LA Story (March 1995)

This article is part of the PPSA Online Magazine
by John Johnson
Volume 8 Number 1 - Spring 1995

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What is it that lets you trust someone? Why is it that a person can live with a person for years and feel the need to keep secrets, yet they can meet a stranger on the street or on the "net" and form an immediate bond? We live in an age that demands more trust. Some would say blind faith. I would say greater opportunity. I have friends who adamantly disagree with me on this subject. They feel that you need proof to trust someone. I feel that there is no way to have absolute proof. I think that they just have unreasonably high standards. That's my opinion.

It is difficult to expect irrefutable empirical proof of a person's loyalty before you trust them. You have to be able to rely on your experience and make a judgement call. You have to decide on what you can trust the person with and slowly they must earn your trust for deeper secrets. I tend to be more trusting up front than many people would be. I have always been a trusting person. Sometimes that has meant that my heart gets ripped apart. I have been betrayed and abused by people that I had come to trust implicitly. For awhile I thought that I should harden my heart, hold onto my secrets and avoid forming new friendships. Part of being a friend though is trust. I may not be the first (or last) to admit that I am an adult, but I am. I have to be allowed to make my own mistakes. No one else can or will take responsibility for my decisions.

If I don't trust anyone anymore, I die. I turn black and cold inside and life looses meaning. Life doesn't mean much to me as it is. I see no point to it, but I try. If I give up trusting people, I give up trying. And I die.

If I take a chance, and trust people... if I don't demand a dossier before dating someone.. if I agree that I will make mistakes and suffer the consequences, maybe severe - then I also have the opportunity for great friendships. Maybe I will meet someone who gives meaning to my pointless existance. Maybe I will make a good friend. Maybe life will just suck less, more of the time.

Over the past few years, "Lost in Los Alamos" as it were, I've been pretty lonely. I've had casual friends, but I've gone through lots of pain as well. I don't know if the good times have outweighed the bad. All I can say is that I've gained experience. Well, you can put that on my tombstone. Would I go back and do things differently if I could? I've seen too many episodes of the Twilight Zone to take that bait. Even if I fixed one thing, others would stay the same or get worse. All-in-all, I would end up reliving too many things that are best left behind. If you ask me whether I was wrong to trust people I would emphatically say, "No!" Part of my personality is to trust people, and I believe that I will continue to become a better person because of that trait. Even if it makes me hurt sometimes. And it does hurt sometimes. I have been casual friends with a couple of people who live nearby and recently they stopped coming over. That hurt. I felt like I had done something wrong - but it wasn't me. They were immature and took advantage of my hospitality and I think that maybe if I'd been a little less compromising that we might still see each other. There was more to that story, but the bottom line is that I trusted these friends and because of that I grew as a person. It would be nice to find new mature, long-term friends though. I have a few. I am always on the lookout for someone who makes me feel special; someone I really look forward to being around. Those kind of friends are hard to find. But it's well worth looking.

Last year I made some new "net-friends". By shear statistics I was able to weed out the total wackos, and I think I made some legitimate friends. One thing I liked most about making friends on the net is that I could be open with them. Once they passed my threshold of trust. I am sure that I could have said something to someone posing as a friend that would have gotten me in trouble. But I trusted them and felt better for it. I met people who shared my interests and I believed what they said. Don't classify me as a total idiot though. I do have some degree of intelligence. I didn't go onto IRC and start spouting off on an open channel. I talked with people who posted on topics that I was interested in, and if our friendship lasted more than two weeks - more often than not - it solidified into a real friendship.

I didn't make many really good friends, but I did make a few. Most of the friends I made will write me from time to time. We will go months without talking and then something will make one of us write the other and we'll correspond for a week or two before it dies down again. It's easy to make casual friends like this and some of these friendships even evolve into something more.

I remember meeting one person and discussing the topic of photography. Well, I'm going to talk about him more, so I might as well say his name is Garrett. I won't go into details about him and his personal life, because he - as other friends of mine - wants to maintain his privacy. I respect that. Not everyone can be as much of an exhibitionist as me. Garrett and I communicated through email mostly. He was not only a photographer, but he was a Macintosh guru as well. That was perfect for me, because I was always getting my Mac to crash. I found that I could trust him from very early on in our conversations. I took a chance on him, and I wasn't disapointed.

