and got some of the worst overpriced Chinese food I've ever experienced. In fact, it would have been lousy even if it were underpriced. After I coughed up the ransom for my tray of food, I started, with shark-like intensity, to scan the area for an open seat. I saw one facing the window, a barstool-adjacent-to-a-counter sort of arrangement, and made a beeline for it. As I got to the spot, I noticed a woman shepherding her son in the same general direction. Since there were two spots open, I pulled up short and started to scan for a new haunt.

"Sit down," she said.

"No, I'm fine," I said.

"Sit down!" she said with the vehemence of a woman who had been trapped in a confined space with a small boy for several hours.

I acquiesced, feeling guilty throughout my miserable repast and convinced that she was sending hate rays my way with every coo and correction she showered on her boy. "Indigestion be damned!" became my motto, and I bolted both the food and the place as quickly as possible.

Back at the gate, I called my boss. "Where are you?" he asked.

"Minneapolis," I replied.

"What?!" came the response. I couldn't have agreed more.

At last, the cattle call for boarding was started, and, having been put in the emergency aisle by the airline, I got to slip past even the first class passengers and those with children and disabilities. I was on my way to San Francisco, high on adrenaline and coffee, and wondering what it would be like to go through the place the natives call The City for the first time since 1970.

I was going home.

Part IV: "Joseph K. Rents a Car"

The amazing thing about the San Francisco airport, to me, is that I ever managed to find my way out of it. The signs posted never tell you to turn here; the place you wanted just drops away, and you're left to wander endlessly like the Flying Dutchman. Had it not been for the kindness of a succession of strangers, I'm pretty sure that I would still be looking for the tram to the car rental agencies, already semi-legendary and entirely doomed.

And yet, get to the car rental agency I did. The agent asked where I was headed, and I told him San Rafael. He winced and said in the voice of one who had seen too much, "Oooh. It's rush hour. Traffic's pretty bad. It'll take you at least an hour."

I didn't want to burst his bubble, but I'm from Atlanta, G-A, where it sometimes takes an hour to get out of the driveway and into traffic. Getting over 30 miles through the middle of a city at rush hour in 60 minutes is our equivalent to teleportation. Savoring my smugness, I gathered my belongings and the various folders and documents he had assembled for me and found my way to the parking garage to get the car.

Now, perhaps I've led a sheltered life, but in my experience of renting cars, a particular vehicle was always either driven up or pointed out. That was the car that had been determined by some higher power that I should drive until I returned it with the gas tank full some time later. But that's not how these Northern California free spirits worked. As I walked out into the parking deck, the guy who passes out the cars said to me, "What are you getting? A medium?" (I swear. He didn't say "midsize." He said "medium" like I was ordering a coffee. And then I looked up at the sign dangling from the ceiling. It said "medium," too. I wasn't in Oz anymore.)

So, he points to a selection of vehicles and says, "Just take any one of those." No higher power. No computer matching of driver to ride. Just my questionable knowledge of automobiles and color preferences to guide me. A vague, Kafkaesque feeling burbled up inside me. Which would it be? I am a foreigner. An alien. I must be as inconspicuous as possible. But wait! What's this? A red Grand Am? Hot spit! I want one!

I got in the car and put my belongings in the passenger seat. I turned the key, and it started, purring like the proverbial kitten. Like ice cream melting in a microwave, I could feel myself change. Or maybe it was like Kool-Aid in the freezer, because I was getting cooler by the second. The windows were open, so I pulled on the switches to power them closed. And nothing happened.

I pushed down on the switches. Nothing. I tried them separately. Zero. In a matter of seconds, my self image went from the "James Bond" setting to somewhere around "Mortimer Snerd." I turned off the car, gathered my things, and proceeded to a nice, almost invisible vehicle a couple of spaces down.

