My thinking was that since I made it from NY to Chicago on Wednesday then I could make it to Denver on Thursday. Only a thousand or so miles, slightly more than my first leg (see Part One of this story, “In the Room With Miles,” in Issue 179). Close to midnight, I pulled into a Ramada Inn on the outskirts of Denver. Whew, that was a long drive. As I was dropping off to sleep, I had an image that I was veering off the road. Startled awake I sat up in bed immediately. Quite unsettling.
Friday morning, ever the wishful thinker, I thought I could make it all the way to L.A; that Porsche could really move. I was taking I-70 West over the Rockies and into Utah. As I was changing highways in a small Utah town, I spotted a Chinese restaurant. Very unexpected and I thought, hmmm, that could be good. It was not. There was hardly any chicken, mucho celery, and some kinda sauce/paste. Maybe I was late for the lunch hour and they ran out of food. Another possibility is they just were a terrible restaurant. Ugh, it was unforgettable how bland that meal was. Another lesson for me: while on the road keep it simple. That is what Denny’s, Waffle House, and the like are for. I am pushing it and I had a new mechanical development. When I laid off the gas the car started to backfire. Late in the evening, I made the Nevada State line. There is no speed limit in Nevada. Uncommon – the only other place I have experienced that was on the Autobahn. The desert’s flat and open landscape makes it easy for speeding. The Porsche was zipping through the darkness at around 90 miles an hour. It was quiet, not a car in sight. I realized that I would not make it to Los Angeles that night, but Las Vegas, that had to happen – it was the only port and perhaps the only civilization around them there parts.
Some miles out of Las Vegas, maybe 50 miles away. I saw the sky lit up. I was thinking that it was reflecting the Vegas lights. A half-hour later I was cruising the Strip at a snail’s pace. Back then the speed limit in Las Vegas’s city boundaries was 15 MPH, and I had heard that it was strictly enforced. Possibly because they wanted you to spend time there and not just blow through.
In front of the Flamingo hotel, I saw a black and white police car. It was a souped-up Chevy Camaro. That car could probably catch anything on wheels. In the early 1970s Las Vegas was nowhere near as big as it is today. Not even a quarter of the size. Mostly Western saloons with gambling and a couple of nine- or 12-story hotel/casinos buildings with motel-like strips out back. Before I knew it, I was on the southern outskirts of town. That’s as far as I wanted to go, nothing but desert in front of me. I saw a Travelodge, a chain motel, and checked in for the night.
The next morning the car wouldn’t start, the dreaded ticking sound indicating a dead battery. With the driver’s door open I put the car in neutral and started pushing. I pointed towards a small downward slope at the back of the motel's parking lot, and I gained some speed. I jumped in the driver’s seat and put it in second gear and popped the clutch, and the Porsche came to life. I was off, and the small city of Las Vegas was shrinking behind me. I was back on I-15 South heading towards the high desert California town of Barstow. Off in the distance, I saw two highway patrol cars parked in the meridian and four deputies standing in a circle talking. I was cruising between a 110 and 120. I took my foot off the gas and as I slowed to 100 miles an hour the Porsche backfired three or four times. It was loud and as I coasted by the Highway Patrol troopers, I looked at the speedometer, I was doing 90. Looking over at my car they gave me dirty looks as I passed. That’s right fellas, no speed limit in Nevada, yahoo-hoo hooey!
Just after noon, I motored into L.A. county. Not bad – I left New York on Wednesday and got to Los Angeles on Saturday. That was my Cannonball Run. Between the car and me, the car suffered more and was a bit worse for wear, looking like a muddy off-road vehicle with the windshield smudged with dead insects. The only real workout that little Porsche ever had and ever would have. It was out of tune and had a battery that would not hold a charge. I suspected that the car needed mending. She had been ridden hard and stabled while still wet.
I stopped at a service station and asked for a charge. I had lunch and when I went back, they told me the battery water had evaporated and it was dry. That’s why it would not hold a charge. I assumed the battery water must have been low when I started the trip and had evaporated from the engine heat on the long drive. That happened to me more than once with other cars back then. So, they added some distilled water and gave it a charge. That did the trick, and the battery was holding a charge now. It cost $1.50.
