I flew to Los Angeles seriously early on Wednesday, Octobere 26. The AURA team has been curious about Red, Virgin America’s new inflight entertainment system (from Goliath-competitor Panasonic), so I bought a ticket and flew them for the first time. When everything’s new, airlines are great, and it was a nice ride. I spent most of it taking snaps of the screens and documenting the “user experience.” It’s a good system. But ours is much better, and far less expensive!
Landed LAX just after eight, hopped on the shuttle to the Green Line train, then the express bus up Harbor Freeway, and was on the edge of the USC campus (my destination) in no time. Waiting for the “Walk” sign at 39th and Figueroa, I looked at the young guy next to me toting basic law textbooks, and I said “looks like law school has just begun.” He smiled and thus began a nice T-t-S walk of a few blocks, me listening to his laments about all the work, he hearing a summary of my life (prompted by my remark that he has it easy compared to Linda, who worked full time and studied law at night). Shook his hand, wished him a great career, and ambled into Popovich Hall, then out onto a pleasant terrace to do some work and have a little more to eat.
At 11:45, I met my host for the day, Kristin Diehl, and we headed into her undergrad consumer-behavior class. Whoosh, the airline-advertising lecture done in a flash, whence we repaired to a new restaurant on campus for much-needed lunch. I peeled off for a couple of hours, then repeated the lecture to the second section of her class. Kristin drove me downtown to the rather fancy Marriott, an upgrade from my usual digs at a threadbare Radisson on campus.
Washed my face, changed clothes, ambled downstairs, and met my original USC host, Joe Nunes. We motored across downtown to the Lazy Ox Canteen, a hip new place in Little Tokyo (but the cooking was California-local, not Japanese). We had a meal of many yummy small dishes: Carpaccio, mixed salad, roasted shishito (Japanese green peppers), rabbit leg, and scallops, with a fabulous strawberry, rhubarb, and peach crumble for dessert. Yum. We had a good yak while eating – Joe is a good guy, always interesting.
Thursday was open until an evening MBA talk from 8:00 to 9:30. After the hotel gym, I repaired to a nearby Starbucks “corner office” for breakfast and work.
Mid-morning I ambled back to the hotel, then walked a few blocks north to an even more agreeable corner office, in the State of California Community Park, a quiet, lushly green oasis on the west and south verges of Frank Gehry’s shiny and exuberant Walt Disney Concert Hall, the new home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic (or LA Phil as they now brand it). I first visited the park in 2009 and thought “this would be a good place to work my laptop,” so was glad I remembered. Work ended about one, headed for a spicy fish burrito, changed clothes, and at 2:41 jumped on the Big Blue Bus, Santa Monica’s transit system, and headed west on Interstate 10.
I was excited about the destination, 3616 Ashwood, in the Mar Vista neighborhood, not far from Venice Beach. It was time for another reconnection, this time with Ellen Cox and Peter Quentin, who I first met in 1973 in Sydney, Australia. In another time. A time when young backpackers exchanged addresses of friends who would welcome an indirect friend. In this case, I was in a youth hostel in New Zealand, and Brian Atkins gave me Ellen’s and Peter’s address on Glebe Point Road and said they would likely open their doors to me. So about noon on Wednesday, August 1, I was in front of their rented terrace house on a sunny winter day. Ellen and Peter were on the front balcony. I told them Suzy Creamcheese sent me, and they let me in. I saw them next in 1976, when they were briefly living in New York (and again offered a free bed), then for a few hours in January 1981 when they picked me up at LAX just before I boarded a Qantas flight for Australia, where I taught that year. That was the last time.
So it had been 30.5 years. I had sort of stayed in touch, and I recall almost seeing them almost a decade ago, when Robin was still studying at USC. We spent a joyful couple of hours, each taking turns summarizing three-plus decades of work, raising children (sometimes challenging for them, too), having fun. We reminisced about long-distance budget travel back in the day, recounting various adventures. In Sydney in the early 1970s, Peter was a musician and had a band; he still plays gigs, acoustic guitar, and is in the band at their synagogue. As I have written before, there is something really wonderful about those reconnections. Maybe it is simply that the paths again converge. The two hours, with tea and scones on their patio, went far too quickly. We hugged each other, took a picture of three young adventurers who still felt young, and Peter drove me to Venice Blvd.
I hopped on the 733 bus back to L.A. It was called a Rapid, because it made limited stops, but it took ages – 80 minutes to go 12.5 miles. Happily, I had a seat. To my left was a Latina high school student, who boarded when I did, and immediately opened her Calculus textbook. I pointed at a formula and saluted her diligence, a T-t-S moment made brief by my decision to let her concentrate on the differentiation, functions, and derivatives at hand! Her commitment contrasted markedly with some loud and really foul-mouthed youngsters further back on the bus. A rough census of the passengers: 92% Hispanic, 7% Black, 1% Anglo. There was time to read The New York Times and a little of a new book. And there was time to think about immigration. I was happy to be riding the bus that day; as I have often written, public transit is a great way to get close to people you would otherwise not encounter. It makes you think, not only about your privilege, but about their lives (two days earlier, I remarked aloud about the civility of a homeless man riding the Green Line, whose sense of politeness contrasted so much with the ornery behavior we often see at airports).
At Hoover Blvd., I hopped on the 200 bus. I was running a little late, so I knotted a new red tie on the bus. Was in Popovich Hall and in classroom 112 by 7:45. The lecture went well; even at the end of a long day, after hours of work and school work, the part-time MBA students that comprised 90% of the class were still engaged. At ten Joe drove me to the hotel and I clocked out.
