Friday, October 31, 2008

Okay...I'll just say it.

Chill, people.
I generally avoid political discussions like the plague because, a.) they’re absolutely no fun, and b.) they make me sick.

I consider myself a classic fiscal-conservative-but-social-moderate, politically. I campaign for no one because I don’t fully agree with either party on a plethora of issues.

I’m basically apolitical, but am well-aware that I’m in the minority on this issue, so I’m sure most people won’t agree with my stance. However I’ve been through a bunch of Presidential elections in my 52+ years and have been a working adult for more than 30 of those, so I believe I can offer this little bit of perspective: Chill, people; this country will neither be saved nor spared by the results of this Presidential election.

The sun will rise and the sun will set; no one person is gonna change that. I just don’t get why people have to become so worked up about it all. I’ve come thisclose to dropping a few folks I follow on Twitter, not because of what they say, but because it seems like ALL they can talk, and grouse...AND talk, and grouse about is politics — with nearly every Tweet.

The fact is, next Tuesday will come and go and we’ll all still be here when it’s done, save for those who’ll be choosing to pack all their belongings into their cars and drive ’em into the ocean — or a choice that’s equally silly and worthless: allowing a presidential election to take their focus off of the only thing that really matters: living.

Y’see folks, we’re not electing a White Knight on November 4th; we’re electing a candidate to occupy the office of President of the United States. Will he be the single-most powerful man in the world? Maybe. Does that power give him the ability to single-handedly fix all of our country’s problems? No way, Joe(theplummer)-say.

And if you think I’m casting aspersions strictly on Barack Obama here, think again. I’m not putting any more stock in John McCain; I have no idea how much if any of the campaign promises either of them will be able to make good upon if elected, and quite frankly I couldn’t care less which one does. What I DO know is that it’s neither their job, nor their ability to make me happy and successful; it’s up to ME and ME ALONE to do get that task accomplished.

See, I’m the only person sitting in AJ’s Oval Office.

I could go on ad-infintum here, but I would instead challenge you — if you’re old enough — to recall the state of the U.S. economy at or near the end of the past three decades, which also just happened to have been in close proximity to Presidential elections.
  • End of the 70s: a full-blown recession. Ronald Regan comes in and things get better.
  • End of the 80s: Black Tuesday ushers in a mini-recession. Things were already getting better by 1992 when Bill Clinton came in and the economy really took off.
  • Then in 2000-01 the very thing that sent Wall Street through the roof sends it crashing back to the ground; the dot-com bubble bursts and all hell breaks loose. Then 911; then Iraq.
  • The years since have been a mixed bag, with things improving early-on, but the Iraq war pretty much keeping the economy at bay, before the mortgage-lending crisis finally pushes it off the cliff.

The point I’m trying to make is that since the 60s, there has never been more than a ten-year window in which the economy has been truly robust, and even when it has been, inflation has tempered overall economic success. And conversely, there hasn’t been more than a two-to-three year period in which we’ve witnessed the economy in any kind of sustained downturn. There have always been these cyclical mini-recessions and market adjustments that crop up, usually at the turn of the decade, often coinciding with the end of a Presidential term. Why that is, I do not know, but I’ve now seen it happen four times in my lifetime and I find it pretty unlikely to be a coincidence. To me, it all has to do with confidence — the consumer variety, that is.

Jimmy Carter wasn’t a bad person, but history now agrees that he was one of the worst presidents of our era. The reason? He didn’t respond to the things that really mattered. He mothballed the U.S. military, and in response, the Soviet Union shifted theirs into overdrive, making our Cold War position with them incredibly tenuous for a number of years, and emboldening the Soviet-supported Iranian jihadists to take the U.S. Embassy in Tehran hostage.

And though he never threw any kind of switch, the helplessness we as a country felt over the Iranian hostage crisis paralyzed us, sucking our confidence dry. And no matter who’s to blame, whenever something like that happens, it’s always a bad thing for a market-driven economy that runs on consumer confidence.

I truly believe that no matter who wins next Tuesday, America will regain its confidence sooner, rather than later; if not for any reason other than the fact that somebody new will be in the White House, like it or not.

