The conversation I don’t want to have has begun. It trickled through yesterday when I was checking into a Best Western in Mason, outside of Cincinnati. For the first time on the trip, I was asked why I was visiting. There was no malice behind the question but born of curiosity, the kind I hadn’t experienced since I left LA. Through the desert, Texas, Oklahoma and the Midwest, motel operators just assumed I was passing through.
“What brings you here?” the clerk asked. He was dark haired, nerdy-handsome and husky.
“I’m moving to DC.”
“LA.” So far, I was smiling.
“I hate LA. I know some people like it but I never did. Give me San Diego or San Francisco anytime,” the authority in his voice made me wonder what LA had done to him. Was he a dejected actor or screenwriter? Had the City Of Angels been less than angelic for him?
“Really? How long did you live there?”
“Oh I only was there a few days but I couldn’t wait to get out of it!” He finished checking me in, I went to the room and saw they only offered seven channels, two of which were EPSN so I took Bob back to the car and asked to check out.
“Anything wrong with the room?” he looked more concerned about the additional paperwork than my comfort.
“No. It’s just kind of too hotelly and I wanted a place where I could pull up the car to the door.”
But the conversation that plagued both Billy and I throughout our time in NYC had begun. People hate LA. It’s too laid-back. It’s too fast. It’s shallow. The air is polluted. People are so fake there. The list is endless and the encounters are frustrating. On one particularly long ride up to our 33rd floor apartment in New York, a man was so determined to convince me NY was better than LA, he finally got me to agree that New York did, indeed, have better drinking water.
No one is more strident about this opinion than San Franciscans however; it’s a rivalry that is lop-sided. Los Angelenos enjoy San Francisco, we think it’s a terrific little city with its cute houses and joyride streets but ask an Sfer about LA and you’ll hear a lecture. For us, it's like super so whatever.
Bob has settled into a nice routine of lying in his box-surrounded apartment in the back of the Explorer for hours on end and then settling into a strange room every night. I stop every two hours to refill on Diet Coke and take him for a walk in the field of the moment. After the walk, he now puts his front paws up on the car’s landing and waits for me to boost his back legs the rest of the way. If I’m not at the ready though, he’ll turn and shoot the look Um. Hello? Legs please.
The solitude of the road plays havoc with my pet hamster brain. He’s been working overtime on his wheel in the past six days. Besides the usual “what if” and the endless loop of finding Billy, the anxiety is kicking in the closer I get to DC. I worry about the job itself. I’m concerned that once I arrive at my new apartment, they won’t accept Bob. The building, like all of DC apartment buildings, has a fifty-pound limit on dogs. Even with his new diet from the steroids, he’s a sizable seventy-seven. If I put him on Trim Spa and lowered his weight to fifty, he’d be positively Calista.
Here’s what the hamster has been running with: When the present is a stranger, the past becomes as comfortable as a warm hearth on a winter’s night. For the past eighteen months and three days, I’ve been trying to catch up to the momentum of the past: the unfinished conversations, the unanswered questions and the truths unspoken. The essential dilemma is to find a present that looks remotely ordinary and that is unlikely to happen. The hunger of the impaired past will never be satisfied. The potential of the future looks very foreign indeed. The present is what happens when I’m thinking of the past. Swing myself round-and-round.
I pulled off one of the ramps to Cumberland and rolled down the passenger window to ask the neighboring driver if I was at the right exit for the Holiday Inn.
“What brings you to Cumberland?” he asked without answering the question.
“Moving to DC.”
“Boy. I bet you’re glad to get out of there!” he said as the light changed. I followed him and saw the motel sign without his help. Whatever, dude.