by Ernest © 2011
John Goodman once said he realized just how fat he was when he needed to lose weight to play Babe Ruth.
I realized just how fat I was when I needed to lose weight to play John Goodman. (Of course, I didn't actually lose any weight. I just needed to.)
The year was 2007, and I was going to Lebowski Fest as Goodman's character, Walter Sobchak. What better place to attend a tribute to The Big Lebowski than in the city that inspired the movie: Los Angeles. Also, I had a couple friends in L.A. who I hadn't seen in a few years. They say it's the city of angels. I didn't find it to be that exactly, but I'm getting ahead of myself. First I had to get there, and that proved to be a little more tricky than I had anticipated.
A friend of mine worked at Jet Blue, and she offered to get me a "buddy pass" from Boston to L.A. for $198 round trip. I jumped at the chance. There was one catch though; I'd have to fly stand-by. Shouldn't be a problem my friend said. Those flights never fill up she said. Never. Even though you'll have the lowest priority behind all other stand-by passengers like Jet Blue employees etc., there will be plenty of seats she said. No worries she assured me. Well, I started to worry when I checked on my fight a week before my departure date to find that there were only 22 seats left. Three days before the flight, that number was down to 12 seats, and the night before, only two seats left. My worry had turned to panic. It was the only Jet Blue flight to L.A. that day, and if I wasn't on it, there was a chance I would end up missing half the Fest. Plus, I had a hotel reservation that it was too late to cancel, and I couldn't really afford to buy a ticket on a different airline at last minute extortion prices. To try and reassure myself I kept saying nothing is fucked, dude, nothing is fucked....
After a sleepless night, I arrived at Logan airport at 7:45am for an 11am flight. I checked in and sat down at the gate for three hours of agony. As 11 o'clock approached, the waiting area was completely packed. Standing room only. My heart was sinking. The money I had saved on the "buddy pass" was moot at this point because I would have gladly handed somebody $300 cash for their seat on that flight. After the agonizingly long boarding calls, there were still 30-40 people standing around the gate eyeing each other like contestants at the elimination ceremony of a particularly cruel reality show. I tried to be positive and stay relaxed. Calmer than they are....calmer than they are......
"Would Jet Blue employee Blah B. Blah please report to the gate," the voice said over the intercom.
One seat left. I breathed slowly and hoped for the best, but prepared for the worst. When I heard my name next over the intercom I stumbled to the gate in an incredulous daze as the other people standing around glared at me like I had just choked a puppy to death in front of them. I had won the travel jackpot by the slimmest of margins and it felt great as I walked down the aisle of the plane. The last remaining seat on the plane was a middle seat with a broken TV of course, but I could care less. I was headed to Lala land, and nothing could bum me out, man!
My friend Noah picked me up at the delightfully small Long Beach Airport and we sped down the 405 with the newly downloaded In Rainbows blaring in the car. I was prepared to dislike L.A. from all the negative shit I had heard, but the first thing that struck me was how beautiful it was. From the sparkling ocean, to the Dr. Seuss-like palm trees, to the not too distant mountains, the scenery was stunning. Sure, it might be chock full of self centered douchebags, but there was no denying the physical beauty of the place. Just then I looked to my right and saw the iconic Capitol Records building in the distance. Far out, man, far out.
The hotel I booked was in....ahh..... let's just say, a lot less nicer neighborhood than the internet had led me to believe. It's amazing how photos taken from a certain angle can be so misleading. We did have a great view of the Hollywood sign, as well as the massage parlor across the street. It must have been a therapeutic massage, because the customers looked furtive and stooped over as they ducked into the door. They looked much more relaxed and happy as they left 20 minutes later. The masseuses must have been very good doctors. And thorough.
The next night we met up with a couple more friends and headed to the House of Blues in Hollywood for the screening party. We checked out the Walk of Fame, Mann's Chinese Theater, and Musso & Frank's where Bukowski used to drink. At the party we met Pete Exeline, who's stolen car was the inspiration for that plot point in the movie, as well as the real life little Larry, who was the chief suspect in the theft of said car. He still hadn't cracked.
The funniest moment of the party came when we watched the harried and over-worked bartender making about a zillion white Russians.
"You must be sick of making those!" my friend Dan said to the bartender.
"Oh my god, you have no idea!" said the sweating bartender, relieved to finally have a sympathetic ear.
"Well, make two more," was Dan's cold response as he slapped a twenty dollar bill on the bar. Very un-dude of him.
Night two was the bowling party and costume contest. Even though those assholes at the league offices scheduled it on the Shabbat, I decided to go anyway. Noah dressed as The Dude with an eerily authentic sweater, and Foster went as a damn Nihilist. I opted for "ransom delivery Walter" since I knew there would be a ton of "white vest Walters." I was right, but it was irrelevant because we showed up late and missed the contest. I was a pretty damn good Walter right down to my dog tags that read "I too dabbled in pacifism. Not in Nam of course," and would have given the winner a run for his money.
We got our picture taken with Liam, the Rug, and even a female Walter. The best costume was an ATM machine with a $1,000 withdrawal on it's screen. After bowling and listening to some CCR karaoke, we capped the evening by wandering the aisles of Ralph's at 1am to buy booze, and then a couple hours of poker at the Hustler Casino in Gardena (still in full costume).
On Sunday we hit the In-and-Out Burger of course, and then spent the rest of the day doin' jays and watching football as well as the comings and goings of the massage parlor. For dinner, we headed to the Fatburger on Santa Monica. The only customers in the place, other than Noah and me, were Dante from Clerks and J.K. Simmons. Only in L.A. would the celebrities almost outnumber the muggles. After dinner we took a sunset cruise on Mulholland Drive and just abided.
The next day I was able to switch to a later, emptier flight so I wouldn't have to repeat the stress of the first leg of the trip. Foster and I hit the Santa Monica Pier, and I got to play Addams Family pinball 30 feet directly above the Pacific. Leaving the pier, I twisted my ankle, and it was getting really sore by the time I made my way across the tarmac at Long Beach Airport. Unbelievably, I had an entire row of seats to myself for the return flight. Exhausted from the weekend and a little woozy from drinking too many Caucasians, I put my ankle up, stretched out, and drifted off, dreaming of flying carpets and Viking women......
Ernest is an achiever.