Thursday, February 23, 2006

More LA Stories: 2005 (Part VIII)

Day Three — Sunday (continued): Pier Group II
A few more jokes and about three blocks later, we found ourselves at Stearns Warf, the main pedestrian pier in Santa Barbara. It’s a popular spot for tourists and locals alike, extending out about a quarter mile offshore, overlooking Santa Barbara Harbor.

Stearns offers the trappings typical of many large, urban California piers: restaurants, gift shops, and plenty of amateur fishermen. The slapping surf and squealing gulls in the background form a soundtrack that is both soothing and sensual. The salt air gently seeps into your skin. This is what I miss. This is the sensation that cannot be duplicated anywhere in landlocked Music City; it’s a tune they just can’t play there.

I suppose it was good experiencing that familiar calming effect that the ocean always has on me. It sort of primed my attitude for what could have been an even more abrupt turnabout in our emotional rollercoaster of an afternoon.

Just to the right of the pier, on the beach, someone had erected a mock graveyard with literally thousands of Arlington-style white cross markers representing the fallen soldiers in the Gulf war. An American flag, flying at half-staff overlooked the solemn scene.

Almost in unison, it punched all four of us in the gut, emotionally. “Oh my God…” was all any of us could say as we stood there, transfixed.

The thousands of representative grave markers drove home the sober point of the horror that has been the loss of American and Iraqi life in the second Gulf War.

We surveyed the site for several minutes, pondering the reality of it all. Continuing our walk, trying to reacquire the smiles that had been plastered all over our faces just a few minutes earlier, It took a few minutes to get back in the mood to talk, but eventually we did, albeit with a little less enthusiasm than before. The girls and guys paired off temporarily, as Nanner and Aimee lagged behind for some girl talk, while Mike and I continued on ahead.

One of the great challenges of modern mankind, it would appear, is to get Mikey to smile for the camera. And on this rare occasion, after much poking, prodding and cajoling…

Well…whadaya know…

Aimee and Inanna, with the misty hills of coastal Santa Barbara in the background.

Another borrowed, shot this time of Aimee and me, courtesy of MakeMineMike.

Soon it was time to start meandering back towards land. Despite that little shot of reality we received at the gravesite demonstration, the mood was still good. We were still having a great time. However the afternoon ws nearly over and Aimee had to think about getting back to her Sis’s house, where Emily was no doubt wondering how much longer Mommy was gonna be at that poopy old craft fair.

So we decided to try and find a place to get a cup of coffee and hang out just a bit longer, before once again going our separate ways.

Latte afternoon and into the evening
We figured there must be a Starbucks somewhere nearby, and chances were it would probably be on State Street. Well we had to walk several blocks, but we finally stumbled upon one (and in my case, the stumbling was literal, as Aimee will attest). And that, along with all the walking we’d done that day made the prospect of just sitting down for awhile every bit as appealing as that grande no-whip mocha I had a hankering for.

In actuality, Only Michael and I were interested in getting coffee; the girls just wanted water. So while Mike and I stood in line, Aims and Nanner snagged the only still available table next to the front window. It was late afternoon by now, close to six o’clock; the hills overlooking coastal Santa Barbara were rapidly swallowing up the red sunlight. The long shadows cast a surreal light upon the tree-shrouded downtown streets.

By the time I returned to the table (it seemed that it took twice as long as usual for the Java Jockeys behind the counter to whip up my order), it appeared my three compañeros were already deeply engaged in conversation. Over the next hour and a half, the topic on the table would migrate from that sixtysomething homeless guy doing a strip-tease on the sidewalk just outside the window, to Blogland, to politics, to religion, to marriage and child-rearing to hopes and dreams and all things in between.

Oh yeah…we talked about you, too. No one was safe!


Primarily, we dissected each other’s blogs, asking the questions that HaloScan couldn’t even begin to broach; what our motivations were; what we got out of writing them; and what we had hoped to find when we discovered Blogland in the first place. We revealed which blogs we enjoyed reading the most; whom we would most like to meet in-person and why. It was very interesting.

This was by far the best part for me. This was the stuff that stokes the fire I have to meet and enjoy the company of so many of my Blogland neighbors. It was fabulous, and the time was way too short.

