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August 24 - 25, 1999

The telephone ringing woke us up too early, but it was the time we'd decided upon, so I bounced over to the window and parted the curtains a foot, letting the hazy morning light spill in to rouse us. Molly's this-and-that of tasks took time, as did wading through the traffic (I balked at the congestion on the 405 freeway northbound Rae's photo and instead veered away down La Cienega to carry us through and over the Baldwin Hills, then further evasive maneuvers in a route Molly found scenic, through Palms). Eventually we arrived at my designated breakfast stop, Rae's on Pico, where I ordered what I always have there mornings, their French Toast with Bacon. Then over to Bundy above Wilshire where we left the car in a Ralph's parking lot and plopped down on a bus bench, waiting for the 14. At the end of the line we disembarked at the Getty, as the J. Paul Getty Museum is called. It's been under construction for over a decade, now open a little over a year, and I had no idea I'd be getting the opportunity to visit the place so soon -- felt quite the cognoscente. In 1993 I visited the former Getty, the villa in Malibu -- there as here the policy is small parking lot for which reservations must be acquired, in advance, since they're always all spoken for today; but if you show up via the bus, no problem, in you go. But now, in this meta-Getty, a consolidation of a dozen Getty entities into this single, futuristic hilltop fortress, visitors ride a cable-driven tram between the lower parking lot and Getty tram the facility at the summit. It's a balanced system, one train ascending as the other descends, with a widened area midway so they can pass each other. During my final years in LA, driving back down the 405 after excursions into The Valley, when passing the lower terminus, under construction, I'd wonder "Why are they building a Metro station near Mulholland Drive?" I guess the answer is a) crowd control and b) the Getty Foundation is filthy rich, just lousy with dough -- so why not?

Up top our time was limited so we only had time for an outdoor cafe cuppa, the requisite gift-shopping, and to see one of the many exhibits. This was a mix of Andy Warhol's photography with much older film portraits taken by a mid-nineteenth-century Parisian boulevardier who assumed the name Nadar. Interesting, but the building's architecture (designed by Meier, constructed of a stone called travertine) was what we found most interesting. Return visits are indicated. Fortunately I'd seen their signature painting in 1993 -- Van Gogh's "Irises" wasn't there; on loan to the Canadians.

After returning the silver Ford Escort rental car and linking up with Molly's beau Phil of Mission Villejo we were riding south on the 405 in his green BMW. I got that queasy, annoyed feeling when somebody I know quite well's 'explaining' me to someone I know not at all. They dropped me off at the classic 'old Spanish California' Santa Ana station where I caught an Amtrak train heading south, back to San Diego.

The train arrived a half-hour late, slows and stops to let other trains pass, why did mine have the lower priority? At Solano Beach (whose multiple, linked quonset huts I recognized from when I stopped there previously 1), a passenger altercation: I was sitting in the "cafe car," this modern-day AmDinette located on the upper level. All the cars on this train had upper & lower levels, but passengers could only pass between cars on the upper level. The sliding doors providing platform egress are on the lower level, and as it turns out the cafe car's doors don't open at stops! Ridiculous. Three guys discovered this the hard way at Solano Beach where they wanted to disembark (or in modern parlance, "de-train.") As they ran down the cafe car steps the counter guy tried to warn them, but they were focused on departure -- after their cries of dismay were heard, and the arguments with the conductor began when the train had resumed its southerly motion, they were demanding cab fare from Amtrak for their immediate return trip north from the next stop -- so typical of a whiney American. On the other hand, train doors which don't open when it stops? What kind of bullshit petty authoritarian crowd control is that?

Once I was back in the old Sante Fe Station of downtown San Diego, with all of its beautiful tile, after a series of phone calls I'd arranged another rendezvous with The Gus & Kim. Just after sunset they fetched me from the Old Town trolley station in Kim's white Volvo and we drove to the ocean, passing the lit-up roller coaster at Mission Beach and arriving at Southside Sushi in Pacific Beach. The subject of the medicine wheels came up there, and the incident seems to be contentious; Kim tried to get me to arbitrate but I dummied up since assuming the role of referee in arguing couples situations is something I've learned to avoid. The fish was fine, but what else did we talk about? My mind's a blank, can't recall any other conversation, all I remember is Kim's affection towards me. Rather pleasantly distracting, made me wonder how far things might've gone if Gus hadn't been sitting across the table from us -- she's some sweetie! (I guess I'm smitten.) Afterwards, outside, driving 'round, she pointed out the place she goes for massage classes: the Institute for Psycho-Structural Balancing.

