As my first year in SoCal comes to a close, the check boxes on my Burbank Bucket List are nearly filled.
"Summit a Verdugo peak," "learn kung fu," and "meet the swordplay guy" are all checked.
"Learn to ride a horse," "sing at Dimples" and "drive the boot-mobile at Victor's Shoe Repair" are still empty. I'll get on them ASAP, but first I had another Burbank mainstay to check out: "The Tonight Show."
Though Gary Owens first announced his broadcast on "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In" from "beautiful downtown Burbank," it was Johnny Carson's use of this dubious descriptor that introduced me to the land I'd eventually call home. It was like this magical place that couldn't possibly live up to its reputation, and luckily I was only partially wrong.
I'd driven, walked and biked by the pedestrian entrance for "The Tonight Show" studio countless times in the past year, but the reason it wasn't higher on my list was the same reason I never rode the Maid of the Mist boat to Niagara Falls near my hometown of Buffalo, N.Y. — since it was around the corner, I'd get to it eventually.
With family visiting from out of town, the timing seemed right. And with nearly every other person waiting in line from points elsewhere, we fit right in.
At this point I should explain my mutant superpower, as there are currently some scientists investigating whether it's a sign of the mutant X gene foretold in the X-Men movies: I can make any trip to anywhere harder to manage simply by being there.
On planes, my flight is always delayed. Cars I ride in develop rare disorders that make parts you've never heard of wither and break just at the wrong moment. And if you're going to have to wait hours in a line in Southern California with me, it will be on the first day in four months that the skies open and dump a few inches of rain on the neighborhood.
The pages in their ill-fitting gray suits have a tough job outside "The Tonight Show" studios. They have to corral oblivious tourists who may or may not speak English into a high-security compound that is kept at the temperature of the dairy section at Ralph's. As such, their temperaments are just as icy.
"We need everyone to sit on the bench," the young page told my mother.
She was standing because the day's rains had formed puddles on the wood planks that serve as both seating and line-preserver outside the NBC studios. And after she protested that she'd have to literally sit in a bunch of water, she was met with that same icy glare.
"I'm sorry that it rained today," the page clipped, "but everyone must sit on the bench."
"Or else we will tie you by the wrists to one of Jay Leno's hot rods and drag you through the streets of Beautiful Downtown Burbank," he seemed to imply.
For the cold reception we received outside, it was a complete change once we took our seats. Jay reminds me of my grandma at Thanksgiving: for one day out of the year, you're in his house and you must check your problems at the door, because in his house everyone is there to have a good time.
We did. Just like the uninvited crazy uncle that shows up while you're carving the turkey, Gary Busey popped up unexpectedly from the audience. The band's performance kept the energy at a loud and boisterous level — I suppose if you can't have the wine and beer with the meal, then that's the next best thing.
My mother and I, once dried off, perfected something of a dance routine during one of the breaks. As the band played, a show employee walked up the stairs and handed her a pair of Tonight Show socks.
Just like grandma's house, except Jay's jokes were raunchier.
But not much.
BRYAN MAHONEY is a recent transplant from the East Coast. He is taped in front of a live studio audience, and he can be reached at 818NewGuy@gmail.com and on Twitter @818NewGuy.