Garrett kept trying to get me to take a road trip to LA. Los Angeles that is, not the little town that I currently hang my hat on. I always wanted to wait until the right time. After he came and visited me, on a trip through New Mexico in 1994, I felt obliged to return the imposition. So, after a trip to Tucson for LANL business I decided to fly out to LA and visit him.

The Trip to Tucson

The trip to Tucson was going to be wierd. The laboratory, and indeed the entire Department of Energy, was undergoing big cutbacks. Only Secretary O'Leary was allowed to travel first class and stay in fancy hotels... only Secretary O'Leary and the people in my group that is. Actually, we traveled on Southwest Airlines, which wasn't very fancy at all. I remember that the hour flight to Phoenix was quite uncomfortable, as I had to sit in a chair that wouldn't lean back, stuffed in with three other people, and facing the rear of the plane. But we were all glad to just leave Los Alamos for a bit so we could reassess things. It was the last Sunday of February. There were about 15 of us traveling to Tucson to try and find funding at the Waste Management '95 meeting. Chances were that most of us would end up leaving the group we were working in to seek employment in other, benevolent groups at the lab. Ones with money to spare, that is. Long-term employees were worried about losing their jobs. I had a contract and I knew that I would have time to find a job elsewhere by December. That gave me some degree of relief. Maybe the satisfaction was due in part to the fact that my co-workers were now concerned for their paychecks like I had been. After all, I was a postdoc in my third year and living on borrowed time.

I traveled with Jeff Johnson and Charla Hohner. We rented a car in Phoenix and drove to Tucson, because there wasn't a convenient flight between Albuquerque and Tucson. We took turns driving - hoping that we'd get there soon, because we were all getting pretty hungry. We made good time, but the hunt for the hotel was a non-trivial project.

Charla booked some of us at a hotel near the convention center. She put the three of us in a nice Doubletree hotel though. It was listed as a good hotel on the mailing that we got. What we didn't know was it was about a 15 minute drive from the convention center. It took us much more than 15 minutes to find it the first time though. We stopped at a grocery store to get directions and to pick up some breakfast fixin's. In the process we were accosted by a man living in his car. He had a long convoluted story about how he was driving a professor to Mexico and while he was across the border his car was vandalized. He made it to this parking lot, several miles from the highway, but didn't have enough money to buy gas - and he left his teenage daughter at home, so he had to have money fast. We said we'd get back to him and quickly left. Eventually we found the hotel though. We had a nice dinner near the campus and prepared ourselves for a busy week.

Most of us had papers or poster sessions at the meeting over the next few days. Of course, we were all talking about the same technology, so our talks were probably interchangable. No one found a job or brought in funding as far as I know. But it's sure a good thing we had 15 people there.

One highlight of the trip was the dog tracks on Wednesday night. Jeff and Charla and Mohini and I chose that as our "event" for the conference. It was either that or country and western music. As it turned out we got some stiff drinks out of the deal, and for awhile I was actually winning some money. By the end of the night I was down about $25, but I was nice and buzzed. Jeff met a nice German girl and they talked late into the night. I went right to bed though.... for the next day I was going to fly to Los Angeles to meet Garrett and spend a fun week in sunny LA. I had it all planned out. I would go to the beach, meet cool people and party 'til dawn.

Welcome to Sunny California

Or not.

I arrived Thursday morning at LAX and the weather was gray and wet. I was hoping for sunshine and naked women I guess - and boy was I wrong. The only woman that I spoke to at the airport was a rude security guard. I know, I always cause an incident wherever I go. Anyhow, this security guard tells me that if I want to enter the concourse I shouldn't leave my bags by the security checkpoint because she won't watch them. Well, I didn't feel like dragging them all the way down to this ATM I needed to use and then back, so I left them there. As you might expect, they were gone when I returned. One of the guards moved them. I asked for them back and the rude woman told me, "I told you not to leave your bags here. Next time I'll call security to come and take them away." Well I briefly argued the semantics of our previous discussion. She clearly told me that it wasn't a good idea, she did not tell me explicity not to leave them there. Oh well, I just got this nasty disgusting look on my face and walked away. The bitch clearly wanted her supervisor to think she was doing her job. I figure she got the job because she was a woman and the airport probably had a quota to fill. She was obviously in over her head and should be in a job where her interaction with people is limited to asking, "Paper or plastic?"