If not for our the dull pain messages our butts began sending to our brains, making us realize that we hadn’t moved from that one spot for better than ninety minutes, I think we could have spent twice that much time, just sitting there and visiting. But unfortunately (in a manner of speaking), that Mommy alarm inside Aimee’s head started going off (even though she hit the snooze button more than once). She admitted that she really needed to get back to her little girl. It was time to end our little shindig and head back to the car.

As we did, the subject was simply how exhilarated we all felt for having spent the day together. We were so glad to have had this rare opportunity. Would we ever be able to do it again, who knows? But if not, at least we would always have Santa Barbara.

As I alluded to earlier, having spent considerable time with both Michael and Inanna in prior visits. If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you likely know what I think about Miz Peachy Keen and His Honor, the Mayor, so I won’t spend any more time here making them uncomfortable by singing yet another verse of their respective praises.

Nope, for me, the only mystery to this little Santa Barbara confab would be Aimee. And while she was nice enough to say some really complimentary things about me in her own blog account of this Sunday last August, I’m not merely pulling a quid pro quo here. The nice things I want to say about her are more than well deserved.

If you know her blog, you also know that she’s an emotional being. She’s opinionated, self-assured, and intensely loyal to those she loves. But what you may not know, and what I was pretty much blown away by, is the depth of character and the intellectualism behind the kindness that makes Aimee the person we know and love so well. Is it any wonder that she’s flying through law school? Is it any wonder that she has the capacity to take on such a burden at this point in her life, yet still devote the time necessary to be the Mom that she is to Emily, sew five bridesmaid dresses for her friend’s wedding in June, and work enough to support her family?

Makes sense to me.

Aimee is living proof that kindness and intelligence are not mutually exclusive qualities. When she embarks upon her legal career, who knows? Maybe she’ll revolutionize the profession. Maybe they’ll call her the Anti-Sheist(er).

At any rate, I wish her well, and can say with all sincerity that I’m delighted to call her my friend.

You go, girl.

By the time we got back to my car, it was just after 8PM. It was eerie how the ocean’s pitch-blackness seemed to swallow up all ambient light in the night sky, leaving only a thick, nearly palpable contrast against it and the streetlights’ illumination of the mature trees and buildings below.

As we returned to the side street on which Aimee had parked, I was determined to not say anything about the laptop she had said she would give me, ‘cuz…you know…I didn’t want to sound like a kid waiting for permission to open his presents on Christmas morning — even though that’s exactly how I felt. I pulled into the closest available vacant spot on the curb, about fifty yards up the street from Aimee’s car.

Aimee turned to say goodbye to Mike and Nanner in the back seat, and they all exchanged hugs. Then she turned to me and said, “And YOU — you need to follow me and get your laptop.”

“Oh…okay…if I have to…”
Yeah right. I was outta that car before she’d even touched the door handle.

We walked down to Aimee’s car and she opened the passenger side door, reaching into the back seat. She pulled out the black carrying case and unzipped it. First she popped open the laptop and then showed me the accessories she had included in the package: A laser wheel mouse, mousepad, phone and network cables; all of which would have run me an extra $75-$100 bucks alone had I needed to go out and purchase them separately. She gave me the lowdown from what she could remember about her old password and the software that was installed on the machine, as it had been 2-3 years since she’d last used it.

Meanwhile, back at my car, Mike and Nanner were getting antsy, so they made their way down to our position just as Aimee was wrapping up. Once again, everyone hugged Aimee goodbye.

I dropped Mike and Inanna off back at The Daily Grind where they had parked just around the corner. I would see Mikey later in the week for a pre-scheduled dinner get-together, and at that point having seen Nanner for the third time in six months it somehow seemed as though I’d see her again before too much longer as well. Of course now in retrospect I realize that was a naïve assumption to make, but we’ll see. I really wasn’t thinking about that just then. What I was thinking about was what a great day had just been added to my memory, and how much more I had to look forward to in the six days remaining of my SoCal vacation.

As I hit the freeway, heading back for Cindy’s, it was now 8:30 PM. I made a few calls, first to Aimee to again thank her for everything, then to my Dad, to check in once again regarding my visit the following day on Monday. Then I called to Cindy to tell her I was on my way home. In between, as they came to mind, I blabbed away into my little tape recorder the thoughts and notes regarding the events of that very busy day, which comprised much of the context for this blog entry.

