Michael Phillips, The Airstream Chronicles - How I came to inhabit the Airstream

How I came to inhabit the Airstream

Thousands of people (okay, two) have asked me, "mjp, how is it you came to live in that old Airstream trailer out there behind Bell's double-wide mobile home?" Ah, if only there were a simple answer...

* * *

"Come on baby, I know we missed a turn somewhere."

"Is that all you can do is criticize? Next time you can be your own fucking navigator!"

I'd known her for ten days and we were on our way to Vegas for a quickie marriage and a go at Harrah's blackjack tables. But somewhere something had gone terribly wrong and we were driving into a dry gulch nightmare, no sign of life and no gas in the car.

"Come on now," I said, "Don't be so sensitive. All I'm trying to do is find out where we are."

"We're in the fucking middle of nowhere, and I've had to piss for the last fifty miles!"

"Hey baby, I'll stop anytime you give the word."

"You know I can't just go out there behind a tumbleweed and squat! Find a god damn McDonald's or something!"

A McDonald's? She'd be lucky if I could find a tumbleweed.

We kept driving and she kept fidgeting and giving me the evil eye. She started to tap on the dashboard, lightly at first, then with increasing intensity until she was pounding her fist on it and biting her lip. "All right, all right! Stop the car!" I pulled over onto the gravel shoulder and she jumped out and ran off into the dirt to find something to hide behind. I got out of the car and stretched. We'd been on the road for most of the day and if we didn't find a gas station soon we'd be well and truly fucked. I scanned the horizon in every direction, but as far as I could see there was nothing but dirt and rocks. I heard Vanessa's feet crunching toward the car and turned in her direction. And there it was, just over her shoulder - a glint in the fading sunlight.

"What the fuck are you looking at?" she purred.

"I think I saw something over there. A gas station maybe."

"Well get in the car and drive, genius. Let's go!"

We made our way up the road, and I kept glancing out the side window to make sure I didn't lose sight of the reflection. But there were no roads that led in its direction. Finally we came across a path that led off into nowhere - but toward the light.

"This can't be it," I said.

"Why not? You said you saw a building over there."

"I saw a reflection is all. Could have been anything."

"Well anything is better than god damn nothing! Drive over and see what it is!"

The look in her eyes told me it'd be easier to pull the teeth from an angry porcupine than it would be to convince her to stay on the main road, so I pulled off onto the pair of tracks that led off into the dirt. It wasn't a road so much as the suggestion of a road, and it was rocky and pitted. We banged along slowly, teeth rattling in our heads, searching the bouncing horizon for some sign of life. After about fifteen minutes of spine-jangling Vanessa screeched, "There! There it is, I see it!" and there on the horizon was what seemed to be several buildings. One of them had to be a gas station.

We bounced down the path for quite some time, and as we got closer to our oasis we began to notice crude signs stuck into the dirt; "GO AWAY IF YOUR NOT WANTID", "THIS IS A PRIVATE PROPERDY" and "TRESPASERS WILL PROBABLEY BE SHOT! THIS MEANS YOU!"

"You know," I said, "Something tells me there's no gas station up ahead..."

"Well whoever's up there will probably give us some gas to help us get back to fucking civilization."

"Yeah...probably..."

About half a mile away we could begin to make out what was ahead: a shabby mobile home, several poorly constructed sheds and lean-tos, a rusty satellite dish and an Airstream trailer, which was what we'd seen glinting in the sun. The whole mess was encircled by a chain link fence that was propped up in spots by two-by-fours. Probably a dozen cars were on the property, most of them up on blocks. As we got closer I noticed they were all the same make - Geo Metros.

We neared the gate and slowed to a crawl. "I don't know man," I said, "I'm really not anxious to go in there."

"Okay big shot, just fly us to Las Vegas then!"

At that moment the car sputtered to a halt. We'd run out of gas. There was no turning back now. We'd have to ask whoever was inside for help.

We got out of the car and walked toward the mobile home. The lovely and charming Vanessa was looking at me as if this whole mess was my fault, and she'd just as soon be shacked up in the Mirage with someone of more substantial means. Instinct told me I probably shouldn't bring up the fact that her inadequate navigation had gotten us into this mess. We walked through the gate and looked for signs of life. There were none. We made our way past the discarded bathtubs and rusty machinery to the mobile home, an aging "double-wide" with putty colored aluminum siding and broken shutters. I looked at Vanessa and she scowled, which I took as my cue to knock on the door.

