Welcome to LA
Once upon a time I was in the world saving business. Which upon reflection was the wrong way to look at it, but that’s what I did. I do not regret the time I spent playing David against a world full of Goliaths, I only regret we couldn’t make enough money to keep it afloat. However, during my time in the World saving biz I did get to meet many amazing people and have a really good and often surreal time doing it.
As Kinky Friedman is often heard to say “I am rich in the coin of the spirit, but I aint exactly farting through silk.”
This particular story involves myself, a friend and business associate called Chicken Dick (CD). And the wonderful couple Mr. and Mrs. Larry Hagman. You may know Larry as J.R. from Dallas or if you’re a little older as Maj. Nelson from I Dream of Jeannie.
The event was Chicken Dick and I had been invited to go visit Larry at his home in Ojai, California. Larry had turned his home and 40 acre orchard to solar powered, he had a great system and wanted to show it off. Needless to say we were more than happy to be shown. We were to meet Larry and his wife at the condo in Malibu and drive up the following day to Ojai. Chicken Dick was flying into LAX from Austin; I was coming in from Joplin, MO. I got off the plane about an hour after CD had arrived. He had already secured us a taxi to get to Larry’s place in Malibu. We loaded up in the minivan taxi cab and off we went.
As was pretty normal CD was on his phone, I was on mine and we were trying to give directions to our Middle Eastern cab driver while gawking at the sites of LA. Did I mention this was also at the same time as a wildfire was burning out of control and closing in on the iconic HOLLYWOOD sign, that may not seem relevant now but just wait.
As we wound our way through the streets of LA trying to make sure we took the most direct route (and found a liquor store on the way) we found ourselves in Malibu on a gorgeous day. Which I understand is no surprise because most days there are pretty much the same. He found the area where Larry’s building was but had not found the right one. Believe it or not there is more than one condo building in Malibu. And unbeknownst to us Larry’s building was built into the side of a cliff so we should have been looking at street level rather than up at the high rise buildings.
Suddenly the cabby pulled over and mumbled something about checking the engine and smoke. CD and I still on our cell phones paid scant attention to the cabby. That is until he came running over to CD’s side of the van throwing the door open and shouting fire while pointing at the front of the van. CD and I booth being fairly unflappable in most situations walked to the front of the vehicle and indeed saw a small engine fire. Nothing to be concerned about if we could get a fire extinguisher we could have this out in short order. Turns out as the cabby was panically grabbing all his gear and personal belongings from the cab we learned that he had no fire extinguisher. So we decided to try one of the high rise condo buildings we were parked in front of. Ever try to get anything from the security people of one of those places? Seriously how could no one have access to a fire extinguisher in LA.? But it appears they did not, or at least where not willing to share with strangers in a burning cab. By this time what had been a small inconvenience had become a problem. The small fire in the back of the engine had grown. More than a fire extinguisher could handle at this point. As CD tried to contact a fire department I grabbed our luggage from the back of the cab.
Remember how I mentioned the wildfire in the Hollywood hills? Well the 911 operator misunderstood our plight and thought we were calling in about the fire they already knew about. I will never forget the look on CD’s face when he held the phone away from his face and said what the hell 911 just hung up on me.
Call em back I said
He did and this time they responded, somewhat in the too little too late department. At this point the flames were shooting from the engine and we had set a palm tree on the side of the road on fire. The palm tree was of course right by one of those big condo buildings that didn’t want to help with a fire extinguisher, ha I thought as the smoke and ash from the burning tree blew into the open window of a condo that I am sure cost far more than it should have, karma really is a bitch.
In the excitement as the conflagration expanded we discovered we had been parked right across from Larry’s building. The security folks there, who also told us they had no fire extinguisher, had contacted Larry to ask if was expecting anyone. Of course Larry was. He and his wife came and joined the growing throng of people standing around watching our ride burn in the hot afternoon sun. You would think this would not be such a big deal to folks who live in LA but they gawked just as much as mid-westerners at the site of flaming cars in the street.
The fire truck arrived shortly after the gas tank exploded and the minivan had melted to a heap of slag. Larry came out to great CD and I. He strode through the crowd wearing his big cowboy hat. He stepped through the last few people and smiled at us as he greeted us with hugs. Then he said, looking at the fire trucks and burning minivan in front of his building and said “Goddamn but you boys know how to make an entrance.” We all laughed, took a bunch of photos and gathered our gear to load into his condo.
Wait I said before we entered the condo building I gotta pay the cabby. No way I was gonna have this poor guy go back without his cab and stiffed on the fare. I went down and paid our Iranian cabby and he greatfully extended his hand to shake mine. I gripped his hand as looked him in the eye and told him to carry a fire extinguisher from now on. Then as we laughed a bit I noticed something strange in the hand shake. I looked down and damned if he did not have an extra thumb growing from the side of his right hand. Holy shit thought as I walked away. I was just coming from a flaming cab driven by an eleven fingered Iranian as I headed up, actually down since the condo was built into a cliff and we entered at the roof level, to a billionaires condo overlooking the Pacific ocean. This must be one of the seven signs of the apocalypse, seriously at that point the four horse man could have come galloping down the pacific coast highway and it would not have surprised me and more than I already was.
I got in the elevator with Larry and CD and told them of our eleven fingered Iranian cab driver. CD stood slack jawed, our weirdness quota obviously overloaded for the day. Larry just said “I’ll be damned, welcome to LA boys. He smiled and closed the elevator door.