I sat back, dialed up some smooth Jazz on the XM, and put my mind on autopilot for what turned out to be, quite possibly, the shortest two and a half-hour drive on record.

Next: Days Three and Four (Monday/Tuesday):
Where’s The Champ When Ya Need ‘Im?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

More LA Stories: 2005 (Part VII)

Day Three — Sunday (continued): A Meeting of the Grinds
I had to do a bit of multi-tasking as I crept along traffic-heavy West Mission Street, one of the main arteries entering the area of downtown Santa Barbara where Aimee, Inanna, Michael and I would end up hanging out for the next nine hours. It wasn’t easy juggling the activities of trying to spot The Daily Grind coffeehouse while still on the phone with Mikey guiding me in, all the while trying to avoid a rear-end collision with the car in front of me in the slow-and-go Sunday brunchtime traffic.

As I slowed approaching the light at De La Vina Street, I heard a familiar voice call out, “AJ!” I looked quickly to my left to see Nanner flagging me down. Unfortunately I’d overshot my target, so I had to proceed on down another block to turn around.

Finally I got turned around and pulled into The Grind and parked. The Three Blogateers were waiting for me at a table on the patio out in front of the restaurant.

As I approached the table, it was almost as if they didn’t see me coming (but in all fairness, only Michael was facing my direction). It took a second or two for Aimee and Inanna to notice me standing there next to them. Aims appeared to be in some kind of yarn-induced trance, knitting away and Nanner was busily engaged in creating a new new masterworks of folk-art from the raw materials Aimee had acquired earlier that morning at the craft fair she attended at the Earl Warren Showgrounds.

Footnote: And yes boys and girls, if the name sounds familiar, that is indeed the same Earl Warren as in former Chief Justice of the United States and namesake of The Warren Commission, Earl Warren. Prior to serving as Head Honcho of the Highest Court in the Land, Warren was one of the most visible public figures in the State of California, serving four years as State District Attorney and twelve years as Governor. And what does that have to do with this story? Nada. I just thought it was an interesting fact.


Once Michael looked up and said hello, everyone stopped what they were doing. As we exchanged handshakes and hugs, something became clear to me immediately — this wasn’t weird. It was as normal and comfortable as it could have possibly been. Of course this wasn’t a first-time meeting for any of us, with the exception of Aimee and me.

Michael and I had met in person only once, in the previous summer of 2004, but I honestly feel as though we’ve known each other for years. On the other hand, that globetrotter emeritus of Blogland, Inanna, and I met twice in consecutive months earlier that spring when she was in the midst of her seven-city 2005 Blogger Barnstorming Tour across America. Naturally I felt comfortable around these two with whom I’ve grown the closest of all my Blogland neighbors.

However this was Aimee and my first opportunity to meet face-to-face. And again, it wasn’t weird. She was as comfortable to be around as any old friend I could have been.

We all talked and caught up while Nanner continued crafting a pair of beautiful beaded earrings for Aimee. The conversation was, naturally, about blogging and this great community of friends we all hold in such warm esteem. Brighton’s name came up and for the heck of it, I pulled out my cell phone and called her up. Everyone took a turn saying hello.

I’m not exactly sure how long we sat and talked there at the coffeehouse, but it was at least a couple of hours. Soon the bagels and coffee began to wear off and we all decided it was time to move on to our next venue, State Street.

The Four Amegos
Since I was the only one who had actually managed to get a spot in the parking lot at the coffeehouse, we all piled into my rental car and proceeded downtown, where Aimee said there were a number of places we could get some lunch.

Following Aimee’s direction, I parked on a block above State Street, which is the main drag in that part of SB. It’s a bustling avenue of restaurants, office buildings and shops. State Street dead ends at the base of the Santa Barbara peninsula, spilling out onto Stearns Warf, a popular tourist destination. The quarter mile-long pier is lined with souvenir shops and seafood restaurants overlooking Santa Barbara harbor and the blue Pacific.

