10 years ago this month, I called up my email pen-pal and asked what he was up to that weekend. Not too much, he said. So I said I thought maybe I'd like to visit him in L.A.
From Iowa?I had a job that allowed me pretty unlimited travel options, and this was before air travel became so unpleasant after 9/11, so I booked a red-eye out of Des Moines directly to Los Angeles--my itinerary put me in L.A. for about 36 hours.
Um, ok...I don't really do the tour guide thing.
The plane landed right after a rainstorm, so the air was clear and the colors were saturated--it was a pretty compelling first impression. He took me a Cuban restaurant, Versailles, for garlic chicken and then back to his tiny apartment in Miracle Mile. He had rehearsal for his comedy show scheduled, and I didn't have anything better to do, so I watched him and a room full of other funny guys put together a sketch comedy show in an apartment in Hollywood. We went out to a cheesy bar (Lava Lounge, I think?) and then back to his apartment.
If it isn't already obvious, I had gone to L.A. with a vague agenda: my penpal, whom I had known superficially since childhood had, over about 6 months, become a close confidant at a time when I was living a pretty isolated life--fresh out of college, working nonstop at a job I hated, living in a town which, albeit lovely, was just not home. And, uh, I was single. And he was cute. [NOTE TO MEMBERS OF MY FAMILY, CURRENT EMPLOYERS, ETC: "vague agenda" is as racy as this story gets--read on without fear.] So, when we got back to his apartment and he basically said "good night, thanks for coming," I was a little nonplussed.
The next day we bummed around in the morning (which was nearly afternoon because he slept so late--particularly brutal since I am an early riser and my body clock was already two time zones ahead of L.A.) and then went to another rehearsal. We had called MovieFone ("Hello, and welcome to MovieFone"--this was a revelation to me in 1998) and made tentative plans to catch the revival of Wizard of Oz at Mann's Chinese Theater. The rehearsal went long, so we barely made it to the theatre and had to run in the drizzle to make it in time. When we bought the tickets, the clerk gave us each a 60th anniversary Wizard of Oz flicker button that showed Dorothy and Friends following the yellow brick road. Inside, we ate popcorn from a cardboard box and watched a great movie inside one of the coolest theaters in Hollywood.
By the time the movie was finished it was time for me to head to the airport. The weekend had been fun, but not exactly what I'd had in mind. There had been mixed signals and a slightly dampened tenor to all our conversations. No big deal--nothing ventured, nothing gained.
As we drove out to the airport, we stopped for gas at the Arco (on Washington, I think? La Brea?), and when he got back in the car he took an almost confrontational tone, kind of hipster cool, even snearing. And he said, "So, let me ask you a question...why did you come here?"
Devestation mixed with frustration and anger and indignation. And came out in the form of "Um, I don't know."
A minute or two later, he said, "I think maybe you were just looking for a little human contact." Woah. Dude. Was that, like, the most patronizing thing ever said? Or the most insightful? I was just sort of dumbfounded and stared out of the passenger window as we sped past the oil rigs on Sepulveda.
And then he put his hand on top of mine--not really holding it, just making contact, as it were. And we stayed that way until we pulled up in front of the terminal at LAX. He got out of the car and came around to help me get my bag out of the flatbead of his Mitsubishi Mighty-Max. It had gotten really cold, and I can still see his foggy breath and the wide lapels of his thrift store corduroy jacket. He gave me a hug--one of those great, enveloping hugs that gives the muscles in your back a pass and makes gravity seem just a little less, well, gravitational.
We should do this more often, he said.And I gathered up my bag and waived goodbye.
Yeah. This. Whatever "this" is, I said, fishing.
Right, he said.
There's a lot more to the story--four cities, a lot of love and laughter, and a little heartache, too. But suffice it to say that ten years ago, I knew I wanted something, someone more in my life. And that I was thinking about more than just tomorrow. But if you had asked me to picture the two of us today, our marriage, our child, our home--I would have drawn a blank. I wanted this. I just didn't know what "this" would be. And I'm still finding out. And feeling pretty thankful.