Thursday, January 10, 2002
“I love driving drunk,” said John after his car landed back on Third Street hemorrhaging new rattles and clicks.
We’d split with Charity and Annie at Ruta Maya to meet up with them again at the 503 Coffeehouse down on Oltorf for Oscar’s art opening a few minutes after John finished up his final set at Ruta Maya. It’s closing down on Sunday for remodeling into a yuppie coffee bar (“Yes, hi, can I get an espresso martini?”) We were on our way down to John’s house to pick up a corkscrew for the bottle of wine I’d given him to celebrate the end of a, for any normal person, tumor-forming year (but John isn’t a normal person, he’s a bluesman from New Orleans), his last show at Ruta Maya, and new beginnings, when we saw Sarah, the girlfriend of a guy who works the bar at Ruta Maya, walking south along Congress. She’d informed me while John was on-stage that she was leaving later in the evening to drive back to D.C. for a month.
“Lets see if Sarah needs a ride below the river,” John’d said.
I yelled her name from the cracked window with cigarette smoke floating out while John honked and cut across three lanes of Congress Avenue traffic to the corner of Third Street, pulled the legal right and another right into a Classified Parking lot in an attempt to cut Sarah off at the pass. Swerving through parked cars in oddly shaped lines, we caught sight of Sarah just as she took off in a sprint across Congress headed east along Third.
“Fine then, girl,” John said, “I didn’t really wanna give you a ride anyway.”
He aimed the car for an exit to the parking lot facing Third again. As he pulled into the street, the front wheels fell a foot with a hollow beat and a grind.
“This isn’t a driveway,” he half-asked, half-said.
I was laughing too hard to agree with him.
Thump! The back wheels came down with another scrape on the undercarriage.
Back on Third Street now, we catch the light at Lavaca before turning onto it. An audible sputter comes through the window from the car.
“Great. I fucked up my car, too,” he says.
We catch Riverside and then Congress again. I have the wine in my lap. His guitar and Pignose amp are in the rear seats. A writer and a musician. Of course. Fuckin’ writers.Fuckin’ musicians.
“What a year,” he starts. “I nearly kill myself over this girl driving back and forth between New Orleans and Austin and what do I have to show for it? The other day my friend told me I was the most courageous person he’s ever met.” He takes a drag from his American Spirit. “Now I realize that what he was really saying was that I’m the most stupid person he’s ever met.”
“Thin line between courage and stupidity,” I agree.
We pull onto his street. A few blocks down we pass the yellow house on the corner and he looks past me through the window.
“There she is.”
“Yep. That’s it.”
Her. The girl. Her house. Or, at least, the house she’s living in with the boy she’s dating.
The day I got back from Los Angeles, John took me outside at Ruta Maya and told me the bad news. “You saw my new place. Two blocks down,” he had said.
“Her? She lives there?”
“That’s perfect! You’re neighbors! It’s fated!”
“With the surfer.”
“She lives with him?”
“Yep. And, God, is he cute.”
Now we drive past and can only feel that this has to be one of the most fucked-up situations in the world. A guy who nearly kills himself just to be near this girl who, for all any outsider could tell, is clueless to the extent of his love. Many times John had questioned me, “How do you steal a girl away from another guy?” I’m clueless.
As we near his house he pulls to the left side of the street to park. Coming off a hill, a Lincoln Towncar is directly in front of us. John brings us back into the right lane as the Towncar stops in the street and blares its horn. John waves his arm out the window and yells something to them. As we pull up to his house, he says, “Come back. I ain’t got nothin’ to do. Come on back. I’m bored.”
We uncork the wine and I do the honors with the first sip. We walk through his “musician pad” as he shows me the bass guitar and snare drum he picked up earlier in the day for $200. I’m starting to get a little worried. Certainly the two girls have made it to 503 by now, especially if you add in the time we’ve spent detouring through parking lots and harassing Towncar owners. We hit the door and head toward Oltorf.
I swallow a sip of wine in the car on Congress and say, “Breakin’ the law.”
“Yeah, you are. Let me join you, here,” John says, and puts his hand out for the wine. I hand it over.
We walk into the crowded 503 followed shortly by Annie and Charity who had arrived before us but hadn’t come inside. The usual crowd from Ruta Maya was there — Craig, Adam, Curt*, Wendi, Happy Jack, et al. — and other friends of Oscar’s. We hit the free food and the boxed wine and then went out back and sat down at a low table under the stars.
An old stoplight leaning against the fence reminded me of an elementary school cafeteria back in Mississippi that I once ate at. The stoplight was used to let the students know when they got too loud. If it made it to red that meant no talking. Charity experienced the same Stoplight Nazism at an elementary school here in Austin. This put us on the conversation topic of asshole teachers/principals and how our parents handled them.
Conversation wandered for a while as Curt broke up pieces of marijuana in his hands and I felt more and more of the wine. Cigarettes were smoked. Laughter exchanged.
*4 FEB 2015: In the original, Curt’s name was misspelled as Kurt.