Last Crawl

In which three Doggie Diner Dog Heads lead Silke Tudor cross-country, to a place that is not San Francisco but, even so, feels like home

The shortest distance between two points is not a very interesting journey.
-- Rube Goldberg

The longest part of the journey is said to be the passing of the gate.
-- Marcus Terentius Varro

This journey begins with a nose. A nose wholly unlike other noses, which have the facility for discernment and disdain; this nose, instead, tumbles down the face to which it belongs like a playful possibility, full of the warmth and whimsy of youth. I have known this nose since childhood -- with its attendant eyes, so full of eagerness and glee, and the ever-present smirk twinkling in its shadow -- but only in recent years have I come to be intimate with it, to feel its smooth, globular curves under my touch, to press my lips to its shiny summit. Today is a different matter. I have been asked to repair the damage done to this nose by a hoodlum's baseball bat.

"They've only been vandalized once in all the years I've had them," says John Lawwith a shake of his weary head. "Just a little graffiti that time. Came right off. Do what you can."

I survey the damage: a fist-size fissure on the front right quadrant of Jack's nose. Jack is the name bequeathed to the last of the three retired Doggie Diner Dog Heads, to which Law has voluntarily become steward and shepherd. The only working Dog Head, the one to which I became attached as a child, still stands above the Carousel Diner on Sloat Boulevard, thanks largely to Law's diligence and the devotion of friends like Bishop Joey, aka Ed Holmes, founder of the First Church of the Last Laugh, for which the Dog Heads have become religious icons of a silly sort. The other Dog Heads -- Manny, Moe, Jack -- roam about the Bay Area on a flatbed trailer, frequenting art events and overseeing a plethora of creative idiocies.

With the solemnity of an acolyte, I begin sanding and plastering the breach. We're preparing for the Dog Heads' first coast-to-coast tour; it's important for the trio to look its best.

"Coast to coast," Law often says in the days leading up to the trip. "From Carousel Diner to Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs on Coney Island. From the Golden Gate to the Brooklyn Bridge."

There is a certain appeal to traveling across the country with the Dog Heads in tow -- upon seeing these goofy dachshund faces, with their long, knowing smiles, people laugh, wave, and honk their horns; some even stop to rub the noses, as if the gesture would naturally confer a wish -- but Law is another reason for my joining the trip. A longtime prankster, urban adventurer, backstage art facilitator, and avid bridge climber, Law conveys an air of effortless generosity and reliability, a blend of old-world manners and new-frontier methodology that inspires loyalty and enthusiasm as a matter of course.

"I hope the nose isn't a bad omen," says Law, biting his thick riverboat mustache. "Disasters come in threes. Cross your fingers."

Having finished repainting Jack's nose, I move to the wheel wells of Shoo, Shoo Baby, the 1966 Gillig bus captained and sustained by Justin Atwood, aka Jarico Reese, founder of the Cyclecide Bike Rodeo, a touring enclave of punk rock clowns and anarcho-artists. Gaunt and weathered, with a shock of bleached blond hair that perpetually smells of engine grease, Reese looks like a cross between a cartoon duckling and a revolutionary Bolshevik, and is, as such, strangely inspiring. Several members of his troupe -- bicycle wrangler August Wood, handyman Laird Rickard, mechanic Peet Manuel, and Manuel's fainthearted dog, Joe Monster -- have been brought aboard for the Dog Head trip. The rest of the crew includes Ed Holmes; Night Crawler photographer Jillian Northrup; poet Blake More; gal Friday Simone Davalos and her future husband and robot tech-head, David Calkins; filmographer Flecher Fleudujon; and, following behind in a satellite vehicle, Hush Hush club owner Kim Jordanand her canine defender, Sebastian.

It is springtime in San Francisco, and we couldn't ask for a finer day. The Sloat Boulevard Dog Head beams at us from a clear, benevolent sky as the brave among us stuff our faces with corn dogs. We head toward the Golden Gate Bridge. Cars honk, people wave, children point. No one mentions the bus refrigerator blowing up the night before. Instead, we laugh and salute the small plane that trails us across the bridge, depositing Fleudujon at an airport just outside Vacaville. He arrives on board the bus grinning like a wild man, with the opening documentary film footage for Head Trip, the story of the Dog Heads' bicoastal passage, in hand.

In Chowchilla, not 150 miles from San Francisco, there's an explosion: a blown tire. One of the new tires. There's talk about the refrigerator, the dog nose, and the rule of three, until Law notices the trailer hitch is barely holding. The rule of three is revised. The spare tire is put in place. The hitch is reinforced with a piece of rain gutter found behind a gas station as Blake More does yoga in the fading sunlight. Hours pass.

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