It wasn't a Grand Am. In fact, I wasn't quite sure what model it was. It didn't say on the front or the back. I got in and looked at the glove box. Nothing. So I looked at the steering wheel. Apparently, I was driving a Chevy Airbag. Fortified with this knowledge, I started it up, checked the power windows to make sure that they worked, put it in gear, and sallied forth to meet my fate.

Part V: "You Can't Get There from He- Oh, Wait, Yes You Can"

Nostalgia (which is preferable to neuralgia) swept over me as I took in the sight of the trees and houses on the hills of South San Francisco and San Bruno. Traffic, by Atlanta standards, was nonexistent, the freeway was wide and pothole-free, and I approached the southern edge of The City with both trepidation and glee.

As the freeway gets to San Francisco, it changes suddenly, like a jump cut in a dream, to being just a city street with parked cars and homes and streetcar tracks. A horde of commuters waited on a train platform built in a faux-Chinese style. Teenagers meandered across the street in a small pack. Traffic moved easily from red light to red light.

In a few minutes, I was entering Golden Gate Park. I thought of Spreckles Lake, which was really more like Spreckles Puddle, a mile or two to the west. My model ship had sunk there in its ill-fated maiden voyage during the one year we lived on 36 [th] Avenue, and George Harrison had led a crowd of sycophants, fans, and Hell's Angels past there while I was wallowing in my ignorance of this great event some half-a-block away.

And then, the street signs. Balboa, the street one of my schools was on; Geary, the street on which we sat in a pizzeria and watched the smoke from the Cliff House fire drift overhead; California Street, the thoroughfare from which my brother and I would run like maniacs to catch our connecting bus on Geary on school mornings.

I only caught fleeting glimpses of the Presidio as I sped under it and through it, but I had already come to a decision. I had to come back and bring my wife and son with me.

My driver's ed teacher, many years ago, had instilled in me the notion that drivers should always plan ahead. Just think of how proud he would have been had he seen me, in the airport parking garage, place a wad of cash on the front passenger seat in anticipation of paying a toll to cross the Golden Gate Bridge some 20 miles away. Okay, maybe the word isn't "proud"; maybe it's "concerned." But that is neither here nor there because I was prepared.

Well, imagine my surprise when I rounded the bend to get on the bridge and saw a sign reading, "No Toll Northbound Lanes." The northbound tollbooths of my youth were empty, forlorn. It's a good thing my boyhood ambition to be a toll-taker on the Golden Gate Bridge went unfulfilled. I'd probably be out of a job now.

The bridge itself was The Bridge, stately, magnificent, and thrilling. I envied the tourists who walked along it, even the guy who was testing the tensile strength of the cables by tugging on one. I stole a quick glance out toward the endless Pacific and imbibed its beauty.

My next challenge involved finding the right exit off the freeway Californians call "The One-O-One." Dividing my attention between driving and consulting the directions I had printed off Yahoo!, I was able to determine that I was supposed to take the Richmond Bridge exit. I saw a sign that said something about the Richmond Bridge and I-580. I took the exit. There didn't appear to be any I-508 at the bottom of the ramp, so when the light turned green, I just went straight ahead to the on-ramp and got back on "The One-O-One." The correct exit was a mile or so further along.

I got lost at first, and had my suspicion concerning this confirmed for me when I got to a dead end in a subdivision, Stepford Village or something like that. I retraced my steps and found the motel, after having been forced onto a couple of side streets because of a strange local custom involving terminating lanes for no apparent reason. I checked in, got my key card, and was informed that my Internet associates, Mark and Bernie, had been asking for me.

I parked the car and removed myself and my things from it. As I closed the car door, I heard a voice from above. It was Mark, standing at the rail of the walkway on the second floor. He didn't seem to be wearing any pants.

Part VI: I Left My Cell Phone in San Francisco

Having said, "He's here!" and having greeted me warmly, Mark disappeared like the pantsless Internet wraith that he was. I collected my meager belongings and climbed the stairs to the second level.