Interestingly enough, no sooner than we began walking toward State, we encountered one of Michael’s old apartment neighbors and stopped for a somewhat awkward two-minute chat. Seems the Mayor of Blogsville’s popularity knows no end.

We turned up State Street and quickly came upon a couple of Mexican restaurants (which we had generally agreed beforehand would be the cuisine of choice that day). We randomly decided upon the first one we had seen, a place I can’t remember the name of now, and went in.

Aimee’s lunch was on me, which was something I had told her in advance that I would do. It was a (very) small thank you for her generous gift of the laptop computer she was planning to give to me later. Hopefully she enjoyed her lunch. I know I could have done a little with my selection if I had perhaps…oh I dunno…read the menu? I have no idea what I thought I had ordered, but I ended up with a vegetarian quesadilla. Anyone who knows me knows that I do not eat vegatarian anything.

Maybe that’s why I don’t recall the name of the restaurant.

However, to be fair, the quesadilla wasn’t all that bad; it wasn’t spectacular, but I ate it nonetheless (but only after removing the avocados).

A random Santa Barbaran walking by the Mexican restaurant was kind enough to snap this very cool photo of the four of us for me. Aimee asked me afterwards, “What would you have done if she’d just run off with your camera?” Gee. I really have been away from SoCal for awhile, huh?

Aimee in what I have decided must be her natural state. I don’t know that she went five minutes without a smile on her face all day.

I took this same shot with both Mikey’s camera and my own, just seconds apart. However I’m posting my version, because in this one his Popeyesque smirk is more pronounced and infinitely more amusing. Nanner looks like I felt at that point — very, very happy to be there.

After lunch, we went strolling along State Street, taking in the local color of Ronnie Reagan’s hometown. The weather had become more pleasant now in the late afternoon. It was a great time for a walk.

After a few blocks, someone suggested ice cream. Just across from the Mexican Restaurant was a Coldstone Creamery store, so we crossed the street and headed back that way.

Wanna REAL tip? Get yourself some singing lessons!
I’m supposing that Coldstone Creamery has been around for awhile in California. Normally the popular new franchise restaurant and fast food establishments start at the coasts and then work their way towards the middle of the country. Well here in the Middle Tennessee, Coldstone has been around for about a year, year and a half. I’d never been to one, but had been curious about the place for awhile, so I was happy to go when someone suggested it.

What I was expecting was an ice cream parlor, which it is — and a good one. What I wasn’t expecting was Pee Wee’s Playhouse.

CSC’s specialty is their series of thirty-three unique Creations; combinations of ice cream and toppings, which after you order are “assembled” while you watch by employees who appear to have just returned from their Red Bull break.

Case in point, Aimee and I chose the “Peanut Butter Cup Perfection” creation in which they take a scoop of chocolate ice, slap it down on a palette, and next to it, take a handful of Reese’s cups, smash ‘em up, combine ‘em with the ice cream, slap on a couple spoonfuls of peanut butter, squirt on some hot fudge, and then scoop up the whole glob and caboodle into your choice of waffle cone or cup.

Sounds kinda gross, but it’s actually pretty entertaining, and very tasty! However the Pee Wee part I could have done without. And please, I know, Aimee, that’s the part you liked the best. As a matter of fact, you were the one who told us about that gimmick, that if anyone placed money in the tip jar, the employees always burst into song. And they did. Several times. But what you didn’t tell us was that they’d sound like six cats frying in a skillet.

But seriously, as badly as they sounded, it did kind of add to the fun, festive atmosphere, so it was all good; and the ice cream was excellent. But all the same, the way the kid at the cash register was looking at me (Aimee insisted the dude was hitting on me) I was more than ready to take my “creation” and hit the bricks.

So with cones and cups in tow, we made our way back out onto the sidewalk, hung a left and for the beach.

Once again, I don’t remember who asked if anybody knew any good jokes, but…

He was makin’ fun ‘a the way I talk!
That was the punch line, but that’s all I’m sayin.’ It was an old joke — I believe I first heard when I was in the fifth grade (which also pretty accurately details the joke’s level of sophistication). That was a long, long ago, boys and girls; back when considering oneself politically correct meant nothing more than bragging that you voted for the winning party on Election Day. Therefore I won’t repeat the joke for the sake of those whose sensibilities would certainly be offended by it today. Besides, there’s no way I could possibly do the joke justice in print, because the humor isn’t in the verbiage, so much as the delivery. And one of the reason’s I’ve always remembered that silly joke is because I’m pretty darned good with that delivery.

