By Steve Overbury
Photo © Mike Lee
We had a shit hole San Diego motel room and a behemoth of a tail finned Ford, which really only needed a harpoon through its head to be a Great White Whale. We’d sat all day on a sea mist-shrouded Imperial Beach wondering where the sun-kissed girls were and now we wanted belly-bustin’ burgers and beer. This is Amerricca right?
Later, picking my teeth and trying to fit my belly under the steering wheel, we glided past a club boasting strippers and a hypnotist. ‘A hypnotist,’ I belched. ‘Hell, yeah! I want to be in a trance.’
But by the time Mr. Mesmer had started asking for volunteers, Crazy and I, dazzled by the tarts, had chased down a brace of JD’s with more beers and become a tad over enthusiastic about the prospects of finding ourselves under the influence of a greater power.
We should have been more discreet however, because after a couple of perfunctory ‘tests’ of our receptiveness, which involved us closing our eyes, holding out our hands and failing to stifle sniggers, the hypnotist easily spotted that we were already under the influence of a far greater power than his own.
‘You two can sit down.’
Our initial disappointment gave way to relief when we witnessed the world of embarrassment that followed, for much as Mr. Mesmer had sniffed us out as a pair of loutish troublemakers from the old country, we had detected that he, in America’s great snake oil tradition, was a bullshitty old charlatan.
So called hypnotised punters, on the mention of an innocuous trigger word, spontaneously leapt to their feet and chased phantom chickens around the stage or ran around the cabaret club yelling, ‘The English are coming, the English are coming,’ in a Paul Revere manner. Well they were wrong about that because the English were leaving.
I spun the White Whale’s wheels disgustedly out of the parking lot and headed down the two-lane carriageway toward the seafront when the world erupted into a blaze of red and blue lights and a screaming siren so loud that I feared it might take the car’s windows out. I got the distinct impression that someone very close behind me wanted me to stop, failing which he would drive clean over my roof. I pulled to the left full of fear and beer.
This was my first encounter with San Diego’s finest about whose barbarism I had been forewarned. ‘Don’t drink and drive in San Diego,’ they said. ‘Or you might die in San Diego. You will either be spending time in jail, or they will shoot you.’
I attempted to get out of the car. Big mistake. A bull horn bawled at me, ‘Remain in the car and put your hands on the wheel!’ I became aware of a very agitated officer with two hands on a gun standing just behind the door pillar at my left shoulder. The gun was pointing at my head.
On the odd occasions when I’d had dealings with the police in the UK, I’d found myself adopting an alternate identity, which I mysteriously defaulted to; I became a Withnail-ish English public school boy. I’m not one and I don’t mean to do it; it just happens but I was doing it long before Richard E. Grant. Quite why I thought this would help me in the USA, I have no idea but I could feel my tongue involuntarily rising to the top of my palate ready to squeeze the words into the nasal twang of the bumbling Wooster. The window was open, I twanged through it, ‘Um, hello… I mean, good evening officer, uh, how can I help you?’
‘Sir, did we just see you leave the Flamingo Grill?’
‘That’s correct officer, my friend and I are on holiday and we just watched the… er… topless cabaret at the Flamingo. And …uh… jolly good it was too.’
‘And are you and your friend from England sir?’
‘Why yes we are,’ I twittered like a pissed Penelope Keith.
He seemed unimpressed. ‘Only it’s just that in the state of California sir, it’s traditional to drive on the right side of the road. And would I be correct in thinking that you’ve been drinking sir?’
The realisation hit me like a shovel. I’m on the wrong side of the road. I have been driving in the fast lane into oncoming traffic. I have been considerably over served and an angry man with a gun is mulling over what parts of my body won’t show bruising. There is no way out of this. Should I try a bribe? Give him twenty bucks and say, ‘Get yourself something nice.’ Perhaps not.
I thought about crying. I hung my head in desperate abject gloom and I could feel that the police officer, taking my silence as assent to physical violence was cranking himself up to pistol whip me sideways across the road… and then miraculously Mr. Mesmer visited me; perhaps the guy with his finger on the trigger had used a trigger word: ‘Well the thing is officer, my friend and I have just been hypnotised and I think that might possibly have impaired my driving skills somewhat.’
There was a pause and then a snort; was it of mirth or derision? Was it the same snort that explodes from a bull’s nostrils as it paws the earth and prepares to charge? Then came a chuckle followed by a slow steady laugh. He looked at his partner; they both laughed, he holstered his gun and went poker-faced.
‘Yes, I can see that you are definitely under the influence of something sir. And sir, are you two gentlemen staying down on the seafront?’ Up until then I rather thought I was staying in the city slammer but hope had just started to glimmer… ‘Yes we are officer.’
‘Then I should warn you to be careful sir; there’s a Hells Angels party down there tonight and it could get a little lively especially where you are still in a trance and all but could you try and get on the other side of the road and drive carefully.’ Then, I swear to God, he touched the peak of his cap, or maybe he clicked his fingers to make me snap out of it. I think I gave him a cub’s salute in return. ‘Yes, thank you officer, we will, thank you so much, thank you. Goodnight and may I…’
‘Shut up and drive!’ hissed Crazy, so I did. We went back to the sleaze shack, turned out the lights and cowered under the sheets as the Harleys roared by.