Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Heading for Las Vegas

Tomorrow morning, early, most likely between 7:30 and 8, we're leaving for Las Vegas. We're stopping to drop the dogs off in Canyon Country at a kennel that boards them, and then to McDonald's, and then out, stopping in Baker and the gas station/rest stop food court there before we charge into the real stretch of the Mojave Desert. We'll probably arrive in Vegas by a little before or after 3, because we're not going to eat at Richie's Real American Diner in Victorville, being that it sunk fast when we were there in March. Not as good as in 2008. The plummeting economy clearly hit it.

The purpose of this trip is a job interview my dad has on Thursday morning at a private school. It's the call we all were waiting for, the one that can get us to where we truly want to live. We're going to keep an open mind toward all the areas we visit, but the consensus seems to be Boulder City, near Hoover Dam. It feels comfortable, it's a genuine small town, and we determined that that's what we've been missing all this time, why Mom moved with Dad 12 times, and my sister and I about two or three times less.

On this evening before, my sister and I still have to pack, I have to put extra food into the birds' cages, and decide finally on what books I want to bring with me. I thought it would be two, knowing last time that I didn't even touch most of the books I brought, but being a voracious, obsessive reader, I'm not going to follow that. So far, it's five books, two issues of The New Yorker, and the "Fiction Issue" of the Atlantic from late last year. There is a difference now, in that the books are lighter, therefore my tote bag is lighter, and it'll be easier to lug it from the car to the hotel room (America's Best Value Inn again, off the Strip, adjacent to Hooters Casino Hotel, and surrounded on both sides by a Motel 6), and back to the car on Friday morning. The big question in my mind right now is whether to bring along Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt, too. I'm also thinking about whether to bring Saturday Night by Susan Orlean, so I can finish it, but I'm not sure. It might make good travel reading, being that Orlean traveled to different locales in the United States to study different Saturday nights. Maybe.

I'm also thinking about souls I've met in the past who I know I won't see again. It was 2008 when we saw Mamma Mia! at Mandalay Bay, and on the way to Vegas, we stopped in Baker at the same gas station/rest stop that's one of our reliable beacons. This was when construction had been completed on the gas station, and so the property was wider, with a lot more to look at, more snacks, drinks, and generally useless items you wouldn't buy in your normal daily life. That's the fun of it.

I remember this huge truck driver who was hanging around, talking to someone at the Pizza Hut counter for a few minutes. He had a bulk around him that seemed like it would spill over his seat in his truck. I liked him, though. He had resolve. He also had this huge 72 oz. travel mug, and he walked over to the soda dispenser, and drained whatever was his choice. I wasn't looking closely, but I was impressed by him. He seemed to be truly of the road. This was his home. He stopped here to replenish himself, and any number of motels on the way were what he found comfort in, what was always reliable to him. I have no desire to travel that extensively, but I enjoy watching people like that, who truly know that they belong here and they have no second thoughts about it. It would be something if I saw him again tomorrow in Baker, but I doubt it. It's going to be Wednesday afternoon by the time we get there, and I'm sure he'll be out on the road, guiding his rig, thinking, listening to the radio, the CB too, with another travel mug wedged in with him. Tomorrow doesn't feel like the day I'd see him. Thursday maybe. Hey, maybe Friday. We'll be on our way home then. But even if not, the fascinating personalities encountered while traveling are endless.

Friday, May 7, 2010

It Happened Five Minutes Ago. I Swear It Did.

I remember arriving at Los Angeles International with my parents and sister. I remember leaving the Boeing 757, walking down the jetway, and out of that gate, into the airport. I don't remember if we stopped at the luggage carousel, though we probably did, because at Fort Lauderdale International on that late March day in 2003, we had luggage to give at the American Airlines counter. At LAX, I was more in awe of the sheer size of that particular terminal, quite sure that it could be its own civilization. It looked like it.

