I hit a slight snag with the whole “a post a day travelogue” — when I stayed up too late talking and reading, and then not thinking about Internet access without getting the password from my uncle. Duh. But better late than never, right?
My plane landed at LAX a full 40 minutes early, which was great. And they didn’t make us sit on the runway for an hour, which was even better. It was an especially big relief because I was seated next to a very large man who couldn’t help but ooze over the arm rest into my space, and who also used both armrests for his overly jutting-out elbows. He also slept most of the way, so it was hard to nudge him to move. But, you know, it is what it is. I had a window seat that I could shrink into. I felt terrible for the guy on the aisle.
Walking along the skyway to the baggage ramp, I got my first taste of dreamy weirdness. I lived here for a long time, although at this point the time I spent here in relation to the time I’ve spent away is a dwindling and increasingly invalid fraction. I’m not a native, but it was home for a while. The strange thing is the way the familiar sort of blends in with the new, the sort-of-new, and the new-since-I-was-here to make for a semi-surreal experience. The sky was the same. The mountains were the same. But so much in the foreground was either new or lost to my memory that it felt out of balance.
I was driving from Santa Monica to Glendale, where my uncle lives. That part was all completely familiar. The freeway system is all exactly as I remember. I waved to USC when I passed that exit, I spun through downtown without any problem and was surprised to see the same paintings of the orchestra were still on the building, with that spooky witchy-looking violin player surrounded by storm clouds. The convention center got a lot greener, but that was the only really notable change. Except for the fact that I was driving a much nicer car, I could have been transported back 20 years to the time I drove that freeway on a regular basis. It didn’t help that the rental car’s radio was tuned to a station that specializes in playing music that was big around that time.
But then I got to Glendale and exited the freeway.
Back to surreal dreamscape. Even though I stayed in California after changing jobs, I hadn’t really driven around Glendale since I lived and worked there 20 years ago. I found my old apartment, but didn’t recognize anything around it. I was happy to see that several of my fast-food haunts are still there, but with one exception, most have changed their signage, so that I almost didn’t recognize them either. Landmarks were still there, but so much has changed around them that it almost felt like someone had picked them up and moved them a couple blocks in random directions. Gentrification has made for some confusing traffic patterns and a couple of irritating developments where certain streets dead-end into valet parking dropoffs. I didn’t even bother trying to find the newspaper; I had already made enough wrong turns in an afternoon.
The really sad thing is that all the stuff I didn’t recognize looked new, well cared for. All the stuff I did recognize looked old, faded, shabby. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before most of that stuff is torn down completely. The one exception is the Alex Theater, which was being completely overhauled when I was living nearby. It isn’t quite a jewelbox of a theater, but it is nice to see that people still care about it, and it continues to play some role in the community.
After tooling around town for a bit, I wandered up into the hills to my uncle’s house. That all was very comforting — the neighborhood was pretty well established when they moved in back before I was in college, so I didn’t have any trouble navigating the hilly roads and didn’t miss any turns.
Time marches on, I guess. It’s just sort of funny to me what it chooses to march around, and what it chooses to stomp over.