Vail Daily columnist Warren Miller: Hard trip to memory lane
January 19, 2013
My trip to Los Angeles started normally: “That will be $25 for your first bag and $50 for your second bag,” followed by a neck to stocking-feet pat down and wanding because I have a steel rod in my right leg from when I broke it in 1998. Then a 10-minute train ride, a two-story escalator, and then a 200-yard walk to gate number N-247.
I was bound for a Thanksgiving visit with my three adult kids and grandchildren in sunny, Southern California, the capital of the trendsetters of the world, or so they think.
I wandered down the ramp to get on the plane, where they took away my carry-on luggage because they thought it was oversized. This was after I had carried it onto a few dozen other flights with no problem.
The problem here was that I had a seat on a Bombardier jet, a company that also makes a snowmobile in Eastern Canada. It is a toss-up on which method of transportation is the most uncomfortable. The small jet carries 50 passengers, but comfortably only 25 who are under the age of 10 years old.
I had changed seats with a family of four who wanted to all sit together because two of them were under 2 years old.
I wound up in seat 13 B. The number should have told me something. I was on the aisle less than 24 inches from the toilet, whose folding door hit my shoulder when it opened unless I leaned against the lady who was sitting next to me, snoring.
With 50 people on board and it being a two-and-a-half-hour flight, I figured someone was using the toilet every three minutes. Without a doubt, it was the most uncomfortable flight I had ever taken. And my first one was in 1944.
They took my carry-on luggage away from me on boarding, and when I got it back in Los Angeles, they returned it to me, but they had managed to drop a suitcase on it and crush my cell phone.
There are no pay phones anymore in airports, so instead of calling my daughter to pick me up, I had to pretend I was almost blind and have the lost luggage manager place a phone call for me.
There is a very nice hotel that I usually stay at in Redondo Beach. When I checked in, I was informed that they were remodeling the rooms and assured me that the workmen did not start working until after 9 in the morning. That’s when they started working, but they started showing up about 8 a.m., loudly discussing what they did last night and at 9 o’clock sharp, the skill saws started running.
When my daughter drove me to the hotel, there were about 19 white trucks in the marina parking lot across the street, surrounded by a fairly large crowd. It was a location shoot for an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. It takes that many truckloads of stuff to film one guy. Arnold has his own house trailer and dressing room. There is a make-up truck that can handle from one to 24 people at a time, and toilets for everyone in another truck. A kitchen in another that can feed Arnold and the 35 to 40 people necessary to handle the lights, the camera, and all the men who move stuff around – electricians, plumbers, prop men, lighting specialists. All told there were around 50 people.
When I was making movies, I enjoyed the freedom of doing it all by myself. One guy, one camera, and two skis. What else did I need?
The morning after I checked into the hotel, my daughter drove me from Redondo Beach to Studio City in the valley to play golf with an old friend. As we eased down the ramp into the freeway (with six lanes in each direction) it was amazing to watch that many cars moving at one time.
If you added up all of their speeds, all 12 of them, we were averaging almost 50 miles an hour, or 4 miles per hour each. It would have been a long trip to the valley on a clear, cloudless, smogless Tuesday morning.
In the old days, I used to have a super-secret short cut from the South Bay to Hollywood. So we took it and it was still secret, without traffic that amounted to anything.
The houses, apartments and stores all looked almost the same except for a couple of things. The trees where 30 years older and several of the retail mini-malls had plywood instead of glass windows, definite signs of too many stores for the limited customers.
One apartment complex where a college girlfriend lived in 1943 was still in good repair. However, it was completely surrounded by a 10-foot-high chainlink fence with razor wire on the top of it. Each of the balconies also had a 6-foot-high iron fence across the front of it, and every window also had iron bars in front of it. Welcome to Southern California.
Memories flooded back as we drove by the Hollywood Bowl and drove on the old Cahuenga Pass Road, where the big red street cars used to rumble along beside it. At the summit, the hill was where I saw my first skiers making turns on pine needles, and riding a rope tow in 1936.
I played part of a no-score round of golf with an old friend, Jack Smith. Jack and his wife, Abby Dalton, have been married for a lot of years, but in the early years, had a bit of a rough time and got a divorce. A couple of years later they were remarried.
Appearing on a TV show one night with several other couples who had married the same spouse for the second time, the master of ceremonies asked Jack what the most important reason for marrying his wife the second time was.
He replied, “I just wanted to get my money back!” Jack and Abby are a hoot and they have three great kids and three grandchildren. Jack’s latest accomplishment: At the age of 85, he shot his age in a recent golf game.
The last morning when I was to fly back to Seattle, the hotel remodelers decided to wake me up at 7 instead of 9 – a bad ending to a great week in Southern California. All three of my kids and wives, husbands and grandchildren are healthy, smiling and looking forward to living as long as I have.
Filmmaker Warren Miller lived in Vail for 12 years, and his column began in the Vail Daily before being syndicated to over 50 publications. For more of Miller’s stories and stuff log onto Warren Miller.net. For information about his foundation, The Warren Miller Freedom Foundation, go to http://www.warrenmiller.org.