I just didn’t realize how good.

Oh, but you can rest easy if you’re reading this, Mr. Seinfeld, I won’t be movin’ in on your gigs anytime soon.

Don’t let anyone tell you differently; the way to a man’s heart is to laugh at his jokes. Nothing makes a guy feel better about himself than when he can make people laugh. So needless to say, it was a pretty nice boost to my ego. Now if I could only find a few more to add to my repertoire…

If you’re a fan of Michael’s blog, you may have seen this sequence of photos before, but with his permission I’m reposting them here. Kudos to him for so perfectly catching the moment just before (above) and after (below) the punch line.

Aimee and Nanner just about lost their ice creams on the sidewalk right then and there. Thanks for making my day, ladies.

Needless to say the mood was light by the time we reached Stearn’s Warf. However we were greeted with a demonstration that may not have completely thrown water on our party, but it did add a poignant juxtaposition to the frivolity that had just preceded it.

Next: Day Three — Sunday (continued)

Monday, February 13, 2006

More LA Stories: 2005 (Part VI)

Day Three — Sunday (continued): Santa Barbara Sojourn
Sunday morning, August 14th, arrived like Christmas. I awoke with a smile on my face in anticipation of seeing my Blogland friends, Michael, Inanna and Aimee. However it wasn’t only the fact that I would be seeing them that captured my gravid imagination.

Being the sentimental, romantic and sometimes more-than-just-a-little-dramatic soul that I am, I could probably find a way to turn a trip to the grocery store into a life-affirming event. So it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise for you to learn that I looked forward to that drive from Cindy’s house up to Santa Barbara nearly as much as the get-together itself; and much more so than just for the enjoyment of the splendor that is the Pacific coastline, north of Los Angeles.

It’s kind of a longstanding favorite scenario for me, driving along that coast. Those memories go back a lot of years, even before Michelle’s natural affinity for Santa Barbara via going to school there became infused with my own. And as has been the case many times before (and particularly so of late), when I began writing this chapter I became inspired to talk abut why that is. A page and a half later I realized, “Darn it — I’ve done it again!

So rather than go off on yet another tangent, my affinity for driving the coast of Northern and Central California will be yet another story somewhere down the line.

As I was leaving Cindy’s shortly before 10:00 AM (which was about fifteen minutes later than I wanted to) my cell phone began to vibrate. It was Aimee. Her ears must have been burning because she was the first person I was going to call first once I hit the road. As we sort of synchronized our watches, she filled me in. The plan was that Michael and Nanner would be leaving Santa Monica around 10-10:30 and that we would all meet up at a yet-to-be-decided restaurant at around Noon-Thirty. From my location it would take about two and a half hours to make the trip, assuming no major traffic snarls, so I told her that we all should arrive in Santa Barbara at about the same time. I told her I’d give her another call once I got close, rather than taking down detailed directions. I mean that’s what cell phones are for, right?

And let me just say, considering what would happen over the next couple hours, thank GOD for cell phones!

So I set out. It certainly wasn’t a typical SoCal Summer morning. The sky was gray and overcast, with a touch of fog in the distant hills. It was reminiscent of the so-called “June Gloom” weather pattern that occurs there more typically between May and June along the Southern California coast. Nevertheless, I knew that the sun would shine eventually and I was anxious to see what fun the day would hold.

In its initial stages, the drive would trace my old work route; the well-worn path I’d followed five a week for the two years I worked in Burbank. Cindy lives in Cypress, just south of the Orange County line and only a few miles from my old neighborhood, in Long Beach, on the LA County side. The 605 Freeway, which begins right at that point, bisects LA and Orange Counties. So as I had always done, I jumped on the 605 heading north, past the 91 and the new(ish) 105 Freeway (which they were still building at the time we moved to Nashville), and proceeded on to that very familiar I-5 interchange, heading northwest towards Los Angeles.

