Tag Archives: Los Angeles

To L.A. on my birthday . . . part 3!

Why Was I Born by Kenny Burrell and John Coltrane

OK . . . final part here.

I made it to the club, seeing the awe-inspiring Mr. Kenny Burrell

Kenny at the Catalina Jazz Club
But it was time to go home and I really didn’t want to go in a hurry.  Again, life is just too complicated sometimes, so I decided it was not worth driving through the flat desert lands.  I cut over to Highway 1 . . . the Pacific Coast Highway, and felt it was time to see the ocean.

I’m not obsessed with the water or the salt air or the pull of the sea.  I’m not Hemingway.  I don’t have a tug when I hear a seagull cry or a wave crashing.  I don’t really know what it is that – now for the second straight year – told me to go this way and see the water.  I did it last year on the way to L.A.  This year it’s the way back.  As I said, there’s no pull for me to go into the water or jump on a boat.  I could save myself in a swimming pool.  Take me to the ocean and sink my ocean liner and I’m one of the many sinking like Leoardo diCaprio into the icy depths.

But I think – and this is just pop analysis here – is the finality of it.  This is as far as you’re going to go.  You can walk into the water but eventually you’re hitting the end.  This is the edge of the world, at least our American world.  I can go the other direction but I’m still crossing the same paths and lands that Andrea did going that way.  She lived in the Midwest and drove home a myriad of ways.  She lived with us in Texas.  She visited South Dakota.  She visited friends on the East Coast . . . she touched everything.  But there are pieces here she didn’t, I don’t think.

But in a way it reminds me of her, too.  I stopped in Pismo Beach for lunch.  Nothing fancy, but the view was inspiring.

Pismo Beach and all the clams you can eat – to quote Bugs Bunny
But lunching alone wasn’t wise.

While I told myself all those things above, that I’ll find this cathartic and enjoy it all, it’s the finality of the coast line that reaches to another finality.  I paid for and bought the gravestone for Andrea already.  I left town to leave being alone behind but instead I just felt . . . lonely.

I know why, and some of it has to do with this picture I brought with me:

Andrea took me 0n an amazing trip on this day.  Sure, that’s Alcatraz in the background and she’s cold and wind-blown.  But on Pismo the wind was blowing crazy…and it had kind of a bite to it.  It was chilly and I kept thinking about this photo and realizing that the tug wasn’t the water or the salt it was her.  We met that weekend and I knew I’d fallen in love that weekend and my life – as I knew it – was over.  This new life with her began.  We stood there and then walked the beach, my holding her close to keep her warm, and listened to the water hit the shore.  That was what I was thinking about here.

I went down to the water and watched the waves roll on top of each other, the foam cresting on the waves and rolling under as another undulation overtook the whitecap.

Waves on Pismo
I stayed there about an hour.  I watched the kids run around in the water.  I felt the water hit my feet.  I closed my eyes and tried to imagine I was there again with her…but I couldn’t.

The realization was that I hadn’t left loneliness behind.  I wasn’t running from anything.  I just had to face that my life, as I knew it, was over.  Just like before, with her.  Then, though, I saw the change coming and felt it warm me, literally.  The feeling spread from the center of my chest and radiated to my toes.  This time, I had to force myself to abandon that feeling.  My toes were cold.  My arms had goosebumps.  I looked up and saw a different scene, a totally foreign landscape to the one on the photo.

The white cliffs at Pismo. Who knew?
It was here I decided it was time to go home.  I’d toodled around a lot, even wasted a good deal of time.  Sure, I had a good lunch, a nice piece of pie even, but it’s not the end all, be-all of my life.  I realized that I’d just set a night’s goal of hitting the jazz club and let the pieces fall where they may.

I played paparazzi…met Kenny Burrell…stayed in an amazing hotel…met some phenomenal people…and now it was time to go home.  I didn’t have to prove I could do something different.  I just did it.

