Any time of year, you can find it here
So there I was spending a week cruising around southern California giving speeches to extremely well heeled professional groups. We're talking serious dough, people, and I was making some suggestions to them about how to keep Uncle Sam away from it. I was on a half-day panel with four speakers, and we did "the show" four times -- San Diego, Newport Beach, Westwood, and Pasadena. In between, we ate fine food, drank good wine, stayed in excellent hotels, and were chauffeured around in high-class vehicles, including one stretch limo ride where we cracked open the bourbon decanter and the gigantic shrimp cocktails. Amazing thing, money.
I hadn't spent time in L.A. in more than a decade. Thirty years ago, I spent my first summer there and fell in love with the place. As big and as fast and as hard and as dirty as America's second city is, I still feel welcome and at home there. Beneath all its limitations there is still something highly attractive -- a sense that you can have something almost as smart and spectacular as New York, but with much better weather and a far more carefree attitude. You just have to be careful where you go, and learn how to survive all the time you spend on the freeways.
And they're not all free any more in Southern Cal. At one point -- I think it was in Orange County -- our driver stopped and paid a toll.
I got to spend a little time reflecting on who I had been in my two ancient summers in the City on Angels, and how much has changed since then. When you're in your 20s, all the institutions that you get close to seem eternal -- they've always been there and they always will be. And the keepers of the keys, the people who show you around, seem like they'll last as long as the buildings. Well, all the buildings from the '70s are still there, along with a bunch of new ones that they've thrown up since, but times change, and the vast majority of the occupants are very different. Nothing's forever except what's inside you and what you share with other people.
L.A.'s changed in 30 years, and not for the better, but of course that's true all up and down the West Coast. I still rate Portland as a better place for me, but it was a close call when I made the choice back then, and the margin of preference isn't that much greater now. You make tradeoffs.
By the last day of speeches -- the toughest day, because we had two sessions scheduled -- we were all a bit punchy. But when the lights came up on the stage, we all snapped to and did the gigs as strong as ever. At our last event, on a spectacularly sunny afternoon at an impossibly beautiful hotel, I was two steps from the podium when I realized I had left my notes in the place where we had spoken that morning. We had been on a tight schedule against downtown traffic (which goes all day and night down there), and in my haste to pack up and dash into the Lexus, I had left the crucial notepad on the dais.
I had been feeling a bit weary over a quickie lunch, but you talk about your shot of adrenaline when I realized I would have to wing it. My colleagues helped me out by shuffling our order and buying me some time to go hide in the hotel business center and reconstruct the notes from memory. It wasn't hard, since this was the fourth time I was giving the talk in three days. The shakeup actually did my performance some good, and it was a nice story to tell the audience. People want to be in the room with you, in the present, and it always helps to establish a connection with them on that level. Probably the best audience I ever had was one I addressed years ago in a dirty t-shirt after Delta Airlines lost my luggage.
Anyway, we had been treated like stars, and for a moment I fantasized that my co-speakers and I were the Beatles. Whisked away from show to show, watching each other in action, seeing how each performance and each audience are at least a little bit different from the last. There are the jokes that you tell the audience, and then there are the private jokes among the group that are on the audience. Fortunately, I had great hosts and great mates on our mini-tour. The George and Ringo figures of the group were obvious, but I couldn't figure out whether I was John or Paul. I'd prefer John, but as the colleague whom I tagged as Ringo put it, "At least I'm still alive."