So I waited for Garrett to show up. He was returning from a trip to Florida and the Carribean. Boy would he be excited to be back to LA. They had already had a record rainfall for the year and the gray skys were expected to continue for much of the next week. I spent my time messing around with my new telephoto lens and after about two hours of patiently waiting his plane landed.

Garrett was tanned and happy as he walked down the jetway. This would soon come to an end. No, not his tan, his relaxed attitude. He was back in LA and you could see the muscles in his neck begin to tighten.

We were met by his housemate Patricia and drove back to his apartment. I am told that the trip from the airport would cost about $50 to $70, so it was really nice of Patricia to give us a ride.

Lunch was at a nice upscale diner... I had a pot pie... I had handed over control to Garrett. After all, I was new to this strange town and I decided to let him determine the itinerary. I was about to be introduced to the life of an LA resident. It was to be an educational journey, into a world of stress that I had but imagined from the movies and TV. The first movie we watched was Natural Born Killers. It only seemed an appropriate way to begin the trip. It is strange to think that that movie acted as the baseline from which I judged the coming week.

What made this trip so surreal for me? I am not really sure. It could have been the shitty weather. It could have been the lack of seeing tourist sights. It could have been the strange, yet intriguing people I met... I mostly think it was that I relinquished control to Garrett. I had no money and really didn't want to do anything in particular, but I had this image of Hollywood and LA. Beautiful people and glamorous places. What I saw was the LA that exists behind the scenes. The real city that isn't portrayed on Melrose Place. I walked up and down Sunset Boulevard. I met new people. I hung out at coffee houses with the neuvo grunge, the bored and the wannabes. I watched a parade of people pass by, some frightening and some aluring. I opened myself up to new ideas and saw the world in a way that I hadn't allowed myself to before. I grew up in a small town and I was trying to shed some of the small town beliefs and attitudes that I had carried around with me for so many years.

The week I spent in LA passed quickly. I helped Garrett with some of the work he had to catch up on, and we spent hours crisscrossing the city as he got his chores done. We even passed by the courthouse where the OJ trial was going on. Boy, it is hard to understand but the people in LA actually watch the trial religiously. They also seem to care about the Oscars, in a way that this midwestern boy finds hard to understand. They feel it is a special event, in a way it shows how the movie business invades everyone's lives out there. When I arrived it was weeks before the actual ceremony, yet everyone was talking about the nominees and there own personal bets on who would win what. I didn't even know who had been nominated - since I only saw two or three movies in the past year. Nor did I care. Everyone there seemed to know someone who was personally involved in some aspect of the event though.

I soon concluded that the next time I would visit LA would be when I could arrive with money and a car of my own. I wasn't disapointed, and I enjoyed spending time with Garrett, but I missed being the normal anal retentive that I am. LA was so much to absorb that I had to just sit back and ride this one out. Next time I would have an idea of what was what and what was where and who was who.

I wanted to meet new people, and in fact Garrett was great in that regard. We even met a couple of cuties at the coffee house that Friday night. They were in town from San Diego and they wanted to dance. After talking to them for some time we decided to see if the club they were looking for was open. It wasn't. Garrett didn't seem to want to dance anyway. He was tired and more interested in talking... I was in the mood to party. As it ended up we talked late into the night.

The following night we hit the coffee house again, but we weren't as lucky. So after I finished my second double-mint-cappuccino we decided to check out a club that Garrett had heard of. I am a bit shy to talk too much about it, suffice it to say that you had to join at the door before they would let you in. You might get an idea as to what sort of debauchery went on at such an establishment.... I purchased a month membership and wandered into the dark and strange place. I was getting tired and became a wallflower quickly. I wasn't in Kansas anymore toto.

More rain. We went to brunch at Marina Del Ray. It was really a nice place. Nice looking happy people eating their brunch and sipping their bloody marys. Later that day I got a haircut. My hair tends to look like a frizzy mop if given the opportunity, and I wanted to look my best.

