Star Date: January 6th, 2005
I’d been sidelined from the Rock ‘n’ Roll lifestyle since 2001, when an unfortunate pyrotechnic mishap at a Rammstein concert robbed me of one of my eyes. With that, I had decided it was time to take a break from being an occupational roadie. The huge court settlement from the band’s management company made that decision a hell of a lot easier. So I bought a Harley and bounced around the country for a couple of years partying and trying to impress women with my eye patch. Eventually the cash started to run out and I settled into the comfort of a stained futon in a guy named Derek’s living room in El Cajon, CA.
Derek was 53, divorced several times, and had been a pro surfer in the 80s. He broke his back in a contest on Hawaii’s North Shore which forced him into early retirement. But, he managed to retain some of his surfer boy good looks while his mid-section expanded (as it does when most of your diet consists of gin and hot wings) and his scalp refused to regrow anymore wispy blond locks. I met him while I was getting drunk on the last of my settlement money in the dive bar where he worked. He took pity on me and let me crash at his apartment. In turn, I gave him my Harley with an unspoken agreement that my hog would indefinitely cover my rent. It was perfect: his bar was walking distance from the apartment and that’s pretty much the only place I went besides the futon.
I really liked living in El Cajon. It had a calming, small town feel that my rattled nerves desperately needed. Life on the road for all those years had taken its toll on me not only physically and but mentally. Thanks to my accident I was on permanent disability and if I needed some extra cash, I’d mix sound for bands that played at the local clubs. I couldn’t entirely abandon a life that involved music. It is so much a part of who I am that I was completely content pushing faders for a Journey cover band or worse, for Journey.
At the bar one night, Derek asked me for a favor. He told me his buddy Thomas needed a hand moving some equipment from a storage unit in Escondido to Calexico, a town just north of the Mexican border. Derek couldn’t do it himself due to his bad back. Mine wasn’t much better, but he said his friend was willing to pay me $500 for a few hours of my time. He said Thomas had been a busy musician but his band had just gone on hiatus after being on tour for a few years. So he was taking time off to pursue other interests. I was several whiskey sours deep at that point and readily agreeing without hesitation. When I asked Derek what kind of interests he only said one word: Space.
Derek had made it clear that tonight was the only time his friend had an open launch window. In my inebriated state, I took that to mean Thomas had other shit to do and only had a short ‘window’ to handle his business. The whole thing was so vague that I just assumed we were picking up drugs. Emboldened by liquor, I decided a drug deal at the Mexican border wasn’t enough to scare me away from $500 that I could definitely use. Derek instructed me to hop in a cab and go to an address he wrote down. He said his friend would cover my cab fare. Since I didn’t have to be behind the wheel, I begged Derek to let me take a bottle of whiskey along for the ride. Without words or hesitation, he handed me a bottle of Old Grand-Dad bourbon. With bottle underarm, I stumbled out and into my waiting cab. That was the last time I every saw Derek or my futon in El Cajon for that matter.
As I entered the backseat of the cab, I was extra careful to not drop the bottle of bourbon. I tried my best to look and act sober while attempting to engage the driver in conversation. Upon observation of his taxi license I learned my driver was an Armenian gentleman by the name of Davit.
“Hey Davit! How’s it going? You local to El Cajon?”
I was met with silence. Davit fiddled with the radio and inhaled an entire Marlboro light in a single drag. About thirty seconds later he responded.
“No. I live in Oceanside. Fuck El Cajon. They don’t like Armenians!”
I wasn’t sure how to respond to that. He seemed really angry. And then he noticed the bottle of Old Grand-Dad next to me and instantly went to into DEFCON 1.
“Hey my friend, don’t even think of opening that bottle in my cab. No open containers and if you spill that shit I will fucking beat your ass, bro!”
I gladly stowed the bottle at my feet as a show of good faith and we headed north to Escondido. To make the ride more enjoyable for his drunken fare, Davit began to play what I could only gather was Armenian techno with a woman in distress screaming over the music. Not the worst thing I’ve ever heard, but it was making my anxiety spike to the point where all I wanted to do was guzzle the bottle of hooch resting between my feet. We carried on down the highway for another twenty minutes and then Davit guided his cab into the parking lot of a public storage facility.
“Okay! Fare covered. Just tip!” Davit barked.
I reached into my pocket knowing full well I didn’t have any cash.
“Hey let me go find the guy I’m meeting and ask him for cash. I’m broke.”
Davit’s face turned into an enraged snarl. I started to think that my new friend was about to put me through a wall. I quickly reached down and grabbed the neck of the bottle in case I had to crack his skull open. Instead he turned to face forward. And with his back to me he spoke once more, but this time in a softer tone.
“Okay my friend, just get the fuck out of my cab. Fucking poor piece of shit. I bet you lost your eye to someone you owed money to!”
Wow, that cut deep. I kindly told him to suck the lowest part of my balls and exited the cab, still clutching the bottle in case I had to strike. He noticed my death grip on the bottle and laughed.
“The fuck you going to do with that buddy? I’ll gut you and leave you in a ditch!”
