Saturday, October 22, 2011

Wacky Weekend

It was that strangely electronic version of "Air on a G String" that my phone has (read: remnants of its European identity) that woke me up at two in the morning. It was not accidental. That Saturday I got out of my cottage and looked at my yard. There was Cabbage, the '87 300TD, and Newport, my dear old friend. Who should make it to the car show?

About fifteen minutes of consideration made me choose Newport for its show value, and because I wanted to keep the miles low on the W124 wagon, despite it being a fantabulous long-distance cruiser, much better suited to my ill-fated tailbone.

Highway 5 stretches like an ancient chalk mark amongst hundreds of miles of crops, truck stops and diners. For the most part it is empty and desolate, with the exception of the occasional minivan or BMW driver who blazes his trails, right next to you, at twice the speed of sound.

Just at the moment of dawn, the song "Oh What a Beautiful Morning" was chosen at random on my MP3... what a glorious sight.

As I got closer and closer to Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley, I approached an area of smooth hills, a hybrid of Chow-Chow skin and yellow shag carpet, lying there, enormous, disorganized, tumultous, besides farms and ill-smelling ranches.

Soon enough I arrived to the dreaded Grapevine. The Grapevine is a long, uninterrupted uphill, crowded by trucks who, unable to carry their loads on such a steep incline, slow down to 35mph and put on their hazards. Sure enough, my MP3 tuned "The Ride of the Valkyries" as I approached the dreaded mountains...

Newport was up to the challenge. Just before we started climbing, I floored it to about 75 miles per hour (take a look at the photo, again, notice what I did... slightly wrong), and cruised without interruption, blasting Wagner, at roughly the same, constant speed, passing eighteen wheelers and small, four-banger econoboxes in distress.

Now, the purpose of this trip was not only to get a differential for a 280SE for my boss at the shop, but be part of the car show that Dennis and Rick had put together. That is the reason I got Newport!

The cruise started at Norm's, a famous diner in Santa Monica, where, two years later, had arrived with a couple friends, deeply heartbroken by a Korean girl, at the culmination of one of the best road trips I have ever taken. I recall it was so intense, my friend made a film about it. I shall post as soon as he makes it available.

Up we went Route 66, cruising through avenues lined with Palm trees, glamorous neighborhoods of lush green bushes, run-down streets crowded with beggars and pawn shops, hipster hideouts and blank promenades of gas stations and fast food chains. A complete delight being in this combo, cruising in a convoy through the city that was my home for three months of life-changing meditation. Thank you, Rick and Dennis, for bringing these treasured memories back and making me realize what a different person I was, in the depths of grief and confusion, and how I found the strength to prevail and make life mine.

We had a swell meet of the great men who came to welcome me to California –and more. We ate our hamburgers, at the tune of good motor talk, and headed for the Toyota speedway. From Japanese racing teams looking at our diesel engines in disbelief, to flaming cars on the track, the night was complete. It was that afternoon that I got a phone call from my friend in Manhattan, who offered me a position as an art teacher to earn my Green Card and open a design firm with my friends. The world flipped upside down... what about SF? What about the rust in Manhattan? Would I be happy as a teacher? How much did I want a Green Card? How long would a design company take to be set up after being a teacher?

That night I did not sleep too well, so I woke up at dawn and parked next to the Santa Monica pier, where I spent two or three hours roaming next to the ocean, thinking about the uncertainty that this call had arisen, the excitement that the future holds at this age, and the opportunities that come unexpected. I talked to my mother, who let me know that things were going well back at home, and showed endless enthusiasm about me having the prospect of becoming a respected professional in Manhattan.

To revive old times, I drove to Little Tokyo to get a cup of frozen yogurt at my favorite joint, Cherry on Top, where once upon a time I shared tea with loved ones, and dear ones. It felt weird to order the yogurt alone, dressed in dark clothing, in such a bright, bubbly space.

While parking, I stopped to take a picture of a magnificent mural:

Still walking aimlessly through Little Tokyo, I stopped by a Japanese garden that I have always visited during my LA internships. I had always watched this garden from afar, I had seen bridal pictures being taken in it, and businessmen shake hands in it, but I had never been inside in all these years. I walked around the concrete wall, and found a door. I turned the knob, and found out it had been open all this time...

...there I sat, on a rock next to a waterfall, in Downtown Los Angeles, and accepted that my greatest fear came from attachment. Attachment to San Francisco, attachment to Newport, attachment to what is safe. I looked down, and I saw a dead worm, surrounded by ants, taking one small bite at a time, conquering their mammoth prey. It definitely reflected on my own life... trying to buy buildings, open companies overnight, expand, make deals with corporations, go to sleep in Manhattan and wake up in Seoul. One bite at a time. My immigration status as a non-citizen does not let me open or manage a company. One bite at a time. Patience.

Once I was done with my Zen time, I headed to Gardena to pick up the differential. I arrived at 3:25pm, five minutes before the meeting time. At 3:45pm I gave the seller a call, who told me he would be two hours late. Thanks, jerk. I ran down to the Santa Monica public library to check my email, without luck... because I did not have a card. I returned at 5:30pm sharp. And time passed. 6pm. 6:30pm. I kept calling, without an answer. 7pm. 8pm. I asked the little Japanese lady next to the seller's business if he was a legitimate seller, as I was beginning to worry about the deposit I had left. He was indeed, but he was not picking up the phone! At 9pm I stocked up on Arizona Ice Tea at the local Seven Eleven and left a final voice mail stating that I would ask for a refund through PayPal. I left for San Francisco long after sunset, thankfully awake and fresh.

The week started as usual in the shop. I was let some time off on Monday to compensate for the long trip. However, on Wednesday, something happened.

After logging into the PeachParts forums, I got a notification for a private message from member TylerH860. "You and I share the same dream", it said. I responded promptly and left my phone number.

The next day we talked for the first time about the opportunity of setting up an online series on Automobiles and Travel, in the style of Jeremy Clarkson's Top Gear and that other British TV show, Wheelers Dealers. Amongst other things, Tyler introduced himself as a legitimate car hobbyist and Mercedes nut, a legally certified car dealer and road trip lover; and we discussed the weaknesses of the American Top Gear, the resources we had available, the procedure to make this legal so I can stay in the country, possible challenge ideas, and how to keep production under the tightest budget known to man.

There it was, the opportunity to make our dreams happen, to have the best job in the world, to slap the voice of tradition right in the face.

Hosting a TV show? Heck YES!

Tyler will soon fly to San Francisco to meet me in person. If there is chemistry and our minds are in the same wavelength, I shall move to Wichita, the bellybutton of the US, and start producing a fully legitimate web show. Wish us luck!

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