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beach pair2

“Out in California, we touched the other ocean. And I still have that jar of sand.” I love these lyrics from the Antje Duvekot song Long Way — which was sort of my official theme song for the Long-Distance Dad road trip. It poetically describes different experiences of a driving across America. Touching the other ocean marks the milestone of reaching the opposite coast. You gotta do it!

Seeing the Pacific wasn’t a huge deal for me; I lived in San Francisco. But for Mtuseni he’s now seen three oceans: the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian. I was lucky enough to witness him see an ocean for the first time, on our trip to Cape Town. It was pretty cool — he was fascinated but a bit wary. The ocean can be overwhelming.

I would have skipped southern California; I’m not a fan of LA, to put it mildly. With a degree in TV production and some time spent writing screenplays, I’ve made three brief attempts to live there. Let’s just say it doesn’t suit my Northeast sensibilities, and leave it at that. 

But Mtuseni wanted to see LA … which in his mind is essentially Hollywood. And my old roommate Connie from Boston — who sent me off on my first cross-country drive 30 years earlier — lives in Santa Monica, so I could sort of complete the circle by seeing her.

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LDDTrip-Jp Volvo shot 89_20190515_0001

Just before heading out to California in July 1989. We always laugh that Connie was so upset her head shrunk; she looked like an apple head doll that day!

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connie car

Standing with Connie in the same position by the “other ocean” in Santa Monica — 30 years later. Wow!

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After driving through the desolate western Arizona moonscape and then over the San Gabriel mountains, we landed in Pasadena — then headed to Santa Monica for some Thai food with Connie. Afterwards, her partner Dan, a SoCal native who worked “in the industry,” drove us around Venice and gave us dirt on local characters and bit players. It was a warm-up for our day in Hollywood — which I was dreading.

LA stresses me out like no place else — the cars and traffic and parking. It’s just not a walkable city like Boston or New York. And the highways are 27 lanes wide with 4 seconds warning before your exit appears. I needed to get to Hollywood Boulevard and also find a place where Mtuseni could see the Hollywood sign. That’s all the LA he was gonna get out of me. (It was really all he knew and cared about anyway.)

After crawling in traffic, I abruptly turned into an underground garage, which I thought would be quick and simple. But cars were backed up inside because it was valet parking. What is with LA and valets? Can’t people walk a couple blocks?

I didn’t have time for that rigmarole. So I negotiated a tight U-turn at the valet station and headed back to the escape ramp. A tiny 3-foot tall Asian girl in a shiny black SUV the size of Nebraska was straddling the lanes waiting to get in. I thought I could edge past her. Then I heard the bumper contact the wall. I hoped for the best, but got out on the street to see a big white scrape on the corner of the black bumper. Surprisingly, I didn’t go ballistic — even though I’d owned the car for all of 60 days. God, I hate LA!

manns chinese

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But… we ended up having a fun time. I grabbed a spot in an outdoor lot and we headed to the Chinese Theater. Mtuseni didn’t get the concept at first and was unimpressed: the names and footprints of Hollywood’s Golden Age were unknown to him. But once he saw familiar names, he got excited… and we both became lost in the celebrity treasure hunt among slabs of concrete. 

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mtu capitan therater

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arnold s

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Mtuseni will sometimes surprise me with things he knows or likes. His quest for action heroes was obvious, but I was shocked when he suddenly said, “Oh wow, Meryl Streep!” and grabbed a photo of her signature and tiny shoe prints. Hmmm… maybe she played Ironman’s mother or something.

Though I’d been to the theater before and was underwhelmed, this time I fell under the spell of all those Hollywood spirits…

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jack lemmon

Jack Lemmon is one of my favorite actors of all time — brilliant at playing the everyman. It felt like Magic Time being in that spot. “I love you, Miss Kubelik. I absolutely adore you.”

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west side story

I don’t fit the gay-male stereotype of loving musical theater. I can’t stand it. But West Side Story is … brilliant!

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judy

I’m also no fanatic for Judy Garland. But for whatever role her death played in the 1969 Stonewall gay liberation riots, I have to pay homage to her. #SomewhereOverTheRainbow

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After the theater we followed the Walk of Fame. Mtuseni was totally into it; I think he took 50 photos! He was so proud when he discovered a name he thought would be there.

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hwood blvd

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tyler perry

It took a while, but Tyler Perry’s star finally appeared. Mtuseni “just knew it would be here, oh yeah!”

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charlize

Meeting a fellow South African on Hollywood Boulevard! During his internship, Mtuseni stayed with his pastor in Benoni, the Johannesburg suburb where Charlize grew up. #JoziPride

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Again I was surprised by names that captured Mtuseni’s attention. I certainly didn’t expect a fan of The Rock and Ironman to take pictures of stars for Mickey Mouse and Goofy! Then again, Hollywood’s magic is global. For a boy who was raised in shacks half a world away, being in the spot where these childhood icons were born… it has to be pretty cool.

