Quintessential California


There is something pretty special about Southern California. Granted, it has many pitfalls…too numerous to list in full. Our choked “freeways”, brutal potholes constantly attacking one’s tires, steamy-hot August and Septembers, graffitied walls, robotic shopkeeper salutations, those who leave trash anywhere, those who don’t seem to want to share, the unsolved transient people predicament that is a shameful reminder we can’t cure poverty, and all the rule-breakers…parkers in the handicap spaces that should not be there, but also, too many empty handicap spaces leaving prime access bare, cars parked on actual front lawns, overly groomed trees hacked to nonsensical “design” insuring no bloom for another nine months, and the incessant firetruck zipping down the straightaway, having to strategize and dodge the numskulls who refuse to clear a path. That all being said, Southern California is STILL a special place. I realized this just recently on a midweek evening, It was all just so magical.

That afternoon, I bolted out the classroom door like a racehorse from the starting gate. I raced my weary legs as fast as they’d allow to the parking lot. My steering wheel practically burned my fingers as I got the car started. The temperature reading boasted 113! So, I blasted the AC to full capacity, creaked-open the windows a slight bit and zzzzzzzzip…out of the parking lot I went! Ten minutes later, I was home. I bolted into the door connecting garage to inside the house, kicked off shoes, plunked down keys and purse, and with exhaustion in tow, ascended my daunting staircase. Once at the “summit”, I retreated into my inner sanctum…the bath and shower. Emerging all refreshed, powdery and perfumed, I took a waft of shampoo essence with me wherever I walked. I was ready for a night worthy of all the intoxicating aromas, the fashion fantastique and bejeweled accents one’s personal repertoire can provide. But, this particular evening, the reality of it was that it truly didn’t matter what I was  wearing. This would be about truthful music listening, whether in tennies or tuxedos, it was each individual listener’s choice. Mode of travel to such a concert was varied as well. Many bravely choose to ride their own wheels and navigate the parking situation. My choice fell in line with the majority; the wise majority. I simply drove my car to a public park about fifteen minutes away. When the bus rounded the corner and into the lot, a line of anticipatory music lovers awaited boarding the vehicle for the most nominal roundtrip fee of  five dollars! Now, granted, the temperature was still in the 100s when I beeped my car shut. But, I knew that getting to my destination was going to be effortless, pleasant and safe.

I chose a seat in the senior section, especially since I am trying to be honest with myself…I am, after all, a “young” senior! The “people watching” commenced…offering a feast for the eyes of character studies in all degrees of humanism. Despite the variety, young to very old, the stepping into the public transit of each person brought on a variety of detail checks. Many were giddy with anticipation, some looked as if they were about to make a trip to the dentist, and still others stepped onboard the bus clearly as if it were their first time. I sat toward the front because I have always had a secret desire to be a train engineer. Seeing all the working and goings on of a bus driver was entertainment, enough.

Soon we were on our way, making the infamous, seemingly impossible trek across the freeway system of Los Angeles and environs at rush hour. I struck up a lively conversation with a young woman probably barely a third of my age. She slipped onto the bus at the very last second, and found a seat with the rest of us “older , wiser” folk. We engaged in discussion about the destination we were trying to get to…the Hollywood Bowl. Somehow, the miraculous path the busdriver decided to take got us to the glorious outdoor ampitheatre in record time. Throngs of people, busses, musicians, instruments, bicyclists, even, descended upon the bottom of the hill leading up to the Hollywood Bowl parking lot. There, I saw the Will Call, secured my ticket and made a bee-line for the nearest elevator. Having been to the Hollywood Bowl all my life, this was a first for me. I have never taken the easy way up. However, the reason was two-fold. My sister has a box which is in the lower level of the theatre where the elevators readily lead to, which means we would be seated much closer to the stage than I ever experienced before. Secondly, I was simply dog-tired from a long, hot September workday..why not use the elevator? When I found our box, I found my sister. She was disseminating directions to the waiters. We laughed because she had arrived literally three minutes ahead of me…despite the fact that we came from polar opposite locations in the Los Angeles Basin, to meet at the exact time on a Thursday evening, workweek night…a true miracle in itself. She too, arrived via public transit, also parking her car in a lot somewhere out on the Westside. Yet, here we were, hours later, and ready to indulge in music, fine wine and a mighty fine meal. Her husband and colleague met us at the box about ten minutes later…all of us starved and ready for the evening to commence.

Now, in the past, I have had meals at the Bowl. Usually, it entails toting along a wicker basket with sandwiches, fruit and and perhaps a tart to finish off the experience. Wine usually was brought by one of the party members, or could be purchased by the glass at the Bowl. Everyone eats anywhere. Seriously. There is no rule. It is true Southern California. If you find a bench halfway up the trek to the nosebleed section, so be it. If you are lucky to claim a grassy knoll, that’s great, too. Most of the time, I have eaten right there, in my bench seat, where I will spend the next few hours enjoying music to the fullest. Patrons can get a bit unruly, but this is not a common occurrence. After all, we are not at a Dodger game. It is fun to see the individualism abound at the Hollywood Bowl. People show off their glassware, their dinnerware or their uniquely festooned eating space they’ve claimed their own for the evening. I have seen small candelabras, and lovely, miniature floral “table” arrangements!  As concert attendees walk past, they might comment and strike a conversation about where such things were bought or made. It is not unusual for discussions to be about someone’s cake and what they are celebrating—it is as if everyone forgets they are Southern Californian workaholics and become “family”. I love that.

