Wednesday, November 25, 2009

And We Walked Off to Look for America

I had an epiphany. If I had to describe my inner personality, my down-deep soul to someone, I'm a blend of Eeyore, Beaker from The Muppet Show and the fish from The Cat in the Hat. On the off chance you didn't grow up with the exact same culteral references I did (Waving "Hi!" to my readers in Chad), just assume none of these literary figures are brave adrenelin junkies, pining for a life of poorly-thought-out risks. My family crest would be of a chewed thumbnail and a worried look. The family motto would translate as "That Can't be Good."

Thirty-seven people wrote in with suggestions for making me less rut-like, which means I owe thirty-seven thank-yous; they were wonderful, and wonderfully weird ideas. I've got a few things percolating, none of which would have happened had I not been motivated by the genuine excitement people felt about me getting up off my glutes. Thank you, times thirty-seven.

So this week, I had my first adventure. The rail system in Los Angeles, the Gold Line, has opened several new exits. The kid and I put on walking shoes and partook of Los Angeles. There are two hard things to explain to outsiders about Los Angeles. One is that the city is so large that you can spend your entire life here and never see square miles of it, because your demographic doesn't go there. The other is that within two years of moving to Los Angeles, you will discover there are only fifteen people living in Los Angeles, four of whom you are actively avoiding. Both of these truisms speak to our incredible parochialism, which I was going to combat by going on the Gold Line with my child.

The first stop on the Gold Line was Little Tokyo, which meant food. Actually, all stops meant food for Daughter, because I had an article which told me where to eat near each stop and because the kid has the metabolism of a hummingbird and is possibly secretly hosting a tapeworm. Little Tokyo meant mochi, which Daughter adores with a pure passion. I like them well enough but not at 9:30 in the morning. She ate three. I found it hard to watch after a while, so I glanced at a display which upon closer inspection appeared to be some kind of candied dried fish, so I went back to watching my kid suck out mochi-guts.

We then walked through several stores in the Little Tokyo shopping district seemingly dedicated to the idea that the world is in this terrible state because not enough things are cute. In one store alone, I could have bought: a device which would have stamped my sandwiches into winking bear cubs; adorable masking tape, endearing staples, precious little paper clips and many other items on office-manager would need, were she eight; a bottle of hair spray which promised me Sparkle Many Hair; the winningist tampon-holder in creation. As certain Florentine Renaissance painters worked in fresco, the Japanese work in darling. Had there been a hospital-supply store in the same mall, I'd have been figuring out how to dress around their colostomy bags. Several small girls in Daughter's life have now been shopped for. Daughter was peckish again. We grabbed another mochi and got back on the Gold Line.

We got settled in, and I quietly gloated. This adventure business why, I was made for it. Yes, technically I had been to Little Tokyo before, quite a few times, but now I was on the Gold Line, thereby making it entirely new. Daughter, dazed from red-bean paste, stared out the window. I helpfully pointed out an old decrepit brick building, so she could fully appreciate this new place we were. And then I pointed out another decripit brick building. And then I noticed that when city planners decide where a train will be, it tends to be in neighborhoods with a lot of decrepit brick buildings. We adventurers notice things like that.

When we got off at Mariachi Plaza, there was all sorts of pleasant havoc going on. Dozens of Mariachi band members were ambling around, food was being served someplace. I asked someone what was going on, and found out it was the festival of Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of music. I could barely speak for the smugness. I hadn't even known, and yet my newfound wanderlust had brought us unerringly to a bunch of men and a few women in tight wool clothing and silver bits, playing music in the hot sun! Daughter and I listened for a few minutes but then I remembered two things:

1) I don't know anything about mariachi music, so it all sounds like one brutally long song to me,

2) I only hear Mariachi music in restaurants, so hearing it makes me start looking for chips.

I was hungry. I asked Daughter if she was hungry and she nodded vigorously, which made sense because she'd hadn't eaten in a half-hour. I pulled out the article on where to eat off the Gold Line and found a place which promised home-style cooking, not far from the plaza. We passed Serenata de Garibaldi, the one famous restaurant in the area. I smiled tolerantly at the people walking in. Sure, Serenata has lovely food, but we Vikings head for the high seas, the real adventures. We walked a block.

We walked another block.

Daughter noted innocently we had passed two bars and a pool hall.

I noted people offering to sell me illegal identification.

Finally, there was our restaurant. Its address involved a fraction; the other part of the fraction sold used shoes. The restaurant was empty and very dark. After a few minutes of my yodeling, the owner ambled out. Owing to her total lack of English and my abysmal Spanish, I finally ordered what the paper had recommended by pointing to a picture of it on the wall. Because we had now touched my subway-type things, not to mention countless iterations of Japanese cutenalia, I sent Daughter off to the bathroom to wash her hands before lunch. She came back less than a minute later; even in the cavish mood of the place, she was ashen.

She whispered, "There's no sink in the bathroom, so I had to use the kitchen sink. I turned it on and a few drops of water came out and then ants came out."

