LOS ANGELES -- From May 1997 to August 1998, I lived in Santa Monica, Calif., in an apartment building near the Santa Monica/Venice border, above a restaurant owned by Arnold Schwarzenegger called Schatzi on Main. This was his local restaurant, not the big franchise that was Planet Hollywood, and it was small and charming and a little bit hidden. It was the vanity place, the one with pictures of his lesser-known movies on the wall, and when you went to the bathroom, there were Austrian-to-English lesson tapes playing over the speakers. Arnold himself would drop in from time to time, and I remember being outside on our back deck as an airplane wrote "HAPPY 50th ARNOLD" in skywriting above his birthday party below. Schwarzenegger turned 70 years old this past July, if that doesn't make you feel like the oldest person in the world.

I loved my time in Los Angeles: I was fresh out of college and free and young and stupid, and I had a car to just explore the whole place. I saw Rage Against the Machine play at The Coliseum, I watched "Lawrence of Arabia" at the Cinerama Dome, I bought Nirvana bootlegs on Venice Beach. I loved Los Angeles and felt like I knew it intimately.

I've been back dozens of times in the nearly 20 years since I left, and the strangest thing about Los Angeles is that it's an entirely different place every time I'm here. It's unrecognizable from when I used to be here. The Staples Center has turned downtown LA into an actual place people go; no one would have gotten caught dead there when I was here. The Getty Center, which was still being built when I lived here, is now decades old. There are two football teams, but everyone ignores them. People go to Culver City now? It's actually kind of a hip place? When did that happen? My former home is unrecognizable to me. The landscape is the same, but everything else is different.

Everything, that is, except for the Dodgers. In a town that reshuffles itself every couple of years, the Dodgers are as eternal as anything gets in this town. Vin Scully called their games for 58 years. The uniforms stayed constant. The Dodger Dog recipe never changed. (I'm not sure how you could change it.) Dodger Stadium, the third-oldest stadium in the sport behind Fenway and Wrigley Field, remains just as it was in 1958, like Bob Hope is going to show up and do a show for the troops. I've referenced this before, but I always come back to Steve Martin's joke in "LA Story," in which he takes a British woman on a tour of Los Angeles and remarks, "Some of these buildings are over 20 years old." This is a town where everything shifts, but the Dodgers remain the same.

And for the past 30 years, amazingly, that sameness has involved never once making the World Series. Here's a fun fact from Jayson Stark, who has been sorely missed this postseason:

That's pretty amazing, right? Los Angeles hasn't been in the World Series in nearly 30 years! Ten years ago in Los Angeles seems ancient. 1988? That's four years after they hosted the Olympics! That was the year Edmonton traded Wayne Gretzky to the Kings! That was the first year Wrigley had lights! 1988 is a lifetime ago. That was before the LA riots. In 1988, O.J. Simpson had just become Nordberg. Here's what Los Angeles looked like in 1988:

It would seem shocking that it has taken the Dodgers nearly 30 years to get back to the World Series. They've had some terrific teams in that time, and some terrific players. But when you look back at the eras, it starts to make some sense. Tommy Lasorda, who had already been with the Dodgers for 11 years when they won the Series (he'd won in 1981 as well), stayed around too long: he managed another eight years after the '88 title without ever winning another postseason game. The Dodgers swerved to and fro for the next decade after that, spending crazy money on Kevin Brown and Chan Ho Park and Darren Dreifort, with a succession of increasingly frustrated managers, always big names, but always a little bit past their prime. Joe Torre and Davey Johnson managed for five years combined in Los Angeles, but it's difficult to even imagine them in Dodgers uniforms, isn't it? There were the Jim Tracy years, and the Grady Little moment, and just a bunch of swerving back and forth across the road.

Even this new era, with new management post McCourt, always felt an hour late and a dollar short. The Dodgers had plenty of worthwhile October moments, but never broke through: If anything, the past five years have been more painful, seeing talented teams and Hall of Famers like Clayton Kershaw laid bare on the national stage. Poor Don Mattingly -- he was the transitional figure. We never remember our transitional figures.

Now the Dodgers have emerged, the team we all thought they could be, stacked at every position and back to their rightful place. You don't see many more Dodgers hats on the street than you used to: They were always there. The changes this franchise has been through mirror the changes the city has gone through itself, often damaging, usually nonsensical, a lot of noise and flash -- sometimes with little result. But now they're back to their rightful place, and Dodger Stadium is there waiting for them, like it's still 1988.

So tonight, Dodger Stadium gets its moment again. It will be the same place as always. The world outside Chavez Ravine may have shifted for three decades, but at Dodger Stadium, it's all the same. It might be the only thing that is. That's enough.


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