I’d seen Elton John twice in previous lives, but Judy had not had the pleasure.  So when I heard he was coming to Los Angeles, I was determined to take her.

It was September 23rd, 1988.  A Friday.  What could go wrong?

Our son Ivan was dropped off at his bi-lingual nursery school.  I took Judy to work.  I drove to my work.  Everything was going fine.

We had tickets that night to Elton’s kickoff concert for his new tour – a sold out show at the Hollywood Bowl.  People would kill for tickets – I had to work 20 extra hours of overtime to pay for mine.

Let me take you back to that day.  C’mon.  Get in the car while I type.

The babysitter is all arranged.  It will be our third time out alone since April.

Right around 3:30 in the afternoon, I call the Hollywood Bowl to find out if cameras are allowed.  I get a recording announcing that the 8 PM show will be starting at 7 PM.

I call Judy to tell her that we’ll really have to rush around to get home, pick up the sitter, take her back to the house, and drive to the Bowl in LA during the Friday evening rush hour.  It was going to be tight when we were planning on the show beginning at 8 PM.  Now timing was at critical mass, but not an impossible obstacle to circumvent as long as we didn’t get tripped up along the way.

I leave work shortly thereafter to save some time by picking Ivan up at his school on Avendia de Los Arboles.  I pick him up and we race several exits up the freeway to pick Judy up right at 4:30.  As I drive into the parking lot of her workplace, I step on the gas and the van goes nowhere.  I step on the gas more until the RPMs are at 7000 and the van moves about 5 miles an hour.

Perfect timing.

I should have known the transmission would fall apart, shouldn’t I?  After all, the van was rated #1 in Consumer Reports and I had had the van for all of 4 months.  That makes sense, doesn’t it?  Shouldn’t I be expecting the transmission to go to hell with 11,000 miles on the car?  Isn’t that NORMAL?

We limp back several exits to the Dodge dealer in Thousand Oaks.  Once it gets going, the car seems to do alright at high speeds on the freeway, but as soon as we hit the city streets with stop and go traffic, we’re back to burning up the engine to go 5 miles an hour again.

But we make it.

They want to look at it right away because they can tell by looking at my trembling, sweating figure that I’m about to blow up any second.  The clock is running.  Tick-tock.  Tick-tock.  I demand a loaner so I can be on my way.  “I’m sorry, sir, but we don’t have loaners.”

While everyone else in Thousand Oaks seems to own 15 cars, I only own this one.  A limp-dick Dodge Caravan.  My other car is Ivan’s Mickey Mouse tricycle.

“Get me a rent-a-car!” I demand as I find myself wobbling into hysteria.

Within 5 minutes, a car is brought to us (with the promise of reimbursement from Chrysler Motors), but then we have to go back to the rental place down the street to sign the paperwork.

Tick-tock.  Tick-tock.

We get back to the house.  I need to drop Judy and Ivan off and immediately go to get the sitter.

I speed off to get the babysitter who I am already 20 minutes late picking up.

I get to her house and she comes out and tells me she’s made other plans.  She tells me her younger sister Tammy is available.  At this point I would take Richard Speck or Charles Manson.  I don’t care – just get in the car!

As I drive Tammy back to the house, I quickly explain the rules and regulations to which she nods her valley-girl head in dumb acknowledgment.  We rush into the house, introduce everyone, and we take off.  I’m driving like a madman.

Tick-tock.  Tick-tock.

We make great time because traffic is coming out of LA and not into it on Friday evening.  That is until you get to the exit where the Hollywood Bowl is.  There are 14,000 people all trying to get off at the one exit that leads into the 2-lane road that leads to the venue.

We sit at a virtual standstill for about an hour.  The concert time of 7 PM has come and gone.

Tick-tock.  Tick-tock.

I roll down the window and strain to hear if Elton is singing or not, but all I can hear is the roar of a thousand idling car engines.

