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It was January of 1969. Now I wasn’t sure why I was going there, or what I would do when I arrived. I had packed all of my summer clothes. Short skirts, my bathing suit, the works. But it was cold. Not cold like home, but not hot like the movies.
I left the airport and got in a cab. The driver, this nice young man from Toledo, asked me where I wanted to go. I said, well I didn’t know. I went into my purse and gave him $50, which back then was a lot of money. I said, show me the whole city! The whole city? He asked. He thought I was crazy. But, he started driving.
We drove through Beverly Hills. I remember the tall spindly palm trees, and the green, green lawns in front of these little paper homes.
Well, this is Hollywood Boulevard, he said. I looked out of the window of the cab. I know it’s been said before but, it wasn’t like I imagined it would be. It was like I’d missed it. Like when it all changed to color, it lost it’s shine. It was cheap, and down on itself. I mean god, to look at it now though.
He insisted that we go to Universal Studios. That I must see where the magic happens. I didn’t really care but he certainly seemed like he wanted me to see it. I knew he’d taken someone like me there before. He kept pointing out these hollow buildings, and these plastic rocks, telling me what was shot where and by who. We stopped and watched some actors perform a scene from a Western. Everything was just a scene it seemed.
After we left, we drove around some more ritzy neighborhoods. Rows and rows of these odd, gaudy mansions. Clark Gable lives here, and Jimmy Stewart lives there, he’d brag. We stopped outside of Zsa Zsa Gabor’s home and peered through the gate. And then we got back in the cab, and drove to the ocean.
It was just...blue. A big blue sky into an endless blue ocean, with a thin line separating them. As he made a phone call to someone, I walked down to the water’s edge and put my feet in. It was cold! I don’t know why I thought it would be like a nice warm bath, but it wasn’t. You know, I don’t remember what I was thinking when I looked into the ocean, if I was scared or excited. But I could feel that place just throbbing behind me.
I stayed at a motel on the first night. I could have stayed somewhere nicer, but that was what I thought I had to do. A cheap motel in Los Angeles. I hardly slept at all that night.
I called the driver the next morning. When he arrived outside the motel, he was wearing this smile. Like he was picking me up for a date. He asked me if I was ready to see the rest of the city. I said no. I want to go to the desert today. He stopped smiling, and said that would be another 50.
As all that concrete gave way to desert, I remember feeling this sort of, relief. Like I didn’t have to try to understand anything anymore. I’d viewed this whole place from inside a car. A little glass and metal box. But out there I could get out and just walk, and stare at the Joshua Trees. That was the only fact that the driver had about the desert. That Joshua Trees lived there.
He called me back because I guess he was getting bored and it was getting dark. I didn’t want to go. But I went, and we drove back to Los Angeles. I woke up with him nudging me, telling me we were there. Where? I asked, as the neon lights pressed against the window. At the motel he said. Oh, right, I said. I thanked him. He asked if I wanted another tour tomorrow. Disneyland maybe? I said that was okay. I’d seen quite enough of his Los Angeles. I wanted to see if I could find my own between the desert and the ocean.
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