My feet were wet. The cold water of the Pacific numbed them as I felt the sand beneath my nylon ensconced toes give way as the waves came and went. I had never seen the ocean. I had stood along the shores of Lake Superior before, gazing out at the onyx waves and gray of the Midwestern sky. This, however, wasn't Duluth, Minnesota.
This was the Santa Monica Pier, California. The words of my co-worker echoed in my mind: “There's nothing but water between here and Japan.” 5000 or more miles of sapphire waves. Looking along the coast one could see the edge of the continent rising from the depths in the far distance. It was all curiously back-lit. The land was dotted with pinpricks of light, as if a gossamer net of Christmas lights were strewn across it.
A sudden wave kicked up. As the sand crumbled beneath me, I felt my balance nearly give way. I steadied myself as I was soaked, hosiery, jeans, and all to my knees. I couldn't help but laugh with glee. I was standing in the Ocean, in a place I had never expected to find myself in this life. If there were such a being as the Goddess of Water, I would have given my soul to her at that moment.
It was curious to think that I didn't really realize this when I stepped on the plane two days ago. I understood that I was going to LA. Somehow, I didn't seem to connect the fact that it was on the edge of the nation. I didn't realize that the ocean was just a short drive away from my hotel. Nor did I realize, that Hollywood was roughly the same distance away.
The experience at the airport wasn't nearly as fascinating as my previous journey as a Software Trainer. This time, I knew where to park, I didn't feel perpetually lost. I had my boarding pass and my luggage. I had stowed everything that was metal in my bags. Even my bra was devoid of everything but plastic and cloth (this caused a rather embarrassing aside on my first trip, one I did not care to repeat). True the plane was bigger, and the trip far longer. Already it had lost the uniqueness, the enticing unfamiliarity that it had before.
Although I had a window seat, there was little to see through the glass. A thick cloud cover obscured everything for half the trip. When it finally began to break, I realized I was seeing something I had never seen before: Mountains; there were mountains below me. I thought it strange how smooth they looked from that distance. The crags made it appear more the construct of a fractal algorithm than landscape bone in millions of years of erosion.
When I left the terminal, I noticed something else even more whimsical. Across the street, beyond the flawless Californian cars, were palm trees. I knew these things existed before, I knew what they were associated with, but LA was never one of those things. Nor did I expect to see a policeman sitting upon a motorcycle not but a short walk away.
Perhaps the strangest thing that I had noticed was the weather. It was cool, like after a rain shower or early spring in Minnesota. The sun, however, was as bright there as it was in the brightest day I had known in July. How could it be so bright, yet cool? I fathomed this as I walked along the horseshoe shaped road that connected the 9 terminals of LAX.
The first night was terrible. After I walked from Terminal 2 to Terminal 7, I had over an hour to wait before my co-worker would arrive. LAX doesn't have any seating inside the terminals. Instead, all the seats were outside, facing the horseshoe-shaped road. I found an out-of-the-way corner in the terminal and sat on the tile floor. About an hour and a half later, my co-worker arrived. We then had to wait another 40 minutes for his bags to come off the plane – a process that usually takes 15 minutes. I wasn't feeling very well, as I hadn't eaten anything in some 8 hours. I was dehydrated from denying myself water, fearing disturbing the other passengers in my row.
Worse yet, I hadn't taken my hormones. After factoring in the time zone difference, I was now some 6 hours late on those as well. I would have been a mess if I hadn't been for the higher dose I had been taking the last month.
Things didn't improve either in getting the rental car. The first one we were assigned had gone missing. I different vehicle, with a different make, and a different license plate, stood mockingly in the same stall. I couldn't contain my frustration any longer, I threw my luggage down in a rage. I cursed myself for not stopping at the first restaurant I had seen when I had gotten off the plane (Wolfgang Puck's). After returning to the rental office to point out the error, we were shortly in a silver Chevy Impala, with me behind the wheel.
This was a snafu I was hoping to avoid. Being that I was the teacher for the course, I was the one that had to pay for the car. As a result, I was the one that had to drive. I had heard the horror stories of the roads in California, and now I was going to confront them directly. Thankfully, my co-worker had the directions and served the capacity of navigator well. Even at 8 o'clock at night, the highways were still dreadfully busy. It wasn't, however, worse than I had driven in before. The highways in my home state can be just as crazy at certain times of the day.
