The Other End of Sunset

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Calgon, take me away!

Well, I spent the weekend in LA with a few friends from work and my best friend. Theoretically, I was shopping. I did, in fact, buy a bunch of clothes, and had a great time. But that’s not what I'm blogging about.

Instead, I will blog about transportation. And how, apparently, for a day, I was cursed.

One could argue that I was cursed before, and, indeed, may still be cursed, but on a different dimension. Nonetheless, for this posting, let’s assume I'm cursed from a transportation perspective.

So, let me spin you a tale. The tale is told in a stream-of-consciousness episodic way. Kind of like a Hemingway story. Only less interesting.

This tale starts on Sunday afternoon. It’s very warm in Los Angeles. It’s sunny, and lovely.

So, I decide to take a little break, and ride my Benelli up the coast.

Unfortunately, sunny and hot days in Los Angeles yield huge influxes of people to the beaches, which creates immense traffic on PCH, where I was going to try and ride. And remember that the Benelli has this weird radiator that uses fans to pull cool air by the engine. Seems cool, but also seems intrinsically fragile. So I try not to sit in traffic too much – or perhaps I try not to sit in traffic because I like to go fast, whatever. Either would work as an explanation.

In this case, I was cruising up PCH, and hit the traffic. Bleech. Massive backups from the people trying to park in those lousy lots by the water off of PCH. These lots seem like a great idea, but just aren’t. They are on the water side of the road. Most of the traffic comes from the East. Thus, to get into them, you not only have to pay and arm and a leg, you must turn LEFT across PCH. And the traffic going west is not going to the beach, they are going somewhere. Probably quickly.

And yet you want to turn anyway, Mr. Tourist? How’s the oxygen content in your car, pal? Seems low. Anyway.

This tourist behavior creates massive backups on PCH that I was wending my way through. Some lane splitting, but not a lot (I don’t trust tired tourists to pay attention to me). Bottom line, by the time I get to Malibu, my wrists are killing me from the clutch and brake work, and the bike is running VERY hot, so I decide to bail out and turn around.

The ride back is slightly less annoying. Not hugely less, but slightly less. So, by the time I get back into Venice, I’m tired, stressed, and VERY annoyed. And I’ve only been riding for maybe 30 miles, total.

Now, boys and girls, what’s the lesson of what you should do when you are riding, and you are tired, stressed, and annoyed? Right, pull off the road and rest for a few minutes. Good students!

As it turns out, my phone buzzed at about this time – across the street from the old Chiat/Day building, for those of you who know the area. So I pulled off for a second. Note, second. Not minute. Difference matters.

As I pulled back onto the road, my attention wandered. Bad idea. Lots of traffic, lots of parked cars, lots of death opportunities, and a VERY sharply crowned street. And a distracted driver.

The driver (that’d be me, folks, try to keep up here) catches the crown just wrong, at 2 miles per hour, and so the bike tilts sharply to the right and heads towards the side of a parked car. OK, no big deal, right – just put your weight on the other side, increase the power slightly, and let the bike right itself.

Yeah, that’s what a good rider would do. At the time, me, not such a good rider. What did I do? I tried to put my right foot down and stop the bike. I wasn’t wearing shoes that protected my ankle, so putting a foot down is a BAD idea. Additionally, it means that my weight moved RIGHT – into the turn. Which causes what? Yup, causes the turn rate to increase.

Net? I hit a parked car.

Yup, my first accident. And it was into a parked car.

No, I didn’t get hurt – although I encourage you all to wear GOOD protective gear – I left a nice long red streak from my jacket on the car.

Dinged the Benelli fairing – my, my, won’t that cost a pretty penny, and marked up the door and quarter panel of an Audi TT.

I think I should add a crazed sword-wielding Ninja to the story, to explain a sudden swerve into the car, while doing a no-hands Superman off the bike to avoid crazed Ninja death. Would make a better story.

