A few years ago, my buddy Jeff and I decided on a road trip from Seattle to his hometown, the silicon palace itself, Los Angeles. The first thing you have to know about Jeff and I is that we’re great friends, but ideologically different. When Jeff was young, his father sat him down and said, “Jeff, in this family, we’re Democrats and we’re atheists.” Conversely, I was raised attending Catholic services every Sunday, attending CCD (Community of Catholic Doctrine) classes, and my parents were about as big a fans of Ronald Reagan as a person can be before crossing over into the completely irrational. In life, I’ve distanced myself from the church, and ended up being politically moderate, but Jeff remained an unapologetic progressive, and he is an atheist.
Knowing this, perhaps you can understand how, shortly after setting off in a too-packed Mazda 3, a harmless five minute conversation about Guns n’ Roses long-awaited release Chinese Democracy morphed into a three-hour intellectual battle-royale over the ethical development and application of stem-cell research. There was shouting, insults, extremely liberal and lengthy use of profanity, which ended in a border city in Oregon, where Jeff had recruited some family members to put us up for the night. As we drove through this pitch black neighborhood, neither of us smart phone owners so we couldn’t GPS our way there, we found our destination, 615 Charlie St. Jeff’s family had promised to stay up until we arrived, so it was a bit odd that all the lights were off, but we hauled our way to the door, knocking loudly three of four times. We then proceeded to argue and joke with each other, then knock some more, and maybe we even shouted, “Open the door! Open the door!” Totally unaware, inside this house was not Jeff’s family, but a frightened old women who had been peeking through her curtains, terrified that these two huge men, one of whom only dresses in black, were about to break down her doors and murder her.
“Don’t you worry about me, dears. IMMA STAND MY GROUND!”
Turns out, there’s two 615 Charlie St addresses in this neighborhood.
Having put the fear of God in an old lady, and in several of the drivers who had to dodge our car when our arguing made our driving erratic, we were tired and happy to find the correct 615 Charlie St. Our next day is spent traveling through northern California, which is a mixture of anti-evolution signs saying, “Is someone trying to make a monkey out of you?” and cow farms that leave a methane stench so thick you’d swear lighting a cigarette would result in nuclear detonation. Reaching the Los Angeles city limits, I joke to Jeff, “You know, I’ve never experienced an earthquake before.” He joked back, “Well, they happen here all the time. You’ll get one, for sure.” Fifteen minutes later, we had lived through four earthquakes. (I kid you not). Slightly freaked, but excited, we turned in for the night, and over the next week, we did the whole of Los Angeles.
We visited the Santa Monica peer and saw its famous Ferris wheel. We stopped off in Studio City, Hollywood, and Brentwood to see the OJ Simpson/Nicole Brown Simpson murder condo. Beverly Hills was when the celebrity sightings started. Sandra Bullock was in a shop wearing big bug glasses, avoiding my gaze with tense shoulders like, “Oh my God, he thinks if he introduces himself I’ll fall in love with him…” and, at lunch, Sarah Jessica Parker walked right by us. We didn’t pay her much mind. She was clearly agitated by it, as she made a point to walk by us again for no good reason. She seemed quite satisfied when our heads turned. One of the most beautiful stop-offs was visiting Jeff’s father in Malibu. He lives at the top of a very large hill overlooking the ocean, (side note: they live above Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, so we drove by the place where Hamill wrecked his Ferrari and his face in the 1977.)
Beneath this backyard, sometime on January 11th, 1977, the force was not with Mark Hamill.
Jeff’s stepmother, Judith, also lives at this Malibu house. She found out that I’m a big Lakers fan. It so happened that the Lakers were about to start the Western Conference Finals, where they would attempt to reach the NBA Finals for the second straight year. Like some kind of dream, Judith, who spent her life doing something in the music industry so a bunch of seedy millionaires owe her favors to stave off the tell-all to end all tell-alls, had comped us tickets to 100 level seats for Game 1.
It was the best surprise a guy like me could get.
We set off for the Staples Center, where the Lakers play. It’s a modern arena surrounded by an ESPN Zone bar, some restaurants and a few shops. It’s also located in downtown Los Angeles, which being a major center city with tons of sky scrapers, my initial conception was that it’s a bit like the New York of the west coast—affluent, multi-cultural, unique. Turns out, it’s the exact opposite. During the day, this busy metropolis houses some of the biggest companies in the world, but at the first sign of dusk, its occupants flee like refugees do a crazed dictator. Downtown Los Angeles after sundown is so crime filled, so violent, and so ludicrously so that Artie Lange, a comedian from Howard Stern fame, once noted in his autobiography, Too Fat Too Fish, “[Downtown Los Angeles] is the kind of place where you can fire a bazooka and the cops wouldn’t know about it for three days.” I was a bit worried, as I wasn’t so confident I could survive a drive-by shooting like I could an earthquake, but the police presence for the game was dense enough to provide that safe, internment camp feel.
