There’s a bar just off of PCH where for $2 a bag you can throw peanut shells on the floor and drink Bud Light with millionaires. In front of this bar is a parking lot with a surf spot named after the drinking hole. In that parking lot I met Max Rose.
Max and I had spent the morning on adjacent peaks, trading mushy three-footers with every surfer from 24th street to Yorba Linda. In the parking lot, we stood side-by-side as the sun warmed our extremities. I drank coffee that was three hours old. Max’s Westfalia was adorned with two For Sale signs. There was a weathered parking ticket on his dashboard.
“It’s not true,” he said. “Despite what they say.” He had feathered brown hair and a beard that was streaked with gray.
“Pigs really can fly,” he nodded at a police helicopter as it flew overhead.
I laughed and he figured me for a kindred spirit. The two of us in front of our economical cars, surrounded by new S.U.V.s with stickers about deporting our terrorist, illegal alien, commie, Allah-worshiping commander-in-chief. Maybe we were.
“It’s the sound. I’ll never forget that sound,” he said.
“Shit yeah. It’s like those guys who went to Nam. They never forget what a military chopper sounds like.” He looked up at the sky. “I still cringe when I hear a flying pig.”
“I’ve been chased.” He stroked his beard. “In Texas too. A doctor’s son had a sports car—two seater that he didn’t want to pay for anymore—so I took his car. I took his Harley too.”
I slipped out of my neoprene suit and he moved closer. There was a tattoo of an indigenous woman on his forearm and whisky on his breath.
“He paid me and a friend of mine a hundred bucks. We took his car out to the middle of nowhere. Mind you, this was the early seventies. Such a thing existed. I was twenty-one, twenty-two years old. ”
We stared out at the Pacific and watched it heave and toss those fortunate enough to afford a morning beating.
“Went to a field next to a lake. This lake—hippies used to skinny dip in it. Nothing around. Just fields. We parked the car and covered it with gasoline. Fifteen pace circle around that sports car—a puddle of gas. Course we were stoned and drunk as hell at the time. I threw a match—biggest fire you’ve ever seen.”
Wildfires in California kill eight people and burn over one million acres every summer, but for the sake of conversation, I nodded. I understood these dramatic parking lot tactics. There are no lies in the parking lot. It’s a fact: the surf was better earlier. It was better before you got here.
“So I start kicking the Harley, trying get that thing started. I’m kicking and kicking it. A crazy old hillbilly walks out with a shot gun and he yells, ‘Everybody okay?’ So I tell him, ‘Just fine.’ Mind you there’s a fucking fire. So I look at my friend and I’m like ‘We gotta get the fuck outta here.’ We didn’t even know there were houses out there. I mean, there weren’t—except a couple. Real spread out. Anyway, I’m kicking and kicking the bike and I end up kicking off the carburetor!” His eyes light up.
I have no idea what a carburetor is and apparently it showed.
“It’s on the side of the bike. I kicked it right off.”
“Oh, man. Crazy.”
“So I kick off the carburetor and this hillybilly with a shotgun is coming at us and we hear fire engines screaming. I’m like, ‘They’re coming for us.’ And the hillbilly is like, ‘What’s going on out here?’ so I look at the hillbilly and I’m like, ‘Our friend’s down by the fire. We gotta check on him.’ So we ran. All night,” he pointed to the long-since vanished police helicopter, “they chased us. We ran through the woods in the pitch black. I threw up eleven times that night. Eleven.”
“We had to get back to town. It was getting light. It wasn’t daybreak yet but it was close. We found the road. I say to my friend, ‘They’re looking for two guys so you hide in the bushes. If they get one of us. They get one of us but we gotta get back to town.’ So I stood on the side of the road, knowing that if a pig drove by, it was over. We were going to jail. Texas jail. This was outside of Austin. But what do you know?” He grinned.
I didn’t know.
“Long haired freak comes driving by. He pulls over and is like, ‘Where you headed?’ and I said town. He was just out in the middle of nowhere driving around. Can you believe that? I ran all night and some long haired freak, just going for a drive saves my ass!”
“Doctor’s son turned himself in. Pussy.”
“He just had to pay for the car. Or his dad did. He was rich. He never turned us in though. He just said he met two guys at the bar and they did everything. Never mentioned our names.”
“So you made it out alive.”
“That time,” he said. We stared out and watched wave after wave as teenagers and baby boomers shoulder-hopped one another.
“I’m Max Rose by the way.” We shook hands.
He looked at me and I looked at him. I didn’t know if he was sizing me up or if long stares just come with functioning lunacy.
“You want some,” he said, throwing back a drink he did not have.
I’m no fool. A man tells you a criminal tale. He tells you his acid flashbacks come in the form of helicopter bladeslap, which are over one’s head about forty-seven times a day in Southern California. You tell the man, yes. Hell yes. But I did not say yes because I am, in fact, a fool.
“I would, but I’ve gotta drive.”
He did a quick survey of the parking lot in front of the surf spot named after the bar with peanut shells on the floor. “Well shit, we all gotta drive.”
And of course, he was right.
He opened the door of his beige Westfalia. It was lined with long boards, newspaper, and a pillow. He generously poured brown liquor into a coffee mug that read: Bienvenidos a Sinaloa!!!” The mug wasn’t exactly sanitary, but the stuff he poured looked strong enough to kill an elephant. I took a pull, passed it back, and he took a pull.
“I wish I didn’t have to go to work,” I said.
“You stay here long enough and you won’t have to.”
We stared over Priuses, late model SUVs, and power-walking moms at the ocean. Waves lapped in off of the jetty. I finished off the crusty mug of whisky
He eyed the empty mug then patted me on the back. “Move along soldier. I can take it from here.”