Adventures in Los Angeling

That’s not a real word, but I don’t quite know how else to describe my trip thus far.

Let’s start with the set-up:

My reasons for going to LA turned out to be dumb. I knew this. I was mostly decided on not going, but then I thought about it and figured, “eh, what the hell.” I even convinced Brandon to come with me so I’d have a sightseeing ally for the majority of the time I was there, save for what turned out to be a wonderful evening spent with an awesome lady-friend of mine who lives out there. That is to say she is a lady, and she is my friend.

Brandon bailed on me about a week before we were all set to head out. He had scheduled the shit with me and agreed to go and – despite checking all of his calendars several times – still somehow forgot he had a pre-existing commitment to sing in a choir he’s a part of for their big spring concert. So Brandon fails. Thus, I was left to roam Los Angeles by myself. It was actually a ton of fun. But first I had to get there. Cue terrifying music.

Friday, April 20, 2012, was possibly the single craziest day of my life. It rates higher than staying up till always for the last three days of my first Final Project at Full Sail and then hopping a plane and flying back to Pittsburgh (was it Philadelphia? I’ve no memory of it) on a total of four hours of sleep in a total of almost 64 hours of wakefulness. My brain was mush. I’m a pretty good flier, but I had to go to the bathroom and hold the walls of the stall apart just so I was convinced the plane wasn’t collapsing on itself or endlessly doing barrel rolls (an impossible maneuver for a 737 of that size). That held the record for the last craziest day of my life.

The new record holder is the day which follows:

On Wednesday, I had an interview for what is now my job that I felt like I absolutely killed. They spent the day Thursday contacting my references and verifying I wasn’t just a large, well-spoken, walking butthole. That same day, Zach asked me to help him get his car inspected – follow him over then get him back to the dealership before he left for work at 3. This is fine. My flight was out of Philly at 6:50. As long as I was on the road by 3, all would be well.

My car began making what I’ll describe as “interesting” sounds about 8 prior. Being unemployed (and at the time, not driving much because I was…well, I was drunk a lot), I wasn’t keen on figuring out what those noises were. I thought it was another in the long series of problems the Moldy Crow (yes, that’s the official name of my car. I have christened it) had with the belts that drove its air conditioner. There was a delicate ritual I could perform involving revving the engine and messing with AC dials and the sound would desist.

These new interesting sounds were not of a kin to those old, harmless sounds.

I dismissed this notion.

Fast forward 8 months. I go to pick up Zach, running a little late as is my way, and I’m noticing that the interesting sounds have increased in frequency. It is the worst possible day for this to happen, so I announce – to Zach, myself, the Crow, and the world – that “Everything Is Fine!”™

Zach was less convinced. So, we take his car over and numbnuts lost his Registration. We don’t know it’s lost yet; we know it’s not in the car. We return to his abode, turn it over, don’t find registration. Now we determine to travel down to PennDOT (our state’s DMV office), past the dealership, obtain a duplicate for what looked on the website to be the absurd fee of $35 (it was only $4.50), return hence to the dealership, initiate the inspection, and then bugger off on our separate days – his to work, mine to L.A.

I forgot that I arranged lunch with our friend Jess downtown. So, once the car had been delivered and the necessary paperwork duplicated, etc. etc., we popped the hood and just looked inside the car in the ritual of Men Who Are Pretending They Know What The Fuck Is Up™. It seemed that Everything Was Fine™, as the sounds and smells had stopped while the car idled. Zach believed the smell was burnt rubbery. I didn’t think so, but Everything Is Fine!™ so I didn’t want to talk about it.

We went downtown and had lunch with Jess. My car stalled.

The Crow is an automatic. It stalled as I attempted to close distance to the vehicle in front of me in a subtle, sneaky way, letting off the break and revving gently to close the gaps so I could better read their weird-ass bumper stick.

The smell was equally unpleasant.

I knew this dance. This was either a dying clutch (very unlikely in an automatic) or severe engine damage of some kind.

Zach – eyes wide – turned to me as the engine shuddered and died, his mouth roughly approximating that Charlie Brown wiggly-line shape that happens whenever someone in the cartoon is dazed or worried.

“Everything Is Fine!”™ I insisted, and started the car back up.

