The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Tome On The Range

The Big Texan: Paranoia, Crime, and Metal Cowboys
J.J. Anselmi , September 11th, 2016 15:36

In an altered extract from his book, Heavy: A Memoir of Wyoming, BMX, Drugs, and Heavy Fucking Music, J.J. Anselmi recounts the time a stolen U-Haul trailer led down a spiral of crime and metal cowboys

The Big Texan

A policeman pulled into the lot of the Big Texan motel. He had a crew cut, and a fine line of sweat just below his hairline glistened. I told him that I’d woken up to find that my U-Haul trailer containing everything I’d ever owned was gone.

“Yeah,” he said, beginning to fill out his report. “This type of thing happens a lot here. People are always coming through town with trailers full of stuff, and most of them don’t think to lock their trailer to the hitch.”

I listed off my belongings for him: drums, two acoustic guitars, one electric guitar, a guitar amp, computer, TV, DVD player, several DVDs, and most of my clothes.

“I’m going to be honest with you.” He tapped his pen on his clipboard. “We usually find the trailers somewhere outside town with nothing in them. But you had a lot of unique stuff, so you might be able to find some of it at the local pawn shops.”

Just before he finished the report, he got a call from dispatch. Clipping his radio back to his shirt, he said, “Looks like a tow truck driver found your trailer about fifteen miles out of town. I don’t know if there’s anything in it, though.”

It seemed highly suspicious that a tow truck driver would be wandering around the outskirts of Amarillo on a Tuesday morning. I also thought it was strange that dispatch would call so quickly, and just before the officer finished his report.

When I’d realised that my U-Haul was gone, I anxiously searched the outside of my truck for a ticket, hoping the trailer had been towed for being illegally parked. No one had broken into my Tacoma, and I didn’t find a ticket, so I went to the front desk to see if someone might’ve called it in to get towed.

“No, I don’t think anyone here had your trailer towed,” said the clerk, a tired-looking woman in her late thirties or early forties with thin hair and veiny arms. “You know, this type of thing happens all the time here, it being a tourist trap and everything.” She told me that most people don’t think of locking their trailer to the hitch—a mistake I’d made. I’d locked my truck and the door to the trailer but didn’t think about locking the trailer to the hitch. “That makes it real easy for the thieves. All they have to do is come by with a truck with a hitch and just take the trailer.” She paused, pointing to a phone on her desk. “Want me to call the cops?”

I felt like she and the cop both knew exactly what happened to my U-Haul.

I’d moved to Austin from my hometown, Rock Springs, Wyoming, in January. I was nineteen and playing drums for a generic grunge band. Most of our songs were blatant Nirvana rip-offs. My bandmates and I moved into the Austin Musician’s Co-Op, where I had constant access to weed and booze. I also lived across the hall from a jazz guitarist who sold LSD.

I’d never tripped before living in the Co-Op. I immediately fell in love with the world I saw on acid, a world of velvety geometric patterns and music I could taste. I dosed several times a week for two months. And then, feeling like my mind was unraveling, I decided to move back into my parents’ house—even though I hated Rock Springs. I’d also realised that my dream to make it as a drummer was ridiculous, especially in a city populated by so many amazing musicians.

I drove north from Austin one morning, towing a jam-packed U-Haul behind my 1999 Tacoma. Outside the cultural Petri dish of Austin, most of Texas seemed desolate. The starter in my truck shit the bed after a few hundred miles, and it took me two days to reach Amarillo, in northern Texas.

From sixty miles south of the small city, signs for the Big Texan began to sprout up on the side of Highway 287. After a full day of driving across hardpan plains—plains that made me feel like I was approaching the edge of a flat earth—I decided to stay at the Big Texan motel. What better way to spend my last night in Texas than in this garish, bright-yellow tourist trap?

Sitting in my truck, I stared at the tall metal cowboy that stood next to the Big Texan, beckoning tourists from I-40. He looked back at me with smiling black eyes. There was no doubt about it: I’d been caught in a crime ring involving the Big Texan, the towing company, and the Amarillo police. The motel clerk had called a driver at the towing company—how else would the thieves know to come by the Big Texan on that particular night?—who then came to take my trailer. The cops had found the trailer way too fast, so it only made sense that someone on the squad was getting a taste of this greasy pie.

It’s true. I’d become a little paranoid after spending the past two months hopped up on LSD. But, really, acid only enhanced my awareness. For example, I’d suddenly become aware of the many plots against me in the Co-Op. Every tenant (there were about twenty of us) was either constantly mocking me or trying to trick me into joining one of their hippie orgies. Also: someone had tried to get me kicked out by writing a fake love note from the Co-Op manager’s girlfriend. (The possibility that the girl had written the note herself crossed my mind. I dismissed it.)