After what seemed too many side roads, we managed to arrive at the hotel. Although we were in Beverly Hills, we were far from the ritzy part of town. Nothing reflected this better than the Crowne Plaza that would serve as my home for the next three nights. It felt like an old hotel, that had been hastily remodeled to appear impressive and posh. It was an illusion that was easily seen through.
Still hungry, we decided to walk to the nearby restaurants. Each one we visited, including the one we had hoped to eat at, was either closing or already closed. I was nearly in tears. Now 12 hours with no sleep, food, or hormones, I felt the only thing I wanted to do was crawl back to my stiff bed and cry. We eventually found a small place after a 20 minute walk. Thankful to sit with the promise of food, I quickly consumed both the glass of water, and the cherry coke placed in front of me. I casually took my hormones and in 15 minutes, felt that characteristic lightness and calm that had been slowly draining from me for hours.
I don't remember what the meal tasted like at all. I know that it was a Kobe Beef hamburger with provolone and mushrooms, but nothing more. We talked through the meal. We exchanged each other's education history. We talked about how we both came to work for MQSoftware. Soon the food was gone and I was back in my room. I donned my purple top and powder blue celestial pajama bottoms and collapsed on my bed.
I couldn't sleep that well. My room at quickly transformed into an icebox during the night. The unfamiliar bed and jet-lag helped little in luring me back to slumber. Around 5:15am, I gave up and started to get dressed. I wanted to look as nice as possible the first day, so I wore a velveteen skirt (black), a jade-green taffeta shell, and a black corduroy jacket. I walked down to the bistro on the first floor and ate breakfast quietly, reviewing presentation slides over a plate of eggs and a glass of vegetable juice.
An hour later I was back on the highway, driving to the office of one of the largest grocery distributors in the western states. We were shown the small training room, and set about replacing the labs in each coursebook with new, corrected ones I had packed with my underwear.
After most of the students arrived, the question was posed to me about how much material we would cover regarding the mainframe. When I said that we weren't, half of the heads in the room fell silent and stared directly at me. Crap. Usually we avoid the mainframe as trainers. Give the expense and difficulty of using the system, most do not have user accounts set up for training purposes. Moreover, it's difficult to do workable labs in the time alloted given how one interacts with the system. It didn't take me long to notice, however, why those heads had turned: English wasn't their first language, and not one they had fully mastered. This often led them to not reading the directions fully, citing all to quickly that they “didn't work”. I began to get the impression that it wasn't just English they had yet to master shortly afterward...
Despite this, most of the class picked up the material quickly, and began sending little notes to each other in the form of text files. This is perhaps one of the most joyous absurdities of being a Trainer: Often you find yourself using expensive and overly complicated enterprise software to do something better suited to IM or text messages. Once I even piped an invocation of Progress Quest across nearly six-grand of IBM and MQ software.
After class, I assumed that my co-worker and I would return to the hotel, have dinner, and retire for the evening. Nothing else really occurred to me because I didn't quite fully realize where I was and what was possible. My co-worker, thankfully, had other plans.
After changing into a much more comfortable outfit (white and purple striped blouse and jeans), we headed back out on the road. We were going to visit a place called the Hollywood Entertainment Museum. Apparently, they had the complete set of the bridge from Star Trek there. Again, I didn't understand the significance of the title. I knew that Hollywood was a factual, actual place, I knew it was in California, but I didn't associate these facts with my current location and destination. I had taken “Hollywood” metaphorically, as it's often used in the news media.
“Where are we going?” I asked, after leaving Beverly Hills. “Hollywood.” I had to stop for a minute to process this fact. “I'm driving to Hollywood,” I said, in utter disbelief. “You're driving to Hollywood,” said my co-worker, laughing under his breath.
It's strange how places you've seen before look in person for the first time. I did not recognize most of Hollywood Blvd. as I drove down it. I couldn't quite make out the stars in the sidewalk, nor the buildings. Save for one, that is. Off to the left, standing there as if it were nothing special, was Mann's Chinese Theater. I couldn't help that somehow I had crossed the boundary of reality. I wasn't here, this was some movie or news-reel. This couldn't possibly be real.
But it was. A few minutes later we parked, and I found myself with the Walk of Fame under my feet. It was palpable reality, indeed. The black of the sidewalk, broken by pale red stars each with a name and emblem of industry in brass. Movie stars. Television Stars. Stars form the music industry and stars from Radio. Even stars from theater, sitting stoically, trodden upon by tourists and disinterested residents alike.
