Sunday, March 23, 2008

Don't Fear The Reefer

The Ye Olde Ale House had one of those old and marvelous neon signs with colored letters on a marquee, the end result resembling candies sitting atop a luscious ice cream bar. I would get hungry just looking at it.

In fact in those days, there were wonderful examples of this art up and down the Boulevard D’Morte, so nicknamed because of its lethal effect on any pedestrian who attempted to cross it. Trying to walk across the 16 lanes of this monstrous human bowling alley was like taking your life in your hands. The motorists who traveled it looked at it as the final frontier, a grand and unconquered prairie where a man could ride the range unencumbered by rules and regulations.

To cross in front of any one of these dreaming masses, slumped and bewitched behind the steering wheel, was foolishness.

Just a little further up the road sat a couple of drive-ins with massive, gaudy signs that were masterpieces of overkill. In my unreliable memory, there seems to be a river of lights like white corpuscles swimming through a narrow piping all along its brightly lit body, while a pool of glitter seems to explode from a fountain serving as a mast to a ship with a multicolored hull.

I tend to romanticize these things.

But they were beauts and there was always a shiver and thrill when as kids we’d be going past it in the car and manage to catch a furtive glance of what was happening on the screen. Eventually they went all-porno and then disappeared, which is basically how most of show business works.

The Boulevard D’Morte (or Carnival of Souls as some called it) was the mighty rope that bound the lush, green Philadelphia suburbs to its more nervous and neurotic cousin, the Center City. On a whim, I once traversed its length on a bicycle in the middle of the night with a box of cereal in its wire basket. During some stretches there was hardly any room for a bike at all, and it felt like a battle trying to not become roadkill.

Up and down, up and down. How many times had I wandered it, looking for a cure for the dream?

But on the night in question, this night, we find Fred, M., and myself exiting the doors of the Ye Olde Ale House, perhaps a little worse for the wear but nothing you’d notice.

M. was driving and he had this great, sporty car that was red and white like a candy cane. I was always the passenger as I wasn’t to get a driver’s license until about the age of 30, so I was eternally being chauffeured about by this one and that one. The irony was that driving would turn out to be one of my great pleasures and, in fact, I proved to be quite good at it.

But all that was years away.

This was the last gasp of that time when everyone you know still lived within a 3-block radius, before adulthood beguiled you with silver and gold and slowly and inexorably pried your world apart with unstoppable force.

So, a moment for our heroes, then.

Let them enjoy their youth, their time, their freedom. Let them explore this new world, with its chilled mugs of ale and its herbal cigarettes.

Let them come up to the edge of the Boulevard D’Morte, but go no further.

Now I was the first one into the car, clambering into the back seat of M.’s 2-door. Then came Fred who was riding in the passenger side.

We were talking as we waited for M. to take his place when, suddenly and without warning, Fred was no longer talking or, indeed, even in his seat.

As this was sinking in, a voice was asking me to step out of the car.

So close, I thought. We had been so close to escaping.

Conclusion: Deadly Is The Gun Crazy Night! or: Out Of The Pabst


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