The only instance I found myself in the presence of a legend occurred on an average Friday night. Coworkers and I met at the Van Nuys bowling alley. I’d seen a fair share of celebrities in my time. Never had I been mere feet away from a real-life adventurer, a renowned explorer and most interesting individual.
I noticed the party at the next lane. They arrived the same time as our group, and I immediately recognized one of them as bearing a strong resemblance to archaeologist Indiana Jones. One of their party must’ve caught me looking. He said hello.
I greeted the man who nursed a bourbon on the rocks.
“You recognize him, don’t you?” He grinned at me.
“Oh, him?” I said gesturing to the person of interest. “Is it… is it really him? I mean, he looks just like… he’s got the hat and everything.”
“It’s not him. But you’re close.” He leaned forward. “I’m Bill.”
“Larry,” I said, shaking his hand. “Where’s yours?” I pointed at his shoes.
“Not partaking. I’m here for drinks.”
“Ah.” I glanced again at the faux Dr. Jones.
“When I said you’re close, I meant I can do you one better.”
“That dude you can’t put a finger on is a close friend of mine. And yes, he’s related to Indiana, a distant cousin. That’s Alabama James.”
I widened my eyes. “That’s the real Alabama James? No way!”
“Yes, way. What have you heard about him?”
I shrugged. “Only rumors. I though he was just a myth?”
“As he doesn’t have much of a Wikipedia page, I can see why so many think that.”
“Thought I saw an article a while back. Something about him and the Himalayas.”
“Ah, see,” Bill said, sipping his bourbon. “You do know a bit. If you like, I can fill you in on the deets.”
“Would I?” I quickly turned to my group saying I was going to sit this round out. Turning back to Bill, I said, “I’m all ears.”
So began the tale of a legend.
Alabama James hails from Alabama, but he never brings it up. He identifies as a Californian, though he attended Yale. His day job, under a pseudonym in the credits, is co-creator and co-writer of RENO 911! He—
“No way! That’s him? I love that show.” I noticed Bill seemed irked I’d stalled his flow. “Please continue.”
Did I mention he owns an exotic rug store with a man who calls himself “The Dude,” and that Alabama’s girlfriend is Greta Thunberg’s supermodel half-sister, Hilda.”
Way. You may have heard he is a world traveler. He has broken the record for beer smuggled in a single suitcase. He brought back so many bottles, each person in the writers’ room including interns got to sample genuine Belgian ale. And that Himalayan trip—he traveled to Bhutan, hiring Sherpas to take him toward Everest. His desire was never to reach the summit. His expedition only made it to the foothills where he accomplished his true task: photographing his Star Wars action figures on a Himalayan boulder.
“What about his rumored trips to Aztec ruins and garrets of Italy?” I signaled the waiter for another round.
The ruins were just a cover for his research trip while working on his new six-figure book deal. His manuscript involves searching for the muddled origin of the burrito. Alabama toured the border of Mexico, not just for interviewing locals and migrants about the burrito legend, but for humanitarian reasons.
He left stations in the desert borderlands with tons of water bottles and wrapped fresh burritos with expiration dates marked on each one and included maps to other stations. He was caught by officials but bribed them with autographs. He explored ruins, but in a tourist group. It wasn’t until he reached the alleys of Mexico City that he found the true legend of the burrito.
Italy—the most exhilarating excursion of all: his quest to find the greatest calzone recipe. He discovered it in a garret of Turin when he pried it from a chef after several limoncellos. But that’s a story I will not tell. You will have to read it in his new book, Across Oceans and Time: The Search for Two Stuffed Breads.
Our drinks arrived and we clinked our glasses.
“That’s amazing that he’s your friend,” I said.
Bill smiled. “I think the same thing.”
“Can I ask you one more question?”
“Why doesn’t he take off the hat?”
Bill paused, then said, “He says it’s his daily reminder to pursue the next adventure.”
“And to cover alopecia.”
I shook my head. It was amazing. Even legends had auto-immune issues worsened by anxiety. It dawned on me, legends or not, we are all equals walking the tenuous and treacherous path of daily existence.
Nolan’s words are featured in Points in Case, The Daily Drunk, The Haven, Robot Butt, Little Old Lady, and others. He eats lots of burritos, and exercises little.