UNITED STATES—It was Wednesday, March 8, this year of our technological god, and my alarm clock, which is my phone, went off at the regular time. I looked over at my battery-powered analog clock, and it was lagging behind my cellphone quite a lot, almost an hour. Oops!—serves me right for getting those cheap dollar-store batteries.
I leapt out of bed and hopped into the shower. I jumped into my clothes from the day before. I had an eight o’clock class to make, and I was behind.
The streets of Hollywood were fairly clear. Good. The stoplight was off at the foot of the Sunset 101 on-ramp. Always a good sign: it means I’m here slightly before the onset of the full rush hour traffic bloat. This is my time of day to partake of the commute: a hump-backed toxic caravan that justifies all the ugly cliches that proliferate about Los Angeles. I am grateful that my commute is shorter than most, but the short nasty dose of commute douses me in all that is foul and existential.
People sneering, getting on that last eye-shadow, munching on bagels, slurping coffee, texting. These are pursued while behind the wheel with a desperate, poignant zest to squeeze some drops of pleasure admidst the soul-numbing commute. But each crumb of bagel, slurp of coffee, and sent texr only increases the craving for that pleasure we both have and are denied in the commute. On this asphalt beltway we are ‘out of time,’ separated and at odds with the moment that is, mired in the slow sludge of traffic.
However, this Wednesday morning, I got lucky. That curve on the 101 after the Sunset overpass, where the traffic suddenly thickens, didn’t occur. How lucky was that? So I missed out on the usual sightseeing, when forcibly slowed down enough to glance at the shanty-tents set up on the freeway embankments, with ragged clotheslines and remnants of campfire. Or behold that stray fender on the shoulder that no one has picked up for weeks.
This Wednesday morning, though, the traffic breezed along. There was no question that I was going to make my eight o’clock class. I went along so fast, I missed the monumental eyesore on the route, albeit a very personal eyesore: the vintage epic neon sign for WESTERN EXTERMINATOR CO. This cynosure to remind us that the foundations of civilization are threatened by termites and silverfish slipped by unseen. Even though I missed it, there, seared on my brain, remains the WESTERN EXTERMINATOR CO. Top Hatted Man in a frock coat, peering down condescendingly at a rebel rat as the man conceals a mallet behind his back. But today was special. Smooth traffic spared me the sign—a cute symbol of Western oppression and the malevolence of colonial power. Of course this is just my distorted view shaped by the commute and lengthy viewings that coincide with at the low ebb of my daily outlook.
Before I know it, I get off the Alvarado exit. There’s the place where the man half-heartedly panhandles. He’s not a real go-getter or aggressive and often sits instead of walking to the cars. A smile often passes between us and that’s enough to brighten the day before the light changes. The man hasn’t reported yet to his perch, an uprighted microwave oven with a cushion on top.
Soon enough I make it to Sunset and Figueroa. One of those ritzy Italianate apartments, like the one somebody put a torch to, has a big clock on the corner. It now shows itself to me in the morning penumbra. The giant clock hands read 6:55 a.m.… Oh, my gosh. I’m on time, all right. I’m a full hour ahead.
By some fluke, my cellphone had jumped ahead. Daylight Savings started a few days early for me, and reaffirmed by battery clock. The gods at AT&T are fallible. One byproduct was showing up early for appointments in the days before official Daylight Savings. Everybody wanted to fix my phone settings. I said why hurry and fix it, maybe it will be normal come Sunday. And so it was. My phone is right on perfect atomic time now.
As for that Wednesday, March 8, it was a heck of a day that started early and just wouldn’t stop. I felt fine because, all said and done, in my heart I believed I had gotten that extra hour of sleep.
Grady Miller is a humorist. His latest cavalcade of stories is “Later Bloomer: Stories from Darkest Hollywood,” available on Amazon.