Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve always managed to make a temporary friend on vacation. I think it stems from a profound fear of loneliness or perhaps my need to constantly talk. I was a latchkey child. What do you expect?
I arrived at LA on Saturday, after sitting through a perfectly pleasant flight next to Mr. Miyagi. Southwest Airlines freaks me out for a myriad of reasons, but mainly because there are no assigned seats. Aside from the lack of first class, which just makes me uncomfortable in general, one must elbow their way through the cabin, diving for overhead space and struggling to slide one’s seatbelt from under the ass of the middle management schmuck entirely oblivious to the fact that he’s sitting on one half of someone else’s lifeline.
I may have broken someone’s bottles of cheap wine from their very exciting excursion to the Napa Valley in my attempt to stuff my oversized duffle in the bin above me, but I in no way cared. I’m not hanging out in the Southwest baggage claim of LAX where there is absolutely no possibility of seeing a celebrity. Just get me to the hotel.
I grabbed a Supershuttle and enjoyed a brief, albeit smelly ride to my hotel, the Millennium Biltmore in disgusting and deserted Downtown Los Angeles and checked in. My room was miniscule, but I was far too chicken to complain. I dumped my bags, switched purses and hopped a cab.
I was going to Santee Alley, which is basically the knock-off capital of America. I shoved my way through 4 blocks of excellent faux designer bags and glasses, spending a good 3 hours debating my purchases. This very excursion was the only shopping I had any intention of doing, and while highly illegal and completely filthy, I pushed my way past thousands buying gold Jesus medallions and Chanel high-tops.
Of my three purchases, my Dior sunglasses are the most likely to break if you breathe on them, and my new Chloe handbag is the light of my life. Every time I look at it, I get happy. Seriously. It’s pretty much the greatest thing I’ve ever bought in my life.
There is no way to catch a cab in Santee Alley, or as I came to call it, the Balenciaga Barrio. So I walked all the way back to my hotel, passing huge shops advertising fake ID’s and appropriately, people setting up for the big immigrant march on Monday. I swung by Subway and got a salad. Word to the wise: Subway is named after a sandwich, not a salad. For a reason.
I made it back to my hotel room, turned on the HBO, closed my curtains and played with my new handbag. My conference didn’t start until Sunday, so by 7 or 8, I was bored out of my mind. I showered and changed and embarked on the obvious.
I entered the hotel bar to find an array of conference arrivals, all of whom seemed like middle aged women from Texas and all of whom seemed to know each other. I ordered a $14 glass of wine, which appeared to be the cheapest option, and began talking with the only person who would have me, Oscar the bartender, as he refilled the nuts from a bag labeled Roasted Salted Extra Fancy No Peanuts.
I know this because I wrote it down. It sounded like a good title for a book.
I bid Oscar adieu and headed down to the significantly cheaper Basement Sports Bar, which I hoped would have something along the lines of a “house wine” and someone to flirt with. One out of two isn’t bad, and after my wine, I ordered a grease quesadilla to go, headed back to my room and committed myself to the Tom Hanks Oscar hit, Philadelphia.
I awoke the next morning and headed downstairs by 8am to register, get my name-badge and collect my free tote bag of information and crap. I don’t know why, when providing conference attendees with itineraries and information, we must also be laden down with breath mints, ceramic mugs and bubble blower necklaces, all of which proclaim a commitment to non-profit arts marketing management.
I balanced my tote and collection of binders, grabbed coffee and a bagel and found a place on the floor next to a girl about my age who also appeared to be alone.
“They sure put a lot of crap in our bags.”
“I know!” She exclaimed. And thus, I made my first disposable friend of the conference. Jessica was perfectly lovely, and we attended our first branding and logo session together, before meeting up for lunch. The “Networking Lunch” was held in the grand ballroom, where dined on iced tea and Chinese Chicken Salad Tostadas. The whole concept of this lunch was for all 500 of us to bond over convention food, but I mostly talked to Jessica. All of a sudden, one of the conference leaders gets up and says she has a special surprise for us. Her dear friend and session leader, not to mention talented musician and poet, will do an impromptu performance for all of us.
Oh, that’s just great.
All of a sudden, this little, 50ish, tan blonde woman from Florida, of course, emerges from a side door and makes her way through the dozens and dozens of tables in the ballroom while animatedly playing a flute. She stops dead center, between several tables of uncomfortable looking attendees and removes the flute from her lips.
You’ll think I’m making this up, but I’m not.