I drove over to my dear friend, the late Barry Byrens’ house at 8929 St. Ives. He lived just up the hill past Turner’s Liquor store at the intersection of Sunset Blvd. and Doheny Drive. The very west of West Hollywood.
On Monday I called Pearl, Jac’s secretary, to check in. She told me to bring Jac’s car to the Porsche service center in Hollywood and they would tune it up and do any servicing necessary, and to call her back on Wednesday for her to tell me when to meet Jac. The Porsche that I’d been driving belonged to Elektra Records president Jac Holzman, who had asked me to drive it to L.A.
I brought the car into the service center, and I showed the manager the stick shift knob I had accidentally broken off. He said “no problem, come back in two days and the car will be ready.” Two days later I went back to pick up the car and the manager came out and he was furious. “What the hell happened to the car? I took out a bunch of dirt and grass that was wedged into the undercarriage. There was even grass in the brake drums, and the grass was growing out of the seams of the cars undercarriage! I have never seen anything like this.” Then he said, “come here,” and took me into the shop and showed me a 55-gallon oil drum half-filled with dried and caked mud and some live grass.
For me, this was a moment. I was thinking like Ralph Kramden going hummana hummana hummana. I did not know what to say, certainly a rarity for me. Seeing that he was not going to get a satisfactory answer, he shook his head while handing me the Porsche’s keys. With a look of disgust on his face he pointed to where the car was parked.
Getting into the car I noticed a new wooden stick shift handle. It is like the old one I broke. Kicking her over I started the drive back to Barry’s house. The car was all fixed up and tuned but honestly, it seemed to drive the same as before.
I called Pearl and she instructed me as to where and when to meet the company’s jet at Santa Monica Airport. When I got there, I was to be directed to drive onto the tarmac right up to where the plane would be parked. Life was quainter back then and those things could be arranged. Pearl instructed me to meet Jac and give him the Porsche’s keys, then get on board the plane for the trip back to Teterboro, New Jersey (just across the Hudson River from New York City).
As per Pearl's instructions I drove up to security at the gate and showed my identification. Necessary of course for clearance and to receive access to the place on the tarmac where the plane would be parked. Passing through the gate I was pointed to the designated spot. Waiting there I saw the Gulfstream taxiing toward me. It pulled up and a ground crew member motioned to its assigned spot. The Jet stopped about a hundred feet from me.
This whole thing was like a scene from the movies. The door on the jet opened and the steps folded down. Out came some rock star-looking people and then Jac came out and walked over to me. After a brief greeting, I handed him the keys and he threw his carry-on bag in the passenger seat and got in the Porsche. Kicking the engine over, he waved goodbye to me and drove out the gate. One of the crew stuck their head out the door of the aircraft and waved me in. I got in and settled and the rest of the passengers boarded. There was Bill Harvey, an Elektra executive, and a couple of others. About 15 minutes later the plane’s door closed, and the jet engines started up.
It has been a hard couple of weeks, but not in a bad way. Having a good time takes its toll. In my case I did not notice till now. I tested my boundaries, and it doesn’t always end well.
The plane took off I was soon sound asleep. Next thing I know there was a hand on my shoulder gently shaking me. I opened my eyes and was told that we had landed in Teterboro. Everyone has disembarked and I am the only remaining passenger. Getting off the plane, I was directed to the spot where there was a car waiting to take me home. Two weeks after I left New York, I was back.
By the time I was dropped off at my Third Avenue apartment, it was dark. Once inside my apartment, I opened the Castro Convertible couch and climbed into bed. Smelled nice, and like Sheri. Smiling, I drop off to sleep.
Life moves on and it is still amazing to me how slow day-to-day things seem to move along, but how fast things change. A few years later I was at the Brill Building on West 57th Street seeing one of the attorneys for a band I was managing at the time. The elevator came and there was Miles Davis standing inside, all alone. “Miles!” I say while stepping in and he looked at me and said, “do I know you?” “Yes,” I said, and I briefly recounted the Upper Saddle River event where we had met, ending with, “remember?” The elevator door opened to the lobby, and he glanced towards me, said “no, I don’t remember,” and walked out of the elevator.
Header image courtesy of Picryl.com/public domain/The U.S. National Archives.