When I worked for the record company, I would have stayed on the 5, past the 101 interchange, all the way up to Burbank. However in this situation (or so I thought), I needed to cut over to the 10, and then on to the 405 North to get to Santa Barbara.

Or so I thought.

Foggy Notions
Y’know, given that Early-Onset Alzheimer’s disease runs in my family — and I have yet to be told that I’m “out of the woods” regarding the possibility of falling victim to it myself — that old phrase, “The mind is the first thing to go” bears a certain irony for me; one that I don’t really like to acknowledge.

The fact of the matter is, I’ve always been absent-minded; easily distracted; forgetful. I have a tendency to allow my mind to wander, which is why I thrive on routine. I prefer to not have to think much about what I’m doing, yet I love to think.

However this bent for auto-pilot navigation through life doesn’t typically have an adverse affect on my driving, at least from a safety standpoint. I find that I actually become hyper-sensitive to everything around me: the traffic, the weather, the “feel” of the moment. I guess that’s why I love driving on the freeway so much; I love to just take it all in.

There is one particular drawback to this approach though: if I think I know where I’m going (which I usually do) — but really should be paying attention to the road signs instead of taking in the scenery — it doesn’t always work so well.

Unfortunately, this was one of those times.

While happily reminiscing my way along, noting the changes to the look and feel of LA traffic along my old work route over the past twelve years, I decided to make a few phone calls, to take care of some business regarding my plans for the rest of the week.

Following a quick call to Michael to learn that he and Nanner still hadn’t left, I figured I would beat them to Santa Barbara by plenty. So I moved over a couple lanes to the right, and decided I didn’t need to be in quite as much of a hurry.

I decided to check in with my Dad in anticipation of my upcoming visit to spend Monday and Tuesday with him and his wife Helen, in Hemet. It was only then that I began to get an inkling that I was in a bit of trouble. I was now on the 405 Freeway, just above Santa Monica and having a great time. I was having a wonderful confab with my Pop and re-familiarizing myself with everything around me. But every minute or so I’d catch myself not paying attention and think, “Did I miss my turn-off?” Then I’d realize I was still okay and continue on with the conversation.

After talking with Dad for about ten minutes, I called Gooch. he and I were scheduled to get together on Wednesday, on my way back from Hemet. We touched base for a couple of minutes and then I said goodbye to him, all the while thinking I was doing fine and headed in the right direction, which I was; just not for long.

Next I called Michelle and we talked for about twenty minutes. Early in the call, I passed the 101 interchange. I started to feel that sour stomach-kind-of-feeling associated with being lost. Was I supposed to take the 101 Split or stay on the 405? I wasn’t panicked yet, but I was starting to feel nervous.

Nevertheless I was resolute in my insistence that I was going the right way and said nothing of my concerns to Michelle, who by the way, knew this route like the back of her hand, having gone to college at UC Santa Barbara while her parents lived in…hello? CYPRESS.

About ten minutes after passing the 101 Cutoff I had to ask. Having only been back to SoCal once in the past 12 years, and much longer than that since being familiar with the landmarks of this jaunt, Michelle said she couldn’t be sure, but that none of the names on the road signs I was relating to her were sounding familiar. “You’re on the 101, aren’t you?” she asked.

I sank about ten inches in my seat. Suddenly it all came back to me. What a brain fart!

Long story short, the way I was heading was fine if my destination was Santa Clarita, but not so good if I wanted to get to Santa Barbara. I thanked my navigator and got off the phone so that I could turn my attention solely to the task at hand. At this point I was so far out in the sticks, I had to drive for ten minutes just to turn around. I had no idea how far off schedule I was, so as I pulled off the freeway to turn around and double back to the 101, I called Mike and Inanna to let them know what had happened. Fortunately for me, traffic had been so light and I’d made such good time to that point that it wound up not being as bad as I thought.

Benign Dictator
In addition to the fact that Aimee was going to gift me with a laptop, I decided to employ another piece of discarded equipment that would assist me in recording the details and circumstances of this trip to California.

Only a few weeks prior to my vacation, my department at work was relocated to another part of the building, so naturally there was a certain amount of housecleaning to be done. Everyone cleaned out their desks as well as their respective storage closets, purging them of outdated and/or obsolete supplies and equipment.

