In the Mission-style terminal at Santa Barbara Municipal, I took a seat, waiting for an old associate to appear from the crowd of disembarking passengers. He stood out like a sore thumb. Looking nothing like the almost-uniform mass of fashionistas and faux-jetsetters, Clyde emerged from the scrum wearing a grease-stained Ditch Witch trucker’s hat and a faded green shirt with “Rapelje Rockets” emblazoned across it.
Clyde was quite possibly the walking antithesis of Santa Barbara. A six-foot-five walking, talking beanpole, he was a rough-around-the-edges–Jesus Freak–gun-nut type, raised in a rural hovel on the outskirts of nowhere in eastern Montana, and this was his first trip anywhere west of Spokane.
He walked up to me looking paranoid, and without so much as a handshake, he started rambling. “Got-damn, it’s good to see a familiar face. Let’s go get something to drink.”
We wandered out to my vehicle while he filled me in on his trip. This marked the first time he’d been on a plane before. He was of a man of means now. Clyde had recently taken up work in the Bakken formation of North Dakota and made “assloads of money,” as he so eloquently put it. It was a definite step up from the previous position he’d held with the Stillwater County Sheriff’s Office. When he worked there, he had told me, he was “in the posse,” but I think he was really mopping bathrooms.
Now that he had assloads of money, he was getting serious about his bowling game. “I’m gonna make it big in Reno this year,” he said. In fact, the whole point of this trip was so he could come to Santa Barbara and test his mettle against the best Zodo Lanes had to offer.
“I’m gonna show ‘em howwits done in Big Sky Country!” he enthusiastically told me prior to his visit.
I drove us out of airport parking. Clyde rolled his window down and hung his arm out the side. He lit up a Camel and took in the scenery. This peace didn’t last long, as he soon grew agitated by the traffic.
“Where in the hell are all these cars from? Where do they all come from!?”
Before I could explain to him that we were on the edge of one of the world’s great metropolitan areas, he became near-psychotic. He looked like an out-of-water Garibaldi flopping about the sand. He began screaming wildly while he hid his head under the glove box, cupping his ears.
“I can’t take all these cars! They’re everywhere, EV-REE-WARE!” He rambled on, becoming despondent and increasingly incoherent.
Why was he acting like this? I guess he probably hadn’t been in a city that had more than one stoplight in a long time, but man-alive, he was going stark raving mad. It must be the lack of alcohol, I figured. He had mentioned that “they wouldn’t take my good money” when he tried to buy a cocktail en route from Denver.
I turned off into the lot at Calle Real and swung into a remote parking spot. Inside, the place was a total zoo. It looked like the frenzied floor of a stock exchange. We stood in line waiting to see about getting a lane. Clyde looked like a bitter refugee.
“I’m not good around people,” he said, clearly agitated. “I don’t like ‘em.”
Before he could totally snap, we made our way to the front of the line.
“What’s it gonna be?” a starry-eyed brunette behind the counter asked us.
“We need a lane,” I said.
“Yeah,” Clyde added. “I’m gonna whup some ass! Woo boy!” No longer feeble from traffic apparently, he let out a little yelp and strutted around as if he were the proudest man at the nudist colony.
“Um, okay,” the cashier said. “Well, you’re going to have to wait.”
“How long?” I asked.
“About 90 minutes. There’s some kind of junior high party going on tonight.”
I looked around. The place did have a certain awkward teenage bend to it.
“Well shit,” Clyde said. “Let’s go get somethin’ to drink. I’m gonna lose it soon with all these bastard kids runnin’ around.”
I obliged. We went over to The Nugget. If there’s one thing that can make a homesick Montanan lost in the wilds of the American Riviera feel comforted, it’s mounted animal heads.
We headed in and took a seat. Clyde eased up for a change. The killer tension he’d been holding in finally seemed to subside. While I maintained an even pace, he began guzzling drinks like a madman. He started flashing his “oil money” and ranting about Class C Basketball, and before I knew it, he was totally smoked.
“Clyde,” I told him, “you’re going to be too drunk to roll.”
“Nonsense,” he said, taking a drag off yet another whiskey sour. “I’m just gettin’ where I wanna be. You’ll see.”
We paid the tab and left, staggering back into the bowling lanes, still thronged with adolescents. Our lane was ready.
Clyde swaggered over to the jukebox in the bar and put on the Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider.” His juices flowing from “his jam,” he taunted the incandescent adolescents savagely. After each strike, he’d let out a war cry and dance a little jig. The kids surrounding us looked at him as if he were Attila the Hun reincarnated.
He levied a savage crusade on the lanes that night, the likes of which I’d previously not thought possible in the game of bowling.
Not a day after that, he had me drive him back to the airport, and he rebooked himself on the first flight back to Montana. He didn’t even want to partake in Nisei Open League Night or College Wednesday. As we sat on Sands Beach, he, in an unusually rattled tone, told me “it was all too much” for him and that if I wanted to kick it again, I was going to have to go to a real city, like Billings.
M.D. Harkins is a noted authority on small hand tools and Nuristani mating rituals. He has lived in such far-flung locales as Beirut, Lebanon, and Billings, Montana. He maintains the Enlightened Despot blog and has written one novel, Feast. He currently resides in a fortified compound near Isla Vista.