Monday, January 02, 2006

More LA Stories: 2005 (Part III)

Day Two — Saturday: Re-Wheeled
Well as you might have surmised, my transportation problems weren’t alleviated by Jay coming to my rescue and giving me a lift from the rental car agency near LAX to Cindy’s house. I obviously was still without a car and that circumstance just wasn’t gonna fly if I was to make good on my plans for the week.

The good news was that the agency offered to hold my reservation for an additional day so that I could come back and pick up the car the next day after the necessary funds showed up in my checking account. Once again I was indebted to my friends for their gracious indulgence. Cindy said she’d be happy to drive me back up to Los Angeles.

So Saturday morning after bagels, coffee and a little bit more catching up, we headed back up to the agency and I was able to acquire my rental car with no problems. Call me cheap, but I always go for basic transportation in a rental car to save money, usually a compact, so long as it’s not a tin can on wheels. I decided to go with the Hyundai they offered which seemed to be a pretty decent little car.

XMplary Entertainment
I finally had my car, now what about some tunes? Since my Discman CD player mysteriously disappeared several months earlier, I decided to try an alternative means of musical entertainment for this trip.

I haven’t talked all that much about it here before, but I’ve been a proud member of the XM Generation for three years now. I jumped on the XM Satellite Radio bandwagon right from the get-go and I absolutely love it. I have the XM MyFi, which is an MP3 player-sized, self-contained, portable unit you can take with you anywhere in the continental U.S. and pretty much be guaranteed a great signal to access over 200 channels of programming. Every kind of music, news, sports, special interest stuff — everything. However my original reason for wanting it was to have a reliable source for listening to The Tony Kornheiser Show.

Tony’s radio sports talk show, of which I have been a fan and e-mail participant since 2002, used to be on ESPN Radio, but now is broadcast locally from Washington DC, streamed live on the Internet, and rebroadcast on delay by XM. I normally listen to the live Internet feed each day at work. So even though I wouldn’t be in a position to listen live, at least I’d be able to hear the delayed XM broadcast while I was in SoCal on vacation.

But to be honest, my XM addiction doesn’t stop at the TK Show. I’ve now grown so accustomed to my XM that I very rarely ever listen to broadcast radio anymore, especially in my car. I just love the variety, not to mention basically knowing what I’m gonna get every time I listen. Oh, did I mention that all the music channels are commercial-free? I’m totally hooked. I honestly experience a bit of separation anxiety when I don’t have access to my XM for any length of time.

I already had an extra car kit (the one from my original unit also works with the MyFi) so after a quick temporary installation (I mean, where would the world be without black electrical tape?), with a tuck of a few wires underneath the dashboard console, I was all set. I flipped it on and I was ready. Besides, I think it’s against the law to drive the streets of L.A. without totally bitchin’ tunes blaring from your vehicle, so I was just doing my part to comply with local ordinances.

I followed Cindy back to the 405 Freeway, happily reacquainting myself with the feeling of being behind the wheel on the World’s Longest Parking Lot. But I didn’t care about the traffic. I was just happy to finally have my wheels for the week, and especially content to once again be on the freeway.

My love is in league with the Freeway
I believe I’ve mentioned it before, maybe more than once, but to me there’s just something special about the smog ‘n steel slam dance ballet that is freeway driving in Southern California. In fact, it was the very thing that became my first true inspiration to drive a car. It was probably my first conscious romantic connection to that wondrous place I first called home in 1969, when my family moved there from the Midwest.

Now if you think that notion sounds crazy, you’re probably right. But believe me, I’d gladly opt for sharing overpopulated arteries of transportation with people who actually know how to drive, as they do in L.A., over their nimrod counterparts here in Nashville any day. Driving in L.A. certainly can be frustrating, but it’s rarely scary (to me anyway). By and large, people do what you expect them to do there, unlike the psychobillies here in Music City, who will go out of their way to let you merge into a lane one minute, and then cut you off blind the next.

Nashville drivers apparently haven’t learned that when you’re schizophrenic in your approach to highway driving, bad things are bound to happen. You can’t drive defensively and aggressively at the same time. That’s how accidents occur; and they happen a lot more often, proportionately, here on the Interstates of Nashville than they ever do on L.A. Freeways. Not coincidentally, Tennessee is routinely one of the top states in the nation for traffic deaths per capita of population.

In L.A., everyone drives fast; everyone drives aggressively. You just accept that as a given and it works. I can’t speak for everyone, but to me, that fact has always helped me to relax and enjoy my time behind the wheel when I’m there. Nevertheless I hate traffic, but somehow it just seems to me it’s more bearable in L.A. than it is in Nashville. Call me weird, but that’s the honest truth.

I guess it’s possible that I tolerate L.A. traffic better because when I was a kid, driving on the freeway was the number one thing looked forward to doing once I got my license.

It’s a little embarrassing to admit it, but I’ll find myself welling up with tears if I think about it long enough; that warm feeling of wonder I used to experience as a thirteen year-old, riding in the back seat of my parent’s car whenever we traveled on freeways at night. I would stare out my window, hypnotized by the rolling blanket of lights that filled the horizon. Lights everywhere, as far as I could see, whose only interruption was the inky black, starless sky. I used to squint so that my eyes would go out of focus, and the lights would bounce and merge, dancing like carousel horses as my head swayed from side to side.

