BY DELL FRANKLIN
“Hey Dude!” That’s how they address me as they stand in animated conversation with fellow drinkers in front of Bull’s Tavern, one of the last semi-rowdy establishments remaining in San Luis Obispo, a college town. When I pulled up they waved to me in recognition of being my fares. They repeatedly execute their farewells with homeboys—shaking hands with a brief grab of two fingers, followed by bumping fists, hugging and thumping chests, playful as young puppies.
I don’t want to keep honking and interrupting this meaningful asininity of intimate conversance, no, it is such a scene of humanity and warm rapport, and especially so after the midnight hour, near last call, just when your cabby is about finished tolerating asinine conversance and wants to cut and run.
But I honk the horn, keep my paw on it, and they finally glance over, suddenly remembering that yes, they did call a cab, and yes, the two of them lower their hands in a gesture indicating I should remain patient while I read their lips: “Chill, dude, we’re comin’ bro’.”
Realizing I am psychotically impatient and restless and cannot get it out of my mind that I’m dying to get home to Cayucos at some point in the wee hours for my triple shot of chilled Skyy vodka, I do my best to understand these young knuckleheads. But if I do not honk my horn again they might forget about their calling a cab and become so caught up in the celebration of their departure they return to the bar for one more, “just one more, dude, come on back for us in half an hour.”
It’s happened before, many times.
But alas, they are finally breaking up, only with one more round of grabbing two fingers, bumping fists, hugging and thumping chests. They fall into the back seat. Both wear beanies, hoodies and torn jeans, with sun-bleached brows, one short and stocky; the other tall and lanky.
“Hey dude, thanks for waitin’.” Says the tall one.
“Yeh, bro’, yer way cool.” Says his pal
“Hey, you an old surfer?”
“Nah. Just a body surfer down south, before I moved up here a hundred years ago. Hermosa/Manhattan Beach.”
“Yeh, it’s way cool down there. The ‘Wedge’ is way gnarly. Hey, we’re goin’ to Los Osos, but we ain’t got enough money. It’s about thirty, right? We got money at our pad, though, bro’, no shit. We wouldn’t stiff you, not a righteous dude like you, bro’.”
“Well, you guys know you’re supposed to have the money up front when we go out of town, right?”
“We totally understand, bro’, but we got carried away and spent most of our bread in the bar, man. Hey, didn’t you use-ta tend bar at Happy Jack’s in Morro Bay?”
“Right.” I’m heading toward Los Osos, 12 miles away. What the hell. These guys are not on the con. We’re brothers, after all, even if they’re young enough to be my kids.
“You’re the dude hit that low-rider in the head with a bottle of Galliano, ain’t you?”
“Far out! Everybody knows about you, bro’, yer a legend. Fuckin’ Happy Jack’s. What a wild scene. Gnarly fuckin’ bar, but you ruled! I remember you.”
When they finish schmoozing me, they inform me that after partying all night they need to get home because the short dude has to be at work at 8, while the lanky dude has a class at Cal Poly at 8. They begin arguing over nonsense, half serious, and I am nearly out of town when they commence pummeling each other. There seems no provocation for this activity. They’re not slapping or play punching, but pounding each other with hard punches, creating a ruckus.
“Hey!” I bellow, for this has never happened in my cab before. “Cut it out back there! You’re gonna tear my goddam cab apart.”
“We’re not hurting each other,” claims the taller one during a brief pause to fully digest my complaint.
“We never hurt each other,” adds the smaller guy.
“I don’t care if you hurt each other,” I go on, glimpsing the two boneheads in the mirror. “It’s my cab I’m concerned about.”
“We promise not to hurt your cab, bro’.” says the tall one. “If we hurt your cab, we’ll pay for it.”
“Yeh, we got yah covered, brah
To emphasize their intent, they smack each other again, commence wrestling and flailing, heads bouncing off doors, feet thumping my seat, squawking, hooting, panting, grunting, cursing vilely, and calling each other punks, pussies, vaginas and faggots. All I can really do is drive on, powerless to deal with the situation. In time they come up for air, caps pushed to the side, grinning; winded, jubilant, showing no signs of pain or injury. We are just approaching the last light out of town to Los Osos when the smaller guy dials up his cell phone and, through gasps, contacts what is evidently a woman and proceeds to sweet-talk her. Soon he is imploring, and then painfully begging.
Then: “Hey, good brah, turn around, my bitch wantsa fuck. Hurry, dude ‘fore she changes her mind.”
“That skank?” inquires his friend. “She treats you like shit.”
“Hey, dude, that’s my bitch yer talkin’ about.” He hauls off and punches his friend in the bicep.