Sigh. Left note for guy, tried not to blubber too much about bike – couldn’t care less about car, it’s only money, right? And I didn’t get hurt, which is a blessing.

Rode home. Didn’t wait a few minutes. Didn’t hurt myself or anyone else. Definitely a blessing. However, the bike is running way hot now – not sure if it’s because of the heat or if I broke something else. This is a worry for another day.

Yikes, as I pull in the door, I realize that I’m supposed to be at the Magic Castle in like, minutes. The Castle is a really cool private club for professional illusionists. I have a great friend who is a member, and so periodically I impose on him to let me go there.

That night, some friends and I were going to go. It’s really fun – there is a magic museum, a few cool bars, Invisible Irma will play you anything you want to hear on the piano, and 3 formal stages where illusionists perform.

It is a dress up place – the women go (mostly) in evening gowns, and the men in nice suits or tuxedos. Everyone is lovely, the place is rock star cool, up in the Hollywood hills (kind of). It’s a cool way to spend an evening.

So, it’s me and a couple of pals. I’m late. So I race around my friend’s house, trying to find my clothes, and my shoes, blah blah blah. Get ready. I’m wearing a really nice suit – I look pretty spiffy, if I say so myself. My friends are wearing lovely dresses, looking very nice as well.

All good, ready to put Benelli behind me. Oops, first, I have to get to the Castle. And it’s in Hollywood. Not close.

Something tells me that the motorcycle is not going to work. Suits are not great riding wear. And dresses are REALLY not good riding wear.

No problem, my friend has two cars. Let’s take the Pathfinder! Go into the garage – my friend has taken his car to go somewhere. Yowsers! I didn’t plan on his having the unmitigated gall to use his own car without my permission. OK, plan B. Hey, wait, he has that ancient open-top Jeep. It’s filled with leaves and dirt, it’s dusty, and did I mention it’s open top?

Let’s take that.

Once again, proving I’m an idiot. For those of you playing the home game, what is a common, and important, part of a woman’s evening accoutrements? Yes, indeed, her hair. And what happens in open-top cars? The hairstyle gets ruined. So friends are much unhappy with your faithful author right now –hair will get ruined. And the car is so dirty, each has to worry about getting gunk on her dress.

Yes sir, I’m popular. But we will, at least, get there. So, off we go.

Aah, yes, nice sunny – VERY hot – drive from Marina del Rey to Hollywood. Take the streets, so as to minimize speed and resultant hair blowing. So nice, so pleasant.

So smelly. This isn’t a good development.

Yes, suddenly, the car smelled hot – like something is burning that isn’t supposed to burn. And then the car stops. And won’t restart. On the corner of La Cienega and 3rd Streets. Very busy. Yikes.

So I get out, in my expensive suit, and my friend climbs into the driver’s seat, and I push the car off the street into a parking lot of a coffee shop. In the suit, yes. In the heat, yes. I’m hot, sweaty, and generally miserable.

And not at the Castle.

Maybe we ran out of gas? (I’m ignoring the hot smell now, in case you couldn’t follow that). My best friend keeps a gas can in the car, so I open it up, fish out the funnel, and start pouring some gas into the car. And all over me.

So now I am hot, smelly, sweaty AND covered in gasoline. While wearing an expensive suit, yes.

And, no, the car didn’t start after adding gas.

So I went into the coffee shop to wash my hands. And saw the big “Restroom out of order” sign on the door. Sigh. There’s no way I can wander around smelling like a walking Molotov cocktail, I’d better do something. The guy behind the counter lets me use the rag they dry dishes with to clean my hands (Note to self: Don’t get coffee there, the rags are NOT so clean now), while my friend buys me a rice krispy treat and calls a taxi.

We leave the car there, for now, and take a taxi to the Castle. We can deal with AAA later in the day. But, of course, as I mentioned in a previous post, someone had convinced me to split my wallet into two wallets – and my AAA card was in the OTHER wallet. So I had neither my AAA number NOR the 800 number you need to call.

