Protect, distract, and nourish – without frightening – were my pandemic parenting instincts as the L.A. lockdown loomed.
“I have a small tummy. I’m going to have to take the rest of this back to my apartment,” my son Harrison told me as he picked at his whipped eggplant at Elephante Beach House Restaurant two stories above Santa Monica.
I wondered if maybe his stomach was actually more nervous than small because he had just moved to Los Angeles to attend law school in the midst of a pandemic. During the week, I was in L.A. to help Harrison logistically transition, Mayor Eric Garcetti, following day-by-day data, tightened the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.
My subconscious and intentional parenting instincts were to protect, distract, and nourish by trying not to allow all our attention to be focused on the frightening reports.
But I, too, had a secret pit in my stomach when I began to realize I was scheduled to leave him and fly back east on what would be the first day that all dining, including outdoor dining, would cease – ironically, Thanksgiving Day.
Go for Groceries
I would be going back home while Harrison would be compelled to “shelter in place” at his new, unfamiliar one.
“Why don’t we go do some grocery shopping?” I asked.
Harrison suggested Smart and Final, a no-frills style warehouse market that was skateboarding distance from his new apartment in a building beside the 405 Freeway and next to a corner gas station in the Sawtelle area.
As we perused the picked-over grocery aisles, I kept reminding Harrison that now was the time he should load up.
“You won’t have a car to run errands once I leave and I am here now to foot the bill.”
But the blonde boy stole my heart by subtly seeking my approval before he dropped each box of frozen chicken fingers, bag of fruit, or case of energy drinks into the plastic shopping cart.
Princely Polo Lounge
Harrison’s tentative politeness at the Smart and Final store was a far cry from the boldness he’d displayed when I’d first arrived in town and called him after checking into my room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
“I scored myself an inexpensive room rate online,” I said.
“Good because I booked us an 8:30 dinner reservation at the Polo Lounge near there,” he informed me.
I considered the move impressive and thought Harrison just may have the assertiveness needed to thrive in both the law business and in L.A after all.
The Beverly Hills Hotel’s Polo Lounge proved to be cross-generational, too, as Harrison reminded me rapper Rick Ross sang about “million-dollar meetings” and the “spaghetti Bolognese” at the same restaurant in which humorist Will Rogers once spun his tales.
We’d both come a long way since I’d spooned little dabs of yogurt into the infant Harrison’s tiny mouth in his high chair.
Celebrity Chef Wolfgang Puck and Ye Old King’s Head
Getting dressed up and running up the tab at the starlit Polo Lounge was a memorable meal that week but so was the morning we smuggled Jack in the Box breakfast sandwiches across the street and onto the Malibu Fishing Pier.
I doubt it was Pacific wild-caught or fresh but fish and chips was our choice near the Santa Monica Pier at Ye Old King’s Head, an English-style pub with the funny name, and it was good to laugh together in the face of the virus from behind our face masks.
I, likely more than Harrison, also tried to smile and forget the fact I’d be leaving him there within days. But we’ll never forget the visit celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck made to our table just after we ate the trademark smoked Scottish salmon pizza in the open-air atrium at Spago.
After some small talk and granting a quick photograph Puck, in his Austrian accent, sized up the situation with Harrison.
“So, you’re living here in Los Angeles for law school and your father is only visiting?”
As soon as Harrison nodded Puck said, “Your father should set up a house account for you.”
I laughed and told Puck I could see why he was such a successful entrepreneur. Harrison then told the chef his mother Vera is a caterer in Michigan.
“Good, let’s hope she visits soon and brings you here too,” Puck piped back.
Puck, though plucky, was dismayed the new ring of socially-distanced open-air seating he’d just created on the Canon Drive court in front of his landmark Beverly Hills restaurant would be rendered useless in about 24 hours when the L.A. County lockdown resumed at 10 p.m.
Little Lambs Eat Ivy
Precisely at that mandated witching hour the next night, the lights went off and the wait staff began putting away the sidewalk patio chairs at The Ivy in West Hollywood where Harrison and I were finishing our after-dinner chocolate chip cookies.
We were the very last table of diners at The Ivy, and for the sake of posterity, we had our photo taken just as so many paparazzi have done to the celebs who chomp on the gentle restaurants’ fried chicken while breathing in the fresh air and basking in the flashbulbs.
We expressed goodbyes, extra gratitude and best wishes to the sad staffers. We also over-tipped the best we could manage. “That was nice of you, dad,” Harrison said as the newly furloughed staff, still in their paisley uniform ties, switched off the lights the moment we cleared the iconic, white picket fenced porch.
Pedaling at the Pier
The next morning, November 26, on Thanksgiving. We agreed to sleep the day away as long as we could. After a late check out I picked up Harrison and we spent a few hours together before my flight working up an appetite by renting e-bikes from beside the closed Coast Beach Café patio at Shutters in Santa Monica.
As Harrison played techno tunes from his portable speaker we pedaled under the pier and through the Third Street Promenade and then along Venice Beach down to Marina Del Ray and back.
We pretended not to have a care in the world but eventually, we admitted to each other it didn’t feel right to not at least try to have stab at a Thanksgiving dinner.
Harrison started working the web and though most restaurants were closed, Harrison was shortly thereafter putting out jelly jars, plastic plates and mismatched cutlery onto the coffee table in his apartment.
“I guess it’s my first time hosting a Thanksgiving dinner, Pops,” he said pulling containers of turkey and stuffing out of the big paper bag of carry out we’d bought through a roped-off door outside Del Frisco’s.
“Well done,” I said from my spot on the couch, tapping (not clinking) my Diet Coke to his water bottle in toast.
Those last, clock-watching, small talk moments when you’re about to leave always seem painful so I made the move to get going.
“Well, Pop I have never eaten better.”
“Don’t tell your mother that.”
Wearing a new pink and green Beverly Hills Hotel cap Harrison waved from his balcony and watched me drive off to LAX. At the corner of his street, across from the gas station, the marquis of the Nuart Art House Theater read: “I Know We’ll Meet Again Some Sunny Day.” I snapped a photo of the sentiment and texted it to Harrison.
When LA loosened their restrictions two months later I received, via text from Harrison, a couple of photos of recognizable décor and cuisine with the caption: “Dining opened up here today and this is the first place I came to eat, Pop.”
Harrison was back at The Ivy.