Sunset Diaries
Sunset Diaries: Episode One, So Far So Good
By Michael Swartz
May 1, 2002 - 12:03:00 PM

Welcome to the first episode of "Sunset Diaries," the fictional saga of Joe Ralph and his quest for redemption. The story will unfold through various electronic modes of communication including emails and journals.

Joe Ralph is an average looking 35 year old white male from Indiana, living in the San Fernando Valley. Joe moved to LA in 1985 to go to college with the dream of becoming a photo-journalist. After college Joe's life drifted along without direction. He supported his photography by selling pot to a small group of friends. And he rode his beloved bike.

One night in April 1997 changed Joe's life forever.

After delivering some pot to a doctor friend in Beverly Hills, Joe rode up Elvido Drive on a dark moonless night. He was on his way to meet a group of hikers and mountain bikers that had come to be known as the Hale-Bopp Club, in honor of the comet they loved to watch, at the top of the Hastain Trail.

Joe was in a hurry and he foolishly dashed onto Mulholland without looking and caused an SUV to swerve and roll down the steep hill off Mulholland. The driver, Maria Gibson, the wife of LA's top rated TV news anchor Steve Gibson, and her male passenger were both killed. The case was so sensational that in 1998 Steve Gibson ended up successfully winning a seat to Congress.

Instead of fleeing, Joe stuck around the accident scene to try and help. The police did a blood test and found Joe was high and carrying close to a pound of Marijuana. He was convicted of manslaughter, served 2 1/2 years at Folsom State Prison and was released in October 1999. His parents back in Indiana had to mortgage their house to pay for his legal defense. They were heart broken and not too sympathetic to Joe.

Racked by the guilt of killing two innocent people and the pain of losing most of his old friends and family, Joe dedicated the rest of his life to helping people to balance out his karma and seek a measure of redemption. Joe knew it would never be enough, but at least he would try.

Joe studied computers in prison and witnessed the Internet explosion. Upon his release he created a web site where people could tell their stories of woe and contact him and others for help. His life now had a direction and a purpose. Joe built up a large following and some national acclaim in a short period of time.

Joe worked hard all day on the computer and phone, utilizing his amazing network of new friends and colleagues, which included ex-cons, judges, cops, politicos, hookers, mobsters, rich folks and poor folks, the clergy and more to try and help people in trouble. Joe was a one-man show and he could only take a few cases, and mostly all of those were pro bono. Joe could have made more money but he was satisfied to make just enough to support his modest lifestyle. He only took those cases that spoke to him, and those that his troubled past compelled him to take.

Joe had a sort-of girlfriend named Melody, a 30 year old dental hygienist from Korea now living in Tustin. He met Melody through her sister Domino, a troubled 23 year old prostitute with a penchant for dating gang bangers and getting into big trouble.

At night Joe would get on his bike and leave the troubles of the world behind and ride on the pitted streets of LA to think and reflect and write his thoughts in his journal that he called Sunset Diaries.

Episode one takes place on 9.18.01.

The first email was sent to Joe by an old high school acquaintance named Scott Morita on 9.10.01. Due to the tragic events of 9.11, Joe is only now getting back to Scott. All the rest of the emails and the journal entry take place on 9.18.01. CP is the code name for Steve Gibson.

"Sunset Diaries" is an experiment and I welcome your thoughts and comments. I'll try and send updates at least once per month and possibly more.

Thanks for stopping by and checking "Sunset Diaries" out. I hope you enjoy the stories and if you do, please pass it on to your friends. Now, on to episode one...

From: Scott Morita
To: Joe Ralph
Sent: Monday, September 10, 2001 11:30 AM
Subject: Blast From The Past!!!

