Trailer Park Confidential

My Short Life as a California Dreamer

It was 90 degrees today in Toledo, Ohio, with 98 percent humidity, but at least it was overcast. I probably lost a layer of skin from my thighs sticking to mom's plastic-covered furniture. Air conditioner? Yeah, she has one, but there were so many June bugs on the power lines that the electricity went out twice.

I would have gone outside, but that was like getting hit in the face with a flaming shovel. So I spent the day sitting at the picnic table in the garage, drinking Bud from a can and watching the neighbor mow his lawn while my dog chased rabbits. Careful to breathe through my teeth so as not to involuntarily ingest winged protein, I thought about how miserable all of this was, yet how much better it was than living in a trailer park on the Balboa Peninsula.

Better than the pricks who treated me like a slave. Better than the tough guys who tried to bust open my face. Better than the girls who paid me no mind because who pays attention to the help? Then there were the old dudes who wanted to tell me not only how to do my job but also what my job was; the drunks with a death wish; the moans coming from G-3; the ladies knocking on my door at midnight —with me in my underwear—demanding mail delivery; the deadbeats list; the barbed wire; and the 43 dead rats beneath H-19.

I was an assistant manager at a trailer park on the Balboa Peninsula. Yeah, there are trailer parks in Newport. The residents there don't want you to know that. If you work there, they won't let you call them "trailer parks." Sounds too plebeian, too working-class, too, well, Toledo, Ohio. You're required to call them "mobile homes" or "cabanas" or "coaches"—anything but what they are.

There was a lot of stuff you were required to do because most of the people who lived in the trailers had lots of money, and people with lots of money make lots of rules for people who don't. Rule No. 1 is you don't talk about the people with lots of money.

That's how I ended up in Toledo, after the petition and the police pursuit. I'm happy to be here. I know that sounds crazy, especially since I spent last evening in my aunt's basement waiting out a tornado warning, but you never worked in a Balboa Peninsula trailer park. I did.

If you're wondering how I ended up in a trailer park, let's go back to 1995. Back to toledo.

For nearly 30 years, I had dreamed of seeing the West Coast, but I never had the balls to go. That changed when I met Jill. She worked as a waitress at Rusty's, the jazz club where I gigged (I play guitar). The other guys in my quartet called her "Top 3" because she was one of the three hottest women they had ever seen anywhere.

One day, after Jill and I had been dating a week, I said I'd like to get out of my little city and go west.

"I'd go with you," she said. That was all it took.

Three months later, I bought a used 21-foot Sportsman RV and packed it tight. I had $2,000; Jill had $800. We planned on going to Portland, Oregon, where I would join another band—I'd heard there was a great jazz scene up there—and Jill would find work in an upscale restaurant.

I thought we had better stop in California to replenish our funds for a while. We dropped anchor at Huntington by the Sea, an RV/trailer park in Huntington Beach, along Pacific Coast Highway. I thought we'd be there for a week, but we stayed for three months, paying $600 per month. Jill's money ran out shortly after we arrived, so we were floating on mine.

Jill was already homesick, though she tried to hide it from me. A few weeks before this, she couldn't get away from her dysfunctional family and whacked-out friends fast enough; now she was calling them every day from pay phones. I missed home, but I'd be damned if I'd turn around and head back after a little adversity. Still, knowing she was unhappy made me miserable, too.

There's nothing quaint or romantic about two people living in a 21-foot RV. Camping is one thing, but using an RV as your home is when you realize that Sartre was right: hell is other people. We had no car, which short-circuited most job possibilities. The money was dwindling much quicker than we were prepared for, and soon we were eating ramen more and making love less.

We began living off my Discover card, racking up thousands of dollars in debt. Jill couldn't get a waitressing job anywhere because summer had just ended. I wasn't doing any better. Things began to get desperate. Seeing a "Help Wanted" sign, I actually applied at the Häagen Dazs on Main Street while Jill put in an application at the Dairy Queen on Coast Highway. Neither of us got responses and we rationalized that we were overqualified.

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