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START THE PRESSES

Start the Presses: Love, death and Los Angeles – Part 2

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Dan Evans

Dan Evans

(With apologies to Hunter S. Thompson) We were somewhere around Los Banos on the edge of civilization when the boredom began to take hold. I remember saying “I’m beginning to feel lightheaded, maybe you should drive.” And then there was a terrible roar, and the beginning chords of “All Things Considered” started, then the sky was full of NPR tote bags, all screeching and diving around the car, which was going about 100 miles an hour on the way to Los Angeles. 

The drive, oof. The drive. The road from Napa to Los Angeles via I-5 is on par with some of the most stultifying on Earth. I-95 between Orlando and Miami is up there, but at least there’s something green and the occasional crocodile (or Florida Man) to gawk at. 

America’s champ, though, must be the West Texas stretch of pure nothingness between El Paso and San Antonio — and the deeply unsettling gas station workers in those aggressively beige buildings 50 miles away from anything in either direction. And, though I’ve never been, I bet the world record holder is that piece of asphalt between Balladonia and Caiguna in Western Australia, where the Aussie version of CalTrans put up trivia questions on a, get this, 90-mile stretch of road that has nary a single turn to keep wary drivers from falling asleep at the wheel. 

Given this perspective, perhaps travel to the Southland isn’t so bad, and it’s one I have done close to 100 times. But the mind does wander, and my journey was one I still — even as I get ever closer to my fifth decade — felt unprepared to face: the death of friends. Two from my time in Los Angeles died last month, and a memorial for one happened last weekend. 

Beyond reason, beyond expectation and demonstrating a deep understanding and ownership of herself I aspire to, Theresa, my girlfriend, decided to accompany me. We have not been together long — not quite three months at this point, yet she wanted to see, to experience, the Los Angeles side of my soul. This involved accepting the strong likelihood that she would meet, and potentially interact, with my ex-wife. Not that she wants to, she told me; she just doesn’t worry about it. 

I suppose we’re alike on that end. I have no strong interest in meeting her ex, the father of her child, even from a curiosity standpoint. (Given my intrinsic nosiness — via nature (personality) and nurture (profession) — this self-realization surprised me a bit.) However, should he ever desire it, I’ve told Theresa, I’d be happy to meet — and would even forego chugging a beer beforehand. Might have one afterward, though. 

But the point: The memorial for Tara Thomas, whose clock stopped at age 56, the onetime proprietor of the only fine-dining restaurant in Los Angeles Union Station, a deeply generous soul, and my friend, happened on Sept. 10 at 2 p.m. at her place of business, Traxx. 

Tara had her demons, indeed, and though I don’t feel the need to detail them here, they were certainly given a full airing among the vaulted (and vaunted) 62-foot high ceilings of that beautiful Art Deco building. But here’s the takeaway: Addiction kills, truly, but so does the shame, and perhaps it makes it even more deadly. If you want or need help, you should get it. Please. 

Still, mostly it was love. Love can sometimes feel scary with its bigness. And sometimes it fills the room like a gigantic and perfect bubble bath, its effervescence rising above the weirdness of meeting in a train station in the heat of the afternoon and munching canapes with your ex-wife… 

Well, that… It didn’t happen. Though my ex-wife had called me to let me know she was coming and was in town according to mutual friends — she did not come to the memorial, claiming a migraine. Though it certainly would have made a more satisfying column had there been some interaction, I’m still in the nonfiction business, and so I have to report where the hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades fell where they did. 

Besides, it’s not about me. It was about Tara. The focus of the event was a live-streamed open mic of sorts where people from all walks of her life spoke. Though beautiful, it was hard to watch people honor the memory of someone who should have had decades left. But the hardest, where my heart fully sagged into the polished Spanish tile, was when her father spoke, a rude soul-scrape of watching a parent eulogize his child — yet another thing that should not be in a fair world.

As Theresa and I made our way back north — wisely choosing 101 this time — there was an almost palpable heaviness, though one that grew lighter as the golden brown hills of the Central Coast gave way to the concrete of the South Bay and past the vineyards of Carneros to my north Napa townhome. Seeing the City of Angels in my rearview created a strange mix of feelings — nostalgia for an earlier time in my life, sadness for the things that have inevitably changed, joy for the life I live now, and hope for the future.  

The 15 years I spent in Los Angeles comprised much of my adult life. It saw the blossoming and demise of my marriage; it saw me through four jobs, three addresses and two mortgages; it watched over the creation of lifelong friendships with some and the waning of others. In other words, life. 

Though it is important to reflect on the past and plan for the future, it took me a long time to realize it’s much more important to focus on the present. 

Jon Kabat-Zinn, of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction fame, put it simply: 

“The only time you ever have in which to learn anything or see anything or feel anything, or express any feeling or emotion, or respond to an event, or grow, or heal, is this moment, because this is the only moment any of us ever gets. You’re only here now; you’re only alive in this moment.” 

And none of us know how many of those moments we have, so live them. 

Dan Evans can be reached at 707-256-2246 or devans@napanews.com. And be sure to come by our Open House on Sept. 21 from 6-8 p.m. at our offices at 1615 Soscol Ave. in Napa. 

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