Wednesday, September 22, 2004

LA Stories (Part VI)

Et Cetera
If you pay attention to such things, you realize that the preceding stories were not in chronological order, not that it matters. And while I’m in the mood to be random, I thought I’d talk about a few of the other people, places and things I experienced during my busy week that I thought were interesting, if not exactly noteworthy.

• My friend Jay
The only one of my college buddies with whom I’ve made any effort to stay in touch over the years, Jay was my weekend host in Long Beach. He’s truly the sweetest guy you'd ever want to know, and I can honestly say, he is also the singular friend I have who almost completely mirrors my temperament and inner personality. Jay is on the outside the person I believe I am on the inside: shy, but quietly confident. However, it might be questionable as to whether you’d come up with that observation if you spoke to us individually for five minutes. I can come off as a pretty gregarious conversationalist, and have no qualms about chattin’ it up with complete strangers. Jay isn’t that way (at least I don’t think he is). He seems to be more the type to wait for someone else to speak first, but once you get him going, he can be quite engaging.

I had a great time with him; we covered a lot of ground and hopefully rekindled a friendship that had flagged in recent years due to the discontinuance of my regular business trips to SoCal. Jay is truly the artist that I always wanted to be. He has had a successful career as an illustrator, and until recently, was partner in a company that produced extremely high-quality clip art, and did it well.

But the one thing he’s done that I envy the most, is that he’s making the commitment to scratch the itch that every artist has — to take the time to paint for himself. He wants to create enough of a body of work to possibly enter the gallery world. This is something I’ve been aching to do for years, but know that I never will until I retire. I’ve never spoken to another artist who thinks they’ve already done their best work. There’s always an inner ache to bring forth that elusive masterpiece that lies somewhere deep within them. I was really happy for him, but when he told me, inside I was groaning, “Maaaaan...I wanna do that too!”

Jay left the clip art company (although he still gets a percentage of sales) and streamlined his life. Now he’s supporting himself through teaching a few classes at our Alma Mater and devoting himself to his art. He’s never been married, so he doesn’t have a lot of distractions — that is unless you consider being able to walk 2 blocks to get to the beach a distraction. He was fortunate to get a great deal on a small one-bedroom fixer-upper in a great neighborhood back in the 1990s, just before SoCal real estate prices surged to their current ridiculous rate. And as I said, it’s two short blocks from Ocean Avenue, overlooking the Pacific and just a half-mile from the wonderfully renovated downtown Long Beach area. Years later, the house renovation is still far from being completed, but it looks good from the outside and is neat and comfortable on the inside. Being single, Jay has the luxury of being able to take his time on fixing up the house, and he’s doing a lot of the work himself. He’s got some ambitious plans, but when it is done, it’ll be a showplace.

I look forward to seeing all of his masterpieces.

• Flightseeing
Coming and going, my airport experiences were fairly pleasant, with only a gate change on the way out being the only significant wrinkle in an otherwise smooth operation.

Oh it could have been worse. I could have been going to Chicago, as were the dozens of people I found at the crowded Southwest Airlines gate my flight was scheduled to depart from, waiting to be reassigned. Their flight had been grounded due to equipment problems — after they’d already boarded. That would’a sucked. Or, I could have been on the last leg of a return trip from Birmingham, Alabama, like the travel-weary woman I spoke with, heading back home to LA from a family wedding, preceded by a harrowing Greyhound bus trip on the way out.

The Chicago-bound passengers were clearly not happy, but were all well mannered — no one appeared to be particularly agitated. They all waited patiently for their individual names to be called out to receive their new boarding passes for the flight leaving from that gate prior to mine. I was looking around thinking I might spy a TV camera from that A&E Reality Show, “Airport,” but no go. I guess they figured that not enough people were screaming to make it worth their while to show up for this little crisis.

As I sat with one eye observing the displaced Chicago passengers, I ate the sandwich that Michelle had made and scanned the ESPN Magazine I brought from home. About ten feet straight ahead and to my right sat a younger middle-aged African-American woman in a plain but smart-looking grey suit. She was sitting by herself (and trying not to look like it). Every so often we’d make eye contact.

To that point I really hadn’t caught on to what was going on with the crowd of people milling about the terminal, so I looked over at the woman and asked if she knew what the story was. Not that I was sorry I'd asked, but needless to say, that magazine wasn’t going to get read again for another 45 minutes.

After briefly recounting what she’d heard from one of the waiting passengers, and clueing me in on the canceled flight scenario, the woman and I made small talk about our own travel plans that day. I mentioned that I was returning for my 30th High School Class Reunion. She said that she was coming back home from a reunion of sorts herself, on the occasion of her cousin’s wedding. I moved over to the next row of waiting area seats, just adjacent to where the woman was sitting so that I could hear her better over the blaring din of CNN playing on the overhead monitors.

She said that it was the first time she’d visited her family in the South since she was a little girl. When I commented “It’s a little bit different than LA, huh?” you’d though I’d just asked Cosmo Kramer his opinion of Cuban cigars. She leaned forward in her seat quickly and her eyes grew large with amazement. “Those people don’t even lock their doors down there!” she exclaimed in a half-gasp. I assured her that I had already recovered from the similar shock I experienced when moving to Nashville and discovered much the same thing, although the phenomenon is getting less common as things continue to expand in my neck ‘o the woods.

She went on to marvel at how her cousin even left her keys in the ignition when they stopped to quickly get something at the store on one occasion. And the lack of paranoia over crime was not the only remarkable aspect of life that she found on her visit. She seemed overwhelmed by the gentility and hospitality of Southern people as compared to the fast paced road rage mentality of LA. I nodded in agreement, noting that it was a welcome perk to getting out of the rat race when I did 12 years ago. Somewhere around that point of the conversation she revealed that she lived in the Wilshire district of LA and was 53 years old (which surprised me — I thought she was about my age). We talked about street crime in LA, and she told me that she has come to wear her purse a certain way when she’s walking down the street in her neighborhood. She said that the purse she was using at the time had too short of a strap to demonstrate properly, but she motioned to the effect that she places the purse strap over head and around her neck, with the purse hanging down the front like a necklace. She said that she’d had it snatched off her shoulder before, so now if a would-be thief would want it, “They’re gonna have to take my head too.”

Later the conversation turned to transportation and to her horrendous magical mystery Greyhound bus tour from LA to Birmingham. She said she had the time and wanted to save some money, so she decided to ride rather than fly. The trip was supposed to take three days. It ended up taking five, with numerous delays and an unscheduled bus change due to mechanical failure, for which Greyhound had no backup plan or replacement bus. When she arrived in Birmingham, she cut her losses and decided to fly home when the time came. Her commuter connecting flight had to go through Nashville and that why she was there, continuing on to Los Angeles.

I knew that it was getting close to boarding time and I suddenly realized that I had forgotten to stop at an ATM to pick up my cash for the trip. I excused myself and wished my new acquaintance a safe trip and the best of luck. Little did I know that a little of that mojo affecting the previous group of Chicago passengers was still hanging around, and that my flight would be hit with a last–minute gate change as well.

At least we hadn’t gotten on the plane yet…

Next: Et Cetera (continued)
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