As we’ve spent the last few days tooling around Los Angeles, one can’t help but be overwhelmed by the endless sea of people, cars, houses, businesses and stuff. Lotsa stuff. Not that we don’t all live with that each day, just about anywhere we happen to call home, but the sheer size of it all down here and the way it has spread outward brings one word to mind – Sprawl!
So, that is the theme of today’s blog. I hope you don’t mind if I just kind of let the narrative of this one sprawl a bit. Perhaps I’ll start in one area and just kind of let it spread out and go wherever it naturally (or unnaturally) wants to flow. Bear with me, would you? If not, you can go straight to L… A.
We are parked right on the beach at Dockweiler RV Park in El Segundo. Sure, we are packed in a bit tight, but at sixty bills a night, this is some prime real estate. The sound and smells of the ocean. Sun, sand and serenity – the beach is almost empty since school is back in session. Paradise.
So, you are probably thinking, “Caleb, there has to be a catch!”
And you are right! While the view to the west is absolutely beautiful, the view to the up looks just like this:
Now, I am not complaining. We spent two nights with the window in our bedroom open and listened to the waves for a while. Wave, wave wave, plane. Wave, wave, big plane. Zzzzzz. Really big plane! Insert ear plugs.
After two nights of that, followed by a couple of days at 95 degrees with 60% humidity, we decided to put the trailer to the test. You see, unlike most of the people that live very close to the beach in L.A., we have an air conditioner. In fact, we have two! And since our wingless airship maxes out at just under 240 square feet, we found out it doesn’t take very long to cool it down. And the fans are just loud enough to drown out the air traffic noise from LAX – which is pretty loud. All is good.
Think I’m making it up? Then feel free to check out the ghost town of Palisades del Rey. As we were taking our first walk along the beach, we came across a several mile stretch of deserted property, where there is nothing left but overgrown streets and rusting street lamps. It seems that in the 1920’s someone decided to build a very nice upscale community in El Segundo. About ten years later, they decided to put a small airfield just east of it. That airfield is now LAX. Then they invented the jet engine and that made PdR unlivable, so the authorities decided to invoke eminent domain and they kicked everybody out. Check out the video on YouTube.
So, why are we here? Well, that takes a little bit of explaining. For those of you who don’t know my history, I grew up in beautiful Stockton, California. Stockton gets a pretty bad rap for lots of things, but it really wasn’t that bad a place to grow up. Close to San Francisco, and close to Yosemite, it was just a couple of hours to numerous fine places … that weren’t Stockton. Because of proximity, I got to see a lot of this beautiful state as a kid.
When I was eleven, I didn’t know it, but my family was standing on the brink of disintegration. My parents weren’t getting along, my brother was a senior in high school and itching to get out of the house. And a huge Catholic family had just moved into the neighborhood. Eight kids, two adults, a grandmother and assorted dogs and cats. (Kid 9 didn’t come until some years later)
So, as I moved into 6th grade, my father and brother took off for greener pastures, and I found myself living comfortably in a three-bedroom house with my Mom. This wasn’t half bad, as the overall ambiance in our house had become significantly less hostile due to reduction in family size. That said, there were times when it was a little bit dull. When that happened, I could pretty much always head over to the Lamkin house, (the big Catholic family noted above) where there was always something happening. The oldest three boys were all within two years of my own age, so the odds were pretty good that someone would be around to hang with.
Over the years, they have become my family, and it is also through them that I eventually met my wife, Sandy.
Now, the Lamkin parents were pretty busy, and they were typical friend’s parents. They took you to scouting campouts, and got mad at you when they discovered your beer stash. And, at one point, Molly actually taught me how to drive a stick shift. But still, they were parents.
Then something weird happened. They became our friends. When Joe Lamkin married his wife Jill, we all went down to L.A. for the wedding. (That is Joe and Jill in the picture – the ones that aren’t us and aren’t aged to perfection). Anyway, on some crazy whim, we told the parents that after Joe’s wedding we were going up to celebrate our own wedding anniversary at Hearst Castle and a crazy, gaudy hotel called the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo. You see, our wedding anniversary is October 14th, and Molly and Bill’s is October 12th. Before I knew it, Sandy had invited them to join us and share our celebrations.
Now that seemed a little weird. I envisioned a romantic getaway, and instead, my wife has invited my friend’s parents to come along. I envisioned a weekend in the Cloud 9 room, which I had booked for the weekend, and now she is calling the Inn to order them and extra room. But, what the hell, I thought. Let’s do it. So, off we went in our own car, with them following after us a couple of hours later.
Fast forward a few hours, and we are experiencing quite the opposite of wedded bliss. It seems that another couple is in our room, insists that they had a reservation for the whole weekend, and refuses to leave. Instead of the over-the-top romantic Cloud 9 room, they are offering us a suite instead – a suite with the ominous name of “The Pick and Shovel Suite”. The hotel management was very apologetic, and promised that they would try and make it up to us. “Why don’t you go check it out” they asked me. It is very big.
So, we head over to the room to see what is in store for us. Not quite the romantic thing we were looking for. Imagine, red leather couches fourteen feet long. Tractor-seat stools at a full wood-grain formica bar. Bunk beds in two of the rooms. And the coup de grâce – a pick and shovel lamp embedded in concrete fashioned to look like a large pile of gold. Totally like staying at the Cartwright’s house in Bonanza. Needless to say, Sandy was not happy, but the manager explained that there was nothing they could do. Shortly, I found myself calling Bill and Molly to tell them that we were canceling their room and they were staying with us. Now it was Bill’s turn to wonder just what the heck we were thinking. After all, he was celebrating his anniversary too, and I don’t think he was too happy about sharing a room with us. I said, “Don’t worry, we will explain it all when you get here. You will have your own room, and Sandy is sending me for a bottle of her favorite tequila. With any luck, she will be talking to me again by the time you get here.”
Well, they arrived, and by then, Sandy had had a couple of shots of Don Julio. We spent about a half hour telling them the whole story while we drank margaritas and laughed about how ridiculous the whole thing had become. And then it just got better and better. We had a marvelous dinner and an evening that ended up with us tooling around the Madonna Inn in a horse-drawn carriage while Bill serenaded us all with his beautiful bass voice.
Alright, I warned you that this blog was going to be a sprawling one, right? Well, in the end, we had a wonderful time, and discovered that parents are people too. Over the next decade we continued to share anniversaries from time to time with Bill and Molly. Dinner at The French Laundry during a Napa weekend. A weekend in Mendocino. The Awahnee Hotel in Yosemite. Last year in New Orleans which we tried to get to many years before but were kiboshed by Hurricane Katrina.
So that brings us to this year, and because this all started with Joe and Jill’s wedding on October 11th, 2001, we decided to include them this year. We were originally headed for Catalina Island, but they were already booked. So instead, we ended up on the beach near their house and celebrated three wedding anniversaries over an extended weekend. Lots of fun and lots of laughter… and way too much food – but another anniversary we will never forget with two people who we have come to love as both friends and parents.
Thanks to Molly and Bill Lamkin for all you mean to us.