There's something terribly primal about this moment. Everyone seems to slow down a bit. Some people pause for a second, stopping in their tracks, squinting up at the sky, and letting the sun fall on their faces and arms. Smokers pull over into the smoking lane and light up.
There's good will in this moment. Strangers strike up conversations. Friends stand a bit closer together, chewing over the day. After eight hours of being ushered in small groups into very small rooms filled with very large televisions, we are together again. Your life is your own again.
It feels really fucking good.
There are usually a great many end-of-day options at this point. One: you could head to a PR-sponsored gathering near the old swimming pool behind the Hotel Figueroa. Two: you could go to semi-quiet dinner at McCormick and Schmick's. Three: you could go to a Microsoft gathering at the Hotel Edison. There's also usually "a THQ thing," or "an Activision thing," and at least 20 or so other things that you most likely haven't even heard about yet.
It doesn't matter which thing, or things, one chooses. No one thing is better or worse than any other thing. More than anything, this moment is about being with other people.
So what you do is, you stand still. You feel the gravity of the night. It's all potential at this point, all possibility.
This is what I decided to do on Wednesday night, my final night in L.A.: I would go to the PR gathering by the old swimming pool at the the Hotel Figueroa. I said goodbye to my colleague Ben Silverman (from Yahoo Games and Reviews on the Run), took about 10 steps towards the Figueroa, then realized that I did not want to do this. I ran back to Ben, who I knew was waiting in the cab line outside the convention center.
"I'm going with you," I said.
He seemed happy to hear this.
We got a cab together. Ben was certain that after eight hours of stuffy game demos, his deodorant was no longer effective. He had a spare shirt in his backpack. "Mind if I change?" he said.
I assured him that his deodorant was still very much effective. He would not be swayed. He peeled off his shirt. Suddenly, I was in the back of a cab speeding down Flower Street with a topless Jewish man. In the name of giving Ben his privacy, I turned away. "I look like an upside-down mushroom," Ben said, allowing his nudity linger for an extra beat longer than he needed to. The two of us started laughing.
Ah, E3. Fuck, man.
A few minutes later, with Ben's fresh shirt covering his shame, we arrived at the Hotel Edison. I'd never been here before. It was a dark, cavernous place. A polished bar stretched into the distance. I noticed massive steel structures, long dormant, off in the shadows. (It was originally downtown L.A.'s first private power plant.) A woman wearing translucent angel wings for some inexplicable reason circulated around the bar with a tray filled with a salmon and dill appetizers. We both grabbed one.
I can't recall food ever tasting better than it did in this moment.
We watched the salmon-toting food angel disappear into the shadows. I wished with all my heart that she would come back.
The actor Nathan Fillion, Ben told me, had been here, at The Edison, the night before at a Halo: Reach gathering. I'd recently watched the entire season of Firefly for the first time. "Man, I hope he shows up again," I said. (There's more to the Ben-meets-Nathan Fillion story. But that's his story. So ask him to tell it to you.)
Then, out of the shadows emerged Felicia Day. I'd met her the day before at the Sony press conference. "There goes Felicia Day," I whispered to Ben. I considered saying hello to her--remember me from the Sony press conference?--when suddenly the Salmon Angel reappeared. By the time we'd finished eating our salmon things, Felicia Day was gone. "Oh well," I said.
I had a dinner to attend at the aforementioned McCormick and Schmick's. Now that I'm not drinking, I no longer want a tall, cold beer at the end of my days at E3; now I want a big meal, preferably on the early side of the night. So I said goodbye to Ben, promising to return later on in the evening and knowing full well that I would not. I made my way to the surface from the subterranean Edison and hailed a taxi.
The dinner at McCormick and Schmick's was less than satisfying. I sawed away at a miserly piece of over-seasoned meat. After dinner, still unsatisfied, still craving some sort of exclamation point at the end of my E3 experience, I decided to press on. I had the waiter call me a cab.
I'd been invited to a strange, pretentious-sounding party in a section of L.A. known as Los Feliz. My friend, Chris Jurney, who works for Double Fine, had told me about this party a couple of months ago. It was being held at a private home. There would be no music at the party. The emphasis would be on conversation. (See? Pretentious.) There would be good food at the party. It would be attended primarily by developers. The Escapist would be there filming the event for posterity.