My boss threw out an old microcassette dictation recorder. I grabbed it. It’s a Sony, but it’s seen its better day. But as long as it worked, I figured it was worth trying to use. And boy, am I glad I had it! There is no way I could have recalled a fraction of the details strictly on memory alone.

I’d say about eighty percent of the detail included in this chapter was drawn out of the verbal notes I dictated on the way to and from Santa Barbara. The recorder has really been a cool little tool for me in the months since last August. I keep it in my car so that I can record thoughts that come upon me while driving to and from work. Some of the content is blog-worthy and some is just what I’m supposed to pick up at the grocery store on the way home, but it’s all useful information. Eventually I’ll break down and buy myself a nicer, newer recorder; one that doesn’t require the use of those clumsy little microcassettes, but in the meantime, it’ll do.

As soon as I realized I’d drifted off-course, I knew it would make for an interesting part of the story. So for the better part of the time I was backtracking, I recorded my notes about what had happened. And again, those notes have proven invaluable.

Once I managed to get back to the 101 and again headed in the right direction, I was able to once again settle in and enjoy the wonderful scenery that surrounded me. It was great. It was spectacular coastline driving the rest of the way.

Before I knew it I had reached the Santa Barbara City limits. I looked at my watch and realized to my amazement that despite a fifteen-mile off-course jog, I was only going to be about ten minutes late.

I called up Michael as I was exiting the freeway at West Mission Street. They were all waiting for me at a coffeehouse just three blocks away.

Next: Day Three — Sunday (continued): A Meeting of the Grinds

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

More LA Stories: 2005 (Part V)

Day Three — Sunday: Getting to the Meet of the Matter
Anticipation is a funny thing. It can make you giddy with excitement one day and paralyzed with fear the next. This single emotion can, on the one hand, leave us wishing we could roll over and hibernate ‘til spring, and on the other, feel so stoked with enthusiasm that we practically run out of our shoes to start the day.

Anticipation of the unknown has always been one of my favorite varieties. I think it sort of defines our outlook on life. Personally I like to use it as an attitude check. Typically I prefer to think of myself as a glass-is-half-full kind of guy. But sometimes I get away from that just like anyone else. Monitoring my attitude when faced with an unknown or new circumstance is the best way I know to either see that I’m on track, or not.

Mind you, I’m never gonna ever beat myself up over not looking forward to April 15th, for dreading a visit to the dentist, or for that innate masculine fear associated with the magic words, “turn your head and cough.” These are known commodities of uncomfortable circumstance, and I’m more than okay with relegating things of that nature to the scrap pile of necessary evils in my life.

But how do I react in other situations, such as the occasion of meeting someone face-to-face for the first time — such as a fellow blogger? A meeting that doesn’t necessarily have to happen. Do I look forward to and embrace such a circumstance, or is it my inclination to play it safe, keeping them at arm’s length as it were?

Aww hell, who am I kidding? I LIVE for this stuff!

But believe it or not, I actually do have these thoughts of trepidation, but they usually don’t last very long. And I can honestly say that during the time I’ve been blogging, there really aren’t too many cyber-neighbors I’ve encountered whom I wouldn’t be intrigued to meet in real life. And in my increasingly frequent visits to SoCal over the past two years, I’ve had the pleasure of broadening my social calendar to include both real-time and online friends.

In 2004, I met the ever-popular Mayor of Blogsville, Michael, for the first time. In the ensuing months, Mike and I have become pretty good friends. So now a trip to SoCal now pretty much assumes at least one side-visit to The People’s Republic of Santa Monica.

However this time, no offense to Mikey, I was hoping to get a little more mileage out of my West Coast Blogger-Meet opportunity. I had learned that Aimee, would be coming down from the Bay Area that same week to see her sister, who lives near Santa Barbara. Not only that, but Inanna, whom I’d met months earlier via her own ramblin’ Blogger travels, would be in town that week as well.

A Blogger Summit! Coolness.

We decided it would be easiest for everyone involved if we met up in Santa Barbara; not exactly a short jaunt for me, coming from Orange County, but hey — my rental car had unlimited mileage, right?

Seriously though, Santa Barbara has always been one of my favorite California communities. As far as “beach” cities go it has a vibe and a charm all of its own. It’s always been one of Michelle and my favorite places to hang. Michelle attended college at UC Santa Barbara; we even spent our wedding night there.

