A Space in Time

Dusk descends across the Arizona desert. As the last vestiges of daylight begin to dissolve, warmth dissolves into the pavement of Interstate 10, which streaks west in chase of the sun. The asphalt begins to turn gray ahead of the approaching blackness, and shapes in the surrounding vista become less recognizable as darkness begins to settle in upon the desert.

Hurtling east, I could feel my arthritic knee’s barking against the approaching chill and the hours spent today riding this old ‘97 Harley Fatboy nonstop from San Diego. My hands had gone numb over an hour ago from gripping the handlebars for the past six hours, and my stomach howled from a lack of food.

I sure wish that Doc, my riding partner, had been ready earlier, as originally planned so we would have made Phoenix before nightfall. It gets mighty cold in the desert.

I glanced over at Doc, who seemed oblivious to the darkness coming down upon us. Doc always could ride longer and farther than anyone, and the fact he was now sitting atop that new Indian Chief only made his ride that much smoother. Doc looked over and gave me a toothy grin, as if he knew I had been thinking about him.

I knew that up ahead, just south of Burnt Mountain was a rest area where we could stop and stretch. A few miles before the rest area I saw an exit sign leaning listlessly as it appeared someone had recently gone off the road and taken one of its legs out from underneath. I did a double take when reading the word Chebanse and Exit 72 on the sign. We had traveled this route many times before and had never noticed exit 72, or a town of any name before. I looked again at Doc, but he was staring straight ahead at the road, oblivious to surroundings.

Deciding to take a chance, I roared up the exit ramp. Given that we had been traveling at 85 miles per hour at the time of my decision to exit the highway, Doc was caught off guard by my departure as he roared past the exit, looking back at me. I think he even gave me the finger.

I rolled to the stop sign of the deserted intersection. As soon as the wheels stopped rolling, I put my feet on the pavement and removed my hands from the grips of the bike to relax my throbbing joints. I knew what Doc would do; there was no hurry. I stared across the intersection east back toward the highway. Within moments Doc came roaring up, hurtling the wrong way on the exit ramp, going on through the intersection without stopping.

Doc rolled up next to me. I was rubbing one hand with the other and grinning at Doc, bracing for the verbal onslaught that I knew was coming from my buddy.

“Dude, you coulda got me killed back there,” Doc spewed at me. He looked like he was really upset. “Why’dja not let me knows you was stoppin’?”

I looked at him, still rubbing my throbbing hands. “Needed a drink and a stretch, Doc, ‘ol boy,” I grinned. I continued after a few moments. ‘You look like you could use some grub, too. Wouldn’t want to be responsible for you missing a meal.”

I pointed at the directional sign for Chebanse, which said the town was 5 miles to the north.

“Doc, in all your travels out here and back, did you ever seen an Exit 72, or a town named Chebanse?” I asked.

I don’t think he heard me. With that I sat back down on my Harley, put the bike in gear and roared north, my buddy in tow.

Just outside of town we stopped at a four-way intersection. The streets looked deserted from every angle. To the east were older homes that looked like they had been built many years before but had been lovingly kept with neat yards. One even had a white picket fence. There was a Texaco gas station at the end of the street. To the west looking over a railroad track looked like the main street through town, with a hardware store, a grocery store, and a restaurant.  If we went north, it appeared we would very soon be out of town. For reasons I will never understand, I turned east. I wish now I hadn’t.

A block down the road split into a Y. We veered left and rode up to a dead end, where an old, white-washed cinder block building, set back from the road to our left. From the road I eyed our choices. A Sinclair gas station was across the street to my right, evidently buttoned up until morning. A bar and grille was on the left, just what I was looking for. Displayed on the side of the building was the name Smitty’s, which had been stenciled haphazardly across the front of the building in large, block letters that were fading badly.

‘Smitty’s,’ I thought. How many Smithy’s could there be in this country,’ I wondered.

The name was only discernible because of the old-fashioned rusted lamp with a single yellow light that hung above the letters. From the road, I could see a few lights in the dirty windows, including an old red neon Schlitz on tap sign. It had been years, possibly decades, since I had seen one of those signs, and I had never recalled seeing one in Arizona.

‘This should be interesting,’ I said quietly to myself. I let the clutch out and gingerly made my way across the gravel parking lot toward the bar. Doc followed.

We parked in front of the building, which we would learn to be the side of the tavern. The parking lot was sparsely filled so space was ample. Doc and I made our way around to the front door, our boots crunching on loose gravel and sand. Hung on the front of the entrance a lean-to had been built in an L-shape with a wrinkled aluminum door to guard the entrance from the elements. It seemed to be losing that battle.

