Route 71 ran from north off I-10 through the flat prairie of eastern Texas. I had driven an blind piano from Miami Beach in his Delta 88. Everyone at the Sea Breeze Hotel had warned about Old Bill's driving.
Outside of La Grange he ordered me to turn onto a dirt road. It was as straight as a strand of dry spaghetti. The radio was playing GREEN ONIONS. I got out of the car, wishing Old Bill luck. He drove off slow, weaving from side to side. After a few minutes the Delta 88 was a black speck swallowed by yellow dust.
A trucker stopped a half-hour later. The long-hauler dropped me south of Austin near sunset. The far horizon was boiling with color. It was getting late. The next big city was El Paso. I had read about Austin in Rolling Stone magazine. The World Amarillo Headquarters had been anointed the musical navel of the Southwest. Jerry Jeff Walker and Willie Nelson were regulars at the rock venue. I had some time to kill before heading out to the coast and hitchhiked into town.
A red Ford pickup with Texas plates pulled over to the shoulder. Two hippie were in the front. I was a longhair too and told them my destination. They said Commander Cody was playing tonight with Asleep At The Wheel.
"First round on me."
The Amarillo was located next to a roller rink. I brought my bag with me. The two hippies knew the man at the door. We entered for free. I checked my bag with a dazed girl and walked inside the club. It was enormous. Billy Bob, the pickup's driver, said, "The Amarillo used to be an armory."
"The acoustics suck." His scrawny friend lit up a joint. Marijuana possession was a serious crime in the Lone Star State. Huntsville Prison was infamous. My hosts could easily be narcs. I stepped away from them.
"Don't worry there ain't no one gonna bother you in the Amarillo about weed." Billy Bob accepted the reefer and his inhale expanded his lungs to the bursting point. His exhale released a thunderhead of smoke. The smell was Mexican.
"Cops, lawyers, judges, everyone comes here to hear the music and drink beer. I thought you said that first round was on you."
I surrendered my caution and bellied up to the bar. Lone Star was the beer of choice. I ordered six. We were thirsty. We drank with other cowboy hippie. They were over 6-feet. Most looked like they had played college football.
I don't remember the opening bands. Billy Bob, his friend, and I tossed back shots of tequila. Billy Bob had been wrong about Commander Cody, but right about Asleep At The Wheel. Most of the audience watched from tables. I danced with a redheaded woman in a filmy black dress.
A country version of the Hustle.
I hadn't slept with a woman in over two months. An actress was waiting for me in LA. It was a long way away.
"I live on Blanco." Ginger was thin.
Still a waif at 25.
"I don't have a car."
"Me neither. We can go by taxi." Her fingers graced the inside of my elbow. Seduction was her mission. I was an easy target.
"Then let's go to your place." I was 23. 5-11. Long brown hair. Ginger and I were made for each other.
"If you need someplace to stay." Billy Bob wrote his telephone number and address on a napkin. 22nd and Chestnut.
"Looks like the Yankee Boy done good." His friend winked his approval. "He won't be needing us tonight. "Just ask for the hippie commune."
I was a lucky man.
Her house was a bungalow not far from Shoal Creek. The classic western decor spoke old cow money. Ginger had two family names. They both sounded important. Her bed was brass. The sheers were scented with spices.
She placed Joni Mitchell. CalIFORNIA from the album BLUE. James Taylor on guitar. Our young bodies recreated Eden and we didn't fall asleep until dawn. My clothes were piled on my bag was in the corner.
"You have to leave before noon." Ginger's drawl was exhausted.
"Noon." I mentally set an alarm in my head.
It failed to go off at noon and Ginger's violent shaking ended my coma.
"You have to go." A silk robe was wrapped around last night's body.
"Now?" I was very comfortable.
I heard the slam of a truck door. A man's cowboy boots were lined against the wall. They looked size 12.
"My husband is back from the oil field."
A man called out her name. I grabbed my bag and clothing. Ginger pointed to the bedroom's open window.
"See you at the Amarillo later."
There was no time for a kiss. I fled the bungalow naked without a backward glance. Billy Bob and his friend were sympathetic.
"Even cowgirls get tired of fucking cowboys."
Billie Bob belonged to a vegetarian commune. We ate cheeseburgers before showing up for the evening meal of mushed broccoli and peas. My passport into their midst was a big bottle of red wine. Eight co-eds from UT, Billie Bob and his friend. We ended up at the Amarillo. I repeated the previous night with Ginger.
A week of nights with her. I always left an hour after dawn.
The Amarillo opened early. The jukebox covered a lot of ground. Bands auditioned in the afternoon. The bartenders knew my name. I tipped better than the goat-ropers. One called me to the side.
"Jo Jo Booth Gammage been looking for you." He placed a Lone Star beer on the bar.
"I don't know any Jo Jo Booth Gammage." The last names were vaguely familiar.
"Ginger's old man and he don't look none too happy."
"Oh." Very familiar.
"Thanks for the info." I tipped him $5 and left the Amarillo by the rear exit. It took me an hour to walk to Chestnut by the back roads. The sun was down by the time I arrived at the commune. The front door had been kicked in. Billy Bob was sporting a black eye. My bag was at his feet.
"Sorry, but the commune has voted you out."
"I understand." They commune was into peace and love.
His friend stood at the door. The girls were shadows in the kitchen
"I vote me out too." I picked up my bag. The welcome rug was gone.
"I'll give you a ride to the highway." Billie Bob handed me my bag.
I didn't refuse his offer.
71 was more than five miles away from the house.
The radio played SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL BY Grand Funk and FREE BIRD by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Billy Bob said nothing about the black eye meant for me. He was cool and waited by the side of the road, until a westbound Camaro shuddered to a stop. I waved good-bye to Billie Bob and got in the car. The driver was a soldier. He was headed west and so was I.
It was a good time to be heading to the coast.