Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Coming Into Los Angeles: 1985

I had no intention of ever going to Los Angeles.
By September of '84 I'd come back from New Mexico--Santa Fe--and had gone to Iowa City, then Chicago to stay with Cin, then back to Des Moines by the onset of winter. I was working, planning my next move (I don't recall where), when I got a call from Mike, who had graduated from Iowa and was back in Chicago himself. He called me out of the blue and asked if I'd like to go out to California with him and work for him. . . Like I said, I'd had no intention. Southern California, L.A. in particular--like New York and the Northeast--was a place to be avoided. To me, it was too big-cityish, too American Dream-like. I liked smaller venues, more unusual in the thought-scape of most people: New Mexico, Mississippi, Idaho (even Colorado was too common), the Florida Keys (not Miami or Fort Lauderdale or Daytona). But, having been asked and knowing there was work in-hand, I said, "Sure."
So, by New Years Eve, I was back in Chicago, spent time in the loving company of Cin, and come New Years Day 1985, I said goodbye to her once again and Mike and I took off in his little brown Mazda RX7, headed for Californyiaye.
We made it to Lawrence, Kansas before the car broke down.
The RX7 was a speedy little sports car and we'd driven it on the winter midwest roads with no problems, and it was a new car, but there was--it turned out--a factory problem with the gears and it became disabled and the local shops didn't have the part, it had to be shipped from somewhere to Kansas City and then shipped to Lawrence. So, we holed up in a cheap motel and Mike rented a car. Lawrence was the home of the university of Kansas, so we wandered around on the campus, feeling at home among students and young people. But the bars in Kansas were not like Iowa or Illinois--they had restrictions on alcohol sales, had bars and clubs and such. It was strange. But we figured it out and in the days were were there had a routine down, had met some people. I met some girl who was home for winter break from Vassar (whose parents were both professors at UK) and we hit it off. It was a pleasant diversion. But Mike was tired of being stuck in Kansas, so eventually we took the rental up to Kansas City to get the part ourselves (saving a day or two for it to be shipped to Lawrence) and they fixed her up and we were on the road agin. That is, until the snowstorm in Flagstaff.
 In northern Arizona it began to snow like crazy. It was also crazy beautiful: the sharp green pines, the red earth and hills against the bright white snow. I loved it. And I liked Flagstaff. Flagstaff was more the kind of town, the type of landscape, I was drawn to rather than L.A. But the snow was so bad--a blizzard, really-- that we barely got off the road and into another motel. From the motel we called a cab and told the driver to take us to some bar. He took us to this big old log cabin-like bar--very western--where Mike and I drank beer and played pool and had a groovy time. Then we took a cab back.
The next day the snow was clear enough for us to take off. And off we took, stopping in Needles Ca, then towards L.A., hitting the San Gabriel Mountains where it was sunny and warmish. Mike sped that car up to a hundred MPH. And he got pulled over. Cop gave us a ticket: Welcome to California.
We made it into L.A. at night, down to a hotel around Santa Monica where Mike's dad was. Mike's dad was setting the business up--construction--for Mike in California and he had flown out from Chicago and was waiting for us to make it there. We had drinks by the pool, dinner by the pool, everything warm and delightfully SoCal, lights twinkling, palms rustling. You get the picture. Of course I was enamored (but I still preferred Flagstaff).
We spent the next days looking for an apartment--found a month-by-month one in West Hollywood, near Burbank, the Oakwood complex. I think Mike's dad found that for us. Then we went to work, remodeling, changing some place in Santa Monica into the very first Jenny Craig Weightloss Center in the USofA. Jenny Craig and her husband were there, in from Australia. After a while we had to go find a work vehicle--got a big red windowless extra-long van. Called it the Sex Oven for reasons I won't go into at this time.
So, I settled in. Worked for Mike, but I was never astounded by L.A. (unlike the way I was with NYC years later). Even in those first months, I knew I'd leave. I mean, I learned to like and appreciate Los Angeles. I had a great time and met interesting people, but it never really stuck with me. Too big and noisy and money-oriented.
The thing was, though, when I went back to Iowa and said I'd been living out in L.A., people were very impressed. I'd been gone before, living in Key West, Santa Fe, Alaska. No one seemed too impressed about those places, really. But mention California, mention Los Angeles and Hollywood, they were all curious and jealous. . . Oh well, the American Dream is a dream of fame.

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