His friend hauls off and hits him back in HIS bicep. “You deserve to be treated like shit by a skank.” He tells him.
The little guy addresses me: “Good dude, turn around and go back to San Luis, okay?”
“Christ, it’s gonna end up costing you a fortune. The meter’s already at twelve bucks.”
“It’s okay, brah. She’s gonna fuck me. I’d rather do that than hang out with homeboy.”
His pal issues him a less intensive punch. “Go on, bro’, take him to his skanky, skuzzy skag.”
“It’s gonna cost.”
“We got it covered.”
I turn around and head back to town. By the time we arrive at the girl’s house the meter is up to $20. Out in front of the house the rangy dude wants some cab cash from his about-to-get-laid bro’, who takes out his wallet and discovers he has nary a dollar. They argue. I sit there. Finally the broke dude tells his bro’ he has money stashed under his CDs in his bedroom. They get things straightened and make a quick swipe of fingers, bump fists, thump each other on the chests, and, for good measure, whack each other in the biceps as the girl looks on from the porch. Then the bonehead staggers up to her as his partner slips into the shotgun seat.
“I hope she’s worth it,” I tell him.
“Oh, you know how it is—drunk and horny. It is what it is.”
“Thanks for bein’ cool, brother-man. I’ll tip you big when we get back to my pad.”
We begin talking on the ride to Los Osos, a 15 minute jaunt down a 2 lane highway. Without the influence of his rascally pal, he proves to be, despite his drunkenness, intelligent and somewhat articulate. He is 29 and only a few credits away from a degree in communications at Cal Poly and works part time as a waiter. He lives at home in a cottage in back, and his best friend, currently shacked up with his on-and-off squeeze, lives there, too. The dude claims that although he is going to get his degree at some point, he is in no hurry to acquire a full time occupation, because his priorities remain surfing and a laid-back life style and not the plunge into the “stressful ownership society, which involves too much bullshit to take care of, bro.”
“That’s pretty much where I’m at as a man more than twice your age,” I tell him. “You’ve got to be a certain kind of person to live the way I do, to tend bar for years and have too much fun to settle down.”
“You settled down now, brah?”
“Only because I’m too old to raise the kind of hell and beat up my body the way I used to.”
“Got a good one—with few demands of the grown-up world you’re talking about.”
“Right on, brah. Yer my idol.”
“I sure as hell hope not, bro’.”
He laughs We rap knuckles in brotherly agreement, forming a bond of true male camaraderie as we approach sewer-less Los Osos, a formless bedroom community off the beaten track known for its lack of personality and night life. By the time we reach his residence, in the older part of town along one of the last dirt roads in town, the meter is over $46. He asks me to wait while he goes into the separate backyard bungalow to rummage for some cash while I ponder the long drive back to San Luis and then the longer ride of 22 miles from the taxi lot to Cayucos before I can sip my beloved vodka which takes the edge off so I can sleep after a 12 hour shift.
He returns and sits in the shotgun seat, hands me enough rumpled cash for a $10 tip. He stares straight ahead. “I got a main squeeze, too, bro’, and she’s pushing me to settle down, you know, get my degree, get the right job, get married, have kids before she’s too old. But man, I’m fighting it. It ain’t me right now, but I don’t wanna lose her, she’s a good chick, been real understanding, you know. What do you think I should do?”
I open up my wallet and withdraw a strip of paper on which years ago I printed out a quote from the great writer Somerset Maugham in “The Moon and Sixpence.” I skip the beginning of the quote, because my new disciple might not be sober enough to digest it, but read loudly the end; and best part: “There is no object more deserving of pity than the married bachelor.”
He nods slowly, still staring straight ahead. “Yeh, man, I get it—big time. Don’t know if I’m cut out for the long haul.”
“But the long haul as a lifetime bachelor isn’t without periods of misery, my friend. You have to know what kind of person you are, what’s in your heart, what you can deal with. You might surprise yourself that you can take on the grown-up world just fine, especially after most of your pals succumb to that ownership bullshit—the wife, house, kids, they all own you. Nothing owns me. I got a full time dog, two cats, and a part time woman. But I’m an exception. You have to find out if you are.”
He turns and grins at me, offers his hand. We soul shake. “Thanks, bro’. Glad we could talk like this.” He gets out, walks around the cab; stops at my window. “Wish you were still tending bar at Happy Jack’s. I could drop in and we could have some righteous talks. Good night, bro’.”
As he starts toward his bungalow, I call out, “Don’t forget your eight o’clock class tomorrow!”
He turns around. “Awh, gonna shine it off, bro’.” He flashes a wolfish grin. “Surf’s up.”