A single yellow light bulb hung from the ceiling in a useless effort to light the lean-to. Thick neoprene stapled over cutouts on the two walls served as windows. The corner area also served as make-shift storage for spent kegs and empty cardboard boxes. The space reeked of vomit.

I opened the dilapidated wood door to the establishment, stepping up into the bar. I stopped just inside for my eyes to adjust. Wrong move. Doc bumped into my back nearly sending me sprawling. I was able to remain upright, but it must have been a hell of an entrance we made. To my relief, no one said a word.  

A hazy cloud of cigarette smoke hung in the air, making visibility difficult. I was surprised this establishment still allowed smoking inside as it seemed it was outlawed across the land. There was a pool table in front of me, to the left of the bar. It had a Schlitz pool table light hung above, the light valiantly challenging the haze to illuminate the playing area. Towards the front of the bar were a couple of tables where elderly gents were playing poker.

Turning my attention back to the pool table, I could see a guy in an olive-drab army coat bent over the table aligning a shot while trying vainly to keep his oily hair from falling in his eyes. A cigarette hung out of his mouth, the smoke also wafting into his eyes.

There was another dude sitting at a small high-top table in the corner, cue in hand, bobbing his head to the music while awaiting his turn. His hair was long and Afro-curly, trying to be held in place by a red bandana. He was proudly sporting about ten hairs on his chin that he kept rubbing. Neither of the pool players paid any attention to us. I thought I made more of an impression.

I looked to my right where a large jute box sat against the wall. A song I recognized as Sweet Home Alabama blared from the machine. I knew the song well, as Lynyrd Skynyrd had been one of my father’s favorite bands. The sound was somewhat distorted due to the volume as the old jute box tried to keep up. As I stared at the large glass-topped machine, I noticed the music was being played from a 45-rpm record. I was aware juke boxes used to play records but had never seen one.

In front of the juke box a slender girl was dancing by herself, lost in her own world. Upon further review, it really didn’t look like dancing to me; it was more of a shuffle with her head down, long blonde hair hanging over her face and on to a white blouse of some sort with huge billowy sleeves. Her blue jeans were faded, as well as flared and frayed bottoms. One knee was ripped out and a bright yellow happy face was stitched midway up her thigh, as if covering another rip. As she danced to some beat known only to her, I also noticed a peace sign sewn into the back pocket of her jeans and that she had no shoes on her dirty feet. I shook my head and moved on toward the bar. Doc followed as he usually did, and I noticed people looking at him probably due to his sheer size..

The bar was a long U-shaped affair, open only from the back far end. It looked like there might be a kitchen behind the open end, as there was a brightly lit window with a ledge for placing food orders. The other end of the bar jutted into the wall, where a wire rack holding small bags of chips on clips stood. From there was an entryway that appeared to lead into what I assumed were washrooms. Beaded string hung from the top of the entrance of the entryway to the bathrooms.

Doc and I sat on two battered bar stools at the far corner of the bar, next to the chips and near the restrooms. We could surveil the bar patrons from our perch. I took my cell phone out and placed it in front of me.

Lagrange by ZZ Top began to roar from the jute box and Doc began to beat his hands on the bar, almost in unison.  I was trying to get the attention of the bar tender, who was on the far end of the bar, resting his considerable weight on the one foot that was propped up on a cooler. He appeared to be educating a couple of elderly bar patrons with his wisdom while watching the activity of the entire room. A fat short cigar hung from the fingers of one hand, and he waived his hands as he talked. He looked over at us with what I am sure was a disdainful look, finished his conversation, stuck the stogie back in his mouth and headed our way.

As he approached, I sized him up. The barkeep was unshaven, and his unruly dirty hair hung in clumps around his portly face. There was a large bushy handlebar mustache that nearly covered his entire mouth. He had a bar-towel slapped over one shoulder of his shrinking Bad Company T-shirt, exposing his hairy belly over the top of his dirty jeans. Before saying anything, he nervously wiped the towel on the bar in front of us, leaving wet streaks across the surface where once the bar had seemed to be dry and clean. He wiped around my cell phone.

He looked at the phone and then up at me. “Look, guys,” he said in a gravely hoarse voice, wiping with even more fury than before, “we don’t want no trouble.”

I looked over at Doc before answering. I surmised by this comment he was referring to our cuts.  It’s at this point I guess I should let readers know we are members of the Iron Order Motorcycle Nation out of the San Diego California chapter. The club was started in Jeffersonville Indiana on July 4th, 2004, by eight of our brothers. We are a worldwide club and have 223 chapters right here in the States. It was part of our culture to wear these vests, called cuts, when we were representing the club, which we are doing by attending the funeral of one of our brothers who lost a bout with cancer. We get this reaction a lot and were used to it.

