I'm pretty sure the last thing my grandfather expected upon visiting California was an apology from Superman.
They were passing each other on the sidewalk when the Man of Steel bumped into my grandfather, turned around and walked back to him to apologize profusely.
Apparently even Superman knows when he's met his match.
Let me back up a little.
My mom and grandfather -- who live in Delaware and Massachusetts, respectively -- had been threatening a trip out west to visit me in Bakersfield and my brother and his family in Los Angeles for at least the past six years. Frankly, I never thought it would happen.
They'd make the usual comment of, "Jay, we're hoping to get out there soon," or "Maybe next year we'll be able to make that trip," and I'd tell them that sounded great, but really I thought another year would pass without their making an appearance.
Well, this year they were true to their word and bought a pair of tickets. They flew into Los Angeles earlier this month and stayed at my brother's place outside Culver City for nearly two weeks.
We spent a good part of that time sightseeing, admiring the art at the Getty Center, staring in awe at the bubbling tar pits of La Brea and feeling quite small in the presence of the star maps and charts at Griffith Observatory.
The Bakersfield trip only lasted a day, but I feel, with some pride, that it was one of their favorite experiences. We ate a hearty Basque meal at Narducci's, took a quick tour of my workplace and stopped at Buck Owens' Crystal Palace, the Padre, and a couple of other local spots (I pointed out my favorite downtown bar but exercised discretion and didn't take them inside).
But the bulk of the trip was spent in Los Angeles, and perhaps the truest, craziest L.A. experience they received was when we visited the Hollywood Walk of Fame the week before the Oscars. Some of the nearby streets were already blocked off, and it took us a good half hour just to find a space in a packed parking garage.
My mom doesn't deal well with traffic. In all honesty, she doesn't deal well with cars in general. She could be headed to Mass on near empty streets at 7 a.m. and if there's even one other car on the road she'll eye it warily, as if it's a malevolent being just waiting to cut her off or stop suddenly.
L.A. traffic was a nightmare for her. "I don't see how you can drive in this," became her mantra for the week, but to her credit she kept her gasps and backseat comments to a minimum.
After parking, we entered the pre-Oscars madness of the Walk of Fame. Crowds were clustered so close together that all movement on the sidewalk came to a stop at certain points, allowing just a trickle of people to move a few feet at a time.
It was uncomfortable, in-your-face sensory overload. And it's something everyone visiting L.A. should experience at least once.
Aspiring musicians handed out "free" CDs of their music. A rapper who called himself Joshua shoved a CD into my grandfather's hands and then signed it, smoothly engaging my grandfather in conversation before we could stop what was happening, and then asking for a donation to support his becoming the next Jay-Z.
I ended up giving "Joshua" $5 for what I was sure was a blank CD. When we played it in the car later I ended up wishing it was a blank CD.
There were sidewalk preachers who did their best to bring the mood down. "Folks, there's no such thing as a gay Christian," was one of the comments shouted as we walked past.
There were people dressed in elaborate costumes of their favorite pop culture characters.
We saw both the red-costumed and black-costumed versions of Spider-Man, the Master Chief character from the popular "Halo" video game series, a couple of Transformers and enough Batmen to serve as Dark Knights for every major city in the country. Don King was also there and, like his superhero counterparts, had apparently fallen on hard times because it took him about .02 seconds to ask for some change.
And then there was Superman. Somewhat gaunt but bulging with fake muscles, Superman stood out in the crowd because of his height and the bright blue of his suit.
My grandfather, who tried to read as many famous names on the stars beneath as possible him while navigating the crowd, was passing Superman when the two of them collided. Superman, who in addition to super strength is also super polite, made his way back through the crowd that was already closing between them to apologize.
The close encounter with Krypton's sole survivor gave my grandfather a good laugh. And that the most American of heroes was apparently sincere.
He didn't even ask for a handout.