My cab driver was an elderly Iraqi man wearing a pair of yellowed reading glasses. I told him where I was going, and he pulled away from the restaurant with a great deal of confidence, even making the tires squawk a little.
I rolled the window down and let the night air blow on my face. I was off on an exciting adventure. I was sure that I would find my exclamation point in Los Feliz. Suddenly, we stopped.
The cab had pulled over. The driver located a tattered atlas in his glove box. He switched on the cab's dirty interior light. "Don't worry, my friend, I will get you there!" he said cheerily. He then pulled out a huge, old magnifying glass and began using it to peer at his atlas.
Whatever momentum I had, whatever optimism I was feeling, was quickly escaping out of the rolled-down window of the cab.
How long did we sit there? Long enough for me to lean forward and say, "You know what? Forget this destination. I just want to go back to my hotel--"
"I'VE FOUND IT!" the driver said. He tossed his atlas aside and peeled away from the curb. "Ha, ha! I will get you there, sir! Don't worry, don't worry!"
I don't know L.A. At all. I had no fucking idea where we were heading. My entire existence in this moment depended on a nearsighted, magnifying glass-wielding Iraqi man.
To make matters worse, the man began to talk. "I HOPE YOU DON'T MIND ME TALKING IT HELPS ME PASS THE TIME HA, HA!" he said.
His name was Michael. He had been in L.A. for 20 years. He had worked as a limousine driver. He drove a lot of famous clients around, including Julio Iglesias and Farrah Fawcett. "Farrah Fawcett, she was so good to me," he said. "She was a beautiful person inside and out."
Each time Michael's cab slowed to under 30 miles per hour, I fantasized about hurling myself out the door and into the L.A. night. I would curl myself into a ball and hope that I would not suffer any permanent physical damage. The only thing that kept me from doing this is the fact that I had no idea where we were. We were moving away from downtown. The streets around us were dark and menacing.
I was at Michael's mercy. And he seemed to know it.
To his credit, Michael did get me to the house. The party had been going on for quite a few hours by the time I arrived, long enough for the rented security guards at the foot of the driveway to be enjoying plates of food. They seemed annoyed to have their chicken wing consumption interrupted by my appearance.
The driveway was very, very long. It was filled with a grade of expensive crushed stone that made it difficult to walk up. I trudged along, following a trail of flickering candles, towards the buzz of conversation and shadows. In retrospect, I think that perhaps those stones were trying to tell me something. They were saying, TURN BACK. THERE IS NOTHING HERE FOR YOU.
I did get to spend a bit of time with Chris Jurney. But at this point in the night, I had no energy left. Simple conversations with people were agonizing. I felt like their words were little stones--yes, stones from the very driveway that I had just traversed--being tossed at my forehead. Realizing that my night was over, that I had nothing good to offer these people, I expended my last bit of energy in saying goodbye. I headed back down the never-ending driveway, anxious to get back to my hotel.
This being a residential neighborhood, there was no street traffic, let alone a steady stream of fare-seeking cabs. I asked the sated security people if they could call a cab for me. "We don't have that kind of information," one of them said.
Finally, out of the dark, a taxi light appeared. It pulled up. People piled out. One of these people was Mark Rein from Epic. "I can't believe people are leaving already," Mark said, frowning in my direction as I got into his group's vacated cab.
The driver sped me to my motel in blissful silence. When I arrived, I realized that I didn't have any bottled water left in my room. So I crossed Sunset Boulevard at midnight and headed into the cool, over lit confines of the 24-hour Ralph's.
As I combed the aisles in search of the water section--L.A. supermarkets always have the biggest water sections--I felt something strange. My neck felt tingly. Yes, I was exhausted. Yes, I was completely drained from my day. Yet, I felt this sudden influx of adrenaline. I was suddenly, for unknown reasons, absolutely, ridiculously and absurdly elated.
I had no idea what was happening to me. I felt this was an important moment. I couldn't explain what was going on. Realizing that I had my camera in my bag, I dug it out and filmed about 15 seconds of the Ralph's aisles at midnight for posterity.
Here is that footage.