After getting in the car I called Hannah and asked how her birthday went  – that’s right, it’s her birthday, too:

Hannah on her 1st birthday
She was sooooo excited to get a hardshell case for her Stratocaster.  She loved the book I gave her and the paper watch she could decorate herself.  She was . . . happy.  It was different from the apprehensive happiness of last year where she still felt empty with the happy feeling.  I understood, this year was the same for me.  She was smiling with her voice, something she hadn’t done in a long time and it made me smile.

Then during the drive home Andrea’s best friend – and one of my best – called during the drive.  I marveled how I could talk forever with her and not worry about pauses in the conversation or what was going on.  I just wanted to know and genuinely cared what happens to her and what goes on.  She’s miles away and it’s like I can talk and . . . not worry or talk about what we’ve both lost.

It’s been a long year.  This was a long trip.  I got home around 9pm, the road trip at an end.  I had my duffel bag and laptop with me and I sat on the couch and watched something mindless on the TV…then headed off to bed, thanking Andrea for an amazing birthday – because it’s like she let go just a little.

Then I prepared for the next day . . . which is today.  But that’s an adventure you’ll hear about tomorrow –


To L.A. on my birthday – pt. 2

So Saturday I drove California’s traffic artery – Interstate 5 – down to Los Angeles.  I won’t chronicle the drive again, you’ve seen that.  However, it’s worth repeating a couple things.

I had a picture with me . . . a picture of Andrea I found that I’d forgotten was even taken.  Obviously, I had hidden it so Andrea wouldn’t destroy it in her zeal to remove photos she thought looked bad.

the amazing picture

So I took it not because I was feeling nostalgic, but to remind myself that I wasn’t running from her . . . that I was doing something I hadn’t normally done.  I was doing this so I’d be able to share it . . . even if it was with her, captured in a moment of wind-blown happiness twenty years ago.  It was the kind of thing that she would have convinced me was fun and necessary twenty-one years ago.

So I arrived in Los Angeles and realized I hadn’t paid much attention to where I was staying . . . and then saw the hotel and was amazed.

The Sunset Tower Hotel

If you look up on the left side of that hotel, in the corner curved-room where the art deco look is at its height . . . six floors up is me.  I loved the room.  I loved the history more . . . Clark Gable; Mae West; Marilyn Monroe; Diana Ross forcing Tim Curry to be her elevator man; OK . . . so Howard Hughes kept a bunch of mistresses there, and maybe that’s why my room was really small, but I didn’t care.  I could see downtown LA

LA from my room

If you look, the second building from the left in the big group of skyscrapers . . . the Capitol Records building.
I could also look down from my room to the rooftop pool:

The pool . . .

Now, I went down there, is very cool.  But I have to be honest, there was more silicone there than skin.  Not just in the women.  I loved the hotel, the history . . . where Iggy Pop tried to jump from his room to that pool.  How Werner Klemperer, the man playing Colonel Klink in Hogan’s Heroes saved the building.  You see, the Sunset was designated a historical site – an apartment building with tons of Hollywood’s history soaked into its walls.  However, there were no laws in the 1980’s that prevented demolition of historic sites.  Klemperer refused to leave, continuing to live in his apartment and causing a legal quagmire that slowed the project until the laws were passed that protected the hotel.  Now . . . it’s amazing and I get to be part of that history.

In its heyday

But my trip wasn’t just to see a really cool hotel . . . with its art deco hallways and stairwells:

The wraparound hallways
The stariwells

There was a reason for the trip.  I was on the way to the Catalina Bar and Grill . . . one of the best jazz clubs on Sunset.  Now, you don’t have to enjoy jazz to enjoy my story here.  When I decided to leave town I didn’t want to do the exact same thing.  When I found out that jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell was playing I had to go…just had to.  Burrell has played with Coltrane, Ellington, Billie Holiday . . . he’s amazing – so much so that Jimi Hendrix said he’d kill to sound like Burrell if he could do it.

