Friday, March 9, 2012

Busted Flat in Baker

I am never unsure about what to read next, even with the hundreds of books stacked in my room. My mind goes wherever it wants and is strict about it, so I just finished reading On the Road with Charles Kuralt by Charles Kuralt, who also inspires me in my writing by his warm, easygoing style, also prevalent on camera in his "On the Road" series for CBS Evening News all those years ago, as well as host of CBS Sunday Morning. Charles Osgood, the current host, seems inspired by him, just as gentle as he was.

On the Road with Charles Kuralt contains transcripts of 91 of his "On the Road" segments, nicely laid out with images from the broadcasts included.

One chapter is called "Busted Flat in Baker" and the accompanying image is of two guitars, a clock, a model of a horse, a bowling ball, and a rifle resting on a floor. I've transcribed the chapter below, because it's exactly what Baker feels like, even today, and it's how I want to write it in my eventual play to be set there.:

Let's say you're driving home to California from Las Vegas. And let's say you're broke. And let's say you've been driving ninety miles through the desert with nothing to look at but that hot sand and the gas gauge, which is riding on empty. Well, when you see the sign that says BAKER, naturally you take the exit. Baker is at least somewhere in the middle of nowhere: a hot, dusty string of gas stations where a busted gambler might figure if he can talk fast enough he can talk himself into a tank of gas. It turns out that this is exactly what thousands of busted gamblers figure every year.

Bob Kennedy, who works in one of the filling stations, says Baker must be the fast-talking capital of America.

KURALT: What sort of things have you been offered down the years?
BOB KENNEDY: Oh, watches, rings, all sorts of jewelry. Clothing, tires, tools---you name it. If it's been made, it's been offered. They come out with some ridiculous things.
KURALT: But they get you to pump that gas first---
KENNEDY: Oh, yeah.
KURALT: ---before they admit they're broke.
KENNEDY: Oh, yeah.

Bob Kennedy has lost track of the number of old cars he has taken possession of in return for a bus ticket to Los Angeles. And gas station owner Ken George has a gaudy collection of clocks and watches and guns and radios that used to belong to motorists headed home from Vegas.

KEN GEORGE: Stories change from gettin' robbed, losin' their wallet or people just come out and tell you the truth. "Look, mister, I've lost my money in Vegas. Could you loan me two dollars and somethin' worth of gas?" You know, and of course, you get so many of these people comin' through, pretty soon you start asking for collateral.
KURALT: What kinds of collateral have you been offered?
GEORGE: Huh! Well, there's been cases where even people's kids have been offered as collateral.
KURALT: It strikes me that, living in Baker, you could pick up a bargain from time to time.
GEORGE: Well, yeah, you can pick up a bargain from time to time, but what is a guy gonna do with six or eight bowling balls when we don't have a bowling alley? Heh!

To operate a gas station here, as Bob Kennedy and Ken George and all the others will tell you, is to run a hockshop in the desert. The Las Vegas winners, of course, never slow down. They zip past the exist on the Interstate, humming a happy tune.

The losers stop at Baker.

Baker still doesn't have a bowling alley. No money in it. It's just a temporary stop for those who are Vegas-bound and heading back to wherever they live in the L.A. region. I still don't know how people can live in Baker, but they do, and those are two. I'm fascinated by it every time.

1 comment:

  1. That's great. It would make a great play or movie. Charles Kuralt was wonderful.