April 4, 2000

"Fear and Loathing on Interstate-10"

 

        I was eighteen years old and living in a tiny apartment across the street from Paramount Pictures in a crappy part of Hollywood.  Two gay guys directly out of the Navy moved in across the hall from me and began selling marijuana.  They still had all their customers in the Navy and would drive down to Camp Pendleton once a week and move as much dope as they could haul down there.  Their supplier was in Florida, where one of them, Mark, was from.  They would receive a shoebox sent Federal Express once a week from Florida that would contain a kilo of terrific shit.  Pretty soon, however, they could move that entire kilo in a day or two in L.A. without supplying their main customers in the Navy, and apparently their guy in Florida simply would not send anymore than he was presently sending.

Paramount Pictures
         So Mark decided he would have to go to go to Florida himself and bring back as much pot as humanly possible so that he could make "the big score."  How he would get there and back he did not know since he wasn’t about to take a very large quantity of drugs on a airplane and he didn’t have a car.
         Meanwhile, my heart was broken.  I had hooked back up with an old girlfriend, Robin, in college and we’d had a little fling.  Sadly, she was still with her boyfriend at the time and when push came to shove, she decided to stay with him and dump me.  I switched universities the next semester, still totally stuck on her, and sent her desperate love letters weekly.
         As fate would have it, her boyfriend, Steve, was at a party being held in a third-floor hotel room.  He and several of the folks he worked with were all out on the balcony leaning against the rail when the rail gave out and they all fell the three floors, everyone landing on top of Steve.  He seemingly broke every bone in his body and was shipped back to his hometown and his parents’ care.

My building and apartment in Hollywood, across from Paramount Pictures

         So just as I was preparing to move to Los Angeles, Robin became available again.  Apparently, knowing that I would soon be gone turned Robin on and she became more passionate than she’d ever been before.  But I said I was going to go and I still intended to go, even if I suddenly had this terrific girl who wanted to do nothing else but be with me.  It was Hollywood or bust.
        Six months in Hollywood went by.  I was a cashier at a delicatessen and was still seriously mooning over Robin.  I had no money for long distance phone calls, but being a young writer and particularly loquacious, I was sending Robin long love letters on the left-over stationary from my Bar Mitzvah thank you notes.  Painfully, she wasn’t writing back as often I was I was writing her.
         She did mention, though, that she was going down to Miami with her parents over the Christmas holidays.
         Then it all fell into place—Mark and I would drive my car down to Miami, he would pay the expenses, he could score his weed and I would see Robin.  Once Robin and I were face to face there was no doubt in my mind that I would be able to convince her of my true and unwavering love.  It was bound to work!
         I suggested it to Mark and he immediately accepted—he’d happily pay all the expenses both coming and going.  It was written in the stars.
         So in late December, 1976, Mark and I started off for Florida in my yellow Mazda rotary wagon.  Los Angeles to Miami is a very long drive—solidly 3000 miles, maybe a bit more, and 1000 miles of it is across the widest section of Texas.  The directions could not be easier: get on Interstate 10, which begins at the beach in L.A., and go east for 2500 miles until you reach Florida, then make a right turn and head south on I-75 for 500 miles.
         To aid in our long drive, Mark had scored an ounce of weed, three grams of cocaine, and a baggy full of pharmaceutical speed, including Black Beauties, the best speed I’ve ever had in my life.  There were also green and white capsules that weren’t nearly as good.
         Mark had brought along a white china dinner plate upon which the passenger would cut lines of coke, hand the plate and a rolled up bill to the driver, then take the steering wheel while the driver snorted his lines.  Luckily, there isn’t a bend in the road all the way through California, New Mexico, Arizona and Texas, which is about 2000 miles, so you just couldn’t get fucked-up enough to drive badly.
         Once you get across Texas it actually becomes very cool as you go through Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Mobile.  As we arrived in New Orleans at 5:30 A.M., as wired as I’ve ever been in my life, we decided to stop at McDonald’s and get breakfast.  We both ordered Egg McMuffins and coffee, sat down near the window and watched the day begin in the French Quarter of New Orleans.  Suddenly, it seemed that everyone was leaving the McDonald’s in a hurry, including all the employees.
         "What’s going on?" we inquired.
         A McDonald’s employee said on his way out the door, "Better get outta here, the kitchen’s on fire."
         Mark and I turned around and indeed the kitchen was engulfed in flames.  We hastily grabbed the remainder of our breakfasts and went outside just as several fire engines arrived.  We watched the firemen battle the blaze for a while, then as the sun began to rise, we wandered around New Orleans.
         Oddly, at 6:00 A.M. all the bars were open.  We went into a cool place and had a beer, then got back on the road.
         You think you’re near your destination when you cross from Alabama into Florida, but it’s still 500 miles to Miami, which is a long damn way.
         We finally arrived at Mark’s mother’s house, in the outskirts of Ft. Lauderdale.  The house was located in a bleak suburb full of small, square, aging homes with cracked, fake-wood vinyl siding.  Mark’s mother was a pleasant, small, slim woman in her mid-forties who didn’t seem to give a shit about anything except keeping her house clean.  In the living room there was thick, brown shag carpeting and an old organ with a lot of switches.

