Onegai dakara ano hi…

I didn’t get much sleep the morning of June 30, 2010. I had decided the night before that I was going through with a crazy decision to drive down to Los Angeles on a whim, but as I went to bed doubtful thoughts invaded and wracked my mind all night. Should I just save my money and chill at home? Should I fulfill my still-fresh desire to see the City of Angels once again? It didn’t help that my previous journey to SoCal turned out to be one borne out of desperation and miscommunication, journeying for a chance to see Ai Kago only for her to no-show and incite wonder if she was ever supposed to be there at all.

A phrase that would become the bane of oversensitive pseudo-nerds and butt-hurt basement dwellers in 2012 served as the nudge that finally pushed me towards making the trip: You Only Live Once. That’s the motto that motivated me to finalize that hotel reservation at the downtown Clarion on Olympic Boulevard. I hastily packed by bags, stocked up on some energy shots and Vitamin Water, filled the gas tank of my still-smelled-like-new-at-the-time Civic Si, and hit the road.

There was a lot of traffic on Interstate 580 that afternoon, but as soon as I hit I-5 it was a straight shot down a path I’ve made dozens of times before with family but taking alone for the first time in my life. Yeah, I had drove to LA alone twice before that year, but that was taking the scenic US-101 route–Interstate 5 had been associated with memories of Disneyland and family friends in Irvine. It was a familiar path that had once again gained significant meaning for me, just as it did five years prior: in 2005 my cousins and I were stranded at a gas station overnight on the way back from a Comic-Con/Disneyland road trip due to our van breaking down while traversing the Grapevine mountain route. Naturally I had to stop by this same gas station again just to reminisce (and again on the way back a few days later), but of course this time there would be no vehicle breakdown…and my destination this time, as it had been throughout 2010, was Downtown Los Angeles. Of course, due to my lack of sleep, the straight, flat, and boring I-5 route became even a bigger challenge than simply hitting it alone for the first time.

Still, I managed to survive thanks to energy shots and a hefty iPod playlist (and the power of V-TEC kicking in, yo), making it to the mountain section of the route shortly after sunset. It was a bit surreal tackling those steep hills and turns alone for the first time, juxtaposing many childhood and college-age memories with new ones I was about to forge in the coming days. In fact, the first memorable moment happened right as I approached Valencia, when a random police blockade near Six Flags delayed my trip for what was probably half an hour. Despite being in a rush, I found the unexpected delay as funny as it was confusing, and once traffic was cleared to proceed it was only a matter of time before I once again met the bright lights and sprawling roads of Downtown LA.

Checking into the hotel shortly before midnight, I decided to take a cruise around the block for a bit just to scope out the locale. I was a bit amused seeing people all lined up and just hanging out right in front of the LA Convention Center at that hour, though it was a stark contrast from what I saw on TV two weeks before, with the Lakers having defeated the Celtics for the NBA championship and the whole place erupting in riotous celebration. Sleep beckoned, however, so I quickly drove back to the hotel for a shower and some rest.

July 1st brought a bright sunny morning to SoCal; after a quick breakfast from the conveniently-located McDonalds across the street I once again drove down to the Convention Center area, blasting a particular song out the window in commemoration as I headed over to a place called Club Nokia. After buying a ticket and waiting in line for a bit, I proceeded to purchase a magazine/book thing called Hello Channel Vol. 1 before making my way into a dark theater setting, where I introduced myself to someone I had talked to online before while taking a seat to watch a movie. It was certainly an interesting film to say the least, featuring creepy hiccups, the occasional dropped tooth, and a memorable scene involving a baseball bat and a locker room. My lack of sleep challenged me through the second half of the movie, but that too was entertaining enough with the sad story of a drowned girl and the guilt plaguing her surviving sister.

The film ended and the credits rolled, only for a young woman in a blue dress to suddenly appear, singing the ending theme song live for us. She looked and sounded a lot better in person than on what little YouTube material I had seen of her before, and her performance, while short, was cute and entertaining enough to make the whole thing worthwhile…especially when I found myself hanging out in the VIP room to see her up close again afterwards! Of course, still affected by my lack of sleep and still having little knowledge of this person, I didn’t quite bask in the moment nor took advantage of the second screening for a better chance at autographs…but the journey was definitely not a loss, even if all I did for the rest of my time out there was hang out in front of the Staples Center watching random cosplayers stroll by.

Thinking about what I was doing at the time seemed a bit ridiculous back then. I drove 400 miles on a whim to see a movie that I wouldn’t have made an effort to see under normal circumstances, all in the name of a celebrity I barely knew anything about and cared little for. But the mere fact that I did it, attempting to make up for what I had missed out on a year prior, making new friends with a few people, getting to explore my second-favorite city in the world again, it became a crazy decision that I would never regret in retrospect, solidifying my still-budding interest in Hello! Project by becoming a fan of their last remaining soloist, Erina Mano.

As for that song I was blasting outside of Nokia Plaza, it will forever be my favorite song of hers thanks to this experience. It was her latest song at the time, and it helped that I liked it right off the bat before I even went out to see her. Looking back, with the advent of her graduation from idol life, the song has even more meaning with its lyrics never having been more appropriate than now…

Yeah, in retrospect I did go to ridiculous lengths in order to like an idol I wouldn’t have considered much of otherwise–she didn’t stand out to me much at first, but I grew to appreciate and admire her thanks to this experience. And in a way she served as a convenient placeholder at the top of my H!P rankings after Ai Takahashi left and I still needed time to sort out the rest of the roster, but as far as placeholders go I couldn’t have asked for a better one; an acquired taste that I’m glad to have acquired considering my tendency to gravitate towards crazier/convention-defying idols. As much as I can lament not being in Japan to see her off or the unlikelihood of ever seeing her in person again, the fact that I got to see her in person at all is something I’m thankful for.

She wasn’t the exactly hottest seller in the company, but the void she leaves behind will be felt. A charm and beauty all her own that will only get better beyond the restrictions of idol life.

Thank you, Erina, for visiting us that day. I’ll be watching out for whatever you got in store for us next.

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