“Check da bird!”
At the concession stand of the ritzy movie theater where our African-American protagonist Scott works, he and his coworker Aisha abuse the snooty customers by refusing to address any of their inappropriate requests. Whenever a hapless patron requests something clearly not on the high-end menu, (such as Milk Duds or Kit Kats), Aisha snaps at them with her thick Indian accent to check the overhead menu board (“da bird!”). As Scott and Aisha share a good giggle over her telling a stately white woman woman to “Check it out, girl!”, Scott reflects on his imminent departure from the job to go west to Hollywood, to continue his quest to become a filmmaker—his version of running away to join the circus.
Scott’s only regret about leaving the job is saying good-bye to the lovable motley crew. In addition to sassy Aisha, there’s “Fat Nasty,” a fat slob who raspberries customers whenever they disturb his frequent popcorn-eating breaks; Kimmie, who wears slippers behind the concession stand and doesn’t hesitate to KAPOW! the occasional errant roach with one; and the eccentric theater owner, Thoms, an otherwise-business tycoon with a passion for foreign films, who values what he considers to be Scott’s “impeccable” taste in movies. The only person whom Scott could take or leave, so to speak, is Roger, the West Indian theater manager who realizes that Thoms prefers Scott over him, and thus torments Scott out of resentment and fear of losing his managerial position to the “Harlem Negro.” In the end, Scott decides that it’s too hard—and too weird—to say good-bye to his friends, so he goes the route of the farewell letter and simply doesn’t show up for his next shift.
He spends the night before he leaves with his girlfriend, a strawberry blonde named Patty who’s, in effect, blacker than he with her big ghetto booty and her fondness for Malcolm X. Scott loves her but wants to go for his dream alone, so even though she hints that she would be willing to accompany him west, they share a hard good-bye.
The cheapest way is Greyhound’s “One Way $99 Special.” It’s a grueling four-day ride. Along the way, Scott endures the ranting of a super-ugly redeemed neo-Nazi, just released from doing “a dime in da joint,” and Mabel, an older woman en route to attend the funeral of her “bum” ex-husband and receive her well-earned inheritance, which is in dispute by his self-interested family.
At the last minute, Scott panics about going to Hollywood and hops off the bus in San Francisco. Because he has no money, he takes the first job the he can find: cleaning the toilets at the fancy old residence club in the posh Nob Hill section of the city. Soon, he falls in with a new motley crew of the west, including a shameless and often hysterical crackhead chef who nicknames him “Scotty Tissues” for the obvious reason. Scott’s new life out west quickly begins to mirror his life east—only a more extreme version—and he realizes the difficulty in trying to escape oneself. He falls for an African-American woman, Char, who eventually reveals to him that prior to their relationship, she had contracted HIV from a brother on the “DL” and neglected initially to tell him because, like the others, she was sure he’d bolt the minute he found out. It’s quite the dilemma for Scott because he passionately loves her yet feels viciously betrayed by her too. But in a surprising twist, he proposes in order to make her dream of marriage come true.