I decided to walk . . . the trip wasn’t too bad.  A half-hour walk, couple miles . . . and it wasn’t really hot.  So I took the opportunity to walk down Sunset.  I spotted a huge crowd ahead of me and they’d blocked off the sidewalk.  I was initially aggravated because I didn’t want to zig-zag on the way.  Instead, I walked up and stumbled into a red carpet event for AIDS prevention.  With my little point and shoot I walked up to the press corps and joined them.  Nobody looked, noticed, or said a thing.  I popped off shots:

Kathy Griffin on the Carpet

Then my daughter texted me a few questions . . . the text message alert on my phone is set to the Woody Woodpecker laugh.  Suddenly photographers started stopping and looking at me . . . and I quickly realized it was time to keep making my way to the club.  I have other photos – you’ll have to wait for weekend to see those.

I got to the Catalina and was told I’d have to go through the garage.  I went in and it was like walking into All the President’s Men. Small portions in darkness with a spotlight over the entrance, hidden in an alcove in the corner of the garage.

The Club Entrance

But when I got in . . . I was given a table literally in front of the stage.

From my table

The club gave Kenny a stool to sit on when he plays but he barely sat on it.  At eighty-one he was spry, light on his feet, moving constantly, and playing better than most people I’ve heard that are 1/4 his age.  I desperately wanted to give you a video of him playing but the club was vigilant about not letting that happen.

Still, I was able to get photos:

The legendary Kenny Burrell

He played two sets.  In the middle he gave credit to the Friends of Jazz at UCLA, convinced a friend to sing from the audience, killing his amp and playing acoustic with a microphone.  He told amazing stories from the stage.

He also signed a CD for my brother.

The CD

He shook my hand, thanked me for coming, and told me how happy he was to have my brother and I enjoy his music.  He told me how much he enjoyed recording his last two CDs and how he loves this club for how they treat him.  He spent more time with each person than you’d find from most musicians today.

I was happy and impressed the club was full . . . a good audience for such a talented player.  With his history – playing with biggest names in jazz’s height from the ’50s on – he could be arrogant or bitter or stand-offish.  Instead, he was kind, generous, and simply the man you’d want him to be if you were a fan.  Burrell smiled constantly and was happy to be there.  He was even happier on the stage, playing amazing things seemingly no slower than he was at his height.

It was an honor to see him . . . I have no better word for it.  He was amazing.  His band was just as talented and seemed to have just as much fun.  To hear such an amazing group, whose talent just pours off the stage, I was taken with how they made it look easy.  There was no ego, no push to be the center of attention.  They played music.  In a world so surrounded by awful music with no musicians and auto-tune pushing for perfection these five men made perfect music with no technological push.  They are just that talented.

I went back to the hotel happier than I was last year at this time.  An amazing thing, an amazing night, and I still had the trip home ahead of me . . . but that’s for tomorrow.

Freight Trane by Kenny Burrell and John Coltrane

To LA on my birthday

It may seem a bit outmoded, but I hit the road, this the second year in a row I left home to be away from Sacramento on my birthday.  I promised a Saturday dispatch from the field, and that’s what you’re getting . . . sort of.

You see, I started in the morning.  I wasn’t nervous, but I woke up, like every other day, at 5:45.  Not sure why, couldn’t get back to sleep, so I got up, grabbed my bag, took the change of clothes I wanted out of the bag and got in the car.

I took my tunes:

Necessary music for the road…

I had a picture of my girl…

An amazing pic of Ande I took for company

And I hit the road.

The picture is important.  I tried to find another way around this.  An amazing friend wanted to bring me to a music festival but plane tickets aren’t cheap on good days.  Let alone a day before travel.

The other is that I just can’t take being alone right now.  Not this weekend.  I would love nothing more than to be with my Hannah – my favorite birthday present – on this day.  I’m not, though.  For the same reasons the festival didn’t work, I cannot afford to go to Nebraska to see her.  So Skype and Facetime will have to do.

The reason for this?  I can’t take a month off and just disappear.  I so want to.  I’ve wanted to since the day Andrea died.  I have wanted nothing more than to get in a car or jump on a train or a plane and head somewhere I’ve never been, never seen, and never considered.  I should think the why would be obvious: I can’t face this day without her.  It’s really, really, hard.  I know I’m a writer and should be more prosaic about how to describe it but I can’t.

