Marc was always doing impersonations. If you wanted him to pass the potatoes, he would tell you, in his best Charlton Heston voice, you could have them when you pried them from his cold, dead hands. Heston, an old right wing Hollywood star, was famous for saying that about anyone trying to take his guns away from him. Heston was head of the NRA at the time, a domestic terrorist organization, secretly aligned with the American Nazi Party, that wanted to arm drug dealers with anti-tank guns. It was the only part of the Constitution they ascribed to – the right to kill police and ethnic minority teenagers with roadside bombs and automatic weapons. But I digress.
Near the end of our junior year in college, after Marc once again made his Charlton Heston joke at dinner, Jules, one of our housemates, pointed out that Charlton Heston had just died. It was 2008, the same year that a corporate logo was first elected President of the United States. As the four of us sat around inhaling an after dinner digestive aid, an idea germinated. We should go out West to Charlton Heston’s grave, dig him up & pry his gun from his cold, dead hands.
The next morning, instead of our idea dying, as so many previous, terrible, late night germinated ideas had done before, this idea began to sprout and grow. It would be the road trip of a lifetime, from Rhode Island to California in our last summer together before graduation.
We found a “Drive-Away” car for our trip. This was a vehicle that someone wanted to transport to California. We would pay for gas, but we got the free use of the car for two weeks in the deal. It was a bit of a compact car, which made for a tight squeeze with all our stuff. But we were sure it would be a great bonding experience, a chance to discover America, and an opportunity to do something crazy while we were still young and irresponsible. The weekend before our trip, we decided to take the car out on a test run. The four of us: Marc, Julie (Jules), Becca and I crammed ourselves in with four empty suitcases to simulate the crampness we would be enduring for the trip. Marc was at the wheel. He pulled out of the driveway and proceeded to smash into the side of a bacon delivery truck. No one was hurt, and the car wasn’t too badly damaged. We took it as a bad omen that we would have to completely ignore for our road trip. The only change we made was to come up with two weeks of excuses to keep Marc from driving the car again.
It actually took us 12 days to get to Hollywood, California. We had stopped and camped all over, visited the Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree National Park, and the Elmer Fudd Memorial Museum and gas station in Utah. Becca was no longer with us. She had become increasingly convinced that our trip was cursed, that Marc worked for the NRA, and that the NRA was really the NSA. She flew back home when we got to Memphis. This left us more room in the car, but the long hours on the road were much more boring without her paranoia.
In Hollywood, we found the home of Eloid, a washed up entertainer from the 70s we had read about in a pamphlet about strange Hollywood facts. We were in love with Eloid, who was said to dress in a banana suit and ride a tricycle around town. We were certain that we could befriend him and he would let us crash at his place. Amazingly, we were right. He was a very friendly and welcoming fellow. Eloid lived with Ross, his body guard. Ross was an enormous, menacing looking man who never spoke to any of us. He would stand motionless at the back of any room we occupied, wearing dark shades and a grey suit with a black tie. Much later, I discovered that Ross was both blind and deaf, which explained his uncanny ability not to react to anything going on. Now, of course, I’ve become pretty close friends with Ross and all of us party together, but when we first met, I thought he was a mannequin, or an old movie prop of some kind. That’s how still he was.
In retrospect, it would have behooved us to have looked up where Charlton Heston was buried in advance of our trip. By the time we located his grave, we had to give up our Drive-Away car and fork over all of our remaining cash to pay for the dents that the Bacon truck had delivered to it. Eloid said he had an idea of how we could get to the graveyard, which was located in an NRA compound maintained by the KKK.
Eloid took us, one at a time on the back of his tricycle, to the outdoor set where the iconic shot of the Batmobile driving out of the Batcave was filmed for the old Batman TV series. Ross was waiting for us in the cave, and when we were all assembled, Ross and Eloid showed us something astounding… the Batmobile. It was one of several cars used in the TV show, and it was sitting, abandoned, covered in dust, in this overlooked and unstaffed tourist attraction. Eloid said that he had won the key to the Batmobile, as well as Adam West’s cowl and Burt Ward’s codpiece, in a card game. The key fit in the ignition, but the battery was long dead. Eloid left to find a replacement battery. While he was gone, we tried communicating with Ross, but it was no use. He just stood there, apparently guarding us. I felt both nervous and protected with him nearby.
Marc and Jules and I were having so much fun on this strange adventure, playing Batman with the Batmobile (Mark was impersonating all the villains, from the Joker to the Riddler, to Egghead) that we had almost forgotten about our graveyard mission by the time Eloid returned with a “borrowed” battery. Ross installed the battery and to my surprise, the car actually started up. Eloid pointed out that it should be in pretty good shape, since it was only ever driven a few times in and out of the Batcave for the TV show.
Jules got to drive the Batmobile. She was a huge fan of old-timey TV, and had taken on the persona of Batman. Eloid and I were in the back seat looking at a Hollywood tourist publication to try to figure out how to drive to the graveyard. By the time we arrived at the massive, imposing iron gates of the NRA’s Pacific Bitburg Cemetery, I had made an unsettling discovery. While Heston’s gravestone was indeed located within, his remains had been cremated. In any case, we had neglected to bring a shovel, so I don’t know how we expected that we could have dug him up. It was about 9:00 at night, and we hadn’t eaten since a strange lunch that Eloid had supplied us with which, since it contained nothing edible, had not helped with our hunger. So, we decided to pick up some food, sneak into the NRA graveyard & eat a picnic dinner at Charlton Heston’s grave site.
And that is exactly what we would have done if Eloid hadn’t been driving us to the convenience store. As it turned out, Eloid hadn’t had a valid driver’s license since 1987, and when he was pulled over for taking a shortcut through Alistair Cooke’s front yard, he couldn’t prove that the Batmobile belonged to him. We were detained in the South County Los Angeles lock up. Alistair Cooke had been dead for four years, and he had never really spent any time at his LA house, so it hardly seem relevant that Eloid had destroyed a few hedges on the property. Thankfully, the LA police are notoriously corrupt, and Ross’ connections got us out of trouble.
I will not verify that when they released us we committed any sort of vandalism to the NRA cemetery involving bodily fluids and Batman paraphernalia. It was the end of a long trip and, for Marc, it was time to head back East, which he did by train. Jules and I, on the other hand, stuck around for the rest of the summer working with Ross and Eloid on a reboot of Eloid’s 1970s talk show, The Eloid Show, that had originally aired only in Indiana. We will be sure to dedicate the new show to Charlton Heston, who brought us all together.
Below, an episode of The Eloid Show, circa 1979: