Down and out at Pinky’s
The owner tucked his belly-stretched polo into his tight black jeans, then started up on a little Blockbuster Video bashing.
Times were tough around this neighborhood, and as we were about to learn, junkies were using the backs of empty U-Hauls to shoot up.
Photo by Courtney Wilson
Down and out at Pinky’s
By Darren Delmore
You know you’re in Northern California when you can rent a U-Haul from the local video store.
I cut short a surf session on the Samoa Peninsula because my wife and I were making the reluctant move from a house in the Humboldt woods into the back of a Ford Ranger. The time had come. We’d soon be living in the Patrick’s Point campground—home of the left-hand point break—at $14 a night through the winter. What can I say, it’s tough finding a rental when your credit report has a San Andreas financial fault line running through it, and you happen to own both a Pit Bull and a German Shepherd. But you couldn’t be more on it at Patrick’s than that, and to live in the same forest where they filmed Jurassic Park and Return of the Jedi was a scenic bonus. We’d put our furniture into a storage yard in Arcata; and bring only the bare essentials with us in the truck.
Our parents were not happy.
“Do you need any help, dude?” my friend Alex had asked me out in the lineup that morning, trading off mainly backless, head-high sandbar waves when the rest of California was flat. The water temp hovered around 52, the air just a little warmer than that, and it was only the end of October.
“We’re good, man, but thanks,” I told him. I’d spent most of our session stressing on what might’ve been lurking in the water beneath me. The month before, a longboarder was struck by a shark up at Moonstone Beach, and the guy’s leash got wedged between the beast’s teeth like dental floss as it fled. The victim miraculously pulled off the tow-under experience, thanks to the urethane snapping twenty feet down. He swam to the surface just in time. I never bothered to surf that place—kinda like Patrick’s Point—because of the all-too-likely one-on-one encounter with predatory marine life.
So we called the video store, “Pinky’s,” which doubled as a U-Haul dealer after the eponymous record store in the sequel to the movie “Friday.” The owner—a shaved bald, husky, and goateed L.A.-transplant—chose a shocking pink shade for the trim around the building. His establishment was pretty new and wedged into a bad part of Eureka, right by the county jail, one block from where street prostitutes worked in broad daylight. Times were tough around this neighborhood, and as we were about to learn, junkies from the “track house” directly behind Pinky’s were using the backs of empty U-Hauls to shoot up.
In very surreal fashion, we returned our last video rentals and began filling out the U-Haul paperwork. The owner tucked his belly-stretched polo into his tight black jeans, then started up on a little Blockbuster Video bashing before showing us some of the newer DVDs he’d just gotten: “World’s Wildest Police Chases,” “Girls Gone Wild,” and other similar flicks. But we wouldn’t be the renting type for a while, and we didn’t really feel the need to tell him of our homeless status. Not exactly bragging material.
Out in Pinky’s parking lot, a police cruiser with two officers suddenly pulled in, coasting toward the far right side of the building where the owner kept his U-Hauls lined up and backed in.
“Oh, here we go!” the owner said, focused on the outside happenings. He went off on a heated rant about the junkies and the track house behind his video store, the needles he was always finding in the trucks, all the break-ins he’d been dealing with, and how the police had been absolutely no help. “Gonna have to start takin’ matters into my own hands,” he summed up—and something told me this man was packing. “Now I don’t mind if you smoke a little,” he philosophized to us, his beady dark eyes going from me to the scene outside of the store, “and hell, I don’t even care if you want to toot a little either. But crack, speed and heroin ruins people’s lives! And these cops don’t give a shit!”
We finalized things and got the key for the fourteen-footer, and then he escorted us out under the bleary, overcast Humboldt sky.
As we rounded the building, the two cops appeared, coming from the direction of the track house behind the store. The female cop was pushing a bicycle with a loaded, questionable plastic sack slung around the handlebars. They didn’t even acknowledge us, or the owner, as they passed by.
I climbed into the U-Haul—leaving the owner and Lindsay standing in the lot looking on—and slammed the door. It smelled stale in the cab—like GPC cigarette stale—and I had the eerie feeling that I was going to take off with a tumbling band of junkies trapped in the back.
I fired it up.
I could see the cops stuffing the bike into the trunk of their cruiser. The owner was saying something to them but they weren’t paying attention. I threw it in drive and pulled forward, listening for the sound of a body slamming into the metal roll-up behind me, but luckily I heard nothing. The cops started to pull away.
As I drove up alongside Lindsay and the owner, I expected them to wave or make some little awkward gesture at me, but their eyes were glued on the spot I’d just pulled away from. I’d exposed quite the squat party. Three junkies, one in a wheelchair, were huddled and loading up a syringe right behind the U-Haul I’d just moved. They seemed not to notice the cops, or they just didn’t care.
The owner put his hands up in defeat and said, “Watch this!” to Lindsay before charging over to the cops as they were driving away. “Look!” he shrieked to the female cop behind the wheel, pointing at the junkies shooting up in the U-Haul parking space.
“We’re dealing with a bank robbery now,” she snapped. “We don’t have time for that.” Then she floored it out of the parking lot.
I put it in park and hopped out as the owner power-walked up to the junkie trio.
“Hey! You can’t do that shit here! You can’t do that here in my parking lot!”
“Man…man, I don’t wanna be in there, man,” the junkie in the wheelchair complained, motioning with his head toward the house and holding the loaded syringe.
If this parking lot behind the U-Haul was the better scene, I wonder what the inside of that track house must’ve been like. Our transition from house to camper shell suddenly seemed spacious and sterile, in comparison. Leading a claustrophobic life in our truck wasn’t going to be bad at all.
But I never would surf Patrick’s Point that winter. The biggest storm of the year tore its way through that campground like Martha Stewart in the throes of a menopausal meltdown, maybe just to welcome us properly to the Great Outdoors. Lightning, downed Douglas Fir trees—the sky draining forever. The few other strange, off-season types and ourselves had to be evacuated from the park for a good four days because of that storm. Even with the return of the sun, the daytime highs still never reached a level where red wine didn’t taste refrigerated, and getting a wetsuit on was the last thing your cold, cramped, bone-crackin’, dog-smellin’ ass would want to do. Sure there were some cool, glassy, low-tide afternoons where I watched fun lefts breaking along the point with no one in sight. As motivated as I’d get to paddle out solo, my eyes would always drift to that big, deep, mammal-packed bay that gave the wave its channel. Then the next in a series of four stacked up storm fronts clustered above Humboldt County, and soon had their way with the ocean, the junkies behind Pinky’s and us. §
Darren Delmore is a garage winemaker who learned that life is the only thing worth living for. He writes and resides in San Luis Obispo.