I pinched myself the next morning to make sure the condor hadn’t made a meal of me. I made my way to one of the countless freeways that spread like a spider’s web across southern California and tuned into a local AM station KNBC, which happened to be spewing out morning rush-hour traffic reports from high above L.A. It turned out to be quite entertaining with accurate play-by-play accounts such as: “The Ventura is running smoothly as you near the Hollywood where a jackknifed semi is causing a two-mile back-up in all eastbound lanes as you approach the Pasadena which is running fairly smooth until you merge with the westbound lanes of the Santa Monica where traffic is backed up for miles since it dead-ends right into the Pacific Ocean.” Welcome to L.A.!
I had no intention of dawdling around Los Angeles, so I hightailed it south on I-405 to visit son Ted and family in San Diego where he was enrolled at UCSD for 7 years (until 1991) for a doctorate degree in physics. It was a spartan university with no football team, no cheerleaders, no nothing except study, study, study. I had no trouble in finding the Early residence, which reflected Californian’s obsession with the automobile – an abominable protrusion of the garage in front of the rest of the house. Every house in the neighborhood had the same footprint!
I got to see my month-old granddaughter Nicole and my six-year old grandson Jimmy who loved crawling around in the van, so much so, he got into the driver’s seat and inadvertently shifted the gear stick into neutral, rolling Ol’ Blue down the driveway and across the street, coming to rest at the curb. Fortunately, there were no children in the way. Karen’s mother was visiting and we all enjoyed engaging in the genteel game of croquet in the back yard. I tell ya’, Mrs. Ann Meitzen played one wicked wicket game, slamming our balls to the far corners of the yard after hers came to rest next to one of ours. She was also an avid golfer and tennis player. After a sumptuous supper and a lot of good talk, I retired to the van on the upsloped driveway. I had always found that it was a little more comfortable sleeping with my head slightly higher than my feet.
The next morning, I was awakened by young Jimmy bouncing on top of me, yelling, “Wake up, Papa. It’s time for breakfast.” After a dish of scrambled eggs and toast, I bid farewell to The Kids and mother Meitzen and proceeded back north on the San Diego Freeway (I-405), exiting at the town of Costa Mesa, a cosmetic community of polished buildings and manicured esplanades. It was nauseatingly dull.
I eventually found the Best Western Huntington Beach Motel, which turned out to be an ideal overnight parking spot. It was an enormous two-level layout with a bank of guest rooms running the length of a football field, a huge registration lobby, a gift shop, a band stand and dance floor (including a piano bar), and a spacious restaurant with an ancillary coffee shop. And by the way, there was also an adjacent nine-hole golf course for the devoted duffer. The parking lot was packed, but I managed to find a spot facing Ocean Ave (CA 1) and the beach beyond. I felt secure in not being “discovered” since Ol’ Blue seemed to blend in so well amongst all the guest vehicles. As I reclined under the covers, I could feel the cool Pacific breeze wafting through the van. It was splendid sleeping.
I spent the entire next day just lollygagging around the premise, starting with breakfast at the coffee shop. I then toured the gift shop where I bought some “Wish you were here” picture postcards. I wasn’t about to purchase any ticky-tacky souvenirs such as “authentic” Pacific Coast seashells or T-shirts emblazoned with the braggadocio, “Don’t You Wish You Were From California?” I walked back to the van and suddenly had a brainstorm – why not revolve the passenger seat so that it faced the cargo door and bed, thereby creating a “sitting room?” It was an ideal arrangement. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it earlier.
I gathered up all my necessary gear and traipsed across the highway to enjoy an afternoon at the beach. I was primarily engaged with watching beautiful bronzed females strutting their stuff along the beach. I figured these beauties had to inspire the Beach Boys to compose their classic I Wish They All Could Be California Girls. I couldn’t help noticing a middle-aged Caucasian lady sitting in her beach chair with chocolate-brown skin draped over her boney body. It bordered on the absurd. She obviously had no fear of melanoma.
As the afternoon waned, the setting sun took on a red-orange glow as it slipped behind some low thin clouds. Before leaving the beach, I took advantage of the freestanding beach shower so courteously provided. Back at home base, I changed into my casual dinner wear and had a light supper at the motel restaurant, then slipped next door to the piano bar where a raucous group of revelers were tippling and singing. Sitting around a piano with a cocktail in hand was the most affable way to meet people with everyone making a request for their favorite song.
Eventually, I got my turn, and asked for Erroll Garner’s piano classic, Misty. The group loved it and some of us even tried our best to remember the lyrics. Afterwards, I struck up a conversation with a gentleman about my age and said, “This is the best. I lived in Denver in the late 70s and early 80s when piano bars were the most popular places in town. Now they’re all but extinct, save one Charlie Browns at the Coburn Hotel. It’s a sad shame.” He gave a slight sympathetic nod. I finally called it a night and thanked the pianist (with a generous tip) and all the patrons for a splendid evening. I reposed in bed thinking, “Wow, that was one grand time!”