Mark's room was directly at the top of the stairway. The door was slightly ajar, and I could see the dim motel room light reflecting off the bedspread. Feeling a bit like Philip Marlowe, I tapped at the door. A shadow moved about on the other side. Before apprehension could replace exhaustion, the door swung open, and I was confronted with Bernie, the other Internet wraith.

He was about my height, trim, curly-haired, and wearing pants. He smiled warmly and offered his hand, greeted me and invited me in. Mark emerged from an alcove-cum-dressing area, properly dressed. "Sorry about that, but I wasn't wearing any pants," he said. He was approximately 11 feet tall.

We exchanged pleasantries, and Bernie offered me a plastic cup of wine. I demurred because I was still on East Coast time and was afraid of falling asleep during the show or of being removed from the audience when the combination of alcohol and jet lag led me to shout out, "We love you, Phil!" during an inconvenient moment of the performance.

After a quick confab, we determined our plan. I would go and call my wife and shower (this last, curiously, Mark's suggestion), then we would reconvene and do something-maybe get dinner or overlook the bridge. Bernie took refuge in his room, and I dragged myself down to mine.

As I unpacked my show shirt and my deodorant, I discovered that my cell phone wasn't in my bag. I checked my pockets and rummaged through the pile of debris I had accumulated on my trip. I went down to the car and searched it. Nothing. Fortunately, the airline had recompensed me with a five-minute phone card for the inconvenience of being shuttled around the country willy-nilly, and my wife and I were able to communicate long enough to determine that the cell phone hadn't been used and wasn't being answered. We were out one phone, but still hoped that it would turn up at the car rental agency or the airport. (It didn't. My wife made the sacrifice and got a camera-cell phone, and I got hers. Perhaps the old phone grew despondent and threw its troubles off the Golden Gate Bridge. Nobody knows.- ed.)

I showered and put on my going-to-see-a-show shirt, and the three of us reconvened in Mark's room, which was quickly becoming our nerve center. Within minutes, we were able to determine that Mark wasn't hungry, Bernie would eat if I did, and that my stomach thought it was after 9:00 p.m. and was expecting to be parked in front of the TV at home. We compromised by deciding to go straight to the venue.

Mark volunteered to drive, Bernie volunteered to navigate, and I volunteered to criticize from the back. We piled into Mark's car and inserted ourselves into the bustle of San Rafael's social whirl.

Despite having at least two sets of directions and three nominally intelligent people to decipher them, we managed to get lost not once, but twice. This was on a trip that covered all of about a mile-and-a-quarter. We were working together as a team; unfortunately, it was a really crummy team, one that always finished last. Despite our collective incompetence, we arrived at the Marin Veterans Memorial Auditorium with something over an hour to spare.

Part VII: CD or Not CD

The Marin Memorial Veterans Auditorium is a growth of concrete situated on the shore of a lagoon. Lit up like a concrete growth, its image shimmered in the waters around it. Being extremely early, we found a great parking spot and were prowling around the lobby in a matter of moments.

There was the inevitable bar, a good forty-footer, whose management had demonstrated a fundamental grasp of planning and logistics by running low on premium items before the audience actually showed up. I thought about getting a beer, but they were down to Sludge, Sludge Lite, and Sludge Draft. Strangely, Sludge Draft was in bottles and plain old Sludge was on tap. Having an allergy to chemical-induced brewing techniques, I sauntered on to the next area, where, it turned out the souvenirs were being hawked.

The items for sale were laid out on a plain folding table--t-shirts, mainly, and a couple of license plate holders, and a few signed CDs. Since I had been looking to buy one of The Firesign Theatre's more recent albums, "Boom Dot Bust," for a while, and this seemed like it would be as good an opportunity as any. There was one copy, festooned with the autographs of each of the four. "How much?" I asked the young lady who was picking through boxes behind the table.

"Oh," she said. "I'm not sure. They haven't set the price yet."

