Scarcely had he heard the pah-thump of the door closing when the brightness of the still burning porch light caught his eye. He shuffled his brown brief case into his left arm. With a tinkle of the four keys he already held in his hand, he reopened the door, reached in and clicked off the light. As the door thumped closed, once again the bearded man paused briefly on the second story porch to catch a view of the morning. The sun had not yet become visible over the hill next to his apartment. The hill itself was growing rampantly green with weeds after the recent heavy rains. The sky was light blue with only a long thin line of clouds stretching from horizon to horizon. The early morning air was clean and crisp giving the man a clear look at the brown hills looming in front of him. Huge white letters spelled HOLLYWOOD seemed to grow out of the mountains. He automatically glanced down the street to see Carl's black and white Ford resting in its usual parking spot and felt comforted to know his friend was near. As he sucked in the clear air he could hear the morning sparrows but did not see them. The light of the awakening city before him made his blood seem to move a bit faster. He felt good. Today was an important day and it seemed significant that everything surrounding him be favorable.
He glanced at himself once more as he descended the stairs. His just polished shoes caught the lightness of the morning sky. He felt a tinge of narcissism knowing he purposely wore the forest green shirt so that his eyes would glisten and reflect that same color all day. He knew his clothing provoked admiring comments that soothed his ever hungry ego. His soft long hair bounced gently against his neck. A rising sense of exhuberance and excitement made him quicken his steps.
When he reached the first floor he observed four cactus plants growing placidly as the lone members of a patio garden. The downstairs neighbor paid no heed to his tapping down the stairs that morning because his door remained closed. Most mornings some sort of chatter or pertinent information was shared between them. He thought about rapping on the silent door but remembering the significance of the day, hurried past. Approaching his VW van he again focused his eyes on the front: the indelible stains of the Love Bugs encountered on his last vacation back east cast purplish little spots here and there; the dents and black chips where paint had been struck away by the flying rocks and pebbles of the Alaska-Canadian Highway he had traveled recently helped sustain the speckled look on the front of the car. These memories were given short attention, however, when he spied the small red and green poinsettia plant his neighbors had recently planted. He hadn't noticed them before.
With a quick movement he opened the door and climbed onto the driver's seat. The vent windows were swung open, and the door firmly pulled closed with a slam. He rolled his window down to freshen the musty air within the car. The keys jangled as the starter turned, caught quickly and brought the motor swiftly to life. The gear shift clunked into first and the turn signals began their incessant click, click, as the car pulled away from the concrete curb. The black steering wheel felt cold in his hands. The man reached over to snap on the radio but changed his mind when he began to think of the events that lay ahead of him this day.
There was not much traffic this morning and the van moved along smoothly. When he passed Carl's house the man gave his customary nod and mumbled a good morning that the spirits of the air were expected to carry past the fenced-up yard to the residents within. At a six-way stop, he waited while a man dressed in tan trousers and sweat shirt, carrying a silver lunch pail, crossed in front of him. A glance around showed him he could clear the intersection. As he did so, the sun appeared brightly above his horizon. He put on his sunglasses to avoid squinting.
He noticed the houses of the neighborhood were beginning to show signs of new life: lawns were turning green; light and dark pink azaleas were in bloom; banana trees were lush with wide, green split leaves; some trees stood bare, others new with buds; palm trees lined the road, tall with new growth of green palms extending out over and covering the brown dead growth awaiting the city's public works department; and flowers to be recognized as orange-yellow bursting marigolds or birds of paradise.
Trying to keep thoughts of what lay ahead from crowding his mind, the man became absorbed with the sounds his car was making. Two squeeks he readily recognized were coming from the closet door located in the rear. The large rattle whenever the wheels contacted a bump in the road came from the louvered windows. Other assorted pings, thumps, scrapes and rattles occurred occasionally as bumps permitted. The whole menage of cacophony come together when he turned onto the main arteries leading to his destination.
