Freeway

Something’s missing. Re-living a 2012 twilight zone, burnt-out, exhausted, repeating the cycle, and everything’s great…he yelled at other drivers – I forget if yelled at them because the horn on his vintage buggy didn’t work or if he simply preferred yelling at people to using the horn – which would’ve made sense considering he hated how people lived in a bubble, in their cars and constantly on their devices and yelling at people would’ve allowed him to fight this by initiating human contact, if aggressive and antagonistic…Are those cracks in the pavement of Queens connected to cracks in West Hollywood or DTLA? And those BluBlocker sunglasses on the coffee table – I peered through those at raucous Sunday crowds…

…how could I not respect him – he survived years, decades, far longer than I have, in LA night life and several years in Vegas before that. Talk to him in his accented Spanish and you hear the arc of a night life history seen through the eyes of the quintessential behind-the-scenes player, the guy who makes the bar work, without whom the bar could not function, who’s labored in one premier club after another, one era to the next (night life eras being quite clipped), invisible to patrons but absolutely indispensable to the people who pour the drinks. And he did it as a bar-back, which is physically, I’d argue, far more grueling than tending bar. Not to diminish bartending, but the bar-backs do the heavy lifting, hoisting the buckets of ice, the racks of glassware, the boxes of full liquor bottles, the fruit and energy drinks, and they clean up the wreckage, piles of garbage and debris, the limes, napkins, straws, discarded on the bar and the floor, collateral from the bartenders’ mad rush to sell. You can smell his sweat overpowering the Axe body spray or whatever it is he puts under his arm pits – the scent of something nightclub bathroom attendants would have on hand next to the mints and Lifesavers and Starburst candies and cigarettes, the kind of product you’d find on sale in the Men’s Grooming aisle, or whatever it’s called, in a Washington Heights (or Koreatown LA) drug store – as he works next to you, you can smell him, over the smell of the bar, a mixture of stale and fresh, citrus, juice from concentrate, soda, congealed sugar, acid, chemicals, highly toxic cleaning fluid, liquor spilled, all of it both old and new, seeping into the floor over time. And the times he collapsed or blacked out, in the liquor closet, you couldn’t blame him, for what he put up with, for how hard he worked, for how hard managers asked him to work, to provide the essentials as bar-back to me and seven other bartenders…he knew, perhaps, it was out of the question, from discrimination or circumstances or ingrained roles, whatever it is, it was unlikely he’d work, or even want to, as a bartender in Hollywood or downtown LA or the Strip in Vegas. But as bar-back, he’s unequaled. And who could ultimately what he did, what he went through or survived, to get here…We landed at LAX a little after 1 a.m. on Saturday, August 20, called Lyft and rode on nighttime LA freeway and I had that feeling I have every time I return to LA or New York that nothing really changes…the orange stucco walls of houses, in the dark, and the red shingled roofs. The buildings and businesses, most of them a single story high, or two or three at most…I got a feeling something ain’t right…police cars, sun, blue sky, relatively dry, could be…late afternoon, sunny, dessert town, field, festival grounds, tents…slash… violence of the term – the need to take a knife to the work – a machete at the beginning and a scalpel in the later drafts for more precise, nuanced, delicate cuts…smell and taste and color of Fernet, rye whiskey and bitters mingle…like hiking – when you get to the top of the trail, you see the whole city – but on the ground, you see it up close, the details…maybe everyone is going places or returning places looking for endings or answers or a closing scene.