My previous blog entry was written, appropriately enough, on a train coming back from the funeral of my friend, Paul. I say ‘appropriately,’ because Paul was passionate about trains and train travel.
I felt the need to mark his passing in some way, but didn’t want to write anything morbid or depressing in his memory, which is why I told the story of our day out with a pretty girl and an open top MG sports car in San Fransisco, when we were first introduced to the, now infamous, Crabs Legs Louis.
A few days after I posted my modest tribute, I was delighted to get a message from Paul’s son, who had enjoyed my little essay and in particular my recollection of Paul’s flight of imagination concerning the gangster, who was the scourge of Fisherman’s Wharf and the account of our sporting activities on that extraordinary day. Apparently, Paul, his Dad, was in the habit of saying, “Did I ever tell you about when I played with a frisbee in Golden Gate Park?”
Then a day or so later, I received another message from my old friend, Joe, whose marriage to Leslie had been at the heart of the whole saga. Joe’s email was entitled “Can’t get the memory out of my head!”
Once the wedding was over, Joe and Leslie set off on their honeymoon in Los Angeles, without a care in the world. The following day, Paul and I enjoyed our day out in San Fransisco.
But before I tell you the next part of the story, a bit of context. In 1974 I had just come back from two years in the Sudan doing Voluntary Service Overseas. I had no job and no money to speak of. Indeed the resettlement grant that I got from VSO went to pay for my flight to the US and the ‘runabout’ ticket on regional airlines which was supposed to get me to California.
Paul was studying in Canada at the time and was also pretty penniless, but he had also managed to get himself one of the magic ‘runabout’ tickets. We started our airline-hopping journey across the States. By the third airline, we could recite the safety announcements as the cabin staff read them out, which, of course, we did!
Then disaster! Hughes Air West, the airline that was supposed to take us from Las Vegas to San Jose suddenly dropped out of the system and decided that they no longer wanted to accept the “Visit USA” runabout tickets, which were our key to unlimited USA travel . Thank you very much, Howard Hughes, – another billionaire bent of ruining the lives of the poor – Paul and me in this case.
We phoned Leslie in San Jose and told her that we were, in effect, stranded in Las Vegas, without the means to get ourselves out of trouble. Leslie’s Dad was not a man to allow the antics of two indigent Englishmen to spoil his daughter’s wedding. He paid for our onward tickets from Las Vegas.
Anyway, back to the memory that poor Joe can’t get out of his head.
The day after our San Fransicso adventure, Paul and I set off, in the smallest hire car you could ever imagine, to get ourselves back to Las Vegas so that we could start using our runabout tickets again and start getting some more free airline meals. (You have to think strategically when you are a struggling academic or a recently returned VSO volunteer. We planned our flights to coincide with either dinner or lunch on whatever airline we were using.)
Our plan was to drive down to Los Angeles and then across the desert to Las Vegas. To save our dwindling reserves of cash, we decided that we would have to sleep in the car on the day we arrived in the City of the Angels. This was not one of our better ideas!
When morning finally came, we staggered out of our little rental car, unrested, bleary -eyed, aching, dishevelled and very sweaty after a humid, airless night in a tin box on a Los Angeles car-park.
An hour or so later, a mysterious note was slipped under the door of Joe and Leslie’s honeymoon suite at the prestigious Howard Johnson hotel. No-one saw who did it. There was no CCTV in those days. Investigators are still baffled.
The note made Joe and Leslie an offer they couldn’t refuse. It said that, if they knew what was good for them, they would present themselves in the coffee shop of the hotel by 10.00am. Failure to comply with this instruction, or any attempt to involve the Los Angeles Police Department, would have consequence that they would not wish to countenance.
The note was signed “Crabs Legs Louis!”
Paul and I were mightily relieved when Joe and Leslie duly complied with their instructions, and more importantly, when they agreed to our urgent and plaintive request for the use of their shower and perhaps some fresh towels.
Having refreshed ourselves with a shower and a hotel breakfast, and only slightly embarrassed at having burst in on our friends’ honeymoon, we continued our journey to Las Vegas.
But that, as they say, is another story.