Magnolia Blvd. Diagonally across the intersection, a jazz band plays – at least, I think it’s a jazz band, but I’m not really sure. I can see a few guys with assorted horns, and I can make out the sound of saxophone.
I’m in Burbank right now, at Ladies Night Out, which is when everyone – woman, man, child in Burbank heads to Magnolia Blvd to eat from food trucks. Here’s what happens to me in the city.
Like many Aspies, I think in patterns. That means I see in patterns, and I hear in patterns, and everything I sense winds up falling into some pattern or another. The problem at this moment is I cannot make out the pattern of the music. I can only hear random squeals of saxophone. In between me and the pattern of the music are cars, conversations, little shards of the Theme From Shaft, which a DJ is playing half a block behind me. I can’t hear enough of it now to make out the tune, but I did hear enough when I walked by, so the shards I can hear actually fit. This is good. Those little shards of music behind me have a place in this jumble of sound. The shards of saxophone do not, and I listen harder, hoping to make out enough to find the tune, to predict when the next shard will come. I need the pattern. Beside me is a woman with huge breasts.
Someone says something to me. I ask them to repeat it because it was unexpected and lost in the rest of the sound. The sound is making me a little apprehensive, to be honest, because I can’t make sense out of it.
The City never looks good to me, but it looks best when there are no people. There is a style of architecture known as Brutalism, and it’s a name well suited to this city: giant slabs of post-industrial concrete My best photos of LA have no people. My worst experiences of LA are full of people. The hardest thing for me to deal with is their noise.
Andrea’s brother George and his wife Yvonne live in Burbank. It’s Andrea’s birthday. We’ve done a run out on the Ray Miller trail, where a few weeks ago we were camped and I was running Backbone 68. George and Yvonne wanted to treat Andrea to the food truck of her choice for her birthday. Andrea is a foodie who loves food trucks, and she’s going for the Lobster Tots.
Yvonne is holding Aaron, her son. She passed him over to George a minute or two ago, and I guess he passed him back first chance he got. This has happened at least twice now. I see her pass their son to his father, and then the next time I look she has him again. It’s a little jarring, because the kid keeps turning up in the wrong hands.
The Rockabilly Revival has hit Burbank. It hit everywhere else in LA county about 20 years ago. I’m surprised by this. How many times has rockabilly been revived? At least 3 times, it seems, starting with the Stray Cats in 1980. The Rockabilly look is exceptionally predictable, and the pinup girls wandering around Magnolia Blvd are all slightly overweight. This is good. That particular pinup girl near the next corner is stepping out of the vintage clothing shop for yet another cigarette. That’s wonderful. Every time we’ve passed by, regardless of direction, she is stepping out for a smoke. The rockabillies are calming. They are so precisely mannered, both as individuals and as a whole, that I know I can depend on them for consistency.
I am eating a Frito Pie I bought at the Texas BBQ food truck. Andrea has lobster tater tots from the Maine Lobster food truck. Yvonne has something from the rice ball food truck. I guess they are rice balls. Baby Aaron has rice all over his stroller. George has no food at all. A man with very shiny pants is eating some unknown substance. He gets up and is replaced by a 50ish year old Rockabilly woman and her Rockabilly daughter. I’m not sure that this is right. The Rockabilly mother has an Australian accent. They take selfies together and look at the clothes they bought at the pinup store. The Rockabilly mother has huge feet.
There’s a little dog sniffing my legs. He has his tail between his legs and looks terrified. There are people wandering in every direction, and they are all enormous compared to this little dog. He really wants off Magnolia Blvd as soon as possible. I am sympathetic.
We go to get ice cream. The ice cream food truck is at the other end of the street. The woman with huge breasts is walking beside me again. I notice the shards of saxophone and try desperately to focus on whatever they are playing. These sounds are coming at me from all angles. So is the woman with huge breasts. She turns in one direction, and then another. I try to avoid her and almost step on the dog with the tail between his legs. Yvonne is behind me with Aaron. Only moments ago she was in front of me, without Aaron. I missed the handoff, again. Every time this happens, it’s like a little sensory slap. It’s not that I need everyone to conform to some sort of behavior, but that aside from the rockabillies, I cannot discern any patterns. They are all there, of course. The problem is that when you lay pattern over pattern over pattern over pattern, it gets hopelessly complicated. Is this sound a piece of this, or of that?
There is the pink Statue of Liberty Rockabilly lady. She is predictably plump, which is good. Nothing else about her makes sense. For one thing, the Statue of Liberty is not pink.
We walk up and down the street. All of these things are in the forefront. There are thousands and thousands of layers of things in the background. Nothing here is going to make me panic. I am nowhere near sensory overload. Things have reached a level, however, where they more or less all crowd each other out. I can’t engage with any of it. I just need to concentrate on not tripping over anything or being touched. Also, I really need to pee.
Two weeks ago, on the Backbone Trail, mile 53 or so of a 68 mile run, full moon on a clear night and I realized I could see my shadow. I turned off my headlamp and ran gently in the moonlight. There was a single runner I’d been playing leapfrog with since mile 35 or so, but he was nowhere around, and there hadn’t be a trace of anyone else outside of aid stations for three hours, nor would there be for another two hours. Five hours alone in the moonlight on the Backbone Trail, up along the ridges with the Pacific Ocean down below. There are mountain lions up here. I imagine I’ve been watched as I make my way along the trail. I’ve only ever once seen a mountain lion but I imagine mountain lions have spotted me a bunch of times. They don’t really care, as long as I don’t fuck with their food.
It’s not that I feel unsafe down here on Magnolia Blvd during Ladies Night Out night, although I am almost certainly in more danger in Burbank than I was on the moonlit Backbone Trail. The problem is that there is just too much going on for me to keep track of, and my mind needs to keep track of things. On a moonlit ridge in mountains, the only thing I need to keep track of is my route, which has been very well marked, and anyhow, I already know it. There I can relax and enjoy the beauty of the world around me, this expanse of land and air and moonlight. I can focus on it like a meditation because it’s vast and pure and I’m in the middle of it.
Easter Sunday. I was supposed to do some real live 18 minute intervals. I headed out to Griffith Park figuring I’d run loops around the golf course because even though it’s boring, it’s easily runnable and steady, and I am trying to follow direction. Griffith Park is a very popular place on Easter Sunday. On one side of me was the 5 freeway, jammed with traffic. On the other side was Mineral Springs Drive, traffic not moving, cars vibrating to rap booming out of oversized sound systems. There were people everywhere, but worse than that was the noise. There would be no silence here, and it was making me agitated. I decided to leave, turned back towards the parking lot, and got hit in the shoulder by a baseball.
I’ve been watching a show on TV that takes place on the Shetland Islands. It’s not really a great show, but the Shetlands are beautiful. So green, and so much space. And no concrete.
The guide to surviving Ladies Night? It’s the same as the guide to surviving almost anything in the crowded Big City: turn inward. Try to shut down your senses. Find a small, terrified dog (there will almost always be one being dragged around by someone in a big crowd) and empathize. You are fellow travelers. Try to channel the mountains or maybe the Shetland Islands or someplace wide open and quiet. Don’t let anyone see you panic; that will only make things worse. It will all be over soon enough.