She then proceeded to recite her poetry about non-profit arts management and the art of creation. Worse, a good 75% of the room found this delightful, in awe and gratitude at her immense talent. Unable to look at her flute poetry anymore, I turned back to my enraptured table and looked around the ballroom. Suddenly, I made eye contact with someone who clearly shared my annoyance and found this display just as ridiculous as I did. As soon as I spotted this woman with funky glasses rolling her eyes back at me, I lost it. Trapped at my table with an unfortunate case of the giggles, the flutist continued, now requesting volunteers. Someone from my table actually enthusiastically raised their hand. 10 minutes later, I sat appalled, watching grown men and women in business suits standing on stage in a Los Angeles ballroom on a Sunday holding rainsticks and tribal drums, telling the musical story of Jocimo the forest nymph. I’m not exactly sure what the point of the story was, but a peacock feather was involved.
Hell froze over, lunch ended and I went over to the girl in the funky glasses.
“They should serve booze if they’re going to subject us to that.”
“I know! Well, they will tonight at the cocktail mixer. I’ll find you.”
“Okay!” I screamed, a little too enthusiastically.
Lo and behold, I showed up to the cocktail party hours later and found funky glasses. Her name is Erin, she’s from Calgary and she was also flying solo. Erin, however, had already made friends. She’s found Peter, an glorious and gay Australian living in Vancouver, Julia, who’s Swiss and deadpan, living in New York, and Brad, who’s from Vancouver but brought along his Australian dad.
We sipped wine and ate snacks.
“So, Beth. What are you doing for dinner?”
“Beats me. I have no friends.”
“Us either! Let’s go out.”
Erin, Peter, Julia and I headed outside and found a fabulous upscale diner. We bonded and laughed over dinner, having a marvelous time and heading back to the hotel around 10ish. All set to go to bed, Peter and I decided to pop our heads into the fancy bar and see if we could find Brad. There he sat, and we pulled up chairs and joined him, ordering a round of drinks and bitching about the flutist.
“You guys.” I sighed, leaning back on my barstool. “Here we are, all by ourselves in a big hotel in a crappy town. We should be having flings.”
“Oh, fabulous!” gushed Peter, sitting up straight.
Brad smiled. “You want me to pick you out a guy and ask him to join us.”
“Yes.” I said. “Pick out any guy at this bar and bring him to me!”
“Fine. How about that guy?” Brad motioned over to the gayest man in all of Los Angeles, sitting alone in a spandex t-shirt at the bar.
“Perfect!” Peter yelled.
“Um, he’s gay, foreigners.”
“Shut up, you cow. Bring him over here, Brad.”
Brad got up and approached the gay, bringing him to our table.
“Beth and Peter, this is Aaron.”
Peter and I immediately dove in, questioning poor Aaron for our own amusement. Aaron was boring. Aaron was gay. And Aaron didn’t find us funny in the least.
“Well, Aaron, I’ve got a bottle on wine in my room, so Brad, Beth and I are going to go up there, now.” Peter said, standing up. “It was nice too meet you. See you around the conference.”
We headed for the elevator as Peter leaned down. “Well, that was a dud, love. We’re going to my room now, but first we need an ice bucket.”
“To chill the Chardonnay, you wench. God, Americans are so stupid. Some cow asked me what my name was and I said ‘Petah’ and she said ‘How do you spell that?’ P.E.T.E.AH. How the fuck do you think?”
I had an ice bucket, which we stole from my room and brought to Peter’s. Into the wee hours of our late night room party, I realized we had session scheduled for the morning. I departed and no soon had I entered the hallway and heard Peter’s door shut, I realized I’d lost my room key.
I swirled around and banged on the door. “Open up, Dundee. I need my room key.”
An elderly Chinese man answered the door and hissed at me. “You go way. You leave lone!”
Oh shit. Wrong room.
After an embarrassing trip to the front desk, I made it to my room and fell asleep.
I awoke to my phone ringing at 8am. “Hello?”
An Australian accent yelled at me from the other end. “I’ve got your ice bucket, you drunken slut. Meet me in the lobby. We’re going to Starbuck’s with Erin in 15 minutes.”
“How did you know what room I was in?”
“Because you left your fucking room key in my room, you whore.”
Peter, I love you.
I threw on some clothes, grabbed my name badge and headed down t the lobby. As I emerged from the elevator, Erin gasped.
“Oh my god, I almost didn’t recognize you. What did you guys do last night?”
After coffee, we headed off to our respective morning sessions, and agreed to meet up for lunch. In a very Top Gun-esque twist, just guess who our first session was led by?
With lowered heads, we avoided eye contact and counted the minutes until lunch.
As we once again congregated in the ballroom, Erin, Peter, Julia, Brad and I settled into a table, leaving 5 extra seats available. All of a sudden, 5 middle aged women cheerfully bounded over and asked if they could sit with us. I felt a swift kick to my ankle under the table and looked up.
It seems as though we’d come full circle.
We were now sitting with THE FLUTIST…