In Writing

Perhaps the best part of traveling somewhere new (and I know it’s hardly adventurous to go to another city in one’s own country and call that travel as if I’d visited remote hunter gatherer tribes) is needing to negotiate all the things you normally do at home by rote. It gives me a crazy little thrill, figuring out the new parking meter, finding the local eateries, as if maybe I could make it in with those hunter gatherers after all.

So for the most part I did well. Here are are two instances in which L.A. got the best of me.

Would you like to buy a bag?

The cashier at the Venice Beach CVS made me jump when I walked in to buy headphones and she called out loudly to me with words I couldn’t make out.

I looked at her suspiciously. Don’t you be getting snippy with me when I just walked in here, I telegraphed through my scowl. “Excuse me?” I said in my best New York, “you-talking-to-me?” voice.

She repeated, “Welcome and please let me know if I can help you find something.”

Ummm… no. Don’t do that friendly thing. The people at my CVS back home, who see me every day, do not greet me that effusively.

So I picked out my three items (and it’s not all sunshine and roses in Cali, I guess, because they had the headphones behind the counter so they wouldn’t get stolen and, yes, I had to ask her). She rang me up, ran my card and then smiled at me. I stared at my items on the counter, still in the place where I left them when I gave them to her to ring up. She smiled at me some more. I sort of pointed my chin at them, like, “What now?” and a look of recognition came over her.

“Oh, would you like to buy a bag?” she asked, still smiling.

Buy a bag? Um, no, but I’d like you to give me something so that I can carry this stuff you just sold me.


“You’re not from around here.”

“No.” Apparently that did the trick because she gave me the bag for free. But they’re 10 cents usually. Don’t take anything for granted.


On my last night, I remembered I had to fill up the rental car or be charged my first born, so I went in search of a gas station. It was Saturday night and I was on the happening strip, Route 1 which leads right into the Pacific Coast Highway, so it wasn’t hard. I pulled in and waited.

Because, yeah, I’m from New Jersey. One of two states in the nation where you don’t pump your own gas. (Thank you, 1949 law that thinks I’m too inept to do it myself. I hope you keep thinking that about me). I always tell myself when I travel to other states that I will remember it is different here and they don’t have people to pump their gas for them here, poor deprived souls. But I don’t. I forget and sit at the pump waiting for rescue for ten minutes staring stupidly into space until someone else pulls up beside me and starts pumping their own gas while staring quizzically at me. Each blessed time.

When it finally dawned on me that if I wanted gas I was on my own, I looked around inside the car for the little doo-dad opened the gas tank. After several minutes of fruitless searching, I figured I’d get out of the car and see if I could wing it. I went to the pump to figure it out. I pulled out the nozzle, turned to the car and found a perfect sheet of umblemished metal (or what are cars made, anyway? Metal still, right?). No gas tank hole whatsoever.

Because, yeah, it was on the other side.

After that little mishap, I maneuvered the car to the other side, pulled out the nozzle again, went to aim it at the car and then noticed I had to put in an amount of gas I wanted before the machine could function. But I needed to fill the gas tank up. (PS- at $4.25 a gallon, apparently gasoline in Los Angeles is dusted with the ashes of dead celebrities and ground up bits of Kim Kardashian’s hair extensions. Only that could explain the outrageous price). So I didn’t know how much I needed.

I finally headed in to have a chat with the attendant about it.

He was behind bank-level style security glass, so I leaned close so he could hear me, smiled my best “I’m such a dumb girl” smile and said, “I’m that white car over there. I need to fill it up.”

“Prepay,” he responded.

I cocked my head, smiled more and gave my best self-deprecating shoulder shrug. “But the thing is that it’s a rental and I need to fill it up and I don’t know how much that will cost and I…”

“Prepay,” he said again.

I tried a new tack. “I’m from New Jersey – sorry – I am not good at this gas pumping thing and I’m wondering how people do it when they need to fill up but they don’t know how much it will cost…”

Yoda interrupted. “Prepay.”

I went back to the car, utterly confused. I could not have guessed whether it would take $10 or $50 to fill up this foreign machine. I put it in drive and left the scene of my gasoline humiliation. Luckily, there was a name-brand station diagonally across the road that did it the way I’ve seen before on my infrequent forays out of New Jersey, where you feed them your credit card and let them siphon money out of your account to their heart’s desire. I breathed a sigh of relief and filled up the tank. $24.

Who knew headphones and gas could cause such confusion.

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