I like to get the ending out of the way early. Though this is a “First” – giving it up right in the title. And they say I’m not a risk-taker.
There’s a reason for deliberately giving away the ending. Regular readers can easily guess where this story is headed. Why? Because virtually all my stories – most notably those involving females – head in precisely the same direction.
Therefore, instead of a letdown pursuant to an ending you can see coming from a distant planet, I let the cat out of the bag, spilling the beans from the get-go, trying to use as many clichés as I can think of in the process.
In sitcoms, this is called “hanging a lantern on it.” What that means is that, when the story has a deficiency – in, say, logic or credibility – rather than burying it – and ending up with the literary version of a botched “nose job” – you shine a bright light on it, which acknowledges, “We know.” And you get on with the story.
Which I will now relate, having revealed “off the top” that it doesn’t work out.
EXT. THE WEST SIDE OF LOS ANGELES – NIGHT.
The Time: 1974. December – when it gets dark early.
There are FOUR CHARACTERS in this story (but two of them don’t talk): Myself. A Female Companion. My ’72 pumpkin orange-with-a-black-vinyl-roof Mazda. And Sunset Boulevard.
Me, you already know. The Female Companion, I will do a little “Blurring Action” on, like they do on Caught On Camera – which I have occasionally clicked past on my way to loftier programming – and for the same reason: To protect their identity.
I shall only say that I was motivated to, if not impress her, then at least not regress ignominiously in the opposite direction.
The ’72 Mazda, I had arranged to have driven down from Toronto when I decided to relocate in L.A. It would later blow up on me in the middle of the street, but at this point, it was totally reliable. And a little sporty.
Which leaves “Sunset Boulevard.” A majorly-traveled thoroughfare. Extremely windy. And horribly lit. L.A., leaning towards neon as its “Illumination of Choice”, has never splurged on streetlights. For certain drivers, Sunset is a formidable challenge in the daytime. At night…well, I’m getting ahead of myself. And I imagine, so are you.
We are going out to dinner. Gladstone’s 4 Fish. Located by the beach, where the Pacific Coast Highway meets the westernmost end of Sunset. Maybe ten miles from my apartment.
It is “Rush Hour.”
It is dark.
And it’s Sunset.
We take the Mazda.
With me at the wheel.
We pull out of my apartment garage…
And off we go.
A quarter of a mile up Barrington, turn Left onto Sunset. We are driving to the ocean. When we hit water, we’re there.
My driving skills – or the lack thereof – are immediately apparent. I have never been a confident driver, partly because of eye issues – they are not the best at vision – plus, for reasons explained elsewhere, I had passed my Driver’s Test on a Canadian network television Public Affairs program, and I was never sure if the examiner passed me because I was qualified, or because he did not want to disappoint the producer.
I have a license. But am not certain I earned it.
The Rush Hour traffic, brisk but not bumper-to-bumper, is moving along at a steady clip. I, on the other hand, am not.
It is dark. I cannot see far in front of me. And it’s not just the eye issue. The configuration of Sunset – that being notoriously curvy – makes it impossible to determine what’s ahead. So I drive carefully. Braking at every turn in the road.
This does not make for a smooth trip. We move forward in fits and starts, my
“Defensive Driving” strategy:
I have my foot on the gas pedal – and then I brake. Then it’s back on the gas – and then I brake.
My approach brings new meaning to, “Fasten your seat belts; it’s going to be a bumpy ride.” I, at least, have the bracing protection of the steering wheel. My companion, on the other hand, is being continually jolted back and forth in her seat, her whiplashing contortions synchronizing with the lurching rhythms of the Mazda.
The drive to the restaurant is going as poorly as I had feared it might. But what am I supposed to do? Go racing around a curve and slam directly into a car I did not know was there, the car having, for one reason or other, slowed down, or, idling at the end of an unexpectedly traffic jam, stopped?
So on we go.
Gas – brake! Gas – brake! Gas – brake! Gas – brake!
My companion, a good sport, is silent.
Until she suddenly blurts,
Or more accurately,
I had taken too wide a turn negotiating a curve, crossed the broken yellow line on the pavement, opening my cowering Mazda to an unpleasant encounter with the oncoming traffic.
“LOOK OUT!!!” led to a “hard right” with my steering wheel, and a return to safety.
Which was momentary.
With no letup in the curves, my endangering veering would continue, as we careened our way down Sunset. It was like driving one of those little cars at an arcade, where, whenever you escape from your lane, “Alarm Signals” warn to recalibrate your steering, those signals augmented by fiery explosion images when you crash.
That was fooling around.
I could tell, with every lurch and endangerment, that I was helplessly losing points with my companion, whom, I noticed, was clinging desperately to the door handle on her side of the car. This, to me, did not seem like a productive maneuver. Unless she was thinking seriously about jumping out.
We arrived at an area called the Palisades, a residential “bedroom community”, including a couple of blocks of stores. The shopping district was brightly lit, the road, comparatively straight, providing a welcome respite in the imperiling action. But in a matter of seconds, we had passed through it.
And then, we were back, driving crazily in the dark.
Gas – brake – “LOOK OUT!!!” Gas – brake – “LOOK OUT!!!”
Finally, we arrived at the restaurant. I stepped out of the car, handed my keys to the Valet Parking attendant, and, I believe, I hugged him.
Our dinner conversation was conspicuously subdued, a divorcing couple, lunching, before gathering with the lawyers. I tried to be funny. But when your audience has lost every shred of affection, respect, interest and good will towards you, it is difficult to elicit many laughs.
There was only one thing she wanted to hear from me, and I happily accommodated her. Mustering the last remaining shreds of my dignity, I inquired, in as casual manner as I could fabricate:
“How would you feel about driving back?”