We arrived in L.A under the cover of darkness. The late hour didn’t alow us drive through Topanga Canyon like we had planned, nor did it let us view the Santa Monica mountains as we made our way into the city. We rolled into Venice and quickly found the cottage we had rented, as if we had been there before. For obvious reasons, we’ll call it a bungalow.
Venice is a welcoming place. It’s a beach community with a pulse and a vibe all its own. It was near midnight when we arrived, but we were too hyped to call it a day, so we went wandering in the dark. There were a few clubs on Venice Blvd that were alive with people and music, but for the most part, the streets were deserted. We made our way down to the beach and listened to the waves crashing on the shore. I was a little anxious to be there. It was as if my vacation had not yet started and I was anxious to get somewhere. In truth, we had arrived.
We ambled along the boardwalk; I was vaguely surprised that all of the shops were shuttered for the night, it was Friday after-all, but Valarie smartly reminded me, “it’s a surfer’s town.”
We encountered a few stoners and skateboarders along the way. Some commented on my Yankee shirt, teasing me about their current plight in the standings. I think they were just testing us. One skated along side of us for few blocks, commenting on the state of his Reds, and offering a pretty fair analysis of the Orioles chances in the playoffs. In San Francisco, I had worn a different NY shirt or hat each day and no one said a word to me. Five minutes in L,A. and 4 different people acknowledged my gear. I found it odd, and at the same time, comforting.
We pass by a gaggle of homeless kids, all asleep in sleeping bags, save for one guy reading by the glow of a streetlight. Although I have no pretense about being able to live and survive without a home, a car, a computer and 24 hour cable news, I find myself somewhat wistful. They probably know a freedom that I can only imagine.
We make our way back to the bungalow, and as I absent-mindedly walk past a row of garbage cans, a large, ferocious unseen animal hisses at me from the shadows. I jump 4 feet to the left and nearly soil myself, while a laughing Valarie looks between the cans for the culprit. She surmises that it was a possum or a cat, but I’m fairly sure it was a mountain lion.
Ok, maybe not. But definitely a Bobcat, or a Lynx. Yeah, a lynx.
Sleep comes quickly and easily, despite an overly soft bed. Love finds us in the morning, and soon after we are out the door, heading down to the strip to find that the entire boardwalk is open and alive with tourists and hustlers and panhandlers.
We love it.
I’ve been here for 8 hours and already I want to move here. It’s 78 and sunny. A cool breeze floats off the Pacific. I get a text informing me that NYC is drowning in stifling heat and humidity. At breakfast, I drift off. I’m dreaming of a way to move my life here. Except I don’t want to work. I want to live like a tourist in a rented bungalow. I’ll write in the a.m, then hit the beach before my afternoon nap. I’ve got it all planned. Except how to pay for it. I make a decision to take a leave of absence from my job and spend a month in Venice, working on the novel. I start to add up the expenses in my head – Two rents. Food for 30 days. Flights. My teeth start to clench when I realize that it’s not really feasible. Valarie sees me drifting to an unpleasant place and pops the bubble.
“Not sure where you are, but it’s not here.” she comments. She knows me better than I know myself.
We head to the beach after breakfast. It’s not hot, but I know that I won’t last long. My skin no longer possesses the olive oil of my maternal grandfather; it’s irish from tip to toe. I’ve got maybe an hour. We spend it in the water, body-surfing and diving into the crashing waves. If the Atlantic is like an old friend, the Pacific is like a cousin that you’ve only met once; welcoming, but at the same time distant. I marvel at the amateur surfers trying to catch waves, half-wishing that I was with them, knowing full well that if I mention it, she’ll have me at the local surf shop renting a board and paying a local for lessons.
I remain silent.
We nap, we have dinner on Abbott-Kinney, we walk the streets holding hands. We both agree that while San Fran was nice, we should have spent the entire time in L.A.
I remind her that the original plan was for me to fly out to L.A. first to spend some time writing and exploring by myself.
“That was never a plan, that was your delusional fantasy,” she sneers.
Despite the huge amount of walking and climbing and other activities we have engaged in, I haven’t exercised in a week, and when I wake the next morning, I feel it. My body is stiff and sore. I throw on my sneakers and head out for an early morning jog/walk/crawl. It’s the best my 49 year old knees can handle. I head down the beach and out onto the Venice pier. My jaunt takes me back through the unfamiliar streets until I wind up in the Venice canals. This is a slice a heaven; Beautiful homes line the artificial canals, built to resemble the Italian city of its namesake. Egrets and mergansers line the shore looking for a morning meal.
Despite the hundreds of songs on my iPod, it somehow senses my needs and plays three Elton John songs in a row. Elton was my first musical hero, long before Vedder, long before Tyler, even before Jim. I’m transported to a time when I was 9, 10 years old, listening to Yellow-Brick-Road on a Mickey Mouse record player (which I still have). I’m dancing and jogging and skipping my way through the canals now. I’ve never been so happy in my life. Music in my ears, sun on my skin. If I could have felt this way as a kid, I would have never gotten high.
I head back to the bungalow. I can’t help but think of my parents. I have a twinge of homesickness, and yet I never want to leave.
I enter the room with tears in my eyes. She doesn’t run to comfort me, nor does she inquire if anything is wrong.
After another day of beach-nap-eat, we drive up to Hollywood that night.
I may not get to Rodeo drive. I may not get to Disney. I may not get to Gruman’s Chinese, but I’m not missing out on the Sunset Strip. I’ve been waiting to come here since I was a curious 15 year old reading No One Here Gets Out Alive.