We had lunch. I began to formulate a plan – this vehicle might try to kill me if I took her all the way to Philadelphia. I needed an out from that. I couldn’t ask Zach to skip work despite the favors rendered him that morning. That was too far for me to go. Being Zach, he offered it as I was thinking it, because he is an incredible friend (*cough*Damien*cough*). I declined and concluded I could rent a car in Harrisburg and drop it off at Philadelphia’s rental terminal. That seemed like a good plan. He could take me as far as the Airport, and I could arrange transport to Mos Eisley or wherever else I was going.

I dropped him off with his vehicle once its service was finished and started the drive home. An acrid, white smoke emanated from the hood of my car every time I decelerated, and from the back. Quoting Jeremy Clarkson, I declared “Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! Quite a bit of Smoke! That’s caught fire.” And got the hell off the highway, zipping past four lanes of crowded traffic like a moron.

I completed the rest of the journey entirely in first and second gear and neutral – first gear when starting out, second gear (revving very high, which was probably a bad idea) for whatever acceleration up a hill I absolutely needed, and then neutral so that the car wouldn’t have to downshift as I decelerated upon braking, or really sit in a gear at all. This eliminated the smoke issue, which was satisfying to a degree and seemed to reinforce the thought that, somehow, some aspect of the transmission had gone pear-shaped. It was even more satisfying and incredibly stressful to successfully operate the vehicle in that condition and reach my home before doing any more really severe damage. I hope. The car’s with our guy in Mechanicsburg now, and, essentially, something must have gotten miscommunicated, because I was definitely advised that the oil had been changed back in August, yet it was bone dry. The compressor on the air conditioner had also apparently frozen. So who knows.

The time rolled around to 3:15ish. Zach called to tell me there was a three-truck accident on 283 (a highway crucial for Airport access) and that he would be delayed. He arrived at my place by about 3:40. We reached the airport in a thunderous fifteen minutes of weaving and flat-out dangerous driving by Zach. This journey is typically about 25 minutes from where I live. I was impressed and terrified, but mostly grateful. I got the Rental car and made it to the turnpike by about 4. I had 2 hours and 50 minutes to go 108 miles across Pennsylvania turnpike and dreaded Philadelphia-administered roadways. It was doable.

Upon relating about half of the Day Where Everything Is Fine!™ to the car rental guy, he bumped me up from a basic sub-compact to a Ford Focus with leather seats and  Microsoft Sync, which was awesome because I am one of eight people in the world who owns, uses, and adores his Zune/Zune HD.

So I had a pleasant, music-filled drive out to Philadelphia.

Until I hit about 88 miles into the trip and came to a dead stop in bumper to bumper traffic that would have made the infamous 405 freeway blush in shame. Turns out the ENTIRE REASON for what was easily a 25-mile backup on my side of the highway was because a tractor trailer cab had exploded and caught fire rather violently on the opposing side of traffic.

I went at 30 miles an hour at most generous estimate for 25 miles because Pennsylvanians and Jerseyites were rubbernecking the crash on the opposing side.

When the road opened shortly after, I glanced at the center console and saw a “sport” mode existed.

I engaged it.

I made my flight with about 5 minutes to spare thanks to the mercifully not completely FUBAR Philadelphia Airport Security (props, guys. Last few times I went through there, it was dreadful. Much improved). The flight to Denver and then on to L.A. was relatively uneventful. L.A. was hazy and overcast, so I didn’t get to see much as we landed at 11:30 local time (right on time, despite my flight being delayed). They were out of the car I requested, so once again, I got a free upgrade to a 2012 Volvo S60. It is, truth be told, a pretty cool vehicle, and it was only gonna cost me about $55 a day, including the GPS. Which is totally reasonable.

So then I punch in my hotel’s address and the GPS dies. Which was cool. I went back into Enterprise and got it replaced. Then I punched it back in and made my way to the hotel, uneventfully. Though, I maintain that 6 lanes of traffic is a rather lot of lanes of traffic. But, hey, I’m going to assume they know what they’re doing out here.

As an aside! People in California are simply delightful. I mean, almost painfully so. I actually talked to Lyndsey about this because I was a little blown away by it. Almost my entire life experience consists of the cold, bitter sarcasm of the Northeast. It’s a hard place to live sometimes, and it breeds hard people as a result. Folks in what I’ll call the service industry don’t introduce themselves and shake your hand. They’re not warm and welcoming. They want you through their line and out of their hair as soon as is humanly possible. And for the most part, we’ve come to expect that as Northeast Residents. I like a little bit of hard-won grimness and gruffness. It makes me feel like I am really lucky to have the life I do. It makes me feel privileged. When the guy at Enterprise seems happier to be at his job at 1 in the morning that I do to go home at 4 in the afternoon, I start to feel like an asshole. I don’t like to feel like an asshole.