This particular night, my meal was in a “box”…which is fancy wording for a seemingly overpriced seat and table to be shared with another person and a second set of seats and table. I soon learned whatever the price was, it was a BARGAIN, for sure! True, it was a tight squeeze, mind you, and I am so grateful my personal “waterworks plumbing” was not being problematic, or else it could have been a big drag. But, my extremely generous hostess, had ordered me one of the meals expertly prepared right there at the Bowl. It was scrumptious—crab, shrimp, avocado, all drenched in “raspberry this” and accented with “raspberry that”. Even the dessert carried the theme, but was the farthest from being tiresome.

To make the meal even more delicious, my sister who must be the most expert wine connoisseur this side of the Mississippi, had bought a bottle of a Pinot Noir I could not get over! I don’t normally get crazed over alcohol…but this was surely derived from the private stores of Bacchus himself. I remember the initial taste being crisp, refreshing, and then a quick peppery snap to follow. Next thing I knew, my mouth was savoring a smooth, Ever So Smooth, I can tell you, flow of flavor that was, as they say, “to die for”. Once, the relishing of wine had happened, I then became aware of a lilting, “the devil may care” state of mind. Oh, my goodness, this must be illegal it is so good. I asked C, my sister, about the wine, and she named it all in a very matter-of fact way—but when I got home and researched it, it was indeed a rare wine, so rare in fact that the winery had already finished selling their last bottles of this particular wine and year. Supposedly one other bottle was “out there” in circulation, but where? Anyhow, It is not a typical endeavor of mine to get all excited over a wine, but this deserved all the praise I could give. Truly, it was a finely crafted work of art. It was a perfect punctuation to a perfect meal, preceding a perfect concert.

So, the short white coated waiters whisked away any remnants of our meal, except for our glasses and beverages. The summer sky was beginning to present its entrancing show of first bright points of light coming out on a sky of teal. We began to hear the lulling sing-song of the crickets, and feel an  enveloping, soothing breeze that must have been born over the Hawaiian Pacific and floated its way to the inlands of Southern California. Even the crowd seemed to respond to these signal changes, all seeming to settle in and get their mindset ready for a night filled  with the notes of Brahms and Beethoven.

The program began with Brahms’ Tragic Oveture, continued with Beethoven’s Piano Concerto #3 and culminated with Brahms’ Symphony #2. I must say, I know I am enjoying a fantastic concert when I feel like I have “discovered” classical music for the first time! That is how I felt that night. The overture was gripping and dramatic. Paul Lewis came out to perform the concerto, and he was nothing short of impressive. Having a big screen television to slightly turn my head to my left to see,  made me truly experience that performance…because the soloist was so up close, visually. Yes, I could see all of the Philaharmonic down on the stage, and yes I was situated closer than I have ever been as a concert goer, but to see every single note played on the keyboard was as if Mr. Lewis were in my very own living-room! Very, thrilling, indeed. Then, came the break. Everyone stretched and exchanged points of view. After intermission, the audience again settled into some serious, “the world will stop for this, tonight” musicianship. There is something about Brahms, anyway–he is so closely linked to Beethoven, so any Brahms will give a gentle, yet substantial hint as to what will be in store if you next have the privilege to listen to the Magnificent, heart-wrenching, soul-demanding, “you had better yield and kneel” Beethoven! The Brahms’ 2nd Symphony somehow seemed Epic that night—it was simply a powerful, emotional entity–the reason I love music…

The venue, the stars, the nature, the music and the miraculous ride to and from, created a magical mixture I’ll never forget. It was splendid to share it all with my sister, brother in law and colleague, but especially my sister. To know that we both love music so much and that here we live, in a wonderful sliver of land on this earth, called California. Here, the finest of things do sometimes transpire, despite the debacle our freeways often can be. Not this evening. Not on this date. This was a time for the memories. When I eventually reached my own little car back in the parking lot of a city far away from the Hollywood Bowl, I unlocked it, sat inside. and turned the key. I made sure the radio would not come on and adulterate the still drifting notes and motifs in my head. The scents and tastes, visuals and smiles, and the many surprises along the way remained safely locked into my memory to relish in the future. How glad I was that my beloved, quintessential California did not let me down. Her people charmed. The drivers commandeered. The chefs “painted” savory palettes to not be forgotten. The wine gave clarity. Nature inspired on cue. And the musicians, well, they did B &B proud. Such a night was a night triumphant, in my neck of the woods….Southern California.