|June 13: Michael Jackson waves as he leaves the Santa Barbara County Courthouse after the verdict.|
No one knows for sure — but Jackson, as this column predicted last month, is getting ready to head to Europe.
According to sources, the trip could come in the next week.
This much is known right now: Jackson is not staying at his Neverland ranch. He's been shuttling back and forth between the ranch and the close-by Santa Ynez Inn, a restored Victorian hotel with — for Jackson — reasonable rates of around $400 a night.
Last night, sources said, the exonerated pop star may have decamped for a hotel in Beverly Hills. In the past, Jackson has set up shop at Merv Griffin's Beverly Hilton or at the Four Seasons.
But soon, sources tell me, Jackson will be getting out of town completely. Plans are being made for him to head to Europe.
"He fears for his life here," said one insider.
At the same time, a promoter in Germany is telling anyone who'll listen that he's staging a Jackson concert on July 23.
Ralf Sesselberg, who promoted Joseph Jackson's German-only autobiography last year, thinks he's going to pull this off with Jackson senior's help in honor of the father's birthday.
Meanwhile, the cars and satellite trucks still line a two-mile stretch of Figueroa Mountain Road leading up to Neverland in the very small town of Los Olivos.
Hundreds of fans continue to hope that the gates will be opened, as they have been in the past, and Jackson will welcome them with park rides and entertainment.
But that's not likely to happen soon. For one thing, the money simply isn't there for any more big parties for unlimited numbers of fans.
There is also a security issue. Jackson is said to be afraid, and rightly so, of letting any more strangers in, even if they sign the standard Neverland confidentiality agreement.
More than ever, Jackson now has to be wary of fans stealing souvenirs, in light of his new notoriety.
One fan who used to be a regular visitor, Ahmad Elatab, 18, has been waiting around the gates and mixing in with the fans.
Elatab, who was on the defense's witness list, is currently out on a $25,000 bail bond.
He faces charges back home in Clifton, N.J., of sexual assault, criminal sexual contact and impairing the morals of a 14-year-old girl.
Elatab is currently staying with friends in Orange County, spending hours every day driving back and forth to Neverland with hopes of getting back in.
But Neverland has other problems, too, that might preclude a mass entry.
I'm told that financial cutbacks are pressing on the one-time theme park. One of the trains isn't working, and there are problems with the infrastructure. The staff has been cut from a high of 120 people to about 60 since Jackson's trial began.
In coming days, that number will likely be pared down once again, if Jackson departs for Europe and his limited cash flow is directed toward personal expenses for an unlimited trip.
It's a tempest in teapot, but the mystery of last Friday's dismissal of Raymone K. Bain deepens.
Bain got notice that she was no longer Michael Jackson's publicist last Friday around 7:30 p.m. PDT when the notice of her dismissal was posted on a Web site owned by Jackson's brother, Randy Jackson.
At the time, Bain was in the restaurant of the Santa Maria Holiday Inn. Her assistant was in a car on the way to Los Angeles International Airport for a flight home to Washington, D.C.
But now, I've learned, something happened that hasn't yet been reported.
Around 8 p.m., Jackson arrived at the Holiday Inn in an SUV with his father, Joseph Jackson, and social activist Dick Gregory.
Workers at the hotel have confirmed this to me. So, too, have fans who followed the SUV to the hotel.
Jackson and company went straight into the hotel and upstairs to a private room, I am told.
It's unclear whether or not they met with Bain, but the only other people they would have known at the hotel would have been the Rev. Jesse Jackson and his friend, Gregory Calhoun — both of whom had checked out two days earlier, on June 8.
So it now seems clear that Jackson knew about Bain's dismissal when it happened, contrary to all the reports we received that he had been kept in the dark.
This now makes more sense, and is at least consistent with the Jackson we've come to know over the year: one who likes to let others do his dirty work, or at least take credit for it.
While Bain was indeed pushed out by Jackson's brother Randy, it's pretty well established that Michael knew what was going on.
And so we leave the greater Santa Maria area today after an unplanned stay of about 12 weeks.
It is not a beautiful town. In fact, Santa Maria is the kind of place best left behind, dotted mostly with fast-food restaurants and strip malls.
Wal-Mart and J.C. Penney are its biggest attractions. The local bar has a mechanical bull. But at Bill's, a local drive-up hamburger stand that has endured for a good 40 years, you can get the best malted milkshake for miles around.
I hope that if the city fathers and mothers here — who are planning some kind of yucky rehab of the town — get their way, they will at least leave alone what makes Santa Maria kind of quaint.
Places like Bill's, Boys Coffee House and lots of strange and eerie motels with authentic signage, make Santa Maria strangely tolerable.
What the town does not need are more chain outlets or anonymous sub-par national franchises coming in and homogenizing an already cultureless situation.
The drive-through Starbucks is enough, although luring in The Gap might not be such a bad idea. So far, Santa Maria is best known as a place where it is impossible to buy a piece of clothing made from 100 percent cotton, wool or silk. That's quite a distinction.
But don't think that Santa Maria is typical of the Central Coast area. In fact, it's quite the opposite.
The area where Michael Jackson lives, the Santa Ynez Valley, is jaw-droppingly beautiful. The real surprise about Santa Maria is that if you go 20 miles in any direction, the surrounding landscape offers unlimited enjoyments.
From the moonscape of the Guadalupe dunes to the honky-tonk charm of Pismo Beach, cows grazing on pastoral hills, stony granite-lined mountains, the dusty roads of Casmalia and the gorgeous pink-and-orange sunsets over flat fields of broccoli farms, the whole area has been a pleasure to live in.
You can't help thinking, though: Somehow Jackson missed all this. Living behind his gates, lost in a world of make-believe, he never got to appreciate, as Elvis Costello might call it, all this useless beauty.