Driving to the tow yard on the south side of Amarillo, fast food restaurants, pawn shops, liquor stores, and used car dealerships morphed into a decayed industrial area. I decided to get high next to some warehouses near the yard, thinking weed would calm me. I kept thinking about my drums and musical equipment. I also thought about my band t-shirts. In high school, I grew out my hair until it hung past my shoulder blades, and I wore Black Sabbath, Pantera, Metallica, and Slayer t-shirts like badges of honor. It had taken me years to develop my collection of metal shirts.

A semi rumbled past as I sat in my truck, getting high and staring at rectangular waves in a warehouse roof. I left, worried that the driver would call the cops, who were already against me. The neighborhood surrounding the warehouses seemed like the setting of a post-apocalyptic movie. Cars and trucks in various states of disassembly sat in driveways and yellowed lawns of dilapidated houses. Children wearing dirt-encrusted shorts and t-shirts played in the streets.

My feeling that I’d wandered into a scene from Mad Max intensified when I reached the tow yard. Barbed-wire-topped fencing surrounded rusted car parts, an old yellow school bus, a few tow trucks, and some other random vehicles. Three U-Haul trailers sat in the yard.

Inside the office, I told a clerk that one of their drivers had found my trailer. “Come outside,” the skeletal woman said, leading me to a metal door. Her bleached hair was frayed on the ends, and her brownish-grey teeth were eroded. “You can see which one’s yours.”

The Texas sun cast a queasy glare over the yard. Oil puddles speckled the dirt. I looked in the first trailer. As my eyes adjusted to the dark, I saw the shells of my drums and none of my other belongings. My drum stool, cymbals, and cymbal stands were all gone, but the drums themselves were still there. When I left Austin, my U-Haul had been stuffed—I could barely close the door. Now, the grey-floored trailer looked like a void.

Back inside the office, the woman told me that I needed to pay $275 to get my U-Haul. She began writing a receipt. Not sure what to do, I decided to call U-Haul. A customer service representative told me that, since the trailer was already reported as being stolen, it didn’t matter if I returned it. I’d paid the extra money for insurance, and the situation was now out of my hands. After this call, I told the clerk that I just wanted to take my drums and leave. We argued for a few minutes, each of us becoming more agitated, before she went to get the manager.

The manager was a skinny man, probably in his mid-forties, wearing faded Wranglers. Deep crags cut through his ashen cheeks. Like the clerk, his teeth were jagged and scum-ridden. Meth use is a scourge in Rock Springs, and I knew most of the signs, so I felt certain in my guess that the manager and clerk were both tweakers, which only made them seem that much more likely to be cogs in some grotesque crime mechanism.

I told the man about my conversation with the U-Haul employee. “I just want to take my drums and leave.”

He called U-Haul, got the same information, and then said, “You can’t just take the drums without paying, though.” He took a cigarette from a pack in his shirt pocket and lit it, inhaling deeply. “It cost me money for my driver to pick up that trailer.” That was the cherry on top: they stole all your shit and then charged you out the ass to recover your own U-Haul.

Barely restraining from cussing the guy out, I tried to convince him to let me take my drums without paying. He eventually reduced the fee but still wouldn’t let me take my drums until I paid him. Tired, confused, and feeling like I needed to get the fuck out of Amarillo, I gave him $100, loaded my drums into my truck, and left.

It took me two more days to get back to Wyoming. Driving north on interstates and highways, I looked in my rearview mirror every few minutes to make sure that my drums hadn’t bounced out of the flat bed. When I stayed in a motel in Colorado, I crammed the drums inside my cab for the night. Aside from that night, I tried to keep a constant watch, only letting my drums out of sight when I had to use the bathroom.

*

After a month of living back in Wyoming, a detective from the Amarillo PD called me. He was investigating a series of U-Haul thefts at the Big Texan, but he never told me if anyone at the motel, towing company, or police department was involved. Because my belongings were easily identifiable and unique, the detective was able to connect my recovered goods with other thefts at the Big Texan.

Throughout May, June, and July, he emailed me pictures of stereo equipment, TVs, jewelry, CDs, DVDs, video game consoles, bikes, snowboards, and other valuables—all scattered across the floors of ratty motel rooms. I’d examine them and tell him if I saw any of my stuff. In one, my guitar amp sat next to my drumstick bag on dingy, aquamarine carpet. Two of my Black Sabbath t-shirts were laid out in front of the amp and bag. The detective sent these things back to me.

Every once in a while, I wear one of the Sabbath shirts that was stolen and recovered. In purple letters, ‘Black Sabbath’ sits atop a faded black-and-white picture of the band from 1972. On the back: ‘Listen To Black Sabbath’ in large white letters. The black t-shirt still fits, but I always wonder if someone else has worn it.

Heavy: A Memoir of Wyoming, BMX, Drugs, and Heavy Fucking Music is out now, published by Rare Bird Books

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.