Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Pilgrimage

A truly gifted writer invites you into their world and makes no excuses for it. The words lead the way and you follow, trusting the author to know the path. Through the twists and turns of the dark highway of their minds you emerge out the other side, better somehow than you were when you entered. And if you’re lucky, the story and places they present will resonate within you for a long, long time. Thus was the case with SUNSET TOMORROW by E. Ervin Tibbs. Within those pages I discovered new friends who felt familiar the moment I met them, and their haunts and hang-outs became mine for a time. The Shack, a tiny dive bar on the beach, became a sort of Mecca for the characters in the book, all were welcomed and more importantly for the invisible people of our society, they were accepted.

I was so moved and affected by the story of these people and this bar, that I took a pilgrimage to Sunset Beach, my quest was to find The Shack and have a beer. Of course, the name had been changed in the novel, and in order to find the bar, I needed to find the author. Erv Tibbs is an unassuming man with a simple ease about him and he informed me that the place I was looking for was actually named MOTHER’S, and then he offered to tag along. It was a place of legend for me, and I was going to be guided through by the man who brought it to life.

Pacific Coast Highway is a long meandering road stuffed with cars controlled by angry drivers. But where it cuts through Sunset Beach, a feeling hangs in the air, an epiphany waiting to happen, as if the town as a whole wants to say, “What’s the rush?”

We arrived at MOTHER’S ten minutes before the doors opened, and I was awed just leaning against the freshly painted red building. As we stood there, Erv recanted a few wild stories from his days on the beach and all but one took place right here at MOTHER’S Bar. Cupping our hands against the glass we peered through the tinted windows, he with eyes of remembrance, and me with eyes fresh and new. What I saw was a place of legend – hallowed ground upon which he and his characters had walked.

A shack it truly was, a rough-hewn bar jutted in a u-shape from one wall, a juke box stood opposite, and covering the walls, every square inch of them, were photographs of people, patrons old and new, past and present.

“I can’t believe it,” Erv said. He pulled away from the window and glanced at me with a grin. “I helped build that bar 35 years ago, and it’s still standing.”

At that moment, a local resident came around the corner. He tried the doorknob and said, “They’ll be open in a minute. I heard what you said about that bar. I been coming here 20 years myself, and helped ‘em re-do the floor a few years back.”

From inside, the jukebox sprang to life and a few minutes later, the doors opened. I let the others go first because I wanted to take my time. I steeled myself for disappointment for I had learned that in life the legend is rarely so legendary in the light of day. Just as the junkyard dog…a bloodthirsty hound of legend, usually becomes playful pup in the harsh light of reality.

MOTHER’S Bar was the exception, for in the hands of an honest storyteller, she had been faithfully documented. The air felt electric cool and full of promise. Everywhere you looked, there was life. The photos on the walls, the TV over the bar, the bras hanging from the ceiling, autographed and hung by adventurous women throughout the years. The regular patrons took their seats and studied us as we entered. They seemed to peg Erv as one of their own immediately and accepted him, but as for myself …well, I was an outsider and therefore subject to scrutiny. Further judgment was held until more data could be collected. I asked Erv which stool was his back in the old days and he pointed at the one closest to the door. “Easier to crawl outta here when my legs were rubber,” he said. I took his original seat and, for the first time in over twenty years, I ordered a beer. It was the right thing to do. I could not, with good conscience, leave this hallowed ground without sharing a beer with my friend.

At some point, the locals figured I was ok and we all talked. They discovered Erv had written about the place they loved, and he became a local celebrity for a bit, but when he bought a round for the house, he was nominated for sainthood. “This is a comfortable place,” I thought. Inside those walls all pretense was swept aside, and you were suddenly stripped bare of preconceived notions about social classes and political views. Inside MOTHER’S you were who you were, naked inside your own skin and if you found discomfort there, you didn’t stay long.

There aren’t many places left where pure honesty and simple means coexist in our violent, money-hungry world where everyone is hurrying through life. And soon there will be one less. MOTHER’s lost their lease and, at the end of the year, will simply fade away into the mists of memory, marking the end of an era for a way of life that is misunderstood by society’s upper crust, and so revered by the invisible people among us. The novel then, becomes a loving tribute to a way of life that for some, is the only way to live.

No comments: