Every mountain I saw as we cruised along the 105 into Los Angeles looked like the one that wore the Hollywood sign. Excitement zipped through me as I perused our list of things to come in the City of Angels.
“Could we add fish pedicures to our list?” Dicka said.
“I don’t know about that.” I envisioned the strange spa treatment, tiny fish nibbling the dead skin off my kid’s feet. Husband had heard of it too.
“They use baby piranhas they have to flick off before they draw blood,” he said with a straight face.
I jumped in. “You have to sign a waiver in case it goes too far.”
Dicka didn’t seem as amused as we were with the fish jokes. Our conversation, as eclectic as our playlist, bounced through more topics.
Husband pointed at a car one lane over. “The guy driving that Lexus is drinking wine—in an actual wine glass.”
Soon, we neared our destination and spotted our lovely hotel. We pulled into the circular drive of the Marina Del Rey Marriott on Venice Beach, and into a valet situation, our Honda Pilot looking like it had been “rode hard and put up wet,” as the expression goes. I held my head high, pretending we belonged there, while Husband checked in. He came out again, and in front of all the fancy people—some valet attendants and numerous guests—he climbed up to open our luggage topper, blasted with souvenir stickers from hither and yon, and tossed duffle bags down to the girls who caught them and loaded them onto a cart, squishing my pride under our baggage in the process.
We wasted zero time diving into our list of activities. The ocean called to us, and we answered. We rented skates from a hut on the beach; Husband, Flicka, and Dicka chose rollerblades while Ricka and I opted for roller skates. The short distance from the rental place to get onto the main path was treacherous.
Cracks in the cement, sand on the walk, people cutting in front of us... Forget the steep cliff lookouts, maybe this was how I would die. Husband must have read the panic in my eyes.
“Only one hour, and we’ll get off these death traps,” he said.
But as the path smoothed, so did our skating skills, and the hour zoomed by us almost as fast as the talented locals did. At last we wrestled off our skates and returned them. Out in a square, people performed various acts for spare change.
“Everything in the Bible is future,” a guy in a leopard-print loincloth shouted to passersby, a cobra writhing around his neck.
We walked on, browsing beach shops and counting all the off-leash dogs who were breathing ocean air and living their best lives alongside their humans. We ate sushi at a place near the Santa Monica Pier, and the girls later glimpsed the ocean at dusk from the rollercoaster’s dazzling heights.
But heights don’t last forever, so we came back down to earth to do what mortals do, since our dirty laundry was taking over our bags and the sticker inside the vehicle was nudging us to change the oil already.
In clean clothes and a happier Honda the next day, we drove to Studio City to snap pictures of the Brady Bunch house. A fence obscured much of our view, and nearby houses crowded the famous home. Wasn’t the property more spacious on TV—more magical? My memories of the beloved fictitious family’s dwelling said yes. But here we were, parked in front of the iconic place, hemmed in by other homes with no Alice to greet us and no Bobby to zing a football over the fence and narrowly miss our car.
We drove on to Hollywood Boulevard, captured photos of two-dimensional stars shining up from the sidewalk we strode on, and there was the Hollywood sign on Mount Lee in the distance. We asked a stranger to take some pictures of us, the word “Hollywood” visible in the background of our photos if a person squinted hard enough.
It was time for a snack, so we rolled along Sunset Boulevard to Chateau Mormont, a restaurant where famous directors and producers brunched. We parked on a narrow, twisting road behind the swanky West Hollywood establishment, and good thing, because valets stood poised to serve us, and it was better if they didn’t have to look upon our family-mobile, tatted up with stickers from every last place. Would our casual attire suffice, though?
We were seated right away, and we gazed around us, but refrained from gawking or getting the giggles over absolutely nothing, which is highly tempting when you’re supposed to behave.
“I sure hope our credit card isn’t flagged for unusual activity here,” I whispered to Husband. “It’s used to places like Aldi and Target, so—”
The server came up just then, delivering special versions of chicken fingers and calamari to our table. We savored the deliciousness, soaked in the atmosphere we weren’t allowed to photograph, and returned to the car hungry for more.
We grabbed a few slices at Dough, a pizza restaurant on Sunset Strip where Sean Lennon had once eaten, a sign on the wall was happy to tell us. The place sat a stone’s throw from the Viper Room where River Phoenix collapsed on the sidewalk and died of a drug overdose in 1993. On our drive back to the hotel, we made a pass through Rodeo Drive just to say we had and slept our last night in Los Angeles.
The next morning, a Sunday, we pulled into the parking lot of the Belasco Theater, and a “Welcome Home” sign told us we belonged. We found seats in the old theater, home to Hillsong LA, one of many Hillsong churches throughout the world. My soul had thrilled to Hillsong’s original music for years, and now here we were, ready to worship with our west coast brothers and sisters whom we hadn’t met. We sat among them, the visit reigniting our hearts.
Strange as neighbors
Our blood is one.
Of every nation
Of kingdom come.”
We drove along a cliff-hugging ribbon of road they call the Pacific Coast Highway. The storied scenic route took us to brunch at Marmalade Café in Malibu. And we must have made a good choice, because we spied an actor there, finishing his meal with friends.
“Was that Ethan Hawke?” I asked the hostess later on our way out.
“Yeah,” she said like it was nothing, “he eats here most Sundays.”
We ventured on, making a stop in Santa Barbara—the American Riviera, as they call it—to drink in the Spanish colonial heritage evident in the Mediterranean-style white stucco of the buildings downtown. Meandering bougainvillea sprawled across red-tiled rooftops, and Ricka decided making a life there wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Returning to the car for the last leg of our day’s journey, I marveled at the perfection of the day—no, of the days—we had enjoyed together so far. The vehicle was acting nicely, and so were the rest of us. What could go wrong now? Probably nothing. We were over halfway through the trip, the car approaching the four-thousand-mile mark, and all was well.
With Husband behind the wheel, more hours on the highway flitted away from us. Dusk gave way to darkness as we headed up the coast to San Luis Obispo, our stop for the night. My eyelids fluttered shut.
As we came to a stop at a red light within the city limits, a grinding noise came from the back end of the car. Uh-oh. I jerked awake, switching my eyelids open. What was that?
No one wants to hear that particular sound coming from their car, especially so many miles from home. My hopes—and stomach—plummeted. But maybe it was nothing.
The light turned green, and Husband pressed on the gas. I flicked my gaze at him. His mouth formed a grim line. Another stoplight. We slowed again, but with each tap of the brakes, the sound of metal grating against metal jarred my world, rattling our travel plans. It was a Sunday night—too late for a mechanic—and our hotel was still several miles away.
Come back next week for the next installment of the story.
*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date
*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.