Robin

         I was unable to contact Robin.  Meanwhile, Mark needed my car to go make his dope deals and didn’t want me along.  So I sat in the living room with his Mom, both of us smoked cigarettes, while she read a gothic romance and I read "Tai-Pan" by James Clavell, which was luckily a terrific book.
         Except that my heart was breaking with every page I turned because Robin knew that I was in town and was obviously intentionally avoiding me.  And I’d just driven 3000 fucking miles!
         We stayed for a couple of days as Mark made a variety of different deals—three kilos from this guy, four kilos from that guy, three more from this other guy.  He brought me along for one of the transactions.  We went to an even bleaker, though newer, suburb where the houses looked pre-fabricated.  We entered a small, square house with a big, ornate Christmas tree.  Mark and a friendly Latino guy went off into the back to do the deal and I was left in the festive living room with an enormous pile of cocaine on a mirror and a casual, "help yourself," as they left.  I snorted several big fat lines of coke, then Mark and the dealer returned, Mark holding a full black garbage bag containing six kilos of gorgeous blonde Columbian pot.  I purchased one pound of this stuff, at wholesale from Mark (which was $150, as I recall), and I smoked it for the next six months, as well as selling a quarter of an ounce now and then to pay the rent.
         Robin finally called me back.  She met me in the parking lot of her parents’ high-rise condominium.  She didn’t want me to come upstairs, so we sat in my car.  In very nice terms she told me to get lost.  We kissed and said goodbye and that was that.
         Mark and I now had to drive the 3000 miles back home, only on this leg of the journey we now had several large cardboard boxes in the back of my car loaded with 16 kilos of marijuana.  Mark had also scored an ounce of cocaine for good measure.  And we still had a lot of speed left, too.  We decided that we wouldn’t stop to sleep—why bother with that much coke and speed available?—we’d just drive straight on through.
         As we drove we conducted a running comparative taste-test between the many different kinds of pot we had on board.  I don’t remember the differences anymore since it was all good.  And, of course, we were trying our damnedest to snort the entire ounce of coke.
         Well, let me tell you, brothers and sisters, an ounce is a lot of cocaine!  Since I never did much coke after this, and I watched quite a few of my good friends and family members get all fucked up on the drug, I think this experience may well have been what got me past the whole thing.
         Mark and I snorted cocaine non-stop for the next 1500 miles.  The only time we stopped snorting coke was to try smoking a different kind of pot.  As we did this we drove through the bayou country where the freeway is suspended on cement pylons over a big area of dark brackish water with dead sticks poking out, undoubtedly teeming with alligators, and a particularly bad place to get too high and drive off the road.  We then went back through New Orleans without stopping, and back into the endless expanse of Texas.

         Halfway through Texas we could not sit in the car anymore.  As we got to Kerrville, west of San Antonio, we knew that we had to stop, although there was no question that there would be no sleeping—we had Hoovered up three or four grams each over the previous 50 hours of non-stop driving, as well as an endless supply of weed, and let’s not forget those terrific little Black Beauties.

Josh Becker, circa The Disco Era
(photos by Mike Ditz)
         We got a hotel room in Kerrville.  The first thing that Mark did was take the five foot tall, full-length mirror off the wall, lay it on the bed, then proceeded to cut five foot long lines of cocaine.  This may seem like a human impossibility, but it’s not, particularly with good cocaine.
         After performing this incredible feat of human endurance, we then dressed up in our fancy duds and went to a disco.  Please recall that Christmas 1976-77 was the peak of the disco craze, with bell bottoms, Roland polyester shirts and platform shoes—it is exactly the world of "Saturday Night Fever."  The number one song was probably "Stayin’ Alive" by the Bee Gees and number two song was "Last Dance" by Donna Summer.
         Mark and I walked into that small-town Texas disco like we owned the fucking place, like we were both John Travolta and the Bee Gees rolled into two tightly wound up balls.  We discoed those Texas chicks like they’d never been discoed before, in front of their sorry lame-ass boyfriends that hadn’t had anywhere near as much cocaine as we had—not by a mile!—and thus would never be as cool as us.  Throughout this disco dance-fest Mark and I drank numerous pitchers of beer.
         When they closed the place at 2:00 A.M. Mark and I went back to the hotel room, snorted a lot more coke off the long mirror on the bed, took showers and split.

matchbook from the Chalet Discotheque

         When we arrived in Los Angeles 50 or so hours later I remember actually feeling quite normal.  I took my pound of weed and put it in the fridge.
        Mark and his lover, having made their big score, moved out of my low-rent building soon thereafter.  We did not keep in touch, which is a shame because I liked both of those guys.  The lover, whose name I no longer remember, drew a very nice picture of a man looking at a newspaper, with the caption, "Everyday the paperboy brings more," which he gave to me and I still have somewhere.  I believe this was in reference to my playing Pink Floyd a lot and they lived across the hall and could hear it.
         I’ve also still got a matchbook from the disco in Kerrville, Texas.  I suppose I must now go dig these relics out of the bottoms of the boxes where they repose.
         So, in conclusion, although I didn’t get the girl, I did get a pound of great weed at a very reasonable price, and to my great good fortune have never had the slightest interested in cocaine ever since.

 

 

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