The sun’ll come out tomorrow, kids; bet’cher bottom dollar that tomorrow, there’ll be sun.

Howz about us getting back to living our lives, being responsible with our finances, conserving, planning and saving for rainy days, rather than weighing all our hopes and dreams on things or people that really don’t matter?

Howz about us leaving the vitriol behind and starting to show some love and respect for those with dissenting views? It goes both ways, y’know.

I am the only person ultimately responsible for me; you are the only person ultimately responsible for you.

I choose to concentrate on making sure that I, myself am getting the job done right, first and foremost. I don’t need to worry about the guy in the White House. Whomever it ends up being, he’s gonna have enough problems of his own to deal with.



Friday, October 17, 2008

A Different Point-of-Hue: L.A. Stories 2008
(Part VI)

Et Cetera ’08 (continued): Landmarks Lost (and Found)
Continuing the sunshine…nah…jest fudgin.’ From the last installment I know you’re probably thinking this trip to California was just this side of a root canal for yours truly. Nothing could be further from the truth.

By now you realize that the gist of the series’ subtitle is about seeing things differently and as such this most recent trip truly brought about an adjustment in my perception of the only place my entire adult life that I’ve ever really thought of as ‘home.’ It was honestly the first time in all my years of visiting SoCal since moving to Nashville in 1992 that the idea of maybe…possibly someday returning to L.A. seemed, if not impossible, at least more than a little bit distasteful.

So why is that such a big deal, you ask? After all, I’m the one who left. Why should I care if I don’t live there anymore?

But ya see, that’s the problem — in a way, I never did leave SoCal. And I really never gave up on the idea of going back.

Of course I’ve never made any kind of plans to that end, given that such a circumstance would require my doing so without my wife, as Michelle would never go along with such an idea. Her insistence that we get the hell outta Dodge was the primary reason I considered relocating to Tennessee in the first place.

No, this is more like a fantasy I’ve always had, silly as it is. I mean, after all, Nashville has been extremely good to us — on a scale of magnitude better than SoCal was. But a lot of factors could be attributed to both sides of that argument, which really never has been an argument or even a discussed issue in our marriage.

This is just me, myself, and my gut talkin’ here.

There’s a part of me that mourns, longs for that feeling; a feeling of which only a counterfeit facsimile or two each spring and/or fall here in Tennessee manages to find its way into my thirsty soul; a feeling that can only be rendered by a 70 degree day wrapped in a blindingly clear, blue sky and cool Pacific Ocean breeze. Every once in awhile, the millibars of atmospheric pressure will align in such a way that those conditions, so plentiful and common in SoCal, but so rare and foreign to the rest of the country, will make a fleeting appearance here in this huge bowl of pollen, violent winds, and humidity they call the Tennessee Valley, and my soul will dance in celebration at the occsasion of ‘California weather’ in Tennessee, as Michelle and I dubbed it years ago.

It may last a week, or just a day, but it never lasts. Inevitably, the often blustery days of spring, which generate a bipolar mix of warm, rainy, and even bitterly cold days, are never stable. Likewise in the fall, temperatures vary wildly, often staying unseasonably warm well into October. But generally speaking, if we see any semblance of SoCal-type climate here, it’s generally woven into the days between Labor Day and Halloween, before the rainy season kicks into high gear and soon thereafter gives way to the cold, icy and occasionally snowy days of winter.

But what about summer, you ask? Well, as Joey Bag-a-donuts would say — fuggedaboudit. Summer is the practical joke nobody ever told me about before we moved here. If they had, I might not have been so willing to pull up stakes.

Well maybe it’s not that bad, but it certainly isn’t all that good either. I guess it’s all about what you’re used to, and had I grown up in the freaking Amazon I suppose the searing heat and 90-plus-percent humidity every day in July and August would probably feel like…normal. Well I’ve been here now for sixteen years and it still doesn’t feel normal.

So sue me for being intolerant of weather that sucks, but I jest cain’t hep it; I’m a Southern California boy living on the surface of planet Mercury — or at least that’s how it feels by comparison; and I’m sorry, but it really does suck.

