Whenever I come to Los Angeles, I spend a lot of time on the road. It is, after all, the Californian way of life. To sit in your car for hours at a time to get to and from work. Then spend a few hours more to arrive at dinner, a movie or a night out with friends. If I lived in LA, I’d know my car better than my spouse.
So when I’m in the Southland, I embrace the car culture wholeheartedly. I rent wheels of my own and hit the road. My husband and I once drove from LA to San Jose for a New Year’s Eve dinner. That’s a 10 hour round trip. No big deal.
This visit to LA has been different in many way. For one, I still expect my Dad to shuffle out of his room even though his room has become my room for the duration of my stay. For another, it’s weird to share a house with my brothers. The last time must have been 40 odd years ago. But the most bizarre thing about this trip is that I haven’t driven at all.
Instead, my brothers take the wheel. Mike and I coordinated our flights so we could drive together from the airport. Why suffer through rush hour traffic in our individual tin cans when we can share the pain?
But there is no rush hour traffic anymore, thanks to the pandemic. This makes it easier for my brother Phil to shuttle between his home in San Diego and my parents’ house in LA. Up here, Mike and Phil do all the grocery shopping, run the errands, and haul away the donations to the Salvation Army.
Meanwhile I hide at home in the hope I can avoid contact with potentially infectious Americans. When visitors come to the house, we all mask up. After they leave, my mother sprays the rooms with Lysol.
Rose Hills races
The only two forays I make out of the house are to the cemetery. It’s my first escape in two weeks and I must confess: I’m thrilled. There’s nothing quite like a quarantine to transform city streets and freeway on-ramps into eye-catching wonders.
Bus stops advertise realtors in English, Spanish and Chinese. Sidewalks crackle in the Southern California sun. When we arrive at Rose Hills to inter my father’s ashes, the glare singes the grass. But even a cemetery has its charms when you’ve been cooped up for so long. Rolling lawns and roaring leaf blowers. A hazy horizon that tells you that smog has returned to the LaLaLand.
The interment is an all-mask affair both inside the mausoleum and back out on the lawn. My mother decides that this is a good occasion to visit the grave of her mother. So off we go, over hill and dale, through the Gardens of Remembrance and Affection and Elegance.
When Dad was a kid, his family would visit the ancestral graveyard in Hangzhou to sweep the family tombs. Since no one knew anymore where the family was buried, my grandfather would hire the caretaker to take them to the right graves.
We could have used such a fellow at Rose Hills because Mom got lost. For about an hour, we ride the roads of Rose Hills. Finally, whether by luck or some spasm of muscle memory, we find the spot.
Today, we go on a road trip to visit Phil in San Diego. It could take up to 5 hours for the round trip and I can’t wait. Maybe we’ll get lucky and a plane will land on the freeway like it did this week for my sister-in-law.
Interstate 5 is a road with a lot of memories for me. Dad and I drove that way every day for a summer when I worked with him at Hughes Aircraft. The next year, he and Mom took me to college at the University of California in Irvine, back in the days when Irvine was little more than an orange grove.
When my son was still little, we stopped in Laguna Beach. He and I waded into the water, hand in hand. Then something distracted me and I let go. Out Paul went to sea. My husband saved him and carried him back to the safety of our car and the open road.
No such perils befall us on this trip to San Diego. Instead, we find food and drink and laughter on a lazy summer’s day. An excellent reason to take a road trip.