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  • Prehistory and Postmodernism
  • Andrew Levy

Labor Day Weekend, 1984. Erik Huber signs a “drive-away” contract with a man from Queens to drive his car to Reseda in the San Fernando Valley in two weeks time. Erik then lets nine days lapse, packs his college belongings in the back of the car, and offers to show me Los Angeles, the Pacific Coast Highway, and the “eating tour” of San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley. Across the country, there was a record heat wave that week. We drove during the days, drinking six packs of warm diet coke to keep us nervous. At night, we slipped into campgrounds with our headlights off, spread sleeping bags under the stars and between the Winnebago campers, sipped from a bottle of Jack Daniels, and whispered conjectures about what invisible landscape would materialize around us in the morning light: strawberry fields in Missouri, a giant red rock in New Mexico.

On the third or fourth day, driving a high mountain highway in Arizona, we saw a tall, slender pole rising in the horizon. Amid the aged pines and desert landscape that neither of us had ever seen before, we assumed that the pole was an Indian totem. As we approached, we made out a vaguely human icon atop the pole. As we approached nearer, we recognized the figure: it was Fred Flintstone. We drove through twenty more miles of pristine desert, and found Bedrock: a campground, tourist shop, and restaurant modelled after the cartoon, a place to sit in a Flintstone car, sleep in a Flintstone home, eat a Brontoburger, shake hands with one of the two unlucky individuals dressed in bulky Fred and Barney costumes in the Arizona heat, and buy postcards or t-shirts.

We bought postcards. They flew out the car window on a long downhill several miles out of “town”; we stopped the car in the middle of the road, ran back to where the cards lay unmoving in the road, and looked up, horrified, to see a gasoline truck mount the top of the hill above us and begin its hurtling descent toward our parked, purring, borrowed car. We raced back, pulled the car onto the shoulder, and listened to the peeved whistle of the skidding truck, its driver too stunned to curse as he passed.

We drove on to Barstow and Los Angeles. Erik had so laden the back of the car that the exhaust pipe had been skipping against the highway for three thousand miles, sending out sparks in our absurd trail. In Reseda, we saw that we had worn the exhaust pipe down to a sliver. We listened to the car’s owner complain about the pipe, all of us confused about what might constitute adequate compensation, and then drove our rental car back into Los Angeles.

There we got drunk, relieved and giddy about being in California, about not having started a conflagration in Arizona over a couple of Flintstone postcards, and about not having to drive anymore. Late at night, we wandered through downtown, and came across the La Brea tar pits, a dark hole behind a chain-link fence amid the skyscrapers of central Los Angeles. Erik explained how fossils would periodically rise to the surface, where paleontologists would retrieve them, and set to work determining how the new find altered our modern vision of prehistory. I looked through the chain link fence, and saw a sculpture of a saber-toothed tiger being pulled down into the pit with a graphic look of displeasure on its face.

Nobody should ever be too proud of their practical joke ideas, but I can’t seem to forget the one that Erik and I devised that night in Los Angeles. We would return to Bedrock, get those Fred and Barney costumes, stuff them with medical school skeletons, and toss them at night over the chain link fence into the tar pit, just so, for a few moments at least, the researchers at the La Brea site would have to say to themselves, and to the world: the Flintstones are not fiction; prehistoric man wore a tie and punched a time card.

Meanwhile, six thousand miles away in Paris...

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