I followed his plane on my flight tracker app- seeing the moment, only seconds really, when we were directly parallel. Him, thousands of feet above hurtling toward glittering los angeles, me, a day and a half in, somewhere in Arizona. Ready to turn in for my second night on the train. He texted me pictures of the cozy Hotel Hermosa that he had just checked into, picked within minutes, the instagram photos showing the los angeles skyline, the colorful rooms, the vibrant blankets. He slept, expecting me to sneak in at 5:30 in the morning when my train would arrive, and slide under the covers, join him in sleep.
But now it's 4 in the morning. All the lights on the train have come on, and people are shifting in their seats, confused. The train is stopped. On the loudspeaker, the conductor informs us that a freighter train (not connected with amtrak) had derailed in front of us. We were stopped here for as long as it took. "Coffee is free in the dining car," he says. But within an hour, problem solved, we were following a commuter rail train into Los Angeles, and I was in a lyft to Hotel Hermosa with an ethiopian makeup artist, talking about following your passion across continents, and then I was blurry eyed and loopy, stumbling into the hotel room where my husband lay working on early morning email. And then we were outside- taking silly selfies and on the balcony where the hill overlooked the city.
I took him to Uncle Bill’s Pancake House, in Manhattan Beach, and we sat outside, the wind blowing through my hair, and I ordered the dish I always got, a skillet of potatoes and meat and vegetables, and orange juice and decaf coffee and the ocean was just to my right. I kept sneaking little glimpses to take it all in.
Years ago, before I was a traveler, we used to argue about traveling. My husband had dreams of picking up and just going somewhere for a weekend- flying in and flying out. Now he grins at me- “This is what I always wanted us to do,” he says.
I take him down the steep incline to Manhattan beach. My beach."We are going to retire here," I had texted my husband, the first time I saw it, months before, sending pictures of the strand, bright with flickering lights, each building unique and regal.
In my head, I thought that on this trip I would take him to all my favorite spots, replicate my perfect day. Hours with my toes in the sand, watching the surfers take off and ride a perfect wave. Lunch at my gluten free, vegan heaven, Rice, tucked away in a building complex, where every time I would treat myself to a three course meal, and photograph every bite in delight. Then I would take him to my jazz joint, the Lighthouse Cafe, and show him the woman who booked the bands and still stayed in my memory years later. We did none of those things.
I’ve talked often about how traveling with a friend, a partner, a family member, yourself- all equates to an entirely different trip. This one was no different.
I took him to the beach and we did put our feet in the sand, and I sat quietly listening to the waves and we walked and we walked. But then we changed plans. It was time to do LA a different way. Quickly we were in a lyft heading to venice beach, and eating gastropub food in a cafe decorated with murals and flashy mannequins, and strolling the venice beach boardwalk- the colorful people, each store bursting with bright clothing and jewelry, and muscle beach, each man more muscular than the first, lifting hundreds of pounds to raucous applause, and grinning wryly at the audience each time.
And then we were in line to attend an Only Son CD release party, tickets purchased on a whim after seeing a facebook invite, sitting outside in the line so we would be the first ones to get in. I drank cocktails from a speakeasy at the front of the theatre, dim, with red lights, and sat in the front row as stars walked on the stage, and our favorite, Regina Spektor, sang to celebrate her husband's release, and people laughed and cheered. My husband took a photo with the singer, and we spotted stars milling about after the show, agents carefully pulling some of the bigger names back in the back to meet with the musicians. That one, from Glee. That one an academy award nominated actress.
Let's change plans, said my husband, the next morning, on the way to brunch, our vacation theme cemented, and our lyft driver switched his route to Griffith Observatory, my fear of heights intensifying as we drove up through the hollywood hills. I put on a meditation to calm myself down, "Imagine yourself on a mountain top," It said cheerily, "the tallest mountain in the world." Not what I was looking for. Outside of the car - the city a shadowy mural below us. We power walked each corner of it- myself- amazed at how high up we are, nervous but animated, taking pictures everywhere in disbelief. The hollywood sign, so close, the city below, so small.
And then we are heading to Quarters Korean BBQ at the recommendation of our driver. Within minutes we are seated, bowls of food we didn't order appearing before us, a grill lit up, two conversations about gluten that both led to totally different answers- I took my gluten blocker and hoped for the best. Bowls after bowls of seasoned meats- each one cooked delicately in front of us, and a kimchi stew I could have eaten for days, sauces and sides. We grinned big and savored each bite.
Later we power walked the Peterson automotive museum, given 20 minutes before they closed for a special event, we moved like lightning, take a photo here, go there, next floor, and next and next. And then we were at the Santa Monica pier, and wandering tourist streets, and discovering a gastropub to watch the end of the OU/TX game and drink the best cocktail of my life. And then we were watching the setting sun over Santa Monica pier, in a line with hundreds of others, the sun slowly moving below the horizon. Later walking slowly through the pier, stopping to ride the carousel, stopping to put our feet back in the sand, stopping to watch the people, so many of them after dark, gathering to say goodbye to the water, like us. Not wanting to leave it, just like me.
6 am, and the end of this phase of the trip came quickly. Each of these moments, already a memory. I look through my pictures to remember them. Remember how the wind felt in my hair. Remember the view at the top of the world. Remember the last bit of ocean, in the dark, rushing to meet us.
I sneaked out of the hotel, wishing it goodbye, heading towards the Megabus. San Francisco bound.