"Uh-huh," I said. "Boy, I've been looking to buy one of these. Sure would like to buy this."

"They should tell us pretty soon," she replied.

Perhaps someone was waiting for an E-Bay auction to expire or trying to get a fix on the day's trends on the Nikkei. I couldn't be sure, but market forces are mysterious things, and loathe am I to mess with forces of any kind. I put the CD back on the table and made a silent appointment with it for later.

Mark and Bernie were also picking through the merchandise by this point, but their browsing came to naught as well. We wandered back out toward the bar, where quite the crowd had gathered, mostly middle-aged and white, the kind of folks who had thought of property as a crime until they started getting mortgages on some.

Now, I don't want to paint myself as being some kind of pioneer or something, but I was suffering from mild agoraphobia long before it became the TV disease of the week. Milling in the midst of a crowd of strangers quickly turns into a scene from a surrealist film with the sound of my pulse beating in my throat and ears as the score. Therefore, it didn't take more than two minutes before I had to beat a hasty retreat back to the souvenir room.

Fortunately, this neurotic outbreak paid nice dividends when I returned to the table to find that the CDs were now priced, and that the autographed "Boom Dot Bust" in question was only 25 simoleons. Before anyone else could bid on it, I whipped out my check card. "I'm sorry," the young woman said. "We're only taking cash."

"I can do that," I said, and thrust the money I had originally set aside for the bridge toll at her. She took it. I took my CD.

"So, you got it?" Bernie was beside me.

"Yeah. I was going to buy it anyway, so why not?" Then I thought. "How much is the toll across the bridge?"

"Five dollars."

"Oh," I said. "I'm going to have to stop and get some cash tomorrow."

His wallet was out. "Here," he said, thrusting a bill my way.

"No, I'll be fine. I'll just stop."

The negotiations continued for a moment or two. I won't reveal what the result was, although I don't remember having to stop for cash on my way out.

Mark joined us, and we decided that it was time to go ahead and claim our seats. Since they had reserved there's a mere months before I had bought mine, they were sitting somewhat closer to the stage. They made their way to the orchestra, and I climbed the stairs to a section called something like "Orchestra Plus."

Part VIII: The Voodoo That They Do

I found my seat between a-how shall I say?--rather robust middle-aged gentlemen and a teenager who was there with his father and brother. Having spent the better part of my day scrunched into a series of airplanes, I instinctively assumed the position, shoulders rounded and hands in lap. I could see Mark and Bernie a ways off, seated with the upper crust. Still, I'm sure my seatmates would've turned out to be the salt of the earth had I spoken anything more meaningful than "excuse me" or "sorry about that" to either of them. Meanwhile, Mark and Bernie joked with each other and commiserated with the king, queen, and crown prince. Fortunately, I don't have a jealous bone in my body, and I applied my excess energy into seeing if my program could be converted into a serviceable peashooter.

At length, the house lights went down and the show began. The Firesign Theatre came onstage, all in their sixties and looking much younger, to thunderous applause. Instead of going the route of being a nostalgia act, they kept the pieces from their classic period of the '70s to a minimum and concentrated on newer material-much of which came from "Boom Dot Bust."

The four-Phil Austin, Peter Bergman, David Ossman, and Philip Proctor- were in great form, and the audience went with them joyously. In the past couple of years, I had made the Internet acquaintance of one of the four, Phil Austin, and I was particularly pleased with how well two of his monologues, "The Book of Me" and "Art of the Insane" went over. And they went over for the very good reason that they were both achingly funny. Messrs Bergman, Ossman, and Proctor all also had glorious moments in the sun, and all four worked together with precision and grace.

During the intermission, I relocated myself to the row behind where I had been sitting, putting my closest lateral neighbor about 15 seats away. For the first time all day, I really spread myself out and bellowed my approval throughout the second act. From what I could tell, a good time was had by all.