This is so wife Kathy (formerly Kathy Johnson) did a search to find some of our high school classmates online and your name popped up! I hope this is serious old Joe Ralph from Thomas Jefferson High in Indianapolis, class of '85. Go Braves!!!
This is Scott "Scooter" Morita! The last time I saw you was Grad Night, listening to your big plans on becoming a famous photographer covering the great stories of the world. Is this that Joe? How the heck did everything turn out? Last thing I heard was you were on your way to Cali, then I lost track.
Hey man if this is you email me back cause Kathy and I would love to hear from you. In fact I'm leaving tomorrow on a business trip (I'm an investment banker) and I'll be in LA around the 20th, so it would be cool to hear from you and maybe we can get together. So if it's you, and you know who you are, write me!!! If it's not, sorry for the bother. Also are you the dude who runs that website where people go to get help? Some of the gang thought that might be you, you sly dog!
Scott M.

From: Joe Ralph
To: Scott Morita
Sent: Tuesday, September 18, 2001 7:33 AM
Subject: re: Blast From The Past!!!

Dear Scott,
What can I say Scooter, you found me.
Sorry it took so long to get back to you, but 9.11 kind of ground everything to a halt. And I wasn't sure if you left on the 11th or if you did and got stuck somewhere. Let me know if and when you're coming to LA and maybe we can get together for a coffee.
No I didn't become a photo-journalist and yes I'm the dude who runs that website that helps people in trouble. As for my life, almost everything has changed since we last spoke. I pretty much torched my old life and had to start over from scratch and the website is a big part of my new life. I'm surprised none of the "gang" filled you in on what happened to me. It's a long and grueling story and I'll save it for when we meet.
I'm sorry I don't remember Kathy Johnson, but congratulations on your marriage. That's all for now. Let me know when you'll be in LA.

From: CP
To: Joe Ralph
Sent: Tuesday, September 18, 2001 8:45 AM
Subject: Tick Tock

Joe - I'm extremely unhappy with your lack of results, events of the day notwithstanding. I depend upon you to take care of business, no questions asked, on the infrequent times I contact you, regardless of the prevailing wind conditions.
Let's not rehash our ugly history shall we? Make my little predicament go away and all will return to normal. But please don't delay, my patience is zero and I need for this thing to go away. Now Joe, make this go away NOW.

From: Debbie Guttierez
To: Joe Ralph
Sent: Tuesday, September 18, 2001 11:48 AM
Subject: please help me!

dear joe, please, please, please help me!!!!! you are my last resort and i dont know where else to turn. my mom is close to doing something bad to herself because she is so depressed. a man convinced her to give him our life savings of $80,000 for an investment that turned out to be crooked. and then he just bailed with all our money!!!!

i'm so scared and i dont have anyone to turn too. the cops say theres nothing they can do and that even if they catch the asshole the money is probably gone forever! since my dad left 10 yrs ago its just been me and my mom. shes worked hard to keep us going and save some money and now its all gone and my moms in pieces.

i'm 17 yrs old and a senior in high school and my life has completely fallen apart. ive prayed for an answer and then a friend told me about you and your site and how you help people when things are hopeless. i know you must get a lot of letters but this one is sincere and desperate. im praying you answer this plea. Debbie :)

From: ICE
To: Skinny
Sent: Tuesday, September 18, 2001 3:51 PM
Subject: Fuck You!

Hey you little bitch, how's it hangin? Just wanted to let you know I bailed out another one of your pathetic loser friends. Don't send me money, your undying love and gratitude should cover it as usual. Really, Skinny, I was glad to help the guy and he was absolutely thrilled to find his little girl. You owe me another one man, what's that make it? I think you're over your limit you bastard. Later. Ice Man

From: Unknown
To: Joe Ralph
Sent: Tuesday, September 18, 2001 6:07 PM
Subject: Burn In Hell For Your Wicked Ways

I don't care how much help you think you provide people, your still a scum bag piece of shit and you should still be in prison or better yet dead.Nothing you ever do will erase your past sins. Burning in Hell is your destny and nothing will ever change that.

Sunset Diaries for 9.18.01.

A strange ride this evening on Mulholland Drive, going from cold to cool to warm in an instant. Thick gray fog covered Santa Monica and rolled in from the south spilling into the SF Valley. A beautiful sliver of a crescent moon, delicate and fragile with the promise of a new beginning, hung low in the southeast sky. A hopeful sign in a sad time? I was cut off and nearly killed a few times as usual, as cars and trucks whizzed by without a care. The air was full of something sweet as summer wound down and I felt the first hint of fall.

