After Tom's 1970 visit to Japan, ostensibly to research the tancho cranes which most closely resembled the whoopers featured in Cowgirls, but most importantly to visit his brother/friend Darrell Bob Houston who was there on a year-long Alicia Patterson fellowship, Darrell Bob went to work for the LA Times and Tom returned to La Connor. During his time on the LA Times' national desk, Darrell Bob worked earnestly on his book, "King of the Midnight Blue," a fictionalized account of skyjacker DB Cooper, based on the gleaming persona of Neal Cassady.
Darrell Bob and Tom kept in close touch through letters between LA and La Connor. Darrell Bob shared both his euphoric joys and successes and heart-wrenching disappointments with Tom. Finally, in 1973, the latter began to pile up--immense and unforeseen events, both personal and professional, and even the strong, irrepressible Darrell Bob began to bow toward despondency. One day, Darrell Bob looked up from his desk at the LA Times to see none other than his friend Tom Robbins standing there, without a word, holding a sunflower "as big as a Volkswagen." The last they were seen from the vantage of the LA Times, Tom and Darrell Bob were headed north--to home. Is it a coincidence that on page 145 of Cowgirls, Tom describes just such a sunflower? "Giant sunflowers, like junkie scarecrows on the nod, dozed in one spot with their dry heads drooped upon their breastbones."