Last January, 2014, I was visiting the US for my niece Riley’s bat mitzvah. This was my second time returning to the motherland since I’d left and as with the time before, I took the opportunity to visit friends in LA and San Francisco. While I was in LA I met up with my good friend, brilliant actor and former roommate JR. A few weeks earlier, JR had gotten engaged to the beautiful and charming Natasha, whom I’d heard about but this trip was my first time meeting her. It was great! Then at one point, JR and I were just shooting the breeze and he said “Listen… If you say ‘no,’ I’m screwed because I don’t know who else fits so will you be my Best Man.” I man enough to admit there were tears and hugging and of course I said “yes!”
So, a year and a half later, it’s the middle of June and Rasa and I are heading out to LA for the wedding. Due to a mis-reading of the tickets and the ineffability of time zones, we ended up heading out to Warsaw, our trip departure zone, the day before our 6:20am flight. Of course, this meant we slept in the airport, which isn’t nearly as bad as it sounds. And we were not to far up the queue for the first of our three flights that day.
June 18, 2015
The flight from Warsaw to Berlin, however, started off with a little bit of trepidation as we were shuttled out onto the runway. “That’s not our plane, is it?” asked Rasa with a slight quiver in her voice as we pulled up to a small turbo prop. “It is indeed,” I said. She gripped my hand tighter as we climbed the fold down stairs and took our seats. That flight to Berlin, as well as the flight from Berlin to Chicago and then from Chicago to LA, as uneventful and we landed in Los Angeles a little late but still in the same daylight we’d started in. A quick trip to get our rental (Budget via rentalcars.com, which I can recommend heartily) and we were off!
My first thought was we were both tired and should probably try to get to where we were staying (Matt’s house in the Hollywood Hills) and get settled… but then I came to my senses. This was Rasa’s first trip to the US and I was determined to do it up right. So instead of taking the 405 around the hill into the valley and come back around the 101 (this makes sense if you know LA) I made a spur of the moment decision and risked both our lives by crossing four lanes of 405 traffic at rush hour and got off at Sunset Blvd.
We drove up the winding street and immediately the differences between the US and Lithuania became clear. I pointed out the various spots where we could see the UCLA campus and Rasa’s reaction was an incredulous “All of it?” Our university is a series of office buildings in the middle of the city center so this place, with parks and bike paths was a bit of a shock. Further up, we crossed into Hollywood itself and I cut over to Hollywood Blvd. We didn’t stop, but just driving past was enough for Rasa to exclaim “I’ve seen this in the movies…” Good! This was exactly right.
We made it to the house, unloaded our stuff and when I told Matt I was going to take Rasa to see The Hollywood sign, he offered to drive us to a spot he knew where we could get a great view. And he offered to drive. Since he had just leased a new Tesla, we obviously said sure! Amazing car and he was right, amazing view of the sign. The trip was starting beautifully!
Thursday morning saw us hitting up Men’s Wearhouse to get fitted for my tux. Yes, we’d tried to get the measurements taken back home but ultimately, this was a frustrating and fruitless idea. We’d gone to several bridal shops (which also had tuxedos in the window) but were told they didn’t measure men. We finally ended up in a little seamstress kiosk at the mall who did the measurements but in cm, not inches. We tried to convert and sent it off, but were told there was a problem and it would need to be redone when we got to town. No problem. We ran a few errands, got a local phone number and went to the rental shop. The guy there knew exactly who I was and informed the measurements we had sent would have had a hard time fitting a 300 pound guy (I am NOT 300 pounds). So we had a good laugh, got the measurements done and had the afternoon free until the rehearsal that evening.
Hollywood was first up on our agenda. We found (relatively) inexpensive parking at Hollywood & Highland and proceeded to wander the Blvd. We hit the Chinese and saw the footprints, followed the path of the stars up one side of the street and down the other (all the while hearing The Kinks running trough my head) and generally enjoyed what Hollywood had to offer. Then, with time still on our side, we headed out towards Santa Monica Beach – another thing on Rasa’s “must see” checklist.
