alone vs. lonely or 27 hours in l.a.

A Story in Words and Pictures
                                                          LA: a study of metal over concrete

MY THIRD TRIP IN FOUR WEEKS. Son is deciding on college and we are in LA to see the second to the last on his list.  Acceptance letters arrive April 1 and decision must happen by May 1 so its hit the ground running to visit schools. We land at 11 a.m. Get the rental car. Drive the freeway. Arrive at sad little old style California motel. the two story kind that wraps around an oozing tarmac and kidney shaped pool. drive up to campus. i want to like this place but it has to impress me. saving my judgement until later in the day. walk around. drink bad decaf. appointment with kindly English professor who fills us in on student support issues. score two points. latch on to tour group in late stage of tour. ask question of tour guide after tour and get honest answer. score two points. meet up with son's host for overnight stay. really nice kid, score two more points. it's been spitting rain and 60s - very non socal weather but the sun comes out and that softsoft air, that perfumed air. score score score.  
                                                                this is not greece. 
                                      how can you not like a college with an amphitheater cut into the hillside?

this place is a virtual arboretum

                                                   where even the storm sewers are beautiful

Leave son with host for his overnight stay and take off to drive up and down main boulevards to find a place to eat. i will walk, i decide, not drive. spot italian place. it's empty and will only dine there later if more people show up. return to motel. decide it's not so bad. go online. see email from brother and sister. they are saying our dad will need to go to assisted living soon. he lives with his wife in long beach. start to feel guilt coming on as i am 25 miles north of long beach. i am in la for 27 hours and i am not seeing my dad. I am accompanying my son and have made my choice whom I am helping on this trip.

Guilt trails me out the motel door. down the street. only two people are dining in the italian place with the white tablecloths. i have envisioned myself with a martini and plate of pesto pasta but no. i pass on by. past a karate studio. little kids are taking the yellow belt test.

 tiny clenched fists and stomping feet. they're cute but i'm not sure i understand why 6 year olds need to learn how to defend themselves. the tour guide said she carries pepper spray with her because there are rival gangs in the area. i forgot about that until now. i realize i have shifted my stride to the "i'm-alone-creating-an-impenetrable-barricade-don't-fuck-with-me-walk."

sometimes i walk like a little girl, arms swinging. sometimes the big lady walk for a rare ordeal in heels. but i've perfected the "I'm alone" walk. because i've traveled alone a lot. whenever i'm by myself in a big city it happens on its own. fists shoved deep into pockets. keep eyes ahead. expression bored. shoulders slumped. I know where I'm going stride. if a pack of guys or a single shady guy approaches i widen my inner space and become male myself. sometimes i actually walk closer to them and they give berth. like pushing a psychic lawnmower, people don't approach.

am i alone or lonely?

i sit at the table. chopsticks plunge a bowl of pho. glass noodles. barbecue pork. tiger beer and jasmine tea. i have the ny times. it was free at the college bookstore. score one more point. there is an article about a woman who divorced her husband and moved into a garage. she renovated it and displays sawed off bathtub feet alongside homemade metal sculptures. she recycles things and eats raw food. her living space is 250 feet. she met a drummer in a band and they got married and now they live in the main house, but she reserves the garage for her clothes and herself. i decide she is very cool. i have a fey little dream about having an artist's retreat on my own property, away from the main house. a transformed garage sounds perfect. what is it about walking away from your real house 50 feet to a tiny little house? because it is the other, that's why. it's yours. it's a throwback to the childhood fort. yes i had one of those. i called it fort fall leaves. i was big on the obvious at age 8.

some men are gathering outside the vietnamese restaurant. they are all smoking and wearing lakers hats. i guess there's a bar next door.

when i leave i cross the street. there is a place called oinkers and it's yet another iconic socal eatery. 60s jetsons zippy triangular neon.

in some ways this place hasn't changed from the days when i came out to visit my grandmother and aunt who lived in san diego. like cars, everything lasts longer here in this climate absent of snow, sleet and road salt. the past has a longer shelf life.

a text from my son. i answer it and he doesn't write back after the second text. that is a good sign.

am i alone or lonely?

daughter calls. she has a paper to present tomorrow and is nervous. husband calls. he is on the east coast, fixing up a rental property. in the past 4 weeks i have woven a tangle of flight plans between california (yes i was here 4 weeks ago. to visit my dad. guilt partially assuaged), mexico, colorado, minneapolis, california and in two days a drive to wisconsin and return thru chicago. today is earth day and i celebrate by spewing jet fuel into the atmosphere and boosting my carbon imprint.

next stop. walgreens. i wander the aisles and buy a box of lorna doons and 72% dark chocolate. $4.78 thank you would you like to buy a pack of peanuts for 99 cents the cashier asks me. I look at her funny and she apologizes. I'm sorry but I have to ask each customer this. i take my change. the man behind me wants two packs of kool menthols. i hear her ask him if he wants the 99 cent peanuts and he looks at her funny, pauses, and says, what?

last stop starbucks. decaf. this time it's decent. i am excited to see a taco truck outside my motel. i take a picture and don't mind the blurry image. no name taco truck.

no, i am not lonely. i feel alive in this crummy little motel so close to old california highway 2. close to the green foothills that remind me of my childhood. they are old, old, old and make me feel secure. thank goddess some things in this world don't change. so far, i like this school. i will reserve judgement until our final stop in wisconsin. but i wouldn't mind visiting him here.

somewhere, about 25 miles south along this jagged coast, my dad doesn't know i'm here. but we are connected nonetheless. he's never seemed to mind spending time by himself and doesn't rely on others to entertain him. tomorrow i will smear some more jet fuel across the western sky as we head home, but for now i'm alone. but not lonely. he taught me that.

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