In the movies they call the photo above a “teaser.” Apt name here too. The setting of the poem, “Keith Richards Is Still A Friend of Mine,” partly quoted above, is inside a ’56 Chevy within sight of the pinnacles, a peculiar and picturesque clustering of rock towers thrusting up from the desert floor in the middle of nowhere. A good place to go parking after a movie. A guy’s out there with his girl. They’ve been necking for a while, but the guy’s hoping for more. Keith helps out, and the guy’s eternally grateful.
The Chevy in the photo is the spittin’ image of one I owned, except mine was a four-door, and the colors were all faded and the odometer had about 120,000 miles on it and I had what we called moon hub caps, which I stole off of some car parked outside a coffee shop late one night going over the Grapevine to Los Angeles. The engine was a 265 cubic inch V8 that vapor locked whenever it wasn’t convenient. Bought it off some lot in downtown Bakersfield one cold foggy evening for $295. They’re all over the Internet now selling for $40,000 – 50,000, depending upon the restoration etc. I loved that car.
The pinnacles! Last time I was out there was a few years years ago, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were out there. It looked from the distance we maintained like they had their kids with them. Keep in mind, there were some people whose job it was to see that nobody got too close. We stayed away. If it’s family, they don’t need to be bothered. When they left, I noticed that the vehicles (three SUV’s) headed north on the way to Death Valley, maybe.
Now another time it was different. That time it involved Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, sort of the Pitt and Jolie of their time, probably bigger, actually, in star status. There seem to be thousands of stars now. Back then, ‘60’s, there were just a handful – and Dick and Liz were the opposable thumb and forefinger of the hand.
They were making Cleopatra, at the time, possibly the most expensive movie ever made, when you consider inflation. Liz and Dick were married when they were filming the movie, but not to each other. You get the picture.
A few scenes were filmed at the pinnacles. The tiny local airport was buzzing. The one local motel filled up and extras and other lackies were sleeping in the high school’s gymnasium. Nobody ever saw Elizabeth Taylor or Richard Burton, of course. Rumor was they flew up each day from Los Angeles.
A couple of us cut school after lunch and headed out in Bob’s dune buggy – a contraption that started as a wrecked 1954 Mercury with a flathead six and ended up as a chassie and seats with a cage of metal-shop welded roll bars, dual wheels on the back and an open engine. We made our own path out to the pinnacles, but security was everywhere. We circled the whole production looking for some way past security. Finally we stopped and hoofed it as close as we could get. We sat for a while on a mound and passed the binoculars back and forth but never saw Dick or Liz. But Roman legions were everywhere.
The pinnacles are always being used in movies and commercials.A friend of mine spent a couple of weeks playing an ape soldier in Tim Burton’s remake debacle of that Charlton Heston classic, “Planet of the Apes.” They shot at the pinnacles for weeks. The whole area was closed off to the public while they built secret elaborate sets.
A couple of us drove out to take a look one afternoon. They actually had an official visitor’s area. When we got there, I noticed a wooden box sitting on the ground next to the security building. It was about the size of a large microwave oven. An over-sized padlock dangled from the clasp, and there was a single wire running from a small hole in the box. That wire ran along the edge of a dirt road before it veered into nothing but sage brush and creosote and disappeared. Handwritten on the top of the box was the word, Phone, along with twenty or so phone numbers.
When I asked the security guy about it, he laughed. “It’s the phone,” he said. The crew had come out to the pinnacles with cell phones. Hollywood and the studios would be just a button away. Except the phones wouldn’t work out there. They had to have a special land line (1!) put in. And only a couple of people had keys to open the box. All those numbers? They were places in the area that would deliver food. They were all 25 miles away.
By the way, my Monkey Number this morning was 6,670. Like the Dow, it dropped. Google will only let you see a couple hundred of those, at most. The remaining numbers are like movie “net profits.” Somebody is telling you that they’re there, but nobody ever gets to see them: Monkey Numbers.