Actually, by day three, it was somewhere between kind of and very irritating. I just wanted someone to get mad at me for asking them to do their job. Which is absurd! But it was my expectation.

The last and most interesting fiasco occurred when I got to my hotel. I checked in without problem or provocation, and the guy behind the desk (who looked startlingly like Da’Vone McDonald, but I’m dismissing this because I have this belief that, once you’re in Los Angeles, you just start seeing actor lookalikes because you feel like you should), took my room key, parked my car, and navigated to my room with my bags.

Slid the key through the reader, pushed the door open to find it looked from the inside with the little sliding-rail lock system.

That came as a surprise.

Not nearly so much to me as to the man and woman within, both of whom made what I can only describe as the most terrifyingly animal noises of fear I’ve ever heard out of a human person. Hers was more of a sucking-in-breath scream that hung out in the alto register, whereas his sounds were a combination of thumping, heavy breathing, growling, roaring, and stunted swear words. They had clearly been asleep and were freaking the fuck out that someone tried to enter their room.

I slammed the door shut, yelled an apology through the wall that was some freakish combination of “My bad!” and “I’m sorry!” It might have been “Mime Bassy!” for all I fucking know. Moments later, I booked it back to the hotel’s lobby. You have no idea who it is you’re aggravating in that situation, you know? There was a tiny bit of fear that went with it. Some deep, distrustful part of my small-town Northeast upbringing thought “This is it. That man is from Texas. He has a gun. He is going to open this door and shoot me dead. I am going to die in Los Angeles. Alone and unattended.” But that was ridiculous (thankfully), and I’m going to maintain that I mostly was just struck by amazement that this thing could have happened.

And the guy at the counter was instantly and insanely apologetic. I mean, almost absurdly so. It’s possible that was in anticipation of my being really belligerent about it (I imagine lots of people would be), but I just wanted him to stop apologizing. I mean, it’s not like he kept me up by lamenting the mistake for an hour – it was three minutes, tops – but I’d had the Worst Day Ever Where Everything Was Fine!™ and one more courtesy was almost more than I could bear.

So. That was day 1. Day 2 was uneventful for the most part – drove around, explored, got lost a little bit, like ya do, and had a really enjoyable and delicious dinner with probably the coolest woman I know. In fact, I admit with some surprise, dropping her off and going back to the hotel was kind of the crappiest thing I had to do this weekend because I enjoyed her company so much.

Day 3 involved some writing work I had to get done, a little bit of maintenance for the purposes of my new job. I watched about an hour of the Pens game (blech) and probably sounded like a crazy person yelling hockey bullshit at the TV. And then it was off to the Griffith Observatory, the PCH, and Mulholland Drive (the last on the recommendation of Lyndsey) to get a little bit of L.A. landmarks under my belt.

Griffith Park: awesome. Long, long walk up to the observatory, but I sat in on a pretty cool lecture about the 40th anniversary of Apollo 16 in the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Theatre. That’s a real thing. Then I hopped on the freeway and drove southwest toward Santa Monica where I picked up the Pacific Coastal Highway. It was a bit heavy traffic-wise for a little while, but then I hit a clean stretch and pushed the gearshift over to sport mode and had a little bit of fun with a car I would probably never buy. I can say this about Volvos – you chuck an S60 in sport mode and they do a good job of pretending to be sporty. The throttle is responsive and that fake flappy-paddle gearbox is surprisingly quick. It’s not sports car quick. It’s not like it could rival Brandon’s Porsche for gear-change time or anything, but it was quicker than I expected it to be. The suspension is still designed for ride first and handling second, and thus when you’re trying to give it the beans it feels like it’s made of Jell-o, but nothing you get on the PCH is going to tax it all that much.

Oh, cool moment / weird moment! In this age of endless digital instrumentation, you might ask yourself why this post isn’t covered in pictures. I thought about that. The reasons are twofold: I don’t have a smartphone (yet) and I don’t own a quality digital camera (maybe someday), so I never really got the photography bug that a lot of people catch. I know it’s something a lot of people value – taking pictures – but I found myself really grateful for not having one. I just got to live in the moment of being out there. I have this thing about phones where I’m always telling people there’s a really cool world up here if you can pry your eyeballs off your phone. Living that this time felt really good.

