Robert Blake, O.J.,
the Old Me & I
©2017 Hal Padgett
—The events really happened; the philosophy is nonsensical by design —
A painful glance at my watch. Dammit—I was due at my girl-friend’s house in fifteen minutes. It was a thirty-minute drive.
I fortified my spirits by downing a third glass of cabernet sauvignon, then switched on CNN to catch a bit of news, so I’d have something to talk about over dinner. My eyes nearly popped out of my head at what I saw and heard—Robert Blake's face in the upper right of the screen as his name was spoken in a grave, generic broadcast voice. Something to do with his wife’s murder a year earlier.
I ran to the kitchen and poured a fourth glass of wine, then returned to an overhead moving image shot from a helicopter, of a white sedan inching its way through grid-locked Los Angeles interstates at rush hour. Jesus! I thought, Robert effing Blake’s driving a Ford Crown Victoria? Barely crawling; then gaining speed, up to perhaps 20 mph; Blake in his white Crown Victoria slowed again, then stopped completely. Then, a sudden break in traffic and the bad boy burst into freedom at what appeared to be a steady 40 mph.
This was getting good. But I had my own journey to make. And I knew from OJ’s wild ride in 1994 that this televised chase would likely last for hours.
A few minutes later I pulled into Green’s Package Store for two emergency bottles of cabernet sauvignon. To my relief, a 13” wall-mounted black and white TV promised an update on the Blake chase. But as I stared at the screen, I saw myself, partially obscured by the ox in front of me, and the back of the cashier’s head—a security monitor. However, a 20-incher further to the right broadcasted the unfolding saga.
When I finally got to check out, Blake was driving at a pretty good clip. I remarked to the cashier: “Uh-oh. Looks like O.J. and the Bronco all over again.”
“I hope not,” she replied, indifferently.
During a fourth attempt to have Big Brother okay the magnetic strip on my debit card, my eyes turned again to the white Ford on the TV screen. Suddenly, another traffic clog, another complete halt. Then it crawled; then sped up; then stopped. This was getting good.
The cashier was bagging my booze when that nearly inhaled fourth glass of wine spanked my central nervous system. Light-headed and pumped with hubris, I almost burst out with what was suddenly bothering no one but me: The car's going zero miles per hour! Why don’t the cops just walk over and drag Blake’s ass out?
But a quick peek at the caption on the screen—just in time to save face—informed me that Robert Blake was in fact under arrest and in custody, handcuffed and in the back seat of the white police Ford.
“That could have been embarrassing,” I said aloud, which earned me a “Have a nice evening” from the cashier, who had no idea what the hell I was talking about.
DESPITE a most warm reception by my girlfriend (the poor dear was thrilled that by my standards I had actually arrived on schedule) I had to get an update on Blake’s Odyssey to L.A. County jail. I poured a glass of wine and flipped on CNN and Larry King Live.
Larry looked half dead, and livid—probably from “the suits'” de-cision to devote the entire show to lifeless aerial shots of a grid-locked Crown Victoria. A team of legal and law enforcement pundits soon began to arrive and get miked at various TV stations on the east and west coasts. Larry continued to bitch and scowl, but there was a sudden levity to his cantankerousness.
As I finished another glass of wine, Larry stirred from his huff and asked if anyone could tell where in heck the white Ford on the screen actually was in greater Los Angeles. One talking head immediately piped in with a chuckling “Y’know, Larry, I’ve lived in L.A. for 12 years and I still can’t tell I-10 from I-405.” He chuckled, alone.
By the time my girlfriend suggested that I haul my empty stomach to the dinner table, I’d had my fill of talking heads. I sat and poured a glass of wine. I wanted to make conversation—witty or otherwise—but became preoccupied with flashbacks of where I was and what I did the night O.J. ran.
THAT EVENING in June 1994 began on Ponce de Leon Avenue, in Atlanta, with me and two companions suffering from a heavy buzz because we’d guzzled Margaritas on an empty stomach long before our nachos arrived. These companions insisted on airing their differences in public. Then the husband got into a row with a 6’4” no-neck bubba sitting next to us, something about “your chair’s touching my chair.”
I finally had had enough, so decided to thump a big dollop of sour cream into my friend’s wallet for refusing to budge his chair even one quarter of an inch. I threw money on the table and staggered west on Ponce, to the Excelsior Mill, where I danced non-stop for two hours to King Sunny Ade’s ju-ju beat at the Excelsior Mill. That I remember. How I got home that night remains a mystery.
AT OR ABOUT 9:45 p.m. on April 18, 2002, I heard Larry King’s gravelly announcement of Robert Blake’s arrival in central booking. I continued to chew calmly, my head spinning as I withered under the scrutiny of my girlfriend. She said something I couldn’t understand and I wanted more than anything for her to vanish from the face of the earth. And then, I was struck by a brilliant thought: we all arrive, at someplace, but can anyone truly remember how or why they got there? Robert Blake, O.J., me. Three men, three personal journeys. Only I, thanks to this second journey not squandered, survived with dignity.
I’ve learned that on the road to personal development there can be no allowance for swilling cheap tequila on an empty stomach, or pasting sour cream inside the wallet of a companion whose behavior you drunkenly perceive as more obnoxious than your own. And it is certainly not okay to murder your woman.
Behave in civil fashion. Whether because it’s the right thing to do, or just because one is too drunk to move or speak. And help yourself to fine red wine—lots of it. It will help you endure the burning gaze of the woman who adores you for no apparent reason; who wants more than anything to “figure you out.” These are the things that matter. Robert Blake and O.J. were too blind to see.