Looming menacingly ahead were huge yellow steam rollers and several large yellow dump trucks. Two earth movers were busy loudly tearing up the paved surface of the road. A black spotted, yellow tar-layer puffed away at the end of the block. For two blocks a myriad of warning lights and yellow wooden caution signs lined the lone lane left open to traffic. Men were everywhere. Dressed in blue levis or work clothes, all had in common the yellow hard hats and orange vests required for safety.
After clearing the road repair site, the car passed the home of an ambulance company. The attendants, dressed in their distinctive brown pants and gold trimmed white shirts, were busy wiping down the sleek ambulances that matched the color of their uniforms. Here all stood still, ready to rush about the city with a cry and a wail that could bring traffic to a standstill at their passing. He spied the clock just below the company sign and noticed he would be there in another ten minutes.
The area he now was traveling was dominated by large billboards. He was invited to smoke, "join the unswitchables", drink, "break the ice", and save money, "move ahead safely". He easily identified the flying red horse, the golden arches, the chevron and the big, bright red star. His eyes easily monitored traffic signs that warned, Don't Walk, No Parking, 1/2 hour Parking.
When he spotted the white and black cap and red jacket in the distance he instinctively slowed the car. The school guard was standing waiting to assist persons needing to cross the street. Her red and white stop sign hung at her side. With a wave of his hand and a lift of his chin, he passed the school crossing without having to stop.
He looked out his left window at the buildings of the Wilshire area standing tall and erect in the yellowish haze that was becoming a part of the blue sky. The blocks were long now so he was able to judge when the traffic lights would blink from green to yellow to red. He glanced at the speedometer and watched momentarily as the needle, accompanied by the pressure of his foot on the gas pedal, rose to 35. Stores and signs assaulted his eyes on both sides of the street.
He automatically looked from side to side, giving only cursory attention to the mass of buildings, letters, numbers and pictures around him. He kept an ever watchful eye for the sudden glare of red brake lights. A faceless woman dressed in a bright blue pants suit, her long, black hair held neatly with a gold bar, disappeared into a drug store. A sextet of young girls dressed in black watch plaid skirts and white blouses stood on the corner learning to gossip. He observed a dog that looked like Lassie sniff its way down the street.
He caught a slower moving bus from behind and hurried to pass. The gasoline and burnt oil smell of the bus exhaust was unpleasant to breathe. Large red letters on the side of the bus invited his ears to listen to "just beautiful music."
As he came over the last small rise in the gently rolling road, he saw his destination. The building stood four stories tall, white and gold in the morning sun. The semi-circular wing was its most prominent feature. The gold stripes that ran up and down between the windows, added color to the otherwise all-white building. The parking lots nearest the building were full so he parked across the street.
He had to plunge his green plastic park card into the gate opening several times before the black and white stripped bar blocking the way rose silently to let him pass. Excitement mounting, he quickly parked and secured the car. He checked his reflextion in the car door mirror. He ran a comb through his long slightly graying brown hair, carefully putting the wind-blown strands back into proper place. He momentarily reflected upon the green eyed bearded face that looked back at him. Satisfied, he walked quickly to the stop light and firmly pressed the cross button. Cars swooshed rapidly by the busy street. Two women in white uniforms joined him at the cross walk, their voices ringing with good mornings and good health. He walked briskly across the street when the light flicked to green. He reached the front entrance where he paused long enough to check the bold headlines of the morning newspaper that looked out of a plastic covered vending maching. Several sparrows pecked at the ground. He made a mental note to feed them some cracker crumbs later in the day.
The time had come to face what lay in store for him the rest of the day. At the top of the stairs the automatic doors clicked open when he touched off the electric eye's ever present beam. He took a deep breath, entered the building, made a sharp left and stepped into his offices.
His entrance signaled the start of a chorus of voices that shattered the quiet of the hospital's first floor. Just before he was set upon by kisses and handshakes, his eyes caught sight of brightly wrapped packages upon his desk. A cake appeared and everyone began to sing as if the expected was truly a surprise. His 41st birthday had started---
the journey of his 42nd year had begun.