Thankfully, at a mall near the theater something caught my eye: the Hollywood sign! I wouldn’t have to drive to find a picture-perfect view. This one was good enough for Mtuseni! 

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mtu hwood sign2

hollywood sign

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My work in LA done, we headed back to the beach in Santa Monica. It was a beautiful early fall afternoon. We took a long walk along the beach — and though Mtuseni stated that he didn’t see the purpose of walking to nowhere, he ended up talking about some pretty deep stuff. One day he’ll realize the effect the ocean has on him. Whether we’re on a beach or a boat, he becomes tranquil and relaxed. Like father, like son — just without the genetics.

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mtu sm beach

I can see the zen beach vibe face that Mtuseni gets whenever he’s near the ocean. He should work on a cruise ship or something.

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mtu truck

Just like when we were in New York, Mtuseni has to get photos of emergency vehicles. I think it’s more having the locale in the photo, to prove… “I was here!”

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We met Connie and Dan on the pier and watched the sunset. Dan reminded us to look for the elusive green flash that appears for an instant when the sun rises and sets. For the first time, I actually did see it! Everyone on the pier applauded. Mtuseni said he didn’t get why people were clapping because the sun went down… but inside, I know he did. 

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mtu pier

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We walked from the beach and had dinner in Santa Monica: my best meal of the trip, pappardelle with short rib sauce. Its one of my top ten meals ever. And just like when we lived together way back in the 1980s, it was a nonstop gab and laugh fest for Connie and me. 

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restaurant

All in all, not a bad time in Southern California. But I wouldn’t want to live there!

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Check out my new Beck’s Next Act blog on life transitions… and other stuff!

Cape+Town+South+AfricaOne night in beautiful Cape Town, Mtuseni and I were in a pizza place on Long Street — a funky strip of cafes and clubs with ornate balconies that has a New Orleans feel. We’d been getting on each other’s nerves that day, a product of being together 24/7 for nearly a week after just meeting in person for the first time. Surprisingly for this Boston-New York pizza snob — the thin-crust, brick-oven pie was really good, so I focused on that while Mtuseni ate his curry. And we both watched a guy in front fussing with a laptop and the widescreen TV.

After a while I realized he was setting up for karaoke. When I told Mtuseni, he had no idea what that meant. Even though I’d never done it, I explained to him how it worked. He seemed vaguely intrigued beneath the teenage ambivalent face he’d been wearing all day. I was grateful there would be a bit of entertainment to enjoy, rather than watching him stare at yet another soccer game on TV back in our hotel suite.

The place started to fill up, mainly with college-age kids and some middle-age folks. It was a pretty diverse crowd, more so than I had seen in Joburg. The first woman who sang was astounding, and we all whooped and hollered. Mtuseni was into it, and I was relieved and happy to see a wide grin on his face.

The night continued with a procession of “singers” of varying degrees of talent ranging from “wow, he’s good” to “damn, she’s brave” to “shit, he’s drunk.” A posse of college boys sang loud backup, cheering their buddies on. A black woman at the next table grooved with me to some classic old soul that Mtuseni never heard. And everybody sang along with folks and laughed and offered good-natured support.

We had a long session of sightseeing and a trip back to Joburg the next day, so I kept checking my watch. But Mtuseni, who usually can’t stay awake past ten, kept telling me to have another beer. I knew I’d regret it later, but why spoil the fun by playing Mr. Responsible Dad? When was Mtuseni gonna be at a bar in Cape Town again? When would I?

So the DJ announced there were only two slots left. No… this tale is not going to end with me and Mtuseni getting up and singing “You’ve Got a Friend.” Neither of us took the mic that night. But a boy got up and started singing the R. Kelly song “I Believe I Can Fly”

He was really good. And I read the lyrics on the screen, and realized that every kid in the place, including Mtuseni, was singing along at full volume. It felt like the last hour of an old church revival meeting.

“I believe I can fly. I believe I can touch the sky.
If I can see it, then I can be it.
If I just believe it, there’s nothing to it.”

Victoria+Wharf+Cape+Town+South+Africa+ferris+wheelThe song is such an anthem of self-affirmation and inner strength, pride and empowerment. Watching, hearing, being among all these young South Africans — each carrying dreams of success and a better life in the face of crushing odds — singing, “I can fly!!” at the tops of their lungs… well, I had to keep my head turned from Mtuseni so he wouldn’t see the tears streaming down my face.

As I sang along through my sobs, in that moment I knew I was doing — and would do — all that I could to help Mtuseni fly. And once he’s off the ground, I’d like to do something bigger to help more of these vibrant kids who want, and deserve, to reach their highest potential.


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