The California dream


Zac and I returned from driving up the Pacific Coast Highway fairly late in the day. We worked our way up the windy road getting on and off the 10 as we went along trying to keep the ocean in site at all times. We had the opportunity to stop fairly frequently. Each time we made a stop I made sure to grab Zac’s D50 Nikon and take a few pictures. I had decided that I wanted to make sure that I capture the landscape of the ocean, which I so rarely see, on some decent hardware. The Blackberry has been taking some great images so far and the ability to upload them directly to Flickr is really awesome.

Shameless plug: Check out my Flickr here.

I was sort of shocked by how small some of the areas were along the road. Places like Santa Monica and Malibu don’t have a lot of presence from the roads that travel through them. I’m not expert and we didn’t spend much time in these cities but for crazy money being thrown around type landscape…It didn’t seem to startle me much…

Venice Beach
Venice Beach

Somehow yesterday I didn’t realize that we were driving through Venice Beach and that we were just going back there today. That’s quite hilarious if you ask me…At any rate we actually stopped and parked the car in Venice right near the pier they have extending out far into the sea. I took my shoes off and ran through the sand remembering that it slows you down pretty smoothly. I finally got my feet to the hard sand down by the waves crashing in. There was a cold breeze on my face but it was still around 60 degrees. I was one of the few still wearing a t-shirt that seemed obvious and I’m sure it was obvious to others that was a Minnesotan.

We ended up walking from Venice all the way to Santa Monica’s pier. Using Google I estimate this to be about a 7 mile round trip if you teak the ocean and then come back on the boardwalk. It was a really interesting experience because the beach was surprisingly quiet due to the cold conditions that day. This meant that one could walk the entire distance of the beach and have the complete run of their mind and soul while they were doing it.

Rare Lunky Sighting
Rare Lunky Sighting

It was all great decompression for me. Working in the IT industry can be a frustrating stressful mess and the ocean knows nothing of these problems. Sitting on the beach watching the kitesurfers burn down the coastline in the harsh wind was the closest thing to a zen moment for me in a long time. It was good to see my best friend as well. It had been a long time and thanks to the incredible distance we walked, every topic seemed to get discussed. To the point where we sort of stopped talking to eachother on the way back.

Ocean View
Ocean View

Before leaving Santa Monica we toured the Pier a bit to check out the action. Hungry by this point I found a place that is famous for making “Hot dogs on sticks” which are just corn dogs…

Hot Dog on a Stick
Hot Dog on a Stick

The Santa Monica Pier is a cool place to visit. Its not quite that exciting even though it has its own roller coaster and ferris wheel, but it does have a great view of the ocean and a bunch of happy people walking around. After all, its quite hard to be mad when you are standing into the wind of the mighty Pacific Ocean.

Structure at Santa Monca Pier
Structure at Santa Monca Pier

The timing worked out well as we were just starting to come up on all the street vendors in Venice. They have portioned off areas where street people can do their dealings with their custom made trinkets and healing. Whatever crap you may need in your life they can provide for you. I really appreciated just how obscure some of the stuff was. There was a guy just assembling bits of crap into bigger clumped together bits of crap…I guess whatever pays the bills is just what you do out here.

Zac looking Tough
Zac looking Tough

Zac and I sat on the beach and watched the sun go down. There were supposed to be a few girls there but they were late getting there from Santa Monica…So don’t read to far into this. However, it was my last night and I wanted to see a California sunset. There is something magical about knowing that you’re of the last people to see the sun go down over the ocean on its way for remote locations. Even though it is coming back it reminds you that your day is now done and its time once again for the night.

Sunset in Venice
Sunset in Venice

We met up with everyone for about three minutes and then awkwardly moved on with what we were doing. We stopped by a couple more shady street vendors as Zac needed to buy a cowboy hat for some crazy reason. After haggling with the guy over the validity and cost of some sort of trendy cowboy hat. Apparently that look is back in according to the boardwalk vendor of hats.

At the trendy hat shop they also had some cool artwork made out of metal. Things like the Johnny Five robot made out of scraps of odds and ends metal. I would have bought one but I have this thing about buying crap on vacation. I seldom do it unless I really feel like I need to make the purchase. I have sort of always been that way. I like to enjoy the memory and the feeling of being there and let all the touristy things sit for the birds.