The bottom line is this: I love Nashville — I really do, but it will never replace SoCal in that unattainable little bit of gray matter in my head where its specialness in my life is defined and will live forever. As iffy as I may be on the summertime weather here, that’s still no slam on Music City. It’s just that the further removed I get from my time growing up in L.A., the more I realize just what an indelible mark that the SoCal climate made on my psyche.

To borrow a phrase, Nashville’s fine, but it ain’t home; L.A’s home, but it ain’t mine no more…*

*...with all due apologies to Neil Diamond

The indicators are innumerous in affirming that I am now in a better place — in every sense of the word. It’s unfortunate that I actually had to leave Southern California to really start living, but I guess that’s the give-and-take of life in paradise. If it were possible to combine SoCal’s weather with Nashville’s lifestyle options and more favorable cost-of-living, well, you’d probably have far worse chaos than exists in L.A. now, ‘cuz not only would everyone want to live there, everyone could.

Nevertheless I do try to be realistic. I can still visit the old homestead, and do so fairly cheaply (I spent less than $600.00 including airfare and rental car during my recent nine-day trip); so as long as my Dad and other friends are still around for me to come see, I always will — for as long as I’m able.

But upon returning to Music City, I always know there’s something that I’ve left behind; a tune that all thirteen hundred and fifty-two guitar pickers in Nashville** couldn’t play quite the same way I’ve heard it all my life. And as welcome as they are to me, those occasional ‘California weather’ days — those brief meteorological reminders of a state of being in which I can no longer reside — they’re only fool’s gold. I have long accepted the fact that they just don’t make that kinda weather consistently anywhere else but Southern California.

**Begging John Sebastian's forgivness, as well.

Well the Times (as Well as the Places), They Are’a Changin’
With two lengthy preambles of melancholy machination now established, perhaps it’s time I got to some of those ‘anecdotal’ entries I intentioned back at the beginning of the previous post.

Given all the changes I witnessed and have noted — whether or not they were actually all that recent — my eyes were opened even more throughout the week as I made various and sundried pilgrimages in and around my former hometown of Long Beach, especially in the area of my old high school.

Woodrow Wilson High lay at the physical epicenter of three distinct residential areas bordering it. Affluent, blue-collar, and inner-city neighborhoods surrounded the school and, in a manner of speaking, were held together by the linchpin that was my alma mater’s rich and diverse socio-economic makeup. But as is usually the case, urban blight generally spreads in an osmosis-like fashion into areas that were once more affluent, becoming increasingly less so. And as such, the areas adjacent to my old school have fallen upon increasingly seedy times: a continuing sign of the difficult financial climate weighing upon the families and businesses in the area.

One such local business located just a few blocks from Wilson really surprised me with the completeness of its demise: good ol’ Mickey D’s.

In thinking back now, I suppose I already knew that the old McDonald's was no longer, having been sold and augmented into a rather nondescript Mom ’N Pop type of drive-in restaurant sometime back in the 80s, well before I moved my family to Tennessee. And while sad, it was okay to me, as the place was still a restaurant and better still, a new McDonald’s was built to fill the void just a little ways up the street.

Wilson’s students would suffer however, as the new McDonald's, while still nearby, yet was now far enough away to no longer be a practical lunch destination on foot.

The original Mickey D’s was just off the corner of Anaheim Street and Ximeno Avenue; two and a half blocks from school and very near to the respective locations of my initial two money-earning endeavors: ‘Big Jeff’s Car Wash’ (1972-73), and just two blocks west of that: a grocery store that has changed brands at least five times since the 80s, which was my primary employer from the beginning of my senior year of high school through my early thirties (1973-1986).

Needless to say, with all three venues: my high school and my first two places of employment within a two-mile radius of each other, I was heavily invested in the area to say the least; and it has saddened me deeply to realize how far the neighborhood has fallen.

Anaheim Street, the east/west thoroughfare on which the street addresses of the old McDonald's, Big Jeff's, and the Grocery Store are ascribed, has in my opinion become the biggest loser over the course of time — and I don’t mean that in a good way.*** Its businesses were old-looking way back in the 70s, and certainly don’t look any younger today.

