As you probably know, Dawn and I went to Los Angeles two weeks ago. What you may not know is that the first time we went there together, some serious silliness ensued. I drove down from wherever I was working, to see Great White perform yet again. Dawn flew down from Portland, to meet up with me and see the show together. We hadn’t gotten around to figuring out that we were supposed to be together all of the time yet; in our twenties, we were both fiercely independent people with agendas of our own. We weren’t smart enough yet to realize that we could weave our agendas together to make sure we both got more together than we did apart…but that’s a love story; this is a silly one.
Whenever we did get together, back then, we had loads of fun. Our first time in L.A was no different. We got a hotel room right across the street from Disneyland, where the show was going to be [Yes, Disneyland is in Anaheim. We still like to think of it as L.A. – Dawn]. The band played like the incredibly accomplished professionals that they are, as they always did, and we partied like it was still appropriate for a guy to use more hairspray than his girl and like liquor couldn’t hurt us.
The next day was sweltering, and we were discovering the truth about the liquor myth from the night before. We cranked the air conditioner, ordered take-out and shared such a numbed and mindless state that at some point we actually watched ‘The Bridges of Madison County’ from start to finish. I still wish I had forgotten that detail of our trip, rather than many surely wonderful moments from the night before.
Somewhere along the time that the temperature went down, and the sun along with it, I came back to life. I came up with an idea; at the time I thought it was brilliant; turns out it was pretty stupid. It wasn’t as stupid as if this had happened last weekend; with much of the knowledge of the world at the touch of both of our fingerprints, we could have easily circumvented the whole mess. But then, we wouldn’t have the memory; and all things considered, it’s still a good one. All that being said, please bear in mind that this all happened before there were smartphones, or even flip phones. Just imagine us in a vehicle where you had to stick your feet through the floorboards and run to make it move, and you’ll have the timeframe about right.
So, what was my brilliant/stupid idea?
“Hey,” I said. “Let’s go find the Hollywood sign!”
I’d seen it in movies, and probably when I was a kid; but I had never driven past it, and seen it through the eyes of the adult me. It turned out that Dawn hadn’t either, and she agreed that it sounded like a grand adventure. I’m sure the discussion was mostly me making crap up that I knew she couldn’t refute, but that I didn’t know for sure: ‘there can’t be too many freeways that run north to south out here, and I’m sure there are signs showing tourists where it is; hell, you can probably drive right up to it and take pictures. There’s probably an exit right off the freeway.’ It sounds like the kind of stuff I used to say, back before Google showed everyone how full of crap I was. Am. Whatever.
So off we went, looking for the Hollywood sign. After dark. If you still don’t get it yet, don’t feel bad; it took us well over an hour. I talked to more gas station attendants in that night than I had in years. I knew it was right off 101; the rest was pretty hard to figure out, given the language barriers I continued to encounter. But we pressed on, even pulling over at least once so I could climb a hill and have a look around. Finally, I did something I seldom do. I gave up. I looked at Dawn, looked at the next exit sign, and admitted defeat without saying the words.
“Hey,” I suggested, “Do you want to go to Universal Studios?”
She looked up, to verify that it was the next exit. By this time she had surely lost all confidence in my ability to navigate, and probably felt that she had to point it out. Somehow I managed to find my way to the parking lot, just in time to see them shutting the gates. The park was closed. It doesn’t take much to get me to unleash a venomous string of curse words, even when I’m in a good mood, and I’m sure I put together a good one then. Meanwhile, Dawn was looking around and still staying open to the possibility of ending the night on a good note. Thankfully.
She spied a restaurant, within walking distance, still serving awesome food and drinks. Still wary from the night before, we sampled some choice brews that came in very small glasses. Somewhere during dinner, we told the waitress our tale. She was nice enough, but she still couldn’t help but laugh at us. It was her amused pleasure to inform us that we had driven by the sign just as many times as we had supposed; we couldn’t see it for the same reason you can’t see the ocean at night: it’s dark out. They only light the sign up for movies, and that’s the only place I had ever seen it. The waitress told us that it was probably a mistake that tourists made all the time, but something in her smirk or her tone suggested that she perhaps thought otherwise. Or maybe I just felt like a jackass, and assumed that’s how she was treating me. I don’t know; all I have are my memories. In those, she seems pretty smug.
Back in 2016…on our way out of town, after the book festival, our navigation system routed us along 101. We got a bunch of clear views of the sign, and took pictures, and talked about how small it looks in real life…just like we did the next day, way back when. You know, when it got light out.
And that, my friend, is the story of the Hollywood sign.
Thanks for reading!