So last year I went to a comedy show that was baudy, funny, and Andrea would never have thought to do it: Hollywood Babble-On with Ralph Garmin and Kevin Smith.  I have to admit, it’s Garmin’s show, by the way, and he’s amazing.  Smith – he’s the modern day equivalent of Dean Martin but with weed instead of alcohol.  He’s the stoned out guy who leads you off the path and Garmin brings you back.

Garmin and Smith – last year

Then I drove to San Francisco and took the Pacific Coast Highway all the way down.  I barely made it in time for the show.

This year I drove I-5.  I stopped at historical sites:

A high meeting ground in SJ County

Then I stopped somewhere Andrea always talked about but would never stop.  Andrea, you see, always wanted to get there . . . get to where we’re going.  We never stopped.  So I stopped at Anderson’s, home of the world’s best split pea soup.

my lunch

If I’d never stopped I’d never have met the hard working, cute blonde waitress at the counter.  She told me she marveled at how many people came in and asked what other soups they have . . . when it clearly says split pea is their soup . . . their mainstay . . . and the cafe serves other food but no other soups.  It reminds me of home with the German decor and the feel of Omaha’s Bohemian Cafe.  I thank her, tip her soundly, though she won’t go on-camera while on duty, and head out the door.

Next stop . . . over the highway.  While I have no pictures – they didn’t want any – I met an amazing group of soldiers on maneuvers outside Bakersfield stopping to eat at an IHOP inside a gas station.  To a person they were respectful, a bit uncomfortable, but always polite and interesting.  They milled around the outside, buying water and coke and whatever they needed to sustain them the rest of their trip.

Then I saw more memories of home: dust devils in the fields between Bakersfield and the mountains.

Dust Devils

Then over the mountains and into Los Angeles.

heading into the mountains

This took me awhile and no other pictures.  You can see here that I parked on the median to take the photo.  Traffic necessitated going to LA sans camera.

But when I got here, I looked for my hotel, which I found just looking at a map and pointing.  Seriously.  Just that.  What I found, though very far from where my nighttime destination shall be, is amazing.  I’m staying at the Sunset Tower Hotel.  I had no idea until I read the history that I’m staying where Rita Hayward, John Wayne, Mae West . . . Hollywood’s elite stayed.  Truman Capote called it “where every scandal that ever happened, happened.”  I’m in a corner room, in the circular corner of the building.  I like to imagine that Carol Lombard was here . . . though it’s likely one of the rooms Howard Hughes kept for his mistresses.  But I don’t care.

The view from my room.

My end goal?  Going to see jazz great Kenny Burrell.  Kenny has played with Duke Ellington; John Coltrane; Jimi Hendrix said it’s what he desperately wanted to sound like.  SRV copied him and Wes Montgomery playing Burrell’s Chitlins con Carne . 

So Monday you’ll get my display of my hotel, Kenny, all of it.  But before you criticize or speak . . . I didn’t take this trip to forget Andrea.  She’s here in the car via photo.  It’s cheesy . . . I’ll take her with me to the club for dinner and the show.  I’ll put her by my bed.  I’m not ready to let her go.  You see, the amazing trip would have been with my friend because I miss sharing my birthday.  Even on that awful, horrible night I got in an argument that nearly ended in my divorce, I ended the night with the woman I love.  Now I’m in Los Angeles doing amazing things, seeing amazing things . . . and I’m sharing them with a computer screen.  No offense to you, my wonderful and talented, smart readers, but I’d trade this blog for tonight with Andrea . . . seeing an amazing musician in a storied club and sleeping in a hotel with such history.

But that’s not reality.  You are.  So I drive . . . and will drive back through the PCH again just to have stops and adventures.  This way, I can tell the story – as much to her as to you – and know I did something different. . . better with my birthday than I might have otherwise.

It’s the true mantra . . . and our story begins.

Until Monday.