***Oh, and to Jillian Michaels & Bob Harper…um, yeah…sorry…

On the other hand, Wilson actually looks great today — and that’s actually news. I'm of the opinion that either through municipal government authority or even the private funds of concerned alumni, somebody stepped up to do something to reverse the increasingly downward trend that my old school seemed to be locked into just a few years ago. I can clearly recall back in 1994, while in town for my twentieth high school reunion, noticing that the old campus was taking on more the look of a max security prison than a high school. The previously wide open campus had been fitted with foreboding iron gates all about the school’s perimeter, with matching bars across each and every exterior window. Graffiti marred the outside of the once-impeccably kept institution. It was a truly depressing site. However now, four years later, it appears that a great deal of effort has gone into the restoration of both my old school as well as its immediate surroundings.

Gone is the graffiti, as well as the hardware on the windows. The school's curb appeal is just as I remembered it, if not better. And perhaps as significantly — if not more so — all of the real estate on the west side of Ximeno Avenue (Wilson resides on the eastern side of the street) has been completely turned over and is now being used by the school.

Gone is the unsightly parking lot opposite the school's main entrance on Ximeno and 10th, replaced by soccer and athletic fields from 10th Street all the way down to the school’s terminus at 7th Street adjacent to the football field. Years ago, that real estate was occupied by a klatch of modest-to-run-down businesses and an apartment building, directly across the street from the school’s the gymnasium and football field complex.

There was a ‘Pup ‘N Taco’ fast food joint on the corner, directly across from the football field. It’s gone as well, now replaced by the green grass of a soccer field. Besides, with all the cases down through the years of people needing a quick fix of Pepto Bismol soon after eating those P&T chilidogs, I’m surprised the place wasn’t plowed under years ago.

The Scene of the Crime
I have LOTS of memories of that apartment building,s — too many to share right now, but this is something I know now that I must write about soon. One of my best friends my junior and senior years at Wilson lived in that apartment building, so I knew it quite well. Unfortunately that familiarity led to a pretty scary event back in October of 1975. One fateful Friday night the narrow alleyway between the apartments and the building next door became a location in which I was the wrong place at definitely the wrong time. I was mugged by a half-dozen kids I encountered heading up the alley just as I was heading down from the opposite direction, toward the street. There were a number of factors contributing to why I came away from the situation with nothing worse than the seat of my left pants leg being torn down to the back of my knee, but as I said, it’s another story for another time.

Obviously it was one of the more tense moments in my young life to that point. Fortunately, I can almost laugh about it now, but the bottom line is that the alley no longer exists, and the neighborhood is better for it.

It's no surprise that the city finally did something about the bad circumstance that group of buildings was creating. The neighborhood was getting rougher by the year and those apartments along with the few other old, unsightly buildings didn't do much for the property value, let alone the safety of the kids who attended Wilson in those years as the neighborhood was taking a rapid dive.

But having that solid-block buffer of school-controlled real estate in between the campus-proper and the decaying neighborhood to its immediate west seemed to change everything; it’s still not what I would call a 'great' area, but it’s a helluva lot nicer around the school now than it was just a few short years ago.

Meanwhile on Anaheim Street, the old McDonald's location isn't faring quite as well. It’s no longer a restaurant at all, but has been completely razed and replaced by a strip mall — and not a very nice one at that.

Unfortunately this trip I never had a chance to look in on the site of my first job, ‘Big Jeff’s Car Wash,’ about nine blocks further on up the street. I know that as of 2004 it was still operating, and I’d aasume that it’s still going strong today.

I did have the occasion however to briefly pass by the former ‘Market Basket’ supermarket, a place where I was employed just shy of thirteen years. It’s a ‘Ralph’s’ market now, and the place looked as busy as ever.

The newer McDonald’s (heir apparent to its aforementioned predecessor down the street) still stands in the corner of the Ralph’s parking lot, an area in which we employees were once instructed to park our cars back in the day, to allow first dibs at the prime spots in front of the store for the customers.

If I'd had the time I could have gone further down Anaheim to check out ‘Joe Jost’s’ — everyone’s favorite neighborhood tavern both then and now, as I hear its still going strong.

It Was Stupid, But it Made Me Happy
There were several other venues of interest in the area I took note of during my wanderings that week.

