Monday, September 13, 2010

Tommy Babcock: Chapter 2

The next morning I put my trunk in the back of the wood paneled ranch wagon and headed for the train station. As Francisco, my taciturn ranch manager, drove out toward the highway, I took a mental picture of the Washington navel orange trees that stretched for acres and that, thank God, paid the property tax. The days were fine, but not as fine as they would be in spring when the trees bloomed and the San Fernando Valley swam in their scent.

We headed up through Cahuenga Pass, while I counted the number of Camels left in the pack. I made a note to pick up a couple of cartons in the station and a lot of cartons in New York for the rest of the trip. Europeans smoked shitty cigarettes.

If Francisco hadn’t been such a good manager, I would have fired him a long time ago. He never offered information. You had to ask specific questions that were narrowly focused. He was honest; I was sure of that, but I had to read up on citrus cultivation, grafting and irrigation to know what to even ask about. I made friends with other farmers to understand prevailing wage rates in late depression California. If I hadn’t grown up on horseback and around livestock, the entire ranch experience would’ve driven me nuts.

Francisco didn’t treat me like a star when I was with a studio, so I figured he wasn’t about to start now. His replies came in grunts, or occasionally in Spanish, although he knew that I knew he’d graduated from L. A. High and had a hell of a lot less accent than Caesar Romero. Knowing I was acting like a sap, I still told Francisco about the call from Ginny and about Jack’s situation. He didn’t say anything, so I lit a cigar, let smoke waft in his direction and hoped he felt the Dutch Masters had farted in his face.

I attached a black moustache to my upper lip as we traveled the last few miles to the old SP train station. The Times said that in a few months all the passenger trains in LA. would be arriving at and departing from the Union Station we’d been promised for over a decade.

Pulling up to the side of the station, Francisco carried the steamer trunk while I pulled a Borsalino down over my forehead and headed to an entrance favored by celebrities to avoid crowds and the press. Pretty soon, I figured, I wouldn’t have any fans left to avoid.

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