The Clown and Me 

On the road in California, a roll of the dice brings craps at Pebble Beach.

Years ago, in my hard-core wandering days, I went all the way to California to "cover" a golf tournament called the Pebble Beach Pro-Am. I say "cover" because what I really did was pass through Pebble Beach during a long adventure, carrying my tent, a bus ticket, and my laptop computer, then called a couple of papers I had worked for and asked if they wanted some copy. I was certainly the only person in the media room who was sleeping in a state campground that week.

Such was my wandering nature in those days that two days before, in a bar, a friend of mine with a knack for meeting people had arranged for me to stay in another guy's place for a couple of nights so I could get a break from the tent. He did this by asking somebody we had just met if I could crash at his place. In my world at that time, this kind of thing made perfect sense, and after arrangements were made for the guy to pick me up at the campground, we all had another beer.

The thing about living this way is that it amounts to constantly rolling the dice. And this would have been a winner, except the guy turned out to be a Clown. He showed up to pick me up Friday morning at the campground, me thinking that I was going to be staying with him the next few nights, and he greeted me half an hour early, at 7:30 a.m., with the following news: "Um, my wife sort of freaked out when I told her you were coming, so I guess I can't offer you a place to stay." Why on earth he would invite a perfect stranger, whom he met in a bar, to stay with him without even checking with his wife was, even then, beyond me. Of course, similar questions could have been asked of me and would not have found decent answers. Needless to say, I didn't stay with the Clown.

Then it turned out that before he could take me to the tournament, the Clown had to run by his house real quick to change clothes. At least, it would have been real quick had we not run out of gas on the way over there -- run out of gas on the interstate, mind you. I had to push the Clown's car to the shoulder, which didn't really have enough room for the car; at least two cars came within a few feet of killing us both. We walked a half-mile or so to get gas, then went to the Clown's house where I managed to plug in my computer and send out what I had written the night before in camp. That was the only positive thing the Clown brought to my life.

We headed off to the tournament, where after 20 minutes he said he needed a beer. This was at 9:30 a.m. "Meet me by the 13th green," said the Clown. So I went over to the 13th green, and I saw Kevin Costner and Randy Quaid and golfer Nick Faldo and some others play through, but an hour later, no Clown. I would have gladly blown him off and found another way back to the campground, but he had my camera and sweater in his backpack and my computer in his car, so I still needed the Clown. When I somehow found him among the roughly 15,000 people walking around the course, he told me, well, he had seen Kevin Costner on No. 14 and decided to follow him and get some pictures. "Oh, and by the way," said the Clown, "I have to go pick up my wife at 2, so I'll need to leave early." Thanks for mentioning that earlier, Mr. Clown.

We decided that he would just swing by the campsite and put my computer in my tent, so I wouldn't have to go back early with him. I was very trusting in those days. Then we settled down next to the ninth green to watch Jack Nicklaus and Clint Eastwood play. The Clown had borrowed a buddy's camera with a big lens, so I used it and my "media savvy" to get in position for some killer shots -- Nicklaus acknowledging the crowd, Eastwood just missing a putt, Faldo actually smiling. Too bad that, as I found out the next day, the Clown didn't know how to load film into a camera, and I was actually taking no pictures.

When it was all over, the Clown was out of my life, and I went back to the park to write up the day's adventures. But there was no computer in my tent. I called the Clown, and he explained that he just didn't feel right leaving my computer in a tent with other people around. "So, could you bring it over here?" I asked, anticipating a "no." "No," said the Clown. "I left it at work; you can come get it tomorrow." Although I did get my computer back the next day and I did manage to send some copy off to the papers and I did survive the whole thing and kept moving down the road, I said a few things to the Clown that I will not repeat here. My mother reads this paper, you understand.

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