Eeyore, Beaker and the fish sat in the front of my brain and looked at me balefully. I stood up, waved to the woman and used every body language symbol I could think of for "Thanks ever so much but upon further reflection we've decided not to eat until the New Year." I then gently hustled Daughter out the door without actually touching her.

Serenata di Garibaldi was so clean. And bright. And clean. We went to the bathroom together and marveled at how the tap produced only water. Our food arrived; it was basically what we usually order, except slightly different. The kid and I commended each other on the different bits. After the food, I brought out the article and showed her that we had another three stops to go.

"Can we," she asked,"go back to Little Tokyo and Olvera Street and do the rest another time?"

I was about to start arguing for going further when I realized my defense would be "But that's not the spontaneous trip I planned." If what I don't like about my life is how predictable it is, then I need to be happier about ad-libbing. I shrugged and said, "Of course."

The second time through Little Tokyo, we followed the walking path, which I highly recommend. In front of many buildings, there are time lines on the sidewalk indicating what kinds of businesses have been there from the end of the 19th century through the 1940's. I know, it's not like hiking Macchu Pichu, but it was kind of cool. And let the record show that if we hadn't gone back, we wouldn't have seen it. Doubling back can have its charms. We drifted past the mochi store again, and the kid got one for later.

Olvera Street was a paragon of familiarity, the platonic ideal of a non-adventure. We walked through the original adobe house, something I did no fewer than six times on field trips in grade school and middle school. Then, because over an hour had passed, Daughter ate again. I toyed with a Diet Coke as she tucked into Late Lunch #2/Early Dinner and asked her, "I had a lovely time today. Did you have a good time?"

She nodded assertively. "I had a great time. You know what the best part was?"

Before I could swallow my Diet Coke and answer, Daughter said happily, "The ants."

I told the boys in my head to pipe down. A good time is a good time.


Blogger Robin said...

Great choice of adventure. Very entertaining read. Hope you have a very happy and adventurous Thanksgiving!

4:55 PM  
Blogger Sara J. Henry said...

Great post! Welcome back, and have a great non-turkey day tomorrow.

5:18 PM  
Anonymous --Deb said...

It sounds like a fantastic adventure! We don't even have a subway...

6:49 PM  
Anonymous FurBabyMom said...

Fun post, and a clever idea for a mini-adventure. Daughter's reply to you at the end ("the ants") made me chuckle! :)

I wish you and your family a very happy Thanksgiving.


7:16 PM  
Anonymous Ckoei said...

A sequel to "The adventure of the Antediluvian Tap" is eagerly awaited.

3:32 AM  
Blogger sherry stanfa-stanley said...

The worst vacation we ever took was a spur-of-the-moment spring break to the middle of Nowhere Alabama, where there was nothing to do but visit Wal-Mart and rent videos. We were fairly forced to make our own adventure. It is still one of my sons' fondest memories.

Keep adventuring. You're making wonderful memories for you and the kid.

6:30 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Several years back we took my young twin boys to a chocolate factory/museum tour in a little seaside town in New Brunswick. While we were in the first museum room there was a fluttering commotion of "something" and we watched a staff member cornering what turned out to be a bat (gently covered with a waste basket for subsequent removal outside). I enjoyed learning about chocolate-making and trying samples but I don't think my kids enjoyed anything more than seeing that BAT!

6:58 AM  
Anonymous MidLifeMama said...

Your family crest and motto CRACKED ME UP. I think we may be on different branches of the same family tree. Our motto goes something like "Siiiiigh, well, if I have to but this won't end well."

12:11 PM  
Blogger houseband00 said...

Not since watching "500 Days Of Summer" have I been curious about the Los Angeles that gets overlooked. Thanks for sharing your adventure with the little one. =)

3:03 PM  
Anonymous Anna said...

If you haven't seen them already, you should check out the Watts Towers on your next public transportation adventure (take the Blue Line to 103rd Street). The Towers and the Museum of Jurassic Technology were two of my favorite experiences as a visitor to Los Angeles.

2:03 PM  
Blogger Dodi said...

See, now I see a little LORAX in you also.

Love that you took the adventure with your daughter - because what better way to see the world than through new(er) eyes?

5:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From one Born Worrier to another, Bravo on your adventure!!! My teenagers, who are much more fun than I and actually crave adventure, are giving me gray hairs with their need for newness and spontaniety. I shall live vicariously through them and that is probably what Daughter will be for you as well.

12:40 PM  
Anonymous josita said...

What a delightful adventure!

Hey, in case you're considering making recycled paper...ignore the link I gave you before. Here's a much easier way to go about it (and the way I actually do it), from someone's flickr set:

7:47 PM  
Blogger D'artanyan said...

Quinn, How quickly you forget, surely attacking across the Hollywood Bowl in the Battle of Vittoria had to be an adventure (even if it was 25 years ago).

9:44 PM  

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