Again. knowing that “seeing” the city is half the fun, I took surface streets to get there. We ended up driving down Wilshire so we could get a glimpse of Beverly Hills and the various nice car shops and filming locations. Once we hit the coast, we walked along the beach to the pier where we had the obligatory “LA Experience” and watched them film a scene from a TV show. By this time, it was getting late in the afternoon and we knew we had to be back across town for the rehearsal at 6. so at 4:45 we headed out to traverse the 23 or miles. It should have taken an hour at most… Unfortunately, Obama was in town and so traffic was all sorts of messed up so it took us more than 90 minutes. We follow the GPS heading back, trying to find the best route, and by doing so we had our second celebrity encounter, passing Angelyne and her pink corvette while going over the hill. We eventually did get to the venue and walked through the whole ceremony in nothing flat. This was followed by a rehearsal dinner meeting new people and catching up with folks I hadn’t seen in decades!
For a first day in the US, we were doing okay.
June 19, 2015
Waking up early, we decided to head back out to the beach so Rasa could see Venice in all its foggy glory (if you don’t know, Venice is well known for it’s morning fog, especially in June). We walked around Muscle Beach and I showed her where JR and I used to live. We drove over the current canals then headed out to see some friends (Lita and Jeremy) and pick up my adjusted tux.
We unexpectedly found ourselves with a free Friday night (wedding stuff we thought was going to happen, didn’t) so I checked off something on my list for Rasa – we went to the El Capitan! The El Capitan is a movie palace in the grand old tradition and Disney’s flagship theatre and I wanted Rasa to get a look at a great movie going experience – didn’t really matter what was playing. This is the kind of theatre where the ushers wear uniforms, there’s an organist and a pre-show and you have your choice of sitting in the balcony or ground level (we chose balcony). And of course, the film that night was Pixar’s latest, Inside Out, which just may be up for an Academy Award (which, by the way, we stopped at the theatre where the awards are held).
Upon entering, Rasa’s reaction was “This is NOT a movie theatre!” I’d say she was impressed. The film was great, we had popcorn and ended up making it a relatively early night.
June 20, 2015
Wedding day! Of course, since I didn’t have to be onsite until mid afternoon, we decided to spend the morning doing more touristy stuff. As it turns out, our friend Jessi was also in town (we’d hosted her in Kaunas a few weeks earlier – she’s on a 6 month sabbatical from her circus gig). We decided to meet up and she would join us as we went off to explore the Watts Towers. Neither of us had even been there and Rasa wanted to see them so off we went.
The Towers are pretty impressive, for sure. When Rasa got out of the car, her first words of amazement were “I thought they’d be bigger.” See, we’d seen them on Face Off and that was her only reference. As we walked around them, though, her impression changed and by the end, they were indeed big enough.
From there, we stopped at The Last Bookstore, which is a wonderful space filled with new, used and “buck a book” tomes (those last are organized by color so good luck finding what you’re actually looking for rather than something completely random) then had lunch with Jessie in Glendale before heading back to the house to change.
This time I was on time and so spent the afternoon doing wedding things. We took pictures, escorted people around, quoted movies and show tunes and generally had a great time, which led up to a beautiful evening! The wedding was gorgeous and the reception was a blast. It’s so great to see JR and Natasha so happy!
The fun for Rasa here was that since I was in the wedding party and she wasn’t, there came a point where she had to go off and sit with the rest of the guests… which included my family! Now they’s met via Skype in the past but this was the first in person meeting and my dad, trying to make her feel “comfortable” walked right up to her, pointed and said “You. Come with me.” She didn’t run off screaming so I suppose that went okay. She also met up with Mom and Faye and the kids (and I got to see everyone afterwards at the party).
And again, since JR and Faye went to school together, I knew some of their friends from over the years so it was nice catching up with people I hadn’t seen in many years (this was a running theme this trip). I dutifully made my best man speech and danced with my girl (and my two nieces as well) and generally had a fantastic time. Weddings are great places for celebrating not only the couple but using that positive energy to celebrate life itself.
We closed the place and made plans with the folks to meet up the next day for Father’s Day.
June 21, 2015
Sunday was going to be a casual day, even if it did start earlier than we would have liked. At 10am we meet Mom and Dad, Faye and the kids and Connie Collins (Aren’s sister) and her whole family who just happened to be in town from San Jose for the weekend. We went to The Smoke House for an all you can eat buffet featuring crab legs and build your own omelettes and waffle bar (and regular food, too). We were there for several hours, the kids running around, making chocolate fountain drawings and having a great time.
