And if you’re a regular reader here, you probably have. Back in the spring of 2016, I wrote a post about crossing paths with James Caan when I lived in Los Angeles back, back, back in the 90s. On Thursday, James Caan died. Friday, I should write about that time I crossed paths with James Caan in the 90s, I thought. Also Friday, the Rogers outage. So I couldn’t check the site to see if I’d already written about it previously. But I mean, why would I, I thought. Nothing to do with municipal politics. So, I plunged ahead, writing a post about that time I crossed paths with James Caan while out in L.A. in the early-90s. On Saturday, with the internet restored, well, you can fill in the blanks.
But let’s not look at this as simply a case of me repeating myself or just going on and on about my one and only brush with celebrity. It’s more an examination of the nature of storytelling, the constant evolution of narrative. How does a story from twenty-five earlier change when told again six years on? Historical revision. Yeah, this is what it’s about, historical revision, and not the fact that I’m unwilling to toss aside a few hours of work
(While we’re off visiting New York City, our Los Angeles correspondent, Ned Teitelbaum, writes a post about Dodger baseball, linking it back to Brooklyn and public transit. [Did you know them Dodgers got their name from Manhattanites derisively referring to their borough counterparts as ‘trolley dodgers’ because the Brooklyn streets were once filled with trolley cars?] The serendipity of things, huh?)
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There are times during baseball season in Los Angeles when I feel closer to my father’s Brooklyn than I ever did living in New Jersey or Manhattan, or even Brooklyn itself, which we’d pass through on our way to see my grandmother when I was a kid. Those times are when the Mets are in town and I am lucky enough to catch one of their games at Dodger Stadium.
“Pick you up at six?” my friend, a New Jersey transplant with season tickets offers one recent evening. Great seats at the game, a meal that comes with the seats, and door-to-door service as well? He’s a great friend, but I decline the ride.
“I’ll just meet you there,” I tell him, thinking that’s how busy people do it in a big city, even if Los Angeles long ago abandoned its urban rubric for a more suburban slant. My friend knows I’m on a transit kick, and now since my car was recently totaled, I just walk and take transit practically everywhere.
Still, I feel a sense of guilt at not taking the ride, as if I’m being anti-social, biting the hand that feeds me.
“I just need to walk a little, climb some stairs,” I explain, and he pretends to understand. We’ll meet up at Will Call.
I gather my things — my glove, my cap, my Lee Mazzilli shirt — and am about to leave when the phone rings.
“I can’t talk right now, Mom,” I say quickly into the phone.
“Where are you going?” she asks.
“I’m taking the subway to the Dodgers game…” But even before the words are out of my mouth, I am struck by a mysterious, ghostly and disjointed nostalgia, as if I had spoken those exact words in that exact order countless times before.
But of course, I hadn’t.
The Dodgers left Brooklyn for the West Coast the year before I was born. Still, I would hear stories all my young life from the devout Brooklyn Dodger fan that would marry my mother and become my father. He would tell me stories about Pee-Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, the Duke of Flatbush and of course, Jackie Robinson.
But Pee-Wee was his favorite. I’d never seen my father do anything more athletic than mow the lawn or pull up his socks, but in clips of Pee-Wee Reese playing shortstop, I recognized my father’s own physicality – short, quick and tightly muscled – and imagined him as a kid in Bed Stuy playing stickball or handball against the wall.
I take the Red Line down to Union Station from my local stop in Koreatown. When I get to the game, my friend has just arrived. He smiles under his Mets cap, and sports the team shirt as well. I read the name on the back – Dykstra. Lenny Dykstra, nick-named ‘Nails’ for his toughness and unrelenting drive to win. I see my father in him too.
We enter and take our seats. The sun is coming down behind the palms that top the ridge out beyond the parking lot, and while the visiting players are out on the field, stretching and cracking jokes before the game, I am distracted by the swallows flying above their heads and feasting on the gnats. A breeze, fragrant with sage and mountain pine, comes down from the mountains and fills the stadium. There is no question that the Dodgers’ current home is a powerful place.
After the Star-Spangled Banner, the game starts. The Mets lose a pitchers’ battle on the last at-bat of the game. My friend drives us home in his electric car with the disembodied female voice telling him how to go.
“We’ll get ‘em next time,” he says, and we both know it’s just part of the game, what you say when your team loses. I thank him as I get out of the car and close the door. I am grateful for such a friend.
The next day, I’m waiting for the 206 bus to take me back to my office after a Chinese lunch. A man sits at the stop. He has curly, prematurely white hair and looks up at me, at the top of my head.
“How long you been a Mets fan?”
At first I think it’s odd that he knows. But then I remember I am wearing the team cap.
“All my life,” I tell him with a certain pride.
He reaches into his bag and pulls out his own crumpled Mets cap and puts it on.
The man starts talking. And he is a fast talker, mostly about the Mets and how he was there when Shea Stadium opened in 1964, and for some reason, he gets free seats to any game he wants.
I want to tell him that I was there in 1969 when the Mets won it all, in the fifth game of the World Series at Shea, when they beat the Baltimore Orioles. But I can’t get a word in edgewise.
He continues talking, mentions ‘clients’ of his and I wonder what kind of clients he means. He tells me he got a ball signed at the game at Dodger Stadium the other day and the Mets players who had signed it.