“You’ll get no trouble out of us, dude,” I replied. “It’s just the two of us and we’re just looking for something to eat. Might want something to wash it down with too,” I smiled at him. “We’re on our way through to attend a funeral.”

This seemed to calm the fears of the bartender somewhat. “What’s that?” he asked, pointing to my cell phone.

‘Strange question,” I thought. He was looking at me again, biting his lower lip.

“My cell phone, dude,” I said exasperated. “What would you think it is?”

He looked at me as if I told him it was a rattlesnake, backing away somewhat. He evidently had no idea what I was talking about.

“What ya gents have then?” he asked. He seemed to strain to talk.

“Tequila shots with Bud chasers for us both,” I said. “And we’d…”

“No Bud,” the bartender interrupted. He offered no other selection as he waited for what else he had. He shifted his cigar from one side of his mouth to the other, still eyeing that cellphone in case it reached out to bite him.

Maybe he had gotten a little too relaxed, I wondered. “Schlitz, then,” I said, taking what had to be the safe option. “And we’d like a couple of menus too.”

“Sorry guys, our cook didn’t show up today,” the bartender said. “I got my old lady back there fixin’ burgers and fries tonight, and she ain’t happy about it. That’s all we got to offer today, boys. Er’ sorry.”

I stared at him for a moment. “Well then,” I said, “if that’s our choice, I guess we’ll each take a couple cheeseburgers with everything and some fries or onion rings then. That ok with ya, Doc?”

Doc grunted his acceptance. Without another word, the barkeep headed back to fill their order. On the way, he stopped in front of another bar patron, put a bottle of beer in front of him without a word being said between the two.

“Well, he’s a buzzkill,” Doc said.

“Yep,” I replied.

I looked around. Something just looked “off” about this joint. I hadn’t quite put my finger on it, but something was just not right, and I’d felt it ever since I got off the interstate at an exit I didn’t know existed. Seeing how the two pool players were dressed and the young gal in front of the juke box, as if in the 1970’s. And Buzzkill’s reaction to my cellphone.

My thoughts were broken up when Buzzkill returned with our drinks. Two shots of tequila and two Schlitz beers in their classic brown bottle. “You gents want glasses for your beer,” he asked.

Doc shrugged him away.

Lazy son-of-a-gun didn’t want to give us glasses because he’d have to wash them, I thought. I stood, offering a toast, clicking shot glasses with Doc, “To Paul, may ye rest in peace,” I said.  

We downed our tequila and both of us sat silently for a few moments. Finally, I said to Doc, “anything look odd or different to you?”

“No, why? Doc asked. He sat down with a heavy thud.

“I dunno,” I replied, sitting myself. Something just feels weird.” I realized trying to explain myself to Doc was futile. Doc was a true and loyal friend, the type that would always have your back, but not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer.

I took a swallow from my beer and headed for the bathrooms behind us through the beaded curtain. There was another poorly lit hallway leading to the bathrooms. Both the men’s and ladies were on the same side to my left, ladies first, and a long wall to my right across from them. There was an old pay phone on the wall, something I hadn’t seen in years. Also, a corkboard for posting messages and announcements hung on the wall. On my way back from the restroom, I stopped to read the posts.

The first notice I came across was an advertisement for a lawn mowing repair service. Some guy named Mike would fix your lawnmower. I thought I had seen that place on our way into town. On the bottom of the notice were tiny scraps with the phone number for Mike’s Lawnmower Service. Business must have been good for Mike as there were only two strips left.

Seeing the payphone made me think about checking my cell. As I surmised, there was no service. I slid it back into my pocket.

I continued to study the board. There were also signs for Harry’s car sales, Jim’s Texaco, and Berg’s grocery store. Ordinary advertisements one might usually find in a small community. The next sign was one of those red, yellow, and blue cardboard signs advertising a wedding. The only other one I ever saw was the one my mother kept for her wedding to my dad.

Evidently, Paul Benoit was marrying Judy Perzee at the Catholic Church with a dance to be held afterwards in the Community Center. Music was being provided by the Silhouettes. Then I read the part that gave me a chill. The date of the wedding was Saturday, August 24th, 1975. I read it again…1975. I did some quick math in my head. That sign had to be 49 years old. And yet, it still looked a damn sight better than my mothers did.

