Tuesday, October 2, 2012

31 Days of Places: Los Angeles.


Once, when I was in high school, I went to Los Angeles for the day.

I can't remember if we left from Philly or New York, our two closest airport options to my hometown. It's two or three hours to each, and then a five hour flight to Southern California. We must have done two red eyes. It was the first time I'd been on such long flights; I remember my back hurting and scribbling in my journal when I wasn't staring out the window or anxiously half sleeping. 

We had a family friend who worked for United; they got special deals on flights each month but you had to use them before the end of the month. One month, they hadn't used them, and offered them to us. My dad and I took them. We could go anywhere in the US we wanted. We had exactly a day to use them. We chose Los Angeles.

I had never been to the West Coast before, but at this point had already listened to enough of the Mamas & the Papas to know the California yearning in my East Coast soul. My first sighting of a palm tree felt unreal. The sky was perfectly, cloudlessly blue. The thing I remember most, stupidly, is our rental car. Looking back now, I know it was just some crappy Chevy, but all I knew then was that it was wonderfully shiny red and it felt like the only logical car to drive in California. I was full of a teenager's-ideas-of-LA cliches.

We somehow crammed in all the most touristy LA things. We went to Rodeo Drive. We went to Venice Beach. It was the first time I had seen mountains behind an ocean horizon. It was the first time I had seen so many freaks with piercings and dyed hair and tattoos outside of New York, in a place that was warm. I felt giddy and free. We drove around windy roads in Beverly Hills where all the mansions were hidden behind huge fences, but it felt fun anyway. We saw stars on the sidewalk. And then we went home.

In school later that week, I was able to say the bizarre sentence: "So I went to LA on Tuesday." Or whatever day it was. I expected everyone to be so thrilled about what a strange thing that was. I had been around palm trees! Palm trees! I had seen the Pacific Ocean! Most weeks, the most exciting thing to happen to any of us was a trip to the movie theater in Scranton. But no one seemed to care. Maybe they didn't believe me, or maybe my bragging was just annoying. Probably the latter.

But I was able to hold it inside. I had seen oceans with mountains behind them, and my world already felt bigger. I'd return to LA several times, later, when I was more grown up, and I'd go through lots of Southern California emotions, good and bad, but nothing felt as magical as that day. Because I had a dad who was as crazy as I was, who thought that going to LA for a day would make a good story to talk about later. And it did. It always will be.

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