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Chris Erskine walks down the Westin Bonaventure

A fundraiser for L.A. Boy Scouts involves rappelling down the Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites downtown. Gulp.

October 11, 2013|Chris Erskine

Short on detail, this story, for it's a little tricky taking notes while rappelling down the side of a 32-story downtown hotel, slick as glacial ice. No gargoyles on this baby, unless you're counting me.

That's about as much detail as I can muster. Between the 24th and 22nd floor, I might've blacked out, hard to say, there were no witnesses, except the cleaning lady in one of the rooms, who barely looked up from her vacuuming to acknowledge the buggy-eyed Spider-Man clinging to the outside glass.

As if this happens all the time in downtown Los Angeles. Maybe management warned them: "We will have 50 people rappelling off the roof today. Please do not let it interfere with your duties. The national hygienists convention is coming in this evening, and you know how fussy they can be."

It was my first-ever rappelling experience, and I would recommend it to anyone with a desire to feel your heart in your throat. Ever been driving down the interstate when another car lost its tire, the thing bounding across the median? Well, that's the same warm and fuzzy feeling you get from rappelling down the side of a downtown skyscraper. The bile in the base of your throat tastes like burning tequila.

Swear to gawd, if we hadn't assigned a photographer, I probably would've canceled. I know the guy they assigned, and I can just hear Friedman back in the newsroom telling everyone how I wimped out: "What a wuss." I fear almost nothing in life except the smirky scorn of my cynical, coffee-stained colleagues.

Other than that, my fears extend only to my wife and my boss, who both happen to be women — not a coincidence. Other than that, I am pretty fearless, save for heights. Heights do me in. Obviously, really tall females are kind of a double-whammy.

But we are the sum of our fears, and I welcome any chance to confront them. So when the Boy Scouts invited me to step off the edge of the Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites as part of the craziest fundraiser ever, I said yes almost immediately, then regretted it for the next several days.

You've been to the Bonaventure, right? If not, you might know it as the gleaming glass towers where Clint Eastwood chased John Malkovich in "In the Line of Fire."

Though visually striking, it is also a frightfully easy place to get lost in, as if there's some fourth dimension of fatigue that sets in as you go round and round, trying to find the right elevator, with ramps, detours and blind corners at every turn.

And that's just the men's room.

But give the Bonaventure props for allowing the Scouts to use the beautiful building for this fundraiser. The Boy Scouts' L.A. Area Council has done this for four years now, raising an estimated $300,000 for local Scouts.

It is easily the most outlandish fundraiser in Los Angeles. For a $1,000 donation, "Edgers" get the chance to go off the roof attached to ropes. A Canadian company called Over the Edge actually stages the action, with pros handling the how-to stuff.

You'd think that you might get a short test run first, maybe off the side of a Starbucks. But up you go, right to the Bonaventure's roof, where I don't fear falling quite so much as my mad, tiny heart giving out, a final farty poooooofffffft.

It's not technically difficult, this rappelling. The harness looks like Lady Gaga's chastity belt — clasps and safety buckles and more clasps. And before you know it your heels are on the edge of the roof and this guy Tony is saying, "Just lean back, the ropes have you" — but what if they don't? Faith in other people has never been my strong suit.

In this case, Tony is right, and he is immediately chiding me to lean back so that I will be perpendicular to the side of the hotel. That would seem to tempt gravity and fate, so I choose instead a more sensible 35-degree angle, the same slant that has served me so well in airport bars over the years.

After 15 minutes of steady descent, I am back on Earth, which I hesitate to kiss because it's downtown L.A., and there is no earth, just layers and layers of gummy concrete, a block deep, then a bunch of parking garages below that, then Hades.

But trust me: L.A. concrete never tasted so good.

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