You are a young man attending journalism school at Berkeley, and you develop a serious crush on L___, who is skinny and has white teeth, honey hair and a winsome smile that seems born of the California you’ve been dreaming about after several long winters in the Rocky Mountains.
Only problem: L___ is seriously serious with your new best friend at J-school, B___. So, you keep your crush a secret and bask in the sunshine of L__’s presence when the three of you go out capering around the streets of San Francisco. You feel lucky just being around these two epitomes of smart, sexy California cool.
Too soon, you graduate, life takes over, and you do some time at big newspapers in big cities. You’re on the brink, and L___ and B___ are in the rearview.
But right when you think you’ve opened up all the right doors, they start closing just as fast. Then, your girlfriend dumps you and you land back in Colorado, back where you were before J-school and L___ and B__ and all that. You wonder how you traveled so far to get nowhere: no L__, no fame, no big career.
You are angry and you take to your old stomping grounds like a dragon, breathing fire onto everything in your path.
You live like a myth. You park where your pickup truck stops. You don’t read signs or follow rules. That’s for the others.
One late night, you pour out of a bar only to find some puny mortal had put a boot on your truck’s tire—an affront that needs to be remedied. In your drunkenness, you see the physics clearly—the angles, the necessary force. You raise your leg and stomp down in one quick, violent burst. The contraption explodes off the tire and collapses to the ground in surprised defeat. You leave the boot in the lot, limp and grotesque.
It happens again—the puny mortal, the truck tire, the damn boot—and you smash it again. When it happens to a friend, you stomp the boot off his car. In one lot, the proprietor of a ritzy hotel boots your truck and, furious, you stomp it off and walk it into the lobby and hand it to the concierge like it’s a piece of his trash that had blown into your yard.
Your reputation grows. Fire-breathing boot stomper.
One morning you wake to find both your truck and your new girlfriend’s car booted. You stomp the boot off her car and then yours, leave them curbside, alone. Time to roll. Your time.
Things are different there in the small-town mountains. Everybody knows your name. Roadside sobriety tests (passed!), drunk-and-disorderlies, possession and public displays—local cops mostly chuckle at your shenanigans.
But that was then, and now you are sober and living in L.A. and you’ve just written a novel about the dragon days and it’s all gonna be OK.
Then, out of the blue, you get a call from L___. She’s been with some new guy for a couple of years. She’s going to get married. Either that or she’s gonna split. It’s 50/50. She loves him, but she might not be in love with him. It doesn’t surprise you. She was born too lucky, the kind that burns up all the fuel and moves on, never satisfied. You knew that from the beginning, you just wanted to play with the flame.
And now, L___ is on the phone and she wants you to help her play an April Fool’s trick on her friend at work, act like you can’t accept L___’s engagement. Say L___ deserves better, say L___ deserves you and you’ve always loved her, etc.
You weren’t exactly pining for L___ the past four years. She was a mirage you’d driven by. But here she is on the phone and it’s funny how easy it is to go back in time. She sounds the same, honey-voiced and cruel. California is such a tease. It’s got everything you want and nothing you need.
You agree to play along. You tell L___’s friend about how you’re going to fly up there and rescue L___ and all that shit. You sell it so well her friend refuses to believe it’s an April Fool’s joke, even though it’s April 1.
When L___ asks you what you said to her friend, you reply, “the truth.”
Soon after, L___ is on her way down to L.A. You’re going on your first date after all these years. Everything’s different … sort of. You may be sober, but you still have your pickup truck and it still has Colorado plates and you’re still a scofflaw, with a pile of parking tickets on the floor that were surely meant for someone else.
The date begins with a hike in the Hollywood Hills. Greasy-spoon breakfast follows. It’s as tingly as you’d hoped it would be. You move on to a beachside dive for some afternoon beers (hers) and a few games of pool (L__ fashions herself a sharp, but you beat her). A slight wisp of dragon’s smoke sneaks from your nostrils.
Then, you come out of the bar and it’s there on the rear, driver’s side tire. It isn’t just a boot. There is also a big, orange sticker on the window warning that tampering with the device is serious business and punishable by large fines and possible jail time.
You size up the boot. It seems more formidable and menacing than the ones you’d gotten used to dismissing in the mountains. It appears to have no weakness, and it’s got your tire in a death grip.
Now what? L__ looks as if something pernicious is about to pop the bubble you’ve been in all day. You suspect it’s just you, and that this boot is a sullen reminder of who you really are, not a legend at all. Dragons don’t live here in this tight city; they roam under the big skies of the big country you’d come down from. Here, you are just another subject of the realm.
But you decide not right now. You’ve waited too long for this.
It occurs to you to let just enough air out of the tire to loosen up the boot’s grip. Then you raise your leg up and bring it down again in one last fire-breathing stomp. The boot clangs and falls slack to the cement. You toss it in the back of the truck, rip the sticker off the windshield and tell L__ to hop in.
Stars and hearts and exclamation points shoot from her eyes.
You fill the tire back up at a gas station and drive up the coast for dinner. Fireworks when you kiss good night. Adoring messages on your answering machine when you return from dropping her off at the airport where she catches a flight to New Orleans. Jazzfest or something.
During the next week, a lawyer friend will negotiate for you to surrender the boot, pay $2,000 worth of tickets and not go to jail. L___ will meet her real husband at Jazzfest. And you will register your vehicle in California and start paying your parking tickets. More or less.