I slammed the door and he sped off, Armenian techno bumping into the night. The parking lot was empty. Derek’s friend hadn’t arrived yet. Finally free from the threat of physical violence, I sat on a curb and proceeded to drain half of the bottle while I waited for Thomas.
I’d been waiting an hour in front of the Public Storage and there was still no sign of Derek’s friend. I was growing impatient and really needed to piss. The office of the storage facility was closed so I opted for some bushes on the side of the building where I was able to relieve my swollen bladder. My guts ached from the cheap booze knocking around inside me and I realized I had to do more than pee. I panicked as I furiously yanked my jeans off. A Ford Econoline van roared into the parking lot at the moment and literally scared the shit out of me. I evacuated the entire contents of my bowels in one shot just as I heard a voice say “Hey man, are you Derek’s friend?” followed by, “And did you just shit all over yourself?”
The voice was unmistakable. Derek’s buddy was Tom Delonge. I nodded yes to his first question. The van’s headlights helped answer his second question because now my shame was illuminated. I asked Tom to shut off the lights and help me out. He obliged my requests and the parking lot was once again dark. He got out of the van and walked over to the bushes.
“Here man, you can clean up with these,” Tom said as he handed me a small stack of t-shirts. I unfolded one of the shirts to discover it touted the logo for a company called Famous Stars and Straps and was adorned with a photo of Travis Barker holding an assault rifle standing in front of a low rider bike surrounded by an array of distressed type. Naturally I used it as toilet paper, which seemed to make Tom snicker. Judging by this reaction, I gathered things weren’t so good back at the Dude Ranch.
“Thanks dude. You wouldn’t happen to have any extra pants in that van of yours?” I said while I stood there bare assed in the dark. My soiled jeans and underwear lay before me. He told me to hold on. He went to the back of his van and brought me some sort of jumpsuit. It had a peculiar logo embroidered above the front left pocket. I casually asked as to what the logo was and Tom’s response was vague. Something about angels and waves which sounded to me like some kind of Christian-themed surf company.
I put on the suit and boarded Tom’s van. He said we had to pick up some equipment from this storage facility for the mission. I thought ‘mission’ was a strange choice of words. But my brain was still soaked in bourbon, so I let it go. Instead, I sat quiet in the passenger seat while Tom drove the van into the storage facility. We drove to the far end of the lot where the larger storage units were located. He pulled up to the last door at the end of the building.
“Wait here, I’ll go get it,” Tom said and sprang out of the van.
Go get what? And doesn’t he need me to help him? I thought.
As I sat there in the van, Tom’s cell phone began to vibrate. It was sitting in the center console next to an empty Red Bull can. The phone rattled against the can and began to annoy me. I grabbed it to put it on Silent and that’s when I got a glimpse of the name on the Caller ID – Mark 182 (CONFIRMED HUMAN). I must have accidentally hit the button and the call engaged. The voice on the phone sounded extremely worried.
“TOM WHERE ARE YOU? Everyone is looking for you!”
I immediately hung up the phone and placed it back next to the Red Bull can. My head started to spin with questions. Why were people looking for Tom? I had met the man a mere ten minutes ago but he didn’t strike me as someone going totally off the reservation. He was just a dude that needs some help moving something slightly secretive across the Mexican border. No big deal… or at least that’s what I was telling myself in order to justify whatever it is I’d gotten myself into.
The phone was on silent but I could see it repeatedly lighting up. I was just about to answer the phone again when the rear doors of the van opened. I turned back to see the headlights of a forklift moving towards the van. There was a huge wooden crate on its forks. Two guys dressed in jumpsuits like the one I had on were swiftly guiding the crate into the van. The van suddenly sunk under the weight of the mystery box. The silent men in jumpsuits secured the crate inside the van while Tom backed the forklift into his storage unit. They then walked back into the storage unit without a word and closed the door behind them. A few minutes later Tom jumped back in the driver’s seat.
“Hey Tom, your phone was going off a bunch, dude.”
He thanked me with a smile, but didn’t even look at his phone. He started the van and pulled out onto the street and, out of nowhere, he started singing out loud. It wasn’t like any Blink-182 song I’d ever heard. Not that I was a huge fan or anything, but I was pretty familiar with their subject matter. No, this was no Blink song. Whatever it was he was singing through his nose had nothing to do with dick jokes. This was something else entirely.
“I cannot live, I can’t breathe, unless you do this with me”
He repeated this over and over again until we pulled into a gas station to fuel up. Then he stopped singing to update me on our ‘mission’.
“We gotta meet my buddy, Raoul, to pick up some stuff.”
Judging from what I’ve witnessed and understood so far, which wasn’t much, I decided to just nod in agreement. I still had no idea what my role was in all of this. I just wanted that money and some clean underwear. If there was a drug deal going down, I hoped to not get kidnapped or murdered in Mexico. As it stood, the Blink front-man was starting to give me the creeps. As we started out on the two hour drive to a town called Holtville, where Raoul lived, Tom began singing the same verse over and over again while his phone continued to light up. He didn’t even glance at it as we roared East down the darkened highway to meet his friend, Raoul.
The memoirs of a career roadie.