Friday, 27 February 2009


A DIFFERENT COUNTRY Friday 12th January 2008 Return to Table of Contents Having missed sunset the previous night, we resolve to see the sun come up over the canyon, and with a somewhat tenous estimation of sunrise (and no internet or phone signal) we collapse into bed. I set the alarm for 6AM. Our plan is to rise (we are staying in Tusayan, having entered and exited the park to get to our hotel), go to the park, and then return to the hotel for breakfast before continuing on. We arise at the appointed hour, and with only a modicum of grumbling from the non-early riser between us, drive back to the park in the pitch black and bitter cold. The thermometer reads 5 degrees Fahrenheit (-30 degrees Celsius). Oof. This time we have to pass through a manned gate, or rather a womanned gate, as the ranger is a female with the classic Smokey the Bear hat. We pay $25, and ask to the best place to see the sunrise. She says Hopi Point (pronounces it Opie Point) and indicates on the map where it is, 11 miles off. We head off into the dark. Before leaving we ask her at what time sunrise actually is. She says 7:38. Okay, we are off as usual. But it is okay. Better early than late. We arrive at Hopi Point, and we are the only people there. The light appears way before the sun, and by 7 o'clock the eastern sky has changed colour, and we can start to make out the variegated hues of one of the world's truly amazing places. Even I can't exaggerate (as I am prone to do) the size of this gash. I said 5 miles across. In some places is it actually 10. The shortest walk down and up on a trail is 24 miles. To go by road to the north rim is 200 miles. Far below, we see the Colorado in the dim light. It is clearly frozen in spots (no surprise at 5 degrees). We are woefully underdressed (sound familiar?). I have no gloves, and a toboggan I bought at a gas station in Jicarilla for $1.98 does a disservice to the word useless. I shiver and get back into the cab from time to time. We keep the engine running. By 7:30, German couple, some Chinese, and two fat Georgia bells (their shape, not their type) show up. "It don't get no colder than this." says one. Everyone ignores each other, caught up perhaps in the cold or perhaps the anticipation. The sun eventually comes up and we snap photos. It is exciting. Primeval. Magnificent. And cold. We get back into the truck to go to the next point and hike a bit out to a promontory where we join some Hare Krishna monks and take some more pictures. I think to myself: I hope these boys have long underwear under their robes or they are really in trouble. We then return to the hotel for showers and breakfast. I also spend some time shaving Tobes, sculpting a magnificent Van Dyke more keeping in LA than his bearded woodsman look. We have been truly enriched by this experience. Cold but rejuvenated, and raring to go. We call Joel, who says it is not convenient to come a day earlier than expected as he has a houseguest. I had already changed dates on him once, true to my nickname in grad school...Wadhead...(I allow this gratuitous insult making allowances for the fact he went to Carolina). We calculate the distance ,accurately this time, and realise we can easily make LA. We hesitate between staying somewhere outside LA and then coming in the next morning as planned. Instead I call Charlotte, with whom Toby had stayed two summers back while he worked for Miles, Charlotte's husband, a successful screen writer (Smallville, Spiderman, Lethal Weapon, Jackie Chan etc.). Charlotte, who is a dear soul full of joy and laughter (I was her first boss and I hired her on her birthday) and who will always be on my list of favourite people, says of course I could stay the night with them. That's it, then, Tobes and I decide. Today is the day. Right here. Right now. We are now hurtling towards a surprisingly green and mountainous Arizona, heading for California and our target, one day early. It is still chilly outside (40 degrees) as we cross over some mountains. Suddenly we are crossing the Colorado River, and after going through a checkpoint where some border police (yes border police) rifle through the back of our trusty steed to see if we had any contraband, we are in California. Last time I looked, both Arizona and California are both in the US, a fact lost on Arnold, I guess. We are now apparently in a different country. No I mean it. The first thing is that temperature is suddenly 20 degrees hotter. No I am NOT exaggerating. We stop for lunch. People are in T-shirts. For us, recent graduates of the school of freezing our butt off only 4 hours earlier, the contrast is surreal. The desert outside is deserted, as the name implies, but the whole place has a different feel to it. More developed. More diverse. The woman behind the counter ( a Taco Bell) seems genuinely interested in explaining the different products. The food is surprising fresh for a chain. Tobes takes over driving a short while later at our next Frisbee stop, 1 1/2 hours outside of LA, where suddenly civilisation comes onrushing at us in droves. As does the end of our trip. We reach and pass Barstow, and when we come over the San Bernadino mountains and see the brown haze, we are closing in on the denouement of our voyage and a new beginning for Tobes. "I'm nervous, Dad." Tobes