Willie Nelson Blog: Close encounter on a hot desert highway
Standing next to my truck on a hot and lonely desert highway about forty miles south of Vegas with a busted radiator. Sweat dripping down my face and without any bottled water nor cell phone cause they hadn’t invented them yet. Didn’t have a watch either but where the sun was I’d guess it was close to noon and it’d been almost six hours since I had the $1.99 steak and egg special with potatoes and toast over at Binion’s Horseshoe before I lost my last five bucks in the slots. Had driven up a few days earlier from Barstow with a gal named Honey Jean Watson but she’d taken off with a couple of fellows who she said were friends from high school but I doubt that.
Scanning the horizon and seeing nothing but sand, cactus and waves of heat but I’m hearing a sound…a hum or maybe a rumble. There it is…it’s a bus with shiny chrome, red stripes and blacked out windows or at least they look that way from where I’m at. Makes me think about that job I almost got with a western swing band that came through town a few years back. Must have been in ’65…maybe ’66….they were from Texas and needed a steel guitar player with fast fingers. Guess I wasn’t fast enough. That was alright…I found a bunch of good old boys from Santa Maria and we sometimes drove down to North Hollywood and played at the Palomino, usually on Wednesday nights.
Ain’t nobody pass me for almost forty five minutes and so I watch that bus….not moving, or waving it down cause that’s just not my way. Spit out some tobacco with a hand on my hip and my Stetson pulled down over my eyes. It pulls up slow as I knew it might, and stops in front of me with the sound of air blowing through the brake lines. Doors open slow and out comes two guys…one tall and one shorter…each with wild eyes and the taller one of the two looks familiar. Seen him before…maybe in the movies at that drive-in theater out on the highway on a hot summer night. Dan or Dean something…Dino, maybe….but the short red headed guy I’ve never seen before, and he’s holding a smoke in his fingers as he bends over the hood of the truck.
Little guy looks up at me and says it’s crazy….laughs a little, holds out his hand and asks if I want to take a pull. My hand reaches to my shirt pocket where I’ve got a pack of Camels and damn, why would a man smoke another man’s cigarette anyway? The Dino guy says they’re on their way down to Palm Springs…gonna go golfing with somebody named Frank and asks if I want a ride. I need a tow truck more than I need a bus, so I just shake my head. Wondering if they have anything cold to drink on that bus though, and as if they could read my mind the tall one whistles and off the bus comes a gal holding a couple bottles of beer. I take ’em and say thanks as the three of them climb back up.
Few months later on a Wednesday night at the Palomino I see that red headed stranger again, sitting at the bar talking to a man I knew who owns a studio down on Western Avenue. They watched our set, and slipped out just before we came off the stage. I heard the bus pull out of the lot. Every now and then I let me mind go back to those times and wonder. It’s been so long and I can’t tell anymore what’s real and what’s not.