Wednesday, July 9, 2008

"THe Bad Luck Story"

A recent trip to the Hollywood Bowl brought to mind a bad luck story that happened to our family on an earlier visit. It’s just one of those stories – bad luck from beginning to end.

For those who don’t know, the Hollywood Bowl is a large amphitheater, scenically nestled in the Hollywood Hills. During the summer, there are nightly concerts, featuring various “concept shows”, from a Cuban festival to sing-along Les Miserables.

My friends Cliff and Amanda and I recently attended an anniversary tribute to the Dodgers’ fifty years in Los Angeles, headlined by Randy Newman, who wrote the great score for the baseball movie, The Natural. The show also included an array of some of least familiar Dodgers anyone could possibly imagine.

It started to get funny. Instead of superstar Dodgers like Steve Garvey and Sandy Koufax, each player that was introduced was less famous than the one before. Remember Matt Luke? I don’t. And I’m a fan. Some of these guys, I don’t think got out of spring training. It was like, “Fifty Years of Dodgers who Normally Sat on the Bench.”

My latest visit sent me back to the time that Dr. M, myself and our daughters went to the Hollywood Bowl to see the late tap dancing phenom, Gregory Hines, who during a “down” period in his career had lived across the street from Dr. M in the bohemian suburb of Venice.

We were very excited. We had bought a “box” for the performance and had picked up a picnic dinner from a restaurant we liked called The Daily Grill. The picnic basket came fully loaded: a sumptuous dinner, plates, silverware, drinking glasses, napkins, a tablecloth, and two little candles in small, metal holders.

A candlelight picnic under the stars. It would be a night to remember.

Oh, yeah.

We arrived on time and parked in the lot above the Bowl. That’s when the bad luck began. We had a Jeep back then, and for some reason, the lock bolt had frozen in one of the doors and despite every effort, the bolt refused to budge, clanging frustratingly against the doorjamb.

You never want to leave your car in a parking lot with the door open. That’s asking for trouble. The main concern after, you know, someone driving away with your car, is that, because the door was open, the indoor lights would stay on, leaving the not small likelihood that when you came back to your car, your battery would be dead.

We had no choice; it was getting late. We secured the door as best we could, after cleaning out the car, so that miscreants wouldn’t open the door and pilfer away. The Jeep didn’t have a trunk.

So there we were, my family and I, trudging down to the Hollywood Bowl, carrying our delicious picnic dinner, plus the entire contents of our car.

Because of our car door problems, we were now on the late side. When we found our seats – it was getting close to show time – but we still had time for our dinner. We rented a picnic table, which was quickly set up in our box.

It was an overly large table – it was all they had left by then – which made for a rather tight squeeze. I sat at the end of the table facing the stage, Anna and Dr. M sat on the sides, and Rachel sat at the other end, her back to the stage. This wouldn’t be a problem. The table would be removed before the show started.

Dr. M spread the tablecloth, the girls helped set the table, and I opened the Pellegrino (sparkling water) and filled the glasses. Dr. M lit the two little candles. We were ready to picnic.

Imagine my feelings as I surveyed the scene. A balmy summer evening, the company of the family I love, a three-course picnic dinner, and a wonderful show to come. Stop time. It’s the prefect moment. Unless you hear these particular words:

“Your table cloth is on fire.”

As we were about to start eating, a breeze came up, and without our noticing, it had blown the corner of the tablecloth over the candles, causing the tablecloth to burst immediately into flame. As wine-loosened bystanders laughed and pointed, our family fought desperately to douse the fire with Pellegrino.

We extinguished the flames fairly quickly, though the smoke and the flying pieces of tablecloth debris (like black confetti) were apparent for some time. The crisis was over, but we remained the center of derision. It’s natural, I guess. People love seeing other people’s picnics interrupted by fire.

No time to eat now, the show was about to begin. Delivering the next blow in our nightmarish outing. We quickly learned that once the performance started, the ushers were instructed not to take away the tables.

I saw the show. I was the one facing the stage. Dr. M and Anna saw it sideways, required to enjoy the performance with their heads locked directly over their shoulders. Rachel saw nothing. The show was proceeding behind her, and she couldn’t turn around. We had to tell her what was going on.

They removed our table at intermission, but by then, we were hungry, soot-covered, and generally not in the festive mood we were hoping for from a beautiful evening at the Hollywood Bowl.

When the show ended, we trudged back up the hill to the parking lot, wondering if our car would start when we got there.

To give the story its perfect ending, our battery would have been dead, and we’d be left standing in the parking lot after everyone had left, waiting for the Auto Club to arrive.

Instead, the car started immediately and we went home.

Now that’s a real bad luck story. Even the ending lets you down.

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