Friday, late afternoon. Too hot as usual. A typical brilliant sun does its job, unmercifully baking the surrounding desert landscape. Nothing stirs.
The heavy front door to the Tahiti Reef had never been set properly to begin with. Or maybe countless coats of black paint brushed on over the years might have helped the sticking effect. Give a tug on the big brass handle. It will resist at first, making the old tavern seem to be locked up tight. Yank hard enough, and the door yelps once, but it will swing outward with practical ease.
Cool air then rushes to refresh the face.
At this time of day, the interior appears to be as dark as a cave. The bright light coming from the sun tries to fry my backside. An elongated patch of sunlight spills onto the floor in front of me, stretching out across dingy red-and-white linoleum squares. I step over the threshold and allow the door to pull itself closed again.
Tex owns the bar. His wife waits tables. Both are in here somewhere. My eyes have barely adjusted. I see movement coming from behind the dim-lit bar to my right. A familiar shape waves once and says hello, and I have to imagine a mustachioed smile above a string bow tie from where I stand, nearly blind from the California desert sun. Tex can move fast for an older gent. He keeps going, preparing for the long night ahead. I carry my gear and go left, headed toward the bandstand in a back corner.
Don already has his amplifier set in place. It leans against the back of a folding chair. A small stand-by light on the front glows amber. He untangles a microphone cord and grins as I step up on stage.
“Where is your buddy Douglas?”
Our drummer is late, as usual.
Rose stops by to see if we want anything from the bar. She brushes a light-colored wisp of hair from one eye and waits.
I ask for a Coke. Don decides to wave her off. The front door squeaks sharply, and then a figure carrying a bass drum comes wading through a pool of brilliant foyer light, until the portal slams shut quickly. Moment later, Douglas appears out of the murky dark. He looks haggard, but he hurries to set his bass on a patch of carpet in the corner before returning to his car to collect the rest of his things.
He had to pull another double-shift at work, he explains while setting up his rig. An early arrival, a regular customer at the Reef, makes several selections on a juke box that sits close by, so Doug has to shout over the music. That seems to revive him somewhat.
Don sets his guitar back on its stand, happy with his tuning for now.
“Paul should be coming along soon. We still have a couple of hours to kill if you want to go back to the base and get a quick nap.”
I snort at that idea while looping a fresh tape on my new Copicat echo chamber.
“You know he won’t get any sleep if his wife is at home.”
A dreamy look comes over his face as Douglas begins to squeeze two imaginary melons, and he sways from side to side.
The front door pops open just then, and a lanky figure comes through the entry carrying a guitar case in one hand and an amp in the other. Don finishes attaching a cable to one microphone as he looks across the room.
“Paul just walked in.”
The voice of Patsy Cline laments about falling to pieces.
The tall red-head comes over and stops next the rail surrounding the stage. He sets his equipment down on the floor, and then wipes his forehead with the back of a freckled hand as he swears.
“It is hotter than the hubs of hell out there today, you guys.”
Douglas tightens up the last of his cymbal stands and does a final adjustment to his stool. Paul and I tune our guitars to Don. Douglas yawns once as he runs a few test licks from snare to tom-tom and back. Paul sees this and speaks while waving to catch the attention of Rose.
“Go into town and get a pack of Rouse tablets from the pharmacy. Those things are loaded with caffeine and will keep you awake.”
Douglas soon leaves, and the remaining three try out some new songs. We still have two hours to go before the gig starts.
Later that night as a crowd dances during our third set, Don backs off the mic when it is time for me to take off on the instrumental part of Six Days on the Road.
Good Lord have mercy, this echo chamber sounds unbelieavably sweet! Some of the folk on the dance floor are hopping around like mad. I barely notice as the chord changes to D, but I know Rose is out there, moving from table to table.
I glance up around C. Douglas drums while balancing atop his padded seat. Both of his hands are barely moving as he continues to keep up; one over the snare and one held next to his Zildjians. Then I see the way his head nods to the beat, and how his eyes stay closed.
Then I realize that he is no longer smiling.
I motion to Don who then signals Paul. Paul never misses a lick, but he grins before he leans over and yells into our friend’s ear.
Douglas tells us the next day that he made a slight mistake by buying and then taking a big dose of a similar product, Drowse.