In the summer between my sophomore and junior years at Syracuse University, I drove from Philadelphia to San Diego and back, camping and crashing at friend’s and family’s homes in Chicago, Iowa City, Minneapolis, Denver, and points in-between (including an ill-fated layover in Darwin, Minnesota where The World’s Largest Ball of Twine was in the shop).
It was a crucial trip. I dodged lightening in the Black Hills, hail in Telluride, and cattle in Jackson Hole. I cooked Spam over a fire in Flagstaff, and sang “It’s Alright Mama” at the gates of Graceland.
In the end, I traversed 8, 553 miles in my faded-red, Bondo-patched, Nissan Sentra.
And in the end, I had a far better sense of the country, and myself.
Back in June of 1990, my father and his wife were attending a conference at the famous Hotel Del Coronado. They offered to put me up one night to celebrate my Atlantic-to-Pacific achievement.
When I drove my rusty beater to the front door, and was confronted by valet for the first time in my life, I panicked, and kept driving. Having spent the night before on the desert pavement in Virgin, Arizona; no way I was stepping out of the car in my fleece. Not with a pony tail and three earrings, anyway.
Built in 1887, it has played host to Charlie Chaplin, babe Ruth, Charles Lindbergh, and John F. Kennedy. L. Frank Baum wrote much of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” there, and is said to have based his designs for the Emerald City on the hotel. And Billy Wilder directed Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in “Some Like It Hot” there.
By the time I finally checked in, though, I was smitten. The historic Hotel Del blew the curve.
“You mind if I stay two nights?” I asked.
Friday night, I parked a few blocks south of the great old hotel and walked the beach in my dress shirt and blue blazer with my jeans rolled to below my knees and shoes in my left hand. I stood in front of the hotel, snapped smiled, and snapped a pic.
A lot has changed since 1990.
I walked slowly back to the rental car, pausing to take it all in. The waves purred their calming, white noise. The skies turned slowly golden. And I noticed singing under my breath.
Slow down, you crazy child
You’re so ambitious for a juvenile
But then if you’re so smart, tell me
Why are you still so afraid?
A few days before his triumphant pair of shows at Shea Stadium, The New York Times featured a nice piece on Billy Joel.
When asked which of his songs make him think, Ah, at least I got that one right, he immediately cites two: “Vienna” (1978), a celebration of a life’s worth at every age, and “Summer, Highland Falls” (1976), a meditation on emotional extremes. His back and forth between sadness and euphoria may have led to effective songwriting over the years, he says, but he now strives toward the more comfortable middle ground of contentment.
I’ve always loved, “Vienna,” but never quite understood the lyric, “Vienna waits for you.”
Standing there on the edge of the great, deep, cool Pacific, I felt just a little closer to figuring it out.
Prevailing wisdom about San Diego’s Comic-Con is that it’s an assembly of misfits, nerds, freaks and geeks salivating over B-listers, back issues, and collectibles.
In fact, I traded in that very same simplistic, diminishing description as recently as just last night.
Tonight, though, I counter with a new thesis.
Comic-Con is an inspirational gathering of apparently disparate peoples: young and old, physically capable and challenged, thin and not-so. It is a safe space for difference, where the one’s unique offering is rewarded and relished. Better still, it is a place where difference embraces difference.
I saw Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles talking with Ghost Busters, Sleestacks laughing with Crazy 88s, and Care Bears kvetching with Jokers.
I spied Batman, Superman, Spiderman, Destro, Shrek and Skeletor, Cylons, Watchmen, Boogie Men, and Storm Troopers all cohabitating in peace.
I rode the escalator next to a full-on, latex-and-horse hair Davy Jones (the one from “Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” not The Monkees) — barnacles and all. And while I felt a little embarrassed to be standing near him (especially in my blue blazer) everyone else ate it up.
Comic-Con International began in 1970 as gathering of just 300 comic book illustrators, publishers, and fans in the basement of the U. S. Grant Hotel.
Thirty-eight years later, more than 100,000 crowd the San Diego Convention Center’s 1.7 million square feet of exhibition space. From ABC to Warner Bros., wvery major motion picture studio and television network is accounted for.
It’s the Triumph of the Nerds.
It’s a place rabid with enthusiasm. Still, everyone is polite, everyone is engaged, and everyone is a fan of something. And if you can love something, you can love anything.
Frankly, the world would be a better place if we all tore a page from Comic-Con’s playbook.