Playing with the Grim Reaper or Babes in Hollywood-Land Part Three

Grim Reaper (advertisement)
Grim Reaper (advertisement) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My wife had gotten a job with the Salt Shaker Restaurant near the Pasadena Convention Centre. It was working as a waitress on the ‘graveyard shift’ from ten thirty at night till five thirty the next morning. The pay was pretty good and the tips weren’t bad either. The only draw back was that we didn’t have a car, so I walked her to work every night. We couldn’t really afford a car so we decided to ‘hoof it’ everywhere that was reasonably close and use the bus for the longer jaunts.

In the meantime, I had let my hair grow and I’d grown a moustache and a goatee. I hadn’t gotten a job yet. I was applying for just about everything that had cropped up with little success. I was also trying to figure out how to get into the entertainment business. I talked to Martin’s fiancée Lillian. She had worked as a model and was full of suggestions on how to get work as an actor. Her first suggestion was to check out the Pasadena Amateur Theatre scene.

I went to the Pasadena Playhouse and asked about auditions for their next Am Dram. They took my details and explained that I would be responsible for  supplying my own wardrobe, make-up and that I would have to pay a ‘fee’ to be considered for any auditions in future. I was also told that agents frequently attended their performances so it was a good place to get noticed.

I was a little concerned. Back home wardrobe and make-up were provided by the Theatre and we didn’t pay any fees. I was in a completely different world in California and one where I couldn’t afford to even join an amateur group. I would have to re-think my options.

I had gotten into a regular routine and route when I walked my wife to work each night. We would walk down past the Southwestern Bell building and take the next left, walk straight up till we passed the convention centre and then the restaurant. I would drop her off and then either repeat the journey in reverse or walk up towards the Pasadena Hilton on South Los Robles Avenue.

I started going the Hilton way regularly. The main reason was that if I took the route that went back by Southwestern Bell, I would invariably bump into a pimp and his three or four ladies who hung out on the street  corner across from the Bell building. The first time it happened, I was amused and surprised and, let’s face it, a little shocked.

I mean this tall thin black man with the ‘lollipop’  afro, big ten gallon panama hat and long leather coat was very friendly and funny. He was amazed that I was not interested in any of his ‘ladies’. I first met him when I paused on the street corner to light a cigarette. He asked if I had a match. I said no but I had a lighter. He laughed and started chatting with me. This became a regular occurrence until he decided that I was a plain clothes cop. Hence the reason I changed my return home route.

Walking towards the Pasadena Hilton, I passed what looked like a tennis or country club. I would stand and watch the tennis players in their pristine tennis clogs as they batted the ball back and forth. One night a “drop-dead gorgeous” blonde woman stopped to talk to me.

“Hey! You’ve been coming by here an awful lot.”

“Yeah.” I replied, feeling friendly, “It’s kind of my regular route now.” I chuckled, waved and started to move off.

“Don’t go!” She waved her tennis racket. “You play?”

“I’ve tried it once or twice.”

“Well you ought to come down, we’ll have a volley or two.” She was smiling and shielding her eyes against the lights.

“I’m not a member.” I shrugged and started to wave again, when she moved closer to me.

“I can sign up to two guests in. Come on in and we’ll see what you can do. We can get you some tennis clothes, so you don’t have to worry about that.”

I laughed again and started off.

“Wait! What’s wrong? You scared I’ll beat you?”

I laughed again and shaking my head, I gave a friendly wave and kept walking.

“Some other time then.” She sounded disappointed and I had the briefest moment of thinking about turning around and going in. Then it hit me. I realised that she wasn’t really interested in playing tennis with me.

Hilton Pasadena

I always was a little stupid when it came to women and their possible interest in me. While pondering this new information I had reached the Hilton. As usual the doorman greeted me with a smile and a “Good evening, sir.” I was always amazed that he would be so welcoming to a young long haired guy in boots and jeans. I mean the Hilton was rich with a capital R and I could never figure out why they didn’t  tell me to get lost.

I found out much later from my friend Nathan that the hotel staff thought I was an ‘undercover cop.’ It turned out that my appearance combined with my attire pretty much screamed cop. I thought that was very funny until he said that for safety sake I should either get a haircut or vary my route a bit more.

On the night I met up with the Grim Reaper twice, I had indeed varied my route. I walked by the Pasadena City Courthouse. It was, at that time, touted as the most beautiful courthouse in the country. It was pretty impressive. It sat back from the road and was surrounded by gardens and weeping willow trees.

As I approached the courthouse heading north, I noticed a van parked on a side street facing away from me. The engine was idling and every now and then the driver would goose the gas pedal. I could see the driver’s bearded face watching me in his side view mirror. I had turned down the road he was on and noticing that he was watching me, I got a tingle that crawled  up the back of my neck. He was revving his engine again when I decided to turn around and go back the way I had come.

I nonchalantly strolled up to the corner where a huge weeping willow was. I walked out of the van’s sight line and kept my casual pace going. The second I was out of the van driver’s sight, I heard the squeal of tyres on asphalt. I glanced back and saw he had made a U-turn in the road and was racing his van in my direction.

I jumped forward like I had a rocket up my ass and ran to the intersection. I darted through the street lights just as they turned red. The van shot through right after me; the other cars screeched to a halt and angry horns were blatting out their disapproval. I ran through the supermarket parking lot, dodging between cars and ducking down so the van driver could not see me.

I made my way to the supermarket doors and ran in. I stood hunched over and looking out into the parking lot. The van went up and down each row of cars repeatedly. He was obviously looking for me. After what seemed like hours he gave up and left.

Years later I read with horror about the ‘green death van’ that had been cruising the roads in Southern California and how the bearded driver was kidnapping and torturing people to death. The van that had chased me that night was green and the driver had a bushy beard. I think someone was looking out for me on that Pasadena street.

But I think that whoever had kept an eye out on my well being with the van fell asleep for a bit while I was in the supermarket. As I was headed towards the opposite exit in the store I caught sight of a group of about eight black teenagers disappearing through the door.

I walked out seconds later and saw them all jump over a cinder block wall as I came out. I was about to have my second close call of the evening.

I walked over the 210 Highway on the street bridge. I was about halfway across when I got that tingle again, but this time I felt the small hairs on the back of my neck stand straight up. My heart jumped into my throat. The van! I looked quickly behind me. No van. But there was a group of eight black gang members who were quickly and silently closing the gap between us.

I turned back around and quickened my pace. Only a little, I didn’t want them to either sense fear or decide to speed things up. I was headed for a vacant lot just a few yards ahead. I passed it several times and I’d noticed an empty glass Sangria gallon-sized bottle there every time I’d passed the lot.

That jug was my immediate goal. I figured that they would probably overtake me before I could get to my house which was just around the corner from the empty lot. In my head, I knew they were going to get to me before I could get in the house. If  I could get hold of that huge bottle, I could at least take a couple of the bastards out with me. I got to the lot and looked quickly for the jug. My heart jumped from my throat to the back of my mouth. Someone had broken it. All that remained was the very end of the neck with it’s finger hole.

Change of plan. I walked a little bit faster. The gang was getting uncomfortably close by now. I turned the corner opposite my house. As I got out of their line of sight, I did a replay of what I had done with the van. I ran like the devil was chasing me. Sprinting moved in a big half circle and crawled on the porch from the side of the house. I crouched and opened my front door and slipped in.

I looked out my front window. The eight youths had reached the corner. They stopped and looked up the street. Not seeing their prey they bolted up the street shouting to each other as they looked for me.

I sat on the floor covered in sweat. Two close calls in one night.

The next day, we got a car.

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