The museum was closed, unfortunately. We had arrived too late in the evening. I didn't really care, the unreality of being on Hollywood Blvd. was more than enough. But we were not finished yet. As we kept walking, reading the brass letters in red concrete, we came across the entrance to the Chinese Theater.
I vaguely recall that there was a place were famous actors and actresses had their feet and hand prints immortalized in concrete. I didn't quite know where that was, and I certainly didn't expect to suddenly find myself before them. Below me, in haphazard slabs, were countless names and impressions.
“This is unreal,” I kept repeating to myself. How did I get here? Never had I though I would actually be standing in a place such as this. True, it was a glitzy tourist trap, but it makes no less an impression when placed within it's confines.
We stopped by a pizzeria on the way back to the car. We had ordered far, far too much food and neither of us could finish what we had. Still, I was eating pizza and calamari in Hollywood. I talked about my stories in the dimly lit restaurant over our quickly cooling meals. I felt a burning desire to write, but I knew I was too tired and ungrounded to pen anything intelligible.
On the drive back, we passed some of the most expensive houses in Beverly Hills. Although I didn't say this at the time, I noted how they seemed smaller than the housing developments in suburban Minnesota. My parent's house seemed larger than all of them. Perhaps they were quite the different experience from the inside. We also passed through Rodeo Drive. I couldn't help but think of the song, and thought of the Savage Opulence of it all.
The second day of class did not go as well as the first. The mainframe people were more noticeably displeased, and the labs had many, many problems. It was more than obvious that the slides had been written over a weekend, by a very tired woman who did not know the product as much as she would like. I tried to debug the problems on the spot, but several refused to be solved. The email notification mechanism didn't work. The Q Liner Explorer would actually crash if a default profile wasn't created. It was a frustrating day, but it was the last.
That evening, I stood in the Pacific. For the first time in my life there was nothing between myself and the ocean. The lights of the Pier behind me, I no longer remembered the problems from earlier that day. I felt the sand beneath me melt with the passing waves while I teetered on the edge of euphoria.
I clambered out of the water, running from the next wave. I felt like a little girl, having never been one before.
After the beach, we wondered up to the city to look for a place to eat. I wanted something with seafood, although I didn't know where to get it. Eventually we happened upon the 7th Street Promenade (or was that 3rd? I can't remember). It was three block of stores I had known well. Save for the palm trees, this could have been Maple Grove. Half-way through, we found an directory with all the shops in the area. After looking in the Restaurants category, we found three Sushi places.
Somehow, as we were walking down the lighted streets, we had missed all of them. It was somewhat frustrating, since I never seemed to have problems like this in Minnesota. My co-worker also seemed reluctant to go to any restaurant upon quick decision. He later confessed to me that he was a procrastinator, but often it helped when it came to food.
He was not mistaken. At the end of the line, we came upon a place called Sushi Monsoon. Contrary to it's name, they didn't have any Sushi on the menu! I refused to give up on the place, and walked inside. A minute later, I asked the waitress what I knew was a silly question. “Do you have any sushi? I didn't see it on the menu.” She was a little surprised, and quickly pointed out the appropriate section on the menu – the one section lacking from the one posted on the door.
Although the front of the building wasn't much to look at, the inside was quite possibly, the biggest sushi place I had ever seen. It had smoky personality that one wouldn't get from a place in the Midwest. We drank Green Tea and ordered a platter of sushi and shishimi while watching the chefs within the open kitchen along the back wall.
I don't actually like shishimi. My experience from Minneapolis left me with the impression that it was something akin to jelled fish meat. Terrible, lacking taste and texture. What arrived, however, was anything but. It was perhaps the most amazing plate of Asian cuisine I had ever tasted. Flavorful and delicate. Even the shishimi was delicious! My co-worker didn't care for it all that much, leaving the majority to myself, an offer I was more than willing to undertake.
There was only a few pieces remaining when I the thought occurred to me. Perhaps it was the smoky atmosphere, or the experiences of the last few days, but I felt something altogether different growing inside of me. The realization was so obvious and profound that I couldn't help but say it aloud.
I need to get out of Minnesota.
I've lived in the state all my life. I expected to die here. And while that might yet be true, I hope it'd be quite some years off. I need to leave. I need to leave behind my safe and protective snow-encrusted fortress and see the world. I want to stand at the foot of the pyramids. I want to take in the sound of the room where English is rarely spoken. I want to have adventure.
For my writing, for myself, for something yet undefined; I want to have adventure.