By Brenda Harvey
This is a re-print from the April 1978 100th edition
It is 10:30 at night and we are exhausted and waiting to pick up a borrowed truck to drive out to Glendale.
“I can’t find his keys!” my friend’s friend moans. “Can you start it without keys?”
I sigh, knowing I’ll never be able to hot-wire a pick-up. “Wait a minute – here they are.” She hands us an enormous ring full of keys, selecting one that looked right. “I think it’s this one.”
Great. We can get started after all. We are on our way to pick up this month’s Beachhead from the printer. All 10,000 copies of it. The printer is out in Glendale, and every month a good friend of the Beachhead volunteers her time to drive the box of pasted-up pages out to an old bricked industrial building off an alley in downtown Glendale. A few days later, someone from the collective goes out to pick up the bundles of printed papers.
Up to now this rather grubby job has fallen to one member of the collective who has a van and who has had access to a functional truck. The van isn’t available this time and the truck is out of town – and this particular collective member is ready for the relief crew.
We are it. We’ve both gone before, as co-pilots, but we’ve never gone by ourselves.
We feel like we are soloing. I am pretty tall – but my friend is taller. The pedals are so far in front of me that I must extend my legs straight to make contact at all. And there’s no adjusting the seat – it has long since rusted in place. So I scoot forward and struggle to find the accelerator.
The engine turns over three times before it catches, and it sounds downright reluctant. It dies at every stop sign as we head over to pick up the list of directions to the printer. I remember my friend’s admonition when I’d asked if we could borrow the pick-up: “It drives like a truck,” he’d said, with an air of concern. l always expect a pickup to drive like a truck – as long as it drives.
We head for the San Diego Freeway.
“What’s the gas gauge say?” Olga asks me.
“Quarter of a tank.”
“So we have half. Your friend said the gauge registers a quarter tank less than it has.”
“Hope that’ s right…”
I struggle to shift into third and realize that it is an automatic after all. That’s OK, I need both hands on the wheel. At the on-ramp I can tell the steering is shot. To keep the thing straight in the lane I have to turn the wheel as if I were doing a slalom.
The rig shifts into high gear and the whole cab begins to vibrate. I can’t see a thing in the rear-view mirror – it is a vibrating blur.
“How’s it drive?” Olga shouts. The off-road tires are making so much noise it’s like being inside a blender.
“Just barely?” I shout back. I am concerned about the wild ride – there is a lot of traffic – I am nervous.
We get hysterical, and I am not sure if we should have volunteered to do this after all. That truck is downright dangerous, and neither of us is really sure where we are going.
Still, it is the first of the month, and the Beachhead has been waiting for us 24 hours already. And in Glendale, at that. We do at least feel we want to bring the Beachhead home.
When a Bekins truck roars up beside us, I pray there will be no stray hub cap in the lane ahead. The steering can’t take a sudden swerve, and traffic surrounds us.
At cruising speed the sound of the off-road tires diminishes somewhat and we can communicate in a casual shout. So we shout and laugh and miss the turn onto the Ventura Freeway. With a bit of encouragement I make a U-turn and we are back on the Freeway – no cops in sight.
We roar along to where the directions say we should turn. “The directions are wrong,” Olga says with conviction. “Don’t turn here.”
The gas gauge reads less than E.
We pass the turn-off and end up right where we want to be. The directions really were wrong – and we are really running on empty.
The directions say to go 7 lights to an Armenian restaurant and turn left on Broadway. We go 6 lights and it’s Broadway and we never see the restaurant. We pass the alley where we are supposed to turn, and owing to the peculiar pattern of one-way streets in Glendale, we must go around two different blocks before we can take a pass by again.
Finally we’re there. It has taken us a little more than an hour of pretty crazy driving, the gas gauge is below empty, it’s the middle of the night, and no gas stations are in sight, much less open.
Inside the printers the presses are idle. Stacks of white-ribboned bundles are everywhere.
“We came for the Beachhead,” we say to someone looking as strung-out as we feel.
“Well, if it’s done it’ll be here, somewhere.”
“If it’s done???” We look at each other. The truck keys jangle in my palm.
“I’m sure it’s around here somewhere.”
An assortment of Valley papers and weekly LA throwaways were everywhere, stacked shoulder high on palettes and arranged around the presses in strict disorder. We search and hunt and read snatches of headlines above justified margins. Finally we find the Beachhead.
“Will your truck take the palette?”
“Sure,” I say, forgetting the metal frame over the truck bed.
An electric cart moves the palette, stacked sixbundles high, to the truck. Clearly it is never going to fit. The top layer will have to be moved. We shift ten bundles off the stack into the truck bed. The forklift eases the palette over the. center of the truck bed, then moves back. ·
The springs creak and groan and go all the way down, so that the fenders just clear the top of the rear tires. This is a half-ton pick-up?
Olga and I look at the stack of papers with satisfaction. We’d gotten them – and without moving them all by hand. Loading the palette onto the truck was a great idea. We cop a couple of papers to read on the road, and are closing up the tailgate when one of the printer people points out that with the papers stacked that high, they’ll be sure to fall off as we drive.
His point is well taken. Olga and I flash on a trail of Beachheads being scattered from Glendale to the San Diego Freeway. Then we move half the bundles off the palette and into the truck bed. Our hands are black with printers ink, and the bundles are falling apart right and left. The tying machine hadn’t worked properly., and the ribbon ties around the bundles come apart in our hands.
Finally we’re ready to go.
I hadn’t seen the paper at paste-up, and Olga begins reveling over this page and that I can’t take it and suggest we stop for coffee. Great. We park on a side street, wondering how it would feel to come out and discover that Glendale had ripped off the Beachhead.
The coffee shop is almost empty, and we take a table large enough to accommodate two copies of the paper spread-eagled across it. We are on page three before the waitress brings coffee to our grubby hands, and we go through the paper twice, anticipating a second cup. It doesn’t come, so we take our papers and our tip and split.
Back on the freeway, we shudder into high gear and lean back to enjoy the vibrations. The roar isn’t so bad the second time around, but the steering is worse. All that weight in back has created a new problem. The accelerator is working overtime. It has a life of its own now, pumping up and down under my foot whenever the hell it feels like it.
I steer for dear life, trying not to look at the gas gauge, which now reads about a quarter tank below empty. We’ll either make it or we won’t – so we keep on.
Usually the driver who picks up the paper does initial distribution, that is, drives a long route from Santa Monica through Ocean Park and into Venice, delivering bundles of papers here and there. The route takes at least an hour.
My driving nerves are long gone, we are definitely out of gas, so we make a collective decision to distribute tomorrow. We drive straight to the Beachhead office and unload the paper, bundle by falling-apart bundle. It is pretty late and the stars are out and we are glad to be back in Venice – in one piece.
When we get back to my house, my car is gone. My friend had insisted that I trade my key for his, so he wouldn’t be without wheels. He isn’t. He’s out somewhere on mine.
I am concerned about his judgment – he drives this monster to work every day, and now he is out in my little car. When he reappears and I express my concerns about his truck and his safety, he says only, “Well, I told you it drives like a truck.”
Well, I’ve driven a lot of trucks in my day, and this one is a bomb. Thanks a lot, Kane, but next month we’ll have to get another truck.
Anyone care to volunteer?
By Brenda Harvey