We had been seeking an event-worthy lunch destination as part of a pre-birthday celebration for Dr. M. After a derailed pastrami-seeking excursion to downtown Los Angeles – a 45-minute drive to “Closed On Sundays” – we decided on Clifton’s, a landmark local cafeteria, and a longtime family favorite.
Finding no parking in the vicinity, after rejecting one elevated parking garage as being too creepy to get out of the car – the Mafia “Travel Guide” accorded the location four “Pall Bearers” – we found a marginally less seedy parking garage three-or-so blocks from our intended eatery.
Concerned with the crumbling edifice’s elevator safety – and no elevator enthusiast at the best of times – I opted instead for the stairs, descending through blight, bacteria and possible crime scene evidence to the Ground Level, where I pushed open a door and found myself outside, standing in an alley.
Okay now you’re caught up.
Let me first say something about downtown Los Angeles. People will tell you it’s changing. They built the Staples Center for major sporting events, there are sumptuous venues accommodating rock bands and headlining comedy performers – we’ve come down to see one of our favorites, Eddie Izzard – they’ve got Disney Hall and The L.A. Music Center, offering classical music and theater and opera productions – there is admittedly greater reason to make the trip than there used to be, when the only previous reason to go downtown was for Jury Duty or Immigration appointments.
And even then, the congested traffic to get there – in our case along the 10 Freeway – is an inevitable deterrent. Imagine an extended licorice whip comprised of cars that are not going anywhere. That’s the 10, any night of the week. Roll down your window and you’ll hear an agonizing chorus of “We are going to be late.”
Despite the determined makeover attempt, downtown Los Angeles… I don’t know, here’s where my prejudices flare up, a mixture of ignorance, a rich and fertile imagination and what, to spare my feelings, I shall call apprehension, rather than outright cowardice.
Uh-oh, I heard that.
Downtown Los Angeles is older and poorer (a telltale indicator: more “We Buy Gold” emporia), more ethnically diverse and generically tougher feeling. The downtown homeless community could easily kick the butts of the homeless community living by the beach.
In short, downtown Los Angeles is where the upscale populace goes to feel anxious.
That’s where I was standing alone in an alley.
I walk in one direction – because it is impossible to walk in two directions, at least not at the same time – looking for an opening that would take me to a street leading to the main thoroughfare in front of the parking garage. There, I was certain Dr. M. would be waiting for me, wondering how I managed to have gotten myself lost.
The end of the alley was totally fenced off; there was no way to get out. My rich and fertile imagination leapt to the belief that the other end of the alley would be totally fenced off as well.
It was like owners went home for the weekend, securing their property from possible invasion. Too often had they returned on Mondays, feeling distressed by what they beheld, wondering, “What happened to the alley?” The protective fencing insured that would never happen again.
It also insured that I would be unable to get out.
At least not until Monday.
Finding no available egress in one direction, I turned around and headed in the other direction. It was then my rich and fertile imagination, panicked and inflamed, dredged up yet another “Nightmare Scenario.”
As a concession to my attending a “yarn” painting exhibit, we had detoured earlier that morning, visiting a sporting goods store, so I could buy myself some new sneakers.
Myth and legend, and sometimes reality – have alluded to exactly such situations. Suddenly, my mind echoes with an emotionnless voice beside me saying,
“I like those new sneakers.”
I know. I’m crazy.
“Behold – a vulnerable antelope, wearing pristine sneakers.”
But I am trapped in an alley, in a vicinity where such occurrences are not entirely unknown.
No, you’re right. I’m crazy.
Heading now – tentatively and not as hopefully as I would like to be – in the other direction, passing the door that had clanked shut when I had exited the building, I hear – or did I just think I hear – a faint, distinctly familiar voice calling my name.
It was Dr. M. She had found me. She pushed open the door. I was saved.
It was now around two-thirty and we had still not eaten lunch. I attributed my wife’s detectable prickliness to hunger, rather than that she regretted marrying a man who had to be rescued after imprisoning himself in an alley.
Our lunch was anti-climactically uneventful. Cafeteria food is cafeteria food, even when it’s accompanied, as it was, by a three-piece live jazz band. The roast turkey conjured imaginings of what they serve incarcerated inmates on Thanksgiving. Better than the usual fare, but not worth committing a felony for.
It is now time to return to the garage – where I would definitely take the elevator – to see if our car had either been stolen or simply Balkanized for parts. Exiting Clifton’s, I catch sight of the perfect “payoff” to our turbulent experience: A sign standing right in front, reading,
What else can I say after this memorable adventure, except…