We get into the parking lot.  $6 to park.  We get sandwiched into a space you could never get out of if there was an emergency.  We push and shove and squish our way to our seats after renting a pair of binoculars at the gate.  The warm-up band is on.

The warm-up band is called Wet Wet Wet – a blend of pop-disco-rock that is both instantly forgettable and totally undanceable.  They are treated during the remainder of their performance to catcalls from audience members.

“Get off the stage!” and “You stink!” and “You guys suck!”

They play on anyway.  They finish.  The set-up for Elton commences.

Elton finally comes out.  It’s a good thing we have the binoculars, otherwise we wouldn’t know if he was on the stage or not.

He starts with a very obscure set of songs from early albums that are anything but rockers.  The audience is not happy.  Except me.  I’m older now.  I would much rather sit back and listen to the guy play than have to stand up on my seat to see him because everyone else in front of me is standing up.

Finally Elton begins to rock, but he leaves huge gaps of his repertoire out.  The crowd is not happy.  The other two times I’ve seen him, he played for three and a half hours.  At the Hollywood Bowl, he stopped at just under 2 hours.  And that included his 2 encores.  It was like Elton was saying that he wanted to just get the hell out of Los Angeles, too,  Who knows?  Maybe the transmission on his limo fell out on the way to the show or something.

He leaves.

Judy and I and the other 13,998 people try to leave.  Elton gets out quickly in his limo, but we have to push and shove and squish our way back out to our sandwiched-in rent-a-car.  On the way out, people are much more intoxicated than when they came in.  Bottles are getting thrown.  People are shouting obscenities at the empty stage because Elton didn’t sing their favorite song.

We get out to the car – it’s almost on empty.  We fill up at a downtown LA gas station where gang members are standing on the corners and we decide that it’s been such an awful day that we’ll just go home instead of getting something to eat even though we’re both starving because we haven’t had anything to eat.

We drive home.

We’d misplaced a house key earlier in the day and we made the mistake of leaving the other one with the sitter.  It’s shortly after midnight when we get to the house.

Ivan is asleep.  Tammy the sitter is asleep on the living room couch.  The TV and lights are on.

We knock on the door.  We ring the bell.  We bang on the window 2 feet from Tammy’s head.  Nothing.  She is dead to the world.  For the next 10 minutes, we both are ringing, knocking, banging, and shouting at every opening to the house.

The baby wakes up.  Tammy does not.

While Judy continues to smash around the outside of the house and wake up all the neighbors with shouts to wake Tammy, I drive up to the local market and slip a quarter into the pay phone.  I can only let the phone ring 4 times before the answering machine answers me in my own voice to tell me I’m not home.  So every 4 rings, I hang up and slip the quarter back in and redial my own house.  After the 6th try, Judy answers the phone.

I drive back to the house.

Tammy sits up on the couch trying to figure out where she is.  I try to ask Tammy questions.

“Tammy, how much do you get an hour?”

“Tammy, would you like me to take you home now?”

“Tammy, do you know who you are?”

Tammy can only respond in vague grunting, but through verbal hieroglyphics, she tells me she doesn’t care about anything or how much I pay her.

It was at this point that I heard Judy’s “the-President-has-just-died” voice.

“Doug, come here.”

She stands frozen in the hallway that leads to Ivan’s room.

“Doug, come here now.”

I walk over to where she is standing.  Pointing to a spot on the floor, she asks, “Is that a scorpion?”  And sure enough, a scorpion is boldly walking across my hallway on the carpet.  He might as well be wearing sunglasses and carrying a suitcase.

I step on him.

I drive Tammy home and watch her walk to her door.  Apparently her sister is also a heroin addict as it takes a good 5 minutes of Tammy banging on her own door, rapping on the windows, ringing the doorbell, and shouting to wake her older sister.

I drive home.

By the time I get back to the house, Judy has found the “scorpion” entry in the encyclopedia.  She shows me the look-alike picture and goes into great detail about how the female eats the male and then delivers up to 60 baby scorpions.

Welcome to California.

Judy and I are resolved.

We will never go out again as long as we live.