Yeah, I was a weird kid…

Now thirty-six years later I still have this kind of wistful, love/hate notion about driving the freeways in SoCal. So when we set out from the rental agency, even though it wasn’t at night, as in my childhood fantasy, I was excited to be back into the mix.

When we got back to Cindy’s neighborhood, I followed her to a nearby Kinkos, as per our pre-arrangement, so that I could check my e-mail and tie up some work-related loose ends I realized that I’d forgotten to do twenty four hours earlier.

Yeah, I hate when that happens, but it’s oh-so-typical of yours truly.

But within about 30 minutes I was finished and back on my way over to Cindy’s. By this time it was early afternoon and I needed to hurry before a special guest she had invited over to see me was scueduled to arrive.

Cindy had mentioned on the phone in the weeks leading up to the trip that she was going to have a surprise for me; someone whom I hadn’t seen in a long time who’d been unable to make it to a gathering of a few of our old group Michelle and I attended when we were in town (during my first trip in 2004) the summer before. After a few missed guesses I finally figured out who it was: Cocoa.

Cocoa was really a blast from the past. I probably hadn’t seen her in close to 30 years. We weren’t really all that tight as friends, but I always felt a very comfortable vibe between us. And actually that was the case with practically everyone in that group of ours.

We were all part of the college-age class at our church in Long Beach during the mid-to-late 70s. Looking back on it now, I doubt that many of us realized what a truly special place in time it was. Many of the friendships that were forged during those 3-4 years have remained to this day. And even those that waned due to life changes, job relocations, and even personality conflicts at the time, many have been revived in recent years, as if the time in between never even happened.

Such as was the case with Cocoa and me. She was a few years older, but was dating one of my best friends in the group at the time she was there, so we spoke often. Now in recent years she has returned to the Long Beach area after spending most of the past 30 years living in Kansas, and for awhile, Scotland of all places. She is wonderfully gifted musician, and played with a band in pubs all across the country while she lived there. She still returns as often as she can, to see her old friends and play a few pub gigs where she’s still much in demand.

The plan was that Cocoa would stop by around 2:00 and we’d hang out for awhile and then throw some streaks on the grill for an early dinner. I had made arrangements to take Cindy to a concert at the House of Blues in Anaheim later that evening as my way of showing my appreciation for her putting me up for the week.

When Cocoa arrived, it truly was just like old times. We talked, had a few beers, as she caught me up on her many travels and the changes in her life over the years. We compared notes on the ever-challenging job of parenthood, as she with her three now nearly grown daughters could attest. Cindy had asked her to bring along her guitar so that she could sing me a couple of her new songs, which were great. It was just fantastic to see her again.

I don’t remember exactly when we had broached the subject in conversation, but I want to say it was on the phone at some point before my trip out. But somehow Cindy and I got on the subject of The Beatles. Now if you’ve been with me for awhile, you know that one of my first blog posts and absolutely one of my proudest story subjects is of the time I saw The Beatles in concert.

I have been saying for years that I was the only person, aside from my eldest brother Jack and his buddy who came with us, who had ever actually seen The Beatles live. And considering that they only toured America twice, in 1964 and briefly in ’65, it’s really not all that likely that you’re going to run into a lot of people who’ve shared that experience now 40 years later.

Well guess what? Turns out I’ve known one of them without realizing it for more than 30 years! I saw The Fab Four at the Indiana State Fairgrounds on September 3, 1964 when I was eight years old. What I discovered was that Cindy, just nine days earlier had been witness to what is generally considered The Beatles’ greatest American concert performance on August 23rd at the Hollywood Bowl.

AND…she still has the ticket stub!

So having already insisting repeatedly that she let me see it, Cindy proudly brought forth her treasure and paraded it in front of our noses; this little piece of card stock, still in mint condition, which would certainly fetch thousands on the open collectables market. If only I had been a little older and had the presence of mind to have saved my ticket stub. Needless to say, Cocoa and I fawned all over it. What a cool keepsake to have!

Soon it was time to eat, and snap a few pictures. Speaking of cool things, Cocoa had the nicest Nikon digital SLR camera, you know, the totally professional model with the interchangeable lenses and megapixels up the wazoo. She let me take a few shots with it and I knew that some day I must possess this camera!

I also snapped a few with the little 35MM film camera I brought, but mysteriously, the roll I was shooting at the time turned out blank. Hense I have no pictures of Cindy and none of Cocoa. I don’t know whether I put the film in wrong or the x-ray machines at the airport got it, but it was the first roll I’ve ever lost that way. Needless to say I was well bummed later when I went to get it developed, which further strengthens my resolve to get a decent digital camera and never have to worry about the hassle of film again.

We ate and talked yet some more until the time was getting close for Cindy and I to head off to the House of Blues for the evening. So we said our so-longs to Cocoa, whom we were going to see again a week later, with some other friends for breakfast, just before I left to return home.

I gave my old friend a big hug and then rushed off to get ready to go.

Next: Day Two — Saturday (continued):
Can’t Breathe (8pm): The Anna Nalick Debacle
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