The car rental counters at LAX are the busiest in the world. Luckily for me, my wife and I arrived during a slow time.
“You go get the car,” my wife said as we got off the shuttle bus. “I’ll get the luggage.” Since my wife was in L.A. for a convention, she had brought along three large, heavy suitcases filled with thousands of dollars’ worth of medical equipment. The machismo part of me thought it unfair to make the fairer sex do all the heavy lifting.
“No problem, honey,” I said, walking into the Hertz kiosk.
The kiosk was devoid of customers and I was met by a salesman with a wide smile. “Good evening, sir. How may I help you this evening?”
“We have a reservation. Dublanica.”
“Yes, sir,” he said, typing into his computer. “I have you right here. A Toyota Corolla.”
I sighed. My wife is very frugal, but tooling around L.A. in a Toyota ain’t my style.
“What else you got?” I asked.
“We have an Infiniti for 85 extra dollars a day.”
“Nix that,” I said. “My wife will kill me.”
“Hmmn…,” the salesman, mumbled, his brow furrowed in concentration. “I do have a Dodge Challenger for $35 extra a day.”
“I’ll take it.”
“Very good, sir.”
“Let’s get it done before my wife gets here and puts the kibosh on it.’
The salesman laughed. “I get you, brother. I’m married too.”
I signed the paperwork and the salesman went to get the keys. “I goofed,” he said, when he returned. “The Challenger is supposed to be eight-five extra a day too. But I gave you a price and I’ll honor it.”
“Appreciate that.” I said, knowing the salesman was bullshitting me a little. It was a slow night and they probably wanted to get their more expensive cars rented out. Something is better than nothing.
My wife arrived huffing and puffing with the luggage. “Get the car?”
We walked over to the lot and I hit the unlock button on the remote, causing the deep red Challenger to announce its presence.
“What!’ my wife said. “I wanted a Corolla!”
“We’re in L.A. babe,” I said. “My manhood will not permit it.” Illuminated by the overheads, the Challenger squatted on the concrete pad, glistening with menace and muscular potential.
“Do you even know how to drive this thing?” my wife said.
“Not a problem.”
We crammed our luggage into the trunk and backseats and got in. Then I started the car and was rewarded with the sound of a V-8 Hemi roaring to life.
“It’s so loud!” my wife said.
I grinned. “Yes, it is.”
I pulled the car up to the exit and the attendant in the booth came out. “You know how to handle this baby?” he said.
I cocked my head towards my wife. “If I married her,” I said. “Then I can handle this car.”
“My man!” the attendant crowed. “I like how you think.”
I pulled onto Airport Boulevard and gently tapped the gas, propelling us forward, hooked a right on West Manchester and then a left onto La Cienega. “We’ll take this to Sunset and then get on Hollywood Boulevard.”
“Nothing like being with a beautiful woman in a beautiful car on a beautiful night in a beautiful city.” I said. Then, when the traffic was clear, I floored the gas.
“Jesus!” Annie cried as she was slammed back into her seat.
“Oh yeah, baby,” I said, watching as the speedometer jumped from 25 to 80 in three seconds. “This beats the shit out of a mini-van.”
“Slow down! You’re not the guy from Drive.”
Laughing, I downshifted to a sedate 65 MPH. “Relax baby.”
“You’re going to get a ticket.”
“Not here, Annie. In this town, this car is nothing. The cops are more interested in the McClaren’s and Lambos.”
We had rented a house just off Hollywood Boulevard, complete with parking, half a mile from Grumman’s Chinese Theater. And while we did a lot of walking on our trip, I insisted on taking long drives in the Challenger. This car begged to be driven. On Friday we drove through Beverly Hills, Bel Air, and the Holmby Hills, gawking at the incredible houses. Then on Saturday we drove to Malibu, saw Pepperdine University, hung out on the beach: drank margaritas and Mexican beer: and finished off by tooling down the Sunset Strip. Native Angelenos may beg to differ, but I love driving in L.A..
On Sunday night, feeling restless, I threw Annie in the car and we drove up towards Mt. Wilson Observatory. Forced into a winding two lane road climbing high into the pitch-black mountains, it was a demanding drive. Negotiating the road’s serpentine turns, I had to resist the car’s natural inclination to go fast and the Challenger’s engine growled in protest; demanding to be let off the leash. But if I screwed up here well, it was a long way down. A couple of miles from the Observatory we pulled into a scenic overpass and got out.
“Wow,” Annie said.
“What did I tell you?”
Below us the L.A. valley glistened like millions of sparkling jewels cast over a flat black sea. Leaning on the car, I listened to the engine tick as it cooled in the mountain air. As Annie snuggled next to me I took a deep breath and let it out. Peering into the manmade blaze roaring below, I knew each point of light was a story, a beacon signaling a life being lived. And I knew with absolute certainty that they were mine for the taking. I just had to realize my own power, to let myself off the leash. I’d been firing on four cylinders for too long. It was time to let myself roar.
After making out for a few minutes, we got back in the Challenger and drove back down into L.A.. When we got to Sunset I was greeted with green lights and no traffic. Gunning the engine, I rocketed down the boulevard, reveling in the feeling of hundreds of horses galloping as one. You’ve only got one life. Rise to meet its challenges. It’s finally time for me to put it gear.
As the cool California night blew on my newly tanned face I grinned. For the first time in a long time, I felt young again.