About a mile and a half northeast of the market still stands Community Hospital, where I spent the night in the Children’s ICU with my daughter Amy, following her accidental electrocution on the night of August 18, 1987. A couple blocks east of that, just past the traffic circle, is the place where the ‘Circle Drive-in’ movie theater’ once stood, where my roomie Mo and I one night in 1975 snuck into see Young Frankenstein.

The drive-in has been replaced with a huge condo complex and an impressive-looking glass office building on the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Ximeno Ave.

About another mile and a half due east, in perhaps the saddest change carried by the winds of circumstance that I witnessed on this trip, the Laundromat on Clark Avenue that inspired perhaps my favorite blog story ever, is now some kind of asian meat market. Can ya believe it?

There were more changes in the local landscape of my middle-youth-to early-adulthood, but I’ll stop there. It’s safe to say that the times have changed a lot in my old stompin’ grounds, and that change was a sober reminder of how fast time — and life — is passing by for me.

Next: More Etcetera: “Dad & Helen”

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Different Point-of-Hue: L.A. Stories 2008
(Part V)

Et Cetera ‘08
As seems to be my unwitting motis operandi, I’ve once again allowed this series to become cast adrift somewhat. I’ve hit a rut, more or less, but one that I need to clear in order to finish up and move on to other topics — both current and retro.

From the beginning I didn’t want to let this thing get away from me like last time (and for those of you keeping score, no, I still haven’t posted those final concluding parts as I indicated were imminent back when I started writing this one…and that’s my next job, really).

There are a lot of other things I could get into, expound upon, spin, and generally emote about for days regarding my recent vacay in CA. However in determining what I wanted to key upon to anchor my central issue, one recurring theme — mundane as it may be — keeps returning to the fore of my mind.

So I’ve decided instead to just conclude in short bites and anecdotes rather than long, fully-plotted chapters on my remaining subjects; the first of which is just a leettle bit more rantage about traffic.

Sorry…I can’t hep myself.

Rush Hour Redux
Like smog, earthquakes, and real estate prices, as previously described, the other famously predominant evil characteristic associated with Southern California is its automobile traffic. I want to touch upon one final thought about the hellaciously frustrating (and surprisingly so) traffic I encountered. As maddening as it was, there were a few satisfying moments in the experience that I wish to note.

My first run-in with the ‘meet the new monster/same as the old monster’ traffic was on Friday, my first full day in L.A.

In order for the two of us to get together prior to his wedding on Saturday, eight days hence, Michael and I arranged to have lunch near the office where he works his day-job in Beverly Hills. We’d planned to meet at 1:00 p.m., and I knew from previous experience what that meant: dealing with the infamous ‘La Tijera Crawl,’ an approximate a ten-mile tract of the most brutal 405 Freeway real estate ever, beginning just north of LAX, at La Tijera Blvd., winding northwest through Culver City, West L.A., Century City, and Westwood.

Throughout the final few years of our living in the area, I pretty much avoided the 405, a.k.a the San Diego Freeway, like the plague — especially The Crawl. I’d had many experiences traveling to L.A. ad agencies and entertainment venues that required use of that route, and most of them were unpleasant. For about as long as I can remember, traffic had moved through that stretch about as fast as crap through Fat Bastards’s colon. If you look up the term ‘gridlock’ in the dictionary, there’s a map of the La Tijera Crawl right there to illustrate the concept.

However as bad as those memories were, they still didn’t prepare me for the current reality of L.A. traffic. I knew it was bad then, but felt surely that it couldn’t still be as bad as I remembered, could it?

Nope; it was worse.

I don’t know if I was just lucky or if in fact they were still working on the same construction that was going on when I left SoCal in 1991, but that motorized Battan Death March still seemed to be some kind of road construction science project. To me it didn’t appear to have changed a lick since the 80s. Slo-go City, that stretch.

I’m really not sure just what they were working on, but it seemed weird to me that 25 years after the 1984 Olympics, they still appeared to be attempting traffic angioplasty on that most clogged of L.A.’s traffic arteries.

Coincidence or no, all I can tell ya is, the familiar sight of those orange CalTrans’ trucks off to the side placed a feeling in the pit of my stomach that I really did not want to have.

