Rug shopping in 2005

I found this story on an old web site of mine and thought it was worth sharing again after a quick edit. We lived in Las Vegas at the time and frequently visited Southern California.

We went to visit my wife’s parents for Thanksgiving weekend. Sheri’s grandmother gave us a Persian rug as a housewarming gift, but it really didn’t go with the décor at our place in Vegas. Grandma suggested that we bring it with us on our trip to California and exchange it for something we like a bit better while we were in town. This story takes place on the day we exchanged the rug.

The rug dealer is located on Ventura Blvd. in “The Valley”. Not too far from the 405, and about 25 miles from Casa de In-Laws.

I have been to the L.A. area a few times, and we brought my car on the trip from Vegas. Some people fear L.A. driving, but I actually like it. It’s spirited, and despite the reputation of drivers in and around Los Angeles, most people are rather orderly about the whole thing. You don’t get a lot of lane changers, and the number of maniacs driving much faster than necessary is actually minimal. A lot of that stems form the volume of traffic. It’s really much too heavy to do much weaving unless you have a total and complete disregard for all human life, your own included.

For various reasons that would be impolite to get into here, we decided that I should drive and that we would take my car. It was loaded with Sheri, her father, and Grandma, our interior-decoration benefactor.

I still have no idea what the speed limit is on the 101, but I know that doing 80 miles and hour — which must be higher than the posted speed limit — will not get you too many dirty looks for hanging out in the fast lane. Nor will it really get the attention of Officer Friendly as long as everyone else is doing close to the speed you are. It helps if you’re driving a blacked-out Crown Victoria.

The drive along the 101 was typically brisk. At least it was until we hit an unexpected backup about 2 miles (and one exit) before our exit. Since Ventura Blvd. runs more or less parallel to the 101, we decided it would be quicker to get off a bit early and use the surface streets. After all, traffic on the Friday after Thanksgiving shouldn’t be too heavy unless you’re getting near a mall, IKEA, or an electronics store. Even in Los Angeles.

We reached Ventura Blvd. and took a left. About a block later, traffic came to a complete stop. What appeared to be a thin line of yellow police “crime scene” tape was stretched across Ventura Blvd. Right in back of that was an LAPD cruiser, lights going with flares in the road. A uniformed officer was leaning against his car seemingly admiring the handiwork of the yellow tape: confusion and an increasing traffic jam. There was nothing beyond this tableau to indicate that nefarious activities requiring the cessation of traffic on a major thoroughfare in a large metropolitan area was necessary. But you don’t argue with guys who carry guns and have shotguns in their trunks. Especially when they get paid to use them if necessary.

We were in the right lane so that when we got to the front of the line, with no directional help from the LAPD, we took a right, much like the other traffic in the right lane ahead of us.

Big mistake.

There was only a driveway behind some businesses and a residential street running at an angle parallel to nothing but itself. Two quick lefts and we were back at Ventura Blvd, still cordoned off with tape. This time there were two cruisers, each manned with a bored LAPD officer doing nothing to help with traffic or direct the lost masses. We crossed Ventura Blvd. and into a residential neighborhood which was under siege from all of the other traffic offloaded from Ventura Blvd.

Traffic was terribly backed up, mainly due to all of the 4-way stops and streets not designed to carry thousands of cars at a time. We’re still not sure what caused the LAPD to block off Ventura Blvd, but it would have been nice for some of those officers impersonating statues to have been at the slogged residential intersections, directing things and helping traffic flow a bit faster. A girl on a cell phone was taking a walk around her block and lapped us. Twice.

After snaking through the neighborhood for a few more blocks, we got back to Ventura, which was open again. Had we stayed on the 101 and endured about a mile of slow traffic (probably no more than ten minutes of delay), we would have avoided the entire mess on Ventura.

Instead, we had a 25-minute tour of frustration.

The rest of the drive was mercifully quick and we arrived at the store.

The store owners are a short, slightly-chubby cute couple. The man had small, trollish hands with impossibly stubby fingers but a remarkably large and strong handshake. His gregariousness far exceeded his size and I felt instantly welcome. The store was about 20 feet wide and 60 feet long. There was a desk at the back wall next to the entrance we used. The inventory was arranged in piles along the walls, hanging on the walls, and in large piles about three feet tall in the middle of the room. With all the colors, it was organized chaos and an absolute feast for the eyes.

I know very little about Persian rugs, except that good ones are hand made, and they’re usually wool or silk. This store clearly only carried good stuff. Telling the difference between wool and silk rugs is fairly easy, even by simple sight alone. Silk tends to be shinier and finer looking.

We brought our old rug in and told him we wanted to look at rugs that were about one size smaller. Our living room was decorated in an eclectic mix of colors, but the predominant tone is muted colors and darker neutrals. We were seeking a rug that matched this color scheme, and also one for which we could trade even for the unwanted rug.

Our needs explained, the owner brought us over to one of the piles. Each of the rugs was about the same size and would fit nicely in our living room. All we had to do was select the pattern and colors we liked.