Looking at some of the other notices, searching for dates I found there was a party right here in Smitty’s next Saturday, the 5th for the July 4th celebration. $5 per head got you all the drinks and food you wanted until the fireworks were over. That was cheap. No year was listed so I searched further.

I found myself getting anxious to find something else that might hint at what year it was. And then I found one, the Chebanse Lutheran Church was having a potluck on Sunday, July 20th, 1-9-7-5.

This was not some coincidence. Somehow, someway, we had traveled back to 1975. Hell, my parents would not get married for another year yet. Something didn’t make sense. I was getting a queasy stomach. ‘Where in hell are we,” I wondered.

I went back out to my bar stool and motioned for Buzzkill, who sauntered down, evidently at peace with the fact I said we were not looking for trouble.

“Yeah,” he said. He seemed winded from the short trip to our side of the bar. I nudged Doc to listen in.

“Say, dude,” I said, probably a little too quickly. Buzzkills’ face became instantly defensive. “What’s today’s date?” I asked.

He looked at me, as if terrified he’d get the answer wrong. He stuttered, “I think’s it’s June 28th,” he said finally.

“I know that, dude!” I barked. “What year?”

This question, combined with my reaction, caught him off guard. He looked like he thought I’d shoot him if he gave the wrong answer. Finally, slowly, he sasked, “what year do you think it is?”

Aw Jesus, I thought to myself, but I didn’t want to scare him any further. I composed myself, when every fiber of my being wanted to grab him by his shirt and drag him across the bar and punch his face. Instead, I said, softly, “seriously, dude, what year?”

“1975,” he said sheepishly. I looked incredulously at Doc. He had witnessed the entire conversation and now seemed equally astonished.

“No way, dude,” Doc said, coming to a full 6’5” stand now. “It can’t be ’75, it was 2023 when we left San Diego.” He was looking intently at Buzzkill, as if he was playing some grand joke on them. “This ain’t funny, dude,” he barked.

“Yeah it is guys,” Buzzkill said awkwardly. “Honestly, ask anybody in this bar. They’ll tell ya, “He said defensively.

I looked around the bar. It all made sense now with the atmosphere and the dress. But how the hell did we get into this, what should I call it, a time warp? And how would we get out of it!’

Doc thundered, “what did you put in that tequila?”

I put my hand on his arm. “Calm down, big boy,” I said in a hushed tone. “Let’s figure this out.”

A small bell chimed, letting Buzzkill know that somebody’s dinner was ready. He made a beeline across to the other side of the bar, disappearing into the kitchen. I wondered if he was getting somebody’s burgers or a gun. I kept my eye on the kitchen entrance.

He seemed to be taking a long time, or that might just have been my growling stomach talking. I got up and walked around the bar so I could see inside the kitchen. Peering inside I could see Buzzkill sitting at a small desk towards the back of the kitchen, and he was talking on a phone attached to the wall. He hung up when he noticed me.

“Burgers are done,” he called out to me. “Bring them right out.”

I headed back to where Doc was sitting. True to his word, Buzzkill was right back out with our burgers and fries. We ordered two more beers and dove into our food. We were both famished. I was still wondering how we were going to get back to 2023, or if we ever would.

I was just finishing up my fries when someone came through the entrance door. I turned to look and, like me before, he stood there letting his eyes adjust. This gave me time to study the bar’s newest patron, and a sense of foreboding came over me. He was a member of the Hell’s Angels motorcycle club. And he had another member with him. This would be where I point out that the Hells Angels and the Iron Order don’t get along so well.

Doc seen them too and out of the corner of my eye I seen him reach for the revolver under his vest. I quickly put my hand on his arm. “Let’s see how this plays out.”

The bikers made a direct beeline toward us. Doc kept his hand on his gun inside the vest. They nodded at us and sat down at the bar, their backs to the front door.

I nodded back. “Evenin’,” I said.

Buzzkill had made a beeline to the where the bikers now sat, two bottles of beer in his hand. He set them down in front of them and turned our way. It occurred to me that he had called them down here as insurance for the crazy way he must have thought we were acting. He had kind of smug look on his face, if a guy with a round head and overgrown mustache could have.

The biker closest to us, who appeared to be the leader, looked us over. “These the guys, Jer?” he asked Buzzkill. Well now we knew Buzzkill had a name.

Jerry nodded, looking somewhat embarrassed by the question.

He looked back at me again. His gray eyes were boring into me now. “Where you boys from?” he finally asked.

With that question, Doc stood up, his hand still in his vest. His actions caused the other member of the Hell’s Angels to stand. It was a simple enough question. I answered matter directly, “San Diego…you?”

‘Leader’ answered, “Cave Creek,” he answered.