“I got Campbell and Syndegaard and Morales,” he says, then doubles back. “Actually, I already had Morales. But I got Wright and Cespedes and De Grom and…”
He goes on like this even as we get on the now crowded bus and sit next to each other, taking up seats you’re supposed to give up to the elderly and the handicapped.
I glean from his non-stop stream that he is a professional drummer, which probably explains the round canvas bag in his lap. He plays the clubs in Koreatown, he tells me, knows a whole bunch of people from the world of entertainment, including Stevie Wonder and Zsa-Zsa Gabor, and is traveling around the country come June with the Platters. Wherever he goes, he checks out a baseball game. Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia…
We get to my stop and he gives me his card.
“Call me anytime,” he tells me. “We’ll go to a game.”
I nod and thank him and climb over a few people to get out of the bus. And then I realize I never got a chance to ask him where he was from. Then again, why would I have? It was obvious. As obvious as Pee Wee and Syndegaard, the Duke of Flatbush and Wright.
It finally happened. Nearly 3 months into my stay, having painstakingly calculated my every movement in an effort to avoid ever having to experience it, there I was, smack dab in one of those legendary Los Angeles freeway traffic jams. My own personal apocarlypse.
There’d been brief whiffs of it previously, of course. Unless you lock yourself away in your house, never venturing outside and bringing the world to you through modern technology, you can’t not be aware of the traffic. Freeways, surface streets, there is always evidence and glimpses of gridlock here. Up until this moment, however, I always had an escape plan at the ready, an alternate route to hop off onto in order to give myself the sensation of getting to where I was going less slowly.
And it wasn’t like I deliberately drove right into this one with no exit strategy. I carefully calculated timing so as to not arrive right at the brunt of rush hour, whatever time that actually was. Left late, arranged stops along the way, happily toodling along the Historic 101, the Pacific Coast Highway, through the beach towns that line the coast between San Diego and Los Angeles.
But just beyond Oceanside, the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base turned me inland from the water, toward Interstate 5 and things began to unravel. Not immediately, mind you. The first stretch of the 5? All good. Zipping right along, all the way up into Orange County. Easy peasy.
The plan, it was working to perfection.
So smooth the sailing, I decided not to return to the PCH at Dana Point, opting instead to take the 73 toll road connection toward the 405, up past Newport Beach and Costa Mesa, well on my way back to L.A. I mean, it was a toll road, for chrissakes! It had to go fast, right? I was prepared to pay for the privilege.
So were a lot of other drivers, apparently. But that wasn’t the source of the problem. An accident somewhere up the way, past Aliso Viejo, ground everything to a halt, a slow, grinding, halting McHalty grind halt…
I will say this about traffic jams. They are the great equalizer. No matter what your vehicle type, a Maserati or a Tercel, SUV or some tiny thing, in a traffic jam, you’re all going the same speed ultimately. Some may offer a better quality ride while you’re idling, a/c when it’s hot outside, heated seats and steering wheel when it’s cold, a state of the art sound system to make it seem like you’ve got nothing better in the world to do, nowhere else you’d rather be than sitting in your car, listening to tuneage.
In the end, though, we’re all still stuck in traffic. The clock keeps the same time. The same number of minutes, ticking away in your life.
How people cope with this on a daily basis I do not know. For many, I realize, it is not a lifestyle choice but one foisted upon them by economic forces. Others put up with it as a fact of life if you want some more square footage, a backyard, a quiet street. Some even embrace it, I imagine, as a symbol of success, of having made it.
Whatever the reasons, it’s just the way it is. So sit back, crank the music and enjoy endure. The coast will clear, sooner or later.
For me, sitting in a car, stuck in traffic, even the rare times such a thing happens to me, I cannot stop wondering how on earth we as a species have advanced as far as we have. Congestion, caused by an over-dependence on private vehicle use, is not a new phenomenon. As soon as we started building roads and freeways to accommodate cars travelling further and further distances, we found ourselves in traffic jams. The math is pretty basic, the variables few. Volume, dimension, space.
Yet, we keep trying to massage the numbers, rework the equation. Build more roads. Bury and elevate transit lines. Synchronize traffic lights.
So far, to no avail. Congestion is demonstrably worse in large urban regions than we’ve experienced previously. It turns out that there’s simply not enough room to provide for, in workable, sustainable way, more people driving more cars. Never mind the adverse environmental, social and psychological effects of trying to do so.
But wait! What about smart, self-driving cars? Won’t they be the solution to all our transportation problems? Technology will save us. Technology always saves us.
No doubt such technology will alleviate some of the stresses that cause congestion. Reduce the number of accidents that snarl traffic. Increase the smart decisions that can help traffic flow, instead of the random, stopping and starting, weaving back and forth between lanes that constitute driver-led traffic management we witness now on our roads. Maybe it might even lessen the need to own our own automobiles.
Self-driving technology will very likely even make sitting in a traffic jam more enjoyable. Without having to concentrate on driving, car users will be able to go about their daily business while still behind the wheel, getting a jump start on work, helping their kids with homework assignments, even just sitting back and enjoying the scenery. Just like you can do now on a commuter train or subway car.
Rest assured, self-driving cars will not eliminate road congestion. By making driving more enjoyable and feasible, you will entice more people to (self) drive. Having more people in cars on the roads means…
We know what it means. Just look around, the next time you find yourself stuck in a traffic jam, inadvertently or not, wondering why and how to make it better. The answer’s obvious. We remain stubbornly convinced that there has to be another way, and determined to find it, no matter how long it takes us to get where we’re going.