Example: some cloud cover rolled in over the Pacific as I realized I’d driven about two hours on the PCH and had no idea where I was. I had a map pulled up on my Macbook, so I could work it out pretty easily (yeah, I used a map and dead reckoning to work out my position in the world. How ya like me now? This is extra archaic because I had a GPS in the car that I would spend most of my time growling at and ignoring anyway because I am a 70-year-old man stuck in his late twenties. We had words, the Garmin and I, and ultimately, it lost the argument and wound up riding in the back seat instead of shotgun).

But I had to pull over to work it out – and then I looked to my left and saw a coastal access stairwell thing (I call it this ‘cause that’s what the sign said, sans “thing”), so I carefully crossed the highway and jogged down to find myself on a rocky outcropping sitting under a pretty big mountainous thing jutting up out of the Pacific ocean.

And then I just sat down and stared out at the waves, feeling the sea spray against my face and my arms. My shoes got pretty wet, too, but it was all sort of okay. That is the furthest west I’ve ever been in my life. I actually checked that same map and verified the truth of this. Because I am a nerd. At one time, someone would have thought the place I was sitting was the Edge of the World. And then the cloud cover started to break up and sun began to filter back onto the beach and the highway. I sat for a little while longer, collected myself, and continued my trip back toward my hotel, with a brief detour to Mulholland right around sunset. Those two moments – sitting on The Edge of the World and driving up Mulholland as the sun seemed to be setting on one of California’s hundreds of valleys, those moments worked for me. They kind of made the whole adventure feel worth it.

Lyndsey had recommended some other touristy stuff for my last day here, but I wasn’t really feeling it. It wound up being kind of an overcast day, so I mostly spent some time just driving around and learning little bits of LA road etiquette. Generally: how dare you not take every opportunity to turn on red that you possibly can, even if you had no way of knowing that guy intended to turn and you totally could have made it if he had just had his turn signal on.

I grabbed a sandwich at a deli where I had to write down the name of the sandwich because I could not pronounce it and the owner could not speak English. That was kind of cool, too. I have no idea what the name of the deli was, but it was West-ish of Van Nuys and in what I would call the barrio. I mean, I checked and made sure I didn’t have a brightly or specifically colored shirt on because the thought occurred that, once again, this might be a terrible idea. I don’t know what gang territory in Los Angeles looks like. I barely know what it looks like in Philly. Oh, p.s. the sandwich was awesome. I got back to the hotel and watched – for some reason, in this order – Knight And Day on free HBO [that movie is terrible], the season premiere of Veep, which reminded me of a brassier, more outlandish West Wing if it had a lovechild with Arrested Development. I have no idea if I mean that in a good way. Oh, and I watched a DVD copy of Blazing Saddles, which accounts for the only souvenir of my trip to Los Angeles.

Don’t ask.

To help me get to sleep, I dug into my own digital movie collection. (500) Days of Summer proved utterly useless to that ambition. There’s just a lot of funny crap in that movie. The whole sequence where Tom is celebrating his morning after boning down with Summer kills me every time. It’s partly the music. It’s partly the dance number. It’s partly the animated bird. It’s partly the Han Solo reflection as he checks his hair – because this is what happens to guys after they spend any length of time with a woman who fascinates and charms them, regardless of how amazing or absent intercourse is in the evening. I mean, let’s not kid ourselves: there’s significantly more joyous bullshit when an evening of raucous intercourse has been had. Yeah. Raucous.

So shortly after laughing my ass off at the section (which I’m sure sounded weird as hell to my neighbors, once again), I went ahead and chucked on Casino Royale, which is a kind of go-to sleeper for me. I know the movie front to back. It’s The Best One™, and I will hear no arguments about that. The screenplay is basically perfect, the acting is spot on, and the tension is incredible.

And because I know all of that, I generally don’t even make it to the eponymous casino before I’m completely zonked out.

Day 5 and final just involved last-minute preparations for my flight home. It was – thankfully – vastly more uneventful than Day 1.

Then I started my new job on 4.5 hours of sleep and 3 hours of Jet Lag. It was pretty awesome.

Oh, I got a new job? So I’m gonna have to work out how the working out thing is going to fit into that. But this weekend, the guys and I start training for a Mud Run.

I suspect that this will be thing that actually kills me.