"Hello? Anyone home?" I said as I rapped on the free swinging screen door. We waited. "Hello?" Out of the corner of my eye I saw the curtains rustle in the window. Someone was home but they weren't answering the door. "Jesus Christ, let's just get out of here," I said.

"Right. And go where?" Vanessa asked, as she stepped up to the door and pounded on it with both fists. "Hey! Answer the fucking door! We need some help out here!"

The curtains rustled again and we could hear someone making their way to the door. Several locks clicked and the door opened an inch or two. "Who are you?" a woman's voice asked.

"Hi," I said, "we're kind of lost and we ran out of gas. If you could point us toward Las Vegas and spare a gallon or two of gas, we'd really appreciate it."

"Oh sure, baby," she said, "we got plenty gas for you!"

A man's voice could be heard in the background; "Tell them to go away god damn it! We can't have every stranger that comes around here sucking up our precious fluids! We can't spare any water. Tell them we can't spare any water!"

"Oh, well, how am I helping you?" said the woman, "If you need water you have to go away I think."

"We don't need water," I said, "We're lost and out of gas."

"Come on," Vanessa chimed in, "Open the fucking door! We're stranded for Christ sake. You want us to shrivel up and die out here?"

There was a long pause, and finally the door opened and I could hear the sound of the man scampering away. A youngish, smiling Asian woman stood in the entrance. She said, "So come on in, Joe! I think we can helping you out after all. Any friend in trouble is a friend indeed!"

Vanessa walked into the double-wide, and I hesitated for a moment on the steps. "No, you too mister!" the woman said, as she grabbed my arm and yanked me into the trailer. "Sit down, I get you a drink," she said as she trotted off to the kitchen (which was four feet from the entrance), "what you drinking lady?"

"Whatever's cold and strong," Vanessa said.

"Cold and strong..." the woman repeated. "And you are drinking sir?"

"Oh, whatever's handy." I said.

"Handy!" the woman yelped, "You are too funny mister!" I looked at Vanessa, but she was already in the living room (five feet from the entrance) admiring the brass giraffes and giant mirror clock. She sat down on the plastic covered couch and picked a book up from the chrome and glass coffee table. I jumped as the woman grabbed my ass and said, "Here's your drinks!"

The whole setup was weird, something seemed terribly wrong. And to add to the bizarre nature of the scene, I had the strange feeling I was being watched.

I gulped down the drink she'd brought and my throat immediately closed up. It was like swallowing shards of metal. "What is this?" I gasped.

"Oh that's Arty's special private reserve hooch, Joe. He'd be mighty plenty mad at me if he knew I was giving it to you."

"Arty is your husband?" Vanessa asked.

"Oh my goodness! My manners are gone away! Yes, Arty is my husband and I am Ramona. Very much pleased to meeting you both."

I shook her hand and said, "I'm mjp, and this is Bubbles."

Vanessa kicked me hard in the shin and said, "I'm Vanessa. It's a pleasure to meet you too Ramona, but we have to get the fuck out of here. Why don't you go get your husband and tell him to get us some gas so we can scram."

"I will go get Arty now." she said and disappeared into another room.

"Thanks for the boot, I was just beginning to wonder if you were going soft on me," I said.

"Well you can stand around here and chit chat all day if you want to, but I'm getting the hell out of here. All I want to do right now is hit Vegas, blow off some steam and try to forget about you." She spat out the last word the way I'd wanted to spit out the so-called whiskey I'd just choked down. Ramona came back into the room and it looked as if she'd been crying.

"Is everything okay?" I asked.

"Arty says you have to leave now. He says NBC news starting soon and you can't be here."

"But Ramona..." I said, and Vanessa cut me off.

"Okay Ramona, go on back in there and tell your old man to siphon us up some gas or else start shopping for four, because we aren't going anywhere." She plopped back down onto the couch which let out a tremendous whoopie cushion like sound as the air escaped from beneath the thick plastic cover. Ramona ran back to the other room.

"Jesus," I said, "weird. What the hell's going on around here?"

"What the hell's going on? Look around. There isn't a god damned thing going on around here. We're in the middle of fucking nowhere! And thanks so much for getting us lost in this hellhole by the way." Vanessa was sucking down the rotgut booze and I was starting to worry about how ugly things would soon get if we didn't get out of there. Suddenly a hunched over, pasty, twitchy little guy sporting a cheesy pseudo law enforcement type mustache ran into the room. He was mumbling and wringing his hands.

