My Worst Vacation
Breaking up with Mike in Laguna Beach
I was thinking about videogames because I was in Los Angeles to attend the 1998 Computer Game Developer's Conference. I'd wanted to go to a CGDC since I was a teenager, and now was my chance. It's a huge conference filled with great classes and lectures about stuff I desperately wanted to learn. The problem was, I planned the trip two months before I had a big project due for a tough college course, and now the trip was a week before finals and my project wasn't anywhere close to being completed. I bought a new $2,000 laptop computer as a desperate idea that I would get work done during the trip.
My ex-boyfriend Mike and I were staying with friends of his that had a lucrative export business in a bad part of L.A. Things went bad when I realized that their expensive house was far away from the conference, and they had a habit of ranting for hours about how bad traffic was into Long Beach. That is, when they weren't wondering out loud about the price of real estate in California, and how much each house we passed must have cost. Over dinner, the "friends" berated Mike for being a loser, as an odd persuasive technique to get Mike to go into business with him (Mike eventually did, but the partnership dissolved quietly afterward). During the first dinner argument, I left the table and went to the spare bedroom, but I couldn't get any homework done on my computer.
The next day, Mike and I went to Laguna Beach. I'm not sure why, since I was getting more and more frantic. In Laguna Beach, we couldn't find parking. We started to argue about which spaces were legal or not. Of course, I was determined to win the argument. As Mike circled the block, I stood in an empty parking space and waited. A nasty woman in an expensive car honked at me a wanted me to move. I was determined that the spot was mine and stood my ground. She started yelling at me (as only an indignant Californian can) and insisted she had never heard of such a thing as a pedestrian holding a parking spot. She refused to back up, and Mike couldn't get into the spot. Five tense minutes later, another car left the lot... Mike took that spot instead, and I let the irate woman park. She left her car still screaming at me.
Shaken and upset, I then got into an argument with Mike about how much to pay, and whether we would have to move the car in an hour. I don't remember the shopping that we did after that discussion... I was too worried that the car we borrowed from Mike's friends was being towed. Coincidentally, the Laguna Beach fire department was having an open house that day, and I wouldn't like Mike go in and see them, though I did (I have a thing for firemen, though it doesn't explain why I wouldn't let Mike see them, too.). Things got stranger 30 minutes later as I was trying to find a public bathroom. Mike tried to help, and I was embarrassed when he pointed it out to me in front of everybody. I yelled at him, and he stormed off.
...and I snapped. I lost it. Mike ran off with the car keys, and I was alone in a strange city. While Mike went into town, I was too proud to follow. Instead, I turned east.. afraid that Mike would see where I was going. In snuck off, up into the Hollywood hills. And up, and up. As I walked past a fish farm where they raised brightly colored "koi" carp, the day got more and more surreal. The sun beat down on my head, and I was sweating as I walked past silent still gated communities. I was the only pedestrian on the groomed sidewalks.... everyone drives in L.A. I must have walked for twenty miles, until I was hopelessly, futilely lost in front of a shopping mall. It must have been good fortune or luck that I found a bus station, and then a bus that would take me back to Laguna Beach. But by then, the sun had burned the top of my bald head, which would start to burn and peel...
Two hours later, I was wandering around the boutiques again, looking for Mike even though we had no meeting place. He was back at the rental car, unfazed and talking to a friend of his that he had bumped into by an odd coincidence. This was too much for me to comprehend... how could she be California? I never liked the woman, and as I walked up to the pair, Mike didn't say anything and the friend started making fun of me, questioning me about my sweaty shirt and my red face. I wouldn't say anything, and she kept prodding. I got into the rental car with Mike as he said his goodbyes to the odd woman. Now, Mike knew I had run off, but he had no idea how far I had traveled, alone and sun burnt. He was mad at me, and we weren't talking as he stated the drive back home. At a stop light, I turned to him stammered, "I can't take this." I meant that I couldn't take the fighting and the silence... it was so unlike our usual relationship. I grabbed my backpack, opened the door and leapt out of the car as Mike yelled after me, "Don't do this!"
I ran two blocks to an oceanfront hotel, afraid that Mike was right behind me. I'm sure it wasn't the first time the expensive hotel had a bedraggled guest without any luggage, but I felt even more embarrassed and stupid. I went to my room and broke down in tears. I planned how I could fly home to Denver and move all my belongings out of our house. I had a good chance to do it undetected if I could catch an early flight before Michael found out. Fast forward to six hours later. I stopped looking at the ceiling of the hotel room and crying in self- pity and gave Mike at call at our friends' house. The woman answered, and she sounded pissed but handed the phone to Mike. Mike was sad, and we spoke in short bursts. I told him I was safe, but I wouldn't tell him exactly where I was. Instead, I promised to call him from the computer conference. In retrospect, I think I had the whole thing planned... I had my laptop computer, I was pretty close to the conference, and I had three days alone without needing to stay with the hated couple. I had everything I wanted, and yet I had just lost my boyfriend.
Cut to a quick bus ride up the coast, and I found a vacant motel near the convention center. Things spun in an unreal whirl, as the carnival convention atmosphere and loud computer-geek parties dazed me. I met Steve Jackson, and partied with some distant programmer acquaintances from Denver. I dined on the Queen Mary, which was moored nearby. I shopped, and bought a jaunty straw hat that covered the pus-filled sores on my head. During the day, I attended some fantastic lectures about computer games. At night, I finished my computer project. It was neural network that could "learn" to recognize certain sounds that I recorded in the dingy motel room: the curtain blind opening and closing, the loud leaky air conditioner humming, and the television blaring infomercials from its bracket mounted in the corner of the room. Through it all, I kept thinking of Michael.
Michael picked me up after the conference was over. We talked in my motel room for an hour, and then I checked out. We went straight to the airport, and I didn't have to stay with his friends another night. Which was a good thing, because they really, really disliked me by then, and had spent the intermittent three days trying to convince Mike to dump me. No real boyfriend would treat him as I did, they insisted. Mike must not have agreed, because he came to pick me up when the conference was over, and told me how great the new Getty museum was that he had visited without me. Otherwise, he was pretty quiet.
The aftermath: Michael took me back home and didn't say anything about the incident except that he knew that I was feeling stressed. He insisted to his L.A. friends "It really wasn't like Patrick to act that way." I missed out on seeing the Getty Museum and Museum of Jurassic Technology, which I really wanted to visit. I brought home a new joystick, and thousands to free CD-ROMS, t-shirts, and magazines. Two weeks later, I received a letter from CGDA stating that I won a drawing, and that my entire $400 conference fee would be refunded... almost like the whole convention had never happened.
Mike and I are still together, and very much in love. So now, I think to myself, like a man stunned after an explosion, "What the hell was that all about?"