And god hep’ya if you have an accident. Like several other stretches of L.A. freeway in recent years, they’ve expanded The Crawl to the hilt, horizontally; adding what were originally the road’s shoulder areas as new traffic lanes to attempt to loosen the tide that binds. There is literally no place to pull over for miles. And while that may actually come in handy for its potential to keep the CHiPs at bay, I’m sure that the idea of receiving a speeding ticket is about the least likely scenario on anyone’s mind as they move through the area at a snail’s pace.

I mentioned the stretch is about ten miles long; now even under only moderate speed conditions, one would assume that it could be made in less than ten minutes. Couple that pie-in-the-sky prognostication with the fact that I’d left Cindy’s place fifteen minutes later than what I’d planned to allow myself to make the trip, and you can imagine the squirm level of my posterior as I kept waiting for something — anything — to break the stranglehold and allow traffic to resume normal highway speeds.

I had originally allotted an hour’s travel time — which seemed to me to be overkill for middle-of-the-day traffic, but subsequently piddled around, leaving Cypress around 12:15 with about a 45-minute travel window left to me.

I knew I’d be cutting it close but wasn’t worried, considering how well I was doing at first, with that godsend-of-a-freeway, the 105, making short work of the initial half of my journey.

The 105, or Century Freeway, was still under construction when we left L.A. at the end of 1991. I never got a chance to take advantage of it then, but have definitely enjoyed it in subsequent visits — particularly over my past 3-4 trips to the southland. It is one of the newest, and most useful veins of the SoCal superhighway circulatory system; cutting a direct east-west path between the 605 and 405 Freeways, and making a once-painful commute to LAX a comparative breeze when traveling from Long Beach/North Orange County. The freeway terminates just south of Century Boulevard, the main access road into the airport complex. Even at its busiest, the 105 knocks 15-20 minutes off the time it used to take to get to the airport from my old neck ‘o the woods.

I was making great time, but then just a little past Century, that sea of red taillights a few hundred yards ahead immediately began launching into their Christmas tree impersonation.

I knew right then that I might not make that 1:00 lunch appointment.

Now normally I’m not all that bugged about being late. I don’t like to be, but tardiness has defined me for so long that most people who know me would most likely faint if I actually showed up someplace on time.

However this situation was different. The company that Mike works for is pretty strict about the schedule on which their employees go to lunch, so as not to disrupt the flow of business activities later in the day. He pretty much HAD to take his lunch during a specific window of time; otherwise he might have to just forfeit the privilege.

So every tick extra beyond 1:00 that the 405 snatched away from me, ostensibly, was equal to the amount of time that I would not be able to hang out with my friend.

A couple of phone calls later to update my ETA status, I was finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel. An hour and a half after leaving Cindy’s, supplied with Michael’s over-the-phone directions I found myself driving through ‘downtown’ Beverly Hills, which is an experience in and of itself, and one I hadn’t enjoyed since the 80s.

Mike guided me to a free parking garage that I would never have located on my own, and by the time I had parked on the third level, the Groom-to-Be was waiting for me on the street at the base of the structure’s stairwell.

We headed down the street and over a few blocks to a nice, unpretentious little salad cafe. As if by reservation, there was one unoccupied table on the sidewalk outside, so we grabbed it, sat down and began catching up and taking in the local color.

Good people watching there in the 90210.

Nice to be Remembered
Naturally, the conversation was largely focused upon Mike’s imminent nuptials. However, with this being late August in an Olympic year, the topic of gymnastics came up, as it almost inevitably does in conversation with those who know of my athletic background. During the Summer Olympics, a lot of my friends — certainly my older ones — always seem to want my opinion of the United States’ gymnasts and their performances.

Back in 2004, I was in SoCal for a visit and to attend my 30th high school class reunion. At that particular time the 2004 Olympics were just concluding but the controversial judges’ opinion that handed American gymnast Paul Hamm the All-Around gold medal over his Korean counterpart, was still all the buzz. As soon as I arrived at the reunion, one of the first things that several of my old classmates wanted to ask me about was my opinion on that controversy.