Garrett was supposed to install a network for some people up in the San Fernando valley. It took all day Monday to complete the job, and required a lot of driving. I donated my time so Garrett would have time to spend doing fun LA stuff with me before I had to leave. The next day, as I was walking to the mall a few miles away, it dawned on me that Garrett would always fill his time catching up on chores. We would have to get out of the city in order to have fun. It also dawned on me that I hadn't been at work in over a week. It was strange, since I was used to getting up early each morning for the same old routine. I think that it was becoming clear that over the next few years my life was going to go in one of two directions. Either I would take control of my own destiny, live less securely and do a lot more contract work, or I would settle for a more secure 8 to 5 job and let other people direct my life. It was scary to think that I might be losing the security that I had been clinging to over the past few years. But I realized that I had just been taking the path of least resistance. I needed to take control of my life and do what was right for me. I needed to find more special friends and I needed to experience more. I might end up living from one job to the next and times might get difficult, but in the end I would have the greatest opportunities to grow as a person and expand my horizons.

We met up with a friend of Garrett's on Wednesday and after a few more last minute chores we took off for Las Vegas. For awhile we were talking about going to Phoenix, but the weather was changing and we figured we would have a good time in Vegas. We were going to save money, share a room at the Luxor and live off of cheap buffets.

On the way out of town we passed by some abandoned housing projects. Dozens of abandoned houses, some never completed. I imagined bankruptcy, scandal and planners who just expected housing booms in the desert that never happened. We stopped at one abandoned house to shoot some pictures. Garrett had great ideas for photo shoots, so we thought we'd use up some film. We parked at the house and walked around. It had been abandoned for some time, although it had clearly seen its share of squatters. The place was posted "No Trespassing," and we ignored the sign and wandered room to room. When I reached the bathroom my stomach quickly moved to my throat. The place was grimy and the walls were splattered with the crimson of arterial red. The red stain covered much of the room and ran down the sides of the bathtub to the drain. It was all dry. There was no evidence that it was from recent redecorating. I noticed that there was a floor safe, unopened, as well. It all added up in my head to a gang or mob shooting. Most likely drug related. I quickly called to my compatriots - why not let them share in the shock?

We took several photographs of the scene and examined it more closely. It was pretty damn cool, but it wasn't blood. It was just the paint they had used to mark "No Trespassing" on the side of the building. I was relieved, but in a way I was also disappointed. For a minute I imagined myself irrevocably entering the world of Micky, Mallory and Oliver Stone. I wasn't ready for LA yet, let alone getting on the wrong side of the mob or some shit like that. We drove off and for a bit the surrealism subsided.

Las Vegas

Las Vegas wasn't exactly like I expected it to be from television, but it was pretty close. The Luxor was a giant hotel with a theme park inside. We were dead tired, but we checked in, had dinner, took a ride on a virtual spaceship through a virtual pyramid and I blew $20 in the casino before going to bed.

The next morning we headed for Denny's to plan out the exciting day. The sky was clear enough and I was excited... after all, I had only lost $20 in the casino so far.

Garrett soon got a death-cold or headache or something that put him back in bed. He forbid anyone from bothering him so after blowing some more money in the casino, I headed off with his friend to Circus Circus for the day. There was an amusement park there too, and lots of games and a casino. We wandered around and I took some pictures and that was about it. We returned after dinner and Garrett was still in a foul mood. I had lost about $150 to the casino by now, and decided I had learned my lesson. We were financially tapped and I needed to rest after this vacation.

Friday morning I flew back to Los Alamos via Phoenix. I needed to pass out and catch up on sleep and try to make the transition back to reality. At least my version of reality. I was looking forward to the structure of work. I was looking forward to not hearing about OJ and the trial. I was preoccupied with thoughts of the money I'd lost and the intriguing world I'd crossed over to for a few days. I expected my roommate Mary to be gone so I could get some peace and quiet. I was wrong. She wasn't moved out yet. She was planning on moving on Saturday. Great! I wouldn't get much peace until she was gone. I was tired of having a roommate. I wanted privacy for a change. I wanted friends and to know that they were there for me. Like Garrett and everyone else - but I needed to take refuge in my lonely little town by myself for a couple days. I had a lot to think over. The future was all coming too quickly.

Well, as you can but assume, I am alive and well. My visit to LA was more that I had expected. I realized that it is experiences like these, as costly as they might end up being, that will help me to understand my needs and desires and let me find a path that is right for me. The future isn't clear, but I realize that no matter what happens I will make out alright. I may not end up in the city I want, and I may not make enough money to satisfy all my desires, but as long as I have friends to trust and rely on it will all work out. I will be happy.

Last Updated 06/26/95.© 1996 PPSA