Monday, February 20, 2017

apple blossom time in la-la land

The oddest stimulus can trigger a memory.

The smell of oranges always reminds me of Christmas. Briny air of western Greece. And gray skies of Los Angeles.

In the winter of 1973, my college friend Stan Ackroyd stopped by my apartment at Castle Air Force Base. He was on his way to Los Angeles for the wedding of his cousin.

We decided to take my 1967 red Oldsmobile Cutlass convertible. It would be a perfect entrance for two bachelors.

The Olds had always been a reliable piece of transportation. Of course, red convertibles are far more than mere transportation devices. But that is all we wanted out of it on the trip south.

The car had other ideas. Around Bakersfield, a coat of oil started forming on the windshield. The oil pump had decided to pump  no more. Fortunately, in front of a mechanic's shop.

I traded telephone numbers, forked over almost every dollar in my wallet (this was an era where young lieutenants did not have credit cards), and we were on our way. With very few funds.

The rest of the trip is a story in itself. We started hitchhiking. The only car that stopped for us was a beat-up early 1960s Chevrolet driven by a guy with a beer between his legs. The beer was not a prop. The driver told us his life story as we rolled along.

He had just been paroled from San Quentin. The reason for his recent state guest status? He murdered his wife and his best friend in the throes of an adulterous rendezvous. The longer he weaved his tale, the more beers he drank.

At one point, he moved something under his seat. Whatever it was, he revealed the barrel of a revolver. Both of us saw it about the same time.

When he dropped us off at a freeway intersection, we gladly got out and hitched a ride in a pickup bed to a small town in the hills above the grapevine where we caught a bus into Los Angeles. We then walked several miles to the wedding. By that time, the reception was almost over.

And what do I remember? The sky. Unlike most California days, there was no sun. Just a solid gray shroud.

When I see skies like that, I think of Los Angeles. And that was convenient for these past two days. The sun has peeked through now and then, but the sky looked as if it took a wrong turn at Seattle.

On my seven-mile walk this morning, the only sign that I was in California was a row of ornamental apple trees. Despite the lack of sun, the white blossoms did their best to convince passers-by that California does not need to wait for a thaw to enjoy spring.

In fact, seasons here seem to slip from one into another with little notice. I have a theory that is one reason Californians do not seem to mature. There is nothing like a good strong winter to deepen those worry lines.

But I am not worrying. Instead, I am finishing up this essay in the Qantas first class lounge -- waiting for the call to head to my gate and adventure in Australia and New Zealand.

So, good-bye California. Hello Hong Kong and Sydney.

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