I had found out on the Internet that the Firesigns were going to autograph stuff after the show and had arranged with Mark and Bernie to meet them by the signing table after the show. It quickly became apparent that the former souvenir table was about to be transformed into the autograph area with the addition of one more table and some chairs for the performers. With my usual adeptness in crowds, I allowed a number of people to get in front of me and took up my position well behind both Mark and Bernie.

For some reason, in my pre-show fantasies of this moment, I had assumed that Phil Austin would be the first of the four that I would encounter. This would allow him to introduce me to the other members of the group, and they could toast me with champagne and pull my carriage through the streets as 19 [th] Century New Yorkers did with Jenny Lind.

In real life, however, Bergman was first, with Proctor next to him and then Ossman and Austin acting as the anchor. I tried to readjust my psyche, but the line wasn't quite long enough, and when I reached Peter Bergman I was overtaken with a case of Celebrity-itis, an ailment that reduces normal grey matter to the consistency of summer squash.

I laid the CD covers I had brought for inscription in front of him, and, instead of leading with the interesting and human fact that I'd flown in from Atlanta, G-A, just for this show, I blurted out something about how much he'd gotten out me in royalties since I'd bought these albums in different formats over the years. In my dementia, I thought this was humorous. Bergman, for his part, grunted something at me, signed my stuff and pushed the covers on to Proctor. A radio guy who had interviewed Proctor and Bergman started barking at him before I could come up with any way of saying, "Please let me apologize. I'm suffering from short-term dementia." I moved on.

(In defense of Bergman, I have to say that not two minutes earlier I had seen him grab a flyer from the table for someone who hadn't brought anything to sign and say, "We can sign this for you." It was a genuinely nice gesture from one stranger to another. In our tête-à-tête, he was put at the distinct disadvantage of having to deal with a dope.- ed.)

The radio guy also horned his way in with Proctor and Ossman, so I moved along gathering only their signatures and not their approval of my existence. That left only Austin.

As Phil started to sign my stuff, I leaned forward a bit and quietly said, "Phil, I'm Len Cassamas." Well, before I could get out my Internet alias, he was on his feet and shaking my hand, a big grin on his face. He tugged on the sleeve of a pretty blonde on the stairs next to him. "This is Len Cassamas," he said. "And this is Bernie Splim." It was at that moment that I realized that Bernie was now beside me. "This is my wife, Oona," Phil said to both of us.

My Celebrity-it is disappeared as someone I had encountered as an object became wonderfully, warmly human. The four of us chatted for a minute or two and then Mark joined in. (Fortunately, the radio guy was clogging up the works pretty good behind me.- ed.)

Oona slipped off to another part of the hall, and we said our goodbyes, not as Internet wraiths and celebrity, but as flesh-and-blood human beings. Mark had gone on ahead toward the exit, and Bernie and I sauntered through the nearly empty lobby comparing notes on the evening. We found Mark just outside the front doors, standing with Oona and a couple of her acquaintance. He was petting one of the Austins' dogs, The Molimo. Bernie and I joined the conversation and laughter and the petting of The Molimo. The woman member of the couple insisted that I move my family to the greater San Rafael area.

We laughed some more and chatted and Phil came up to the group and took charge of the dog and led him away toward their SUV. We said our goodnights and drifted off toward Mark's car, which turned out to be parked two spaces behind Phil's. I thought about going to say a final goodnight, but he had an SUV full of dogs, and I doubted he needed any further complications.

We drove away pleased with our evening and finally hungry and looking for food. There had to be a restaurant somewhere in the greater San Rafael area, and we were just the ginks to find it.

Part IX: Hello, I Must Be Going

We applied our time-tested method of getting lost in order to find anything to the search for a restaurant. Rounding a bend, we came upon a Chili's. Unfortunately, we didn't notice it quickly enough and couldn't get to it without becoming the kindling in a two-car ball of fire. A mall loomed ahead on the left and, although the mall itself was closed, there seemed to be a restaurant still functioning. On closer inspection, it turned out to be an Applebee's. It was after 11:00 and the rest of the city seemed to be dark.

