LA We Love You

By Brian Fischler

Ed and I grab a Lyft and head to the Phoenix airport, and once again no issues with the dog and Lyft. It is so nice to not be hassled, as traveling with a guide dog can sometimes add anxiety to your travel, as you saw with the idiots at the Arrogant Butcher.

We get to the Phoenix airport and breeze through security. It is funny, it took me hours and my Mom’s help to fill out a ton of traveling-with-your-service-dog forms, and so far American Airlines, Southwest, and now United have not asked for any of the paperwork. I guess the TSA got the memo that I would be flying around the country with my guide dog because again just like Lyft, we have absolutely zero issues so far with going through TSA with my guide dog. It is nice when things go smoothly.

We land at LAX and it takes the usual 30 minutes of taxiing to arrive at a gate. Ah, the fun of flying into LAX. We are met immediately at our gate and we are taken to a shuttle to get to the Lyft pick up area. The gentleman escorting us tells us he cannot escort us any further. We say, “Ok, how do we know when to get off the shuttle?” It’s four stops and thankfully a nice fellow passenger lets us know this is the Lyft stop since the driver apparently forgot to announce the stops. Luckily, he does remember and realize that we are blind and helps us off the shuttle. Thankfully, there is a guy stationed at the Lyft pick up area and Dragon (yes, his name is Dragon) walks us to the correct waiting area for our car. We are dying to know how this dude got the name Dragon, but this is L.A. and we decide not to ask. Thankfully, Dragon was with us as he helps us flag down our Lyft.

Again we get an awesome Lyft driver. We are now using Lyft XL to and from the airports, as we’ve got two suitcases, two backpacks, Wesley, Ed, and me. This is a huge SUV, and Wesley has an entire back row to himself. It is nice to ride in style when in L.A.

I was very excited to be headed back to the Mondrian Hotel on the Sunset Strip, since I had three awesome stays there before the pandemic hit. We hit L.A. traffic and I begin to track the distance to the Mondrian using Blind Square GPS. I know we are getting close as I eventually start recognizing the streets. We pull into the Mondrian parking lot and the first thing I do is walk Wesley around the corner. Hilariously, Wesley remembers the gigantic (and I mean GIGANTIC) potted plant that was there three years ago and immediately jumps up into it and does his business.

We then head into the hotel and find the check-in desk. It’s a little weird that this posh hotel doesn’t have anyone to help us find our way to counter. We get checked in and fortunately there is someone to help us get up to our room. I should mention how much fun it is to be in this many hotels and constantly have to try figure out the elevator button layout. Amazingly, a lot of the hotels have a different button layout depending on which elevator you are in. Neither Ed nor I are proficient braille users and this would be quite helpful when in elevators. It is a shortcoming of both of ours. In some elevators you can make out the numbers as they are a little raised, but it is still difficult, and additionally, the Mondrian is yet another hotel where you need to scan your card to get up to your floor. It is amazing to me that hotels still get away with not making elevators fully accessible to the blind. Elevators are hit and miss on announcing the floors or beeping at each floor.

We get to our room and get the layout down. We drop our bags, get cleaned up, and head down to the pool bar to grab a drink. We get walked out to a nice seating area. The bartender comes over and takes our drink order and brings some water for Wesley. I wonder if dogs ever get bored with drinking just water?

We have one drink and then book our Lyft to the Dodgers game because we have a full night ahead for our one night in L.A. Our Lyft driver does not hassle us about the dog but he does not speak a lot of English. We hit a ton of traffic on the way to the Dodgers game because it is L.A. after all, and if you are not in traffic, you might not feel like you are in L.A. Oh, I should mention here, that it hit me when I went to feed Wesley dinner that I realized I had left his collapsible dog bowl in Phoenix. Ugh, the one thing I told myself that I did not want to forget! I fed him out of a glass in the hotel room. Not fun.

So we get to the Dodger Stadium Lyft drop off area and the driver just lets us out. We have zero clue where we are. There is no staff working the Lyft area. I guess no blind people have ever taken a Lyft or Uber to a Dodgers game by themself before. Fortunately, we shout out for some help and we find a couple of New Yorkers who let us hold onto their elbows and lead us the half mile walk to the stadium. (It may not have been a full half mile but it sure felt that way.)

We get close to the stadium and our new New Yorker friends find a security guard and hand us off to him. The security guard is very nice and walks us through security and helps us get our tickets scanned. An employee from the stadium then immediately takes us to guest services and we pick up the in-house radio. He then escorts us to our seats. Actually, he takes us to much better seats than we had purchased. We bought nosebleed seats even though they were not accessible because they were much cheaper than the available accessible seating. Why in the world would we pay $200 per ticket when we can’t see the field? We just want the ballpark experience! But we are grateful for the better seats in an accessible seating area. Outside of the weird Lyft drop off experience, the guest services experience at Dodger Stadium for people with disabilities was fantastic.