The last light of my vacation...
The last light of my vacation…

It was starting to get to the final darkness in Venice and the beach started emptying as the bars started filling. Zac and I ran over to Cabo’s which seems to be a fairly decent destiation for people that were on the beach. Zac and I split a few 2 for 1 margarita deals and ate some boneless hot wings. They were actually the best boneless thing I’ve ever eaten. Just the perfect amount of kick and saltiness. If you ever get a chance I suggest you try it. Go right up the street from the main entrance to Venice Beach where the pier is…You’ll enjoy it, get the Patron Margarita as well…Warning: 21 or older.

mmm 2 for 1 Sauza Margaritas
mmm 2 for 1 Sauza Margaritas

(Note: I’m editing this page right now and salivating for those boneless hot wings again, mmm.)

Zac and I drove back into Los Angeles for what would be my last car ride of the vacation. Its fun coming into the city at night but the freeways are always so jacked up. Five lanes wide and we sat in traffic for a while trying to get back…Venice isn’t actually that far from LA but with traffic it can really be a problem. We agreed that we should take it slow so that we can get some rest and a ride to LAX in the morning.

What proceeded was certainly not “taking it easy.”

We called up a few friends and headed to King Edwards bar after sorting out ATMs, dogs and meet-ups. This bar is located down the street from Zacs and is in the neighborhood known as Skid Row in Los Angeles. You can meet every walk of life in this place. Homeless people stagger in and hassle the locals. Really there isn’t a lot of money to go around in these places but they serve the homeless and everyone is welcome.

White Russian at the Dive Bar
White Russian at the Dive Bar

Zac had wanted to go the “sketch bar” because he says the drinks are cheap and the people are strange enough to make it fun. I found that to be exactly on the money. After the first two white Russians I was feeling pretty good and started talking to some of the people. I have to write about these people because they represent the very existence of downtown, so here we go:

1. Albuquerque Lady

Originally from, guess where, Albuquerque New Mexico, this lady was clearly intoxicated beyond her limit. She stumbled around violently going in and out of the most peculiar mood swings. She had found a talking parrot somewhere in the bar and removed the novelty from its rightful perch above the bar. She started by playing it near my ear and by the end of the encounter she was stabbing my face with its plastic beak.

Annoyed by Parakeet Lady
Annoyed by Parakeet Lady

She stopped, turned to me and told me I was the funniest person she ever met and started in for what appeared to be an attempt to get very close to me. I dodged this encounter by telling her I was married to Jen however we were separated and I had six kids and was a deadbeat dad who didn’t pay child support.

I’m really not sure why the hell I said that. I thought it would be funny but it prompted the Albuquerque lady to become very emotional and aggravated. She started telling me about her kids and her man back home in Albuquerque. I knew what she was talking about was either in the past or horribly messed up now as you could see the pain in her eyes as she explained it. That cheerful delusion of adequacy that people tend to get when they are in that position.

I watched her inevitable daily downward spiral into the darkness of blackout. Every time someone finished a drink at the table she would mosey over and take it from us to put it on the bar, finishing it on the way. I watched her drink the backwash of every beer, White Russian and martini in the place. At any normal place this would be unacceptable but here it seemed alright. I suppose if someone is willing to go through that, then what?

She fell asleep in the corner of the bar. One of the regular patrons came over to remind her that she can’t sleep in the bar. I suspect she was headed back to a homeless shelter after she begrudgingly left. Earlier that night she had been dancing with some girls that frequent the bar. She spiraled out of control into what I was now seeing. It was sad and my assumption frequent.

Zac getting Attacked...
Zac getting Attacked…

2. Pirate

Pirate is a guy who is pretty famous for being homeless. A cameo or two in a couple of movies he is the kinda guy who gets around. He has nary a fake leg or hook but simply a pirate hat that he got a long time ago. His clothes are ratty and his demeanor is that of the usual homeless guy. However he is surprisingly happy. He’ll beg you for change but he’s generally cool about it.

Pirate and Me
Pirate and Me

He’s a total celebrity in this place. Its the perfect fit for him. He carouses around talking to everyone and taking pictures. I offered him three dollars if he’d take a picture with me and he accepted without any problem. He also got a few cigarettes off my friends and took off for a bit. The night prior he had chased Jen down the street for a little bit trying to get some cash.