"Have to leave...NBC news...no gas...no phone...now, have to leave now..." he mumbled as he paced back and forth in front of us staring at the brown shag carpet, "No gas...no service...not a service station...have to leave..."

"You must be Arty." I said.

"Art...not Arty...Art Bell...Coast to Coast....Dreamland...Art. Art Bell...three minutes to NBC news...three minutes..."

"Okay Art Bell. Thing is, we can't leave. We ran out of gas and we need to get back on the road to Vegas." I said, as he continued to pace and mumble.

"No gas...can't spare any gas...two minutes...two minutes to NBC news..."

Vanessa got up from the couch and drank down what was left of my whiskey. She walked up to Bell and stood an inch from him, her face right in his. "Listen to me Art, who do I have to fuck around here to get a few god damn gallons of gas?" He stopped pacing and mumbling, but continued to stare at the ground.

"Jesus Christ Vanessa, knock it off!" I said.

"This is between me and Art, you keep out of it!" my future wife snarled as she turned back to Bell. "Come on Art. What's it gonna be? Look at me, I'm young and firm...you put some gas in that car out here and you and me can have a little party."

Ramona screamed and ran from the room. Bell shifted nervously from foot to foot and finally whispered, "Okay."

"Lovely," I said, "This is just fucking peachy. Come on Vanessa. Let's get out of here. I'm sure we can find someone sane to help us out."

She just growled and pulled Bell into the kitchen. "Ever do it in here Art? Every get any in the kitchen?" Bell mumbled something I couldn't make out, then the two of them went off to the room at the back of the trailer.

I sat down on the couch and started to think of ways I could ditch Vanessa in Vegas and get back to LA as soon as possible. The whole weird episode was giving me the creeps and I just wanted to get away from these people and regroup. I picked up the bottle of whiskey from the table and took a long pull. My eyes watered and I let out a little belch of fire, and when I looked up, Ramona was standing in front of me completely naked.

"Shit! Ramona, what are you doing?"

"Arty go off with your wife and now I'm extra mad to him. I want you to make love to me Joe, I get you all the gas you want."

She didn't look too bad considering the nut she was married to, but the bathtub whiskey was swimming in my gut and I couldn't see straight. I was starting to sweat and the last thing I wanted at that moment was to step into some 1970's swinger's party.

"Ramona, we'd better not. You say you can get some gas for me?"

"Sure Joe," she said as she sat down next to me on the couch, "but what's wrong with me? How come you don't want me, baby? Here you go, have one more drink and then we party, okay?"

She poured another glass of whiskey and I gulped it down. From the other room I could here Vanessa and Bell going at it: "You're so saucy! You're a bad girl," he was panting, "I'm going to have to spank you with my select-a-tenna!"

I turned back to Ramona and in a flash she was all over me. "Come on Joe, let's make a party...I love you long time, Joe...long time..." I leaned my head back and looked at the water stains in the acoustical tile ceiling. My head was spinning and the last thing I remember feeling was Ramona tugging on my belt, then I was out cold.

When I woke up I was drenched in sweat. Flies were swarming me in a merciless attack. I tried to sit up, but tumbled off the edge of a narrow cot. The floor was covered with a thick layer of dust and mouse shit. I crawled toward the brightest thing I could make out through my swollen eyelids. I pushed and the door of the Airstream trailer swung open and I was looking out at a vast sea of dirt. "Vanessa!" I tried to yell through my parched throat, "Vanessa!"

"Your lady's gone." It was Bell. He'd been waiting outside the Airstream for me to come to. "I have to tell you," he said, "I don't much like what you did to my innocent, blushing bride."

"Huh?" I managed, trying to focus and remember what had happened. Everything was very dim though, and it was all I could do to keep from puking.

"I said I don't much care for what went on here yesterday, but what happened, happened. I gassed up your car and the little lady didn't seem too interested in waiting for you."

"Oh shit. Did she go to Vegas?"

"I don't know where she went. Sometimes the Bell magic can drive a woman insane...she could be anywhere."

"Great. That's just great. I'm fucked now...how'm I gonna get back to L.A.?"

"Listen kid," Bell said, "How'd you like a job?"

mjp
8/8/96

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