We get lost of course, except we’re not really lost, we just take the long route. Its fun to drive through the various neighborhoods of L.A. I like the way the scenery changes from good to bad and back. I wonder what it’s like to drive in NYC for the first time. Would I enjoy it as much?
We cruise down Sunset. We pass the Roxy and the Rainbow. We see the Viper Room and of course, the Whiskey. Each joint has a crowd outside, I’m sure that I’ll be older than all of them, but I don’t care, I just want to walk the strip. As does she.
The Viper room is first, but the noise of the death metal band keeps us from entering. Their loss.
Next we come upon the Whiskey-A-Go-Go. I won’t go into the entire history, but Jim was discovered there by Jac Holtzman of Electra Records. As we walk up to the front door, we hear the opening notes of L.A. Woman. We looked at each other, incredulous. –
There is a Doors tribute band playing the Whiskey on the night we go there.
I don’t make this stuff up.
We head into a sweaty crowded room, and I am transformed and elated. The history drips off the walls, Motley, Van Halen – the sweat of all the L.A bands is in here, and of course Jim.
The singer is older than me, which makes him twice as old as Morrison when he performed here, but he looks the part and he sounds good, and he’s got the snake dance down to a tee and for a second, I allow myself to go there, but then a fight breaks out and it’s 2014 again. The band, Wild Child, finishes the set with The End, and the crowd empties into the street. We hang around to take a few pics before heading up the street to the other clubs. It’s anti-climactic now.
The Roxy and 1OAK are crowded both inside and out, but it’s no different than NY. Self-important people clamoring to get inside the club to validate themsleves. We pass on the opportunity.
The next day is our last full day in L.A. and after spending the morning trying to even out my now bright-red skin, we jump into the car and head out to Malibu. I never really understood the jokes about L.A traffic, but a 6 mile drive to Malibu takes 45 minutes. The Belt Parkway on an August Saturday is a dream compared to this. Actually, we don’t even make it all the way to Malibu. I bail on the traffic halfway through and we drive hills into Topanga Canyon. This is the place where Neil Young and other California artists lived during the 70’s.
The canyon is dry, and hot and beautiful. It’s a little slice of the past where people live a little slower than the rest of this. Of course, I got lost again, or should I say took the long route, and wound at the Top of Topanga, a rocky overlook that gave us a birds eye view of the valley and the mountains that we missed on the way down. It was well worth the trip, but there was still one thing left to do.
Our entire time here, we had yet to enjoy a California sunset. We missed it in Frisco, and we were racing the sun trying to get to the Santa Monica pier the night before, but the sun dipped behind the mountains before we made it. I was determined to watch it on our last night.
It was 6pm by the time we got back to Venice, the beach was still crowded and the sun was on the way down, so we set up a blanket and said goodbye to the Pacific until the next time we meet. The one benefit of the L.A. smog, is that it filters the sunlight to produce amazing sunsets. I don’t yet possess the writing skills to accurately describe a sunset, so I’ll let the picture do the talking.
The alarm goes off at 4:30am. It’s my cell phone alarm, which I have never used, so I have no earthly idea what is going on. Then it hits me, we’re going home. We each re-assure the other what a great time we had as a way of warding off the sadness. After the showers, and the last minute packing, we are ready to go. Almost.
She wants to take a vial-full of Venice Beach sand back with her. She indulges all my weirdness, so I have no problem leading her to the beach in the dark for one last look at the ocean. She scoops up some sand, we say our good-byes and head to LAX.
The trip over is quick; we drop off the rental and jump on the shuttle provided by Dollar rent-a-car. We enter the gates of LAX…
And stop dead…
Choking traffic. Buses and cars honking incessantly. She looks over. Panic is etched all over my face.
“It will be ok.” She says. Even though, we both know it won’t.
It’s 5:30. Our flight leaves at 6:35.
I’m starting to sweat. I blame her for getting the sand. I’m only joking.
The bus inches along. We are at terminal 2. We have to get to terminal 7. My collar gets tight.
The bus arrives at Terminal 7 at 6:00. I’m livid. I’m freaking. I’m in a rush.
We are directed to the self check-in. We have 28 minutes.
The machine informs me that it is past the cutoff time, we have to go to the assistance window.
My heart drops. My stomach tightens. There are 13 people on the line. There is one person assisting them. I start looking around for a diversion. A fight. Anything.
The line crawls. The clock ticks. We get to the window at 6:27.
“I have 7 minutes to get to my flight.”
“You’re not going to make it,” she replies.
She gets us on a flight to NY with a connection is Cleveland. It only puts us back about 90 minutes. She upgrades us to business class. I’m ok now. I’ve stopped sweating. I no longer want to kill the hipster behind me.
We check our bags, and get some breakfast. As we walk to the plane, I ask if I can have the window seat. She mumbles something about now having 3 children, and how it’s obvious that I was the first born.
I respond that it’s obvious that she’s the baby of the family. We smile the fake-love smile. She acquiesces. We board the plane.
I find our row, smile and shake my head. We’re at the leading edge of the wing. No window.
This is karma balancing out the perfectness of the vacation. Life needs balance.
The plane lands in Cleveland. We text my brother to let him know that we are delayed. We have a hour layover. We eat airport food, again.
We get to the gate. I have to blink to make sure what I’m seeing is real. Our flight to NY is delayed.
Something about storms over PA. I don’t really hear the woman.
I’m stuck in Cleveland airport for three hours.
Time to write a blog.