Driving cross country had been an adventure. We’d made a decision to go to Las Vegas instead of the Grand Canyon and stayed one night. The next morning it was time to get on the road for the final day of our drive. My “drive mate” and I were anxious to arrive at our final destination. Downey, California – a suburb of Los Angeles. There was a reason for this particular choice. While at the time I would have willingly moved to Guam to get out of town, Los Angeles became possible because two Locust Valley friends, Kathy Lawless and Linda Ziegler, were there visiting Linda’s grandmother. .
Pre-cell phone by decades, we stopped at a pay phone to them know we were on our way. They had booked us into a reasonable motel for a week while we would get our bearings and figure out next steps. Linda had just accepted a job in downtown L.A. ~ wherever that might be ~ Kathy was leaving in a couple of weeks to finish her last year of college and my drive mate, Kate, was going to work at the Los Angeles office of a large insurance company she had worked for on Long Island. We had a week to find a place to live somewhere near Wilshire Boulevard ~ wherever that might be. It should be noted that Wilshire Boulevard is a major artery and one of the few streets that runs completely through the city of Los Angeles from the ocean to downtown. There are at least fifty completely different worlds located along that 14.4 mile corridor. We didn’t yet know that fact or have any idea which world would be closest to Kate’s job.
The drive from Vegas to Los Angeles took around four hours and one more call as we approached ascertained our meeting at the motel in destination Downey. As the freeway signs announced our arrival to the area I felt a knot beginning to tighten in my stomach. Where were the palm trees and mansions? Movie stars and talent agents couldn’t possibly live here. Where was Beverly Hills adjacent?
What part of town was this? The part with the Giant Donut located right off one of the many freeways. We won’t discuss the reasonable motel…all I could say about Downey was “we gotta get outta here…fast.”
The search for Wilshire Boulevard began early Monday morning. During rush hour. Remember the “real” Tonight Show with Johnny Carson? He did a skit where he was Art Fern showing a massive tangle of L.A. freeways and it always ended with cutting off your Slauson.
Well, our first journey on the mass of tangles they call “commuting in LA” was not for the faint of heart. Especially since we had absolutely no idea where we were going. Kate had called human resources and gotten the address~- remember, no computers, no internet…just people who, thankfully, answered the phone. They were located in the “mid-Wilshire District”. Now all we had to do was find Wilshire. We’d figure out the mid-part later. What we did find were several freeways and each had a Wilshire exit, or off-ramp as they are called. Since every freeway seemed to merge from the right at warp speed, it was impossible to exit unless you spotted the signs far in advance. I don’t remember which freeway finally deposited us onto Wilshire Boulevard, but I do remember we were deep in the heart of downtown Los Angeles. To two girls from Long Island, that was almost as scary as Downey. There are no homeless people in Locust Valley. Very little dirt, except in gardens and no traffic. This was truly life in the fast lane. I had a vague idea of how Alice must have interpreted falling through the looking glass.
We found the office building and decided mid-Wilshire looked wonderful. We began driving around and it seemed a more than acceptable place to live. Luckily, most of the apartments had live-in managers so we would stop at one and ring the buzzer. How safe and secure a building with a buzzer seemed. And, wait ~ there were palm trees lining Occidental Boulevard. The Sunset Strip was about five miles West.
But ~ Oh my gosh…the apartment ~ #101 ~ was just like a Doris Day movie. Built in furniture and shag carpeting ~ a completely furnished one bedroom for $175 a month including utilities. Between three of us that would be more than manageable. It would be downright thrifty.
When my parents’ arrived for a visit at Christmas, my father’s immediate exclamation ruined my fantasy first apartment….”Jesus Christ ~ you’re the only names on the mailbox that aren’t Mexican.” The man had a way with words. I guess we’d noticed but I’m happy to say it hadn’t mattered until then. The rest of their visit was tense. My father emphatically decided it was time for me to return home.
OK, here’s the deal. My father was the boss of everything, and I’d been told my first full sentence was “you’re not the boss of me.” It was the on-going struggle I fought to win and thought I had by moving three thousand miles away. But the indiscriminately allotted three months was up and there was no way in hell I was going back. I had an ok job, that cool shag carpeting in my apartment and I was free at last, free at last.
Big Joe~ as he was not always so fondly referred to ~ decided enough was enough and the ethnic composite of my apartment building was his excuse. I just wasn’t safe in Los Angeles. As my mother and brother sat silently in the restaurant, Big Joe and I replayed the dinner scene of my youth. He and I were talking loudly in disagreement and she and my brother were nervously coughing, twitching and throat clearing. Somewhere between the soup and salad at Sorrentino’s in Burbank ~ I’d found my way to the “Valley” ~ my mother said sternly, “enough.” We both looked at her in amazement. This was not part of the normal agenda. Her next words rang clear and true, “she’s staying here, Joe….she’s staying here.” She usually let me fight my own battles and had only intervened once before.
About ten weeks before I was supposed to be married she came into my room and said “I don’t know what’s going on with you, but you’re not acting like somebody who’s getting married.” Then, “if you don’t want to do it, you can call it off, but you have to do it now – there’s a shower for you in two weeks.” She closed with the magic words, “I’ll fix it with your father.” I think they ate off the reception deposit at the Swan Club for a very long time. And now, for a second time she really proved that “mother knows best” as she saved me from a fate far worse than that marriage would have been. Returning home.
They flew back to New York two days early. She cried at the airport when she said goodbye – she was quite the crier ~ and I thanked her.
She smiled and said “move to Burbank.” It was the home of the original Bob’s Big Boy…and NBC….and my next chapter.