Coming off a roller-coaster day at work, I had made plans to drive into the valley to meet my friend Sheila for dinner before going to see our friend Anne in a play at Theatre West - the place where I tried out my acting chops years ago - and the origin of my little group of theatrical friends I write about periodically.
Sheila and I were to meet at "The California Canteen", a corner restaurant next door to the theatre, at 6:00. Had I left my home at 5:00 it would have taken me 2 hours to get there. So I left at 4:45 and breezed through in time to get me there a full half hour early. I needed to kill some time. So I decided to get off the freeway and drive Ventura Boulevard from Woodman Avenue all the way to the theatre located at the Cahuenga Pass, the short mountain pass that ultimately takes you to the Hollywood Bowl. This used to be my neighborhood and I hadn't been there in years.
A long time ago, when I was in my 20's and 30's and young, I lived in Studio City - 10 minutes from the theatre. I lived with my then husband, Barry, and then, after we divorced, on my own, in a small apartment on Valley Spring Lane just off Laurel Canyon. It was a very short walk to Ventura Boulevard and a long stretch of eclectic shops and restaurants that gave the neighborhood a very cool vibe. Driving down this boulevard last evening was interesting. The Boulevard looked much the same, some of the stores and restaurants were the same, others had changed. The beautiful movie house, with the gorgeous deco ticket booth, had sadly been turned into a bookstore - although they retained the integrity of the building and the booth, "The Queen Mary", a notable building that housed a club offering entertainment "in drag" was now a "Men's Wearhouse and Tux" shop. But mostly, businesses that had gone had been replaced by similar businesses and I was glad for that.
I was literally flooded with images of my life from all those many years ago - and I was struck by a mix of emotions that I couldn't really identify. It was oddly exhilarating and unnerving at the same time. It was like a piece of my life - a piece that I rarely even think of - was still breathing. I felt like I was in some Charles Dickens' story where I was traveling with the "Ghost of Valri Past" - I could almost see my 27-year-old self, having a chocolate chip danish at Weby's Bakery or milling about one of the many antiques stores or cool furniture shops. I got lost in the details and thought of people and places and events that have been boxed and stored somewhere in the back of mind mind. I could feel what it felt like.
When I finally got to the Canteen and entered the restaurant, the first thing I noticed was the smell. Old and musty (did it always smell like this?) I remember it was a fun to go before or after rehearsal or performance. It was still very cool. But it also seemed old. And that wasn't bad - it was just notable. I loved sitting there.
It was also wonderful to sit and talk to Sheila - we came to Los Angeles at the same time 34 years ago and we have a lot of history. We were very good friends years ago but I enjoy Sheila much more now than I think I did back then. While we don't see each other often, we seem to have a kind of full-circle relationship now. We didn't have a lot of time to talk - but it was interesting that she too was looking back and remembering her life as a young woman all those years ago.
Then to the theatre. A 99-Seat, Equity waiver theatre, Theatre West is the home of one of the oldest membership companies in Los Angeles. I hadn't been in that building in 14 years since I did my last show - "Dog Music", a fun little piece with a talented cast of 5, three of whom have passed away - two far too young. The lobby had changed, the "house" had not. I remembered what my feet felt like on the stage. I remembered vividly rehearsals and performances and classes I participated in there. I hadn't thought of any of it in ages. Being there again felt - warm.
I only saw a couple of people last night that I had known from the old days. One was Lloyd Schwartz, one of the producer/playwrights represented in the one act plays presented, and he absolutely made my entire night. He told me that he will never forget the first time he saw me in Theatre West's production of "A Little Night Music" 25 years ago. He said I had such "a presence" he couldn't take his eyes off me and so, he cast me in one of his children's shows. It was a compliment that I will cherish.
Anne was in one of Lloyd's plays with her husband Bill. They were terrific. She's a marvelous actress. I was very glad to have gone.
I have said many times that my life before Bob and the kids seems like someone else's life. I have been disconnected from it. Not on purpose - it just happened. I think a lot of people feel similarly about the first and second halves of their lives. But it occurs to me now that it is worth it to try to reconnect the dots. The process of purposeful assimilation can only serve to make the whole experience more rich. And perhaps this is how some people, in advanced years, can look back and say that their lives have been full. I want that too. My life has been kind of cool. I want to take it out and kind of look at it some more.