I had never been rug shopping before, and was amazed at the way the owner and his assistant folded the rugs in the pile out of the way so that we had a nice view of each one as they worked down the pile. It was a wordless, hypnotic and synchronized ballet of the hands with two men participating. I would be wiling to bet that it’s the way they do it at all good rug stores, so if you have a chance to visit a real Persian rug seller who has piles and piles of rugs, I highly recommend it. Even if you’re not in the market for a rug, the show is amazing.

We picked out about four rugs we really liked, which were disgorged from the pile and laid out for us to view side-by-side. We decided on one that was simply more beautiful than the rest. The patterns were tight and intricate. It was made of gorgeous silk with a subtle sheen. It was, without a doubt, the most beautiful rug I had ever seen.

Figuring that we could trade even for any of the rugs in the pile we were shown, we decided to take the gorgeous one. Price tags were missing form most of the rugs and we weren’t asking. And you know how they say if you have to ask, you can’t afford it. It’s true. We should have asked.

This 4 foot by 6 foot rug had a price tag of $4,800. This would not be an even trade. Not even close. We were more than $3,000 off.

I’m the kind of guy who usually goes rug shopping at Target or Pier 1. To me, $150 to cover a nicely-sized portion of floor (and for something I’m going to walk on) seems like about the right price. We have a dining room rug and matching runner that we got for $29. That’s a good rug deal to me. And it even looks good and matches our décor to boot. I knew I was out of my league, but was having fun with the whole process.

The real shocker is not the price of this rug. This was a work of art that clearly took a very good portion of some artisan’s life to make. It was exquisite in every way. The real shocker was that, as cheap as I am (and I’m infamous among my friends and family for excessive frugality) if I had $4,800 available to me I would have paid it in a heart beat. I have owned several cars that didn’t cost that much, combined. It was really amazing.

This rug was hypnotic in its beauty and had everyone under a spell. Its magic caught Grandma and my father-in-law. They both wanted it too. Of course, nobody had nearly 5 large burning holes in their pockets, so the rug remained unpurchased. Hypnotic rugs are one thing, but unleashing five thousand of my favorite dollars is completely another.

In retrospect, we should have all pitched in and gone thirds on the rug, moving it between our houses every four months. $1,600 seems like a bargain sitting here hours after the fact, even if I had to share the beauty.

We were lucky and found another rug that we liked, this one wool, and could trade even for our other rug. So we did. The store’s assistant was kind enough to tie the rug unto a neat bundle and load it into my trunk. I was kind enough to grease his palm with a portrait or Mr. Abraham Lincoln. I was prompted by my father-in-law to tip him. I’m not sure why, but I didn’t argue. Sometimes my generosity knows no bounds.

Deal concluded and auxiliary conversations ended, we headed home, going right back up Ventura Blvd. Since the backup was north of the street we were going to turn on, we figured the LAPD-sponsored backup would not be an issue.

We were wrong. The tape and its attendants, the bored LAPD officers, a few flares for effect, and their Crown Victorias with light bars flashing had now moved a few blocks south on Ventura. In addition, a new dramatic element had appeared: a police helicopter hovering above what appeared to be the middle of the taped-off area. I can only imagine that they weren’t there to direct traffic from the air.

One of the officers at the front of the jam was directing traffic onto a residential street. He was directing traffic with genuine enthusiasm. Why he was doing this is beyond me. It was completely unnecessary. Unlike the northern border of this backup, there was only one way to turn at the southern border, and we were going in that direction. A left was simply not possible. Right was the only way. It was nice to see some active police involvement, despite the fact that he amounted to nothing more than an interpreter of the obvious.

We had again been directed into a thoroughly jammed residential neighborhood. And at each 4-way intersection there were no LAPD officers to help out. It was frustrating. It was slow. But oddly enough, in a city known for its superficiality, pretty much everybody resigned themselves to the inevitability of the delay and acted politely, respecting the rules of the 4-way stop and allowing people in and out as necessary. Things were slow, but they actually flowed as well as they could have, with no thanks to the LAPD.

About half an hour later, we emerged from the jammed neighborhood and onto the street that would take us to the 101. This should have been a five-minute drive, but thanks to the LAPD and their total lack of presence outside of Ventura Blvd. — the one place they weren’t needed to direct traffic — it lasted much longer than necessary. At least we got a nice, slow tour of a charming older neighborhood and gave a girl on a cell phone something to talk about.

Once back on the 101, we got back up to cruising speed. Eighty felt a lot better than two miles per hour. Just when I was getting used to eighty, traffic backed up again. And again it was for no apparent reason. My view of the road was clear and I could see a good long way; it was obviously something far ahead. With no real alternate route, we were in this one for the long haul. We spent another unnecessary half-hour on a California road memorizing the license plates of cars ahead of us. At least I can’t blame the LAPD for this one. There was no yellow tape anywhere, and our exit was before the end of the jam, so we don’t know what caused this one.

It is no wonder everyone seems to plan for two-hour drives in LA, even if you’re only going about 20 or 25 miles. I experienced quite enough traffic for the day and it was barely noon when I got off the road.

We had other trips to take later on. The only comfort I had in this one is that if I needed a nap, I could pull over and lie down on the nice rug in the trunk. It was the perfect size, it didn’t cost $4,800, and it looked great.


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