An Alphabet of Freedom
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The other night, right around 11, the Urban Man became frustrated with the discipline of his life: you know, tax returns, diet books, carefully-wrought conversations with significant others. So when the family finally fell asleep, I took my car and headed out to express my personal freedom.
Now, Angelenos are the world's leading experts on freedom: expanding it, redefining it, and of course, branding it--so it's never hard to find. There's the loud release of underground clubs and the glittering sky around rooftop bars. There's free credit at the mall and uninhibited fashion along Melrose.
Me, I like to lower my windows and drive up PCH. Every time I emerge from that tunnel off the 10, it's a moment of almost cinematic liberation.
Sure enough, when I hit the coast tonight, my brain floods with images of unboundedness: Cuts from music videos and iPod commercials, helicopter shots of SUVs burning gas over wet mountain roads.
In my mind I begin a whole alphabet of unconstricted joys, starting with Abstract Art and Ballooning. I get as far as Parachuting, Paragliding, and Parasailing when....lo, I get caught in that tedious series of stoplights through Malibu.
Now Malibu's a town whose name rings like the very bell of freedom, but often disappoints in person. Pretty soon I'm stuck behind a cop driving 45. Little by little, the wind goes out of my hair.
By now it's 11:50, and I'm starting to wonder where I'm headed exactly. Suddenly, it occurs to me that much of what I consider freedom is actually an illusion. After all, SUV commercials are constructed by careful professionals. Paragliding requires training and expertise. Even the apparent freedom of a surfer, laughing as he lifts out of a wave, is really an expression of extreme personal control.
I think, "Gee...without proper preparation, even a long drive up PCH may produce nothing but ennui. What if true freedom comes from diligent planning? Even tax receipts?"
It's a horrifying thought, and I immediately stop in a liquor store. Time to get back to the Bs in my alphabet of freedom, and buy some Beer.
Near the checkout, I also seize a bag of Corn Nuts. I mean, surely a man who eats unhealthy snacks is thumbing his nose at all modern logic--or at least his personal trainer. I think: "One bag of Corn Nuts and the Urban Man will be free as any desperado with a knife held in his teeth, riding across the morning. When a man eats a Corn Nut, he says, ‘to hell with everything.'"
But just then, another Angeleno enters the liquor store. He's buff and handsome at thirty-something, and he wears an expensive white coat scrawled with Japanese characters over a puce t-shirt, orange canvas shorts, and sockless Dockers. Probably a paraglider and rock climber--or moving on the S's, an accomplished sailboarder. He seems exquisitely free. In fact, he appears to express all three of the great local freedoms: Youth. Vigor. Wealth. And I am happy to see him out on his own irresponsible midnight journey.
But then...lo again, in an act of betrayal, this man purchases no alcohol or fatty snacks. In fact, he picks up nothing but a 750 ml bottle of sparkling water.
It's a near-mystical L.A. moment. In fact, in this other urban man's perfect marriage of freedom and discipline, he seems to express all that's best in the City of Angels. I find myself chastised, but inspired.
And in a dramatic gesture not unnoticed by the clerk, I put down the beer and the corn nuts, and yes, I purchase my own shimmering bottle of H20 for the long drive back to the sweet harness of home.
Copyright © 2007 Marc Porter Zasada. All Rights Reserved.
Image Credit: Anneke Schram
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