Here’s what you need to know before I begin this story. (A) I’d spent the week prior to all this camping out at an arts festival at which I’d inundated myself with an alphabet of drugs along with every color and composition of alcohol. The arts festival I attended is held in the desert some hundred miles from Reno, Nevada, and the mood of the festival encourages outrageous costumes; mine was a tablecloth cape and tighty red underpants. (B) I had a broken foot, and along with my tablecloth cape and tighty reddies I wore a black plastic boot, about twice the heft and size of a work boot, on my right foot.
So, it was in this part-medical, part-childish superhero outfit that I stepped from my airport ride, a yellow cab, returned to my beloved home of San Diego. Covered in dust from the desert and plagued by miniscule chrome butterflies zipping around in my vision, from the seven days of booze and chemicals I’d filtered through my face, I waved a thanks to the cab driver, who flipped me off, peeled out, belched a cloud of exhaust onto me and my suitcase, and yelled from her window, “Get a job, hippie!”
I clopped on my plasticized busted foot to my apartment door and dug through my suitcase and purse (yes, I’m a man, and yes, I was carrying a purse) for my keys, which I then remembered I had left 600 miles away on a camp table in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada. Because I fit into the psychological-profile spectrum somewhere between “moron” and “idiot” — what my father calls “special” and what my childhood pastor called “touched” — and because I carry a bucket of crippling ADD around with me, six inches above my shoulders, it was in my broken-foot, starved, dehydrated, hallucinatory, hungover, keyless, locked-out, and idiotically dressed state that I thought, “I’ll bet I could go a month without driving my truck, and wouldn’t right now be a great time to start?!”
Since I’m crafty, I formulated a plan to get into my apartment. I had just smashed a narrow window next to my front door and attempted a cat-burglar-like ingress, when my lesbian neighbor stepped from her apartment and said, “Why’d you smash that window? I have your spare set of keys, dumbass.”
“Hand ’em over, sister.”
“Where are your pants?”
“Never mind that. Give me the keys.”
“Why are your eyes doing that spinning thing?”
“Are you going to get me those keys?”
Arguing with a druggie in underwear and cape rarely leads anywhere. My neighbor’s a smart lady. She collected my keys from her countertop and deposited them in my palm.
And that became my first task to complete without the aid of a motorcar: replace my set of house keys. Right after I taped cardboard across that busted window and put on a decent pair of shorts and a T-shirt emblazoned with a Space Invader, I hobbled on my big black plastic Broken Foot Boot of Doom up to where University Avenue and 36th Street meet.
I’m reminded of a story I read last year of how this is a “special” block of San Diego. There exists a zoning regulation that requires 1000-foot buffers between adult businesses and residential zones, churches, schools, public parks, and other adult businesses. In other words, you can’t erect (ahem) a nudie bookstore or nudie club next to a church, school, houses, a park, or, interestingly, another nudie bookstore or strip joint. That zoning regulation is wholly ignored at 36th and University. I take a seat at the bus stop. Behind me is a “gentlemen’s club,” to my right is an “adult book” store, across University Avenue and down to Wilson is a Pentecostal church, and I can hear kids squealing as they run to their nearby homes, having just let out of Edison Elementary School on 35th Street. Nowhere else is this permitted, and it’s only allowed here because the two buildings that house the naughty enterprises (bookstore and strip club) were grandfathered in before the zoning requirements (Chapter 14, Article 1, Division 6 from sandiego.gov, Municipal Code section). Oh, yes, we’re quite lucky to have this “special” corner down here in the border town between North Park and City Heights.
Soon, the Number 7 bus zoomed me and several drunk derelicts away — the chorus of their coughs and loud beer belches sounding not unlike “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” glory, glory, hallelujah indeed. Crossing over the 805 freeway, I peered out the front window to check the gas prices of three stations we passed. The lowest price for a gallon of regular was $3.59, the highest price per gallon — a flavor of gas called Super Wham-o-dyne, now with Advancenol!, or something like that — was $3.84. With my tongue sticking out, a borrowed pencil, and an old receipt, I figured my commuting costs for a month.
Lucille the Wondertruck, a tired 1995 Ford Ranger, can get down the road at a fuel rate of about 18 miles per gallon. Because in my youth I enjoyed the combination of ketamine and martinis coupled with long Sunday drives and subsequently banged into a variety of objects that claims adjusters frowned upon, insurance on Lucille the Wondertruck costs me $50 per month. Let’s say registration, taxes, and maintenance (the ol’ girl’s definitely in her declining years) costs another $40 per month. With my California Public Education mathematic skills, I figured out that commuting just 5 miles round-trip each day for work, 20 days of work per month, would run me roughly $350,000 American, give or take, depending on the price of the peso. I showed my jottings to the college kid next to me, who called me a dummy (damn you, California Board of Education), and he said that the real cost of commuting, given the figures I’d written down, would be $109.95 monthly. And that’s 5 miles round-trip, just 2.5 miles each way. Double the distance of the commute to 10 miles, from about North Park to Horton Plaza and back (not a long way), cost of commuting jumps to $130 per month. And that’s just between work and home, not counting trips to the liquor store, taxidermist, or wig shop.