Each time I moved they drove me crazy.Every day my challenge – to get this chair in just the perfect spot between desk and counter, between phone and coffee cup – so that I could do everything I needed with only a swivel of the chair, without rolling one inch in any direction so that annoying squeak wouldn’t reappear.
I’ve only been here three months now, working at Gladstones in Malibu. I got a job here, and I’m grateful for that, but I want to get into the kitchen. Instead, I’m here in the office posting invoices in the accounting system to learn the ropes.My resume said, truthfully, that it had been a few years since I’d worked in a busy kitchen. My only recent experience in a kitchen was a few weeks at the Copper Onion, but I think my mistake was portraying myself on my resume as a computer whiz.I had fabricated a history that involved work in the purchasing department of a hospital back in High Point, in the hope nobody would check.I got the job and hope, one day soon, to start spending some time in the kitchen.
But there is no rush.It took me a while to get here.I’ve got a small apartment, just off Ocean Avenue, in Santa Monica, I jog on the beach every morning and the earth shakes a little bit now and then.And I walk to work.
My trip across country had been entertaining, if nothing else, as I set out to once again establish a new life and identity. I couldn’t allow my past to follow me any more and my future would be whatever I invented and I couldn’t again run the risk of having my past checked. I miss Rachel, but I have to avoid her kind of inquisitiveness.And no more cops!
I’ll be smarter this time. Instead of telling bits of my real past, the whole story needs to be manufactured – for employers, new friends, girlfriends; whoever meets me it will be Blair Warren, not Jesse Pender, not Jesse MacGruder.Jesse, both of them, had to stay disappeared. And I can’t look up Rachel back in High Point either.I had an old driver’s license from Wisconsin and a passport in the name of Blair Warren.I’d created that identity a few years ago when I was in school Wisconsin, in case I needed to assume a completely new identity again. Was so glad I’d kept it, and now I was so glad to have planned for needing it one day. The only problem was, the pictures were six years old and showed me with my head shaved and clean shaven.
But, a fresh start was needed; new name – a new story to tell anyone who needs or wants to know.
I’d packed quickly – shaving gear, a few days’ change of clothes, my lap top and that folder of documents and the cash I kept under the mattress – in a backpack and a gym bag.
After Rachel’s call on my cell phone, telling me the RCMP had tracked me to High Point and that I better get moving, there was no time to waste. Fortunately I was at home when she called.
It was a shock – not that my past had finally caught up to me, I’d expected that for years, but the shock that Rachel was calling me, so calmly, tipping me off to get out of town, to get away.
It was certain they would be looking for me at the apartment, and at the hospital where I worked.I put everything else I wanted to leave with in the trunk I’d had as a coffee table in the dorm back in Wisconsin, taped it up and tossed it in the back seat of the car – made my way to the Greyhound station in Greenboro.
I found an ATM machine in the terminal and drew out $800 from my bank account in High Point.I checked the timing, it was 2:45PM, just 15 minutes after a bus got in from High Point.
I shipped the trunk to Blair Warren, for pick up at Greyhound in Los Angeles. I paid cash for that.And I bought a bus ticket with my Jesse Pender credit card for a seat on the next bus out to New York, and got on it.I got off the bus in Richmond, Virginia.My thinking was that the cops would find my car in the parking lot, trace my credit card records to find the bus ticket purchase which would, at least in the short term, have them looking for me in the New York area.I left my cell phone in the car but took the SIM card with me.
I took a cab to the highway, and got out at a truck stop – J P Market – where I bought a disposable prepaid cell phone and then hitched a ride with a long haul trucker, Grady Chalmers,from Passaic, New Jersey.Grady was headed to Atlanta on I-85 with a load of light fixtures and happy to have my company.
I ditched the SIM card in the trash along with my torn up driver’s license, credit cards and hospital ID.Jesse Pender no longer existed.Jesse MacGruder would not appear anywhere again.
And Blair Warren had come to life.
