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
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