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131 Coach ”not too many players call,” Bob Johnson had told me during our single long-distance phone conversation, weeks ago. It struck me as sad, this comment. My former head coach now lives in San Clemente, about a two-hour drive south from L.A. I’m on my way there on the 405 and have ample time to mull over our upcoming reunion, as the traffic on the freeway just south of LAX suddenly comes to an utter halt. Ah, L.A. I flip through channels on the radio until a station informs me that the 405 has been shut down just a mile or so south of my current location. Apparently , tanker trucks carry the chemical acetone, and at least one of these trucks has crashed and overturned up ahead, creating a situation hazardous enough to shut down the freeway. I have no idea how I might navigate around this obstruction. By some stroke of luck, my sister-in-law is home, and I reach her, somewhat frantically, on the cell. Consulting a Web site that monitors traffic patterns on L.A. roadways in real time, Leila manages to chart an elaborate, and sterling, detour. After a two-hour delay, I finally reach the 405 well south of the incident, frazzled but back on track. That Angelenos like my sister-in-law must consult such Web sites to negotiate L.A. traffic sufficiently quashes any nostalgic yearnings for the SoCal lifestyle. ”Boy, you look familiar,” I exclaim to Coach Johnson as I approach him on his small driveway, where he greets me. It’s my lame way, I suppose , of breaking the ice. All the same, it’s the truth. He does look familiar as we shake hands and smile at each other. He has aged, of course. His hair, a scrupulously lacquered shock of golden blond twenty years ago, is now completely white and trimmed short in military fashion. His eyes 132 • My Los Angeles in Black and (Almost) White (perhaps on account of his white hair) appear more strikingly blue than I remember. More liquid, too, though, which betrays his advanced age. “Well, thanks for coming down,” Johnson fairly sings. “I’m glad you made it.” I can’t help smiling at the familiar undulations of his voice, rising and dipping as if he were a game-show host. A certain gentility had always permeated Coach Johnson’s affect. Even moments of intensity on the sideline were held in disciplined check. His trademark fist-pumps after a strong play, I recall, adhered to a tight arc across his chest, his elbow hinged to his waist. I suppose I had plenty of time to observe my coach, seated as I was on the bench most of the time while the game was being played. In addition to the fist-pump, there was a restrained little clap he’d perform after an unfortunate turn of events, sort of sliding one palm across the other at the final instant to lessen the violence of the palm-to-palm collision. And it’s here that I remember something else, too, something I’m not so pleased to remember—that while I respected Coach Johnson, even held him in that reverence typical of high school boys for their athletic coaches, I simultaneously (and in contrast to my feelings for Coach Lou) didn’t care much for him at the time. I was raised by parents who showered my siblings and me with extravagant glottals . Their shouts weren’t always, or even mostly, shouts of praise, but I always knew how my parents were feeling about me. More, I always knew that my parents were feeling something about me. By contrast, Johnson’s cool, disciplined demeanor had always struck me as strange and standoffish. “Here’s the garage you’ve wanted to see,” Johnson declares, leading me from the driveway into his small open garage, toward the wall of team photographs. My first glimpse of his garage, the garage I’ve come all this way to see, doesn’t exactly warm me to my former coach. The first thing I notice is the large red, white, and blue campaign sign posted on the rear wall. bush cheney, the placard reads. While I’ve never been a particularly active or engaged member of the Democratic Party, I must confess my visceral reaction upon seeing such a sign posted proudly in my former coach’s garage in late 2006, in the midst of...

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