Grady had been doing this route for years, to Atlanta, New Orleans and Houston – and back to New Jersey. He knew every greasy spoon restaurant along the way, had a fondness for seafood that knew no bounds. He talked incessantly.Ordinarily that would have bothered me, but he was company – and listening to him took my mind off the peril I was escaping and disappointment that I’d left a good gig, a car, a furnished apartment and a girlfriend behind.
Being safely stowed on board and headed away from trouble seemed like a smart move, and listening to jabbering and cigar chomping teamster with a New Jersey accent was small price to pay for that.
Grady dropped me off outside Atlanta, at the off-ramp to Hartsfield-JacksonAirport, the true hub of the south.
I shaved everything – face and head, completely, and changed my shirt in the men’s room.I had been wearing a goatee and mustache for years, so I thought my clean-shaven bald look was less likely to have me identified if police had distributed photos of me to airport personnel.
It had only been eight hours since I left High Point, so I hoped nobody would be looking for me in Atlanta.Sure, police might be looking for Jesse Pender in airports like Atlanta, but they wouldn’t be looking for Blair Warren from Madison Wisconsin.
I wanted to go to L.A., but catching a direct flight would be too obvious and leave a trail to follow. I bought round-trip ticket on Delta to Salt Lake City for $645.It was a shame, since I had no intention of using the return portion.
I spent the afternoon lounging around the Atlanta airport, ate some blackened catfish that was embarrassingly pedestrian at Pachal’s Restaurant in the main terminal. I took my time and didn’t rush to board my flight when it was called.I boarded at 6:45 for a 6:55PM EDT departure.
Again, nobody noticed me as being any different from other passengers so I guessed there were no ‘wanted posters’ or the equivalent in circulation at the Atlanta airport. I felt odd though, like I had six years ago. Shaving completely bald after going around with a full head of hair was disconcerting for a day or two.
I’d get over it.
I knew that would pass and the freedom of never having a bad hair day would be nice again.
I had to keep my focus, remember that my real goal was to not leave a trail for police to follow and to plan to arrive in Los Angeles with a credible and verifiable story of life in Wyoming, work history in Salt Lake and ambitions to make it in Los Angeles.
I couldn’t work in speech therapy again – that would be too risky, so I’ll go back to my roots in the kitchen – I’ll find a great restaurant in L.A. where I can cook in relative obscurity and start rebuilding a life.
While I’d been killing time in Atlanta, I went online at an internet Café and Googled some Salt Lake City and area information.I made notes and later spent time during the flight, mapping out my story in bullet points – then folded my notes neatly and tucked them inside the inner compartment of my wallet.
My story would pretty much mirror my own history in Skagway – only it would take place in Evanston, Wyoming – small town boy develops and hones his cooking skills in a family operated diner, then moves to Salt Lake City where he gets some serious experience for a few years before striking out for great opportunities in L.A.
My flight arrived in SaltLake at 8:30 PM MDT. I was physically exhausted, but the adrenalin had been flowing too long.But I knew I needed sleep.
Blair Warren checked into the Radisson Hotel at the airport, and slept till noon.The phone rang to remind me that check-out time was 11:30.It took me five seconds to decide to stay a second night.And another five minutes until I called room service, starving, to order breakfast.It wasn’t especially good, but the feeling of eating anything was unbelievably exciting.I showered, and collected my thoughts.
I knew what I needed to do, calmly and deliberately . . . but, damn, I missed Rachel, but there is no time for sentimentality when on the run.Great theory.
But I couldn’t stop myself from dialing her up, for no other reason than to listen to her recorded voice on her machine.I got the, “Hi, you’ve reached Rachel Dunken’s phone. I’m not in right now, so please leave a message and I’ll get back to you . . . maybe! Thanks for calling”.
“Get a grip Jesse, – oops”,“Get a grip Blair, call Greyhound in L.A.”
I called the Greyhound depot in L.A., gave them my waybill number. Their computer showed my trunk still making its way across the country. When I explained that I would be a couple weeks late arriving in L.A. to collect it. A simple solution was offered – I simply needed to go to the Greyhound station at 300 South 600 West in SaltLake and pay for the storage fee.
