Pete’s CafÁ© and Bar is located on the corner of 4th and Main in the heart of downtown Los Angeles. It’s a trendy restaurant with nice large windows that look out on the street, reasonable prices, and good food. Although I’d never been to Pete’s, it was the ideal meeting place to see my friend Brett, as it’s centrally located between my work and the Long Beach hotel where Brett was staying.
I must admit that I was slightly reluctant to make the drive, at the end of a Tuesday that saw some of the nastiest storms Southern California had been hit with in years. Despite what Google maps claims, I knew that with traffic my drive wasn’t going to last a mere 45 minutes. My past experiences had taught me that I was looking at a good hour, and that wasn’t factoring in the weather conditions. Still, I didn’t want to pass up an opportunity to see Brett, even if it meant spending a couple hours in my car. At least I would have my iPod to keep me company.
To my great surprise, the clouds parted as I merged on to the 5 South and the only water splashing my windshield was the mist from passing cars. Perhaps out of fear that rain would make driving unbearable, there were few cars on the road that night; traffic was nonexistent. My trip into L.A. was the easiest in memory, a quick 30-minute drive. As I exited the freeway, Shawn Colvin’s delicate interpretation of ”This Must Be the Place (NaÁ¯ve Melody),” the classic Talking Heads song, came on, playing as I searched for Pete’s CafÁ© and Bar.
Whether it’s one of her originals, or a quirky new wave punk song, Colvin has a knack for digging to the core of any song she sings and bringing the heart to the surface. This selection, from Colvin’s Cover Girl cd, has circled my brain for years. The longing for home she sings about somehow felt befitting an evening when I was having dinner with a friend from my hometown. I found convenient parking and, with fifteen minutes to kill, I replayed Colvin’s sublime song, sitting alone in my car.
Inside Pete’s, with that melody hovering close by, I sat at the bar sipping a beer, awaiting Brett’s arrival. I’ve known him since high school when the two of us were in marching band together. For some reason we didn’t get along at first. Who cares why? By the end of high school he became a close friend, one I sought out for good conversation and a fresh perspective on life.
In my mind what cemented our friendship was the spring break camping trip to Pennsylvania taken during our senior year of high school. Along with two other friends, James and Tom, we drove into the middle of nowhere (or so it seemed), parked the car and hiked out into the woods. No map. No compass. No direction. Tom forgot the tent poles and so we made shelter out of broken branches, the tent, and leaves. It was not comfortable and we returned home the next morning. This excursion was important because I needed to get out of North Olmsted. Nursing a broken heart and feeling the pressure of completing high school and getting into college, the camping trip may have been a disaster, but it was the first step in my healing process. Moreover, those three guys were supportive and allowed me my space to be a crank and a crybaby. I’ve never forgotten that.
Brett arrived, his hair shorter than I recall and a graying beard covering his face. We took a table in the back and immediately began to catch up. Outside cars passed by sparingly and people rushed by on the sidewalk, bundled up to keep warm. What did we talk about? Not the past. Oh, we touched on a couple of funny memories (including the camping trip), but the majority of the evening was spent swapping stories about how great our wives are and what wonderful, intelligent, beautiful children we have. We touched on the subjects of neighbors and hazardous winter driving. Ultimately, the conversation kept returning to parenthood and reflecting on how it has changed our lives. How strange and wonderful that the two of us, who spent so much time trying to get wasted in high school and college, would find such great pleasure in discussing the triumphs and regrets of being a father.
Then, while we caught our breath and enjoyed our dinner, my ears perked up as I heard this familiar melody playing over the restaurant P.A.: the original “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody).” I had to smile. Although the song was barely audible over the din of the other conversations throughout Pete’s, I heard enough to tell me that the gods were on my side that night, clearing the skies and roads to allow this brief reunion.
After two hours it was time to say goodbye again. Outside, we hugged, smirked, and then walked off in opposite directions. As I started my car and merged into traffic, I dialed my iPod until I found Shawn Colvin singing Talking Heads and headed north out of Los Angeles. The singer’s beautiful voice kept the smile on my face I carried with me from the bar and carried me home.