by Bruce Craven
“Pack up all your dishes,
make note of all good wishes…”
sang the Texan, Guy Clark, talking
about leaving Los Angeles for a more simple
life. “Don’t cry now,” he reminded Susanna, love
is a gift, perfect, hand-made. The tune? L.A. Freeway.
Clark got a song-writing contract, left for Nashville.
His L.A. landlord had chopped down a grapefruit tree with deep roots.
Years later Guy said on stage, L.A. is a weird place;
didn’t mean Austin weird, just empty of character,
or the right kind of character. His L.A. landlord
was the kind of guy that made his own bullets
in his garage. The kind of guy to kill that tree.
The kind of guy, Guy’d have to know, not limited to L.A.
Guy and Susanna drove their VW truck east
She was a painter. They separated later for six years,
returned to each other. She passed before him,
after their life of art and music. His obit called him
The King of Texas Troubadours. His tune
suggests L.A. can’t offer what really matters
to him, to her. I get it, but L.A. was my freeway
back home. Weird, often soul-less, apocalyptic
with beauty, wealth, poverty sadness, hope, despair. Barren & crowded?
Sure. No shit. I lived in NYC for 12 years, and NYC felt sane,
compared to Los Angeles. Still, I’m an Angeleno.
I tried, but couldn’t leave L.A. in a cloud of dust,
couldn’t motor the 390 engine past the Coachella windmills
in my vintage Mercury Monterey sedan; couldn’t lift
on silver wings above the Santa Monica Pier & Pacific Ocean,
couldn’t bail on L.A. I tried and always returned. Hungry,
proud. My folks, young adults, abandoned Missouri.
Married in a DTLA civil ceremony, lived in Burbank.
It all started in a one-room apartment. Guy,
they made it work and we had an orange tree.
You and Susanna also chose right. Her artwork
graced albums like Nelson’s Stardust. She wrote
“Heavenly Houseboat Blues” with Townes van Zandt.
You helped the young Steve Earle, Lyle Lovett, others
sing for the sake of the song. You wrote & played
“My Favorite Picture of You” about Susanna:
“the one where you stare straight at the lens
just a Polaroid shot someone took on the spot.”
She was angry. You were in love. How often
we pursue a look in the eyes of another person,
that potential twanging “Adios, to all this concrete…”
Let’s run together and chase the promise, that fire & confetti
that cascades down between our smiling eyes.
Let’s choose the right road, our adventure, even leaving
Skinny Denis singing downstairs… “Sweet and low,
like the gift you’re bringing.” My landlord was cool, Guy,
let the rent slide for a year, while I wrote
(scripts/novel/poems). No boring son-of-a-bitch,
he was generous. I’m sure you and Susanna
would understand. You helped artists find their path.
How’d I not get killed or caught, left with nothing
but a moldy box of vanilla wafers? If I could’ve
put the pink card in the mailbox, and left the key|
in the front-door lock, I might’ve, but go where?
You sang in 1975 to pack up all the dishes,
make note of all good wishes. Throw out them
L.A. papers ‘cause you were gonna get dirt-road
back-streets. You were heading to the country,
but the City of Angels has always been country, too.
I took the I-10 with Sherelle, that first day
she visited me from her home province, Saskatchewan.
We drove the ’63 Merc straight on the freeway
to show her the blue Pacific, turned around at the view
when I remembered guests were arriving for sushi
that had to be prepped, cooked. That I couldn’t afford
didn’t know how to prepare, but my roommate was a writer,
another poor writer, with dead writer dreams and gout.
Man, could he cook! It’d be a great party with pricy sake.
On my way to the Burbank Airport to pick up Sherelle
and her sister, Pam, I thought, “This never works.”
How many trips had I made on L.A. freeways to L.A. airports
for the promise of the fire and confetti? My history was flat failure.
My box of photos showed the women. What could have been,
what wasn’t. Guy and Susanna did it right when they left
in that cloud of dust. “Play it for me one more time now,”
Guy encouraged Skinny Dennis downstairs. Reminding himself,
Susanna, Skinny Dennis to give it all we can now. He believed.
I had believed too long. Driving to the Bob Hope Airport
at the San Fernando freeway junction, I didn’t, just drove.
But that day was different, Sherelle. Pam took our photo
beside the Mercury, arms around each other, your hand
on your hip, arm akimbo. Los Angeles wraps us in freeways, honey.
Play it for me one more time. I can’t believe it.
Guy was right. Love is a gift, perfect, hand-made.
Bruce Craven is a member of the Columbia Business School Executive Education faculty in New York City. In addition to directing and teaching in a variety of executive programs, he teaches graduate business students his popular elective Leadership Through Fiction. His book Win or Die: Leadership Secrets from Game of Thrones, was published in March 2019 by St. Martin’s Press of Macmillan Publishing. The book is currently being translated into Russian, Serbian, and Turkish. He wrote the novel Fast Sofa (1993) which was published in Japanese and German. He also co-wrote the script for the film adaptation, starring Jennifer Tilly, Jake Busey, and Crispin Glover. His collection of poetry, Buena Suerte in Red Glitter, was published in 2019 by Red Dirt Press in Oklahoma. He lives with his wife and two sons in Desert Hot Springs, California.