On this particular December 31st, after a jaunt of ten days on the island of my birth, my wife and I boarded a plane headed for our latest home, in Los Angeles County. The flight from New York to Los Angeles is made sweeter by the fact that, even though it's a six hour flight, you land only three hours after you started; also, if it's December, L.A. is about thirty degrees warmer than New York. The only downside I can see is there isn't a decent pizza in L.A. to hang your hat on, which is fine, since I don't need the extra calories, and, anyway, the hat would get soggy.
The evening's activities would include fixing a quick dinner of whatever wasn't rotten or moldy at home (a success, as some tortellini and a loaf of bread was stashed in the freezer) followed by calling around to my friend Christian's place for the festivities. Not only is December 31st New Year's Eve; it's also Christian's birthday.
Christian and I went to college together on Long Island, where we shared a house in Greenlawn that our classmates termed “The Gentleman's Lodge.” A filmmaker with big aspirations (and huge talent), he moved to L.A. a year ago for what I figure are pretty obvious reasons.
That is how we found ourselves at a bar on Ventura Boulevard on New Year's Eve.
We were excited to be celebrating the New Year in a new place. I, for one, had spent New Year's in several places in the northeast. The “quiet evening at home” is usually my favorite, though sometimes (rarely) I threw parties. In Boston, they shoot off fireworks over the Charles River while the Boston Pops plays The Year 1812, Festival Overture in E-flat major, complete with 19th century cannon-fire. (The best place to stand other than right on the Esplanade is on the Massachusetts Avenue bridge.) At a friend's house in Connecticut, we brought in the New Year by grilling dogs, playing pinochle, and jamming until we couldn't see the keys anymore, and even then we kept going a bit.
Nowhere, of course, is more iconic for New Year's celebrants than Times Square, New York City, where you have to arrive in the afternoon to be allowed into the Square, checked for bombs and other nuisances, then led to a nice spot in the pen where you'll be spending the rest of the day. No bathrooms, no pretzel stands, no water. Let's just say I don't need to do that again.
So, like I said, we were excited to be in L.A. for New Year's. We figured there would be something different. We whispered to each other wondering where they would do the fireworks: over the Hollywood sign? or at Disneyland? or maybe over Santa Monica Pier?
We had to swim through bodies to get to the bar, where we could see the televisions. This place was beyond packed. A fire marshall would have had a field day. It took until the ten-minute warning just to flag down a bartender.
The televisions in the bar were tuned to the classic New Year's show, in... Times Square. The broadcast had the gall to put “LIVE” in a box in the corner, followed by, in smaller type, “ET.” Eastern time. Everything we were watching had happened three hours ago. In New York. Where we just were.
Where were the Southland fireworks? the local displays of celebration? Is New York's party so good that the West Coast has to rebroadcast it? No one can top it?
My wife leaned into me, “I guess New York is the center of the universe.”
When the appointed time came, we counted down, clinked glasses, shouted, kissed, all according to this odd tradition we humans have come up with. At a minute past midnight on January 1st, we pushed our way out of the bar and onto Ventura, where the freshest air L.A. has to offer was just waiting to be inhaled. But something wasn't right, I thought as we walked back to Christian's apartment. It didn't feel like the New Year happened. Sure we watched some television, did some shouting and kissing and so on, but it still felt like we just watched someone else's New Year happen on the television. The New Year we would have had if we were in New York. Here we were in Pacific Time, clinging to the hope of a slightly different New Year, and all we got was the same old Eastern Time change-over we'd been fed since babes. Been there, done that, as they say.
And time marches on.