Which makes me anxious because “later” is going to be like midnight, and there will be nobody on the streets but a few late night partiers, a few cops, and lots of miscreants. And although I smell like one of the latter, I don’t really fit in. So we decide to do a bit of preplanning. Let’s call AAA now, to figure out what we need to do.

Calling information yields a number for AAA, but for Southern CA AAA, which can’t find my records, because I’m a Northern CA member. Seriously, you are kidding now – really? Yes. They finally find the number and we are off to the Festival of Hell, trying to convince them to listen to me and tell me how to get my car towed.

My friend did all the work – luckily. I don’t have enough patience to make this work. Anyway, she finds the numbers and figures out how to call a tow truck, and we are golden. We’ll go enjoy the Castle and deal with the car later.

Off we go. The show is ok – the illusionists are pretty lame, although there is a shadow puppet thing that rocks. The rest was neither original, nor especially well done. And the place is empty. Which is a bit creepy, although it means Irma plays for us for a while, which ain’t too bad.

Because I’m stressed out – and too stupid to get over it quickly – I’m a jerk at dinner, and annoy my friend to the extent that we have a fight, right there, over the steak and mashed potatoes.

Great, I’m batting a thousand now. Dinged up bike, broken down car, and mad friend. What can go wrong next? I’m guessing spontaneous combustion or perhaps alien abduction. Anyway.

Finally, at about 11, we head out. Ask the front desk to call us a taxi – no problem, it will be 5 minutes. Cool! 20 minutes later, we go back to the desk to check. Apparently the taxi came and was told to go away. Odd, since I was there the whole time, but I guess anything is possible – call again. Done. 20 minutes later? Let’s try a different taxi company. This one does, in fact, show up in 10 minutes.

So, on the way. As is the tow truck. Cool!

We all arrive on scene, car is ok, life is good. The end of my night is in sight! But, just for giggles, I decide to try and start the car.

It starts.

Darn. I wasted the tow driver’s time, and god only knows how much of my time, for nothing. We wave goodbye to the driver, and head down the road.

For 4 blocks. At which point the car dies again. And I am, again, pushing a jeep into a parking lot, in an expensive suit. At least it’s dark and not as hot. And surely we can get the tow truck back?

Nope, no truck. No luck. Just a smell of gasoline, and my friends’ frayed nerves starting on fire.

It turns out that AAA is 24 hours in some theoretical sense. Nobody answers the phone. Nobody will help. Sigh.

Forget it, can’t deal with it. We get in a taxi, leave the car at the parking lot – of a 7-11 this time – hoping it doesn’t get burned up or something and head home to sleep. Expensive taxi ride, VERY tired Douglas, troupe arrives home at ~1am and heads for bed.

Wake up the next morning to figure out car, in Hollywood, if it’s still there. I don’t want to take Motorcycle to get there, since I’m not sure all is ok with my friend the bike. But there is a Hertz local edition about 5 blocks from my friend’s house.

Now if I had just rented a car yesterday, all would have been MUCH better, but no dice. It takes me 1.5 hours to rent the car – apparently, it’s harder than it looks to take a credit card – but finally I get my car, and I head for Hollywood. I have my AAA card, and the right number and I am feeling lucky!

We call AAA while we are on the way and I am smiling for the first time in 24 hours. Life is good – this one almost works. Came so close.

The truck leaves before we get to the car. DARN!

But my friend convinces them to come back, and they do, and we load the car onto the truck and we are off to tow the car back to my friend’s house. He can figure out what’s wrong with the darn thing…

It takes about 30 minutes to get home from Hollywood, while leading a tow truck.

The best part of this trip – other than my friend on the phone the whole way – comes at the end of the trip. On Lincoln Boulevard. About a mile or so from my friend’s house.

When the tow truck REAR-ENDS my rental car.

When the Karma is bad, it’s bad. Or perhaps it is Carma.

Be careful, my friends, I may be on a road near you…