The rain came, and came hard. By the time I pulled around to the coffee shop the sky had turned black and vision was limited to about twenty feet. I got as close to the door as I could and signaled to the guys with the horn and headlights. Despite the short distance they traveled to the truck they were all soaked when they joined me. Even Kar Wai, who tends to dance between the raindrops, got wet in this downpour. It was damn near biblical.
So far California had offered us mostly wetness and traffic. That night, doubly so. We sped back to L.A. through driving sheets of rain, curtains of water so thick the truck seemed to slow from the impact. One thing about California, though, it’s not a state that allows plague-level weather to slow it down. The stereotype of the laid-back West Coast type could be seen rapidly disappearing in the rear view if it weren’t for the guy tailgating me and flashing his high-beams whenever I dropped below 80 mph. While the roads themselves were generally flat and broad, the occasional dip would form a natural ravine that we hydroplaned over. I came to anticipate them and clench my jaw when they came. No one was given quarter on this road, so the best solution was to hunker down and power right through. A lot like life, really.
In the midst of all this tension at least Darius remained true to form. Leaning forward, he threw the climate controls across from warmish to ice cold. Of course the reason he wasn’t feeling the cold air he desired was because the system was working hard to keep the windshield from fogging; his action resulted in cold air blasting across it and instantly blinding me. The only thing that prevented an immediate crash was the fact that we were packed in a tight formation as we sped along. I was able to follow the taillights mere feet in front of me. Breathing deeply and fighting to remain calm I restored the defroster to a working temperature. Then, both to equalize the temperature in the truck as well as out of pure spite, I opened my driver’s side window all the way. A wall of wet slammed into the backseat, absolutely soaking my passengers. Also, the windshield quickly cleared of fog.
Closing the window without averting my eyes from traffic in the slightest I bit off my words.
“Do not touch the AC without asking me. Please. I’d rather not plunge off the road and die in a fiery crash. Thank you.”
Ah, good to be back with the guys again. We continued on in silence. Soaked with sweat mingling with rain, streaked with grime from the desert. Rigid with tension from driving in such awful conditions and tired from the trip. Nothing in the world sounded better than a hot bath and the best steak room service could deliver. The vision dancing in my head helped me ignore the ridiculously dangerous circumstances I drove in. Of course even this small relief could not last.
“So tonight we eat in Chinatown.” Kar Wai proclaimed.
“Chinatown? Really? We’ll pass it on the way to the hotel but we need to clean up first.”
“Yes, we’ll go back to the hotel, clean up, then return to Chinatown.”
I felt my spine tighten up, right at the base. We had at least another hour in this weather before we got to Chinatown. The plan was to drive right past it and continue another 45 minutes to our lodging. Clean up, get dressed, and another 45 minutes back to Chinatown for dinner? Oh lord, please let me avoid this.
“Lots of great restaurants in Santa Monica, you know.”
“Yes, but we have a special guest meeting us in Chinatown.”
“Someone I know?”
“No, but you consider him a friend.”
Jesu Christo, man, enough with the riddles. This guy makes the Sphinx seem direct and straightforward. One last try to dodge this one.
“You sure, Kar Wai? Seems like we’re going pretty far out of our way to do that. It’s going to be late by the time we get there.”
“You are right. I shall rest a little bit.”
With that he leaned back and closed his eyes. I gripped the wheel so tightly I thought it might snap off in my hands. Hunkering down, I drove.