A rainy day in LA County
Alarms are set for 4 am. The poodle is safely snoozing at the in-laws. I pop out of bed and head to the shower. I never sleep soundly the night before a flight. I wake several times throughout the night in anticipation of the alarm. After a quick shower we throw the rest of our things into bags and head to the airport. It’s only a weekend so we treat ourselves to baller long-term parking right by the airport. No waiting for a shuttle this New Year’s.
Through security and terribly early, we park ourselves at an airport bar and order breakfast. I get “chanterelle” omelet and toast. Are these really chanterelle mushrooms? Who cares? Not my double bloody-Mary. This food reminds me a bit of the Waffle House and the all-night Greek diners I haunted back in college.
The woman working the bar is simultaneously training a new waiter, pouring drinks, and running orders back to the kitchen. She is a powerhouse. She tells us stories about her adult sons who have all completed careers in one branch of the military or another. She tells us stories of terrible customers and working in an airport in the times of COVID. She’s a hoot.
We board our flight. I have packed a laptop and a notebook thinking I will get some work done on a side project. I am delusional. Once boarded and in the air I am asleep.
We land at LAX in the rain and the wind. Our plan was to find visit some friends and find some sun and daylight, escaping the bleak depths of the Pacific Northwest winter. So far, not so good. Irony is a fundamental force in the universe. So if you leave Portland for LA to escape the rain and you will land in a typhoon.
We’ve carried-on so we squeeze out of the metal sky-fart tube into the airport and find the shuttle bus to the car rental office. I’m not an expert, but I think Enterprise is the least worst airport car rental.
We complete our paperwork and head up an escalator to the top of a parking deck and hide with other travelers under a shelter inadequate for the rain. A handsome kid pulls up with our car and disappears after handing off the keys. We get soaked trying to find out how to open the trunk. I do not like Chevrolets.
Phone plugged in, Car Play working, we try to dial up our first stop. My wife’s friend, like a cave man, has sent us a link to a Google map. She texts the link to me, I open the map, and copy and paste the address into Apple Maps and we flee the airport.
Driving through LA county in the rain, watching the palm trees whip around in the wind as I steel myself for driving in 8 lanes of traffic. The landscape is both sleek and modern but also shabby. I am driving through a lesser Matrix sequel.
We find our way into Santa Monica to visit with my wife’s old college friend. They live in a beautiful, all white, modern condo complex. Built in 2018 it is just beginning to settle and reveal its construction defects. The elevator from the parking garage complains loudly.
Their beautiful living room, with interesting art and high ceilings, has fallen to an exploding nursery. Toys and various child-things litter the room and a 2 ½ year old expresses her displeasure with our presence. We try to introduce ourselves and fail. Rejected by a toddler. The friend’s partner takes over child duty and we head out to find a bite to eat and catch up.
The rain has mostly subsided and we head south towards the waterfront. We are trying for tacos but the best place within walking distance is closed. We walk to the waterfront and look out over the pier and ferris wheel. We’re getting rained on lightly and duck into a yuppie-looking bistro for lunch. They’re only serving brunch. Ok then. Brunch.
The host at the restaurant has modeled his look on Tim Cook. He shows us to a table. A young woman with an orchid tattooed on her neck takes our order. To my right, a large table of terrible people drink bottomless mimosas and cackle at the top of their lungs to let everyone know they are having the very best time. Tim Cook’s twin rolls his eyes.
We talk and eat and drink and catch up. I guess her old friend is my old friend now. We’ve all known each other together for a long time. But they were in school together and have history. As we talk I wonder if they think about how things have changed since school, now that we are all successful adult-type people. When they were sneaking beers in dorms did they imagine themselves here and now? I didn’t.
After lunch we drive to another part of LA I’ve never heard of. My sense of geography is befuddled here. California’s coast line cuts a hard left to the east as you move south, which puts the ocean to the south and me confused.
We are driving to the Wilmington neighborhood which I gather was once one way and now is a different way and people are upset. We’re staying the night and celebrating the new year some different old friends. This friend from the same tiny Oregon town as my wife. The friend and her partner are escapees from the video game industry. They keep a noble old husky named Freya. She lives up to her namesake. They are fostering two cats. One cat is missing its front legs. The other cat is missing its hind legs. Together they make 1 ½ cats. These semi-cats slink and scoot and make their way around the house with surprising agility and sweetness.
They are just beginning to settle into their new home. Over dinner we hear the tale of the hard-won home. There was a divorce. There was a court-ordered sale. There were issues. It all sounds terrible and harrowing and the kind of thing that would make you want to rent forever. Thanks to many expensive lawyers they ultimately prevailed.
The house is fascinating. From above the floor plan of the house carves a giant capital “E” on the landscape. Between the “legs” of the E are flagstone patios. From the street the house looks like a sleek, mid-century modern ranch (thanks to the new paint job). Inside the house looks like it may have once been a pirate-themed restaurant. The light fixtures are a bit dramatic. This house was the builder’s house. Builders are not architects and have ideas. Each gable - the triangular bit under the roof on an exterior wall - is a giant pane of glass. During the day light streams through. Rooms are built as partitions - their walls don’t quite reach the ceiling. This lets more light through, but makes everything feel temporary.
We sit at their dining table, enjoying delivered dim sum and sparkling white wine. Our plan was to go enjoy their new hot tub and listen to the neighborhood shoot off illegal fireworks. But the rain and wind have returned in mighty force. The glow of street lights reveal trees whipping back and forth and horizontal rain. Every so often the wind and rain dies down and we hear a pop-pop, followed by a flash of light, followed by a thunderous boom. The neighbors are dedicated to their fireworks.
We give up on our hot tub plans, resolving to have a hot tub brunch instead. Around midnight the rain has died down, which we learn because we’re woken by a fireworks display.
The next morning, our friends make breakfast and we sit in the hot tub enjoying the returning sunshine. The wind is still strong and whisks away one mimosa. Good thing the pool is treated.
A New Year’s brunch is a good idea. You avoid the hangover and the crowds of amateurs.
After our soak and lounge we gather ourselves up to return to Santa Monica for the night. Our hotel is not too far from the beach. From our room we can look south and see the ocean. We lounge about for a bit and wait for our friends (from the previous night) to collect us for dinner.
They leave their precocious toddler behind with their sitter and we head out to a Vietnamese restaurant with an elaborately tented patio. They have an honest-to-goodness piña colada on the menu which I decide I must have. I did not sing the song.
We sat at one edge of the patio, with my back to the wall, so I could watch the pretty young things try to negotiate whole sauce-laden shrimp into their mouths without ruining their goin’ out clothes.
After dinner we were spent. We retired early in our big comfy hotel bed. Per usual, I can’t sleep long in a strange place, so I’m up with the sun, enjoying the view.
Day breaks and we meet our friend once again for a breakfast of fancy donuts. Then it’s off to the airport and back to post-holiday reality.