Up early Friday morning. Linda and I scored tickets to see USC play Stanford the next day (thanks to ongoing generosity of Debbie, an AA marketing colleague in Los Angeles), and since it made no sense to fly home, I had another day off. Did a couple hours of AURA work, then walked across downtown L.A. to Union Station. The walk was interesting. It began on a high note, your scribe pausing to admire the Los Angeles Public Library (1926), first visited when Robin was at USC. The 1991 renovation and expansion added some brilliant touches inside and out, but because it was early, I focused on the exterior – stuff like the west steps, the vertical surfaces of which were lined with the written word from many alphabets and symbolic systems. Between the parallel staircases was a stepped fountain, the words “bright,” “lucid,” and “clear” inscribed on stone blocks. Further along, a memorable quotation from Dr. Seuss:
The more that you read, the more things you will know.
The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.
I smiled when I read it, because Dr. Seuss captured the essence of my life. There was more, lots more. It’s just a fabulous building and grounds.
From the shiny office towers on Bunker Hill, there’s a steep income slope down to Broadway, where lots of homeless ply the streets. Walked north on Broadway, pausing to admire the interior of the Bradbury Building (1893), a historic office building best known for a light and airy atrium – such open inner space was largely unknown back then. The local “chapter” of Occupy Wall Street was encamped around City Hall. I continued north to la plaza and Olvera Street, the historic center from the city’s founding in 1781 as La Ciudad de Nuestra Señora de Los Angeles. I stopped in the church of the same name, which the Franciscans built in 1814. There were a few tourists inside, but mainly it was the faithful, many praying with vigor. I joined them.
The Transport Geek paused in front of the station, a lovely Spanish Colonial design, and listened for the sound of the Santa Fe’s Super Chief, the Southern Pacific’s Sunset Limited, and other famous trains that arrived here for decades. Seventy or eighty years ago, the place would often have been hopping with movie stars and entertainers arriving on those and other trains from back east. Today, the crowd was less starry, a curious mix of travelers. I found my way to track 10 and Amtrak’s Coast Starlight, bound for Seattle, 1377 miles north. I was headed 100 miles west to Santa Barbara.
It had been more than 25 years since I had been on a long-distance Amtrak train. Found my way to the observation car, which was remarkably similar to the glass “Vista-Domes” that my brother Jim and I loved to ride from Minneapolis to Chicago, enroute to visiting kin. The T-Geek was in a good place, and I stayed in that car the whole way. We headed west into the San Fernando Valley, stopping at Burbank Airport (across the parking lot I spotted a Silver Bird) and Van Nuys, then climbed up, through tunnels and into Ventura County, the train traversing fields of onions, carrots, and strawberries, past vineyards and orange groves labeled Sunkist, past shrub nurseries. Field workers, immigrants, stooped in the sun, picking. When we think of California, we may think of high tech and of entertainment, but agriculture is bigger than huge.
Beyond Oxnard, 55 miles west of L.A., the tracks met the ocean, almost literally. For nearly forty miles, we skirted the beach. We saw lots of surfers, a few swimmers (water temperature now is only a bit above 60 F), three dolphins. Offshore, in the Santa Barbara Channel, were the oil rigs that the Sierra Club dislikes, but I emphatically would like more oil from there and less from places where people don’t like us. Whoa.
Then we were in Santa Barbara. I hopped off, snapped a couple of pictures of the train and the wonderful old depot, and ambled east on Yanonali Street to a deli I found online. Had a big sandwich, then headed down to Stearns Pier and out onto the water. Then into downtown to a Starbucks, to bring this journal up to date and recharge my iPhone battery (it got a lot of use on the train, capturing video and e-mailing it to Dylan and Carson, who love to watch what I call Pots TV). I expected to see an affluent place, and that’s what I found. Interesting, but a little too homogeneously nice for me. I spent the last couple of hours at a brewpub watching game seven of the World Series.
Back at the Amtrak station it looked a little chaotic. There was a dark train on the platform. My train, the southbound Coast Starlight, was due, according to the Amtrak website, at 7:03. It arrived at about 7:20. I immediately headed to the dining car, where a steward was cleaning up. No dinner in the diner. I settled for a bag of chips and a beer. We set off at 7:40, rolled a couple of miles, then backed up and coupled with the disabled train to tow it to L.A. We were finally underway at 8:30, and into Los Angeles 130 minutes late, at 11:10. Not the finest moments for the National Railroad Passenger Corporation. I kept muttering “these people could learn something from the Swiss Federal Railways.”
The plan was for Linda to fly to L.A. Saturday morning, and we’d head to the Coliseum to see USC play Stanford, but she rang me way before dawn to say she was feeling poorly. I decided to give the game a miss, so I changed flights and other arrangements, and turned off the light to try to get back to sleep. Nope. So I got up, went to the gym, and checked out. Having missed dinner the night before, sustenance was the first priority. And where better than The Pantry, a downtown L.A. fixture since 1924 and just a few blocks south of the hotel? In no time I was on a stool at their counter, tucking into a huge cheese and sausage omelette and a larger pile of hash browns. You can’t eat those breakfasts every day, but from time to time they are a total treat. Hopped on the Metro blue and green lines out to LAX and flew home. It was only three-plus days, but it seemed longer. When I hopped into my Toyota, I remembered that Peter Quentin gave me a CD of his music. I popped it in the player and started tapping my hand on the wheel. A great set of songs from an old friend.