The dark inky stripe called Oracle loomed ahead, the glossy pitch reflected the neon that lined its curbs, creating a multi-colored aurora that sparkling and glistening across this onyx pike. This was not the best part of town, but it certainly was not the worst, either. Even with the late hour, the heat was stifling and the wind nonexistent; the air hung and thickened as it sat in anticipation. I had a job to do, and it was not to just sit here in my car on this short spur of Oracle. I put my car into gear and set out down the road.
I looked to my left; there was the ramshackle white building that housed KOLD-TV. At the time, was I ever glad to leave that place behind. Now, I remember some of the great friends and the great fun we had in that building. Ahead was the towering residence hotel for seniors still able to hold their own against time. And on the corner of Oracle as it made its turn to the north was my favorite little dive in Tucson. That Denny’s was a fluorescent sentinel in the dark calling out to the night owl in me, just as it did so many years ago.
Denny’s is a refuge for those afraid or unwilling to go home, for those that can’t or won’t go to sleep at night. Maybe it was different in the day– I never went into one in the day. For me, Denny’s and its thin, hot coffee was a safe haven from going home.
For a while, some of us found a great escape in that Denny’s, a quick and furious ride that took us all the way to California and back. Every night, for months on end, the Guns wound down in our Oracle Denny’s. We were their guests, their new friends, their local hosts. Mitch was out at Old Tucson one day, shooting God knows what, when he ran into Keifer. That was our first connection.
From then on, there was a draw to the Denny’s. Not every night, sometimes not for days at a time, but every time we heard the call to Denny’s, the Guns were there. And every night the Guns were there, so were we. Mitch, Bob and I; Keifer, Emilio and Lou. Sometimes Christian. Coffee, bring another pot, please. The Guns were raucous and rowdy and loud, but always polite. They were our guests.
I had met Keifer before, back in Santa Cruz on The Boys. He pretended to recall, but he was just being kind. I doubt Keifer recalled shooting The Boys at all, much less a photog who hung out on the set after work. It was not my first brush with fame, either; I had met and worked with a few names to that point. But there was a bit of camaraderie there, like a friendship you might make on a vacation.
We never felt the need to venture out to the bars; the Guns brought their own bar into Denny’s with them. They did not need to prowl Oliver Twists or the Hideout, or ogle the girls at TD’s. They just needed to let their hair down and relax. They played at being characters all day, they needed the time and space to be themselves at night.
And so Mitch, Bob and I traded with the Guns, for a few hours at a time, every couple of nights. We all got to feel important, we played at being famous, and the Guns got to be ordinary. We had the times of our lives, and they got the come-down they needed.
We would sit there in our corner booth, week after week, and it got to be a fairly regular affair. The waitresses knew who we were, and the customers that came and went, we heard their whispers. Mitch, Bob and I were suddenly important; we were looked at, we were pointed at and talked about; we had arrived. We blossomed with pride, and oozed self-significance. For their part, the Guns were equally happy. They could come in, enjoy good company and fellowship, and no one bothered or hassled them.
Then one night we walked in and our booth was empty. As it was the next night… and the next. We sat down, our booth well too big for only the three of us, and we realized our ride was over. We had one single cup of coffee that night, and then walked out into the night.
“Goodnight Bob,” I said. “Goodnight Mitch.” We were back in Tucson.