I looked in the yellow pages – for restaurants. I booted up my laptop, started Googling restaurants, made a list of ten and went to the lobby to hail a cab. My cabbie, Lorne, knew a good thing when he saw it.I went into each restaurant, not so much casing the joint as I was assessing the décor, the menu and the attentiveness of the front of the house staff.It didn’t take long to take my leave of each of the first three stops.Lorne hadn’t run up too many minutes on the meter before I was back, telling him about our next stop.
That is, until we came to a place called the Copper Onion.What did that mean?I found the atmosphere charming and the menu eclectic. I liked it.I took a table, and then stepped outside to settle up with Lorne and sent him on his way.
I enjoyed a great early dinner there; a pork belly salad and a tri-tip steak to die for. The service was superb, the plating was artful. This was where I wanted to work. I asked my server Terry if she could introduce me to the chef – because I would like to apply for a job.
Chef /owner Ryan Lowder was not available until the next day, but when I returned the following afternoon for an interview, I found him and his head line cook Randy Parker welcoming and keen to have me start as sous-chef on the evening shift.
I moved from the Radisson to a weekly-rental motel near the restaurant and worked there for three weeks.In that time I ensconced myself in daily papers and being a social butterfly with all the staff so I could have enough facts and anecdotal Salt Lake City and general Utah background that I felt I could be convincing in L.A. as a credible cook from Utah.
I took a long Greyhound ride, from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles – and upon arriving in the L.A. terminal, I collected my trunk – settled up on some further storage charges and had a cab take me to the Bayside Motel.It was close to Gladstones where knew I wanted to work, cheapest motel in the area.
While I was in Salt Lake City I did some research, Google and Zagat’s Guide mostly, about restaurants in L.A.I wanted to work somewhere a bit upscale, trendy and successful – and I submitted my resume to Gladstones online while I was working at the Copper Onion.This place was a well established 40 year-old fish house in Malibu, right on the Pacific Coast Highway and Sunset Boulevard. That’s almost Hollywood in my mind.I didn’t get a formal offer, but a note from Executive Chef Alf Naidorn suggesting, “Given your resume, if you show up here I believe we will have a job for you.” It was a beautiful restaurant in a beautiful place and it seemed like they wanted me.
I was walking home from work after closing last night.We shut the restaurant at 2AM.After we cleaned the kitchen and set up for breakfast it was almost 3:30.I didn’t mind, because working this shift two nights a week got me into the kitchen, learning the routine, getting to know the crew and learning the menu, which is extensive. But that’s not my story.As I was walking home I heard gunfire. I’ve been learning that gunfire at night and earthquakes are both things I need to get used to over here.
This gunfire was behind me, back toward the restaurant.As I ran back to see what was going on, tires squealed and two cars sped off. I could see someone on the ground.It was Frankie, one of the line-cooks who had been on the kitchen closing crew. He was laying there on the parking lot, holding his belly and blood was spurting.I was experienced enough at being around wounds in the hospital in High Point that I knew basic first-aid. I applied pressure to the wound and engaged Frankie in conversation while I pulled my phone out to call 911.
While I was waiting for the ambulance, Frankie told me what happened.He had been participating a drug deal. He was buying from somebody he didn’t know – for the first time – and his regular dealer came cruising by, recognized both their competitor’s car and Frankie and opened fire.
In short order an ambulance and two police cruisers were on scene, taking care of Frankie and getting him on a gurney for transport to the hospital.That part was great.
Then, cops wanted a statement from me.That part was OK, but it made me really nervous. I’d been identified by facial recognition software back in High Point and I didn’t want that to happen again.
By the time I was finished giving my statement, the sun was coming up – so I thought I could finally walk home and relax – or maybe go for an early run before I crash.But, as I stepped out of the police cruiser, I met with a very unexpected consequence.
I stepped out into the glare of bright lights from TV cameras, flashes and microphones being thrust in front of me.It’s all a blur right now – but pictures in the paper and on the news will produce a result I don’t want, time for Blair Warren to disappear into thin air – time to grow back my hair and my beard.
I am getting so tired.
Maybe I can get a job, one without a squeaky chair, in some place where I can post invoices, or do speech therapy or cook.Somewhere warm.
Maybe I’ll try Florida.
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