The kid hit town on the Super Chief from Kansas City, mid-morning in L.A.
Union Station, maybe he’d get back there some day, look around. Some kind of museum, nothing like it back home. He’d never ride the train again, though. Fucking snooty porters. A buck for a pillow. He’d rolled up his heavy coat and slept on that. Never wear that fucking thing again, either. Not in the promised land.
First day of summer in Los Angeles, and you could hardly see the end of the block, fucking air was so thick. It burned, too. Old timers would tell him You shoulda been here in fifty-seven, fifty-eight. Air was so bad it’d chip your teeth. Fuck them. This was bad enough. He could barely open his eyes. It felt like he was in a burning house. He walked out the front, past the cab stand, dropped his duffel bag and guitar case and hung the coat on a parking meter. Dug through the pockets for the phone number he had written down, found it, and went looking for a pay phone, leaving the coat behind. Who needed it here? He’d get something nice in L.A., something with some eyeball, who needs the farmer suit?
First things first, though. Call Jake. Jake had been out here for a year, knew the ropes, said he had a gig for the kid, make some real money for a change. Hah. Money for a change. Tired of working for change, those dives in K.C. Fucking drunks didn’t know their butts from page eight, comes to good music. Night after night in those dives, he couldn’t play bad enough to bother anybody. He tried, too, at first a wrong note in an old standard, then whole wrong chords. Nobody noticed, fucking drunks puttin’ their cheap hustles on each other, telling him tone it down, man, people are tryin’ ta talk.
Fuck you, he thought. People are tryin’ to play music. No more of that shit out here. They had good clubs here on the coast, famous places, clean places, where people came to listen. Places like Shelley’s, and The Lighthouse, and up north The Hungry i. He was already thinking the coast, trying it on, rolling it around in his mind. I’m on the coast.
He found a phone booth, went in and dialed, his eyes burning and watering. Five rings, six. He fished a Lucky out of his shirt pocket, lit it with the old Zippo. Eight rings. He hadn’t told Jake he was coming, and now he started to regret it. He thought he’d surprise his big brother. Hey, man, I’m here! Maybe it wasn’t such a hot idea. Ten rings. He hung up the phone. He was sweating now, and the muggy brown air felt good when he opened the door of the booth.
Jake lived in Venice. The kid still had the postcard, a couple of broads in skimpy bikinis, Greetings From Venice Beach, California! Fucking Venice, like that place in Italy. Nothing was real out here. Those broads looked real, though. The address on Pacific Avenue. It’s not much, Jake had said, but I’m never home anyway. Never home. Probably should have picked up on that, he thought now. He dropped the cigarette on the curb, put the sun at his back, and started walking.
In no time he was lost. The streets wouldn’t let him keep the sun at his back, and soon the sun was straight overhead anyway. Good thing he’d dumped the coat. He rubbed his eyes for the hundredth time with his sweaty hands, and cursed the heat and the filthy air. A city bus lurched toward him, spewing black smoke. He had fifty bucks or so left in his pocket, lucky those porters had let him keep that much, a half pack of Lucky Strikes, his eyes and his feet burned and he had no idea where the hell he was. The bus door opened and the driver looked out at him, bored. The kid looked up and down the street, but there was no one coming to his rescue. He stepped aboard, heading for the promised land.