I was happy to make it our meeting place.

Lap(top) Dance
Before I go any further, I need to pause here to say thank you to someone. Earlier in this series I somewhat cryptically made reference to this next part of this story in a comment. But now I’d like to give special thanks to the person who actually made it possible for me to make this series much more exhaustively detailed than it ever would have been otherwise.

Sh’yeah, I know…quick…somebody get a rope.

Just kidding

About a month before the trip, I e-mailed Aimee, to touch base and synchronize schedules in happy anticipation of meeting her for the first time. We exchanged phone numbers so that we could contact each other in case there were any changes in our respective plans, particularly after we’d left home and would no longer have easy access to e-mail.

As I recall, it was August 9th, a few days before I left for California. I was going down the list of people I’d be seeing while on the trip, again to touch base one more time.

I was at work, so I ducked into an unoccupied conference room to make the call to Aimee. Unfortunately the cubes have ears in my office and last thing I wanted was for anyone to think I was making plans to rendezvous with some strange woman in California that I’d met on the Internet.

Oh…wait…*GAH* Well, you know what I mean!

Anyway, I was making small talk with Aimee; you know — “Howya doin’…whatcha writing about…how’s life?” — and so on. I was at that time smack dab in the middle of my Long Strange Trip series, and in all honesty, pretty close to being burned out on the heaviness of the subject matter. I was really struggling with the story at that point. It had grown from a tribute to my marriage into a full-blown autobiography and commentary on my life (and that was before I even started talking about the really personal stuff.

Add in the additional pressure of having just gotten back two weeks earlier from another mini-vacation, with which I had been involved off and on for the previous six months; planning and coordinating a golf outing in Reston, VA for more than twenty people. I hadn’t written anything for a month and really felt bad about it.

So I mentioned that (in not so many words) to Aimee while we were talking, adding that I was even more frustrated over the fact that now I was going to be away for an additional eight days — with no computer — and again, no blog production. I mentioned that really wished I owned a laptop so that I could write at least something while I was on the road.

“You don’t own a laptop?” she asked, quizzically.

“Nope.” I replied. “Never needed one for work, and I build my own desktop PCs. But I do plan on buying one someday, just for situations like this; to take on the road, especially now that writing has become such a big part of my life.”

“Hmmm,” she said.

“What do you mean, ‘hmmm?’” I inquired.

“What do you use?” Aimee asked.

“Um…whadaya mean? Use how?” I had no idea what she was referring to.

“Mac or PC — your computer — is it Mac or Windows?” she clarified.

“Wol…Windows…Why do you ask?” I was still completely clueless.

“Well, how ‘bout I just give you a laptop? I have one of each that I don’t use at all. Do you think you’d be able to write more often then?” she said with a smile in her voice.

Um…YEAHHUH! Yes, I most definitely could! But c’mon, Aimee, are you serious? Why would you do that? Are you sure?” I said, looking around the conference room assuming there must be a Candid Camera hidden somewhere. I couldn’t believe such an offer.

“Hey, they’re old ones I had from my last job. They never asked for ‘em back, and they’re just sitting around here taking up space. If you want one, it’s yours,” she said. I couldn’t believe my ears.

I continued to profusely thank Aimee for her generosity.
As it turned out, I used that laptop she would later so graciously gift me with all week long, each night typing out detailed outlines of the day’s activities. Chances are I wouldn’t have recalled with half the clarity, the incredibly busy week that I enjoyed. Thanks again, Aims!
We settled on a few more general details, deciding that Sunday would be the day we’d meet up, presumably at a restaurant. But I still needed to get buy-in from Mike and Inanna, so I told her I would do so and get back in touch with her, if not before I left, then as soon as I hit town.

It was time for me to get back to work, so we signed off; we’d talk again soon.

As I placed the cell phone back into my pocket, I once again thought of that wonderfully thoughtful gift Aimee had sprung upon me. I smiled, and just before opening the door to exit the windowless conference room, I stopped, and danced a little jig.

Candid Cameras be damned.

Next: Day Three — Sunday (continued): Santa Barbara Sojourn