It was late as I ground away east on majestic Mulholland and it was dark and quiet except for the wind blowing in my face. Suddenly I heard an odd and unsettling noise coming fast from behind me. TAT-A-TAT-A-TAT-A-TAT. What the hell was that? It's only been a week since 9.11 and my nerves, like everyone else's, are on edge.

I nervously looked behind me and saw a giant SUV with two US flags being whipped by the wind. The SUV roared by. Whew, not a terrorist. Strange how quickly the US flags have popped up on cars like the Laker flags from a few months before. A defiant tribute to our fallen comrades and a cry against the horror of 9.11 or a simple-minded reaction to something we can't understand? We're living in strange times.

Today was the first day I've worked in a week, as I've been glued to the TV. Scott Morita, my high school's quintessential young Republican and someone who I barely knew back then emailed me like we were long lost buds. He pretended not to know what happened to me or the work I'm doing. He just couldn't come out and ask for help so he weaseled some lame story about wanting to get together. I played along. I'm sure he's in some kind of trouble or he would never have contacted me. He wants to meet when he's in LA and I think I will just to see him squirm out a plea for help. I'm sure if he's calling me it must really be a doozy. Will I help him? I don't know, depends what it is. Maybe I can squeeze old Scooter for some bucks.

I got torched tonight by a road biker who was a featured actor in one of the best "Seinfeld" episodes ever. Nice guy and a hell of a rider. After chatting for a minute he really left me in the dust. Oh well.

I stopped to help a young Latino couple in a beater of an old Honda that had broken down and was sticking out onto Mulholland on a blind curve. People were honking and swerving and behaving like idiots. I let them use my cell and waited with them until help came. Nice folks. I wish some of these assholes who let these poor brown people wash their clothes, take care of their babies and mow their lawns would at least act a little nicer.

CP emailed me that he's unhappy with what I'm doing, or rather not doing. He wants me to hush up a young girl who worked for him from going public about their affair. Some rag is willing to pay her a few bucks and she's pretty desperate and filled with hurt about being dumped. I feel real bad about this one. He wants her quiet by all means necessary and I don't know what to do. CP's hold on me is purely out of guilt and our screwed up past, but he can't do any thing to me that hasn't already been done. A tough one.

I heard from old Ice, he helped that nice couple from Minnesota find their daughter. He's really something, really turned his life around from when we first met in prison.

I got a sad note from a young girl and her mom in hopeless situation. I'd love to help them, but even if I agreed to I don't think there is anything I could do to recover any of the money that was scammed out of them. For the hell of it I'll contact a few of my FBI buddies and some grifters from prison that know what's up. At the very least I'll try and contact the mom and get her into some counseling or help her get financial help. I've got to at least try.

The cases seem like they're getting tougher and tougher. And this month for the first time in a while, more cash came in than went out. My finances are ok, but I'll never get rich. Unfortunately most of my clients have less than me. That unknown sick bastard sent me another email that I should rot in hell. I wonder if he knows I'm rotting just fine here on earth?

Melody called and said Domino is in trouble again. So it goes.

Yeah Scooter everything's changed from 1985, I ran away and found out it's true that "no matter where you go, there you are." That damn night in 1997. I still dream about why I jumped onto Mulholland. I'll never know and I'll regret that stupid move forever. I wish with all my life that I could go back to that instant and change things.

Yeah Scott prison was bloody awful but I deserved it and I got what was coming to me. From that day to this and to all the days ahead I'm dedicated to the impossible task of trying to balance my books.

How's it going? Like the old joke where the guy jumps out of the 20-story building and as he was hurtling by the 10th floor someone yells out, "how's it going?" "So far, so good" the guy yells back.

So far, so good Scott. So far, so good.

That's it for episode one. Stay connected for the next installment of "Sunset Diaries" next month as more tales from the road unfold on Until next time, see you....

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