My friend Tom plays piano in Neil Diamond’s band. So when he gave me a ticket to their sold-out show at the Hollywood Bowl, I had two immediate thoughts: 1) It would be fun to see my friend play at the Hollywood Bowl with Neil Diamond. 2) Could I deal with the drive from Santa Monica to the Bowl on a weeknight?
There are, of course, Westsiders who cannot bear to drive east of 26th Street. Brentwood is their border between comfort and anxiety. Fortunately, I am not one of them. I left Santa Monica, in my trusty “OG” Prius, at 6 p.m. — figuring, based on prior experience, that two hours was ample time to make an 8 o'clock show.
It is hard not to feel like a character from SNL’s “The Californians” when I say: I took the 10 east, got off at Fairfax, turned right on Venice, took Venice to Cochran to Melrose. By 7 p.m., I was at Melrose and Highland, approximately two miles from the Hollywood Bowl — just a straight shot up Highland. Time-wise, I was feeling good.
Until the traffic light turned from red to green to red to green, again. And again, and again. Traffic was a freeze-frame.
By the time I arrived at the parking lot of the Bowl, it was 8 p.m., and the lot was full. A Bowl employee instructed me to follow the lethargic line of cars back down Highland, so I could make a U-turn and park in the lot across the street.
Half a block later, another Bowl employee waved me into the right lane. ”Just follow the cars and park in Lot B,” he said. I was relieved; I would not have to navigate a U-turn.
At the entrance to Lot B, I received disappointing news: “No more parking. Everything’s full.”
“Where am I supposed to park?” I asked.
The guy, whose only job was to keep me from turning into Lot B, shrugged. “Back down Highland.”
But that’s what I did — headed back down Highland, behind other frustrated drivers who were also late for the show. Every lot I passed was full — even the Foreign Legion, whose parking fee was a whopping $45, the highest I had ever seen.
An attempted lane change felt life-threatening. Drivers leaned on their horns, beeping sustained honks of anger, preferring to come precariously close to crashing into my car than to stop a few seconds for me to change lanes.
“I AM … I SAID,” I yelled, belting the title of a Neil Diamond song to everyone and no one. “I am going to get to the Hollywood Bowl, tonight!”
I battled traffic down Highland to Hollywood Boulevard, abruptly turning into the parking lot of Hollywood & Highland and the Loews Hollywood Hotel.
Beneath the boulevard, down in the subterranean lot — three floors down — an attendant, resembling a benign prison matron, stood at the machine that dispensed tickets. She was not surprised to hear about the parking situation at the Bowl. In fact, she was comforting as she gave me directions to the elevator and said: “Have fun.”
When I exited the elevator, a security guard gave me dizzying directions on how to find my way through Hollywood & Highland's shops to the exit that would take me, once again, to Highland. “Are you going to the Hollywood Bowl?” the security guard asked.
“I’ve been trying to get there since 6 o’clock.” It was now 8:40 p.m.
“You should have said that to begin with. Follow me — I’ll take you to the shuttle.”
The shuttle — also known as the 671 Metro bus — was empty, except for the driver and two female Bowl employees, both in their 20s. As I was slowly shuttled to the Bowl, I related the details of my journey, beginning with the gift of a ticket from my friend. “He plays in Neil Diamond’s band,” I said.
“I can’t believe you’re in such a good frame of mind,” one of the girls said, cute even in her official Bowl employee T-shirt. “I guess it’s because you didn’t pay for the ticket yourself … otherwise you’d be pissed. They’re really expensive.”
As I stepped off the shuttle, in front of the entrance to the Bowl, I thanked the driver. “It should be easy now,” I said.
My ticket was at VIP will-call. But it took three Bowl employees to figure out where that was, exactly. Finally, a man wearing a black suit and holding a walkie-talkie had the know-how I was looking for. He escorted me to VIP will-call, where I was given my ticket and had my tote bag searched. I was almost there — so close to the entrance — when the “searcher” called me back.
“Your purse,” she said, like she might find something nefarious inside it that would require a body cavity search.
“She’s OK,” the man with the know-how and the walk-talkie said.
As I hurried up the steep hill to my seating section, the band was playing, Neil Diamond was singing; so were the Waters Sisters. I showed my ticket to an usher who said encouraging words: “Just four rows up.”
I took my seat at 9:04 p.m. After three hours and four minutes of traveling time, I did get to see my friend Tom solo on “Cherry, Cherry” — and watch Neil Diamond perform, with his great band, for one hour and 16 minutes. The concert ended at 10:20 p.m.
At the subdued after-party, I hung out with my friend and talked with a few of the other musicians. I said goodbye to Tom, in the subterranean parking lot of Hollywood & Highland, at 1 a.m.
“It was fun,” I told him. ‘Wish me luck … finding a parking spot when I get home to Santa Monica.”
The trip home was easy-breezy; half an hour. But I drove around my neighborhood for 25 minutes, past cars greedily parked in two spaces, scanning the streets for a spot, as I wondered: Is this how people finally snap?
At 2 a.m., I walked 3½ blocks from my car to my cottage, my footsteps the only sound on the street. I entered my home at 2:07 a.m. And promptly announced to the moon, peering down at me through my skylight: “I’ll never do that again.”
But even as I said it, I knew that I probably would. Because I am a Californian. And in Los Angeles, that’s the way we roll — sluggishly, with hope the journey will be worth it.