Goodbye to Blueberry Pie

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It was when I accidentally placed my cell phone in a cup of hot coffee that I realized L.A. was probably getting to me.

The unconscious gesture was, in its way, a symbolic evocation of one man’s weariness of the calamity that drives a big city.

A cell phone has become the embodiment of who we are, an extension of the inner self that connects us to all we hold dear: studios, editors, agents, fitness coaches and shrinks.


When you drown a cell phone, you are subconsciously disconnecting yourself from L.A., and it’s time to get away.

I didn’t know I had put the phone in my coffee until it rang. It came through as a kind of gurgle, like a child blowing bubbles in bath water.

I pulled to the side of the freeway and lifted it dripping from the cup, its strangled ring fading and dying.

Circumstances had created the moment. I couldn’t find the lid to my car coffee cup on the same morning that the phone latch on my dashboard broke. I placed the coffee cup in the little circular opening next to me and the phone next to it.

You know the rest. Traffic was a mess, I was late for a meeting, the cell phone rang for the ten-hundredth time as I was sipping coffee, I answered it, hung up in an agitated state and placed it, plop, into the half-full cup of French roast.

And then I said to hell with it and went on vacation.


Fast forward. We are driving through the mountains of Northern California. I am seeking the small town of my dreams, a kind of Brigadoon, where they dance in the street and make love under the moon and no one wears anything made of spandex.


We stop at a coffee shop for an afternoon break. It is somewhere in Plumas County at a place with nothing around it, only the high country. Rain has been falling and thunder rolls through the sky like the voice of God, igniting the early darkness with flashes of lightning.

There is drama to the weather, but inside the coffee shop there is no drama. There are men and women who are among the living dead, silent and expressionless, isolated in an aloneness that keeps them apart.

“You want blueberry pie?” a waitress demands. I have given no indication that I want pie. Neither has my wife, Cinelli. But the waitress is large and hostile, so we both say yes.

“What about them eggs?” an angry man shouts from across the room. It is a burst of unexpected sound, like trumpets in a tomb. He could be a farmer or a drifter or someone whose job it is to shoot horses with broken legs.

“Wait your turn,” Frau Slaughter snarls back, “I’m gettin’ pie!”

“I’ll have some of that blueberry pie,” the horse-killer’s woman says.

“What is it with pie?” I whisper to Cinelli.

“I don’t know,” she whispers back, “but eating it may be the only activity around here for miles.”


I don’t know how many small towns we visited. There was one where everyone was tipsy. It boasted the only bar for miles around. You ate pie in Small Town One and drank boilermakers in ST2. In ST3, you gathered every night at a church.


“It’s what you do in the small town of your dreams,” Cinelli said. “You eat pie, drink boilermakers and pray.”

I thought about it as we drove through some of the most picturesque country on Earth. Mountains that brushed the dark skies. Trees that towered cathedral-like around us. Then there was Paradise. It’s a town, not a place one visits after death. Good friends Wil and Mona moved there from L.A. A town named Paradise must surely be a heaven on Earth, right? Wrong.

We heard about bears in their backyard. We heard about septic problems, water problems, fire problems and stories of political shenanigans that bordered on surreal.

We left with Wil saying the whole thing was a nightmare and they couldn’t wait to move. As I thought about it, I decided I didn’t want to live in a place where pie was the most exciting thing in town. Or where bears, booze and hallelujah were the ultimate diversions.

I wanted plays and concerts and restaurants and malls. I wanted the Santa Monica Pier and Pasadena’s Old Town. I wanted the spicy-hot food of East L.A. and the soul food of South-Central. I wanted Esa-Pekka Salonen, the Mark Taper and misty Topanga mornings.

Most of all, I don’t want pie. I want stress. So good morning, L.A. Hello, strife. And goodbye, blueberry pie.



Al Martinez’s column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. He can be reached online at