It’s kinda funny. I guess gymnastics is a rare enough thing that most people may only meet one or two other people in the course of everyday life who’ve ever actively participated in the sport on a national level. Consequently I suppose I’m the only gymnast of that ilk that many of my friends have ever known, so I guess it’s a natural response.

It’s actually pretty flattering; I’ve had several folks tell me that every Summer Olympics they think about me whenever they’re watching the men’s competition on TeeVee. And given the continual popularity from a ratings standpoint of Olympic Gymnastics, I suppose that’s a fairly nice thing to be remembered for.

But just as I instinctively thought about Michael when the WGA writer’s strike was going on, he wanted to know my opinion on the gymnastics circumstance. He began asking me about my own career, this having never really been a subject we’d broached in previous conversation.

He led with the same question that just about everyone who knows that I competed asks, “So, have you been watching the gymnastics? What did you think about so-and-so’s performance?”

I talked about how proud I was with the toughness and resolve demonstrated both by the U.S. men and women performers, and just how flabbergasted I was by the level of difficulty that Olympic competition has risen to.

I mean, these guys are good.

Again, while its flattering to even be placed in the same conversation as today’s elite athletes, I’m quick to remind people that I may have been pretty good for my time, but my talent level was not on a par with that of the men and women who currently make gymnastics what it is today.

The bar has been raised so high that even hitting my best routine from yesteryear I wouldn’t catch even a whiff of victory competing against them now. The skills that today’s gymnasts are finding some way to make their bodies perform are the epitome of the word, ‘awesome.’

There is literally no comparison to what even the top-level gymnasts of my era were doing in relation to what is now commonplace in today’s sport; all the more impressive that our U.S. men and women did so well in Beijing, as their potential and promise continues to rise for the future.

Goin’ to School on the Freeway
It was great to spend a little while with Michael, in what would be our final meeting with him as a single man (note that I didn’t say, ‘free’). When we parted, I told him how much I was looking forward to the wedding just over a week away.

However now I would be forced to head back into the teeth of the monster, but at least there wasn’t anyplace I really had to be. So just for grins I decided to alter my route on the way back to Cindy’s.

Along with landmark surface streets like Santa Monica Boulevard, Wilshire Boulevard, and Sunset Boulevard, onto which traffic ebbs on and off of the 405 Freeway, there’s another freeway whose interchange connection with the 405 is no doubt responsible for exacerbating The Crawl’s slow-as-molasses nature: the Santa Monica Freeway, Interstate 10.

As the primary east/west artery that proceeds through the heart of Los Angeles, the 10 is right up there with the 405 in the class of places you don’t wanna be during rush hour.

It interchanges with the north/south-running 405 in the heart of the worst portion of The Crawl, but near to where I needed to exit to get to Beverly Hills, so I knew that on my return trip, jumping on the Santa Monica Freeway meant avoiding about seven or eight miles of southbound 405 Crawlspace. And since I needed to head east anyway to get back to Cypress, I figured I’d just ride it out on a different parking lot, to see if it would be any less maddening.

Well, it wasn’t. By this time it was now well past 3:00 P.M. and the worst of the ‘new’ rush hour(s) was underway. Traffic heading eastbound was slow-and-go at its briskest. I was prepared for it at that point so I just sort of went with the flow (pun most definitely intended).

However about two miles in, I noticed something that really surprised me. Back on the 405, traffic was consistent — consistently backed up — in either direction, northbound and south. However on the 10, while heading east toward downtown L.A. was slow as Christmas, the westbound traffic going the other way, back toward the ocean, was practically non-existent!

Making a highly-useful note-to-self, I determined that I would take the Santa Monica Freeway to travel to Mike & Randi’s wedding (which was in Topanga Canyon, just north of Santa Monica, west of the 405) instead of dealing with The Crawl again and possibly arriving late.

Traffic patterns are funny sometimes, and this one was just an unexpected but pleasant surprise. Just shy of a week later, I took the aforementioned route to Michael’s wedding, although I wasn’t taking any chances; I left at 4:00 P.M. for the 6 o’clock ceremony.

Made the trip in less than 60 minutes — at the height of rush hour.

Sometimes you eat the monster; sometimes the monster eats you.

Next: Et Cetera ’08: Landmarks Lost