The desert air was crisp and sharp on the morning of February 3rd, 1980, but the cacti and scrub brush that peppered the bleak flatland near Lozen, Arizona didn’t mind the weather. Winter, spring, summer, fall, it was all the same to these hardy inhabitants of the desert.
It was a cloudless day. A beat-up Pinto station wagon wove erratically down Highway 60, a newly constructed four-lane highway. Separated by a hundred yards of sagebrush, the new highway ran parallel to old Highway 58, a two-lane road that was a throwback to the Route 66 days. Highway 58 had served earlier, more gentle generations of drivers, and it was because of nostalgia that many locals had urged the City Council to let the old highway stand and not tear it down. The Council had agreed, at least for the time being, and even though 58 was an eyesore, it was still there, cracks and all, with grass sprouting through the crumbling asphalt.
But Marvin Niebold didn’t care about all that. He was nursing a broken heart. His wife of forty years had left him and moved out, leaving Marvin with the reason for her departure—a huge drinking problem.
Marvin, a car salesman, was slumped over, bleary-eyed, his potbelly caressing the steering wheel. He was drunk and barely awake. He had spent the night boozing in a roadside bar a few miles down the highway to the west and was due at work in two hours.
A local radio program featuring radio host Blake Burdett was blaring loudly. Burdett had just finished playing a song.
“That was Simon and Garfunkel’s gorgeous ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water.’ It’s seven a.m., an’ speakin’ of troubled water, this Sports Dome thing’s gettin’ outta hand. My wife Lanie and I are hardly speakin’—she’s a Pro-Domer, I’m a No-Domer. I think it’ll bankrupt the county but Lanie doesn’t care about that. She was a cheerleader in high school, and she’s all hopped up about the idea of havin’ a spankin’ new place where she can see high school jocks play football or watch track meets or attend rodeos and other events. I suggested she get a lobotomy, she suggested I jump off the roof. Ouch!”
Marvin was clutching the steering wheel tightly. He’d slowed to a speed of forty miles an hour because of his double vision, but the car was still weaving down the road, crossing over into the oncoming lane. Fortunately, there weren’t any other cars on the highway. Marvin’s eyelids drooped momentarily. He shook himself awake, looked back at the road, then glanced casually to his right. His puffy eyes widened.
He was staring at a profuse column of bubbles rising into the early morning sky a great distance away. The bubbles were reflecting the early morning rays of sunlight and looked like thousands of tiny sparkling suns rising upward into a sapphire sky.
The sight so awestruck the tipsy driver, he forgot he was behind the wheel of a car. The station wagon swerved, spun off the road, and came to a rest upside down. A moment later, Marvin stuck his head out, looked around, and crawled out as the disk jockey continued his harangue: “Lines are still open for that call-in vote: Pro-Domers use 555-1231, No-Domers use 555-1232, and watch your language, folks, my kids Sarah and Janice are listenin’!”
A little while later, the Sheriff’s patrol car and a tow-truck pulled up to find Marvin sleeping on the road beside his overturned vehicle. As the tow-truck driver hooked up the Pinto, the Sheriff, a tall, leather-faced, forty-five-year-old Chiricahua Apache named Goyathlay Terrell, awakened the weary drunk and began instructing him in the intricacies of walking a straight line. As he negotiated the mark, Marvin tried to explain to Sheriff Terrell the reason for his accident by pointing in the direction of the bubbles.
The Sheriff looked over and saw a bungalow a quarter mile away. The sky above was clear and blue.When the Sheriff looked back, Marvin had fallen to the ground and was lying on his back staring blankly at the sky. Terrell helped the woozy man to his feet and into his patrol car. As the car sped away, the faint sounds of a trumpet playing Ravel’s Bolero could be heard piercing the clear desert air.
The white stucco bungalow had an old-world charm. It could have been a Swiss chalet or a cottage nestling in a quaint English hamlet. To the right of the front door, a plaque boldly stated: This House Was Built in 1922 by James Galano and The Great Bando.
To the left of the bungalow, a small brook bubbled gently down a sloping hill and poured over an outcropping of rock, forming a natural waterfall that dropped eight to ten feet into a shallow pool in the side yard near the kitchen. On a flat rock by the pool, a towel was drying beside a box of Mr. Bubble.
The sound of the trumpet grew more intense as it traversed the rigors of Ravel’s driving composition. In the dirt driveway sat a 1951 red Crosley Hotshot sports car in mint condition. Across the length of the backyard a tightrope was stretched eight feet off the ground. A balancing pole rested on the grass under the tightrope.
Inside the kitchen, the trumpet was driving relentlessly to the end of the piece. A big old labrador named Boscoe was sitting with his head cocked to one side, staring intently at someone. The lab suddenly threw his head back and howled as Roscoe, a calico cat lounging languidly on the cool linoleum floor, stared at the same person ...
Namely, retired circus performer Sandrine Galano Fuller, eighty years old, the last surviving member of the famous Flying Galanos. Wearing a sweatsuit and red bandana, she was standing on her head, feet propped against the wall, playing the trumpet. She arrived at the climax of the piece and held the last note ... forever!
Later that afternoon, Sandrine’s Hotshot convertible zipped along Highway 60, whipping past other cars. Traffic was light. On the rear of the car, two card tables were wedged behind the bumper, firmly attached by a rope to the spare tire mounting. Still wearing her sweatsuit and bandana, Sandrine sat behind the wheel, ramrod straight. Beside her on the front seat was a small cassette player along with some flyers. The voice on the cassette was speaking French:
“Il recommence à pleuvoir.”
“Il recommence à pleuvoir,” Sandrine repeated.
The voice on the tape spoke another line: “Quel est le plat du jour?”
Sandrine repeated, “Quel est le plat du jour?”
A pickup truck cut in front of the Hotshot, causing Sandrine to swerve onto the shoulder. Without missing a beat, she shouted an obscenity, steered back into the lane, and continued down the highway.