Driving on the road today, I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac / I thought I heard a voice inside say: ‘Don’t look back, you can never look back’ / I thought I knew what love was. What did I know
I know / It’s only rock ‘n’ roll / But I like it, I like it, yes I do!
She was pretty, once. That was 20 years ago. Tonight, she was the queen of Morrie’s Bar. Between sips of cheap red wine and drags from her cancer sticks (Marlboro Reds, none of that Lite shit), she was practicing politics with every other woman and man-child within earshot. Gonna give you my love, she sang. Gonna give you every inch of my love.
The classic rock playing in the seaside saloon was as rugged and alluring as the Oregon coast. Thank god the bartender had turned off the sound from the Mariners’ game on the corner TV; I was sucking the meat from my steamer clams at a rate of one per every other downbeat, and I needed that insistent rock and ROLL hootchie-COO to measure my shell-cracking and schooner-pounding.
There were two vacant billiards tables. My steamers now an abandoned midden, I took my Dead Guy Ale and wandered over to rehearse my cue stroke. I had just racked up for a second round of solitaire when Joan Jett hit the airwaves and I turned around to see the slender bar queen straddling an imaginary Stratocaster not 10 feet from me. She was fantasy-picking a melody and singing to me: Put another dime in the jukebox, baby. Play another song and dance with me.
Her name, she said, was Babs. She had moved out to the coast from Portland three years earlier. We played pool with her friends Jessie and Gerardo. “I’ve seen you here before,” said blonde Jessie. “About a month ago, right?” I nodded. I’d never even been in this town before.
We moved to the shuffleboard table. Gerardo, a bronze-skinned Peruvian with a surgeon’s hands and a condor’s eye, made it a one-sided contest in his favor. He claimed he had never played before. With Cuervo gold and fine Colombian, make tonight a wonderful day.
Gerardo and Jessie left. I sat at the bar in a cloud of Babs’ Marlboro fumes. American woman, get away from me.
Babs told me she had been raised in Portland, then joined the Air Force after high school. American troops were still in Vietnam, but she was posted to Guam instead. Then there was Big Spring, Texas; Mountain Home, Idaho; and Cheyenne, Wyoming. The best thing about the Air Force, she said, was that the drugs were cheap and good. I’m a joker, I’m a smoker, I’m a midnight toker.
“After six years,” she said, “I was approached by my junior officer and asked if I’d re-up. I said to him, ‘With what you pay me, I’d be crazy to re-up.’ He said he could make it worthwhile — that I’d have a chance to travel, and get rich doing it.”
That was Babs’ entry into the cocaine-smuggling profession.
I’m on the highway to hell, baby, on the highway to hell.
“You know that movie, Blow? That was my life, man. Those little Mexican villages, where all the peasants are piss poor, and the drug lord is so fuckin’ rich? I’ve been there. Hell, I hung out there.” Driving that train, high on cocaine.
“For six years, the Air Force paid me and my boyfriend to buy bricks in Durango, drive them to Mazatlan, and fly them up to Colorado Springs on government transport.” Against the wind, we were young and strong and running against the wind.
“Sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll. We partied with the rockers and the jocks. Glenn Frey. Don Johnson. The Denver Broncos. Mick Jagger. Oh, Mickey! There’s no one else like Mickey Jagger. I can’t get no satisfaction … well, don’t you believe it!”
It all came crashing down when her boyfriend died.
“We were in Mazatlan. He was really high. I was flying back to Colorado, and he was going to be up about a week later. He was driving me to the airport, and he was weaving all over the place on those fucking roads. We got stopped by the policia. I flashed my Air Force ID and they just waved us through.
“I got the news when I reached Colorado. He had run head-on into a bus as he left the airport.”
Babs said she left the Air Force and the drug business soon after that. She traveled a bit, leaped from one relationship to another, squandered her money, and wound up back in Portland. Now in her 50s, she still enjoyed marijuana and mushrooms, and was happy to be “an old rock ‘n’ roll hippie chick.”
R-O-C-K in the U-S-A! She sang to all who would listen. Rockin’ in the U-S-A!
She eventually got around to asking, “So, what are you doing here?” And I had a story of my own.
“My name is Lewis Clark,” I lied. “I work for the government. I’m mapping out a new trade route to the Pacific.”
“That’s cool,” she said, perplexed. And with that, I walked back out into the dark, wet Oregon coastal night.
I hate to leave you, but I really must go: Good night, sweetheart, good night.