We enjoy a good back and forth game until the Dodgers pull ahead of the Angels. We get to see Ohtani of the Angels hit and the Dodgers start to pour it on. Guest services then arrives in the 7th inning as we had asked. We like to leave in the 7th or 8th inning as it is much easier for us to avoid the massive crowd leaving at the end of the game. Also if the Lyft pick up area is a zoo, then there will be absolutely no way for us to find our Lyft. This time a woman from guest services walks us all the way back to the Lyft area. She has worked at Dodger Stadium for a very long time and begins to realize how hard it is for people with disabilities to get dropped off at this far away Lyft area. She says she is going to look into it and run it up the flagpole. She gets us to the Lyft pick up area and tells us that unfortunately she cannot wait with us until our Lyft arrives. Oh boy, this is going to be fun. We track our Lyft and it arrives, but we cannot find it. We are waving our hands in the air like we just don’t care. Ok, we are really waving our hands in the air like lunatics and yelling, “Hello!” Some dudes realize we are looking for a Lyft and they help us get to the car. We really have had some fortunate luck so far with nice people across the country helping us on our Flight for Sight journey.

We head off to the Melrose Improv, a club that I have performed at many times and that we have held four Laugh For Sight benefits at. We pull up and I am wondering if anyone here will remember me as it has been four years since I have been here. Amazingly, Reggie, the longtime bouncer at the Improv, is working the door and he knows me. It is so nice to be remembered. We are not catching a show, just planning on hanging out at the bar since it has always been a hot comedian hangout. Surprisingly though, on a Saturday night, the bar is not that full. I find out from the woman bartending that Eddie, the long time, absolute legend of a bartender that every comedian knows, retired during the pandemic. He did not come back after it ended and Dave, the other bartender that I knew at the Improv, no longer works here either. Kind of bummed, as the two of them were always fantastic to me for over a decade. Additionally, Reeta, the long time events manager, had just left and we missed her. I did not want to reach out in advance as I did not know if our schedule would allow for a pop in. We have some drinks and a bite to eat and the Improv gives us the comedian rate for everything, which is very nice of them considering that I am not performing here on this quick stop in L.A. Since we cannot make it a late night like usual, we head over to the Comedy Store, hoping it will be more crowded there. I have had a lot of classic nights at the Comedy Store. They have an awesome Tiki Bar right out front on the Sunset Strip. We Lyft over there, get up to the bar, and the bartender remembers me from four years ago! Have I mentioned how nice it is to be known? Just like Lefty from Mulberry Street. (For those of you who do not get that reference, that was Al Pacino’s character in the fine film Donnie Brasco. He had to clip 12 people to get known. Fortunately, I just had to do stand up to get known!)

We find out from the bartender that the reason the clubs are not packed is because they were all very busy over the long holiday weekend and, also, that the writers’ strike has been affecting the size of the crowds. We talk with a bunch of people including a man from Seattle who will also be going to the All Star game. Wouldn’t it be funny if we actually ran into him at the All Star game? Foreshadowing?

By the way, the gang at the Comedy store is predicting the writers strike will last into next year, so if there are no new streaming shows this fall, you know they were right.

We decide to head back to our hotel and the daunting task of crossing Sunset Boulevard is in front of us. Hmm, how in the world are we going to do this? We head over to the light on the corner and a very nice couple from Saudi Arabia approaches us and asks if we need help crossing the street? Because it is Sunset we take them up on their nice offer. We get to our hotel and it hits me: the Mondrian never brought up a bowl for me to feed Wesley with! I have to feed him out of a glass once again. I’m sorry, but when you pay the kind of money you pay to stay at the Mondrian and you ask the front desk twice to bring a bowl up to the room, you expect it to happen. I’m a little disappointed.

The next morning, I feed Wesley out of the glass again because there’s still no bowl for the pooch. Ed and I then head downstairs as we will be meeting a guy named Brendan who Ed is going to be talking with about expanding the U.S. Blind Baseball Association to Los Angeles. We meet Brendan in the Mondrian lobby and it turns out Brendan is Brendan Gellman who I was part of Foundation Fighting Blindness Young Professionals with. Small blind world, I guess.

We head outside to the pool bar to grab breakfast/lunch but no one seems to be out there, so we make our way to the inside bar/restaurant at the Mondrian. The incredibly egotistical maître d’ assumes that three blind guys could not possibly be staying here. I mean this Mondrian employee was a major Asshole, with a capital A! He smoothly tells us that we must have a reservation to eat at the hotel and assumes we do not have a reservation and walks away. If anyone remembers Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and the scene at the fancy restaurant with the obnoxious upscale restaurant host, this is the same scene, just in L.A.. instead of Chicago.

We make our way over to the host stand and guess what snooty maître d’! We don’t need no stinking reservation as we are staying at the Mondrian!

We get seated and not only is the service absolutely terrible, the food is also terrible and our coffee is ice cold. I have to apologize to Ed, as all of my stays here previously have been fantastic and this one stunk. If this is how the Mondrian now treats its customers at its L.A. property, I will never be staying at the Mondrian again. So if anyone knows of a great hotel in L.A., hit me up as I will be looking for a new one next time I am in L.A.

We have a nice brunch with Brendan, and I mean only the company was good. The service was so bad, I don’t even want to leave a tip, and if you know me, the service has to be spectacularly awful for me not to tip.

We say good-bye to Brendan, walk Wesley to his poop spot, let him do his thing, and it is off to San Diego, one of the only other cities that I would love to live in.

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Listen to the Flight for Sight podcast about LA hosted by Brian Fischler: Episode 5 – L.A., As Long As You Are Not At the Mondrian, A Conversation with Brendan Gellman here.

Photo Description 1: Ed and Brian are at the Dodger Stadium. The field is in the background.
Photo Description 2: Ed, Brian and his guide dog, Wesley are standing outside the Hollywood Improv.