Get in the car and drive. That’s what my husband, Ian, and I like to do when Friday night rolls around and we’d forgotten to make plans. Usually we won’t have a destination in mind, only vague ideas – Let’s drive over Topanga toward the ocean, drive along Wilshire, head over to Santa Monica, maybe downtown…
One recent Friday night, we hopped on Wilshire near Beverly Hills and just kept going toward downtown. We stopped to pay our respects to the desolate and nearly empty lot where t he Ambassador Hotel once stood. With just the sound of cars wooshing by now, I stared at the haunting space and thought I could almost hear a big band blaring from the Cocoanut Grove. B ut the Ambassador is but a memory; meanwhile across the street, an old neighbor, the Gaylord apartment building still stands lit up and full of life.
Back in our car, we continued down Wilshire, and turned down a street beside Macarthur Park. There, we stumbled upon a whole new universe for us. Out of the dark, with downtown LA skyscrapers glowing in the background, a bandstand lit up in pink and purple lights, seeming to float in the dark. We rolled down the window and could hear a band playing - conga drums, quick and energetic. We could see silhouettes of people dancing. Latin music filled the air. We got out, listened to the band and then walked near the park’s lake.
There was a festival – parents and children rode on tiny roller-coasters and whirling rides; the smell of roasted meats and corn floated by. A Mexican man and woman tried to tame an angry miniature horse that seemed to finally have enough of begin humiliated for the public’s humor.
Only a half-hour car ride from home and yet we’d felt like we were miles from home.
So last Friday night, we headed to Santa Monica with the idea of stopping in a café or a pub… or whatever we’d stumble upon along the way.
It was just after 8pm, when got to Main Street. The cool little bead shop, the eclectic toy store, the collectible store and California bohemian clothing stores were already closed. But the pubs, cantinas and outdoor cafes swarmed with people. Each time we walked by one happening spot we’d hear the sounds of chatter and laughter, and even caught snatches of conversation. One long-haired surfer dude to another guy: ”Dude, he’s totally involved, dude, in organized crime… dude.” One dude per every three words, I figured. My husband nodded. We passed a night time painting and wine drinking class taking place on a patio. Students painted and studied their easels while sipping glasses of wine.
Then we came to Jadis, a shop we’d peeked into many times before but had never seen opened. This night it was. In the window stands a replica of the robot, Maria, from the film “Metropolis”. It’s surrounded by a crowd of whirling and flapping gadgets, whose-its, what’s-its and whatcha-ma-callits that look like they came from a Dr. Seuss story. With the store lit up, my electronic engineer husband gaped at the floor to ceiling collection of antiquey-looking electronics with dials, coils, meters and knobs. I think I saw him drool.
While Ian ogled the gadgetry through the window, I walked to the front door and studied the posted signs: “Knowledge ain’t nothin’” and “Disorganize what you don’t know.” And then I saw a sign that said we could knock on the door and enter for $2 per person. But no cameras or laughing are allowed, one sign warned.
My husband knocked. I stood behind him. A skinny man with a long white-haired ponytail opened the door. We put our dollars in a dish and entered. The skinny man began to tell us what the store was all about. First he asked if we knew anything about Ray and Charles Eames. Ian and I nodded, we were both big collectors of mid-century furniture back in the 1980s. We were so into our mid-century furniture that on our first date when Ian entered my apartment and saw my amoeba shaped coffee table (I’d bought at a garage sale), he knew we were a match. That and the way I devoured my Moroccan food later that evening. So, yeah, we knew all about the Eames' designs, have been to some of their art exhibits, have books about them and have their films on DVD. We love the Eames.
Well, the man told us, then we’d appreciate what the shop’s all about since the owner Parke Meek - a man with only a sixth-grade education and an inquisitive and imaginative mind - who worked with Ray and Charles Eames, designed props for Hollywood and collected his shop-full of curiosities along the way. Since Ian also designs and engineers recording consoles (and is real into vintage electronics) it was an extra bonus, considering our tour guide once worked in some capacity for the Rolling Stones and Frank Sinatra. So Ian and our tour-guide hit it off. They stopped at every techno, electro sort of meter-type of object and discussed them in detail, nodding and shaking their heads in mutual amazement.
While they talked, I roamed the room. As I ogled the collectible curiosities, I thought about the shop’s owner Parke Meek - his work, his imagination, his curiosity and his lack of schooling. I thought about the quote that’s been attributed to Mark Twain: “I never let schooling get in the way of my education". And realized some of the most amazing people I’ve met and know, have never stopped asking questions – Why? What? How? Why not? They’ve never forgotten to be childlike and curious.
Ian and the pony-tailed man shook hands, and we thanked him for his tour.
Then we went across the street to the Irish pub, Finn McCools, for a plate of garlic fries and two black and tans. As an extra bonus, the baseball game between Colorado and LA Dodgers was playing on a TV screen just above our heads. Curiosities, garlicky-fries, black and tans and baseball, too.
Sometimes there's nothing better than just getting in the car and driving - like when I was a kid, and I'd get on my bike and ride. I'd explore and wonder what else is out there. I never want to stop doing that.