We pulled into the mall parking lot and got to a convenient parking spot in front of Applebee's just in time to see the last employees drifting out into the night. It had just closed.

Having the can-do spirit that made this nation great, we regrouped and decided to go back to the Chili's. Having learned circumspection, we approached cautiously. There were encouraging signs: For example, the lights were on and there were cars in the parking lot. We strode to the door insouciant and fancy-free. That is, we were until were got a gander at the hours of operation. They closed at 11:30. It was now 11:25. We entered the vestibule wondering if we would be welcomed or ejected as latecomers and ne'er-do-wells. A young lady greeted us at the door. "Is it too late to eat?" Mark asked.

"Of course not!" she said and showed us to a booth.

We ate, we drank, we talked, we laughed. The two- uh-robust gentlemen who had sat to my right during the first act of the show were seated a couple of booths away. For an hour or so, we pelted each other with our thoughts and observations. We couldn't be certain, but the waitress-the same young lady who had seated us- seemed to be favoring our table over the other ones she was tethered to.

She gave us simple directions for getting back to the motel, directions that we came close to screwing up, but didn't. Back at Fun Central, a bottle of scotch was cracked, but the party was breaking up. Bernie went to his room. I realized that I had been awake for 24-hours straight, and Mark and I drank a toast to this accomplishment.

I was going to have to get up at 5:30 in order to get to the airport in time get properly searched, so I stumbled off to my room and bed. The party was over.

* * * * *

My old friend adrenalin kicked into gear as soon as my alarm rang. Before you could say, "hospitalized for exhaustion," I was showered, shaved, and dressed and on my way to drop off my key card.

The lobby was closed and a sign directed me to the night window. I pressed the bell and a sullen youth appeared at the window. I slid my key card into the tray, and he took it, looked off to his right and said something that didn't quite make it as far as my side of the bulletproof glass. It sounded like he had said, "Stay there," so that's what I did. After a minute or two, the sullen youth reappeared at the window and said, quite audibly, "I said, 'You're all set.'" His demeanor and the edge to his voice made it clear to me that I was no longer welcome at that window, so I adjourned to the Chevy Airbag.

Traffic was almost nonexistent as I glided along the One-O-One toward the bridge. It being the Bay Area, fog clung to the contours of the road and hills, and everything was beautiful and serene and quiet. I crossed the bridge, and the towers disappeared into the fog and clouds.

Everything was going smoothly until I was faced with a fork not far past the tollbooths. The sign was no help, so I just stayed with what seemed to be the main route. This turned out to be the wrong way since, within moments, I was spit out on Lombard Street headed in some direction I might have known in 1969, but was clueless about now. I saw Lyon Street, which intersected with the street my boyhood home was located on at a distance of one house. I went further. I saw what appeared to be a drug deal going down on a street corner. The two young men may have been swapping recipes or waiting to donate vital organs to those less fortunate, but I didn't care. Inside my now-fevered brain, they were drug dealers. Having been lost for much of the preceding twelve hours, I decided to cut my losses and just turn around. Maybe I could zip up Lyon Street and take a gander at the place I regarded as my true home.

I've since calculated that I was about one-half mile from the intersection of Washington and Lyon, from my childhood and a cargo load of memories, however, that path was blocked. Lyon Street was egress-only at Lombard.

I continued and was almost immediately greeted by a sign for Route 1. Within moments, I was back on track and retracing my steps to the airport. This time, there were no delays, no rerouting. The flights were less densely packed, and I could stretch out a bit. My calling card refused to work, so I bought some long distance so that I could keep in contact on my way. And none of it mattered. As the fifth flight I had taken in about thirty-six hours landed, the only thing that mattered was that I was finally home.

The End

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