We finally made it!

Since I left Los Angeles, California, in November 2004, I have hoped to return, bring my children, experience the excitement that can only be obtained in this wonderful city of beaches and stars and not-the-Midwest life. It’s an escape from our regular lives of jobs and bills and stress, and if I had any doubt about the boys, Tyler, 16, and Zach, 11, enjoying the change, that dissipated last night as we made our 2,000-mile excursion, via Chicago.

Our flight left early from the intended 2:50 departure from Indianapolis, landing in Chicago about 15 minutes or so early. At any other time, the extra minutes would allow us to meander across the terminals to reach our connecting flight, but keeping in mind the almost three-hour layover we had to anticipate, the extra minutes heightened the anticipation to be in the land of palms.

As is always when you get two teenagers – OK, Zachary’s not a teen yet, but he’s mature for his age – waiting through an hour flight to Chi-Town, waiting over three hours in a hot United terminal, enduring more than four hours separated from their parents on a trip through the air and across the country, the potential to become grumpy lingered under the emotional surface, but they survived, we survived, and here we are.

Despite hoping and planning for quite a while, our reservations were not secured until less than 24 hours before our flight left. Nothing like waiting until the last minute, huh? Whether some see it as right or wrong, irresponsible and short-sighted, I took out a loan on my 401(k) retirement plan to fund this trip, which was originally supposed to include two other passengers, my parents, so that Dad could play tour guide to the boys, revealing the ins and outs, sights and sounds he was privy to in both his years as a semi-truck driver and as a young Marine recruit at Camp Pendleton, just south of this sprawling metropolis. Because of Dad’s health and Mom’s work, we decided to wait on that trip until next year, but I had promised the boys a trip to California this year, so…here we are.

Many would say I’m not thinking of the future by spending so much money on a “silly” vacation to an over-indulgent city, but I believe differently. Although I know preparing for retirement is important, the likelihood that I will ever have that chance to quit working is slim, in fact, I truly don’t have any desire to put my life on hold so I can have money when I’m old to travel, explore and live. I live life now. The time will soon be here when I can’t take this trip with my sons, because they will be living their own lives. Life is meant to live, and putting off having adventures because you save everything for retirement is perhaps as silly as the idea of this vacation. Life is a journey, not a destination. I’m not guaranteed one day beyond this one, not one minute more than the one I’m living now. How sad it is that some people save and plan and dream for their entire lives, only to achieve that destination and take their final breaths the next week without being able to enjoy it. They waste their entire lives, all the experiences they could have, only to succumb when it’s too late, before they have true happiness. That’s what this trip is about…living life, building memories with my children, giving them a glimpse of live outside the Midwest, instilling hopes for the future and the dream that anything is possible.

OK, anything is possible, except sleep, for me, that is. It’s now 3:49 a.m., local time, three hours earlier than my body’s time. I’ve been away since about 2:30-ish, feeling the time difference in a substantial way. I tossed and turned, woke Rodney up to switch sides of the bed, and finally decided my time would be better spent writing about our exploits, a ritual that I hope to perform each evening, if I can get the laptop out of Tyler’s hands.

So, here we are. The flight was bumpy at times, and we were rerouted out of O’Hare to the south due to storms preventing jets from leaving to the west, as originally scheduled. Much of the flight was uneventful, as was the commuter flight to Chicago. I sat in the middle of a woman reading a German book that, try as I might, I couldn’t translate the title. Her accent revealed that the piece of literature was probably scribed in her native tongue. To my right was a nice gentleman, older, a native New Yorker living outside LA. Although I know he worked in insurance, for the life of me, and I believe he told me twice, I didn’t catch why he was in Chicago. It had something to do with few survivors, muselage, or something like that, and having to stand for three days. We didn’t really talk until the final 45 minutes of the trip, but a nice conversation unfolded, with him explaining his life in New York, the plays with his wife of now-40 years, his short stint in Greenwich Village, his childhood growing up and going to school with Al Pacino, and his failing attempts to write and sing, both which have captured his heart. He told of his heyday traveling up front, in first class, jet-setting across the country, being sent to France instead of Vietnam after the draft knocked on his door, traipsing the globe, handling millionaire clients.

But fate changed directions. He had to choose whether to be downsized at his firm in New York or transfer to California. He left his wife with the kids in almost two feet of snow to check out the West Coast. As he stood on the hotel’s deck with a cup of coffee, watching the Pacific Ocean hit the shore, he called home and told his wife they were moving. The company spent almost $30,000 to move him 27 years ago. After a torrential year, when he learned that LA-ites were much different than New-Yorkers – coming to work in shower shoes, balking at having to wear a jacket and time, not wanting to work, being a lazy sort – he finally succeeded in taking the office from last to eighth in the company. But ascending the mountain and reaching its apex left the gentleman with no place to go but down. The company went bankrupt and he was fired. After opening his own business, he has made a comfortable living and says he will never return to live in the Big Apple.

