He had been here all week working in the local office. To no one's surprise, I leveraged the opportunity to once again see the sun that had, for so long, hidden itself from our Chicago home.
After grabbing my bag from the Southwest Airlines luggage belt, I found a vacant strip of chairs in an odd corner of the Los Angeles International Airport. I knew that when he said he would meet me here at noon, that it would be closer to 1pm. I propped my feet up on my brown roller bag, plugged my earbuds in and distracted myself editing video clips from the previous week.
A suited man with a scruffy dark beard sits across from me, shiny shoes, crossed-legged, just as my computer battery signals that it's about to call it quits. I gaze over my dead laptop screen, entertained by the bearded gentleman's animated conversation. Unable to hear, I passed time by placing improvised meaning to each hand gesture and facial expression.
Knowing he showed up later than planned, he rushes right past me headed for belt 4, the baggage claim area assigned to my flight that arrived over an hour ago. I call out his name and laugh. The stressful look he wore transitions to match the goofy grin I knowingly have across my face. I was happy to see him and ready to kick-start our weekend.
He circles the silver Hyundai Accent we rented, marking up every ding and knick he can detect on a small sheet of paper, just in case. I impatiently sit, shoes off, with my feet on the dashboard; antsy, annoyed that he's being precautious and further delaying the grand LA afternoon I've envisioned for myself.
A few hours later, in the corner booth on the patio of Ma'Kai Lounge, he voices regret for not packing a pair of sunglasses as the warm sun beats down on us. A steady stream of people walk, bike and rollerblade across Ocean Avenue towards the pier and beach, each of them as determined as us to embrace the warm moment. A few fruity cocktails and happy hour specials down, we decide that now is the right time to go find the famed Hollywood sign.
We walked the two short blocks up Broadway to Hotel Carmel, conveniently situated between the Third Street Promenade and Santa Monica beach. Within walking distance, the pier, restaurants, bars, street performers, and plenty of shopping surrounds us. He selected this spot knowing it would provide everything we could desire on our quick weekend trip.
On the fourth floor, we navigate the musty, winding halls until we find room 426, where we previously left our belongings. Three attempts at scanning our key card and we're green-lighted in. A sense of confusion, disgust, and disappointment prevent the right words from leaving my lips. I look at him, back at the bed and then back at him.
Our bed had been stripped. Our room was abandoned with the comforter across the floor, sheets removed, stained mattress pad on display, no hotel staff in sight. Instinctively I want to call the desk and question their policies. Is the delivery of a quality customer experience not a priority here? Why would they allow this to happen? What if I wanted to take a nap right now? At what point do you actually trash disgusting mattress pads?
"Let it go for now," I think to myself. I snap a quick picture with my phone convinced I'll post about it later.
I grab the camera bag and unzip the top to make sure that everything is in the bag. Remove the camera charger, "We won't need that." I zip the bag back up, swing it over my shoulder and we're on our way. He flags the valet, we step into the car, buckle up, and I pull up Google Maps to calculate our best route.
Earlier in the week, I found the exact address, "3000 Canyon Lake Drive," to type into Google Maps and arrive at what was considered the best view of the Hollywood sign. Only 12 miles away! We make a left on Broadway, a right on 4th, a left onto the I-10E ramp and then join the brigade of cars present at 4pm on a Friday afternoon.
He turns the radio on and flips through the stations; I sing a random line I think I know here and there. An old white Cadillac with shiny silver detailing slowly rolls past my passenger-side window. A glance at the driver reveals a lady in her mid 40's flaunting red lipstick and large shades, flicking her cigarette out the window. Not what I expected from this vehicle, but I couldn't help but like it. "She's so L.A.," I thought.
Motorcycles weave in and out of the traffic, sliding between the lanes. A part of me envies their ability to navigate this traffic, the other part, and the part that speaks out loud: "Idiots!"
Two miles and 33 minutes later, I decide I can no longer watch the surrounding traffic. I'll put the camera together. I should take pictures of this traffic; after all, it is a very L.A. experience. I reach into the back seat, snag the camera bag and begin to piece together the camera and lens. I remove the lens cap, flip the camera on and say, "Smile!" He looks at me with a fake smile, knowing he's now expected to entertain me.
I press down on the button, but nothing happens. I try again. Nothing. I check the power switch on the top of the camera: it's set to "ON.” The lens cap is off. The memory card is in its slot. The battery…! I hesitate to admit my mistake but look at him with a face of panic.
"What?" he says, registering that something isn't right.
I lift the camera to show him the empty battery compartment. "I took the battery out of the bag and left it on the bed." His eyes close slowly as a smirk hits his face and he lets out a heavy sigh.
"We have to go back." I plea, hoping he'll understand.
He merges to the right. "Next exit 1 mile,” the sign ahead reads. That'll take another twenty minutes just to exit, I calculate in my head.
"We can't go to the Hollywood sign and not use the good camera," I say in an attempt to convince us both that we have no choice.
"It's alright. Let's just hope that we get there before it's too dark."
Almost two hours later we’re zigzagging up the steep, beautiful neighborhood roads of Mount Lee. We successfully arrive at the Vista Point to find only one other car parked in the area. Success!
I prop the camera up on the roof of our rental car, wedging my wallet under the lens for a better angle. The Hollywood sign floats in the background as we snap multiple sets of timed shots together. We only decide to stop when a family approaches, hoping to benefit from our spot with undisturbed views.
Across the street, we admire the view over Los Angeles. Arguably, this spot is as valuable of a lookout for the city as it is for the Hollywood sign. I take pictures of the skyline, adjusting the camera settings in an attempt to capture the city with its now colorful dusk sky. No more than ten minutes after we’ve arrived the sun decides to set. We made it, but just barely.
Back in the car, winding down the hill, I grab his hand and smile knowing that this was the first of many adventures we'll have in L.A. over the weekend. One of many, many adventures I'll have traveling the world with him.