says, and it has nothing to do with the steady increase of traffic and lanes. " I'm scared." "I know, Bud." We have talked a bit over the trip and Toby has been girding himself for this new challenge for the past year, arming himself with studies of psychology, persuasion, negotiation, magic...anything to prepare himself for entering into a brutal and competitive world. When he was talking over Christmas to Steens and me, it sounded sometimes like bluster and arrogance, but I thought then and know now that it was his way of erecting a shield around what is his sensitive core. I go back to my past and reassure him by describing my days in NY in the Chase training programme. I tell him about a tree in Brooklyn, where overcome with nerves on an Easter Sunday that I was going to have to spend in the office preparing for a pass-or-get-fired presentation, I blew grits against a tree (I will never drink pineapple juice again), and had to make a I go back to Steens and our houseguests or do I continue on? And how in that pivotal moment I gritted my teeth, said to myself that the bastards were not going to beat me, and pushed on, where I muddled through a horrible day and a miserable week but eventually came out okay. Not great, but okay. All this by way of issuing a gentle warning. It ain't going to be easy. Normally Toby would have probably feigned interest in one of my countless stories, but not this time. We discussed money, strategy, and managing his life. Mainly I told him that he was going to sink or swim as himself, and that himself was plenty good enough. I tell him how his ability to touch people will eventually pull him through, and that in the initial stage it will be tough, plenty tough, but that what he has to do is keep his eye on the prize, his goal, show up each day to play, and play each day to the final whistle. But mainly that win or lose, he has two people who love him. God I love that guy. Then all of a sudden there we are in LA, almost unbelievably. The other side of the four lane freeway has been blocked for 10 miles as everyone heads out for the long weekend (Martin Luther King Day). On our side, drivers come by willy nilly, sort of like dodge 'ems and total concentration is required. We call Billy Kennedy, one of Toby's new roommates (4 Dukies, 3 of whom are runners). He gives us docking directions. It is 5 o'clock, six and a half days and 3500 miles after leaving Boston. We have arrived at our destination, and the start of Toby's new life. We pull the van up behind the house, which is off West Sunset, first going around the block. The plan is for Toby to go on Sunset, find the hidden key, and open up the back gate for me. On our first pass I see some neighbourhood kids playing football in the back alley. Oh good, I think to myself. We approach. Not neighbourhood kids....neighbourhood GANGS. Oh.....good thing about the iron gate. Toby goes around to Sunset, and appears shortly thereafter to open the back gate. He mentions that there is a girl in the house (this is unexpected) but that she hasn't said anything. What? I ask. She is working on her computer apparently. We enter the house through the kitchen at the back and walk through the dining room into the living room at the front of the house. Lights are at a bare minimum, and sure enough, there is a girl lying on her stomach on the sofa, lost in thought/music/Facebook. When she sees two strange men entering, she gets up. Her name is Sefira, or some such. She goes to Wellesley (ironic, since that is where we started our journey from the Engels) but has just returned from Australia. She is a friend of Alex Romero, one of Toby's new roommates. She is thin with one of those emo lawnmower-gone-wild haircuts. One skill she has obviously not perfected in the Outback is self-preservation. If I was sitting in the dark and two strange men came waltzing in, I think I would take more than a passing interest. Oh well, never mind. Tobes and I proceed to unload the truck into his room in jig time while Sefira takes her place on the sofa again, lost in iPod land.. By 6PM, that was it. Done and dusted. Mission accomplished. As we are leaving for Charlotte's Alex arrives. He has on a hoodie with bright orange curls protruding from the sides, and slightly manic eyes. He goes in the house after brief niceties. I look at Tobes. Up go the eyebrows.... Alex then reemerges, sans hoodie and sans wig. OK, a jokester then. He turns out to be a very interesting, you could even say extraordinary person. He goes to Cal Tech out of Duke. He and his brother have run the San Francisco marathon barefoot . Nuff said.
Tobe's room is a big step up from Brookline, and the house is relatively clean. On y va.
We stop off on Gower and buy Charlotte and Miles a nice bottle of wine. A wasted effort it turns out, since both are Christian Scientists and don't drink. No matter. Toby and I toast the completion of the journey, before going out for a nice meal. We now have three days to buy a car, get him settled, and explore LA. He returns to his new digs in the truck, and I retire to the palatial surroundings of Miles and Charlotte's guestroom.
What a day. From 5 degrees to 70 degrees in twelve hours. Go figure. What a place, America.... eh? A different country.
Go to Chapter 11

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