It was after midnight in Hollywood when she picked me up in front of the speakeasy, No Vacancy. She was driving a Tesla and when I got in I remarked that it was my first UBER-ride in one. She said matter-of-factly that it was a good car and that she loved driving it. She bought it after a car accident, around the time that gas prices had skyrocketed, and she was pleased by how much she’d been saving. I asked how often she had to charge the car and how that impacted taking fares, and she said that it was challenging because the rates for charging were higher during peak hours, like around noon, but it was cheaper at one in the morning. I asked how much cheaper, just as we drove past the location of Joe Gillis’ apartment in *Sunset Boulevard*, and she said that it would cost $29-50 to charge at peak hours but only $5 at off-peak-hours so she plugs-in after midnight.
“What do you do while it’s charging?”
“I exercise,” she said. “My weights and yoga mat are in the trunk.”
I envisioned a 50-something-year-old black woman exercising by her car as and thought, only in LA.
She said, “I gotta stay active. Driving all day, it’ll age me. I don’t want that.”
“I used to do the same thing,” I said. I used to be a courier and would stop to stretch and walk around neighborhoods while waiting for something, and when I was the editor of InsideHook I’d have meetings across town, and rather than sit in traffic I would duck into a gym and then wait it out by exploring whatever neighborhood I was in.
Her car was tidy. She kept it together. But her life was less so. She was UBERing to help her 20-something daughter go to college, but damn if the girl didn’t keep choosing the wrong men. As she started to explain the drama behind her daughter’s romantic life and how it was costing her money, the Tesla climbed Western Avenue and she turned the wheel at the bend where Western becomes Griffith Park Boulevard and I blinked into a reverie spanning a decade of life in LA, sprawled out like the flat galaxy of light one sees when flying over town, where the distances are great and the time it takes to get places varies depending on the traffic.
Within that blink I saw all of my UBER rides, especially the ones at night when I was alone with the driver chatting about their life, saw the rise of ride-sharing and how it and social media transformed dining and nightlife into a spectacle where sincere conviviality and a love of food was served alongside vapid Instagramers, saw how that was no different than the spectacle of a 1940s Hollywood movie premier, saw the city’s landscape dusty and empty, saw the oil derricks nodding in conversation, saw them get housed in buildings, saw them beneath the Beverly Center like dinosaurs, saw a man selling flowers on the side of the road, saw him sell enough flowers to buy a building and turn it into a hotel, saw him trying to understand how to use an iPhone, saw me helping him to his car, saw myself meeting a guy for pints at a pub that became a fried chicken restaurant only to become some other hipper restaurant, saw us become tight friends, saw him get married and have two kids, saw the city through Jonathan Gold’s lens, with all of its strip malls containing restaurants so authentic they could transport you to remote corners of China, saw the mole of Oaxaca in Koreatown, saw the former home of Charlie Chaplin become the most elusive and exclusive speakeasy in town and saw it stay so and still impress newcomers with its unexpected entrance (just hours before I got into the Tesla), saw my friends become the lads, saw us go from late night partiers to the more intimate connections that support through the loss of jobs and parents and girlfriends, through toxic bosses and lawsuits, saw us win low-stakes bets on the ponies at Santa Anita, saw headlights and more cars than I will ever see again in my lifetime, saw myself sitting in a soft-spoken friend’s barber chair and listening to stories of LA’s wild characters, saw some of those characters myself both in his eyes and in those dingy nightclubs and dive bars, saw myself bringing different layers of clothing for different neighborhoods because of the city’s micro-climate, saw the lifer waitress Dory joking with the lads at Taylor’s Steakhouse, saw us playing poker in Vegas and in Big Papi’s backyard in Venice, saw a mom with two boys struggle to replace what she’d lost, saw the rocky coves of Palos Verdes from a kayak, saw the Coast from a Surfliner, saw a mountain lion on a ridge, saw many sweaty souls at Modo Yoga, saw Marlow sitting in a Plymouth in the rain, saw the Plymouth hubcap spin as Jonathan Ward restored into a modern vehicle with old-world style, saw concerts in homes, saw myself and my friends writing on the weekends, saw us support each other with notes, saw us talking about movies and the craft and how doing so was really a conversation about life, saw J. Gittes in the Prince and Don Draper there, too, saw backyard pool parties and bbq’s with friends who grew tighter and tighter as time wore on, saw us travel to South Africa, Italy, and New Orleans, where we did a second line through the warehouse district for my 40th birthday, saw us playing capture the flag in Revolutionary War costumes on the 4th of July, saw us hiking in Griffith Park to a Tea House that some artists built in the cover of night, saw how Joshua Tree at night feels like being on the moon, saw oysters harvested by a rubber-clad fishmonger in Morro Bay, saw trees so big and old that they evoke awe, saw Angelenos defy my worries and embrace P-22 as a resident, saw Ciclavia take-over Venice Boulevard from Downtown to the the ocean and saw how easy it could be to bike in LA, saw a friend grow into a soulful explorer who nets a connection I couldn’t imagine life without, saw co-workers become friends who would sleep on my couch, saw New Yorkers struggle to convince themselves that LA was indeed cool, saw a gray whale from paddle board and hundreds of dolphin race by, saw a F15 drop in front of our car and then felt the thunder of its jets reverberate off the canyon walls in Death Valley, saw the rise of America’s greatest charlatan on November 8, 2016 at the backroom of the Pikey, then saw how his presidency first registered as tears then silence and then an insufferable media-obsession, saw The Dude in a Ralphs, saw the marine layer blanket the city and saw how it could be gray on the streets and sunny on the hilltops, saw myself learning to let go of the past and how it would heal my heart, saw Goldie Hawn push me out of her way while hiking on a flooded trail in Temescal Canyon, saw smiling farmers behind rows and rows of persimmons and baskets of greens and wonky tomatoes and flowers, saw myself standing at a desk and writing about it all, saw the sight of the Pacific on a morning bike ride to work, where the path smelled like rosemary and lavender, saw notions of transportation in LA defied by a packed light-rail on the commute home, saw the deserted streets of Covid and felt how calm the city felt with its volume turned low, saw the air cleaner than it had ever been as the city took the first month of lockdown in stride, saw peaceful folks going for evening strolls, saw chalk on a Santa Monica neighborhood sidewalk opining that we’d all be better off doing less, saw miles and miles and miles of tents and the hypocrisy of limousine liberalism, saw protestors and pent up frustration and tear gas, saw those same protestors loot black-owned businesses, saw the flashing tail light of a helicopter glide like a toy between the hills of Silverlake and Echo Park, saw myself helping others and in doing so saw myself letting go of my dreams (a preparation for the ultimate letting go), saw heaven just beyond golden sunsets, saw my childhood love return and draw us closer to family.
And I saw myself overcome with emotion so I let the tears flow. My last days in LA were sad and joyful, and feeling it made the weeks of insecurity about the decision to move dissolve into the most surefooted decision of my life.
We were now at the end of Griffith Park, not even a mile in less than two minutes, which would’ve taken 20 in traffic, and I was listening as she was finishing her story about her daughter, who now needed money to enter a contest. I thought, *god, I love this town*.