The stadium atmosphere was surreal, and informative as to the culture and drive of the area. Los Angeles’s big industry is show business—music, movies, tv, theater. If it involves a stage and an audience, this city has it in spades. It so happens the Lakers are also known as Showtime, so believe me, a Lakers game is more a three ring circus than a sporting event. At any given moment, thirty non-basketball related activities are going on. As well, the place is stuffed with A-list movie stars. When you find your seat, you’re feet away from Justin Timberlake. Denzel Washington gives you the “prepare to die, motherf***er,” look after you cut him off at the urinal. And when you sneeze, Dustin Hoffman says, “God bless you.” Jeff and I didn’t fully understand this, so imagine our surprise to find, when entering the 100 level in our Laker shirts and hats, we totally didn’t fit in. What was before us wasn’t a basketball audience, it was a club. A sea of mega-rich men, in sleek suits with tanned faces, who were trying to forget their wives, and that wasn’t difficult being surrounded by wannabe starlets who were all in five-inch heels with skirts so short it made the Laker Girls dance squad look like prudes. None of these people watched the game, they just mingled and socialized and moved about, and should they incidentally see a big play, they wouldn’t cheer unless it involved Kobe Bryant.
Imagine this, only the guys are scheezier and the women never stop checking their phones.
Speaking of Kobe, he ended the night with 40 points, 4 assists, and 6 rebounds. I left the stadium totally charged up, shouting, “Layyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy-
KERS!” at the top of my lungs, tens of people around me chanting back. That said, Jeff and I didn’t linger. We made sure to be far away before the police packed up and we found ourselves kidnapped and enslaved to one of the city’s sweat shops (a real problem for Los Angeles).
On our final day, Jeff and I made our way to Six Flags Magic Mountain. (Don’t know what Magic Mountain is? Yes, you do! It’s Wally World from Chevy Chase’s Vacation. This is an interesting element to Los Angeles. Literally so many tv shows and movies are shot there that, if we air dropped you into the city with no clue as to where you were, it’d take three blocks before you’d say, “I recognize that from CSI! Am I in Los Angeles?”) Magic Mountain is the Cedar Point of the west coast. It’s got 10 or 12 roller coasters that’ll put the fear of God in you. It’s also way out there in Valencia, and because it was late May, which meant school was still in session, and it was a Wednesday, which meant kids should be there, Jeff and I figured we’d be able to do the rides quick and easy. It turned out to be Senior Day and the place is packed with maybe 40 school buses full of seventeen year old boys and girls. In the case of the girls, based on how underdressed their bodies were in correlation to how much make-up their faces wore, you’d swear they were at least nineteen or twenty year old coeds if they didn’t have braces and walk in that bow-legged way girls do before they finish puberty. If you want to feel like a pervert, try being a guy over twenty-five even standing coincidently near a pack of these girls.
Trust me, they’re not whispering about how cute you are.
We did the park, anyway. Standing in lines, pretending the kiddies weren’t there, and making Viper our first coaster. Like a pro, Jeff kept his video camera on for the whole ride. It had been a while since he’d last been on a coaster, and should you feel like some comedy (warning: if you are offended by the f-bomb, don’t watch the video. We’re not trying to be jerks, we’re terrified), you can watch Jeff and I losing it during the ride (http://youtu.be/R2dbi0seiag). The day turned out awesome. We got most of the major coasters done, and we were debating heading home when I noticed a huge wall fashioned like a giant rock. I’ve seen it two or three times as we’ve crisscrossed the park, but it wasn’t until we stepped away from it that I saw the massive writing chiseled into it, spelling Goliath. It wasn’t only a big decorative wall, it was a ride, and as I read this, a pack of those teenage girls appeared from behind it. They were clearly shaken, as if their souls had been hollowed out, their perfect hair frazzled, and their pointer fingers frantically wiping under their eyelids, trying desperately not to run their make-up.
Five minutes later, another pack of girls exited like this.
Five after that, another pack.
We had to know what this ride was about. Come to find out, it’s got a fake wall because it was hiding its super-long line. In fact, it needed several fake walls, each making you think when you pass it, you’ll find yourself close to the ride itself. What felt like four hours later, we were loaded up onto a rather pedestrian appearing ride. I couldn’t understand why all these girls were acting so dramatic. The cart itself was kinda retro, really smoothed out, and the support bar holding you in place didn’t have shoulder restraints. There wasn’t even a place to grip your hands, how scary could it be? Two minutes and 235 feet in the air later, I discovered what terrified these girls. I was about to straight vertically drop, the angle so close to ninety that I couldn’t see any of the carts in front of me, and one-fourth of the way down, I discovered why they didn’t bother with hand grips. The centripetal force was so incredible, my hands were immobilized into my chest, which was probably for the best, as who knows what limbs I might’ve lost trying to stop my face from being ripped off.
It’s okay. The doctors fixed it.
I’d recall the rest of the ride for you, but I either blacked out or totally repressed it.
The next day, we took our satisfied selves back to Seattle, where we went back to work and back to normal life, in general. For the next week, I wrote several drafts of emails resigning my job, then got close to almost sending one while I sat around day-dreaming of running off to LA where I would become a big movie star, or failing that, a scheezy old guy dating gorgeous college drop-outs with no concept of reality. The desire was so intense it took several months for me to stop seriously considering it. It was one hell of a fine vacation, though, and I’d do it again in a heart beat.
In fact, I did.
Jeff and I did repeated whole thing the next year.