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June. June of the 21st century. June of a drying California. Yellow hills from Highland Park through the Grapevine, relieved by one strange hillside of mottled blues and greens, and a steep slope blackened from a fire, like a burnt hunk of bread. We’re on the 5 north again. How many times have we done this drive? The same thoughts are triggered by the same monuments:

Gorman. A 1968 family trip into the deep hills, Indian artifacts, a spring, an Old Californio family ranch. Lebec. My aunt Chinky and her single wide full of sons. The 5/99 divergence. Mystery. The 99 not taken. Systems collapse. Mesopotamia was green. As were we.Rob has a new cell phone, the Sony Ericsson. It delivers email, FM, XM, video, has a guitar tuner, and an on call suicide watch. It’s a gateway device to the iPhone. Rob is sitting in the back seat of the Yukon, programming Sony Ericsson, reading the manual, with the calm that only people born after 1970 can manage. He hasn’t called tech support even once, and we’re halfway to Berkeley.

Paul M sits next to Rob, paying his bills, renewing his membership in NORML. Shawn is driving and talking on his cell. Paul is wired on chocolate infused trail mix, hence this blog.To Berkeley. Where we’re playing at Strings, a private music joint and living remnant of hippiedom, like a Gaeltacht village clinging to a Donegal cliffside. The pastoral nature of Strings is effectively concealed by a down and out San Pablo Street storefront, but inside await Moroccan pillows, vibrant art and drapery, a green and cool inner courtyard, and good good good good vibrations.

Rob’s nostrils are burning from the infamous CCC (cow concentration camp, aka Kauschwitz, Kracow, Bergen Bessie). Beef. It’s what’s for dinner.

Nothing is happening. We’re driving. Let’s drop in on the Hawks conversation. Right now it’s all about life coaches. An alarming trend. The Lakers and Celtics. It’s a dirty series going on right now. Both teams want it bad. Paul L is trapped in a horrible Lakers dilemma of his own making. He loudly announced at a coffee fueled family breakfast several months ago that the Lakers would never win a championship as long as Kobe was on the team. Did Paul’s sardonic nephew Emilio remember this overbroad broadside? Time and circumstances will tell. Very soon. The day of reckoning is coming.

Gas prices, of course. We put $120 into the Yukon, and it’s not full. Broccoli. Broccoli at Pappy & Harriets. Goebbels. Which L.A. country rocker next is moving to Austin? Stealing pillows from hotels. Rick Shea at the Buccaneer. Rick Shea can rock. The verbing of the noun. This is the era of the verbing of the noun. It started with “tasking.” Now it’s out of control. Tears Go By 2008 style: “It is the eveninging of the day.”White smoke rising from a distant dry ridge to the west of Santa Nella. Brush fire. Why does Paul L love fire? Do we stop in Santa Nella? Jack Off In The Box, SubstandardWay, hist! A Split Pea Andersen’s. We’re stopping. We crawl behind a big rig on the bustling frontage road. Paul M reminds us that Split Pea Andersen’s now sucks. We decide on Del Taco. Uh oh, it’s a mini-Del Taco. Does it matter? Del Scorchio?

Del Taco has remade itself, with the focus group arbitrariness that a giant corporation can command. The look du jour is bright cheery primary colors, one upping the McDonalds playground area for its entire interior. Paul L’s Veggie Works burrito was delicious. Shawn’s fish taco was not up to the standards of Taco Fiesta on Figueroa near Avenue 40 in Highland Park. Rob feels he’s been through the culinary equivalent of jerking off. Paul Marshall’s stomach is full and his heart is empty.We’re excited. The Arco across the street has $4.31 gas. God, that’s sweet. Life is good.

Okay, we’re rolling. The Arco didn’t work out. It wouldn’t take our cash or credit plus $.45 processing fee. Okay, for you, BP/Arco. Your profit margin just shrunk, perhaps noticeably, considering the Yukon’s massive thirst.We’re listening to XM radio. The left (westward facing) side of the Yukon is roasting. Newman Exit 1 Mile. Johnny Paycheck’s on XM. The California aqueduct snakes under our wheels, so wide and vulnerable, severe order imposed on a once and future wild valley.

That’s it. I got nothing. I turn desperately to our drummer, offer to type everything that comes out of his mouth: “I don’t have anything to say. That’s it. That’s it. This place is–what is that? Is that trash? Up against the fence? What?”Paul M seems to know every obscure chestnut, every country flotsam and jetsam washing out of XM’s satellite studio in the sky. Is there enough time in a lifetime for this? Time is mysterious.

It’s 4:35:22, and we’ve started the Bluegrass Marathon. What? Rob ends it, shutting down XM after only about 20 seconds. It’s a new Marathon record.The Hawks discuss when their last cigarette was. Paul Marshall’s last cigarette was 30 years ago–Camel Filters with the occasional Tareyton. Fifteen years on, 30 off. Shawn’s last cigarette was a month ago, perhaps an American Spirit bummed off Dave Gleason. Rob’s last was at Pappy and Harriets last year. Paul L’s last full cigarette, not counting puffs trying to look cool with his friends, was probably his brief flirtation with Bidi’s, the deadly Indian tubes found in a sketchy liquor store near you.
Now Shawn is reading his Sonar recording system manual, which has been festering in the Yukon library for six months. So dull, yet so riveting to a man trapped as deeply in his recording system as Shawn is. Sonar is the unloved cousin of ProTools.
Let’s survey the contents of the Yukon library, which is meshing attached to the back of the front seats: A Hawks/everybodyfields poster from February 6. Team America DVD. Wild Ducks Flying Backwards by Tim Robbins, unread and unloved. Current issue of the L.A. Daily News. Musician (AFM 47) Magazine with a hot young female singer on the cover. Tiny sunglasses. A diaper. Trucker’s Connection with an article on the vanishing bees. That’s it. Not much depth right now in the library.

Is this a tiresome ultra personal blog like a million and one self involved blogs that cost little, yield little, matter little, and yet never vanish, preserved in cyber reality as long as there’s a server and a wind turbine to feed it? The writings of Babylonian kings, druid priests, Russian scientists, sufi philosophers, Knights Templar, Albigensian heretics, the Weather Underground, are lost forever. But not this little nugget. It’s here to stay. Now the Del Taco’s feeling weird, says Rob. The toxins are seeping in. A vast brown field and big power line towers fill our horizon.

Up next: Blogger vs. writer. What’s the difference?

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