The man has great stories, and I told him such, encouraging him to pursue his love of writing, even if penning a letter is difficult now. He exuded that stereotypical gruffness of New-Yorkers, but even the miniscule glimpses under the surface revealed a wonderful man with whom sharing seats and a moment in life will not soon be forgotten.

As I said, the flight was bumpy at times, but we were encouraged by the in-flight movie – King Kong – oh, wait, I would have been happy with that, but the screen directly in front of me was out, so I chose to read and nap instead. The boys did well, and I believe Rodney read in his Carl Hiassen book that I bought him. He read Hiassen the last time we were in Los Angeles. The boys sat directly behind me, together, and then Rodney sat another row back, on the other side of the aisle. I was a bit discouraged that the boys were not able to see out the windows, but they fared well all the same.

I’m very pleased with our experience on United’s aircrafts and with their employees. The flight attendant on the commuter flight was accommodating and fun, harassing the boys and I, as well as a girl across the aisle from Tyler who was reading the same book as he, and also the attendant. I was discouraged with one passenger, an Australian, who became very rude with us as we boarded in Chicago, but he’s just one person on an otherwise pleasant journey.

From the moment our feet hit the terminal floor in Los Angeles, the boys were excited. They exclaimed several times, “We’re in LA!” We trekked across the terminal to get our lone checked baggage, waiting about 15 minutes or so, and then headed to the Hertz shuttle. Again, the boys were starry-eyed, and I had to forbid Tyler from breaking out in “Santa Fe” from Rent on the four-minute bus trip. This was our second shuttle trip of the day, the first transporting us from long-term parking at the Indianapolis airport to the terminal. As soon as we boarded that shuttle, before we had a chance to sit down, we heard, “Well, there’s the Margisons.” Quite a shock, but when we looked around, we saw that the greeting came from the second of three married couples within the Home News Enterprises family. Doug and Brenda Showalter, from The Republic, were on their way to Tampa, Florida. Small world, indeed.

At Hertz, where we expected to pick up a reserved compact car, the employee offered – for a dollar a day — to upgrade us to a minivan, for more room, but when we started to decline, he offered an SUV, economical, so he says, and we drove away in a 2006 Ford Escape, sun roof, CD player, foot room for the boys, shiny, stylish. It’ll be difficult to get back in our beat up Escort.

Much like his mother, Tyler started asking where the homeless people were as soon as we landed, and Zachary, ever the environmentalist, asked about the Escape’s gas mileage as soon as we got in it. Although it was dark as we journeyed from the airport and onto the 405, the boys were wide-eyed, taking in the lights and sights of Los Angeles. We cranked the soundtrack for Rent, screaming “La Vie Boheme” at the top of our lungs. Good times. Good feelings. Joy.

It didn’t take us long at all to get to Quality Inn South Bay, on Avalon Boulevard, where we had to switch a king-bed room to two doubles. We learned the “high-speed Internet” was only applicable if you have wireless, which we don’t, and neither the air conditioning nor fan work in the room. The room is less that what I had hoped, but at $53 a night, I probably shouldn’t be complaining. However, as Rodney checked in, he said someone came in looking for a room and was told they only had one left, and it was $129. Whew! If I had to pay that much for this room, I’d be highly upset!

But here we are. And it’s now 4:44 a.m. local time, my body says it’s a quarter till eight, and it wants coffee and breakfast. I’m hoping that the “free full continental breakfast” lives up more to my expectations than the room. Since I’m wide awake, I would love to wake up Rod and the boys and get started on our day, but that’s not a wise move. They tend to need more sleep, or rather, later sleep, than I.

Our big “venture” today is to hit the Jet Rag in Hollywood no later than 11 a.m. The store sells vintage clothing, and at that time every Sunday, they drag their merchandise out to the parking lot where everything is $1 apiece. Reports I’ve read claim that people walk away with bags of vintage t-shirts, leather jackets, etc. Zach’s looking for a military coat to complete his hippie look. I’m looking for a bargain – and something to keep me warm. After that, I suppose we may walk in Hollywood, see the Walk of Stars, tour the area. I’d love to see the ocean today, to see the sun set beyond the waves. I waited until the last night before doing that in 2004.

Here we are…