With that information, I nodded. I knew of the Hells Angels in Cave Creek Arizona, just north of Phoenix. It didn’t take them too much time to get over here, I thought.

“What’s your business in town,” Leader asked me. Doc and the other Angel continued to watch each other.

I wasn’t sure I liked his question, and I thought about what I wanted to reply with, if I replied at all. It occurred to me there might be a whole bunch of Angels on their way up here and it was just me and Doc to defend ourselves. 

Discretion being the better part of valor, I replied, “On our way to the funeral of a brother tomorrow in Phoenix.”

This seemed to have satisfied the Leader, and he looked back at Jerry. He scratched the side of his forehead, as if in thought. Finally, he looked back at me and asked, “Who is this Iron Order outfit that you have on your cuts. Never heard of that outfit before.”

Doc looked over at me to see how I was going to answer this question. As I mentioned previously, the Angels and the Iron didn’t like each other, and not one bit. I thought about telling Fearless Leader it was none of his damn business, but then there is that whole discretion thing. Leader was waiting for his answer. Doc and the other Angel continued to stare at each other while this war of wits continued to play out.

Suddenly it occurred to me, if it was truly 1975, like Buzzkill Jerry said it was, Leader would not have heard of us. We were founded in 2004, almost 30 years from the time warp we Doc and I found ourselves in. He would be entirely ignorant of the existence of our club or our history of not getting along. Given this situation, there really wasn’t any reason to go to battle with these two goons.

I stuck out my hand to introduce myself. “I’m Randy and that big hulk over there is Doc,” I replied. “We’re a new club out of Jeffersonville, IN.” I purposely avoided the whole 2023 thing with him.

Leader thought this over a few moments and then stuck his hand out to shake mine. When we did, I thought Jerry was going to die. “I’m Bob, and he’s Billy.”

“We’re on our way over to Phoenix to be pallbearers for a brother tomorrow,” I said.

Bob nodded. Billy sat back down, Doc following.

“We just stopped by to get a burger and a beer on our way,” I continued. “We’re headed out in a few.”

“Who drives that Indian,” Bob asked. “I’m thinking of getting one. That damn chopper is beating me to death. That is one purty bike.”

That got Doc’s attention and the two talked more than 20 minutes about Indian motorcycles. If the two realized there were in different eras from one another, it was not apparent. I wasn’t even sure if Indian made road bikes then, nor who they were owned by. Indian would go through a lot of changes between 1975 and 2023 finally being bought by Polaris in 2011.

I nudged Doc that it was time to go. He wanted to stay and talk motorcycles some more, but I insisted we get on the road. I wanted away from this situation with the Angeles and to make our way back to 2023.

“You boys take it easy,” Bob said as we got up, “Good luck with your new club too.”

I smiled at his comment as he had no idea what was to come.

We walked back to our bikes. My old bike looked so much different than the two choppers the bikers came in on. Hell, Doc’s bike looked darn near futuristic compared to the other bikes.

“We’re going to go back out to the interstate,” I explained to Doc over the roar of our bikes. “When we get to the interstate, we will head back west to see if we can escape this time warp or whatever the hell we’ll call it.”

Doc nodded but I wasn’t finished. “We’ll head up to route 60 and take it back down,” I shouted.

A though came to Doc and his face furled up.  “We ain’t runnin’ from those dudes, are we?” Doc feared no man.

I looked at him incredulously. I waited a moment to regain my composure. “Doc, my old buddy. Didja think this through,” I asked. “Those boys might have a whole posse on the way from Cave Creek to get us, If that’s not trouble enough, we’re somehow stuck in 1975. How we did that, I’ll never know, but we have to get back out. This new route might allow us to avoid those Angeles and hopefully, this damn time warp. You can stay if you want but I’m heading back to 2023.”

When we got back to the interstate, there was no exit or entrance ramps. Just an overpass across the interstate. We stopped to check in case our eyes were deceiving us.

“Where’d those ramps go,” Doc screamed, as perplexed as I was. I know I went up the wrong way on one!.”

Riding in silence, we took a frontage road west and a gravel road up to Route 60, then back around to the north side of Phoenix.  My mind was racing with what had happened and more importantly if we were getting back to 2023. The trouble was this route did not offer much in the way of civilization.

Finally, we came up on an electronic billboard advertising Coke before flashing to a rodeo season coming up in Cave Creek on September 22, 2023. We were back! I let out a sign of relief and Doc bellowed.

Doc and I never spoke of the incident again. To this day, I look for Exit 72 for Chebanse, but have never seen it again. I’m avoiding those Cave Creek rodeos too.