We said good bye to everyone. We’d see Mom & Dad in a few days up in the Bay Area and Faye and kids back in Vegas in a a week or so. Then, with the rest of Sunday to ourselves, Rasa suggested the Getty Center. Sounded good to me so I called my friend (and former Frequency business partner) Jeremy to join us and we went and hung out with great art, amazing views and fantastic conversation. It had been many years since I’d seen Jeremy so it was really nice to reconnect and Rasa was blown away by the Getty.
We left and on the ride back to drop Jeremy off I realized I’d completely forgotten to return my tux! We changed plans and directions, and I just made it, returning the clothing minutes before closing time. From there, it was back to the house where I left Rasa to chill and I met up with JR and his family for dinner.
Another great day came to a close.
June 22, 2015
Several weeks prior to this, due to a series of odd circumstances, we hosted my friend Nancy’s daughter Nicolette back in Kaunas. She was spending some time in Europe and in addition to hanging out with us, she spent time in Venice and I helped her plan a bus and train trip to Krakow, Berlin and Amsterdam. Now, Nancy and I have been friends for years and I see her whenever I’m in the States and we go to Disneyland together (she works there). This time around, she very kindly got Disney tickets for Rasa and I and we decided Monday would be the best day to go. Nancy had asked if we’d like to meet up for breakfast before we went. Absolutely! So she booked us into Goofy’s Kitchen at the Disneyland Hotel for 9:30am.
Since we were coming from Hollywood on a Monday morning, we figured two hours travel time would be sufficient. It was more so and we got there an hour early so we hit the park beforehand, deciding to go on Mickey’s Fun Wheel before breakfast. Naturally, not understanding how the timing of the ride worked, even though we had gotten there an hour early, we were 15 minutes late for breakfast. As it turned out, Nicolette was feeling poorly so she and Nancy were there long enough to say hi, and then they left us to enjoy the day.
About 5 minutes into breakfast, after having our picture taken with Goofy in his kitchen and being seated amidst Minnie Mouse, Pluto and Chip and Dale, Rasa looks at me and says “I feel like a little kid.”
“Congratulations,” I said. “You win! That’s the entire point of this place!” In fact, it was the entire point of the trip (beyond the wedding) so we were batting 1000.
Getting into the park proper, we took the monorail and I made Rasa ride in the front (there was room for a single rider there) then hit Autopia first thing. Because we only had one day, we didn’t see everything (like we did in Paris) but we saw a lot. We bounced between the two parks, rode a bunch of rides, took lots of pictures and had a brilliant time. Highlights were the new and improved Matterhorn while Peter Pan was closed, thus continuing our streak of having a hard time riding it. The day ended with a revised for 2015 electrical parade and then a fireworks show which was 4D, incorporating the buildings of Main Street into the action. At one point, in honor of Frozen, it actually snowed!
June 23, 2015
Tuesday morning I met up with JR for breakfast, the first time we’d really had a chance to catch up, just the two us. It was a good talk. And the bonus is that he and Natasha have now moved to Bulgaria so they’re in the same time zone and much easier to visit!
Now, we were basically on our own. We decided to head out to the California Science Center to see the space shuttle Endeavor. Actually getting to the exhibit (with the actual shuttle) is a maze but once there… wow! It’s an impressive piece of machinery. Unlike Watts, Rasa was immediately taken with the size of the ship. We wandered around it for a while, took some pictures then headed out to see more of LA, including the Griffith Observatory.
Finally, on our last night in LA, we took our host Matt and his delightful girlfriend Ana out for an evening at the World Famous Magic Castle, courtesy of my friend Michael. See, whenever I’m in town, Michael and I get together at the Castle and I often bring a couple of friends with as well. The Castle is home to some of the best magicians in the world and as a part of that culture, I love going. It was especially nice this time since Bill Cook was performing. I met Bill when I did an article on him for Magic Magazine earlier this year and had never seen him perform live. Needless to say, he killed it!
We ended up seeing all but one of the evening’s performers, had a great time just chatting with old new friends (and I met Bill’s folks!) and made it back to the house not too terribly late. This was good because our second week in the US was going to start early with a long drive up the coast.