two ambiens and three ounces of 160 proof
Friday, November 15 2013
location: rural Hurley Township, Ulster County, New York
Our six-day vacation in Los Angeles was to begin today, starting with a flight from Stewart Airport in relatively-nearby Newburgh. This was to be my first experience with the Newburgh airport; though it's the closest general-purpose airport to our house, I'd never even been there to pick up someone from a flight. The first thing that struck me as we approached Stewart was the large number of boarded-up abandoned apartment buildings nearby on what appeared to be an entirely abandoned suburb. Such groteque visions of urban decay are to be expected in a town as blighted as Newburgh, but in this case (as I would later learn), the buildings were once a barracks from World War II and are not indicative of recent hard times.
As for Stewart itself, it's a charming airport in a good state of repair. Best of all, it has relatively-few customers using it. When we got to the security checkpoint, we were the only customers then in need of that particular indignity. Were it not for the new barcode reader with its slow 30-seconds-per-ticket scan rate, we would have been through there in less than a minute. We also found surprisingly good coffee at the Euro Caf´ (having had our expectations lowered by a display of pink watches in that same store).
Our first flight was only to Philadelphia, and I looked out the window the whole time in hopes of seeing the geography roll out beneath me. Without the Hudson River as a guide (was it directly beneath the plane, or had we flown directly away from it?) I found the flight utterly confusing. Also: who knew there were so many fresh water lakes (artificial or otherwise) between the Catskills and Philadelphia?
One further observation: if space aliens ever descend on the United States, they are going to wonder what the symbol of a green diamond within an off-white quarter circle means. Those are the only recurring symbols visible from above, and they clearly mean something important because they are absolutely everywhere, from rural backcountry to densest settlement. Perhaps this is the symbol of some important religion, but who can say until one lands and investigates?
Gretchen and I were not seated together for the arduous five and a half hour flight from Philadelphia to Los Angeles, but (freakishly) the flight was not full and the middle seats next to our respective seats were both open. In preparation for the flight, I'd filled two three-ounce rubber travel containers with 160 proof vodka. But I didn't start drinking until the flight attendant came by with the free drinks. I ordered bloody mary mix, popped an Ambien, and then tried once more to watch Andrei Tarkovsky's film Stalker. But of course my laptop didn't have the correct codec on it and I had no way to download one. So I started typing instead. But eventually I passed out, only to wake myself up with the sense that I was dumping my beverage (which, by this point was coffee & vodka) into my keyboard. I dumped out the beverage and the keyboard seemed to still be working okay, so I thought maybe I'd dodged a bullet. I remember feeling like the ambien wasn't working, so I popped a second one. I also remember trying to get yet more vodka out of my 3 oz. container and finding it empty. Had Gretchen not had the other rubber container with her, I probably would have started on that one.
Near the end of the flight, Gretchen came up from the back and occupied the seat next to me. She could tell I was all kinds of messed up. I have absolutely no memory of doing so, but at some point during the flight, I ate about a pint's worth of stir fry that we'd brought with us.
Because of the vodka and Ambien, I was still pretty much useless after we landed in Los Angeles, so of course Gretchen handled all the details of renting our car (a small silver Nissan Versa Note hatchback) from the Firefly rent-a-car company. About all I was good for was helping with smartphone-based navigation up to our hotel in the west Los Angeles neighborhood of Westwood (just a little to the east of the condo I'd owned from early-2000 to mid-2001). The hotel was the Palomar, which Gretchen had selected for its proximity to the west side and because of the pretty pictures on the website. On the ground, though, the Palomar proved to be a soul-less chain establishment (owned by the Kimpton empire) in a particularly soul-free part of Los Angeles. The Palomar is just another tall building along Wilshire, in a strip of tall buildings that marches all the way into Santa Monica. The scale of the buildings and the eight-lane width of Wilshire conspire to make the neighborhood an antiseptic and unpleasantly-windy one for pedestrians.
Up in our sixteenth-floor room, I opened up my laptop and found that its keyboard was no longer working. Oops! It seems the vodka-coffee had worked its way in and was causing trouble. So I'd need some sort of replacement keyboard for the balance of the trip.
Though our hotel was in a pedestrian-hostile area, after we'd settled in, we walked north of Wilshire to the business district at the heart of Westwood, a place where the buildings are lower, the streets are narrower, and there are actual shops. Our first destination was Native Foods, a vegan restaurant chain that ranges as far east as Chicago (Gretchen had hit the Chicago outlet on her recent book tour). Westwood is a "college town" and all the people in the Native Foods were fresh-faced young adults. (There were more grey hairs on my head than on all the heads of everyone else there combined.) Native Foods caters to the vegan with an interest in conventional fast food. The chili wasn't very good, but my sandwich (whatever it was) was excellent. I also had some sort of pale ale as they were out of IPAs. Gretchen kept commenting about how out of it I was, but at the time I just didn't feel like I had anything to say.
After dinner, we walked up and down a few Westwood streets until we found a Radio Shack, a good place for me to possibly buy a keyboard. Gretchen had an immediate aversion to the place, and commented later about how poorly it had smelled (I hadn't noticed). Unfortunately, it no longer appears to be possible to buy a simple USB keyboard in a Radio Shack, so I had to buy a $20 wireless one that communicated via a dongle. This meant that I also needed batteries (cunning, Radio Shack!), something I didn't think of until I opened the damn thing up back at the hotel.
Hotel Palomar has a happy hour of free wine every evening from 5:00 until 6:00. We'd come too late for that tonight, but were given complimentary coupons for free wine on checking in. We cashed those in at the hotel bar after getting back from dinner, and drank our wine in two different somewhat-unsatisfactory seating situations. The wine, it must be said, was barely drinkable, and it was telling that the bartender never bothered to tell us anything non-generic about either choice (one a white and the other a red). We noticed a well-put-together youngish woman sitting by herself in a booth and immediately decided she must be a prostitute.
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