This piece of a memory came from watching the latest episode of Modern Family last night on the Tivo. I don't watch it often, since I like The Middle more, but because most of it was set at Los Angeles International, and because I am an aviation enthusiast and want to work at an airport in the coming years, I had to see this episode. I was paying attention to Jay's growing displeasure at his family joining him on this trip to Hawaii, and Claire's severe fear of flying, but looking at that airport, the escalator (which I don't think I ever saw), the little shops in between, I also thought about 5 or 6 a.m., 10 days later, when we arrived back on the property to return the car we rented to the small agency nearby, and to be shuttled to our terminal. I think the flight was within the 9 a.m. hour, but it was the first true L.A. darkness I had ever seen. Staying at the Airtel Plaza Hotel in Van Nuys, with its aviation decorations (since it was right next to Van Nuys Executive), and driving to Santa Clarita (a chilly, stinging rain on that day, when we went to Six Flags Magic Mountain), and San Diego (so warm, inviting, and seemingly so relaxed, that I wanted to live there right away, but there was no job for Dad there), and many other locales, there was nighttime, of course, but I had never paid attention to it like I had on that morning. Ok, that's not completely true, because I had stood on the balcony of our two-bedroom hotel room, watching the activity at Van Nuys Executive at about 10 p.m. each evening. But then, the darkness was in relation to the airport, and I was more interested in the airport. I would watch some planes take off against the at-times barely visible outline of the mountain some miles away, and only the plane had my attention.

I think back to comparisons. On the flight to Los Angeles, the movie was Brown Sugar, which had fine actors in Taye Diggs and Sanaa Lathan, but I thought it would never end. After, there was the pilot episode of Still Standing, and I think an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond. It was a lunchtime flight, and one of the selections was a chicken-and-rice dish that was actually pretty good.

On the flight back, I Spy was shown, and I wanted to jump out of the plane. It was bad enough that breakfast was a soggy something, either waffles or an imitation of them. Cereal cannot be screwed up, and fortunately, that was part of the meal, the only worthwhile part. I didn't care that Eddie Murphy was suddenly paired up with Owen Wilson, I didn't care about the plot, and, at that point, Famke Janssen still hadn't done anything worthwhile since Goldeneye. Here's the thing, though. It's not that I didn't want to go home because California was so great. I was still perplexed by it, trying to understand why Dad insisted on possibly moving there. Apparently, he'd liked it when he went in the '70s, but he couldn't have expected it to remain the same. This is the same man who, when we were evacuated from our home for a day in October 2007 because of a nearby wildfire, said that he didn't think any wildfires could actually be in our valley. Let that not be viewed as a slight against him. I don't mean it that way. It's just that on that trip and the next trip out that he and Mom took, and our eventual move here, he didn't know a whole lot about Southern California. Very little study went into what each area was and what they could have meant for us. He was going to lose his teaching job in Pembroke Pines, Florida, because of then-governor Jeb Bush's edict on expanding the importance of the FCAT exam, to the severe detriment of many electives, including business education, which was to be cut. So we had to go. There was nothing else. And he didn't want to do anything else. He had been a teacher again since 1996 (before that, he worked for Southern Bell, which then became BellSouth, for 19 years; before that, a teacher for a time in the New York public school system), and he wasn't going to let go of it. He's good at it. But California? I didn't feel close to any of its southern regions as closely as I did with nearly all of Florida, my home state. Every part of Florida is manageable. 25 minutes to Fort Lauderdale from Pembroke Pines, no matter the traffic. And downtown there always offered things to see, such as the Museum of Discovery and Science and the main Broward County Library branch. And the art museum.

Southern California has all those things, I know. But it's the split areas I don't like, split by freeways. I may be a resident of Southern California, but I'm only a true resident of Santa Clarita. I'm a tourist in Pasadena, in Burbank, obviously in San Francisco, which I'd expect, but even in downtown Los Angeles, in Palmdale, too.

But I've mentioned all that before in a previous entry. I'm just stunned at how fast these six and a half years have passed. There have been days that I've wanted to hug close, to extend to more than the time I was given. I wanted to wrap myself up in certain hours and disappear into each moment, taking each moment in for half an hour to walk through them. I loved Friday afternoons at College of the Canyons, when the campus was so empty that I felt like I owned it. I remember my graduation from there, sitting in one seat, one row of what must have been 20 rows on the grass in the Honor Grove, bored with the too-long speech by the head of the school, looking up at the windows in one of the buildings, wondering if any professor there was eccentric enough that they were possible sitting cross-legged on the floor, frantically paging through Moby Dick, trying to find a certain word that they remembered the most from it.

There are countless more memories like this, and I'll probably put them here over time. I still miss the apartment in Valencia. There was more to see, more to do, more to know there. But I won't miss this entire valley when we move to Las Vegas. That's where I want to be now, and when I read books on its history, I always feel I can belong to it. That's most important to me.