They took me back to the house in Normal Heights, which was dark. Dermot was leaving for Ireland very early in the morning and I was glad to have an alternate plan so I wouldn't intrude on their last evening together. In the morning, Cheryl (eventually getting dressed after flouncing about wearing nothing but her glasses and a short, perforated white cotton nightie, yes, teasing me although I stifled any display of reaction to the provocation) dropped me off on her way to work at the Fashion Valley transit depot so I could take the trolley back downtown, but the banners draped from lamp standards in the parking lot there reminded me that the "WWII Through Russian Eyes" show they were advertising was still on, so I studied the various buses available and formulated a specific plan for Balboa Park, where the exhibition was being held. (I'd acquired its brochure at the airport info counter.) Getting there meant riding an express south through the park to Broadway, then boarding a local headed north which stopped inside the park. While waiting for this second bus on Broadway, outside a bar named the Chee Chee, I was treated to a morning serenade by a group of mixed ethnics, drunkards by their sound, standing in a circle and bouncing as they chanted and sang the "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" to their own irregular rhythm. Finally the bus came.

At the museum nexus within Balboa Park I looked around, and the wisdom of the decision to come here was confirmed -- I recognized these buildings, there must've been a World's Fair here in the 1930s! Intricate Mayan-style carvings adorned the Federal Building, and a real SR-71 Blackbird was mounted on a pedestal out front of the Aerospace Museum. I looked in on the Automobile Museum and appreciated the shiny white Kaiser-Darrin on display in the lobby but there was no time -- across the way to the Municipal Gymnasium where I paid $12, surrendered my back pack and passed through the metal detector -- what exactly was on display here? I'd noted a billboard in LA advertising a similar revenue-generating tour of Russian objects: the Treasures of the Czars were on display at the Queen Mary in Long Beach. These were holdings from the Russian Central Army Museum, artifacts from what they call the Great Patriotic War. Here's what I found:

  • A simulated room from an apartment building during the Siege of Leningrad, with broken up furniture being fed into the woodstove and totalitarian loudspeaker on the wall.
  • A PO-2 Biplane, one of the little bombers called Nachthexen by the Germans. They'd in low, turn off their engines and glide silently to their targets. Soldiers in the German lines reported hearing women's voices singing above them just before the bombs were dropped since the Night Witches had women pilots, like the ace Lily Litvak, the 'White Rose of Stalingrad', who shot down 12 German fighters before she was killed at age 22.2
  • Some of Joe Stalin's personal effects, like his pistol, uniforms and overcoat.
  • Hermann Goering's hunting britches (so we could appreciate his girth, these were worn by a torso-less half-mannequin, unlike)
  • Hitler's khaki uniform tunic, tossed disdainfully 3 on the floor. This was displayed inside a cube of alarmed plexiglass, along with some other victory trophies taken from his office in the Reichschancellery, including his desk, globe, and violin, whose scroll was carved into a likeness of the Führer's head.
  • A huge painting titled "The Victory": a crowd of battered Soviet warriors standing about on the steps of a columned and much battle-damaged edifice, littered with debris. Many of the soldiers are pictured in heroic attitudes, mouths open, perhaps singing a patriotic song. (Yeah, right. In reality they were having a field day in Berlin, raping and looting in an immense drunken spree of pillaging.)
Whew. Walked back to the bus stop, catching the 7 back to Broadway and from there the 992 "Airport Flyer" to the Flugplatz, and then the flight home. Was reminded why I dislike SouthWest, their unprofessional attitude manifest in the giggling stewardess-bimbo's pre-flight and pre-landing litanies -- was she on drugs? Just as during the trip out, endured excruciating but temporary head-pain as the aircraft descended through the lower altitudes on its final approach. Hope that's not to be a regular experience; I've got six more flights (with landings) scheduled before Y2K. One final incident worth recording occurred during the airport shuttle-van 4 ride home -- we were forced to stop on a shady, quiet Palo Alto street when a little crane backed into our path, blocking all traffic. Hanging from its pulley, dangling at the end of the cable, slowly wobbling, was a great wrought-iron dome, being moved into position atop five pillars arranged in a circle in some obnoxiously rich person's huge back yard.

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1 This was in 1996. After visiting Cheryl I was driving my rental car back to LA the morning after that evening when she drove me south, over the border, to her favored La Fonda restaurant, the only time I've ever been to Mexico.

2 ...who I first read about in the Spain story published 1985 in Zap #11.

3 I'm sure its disarray was arranged with the great care befitting this garment's immeasurable historical value. (That is, if these artifacts were genuine. Who could tell?) His Iron Cross was affixed in its usual breast position; we've all seen photos of him wearing this decoration, which he received in the First World War.

4 The driver'd taken on a full load, delivery of which took forever, as befitting this free trip I received by submitting five previous rides' receipts.