Leaving LA...

...or coming to Berkeley (depending on whether you're a pessimist or an optimist).

Hope? Excitement? Escape? Restlessness?
Is hope your biggest enemy or is it your best ally? Since I never seem to learn from my mistakes I will probably never know for sure.

I leave LA in the evening. I just got tired of it somehow. Maybe I know too many people in this city, or maybe I don't know enough. Or maybe this last year in the restaurant brought back too many memories of my own failed establishment in Paris, memories prompted by the fact that most of the people I know here acquired at least one hangover there. Whichever it is, I made my rounds to say good bye to my closest friends, and by that I mean all the people that allowed me to stay with them for awhile, and by 1 am, after having said good-bye to the last one, I drive toward the freeway with everything I own in the car, bidding a not-so-fond farewell to LA. I feel like I have spent my whole life saying goodbye to old friends and hello to new ones. I'm sure that by now, that almost everywhere in the world there is one person that knows me. A disturbing thought, especially when I'm behind the wheel of a fast car going well over the speed limit (there is no such thing as speeding in LA – it's called keeping up).

Earlier that day as I was packing up to leave, after I had filled the car just about to capacity, I noticed two things were still on the side walk, and there was only room for one of them. There was a case of books and my television set. One of them had to be left behind. As I drove off to say my last good-byes, I could see in my rear view mirror that someone was already eyeing the television I had left on the sidewalk. Ah, life in the big city.

I got on Interstate 5 and practically flew out of LA in my red mustang that I bought just for this purpose. When I went to the car dealership I said I was looking for a car that could take me to San Francisco faster than a plane but use less gas. I looked around the lot and test drove a few muscle cars and ended up picking the Mustang. Now it was time for negotiation. I sat down with the sales person who asked me earlier the same stupid question they ask everybody, if I give you the deal that you want would you take the car today? I told him, hell yes, I would take his deal. The question was would he take mine. Up until now, he seemed very happy, confident that he was going to close the deal. Then I told him, in answer to his questions, that no, I had no paycheck, no job, and no permanent address. His smile turned into a look of mild despair. So this confused but not scared salesperson had to send me to the manager who actually was a really cool dude. He looked amused as he said to me, so you don't have a paycheck, no proof of residence and you are moving away? How do expect me to sell you a car? I said because I know that you want to sell this car. I quickly went into my speech, saying that I was moving to Berkeley near San Francisco to open a restaurant and that I am good for it, and on and on. In the end, it was my very impressive resume that concluded the deal. He was impressed and wished me luck. We filled out the paperwork and I was on my way. For some reason, people seem to like and trust me soon after they meet me. I don't know why but it has helped me many times in my life

Olive olive olive

I have noticed something about car salesmen. In the beginning, when they want to sell you a car, they don't seem to be afraid of any situation. You could be standing at the dealership in your prison issue jumpsuit saying that you could be deported at any time, and that since you quit your job, and because of the upcoming bankruptcy proceedings, you will likely lose your apartment, and they will look at you and say, "if I give you the deal that you cannot refuse would you leave with the car today?" You've got to love that kind of attitude. Talk about living for the moment. It could be announced that World War III was starting in a half hour and they will not budge until they've made the sale.

As I left the used car lot in my new (to me) red Mustang, I noticed the first salesman as he stood watching me drive away in what I'm sure he now considered a stolen vehicle, and I thought I saw a look of great concern on his face, a look that wasn't there a few moments ago when he was happily listing all the attributes of the car, a look that said, there goes my commission driving away at 60 miles per hour.

Back on the freeway, I pick my lane, the fast lane of course, the one on the left where you have to drive around all the people who think they are going fast, people who look at you with horror because they didn't know a car could drive that fast. I decided to make sure my speedometer was working correctly so I pushed the car even faster. I figured something was wrong with it because it seemed to be blocked at around 125 mph and wouldn't go any higher. It must have been in shock because when I let up on the gas it wouldn't come back down either. I'll have to have that looked at if and when I reach the Bay Area.

As I drove I had a creepy feeling I was being pursued by the devil, or a traffic cop, I'm not sure which. Either way I wasn't going to slow down. Anyway, I'm sure if it's the devil he'll catch up to me sooner or later. It's not easy to escape the ghosts from my old life.

I drove through the night and except for two stops, once for coffee (the night driver's best friend) and once to get a quick bite in one of those 24-hour diners, I didn't stop until I got to San Francisco at 5:15 in the morning. As I approached the beautiful city by the bay, by now on Highway 101, I slowed down just as San Francisco came into view before my tired, red eyes, partly to take in the magnificent view, but mostly because I had just dropped the inside of my sandwich while I was trying to take a bite and was now trying to find on the car floor. As I looked at the sun rising over what I would come to know as the Berkeley Hills in the east, I had a curious feeling that I was going to do well here and that I would love this place. Oddly enough, I felt immediately at home even though I had neither lived nor visited here before that morning.

Olive olive olive

I found my way to Berkeley across the Bay Bridge and began looking for a breakfast place. I didn't find anything open in Berkeley since it was only 5:30 in the morning. I remembered that I had seen a 24-hour Denny's on the freeway a few miles back so I rushed back there just in case they had already been open for 23 and a half hours and might be getting ready to close. You never know.

I sat down in Denny's to enjoy my first breakfast in the Food Mecca known as the Bay Area. I figured at that point, as far as food went, that I had nowhere to go but up. I also thought that as soon as I got settled at my friend's house, I could have my second, real breakfast. When I got to Richard's house, however, he asked if I wanted to go and see the bar. I said of course, that I couldn't wait to see it, and so instead of my second breakfast, I dropped my bags and off we went to see this bar he had been telling me about for weeks, the bar for which I had abandoned everything in LA, left my job, my friends, my apartment (such as it was), and even my sad television on the sidewalk. I figured I would get right to work and everything would be just as I had been imaging it. We drove to the site of Cesar, but instead of the bar/restaurant I had expected to see, there was a plywood fence erected in front of an old dry cleaners with a little hole cut in it.

"Look," he said, "what do you think? Do you like it?"

I looked so hard through the hole my retina almost detached itself, but all I saw was an empty space, a cube with nothing in it. "Is that it?" I asked.

"Yes," he said, "isn't it great? Of course, we have to build it first."

Olivier's Story:

A Life with Recipes,
or A Parisian in America

By Olivier Said
Translated into English by James Mellgren


The Limo Driver
Racket Lesson
Now I have stayed
Live and Drive
Les Anges
Leaving LA
Coyote Ugly
Drinking in English

Olivier Said

Coyote Ugly

After six years in Los Angeles I returned to Paris with the intention of opening a restaurant of my own (or at least in partnership with a bank). With financial help from my parents in the form of a down payment on a business loan, I found a small restaurant in Les Halles, an area in the heart of Paris that was formerly the wholesale produce market for the city.