You start to believe in the magic of this guy after a while. A homeless guy who is completely fine with the situation he is in and maybe everything is alright. Then later when you and your friends leave the bar in a brand new 2008 Jetta and drive by him, there he remains. Lonely and wandering in the streets begging for change. We all go home to warm beds and flat panel televisions. I remember yelling out the window at him and he did a little tap dance. It made me feel a little better until I saw him later sleeping in the street on the way to Zac’s parking garage to get the camera out of the car.

It all serves as a sort of somber reminder that the streets are alive and that everyone has a different standard of living…

3. Dude and his girl

Dude and his girl were pretty normal seeming at first. Wearing a sweater vest and glasses, dude looked like the kinda respectable guy you’d hope was milling around. The truth was that he was only a few beers away from his own personal meltdown. His girl was over talking with us for a while and being pretty cool.  He came over to shake some hands and misunderstood Zac.

We’ve all ran into it before, the drunk guy who is all tough and doesn’t understand a joke or someone’s sarcasm and then the whole place goes up. Sensing that I jumped in to use his girlfriend to help diffuse the situation which it did quickly. He disappeared into the night and from the smokers cage where we sat drinking our drinks and continuing our fun we could hear him yelling in the streets.

LA isn’t the sort of place I’d want to wear a sweater vest and yell at 2 in the morning in skid row. Call me crazy but it just seems like a pretty out of place thing to do. Best of luck to you dude, who I may remind you all is getting married or so it was said. Let us all hope that dude and his girl finally found their slice of happiness in a place where happiness isn’t much for a commodity.

3. The quiet old lady who’ll break your heart

Los Angeles is full of a lot of transplants but in any of the rough areas I think you’ll find that there are a lot of lifers. I came across an old lady whos hair was a bit tattered but styled. She walked with a cane and spoke with a quiet barely audible voice. I told her that I was from Minnesota and that I didn’t know much about the area. She told me that she’d been there for 50-some years and that it had changed quite a bit throughout her time.

She told me how skid row was a lot worse during the 80s and that it was filled with crime. Now its not so bad, she explained. The idea was that people in the neighborhood were just tired and beaten down. Instead of crime there is mostly poverty and people barley managing to stay alive. She told me how she had a daughter and that all she ever hoped is that she would get out of everything and get as far away from it as possible.

She went on to inaudibly explain that this wasn’t the case. She spoke in a monotone voice never really changing pitch, inflection or tone. She proceeded on through all of my generic responses. She told me a history of the neighborhood that Zac lives in going back a very long time. The unfortunate thing is she spoke so softly it was hard to get the whole story and the nuances involved with someone who has lived that life enough to tell you all about it.

At one point she was explaining that it used to be more dangerous and that she still has gotten assaulted in the past year. When someone can tell you that casually it really has an impactfull meaning. The standard for what is wrong and what is right and the balance thereof in this area is really twisted.

The conversation that we had took a lot of magic out of that dive bar that we had found. It was sort of like a group of kids looking to have a cheap time stumbled into a place that was far beyond what they really knew as a reality. I was stronger for the experience but in some ways I felt guilty for exploiting only the fun times out of this place and leaving without having changed anything in myself or anyone else…but hey, its a bar after all, right?

The nice old lady at the bar reminded me of the nice old lady we had met in Zac’s apartment building. She had just recovered from being brutally assaulted. Even though she had no money someone thought she did and this was the end of the story. I had wondered talking to this nice old lady if she’d ever been through the same thing. I have a strong feeling that she had before.

She very kindly said good evening and then went about her way. People opened doors and helped her get around as she was very polite. There was a certain sense of chivalry and understanding amongst the bar patrons at this place. They really are good people in some way even though their actions and activities may not always agree with that contention. They took care of themselves…watched out for their own and there was something honest and nice about that.

Getting late in the night now...
Getting late in the night now…

You could see how the life all of these people had been leading was catching up to them. This dive bar was much like any dive bar except these people had experienced things I’d probably have no understanding whatsoever of. It was interesting to hear their stories. They were always willing to tell you what it was like back in the day and most of the time were just having a good time.

The part that really seems to get to you is watching a certain amount of them make their way down into their most negative place as the alcohol set in fueling the descent. It was then when the clock struck 2:00 and everyone was halted on their drink orders. The door was locked and a lock-in proceeded. The locals were still drinking and while some filed out many seemed to stay. Our group decided to ski-daddle and we took to the streets. No one followed us and I toyed with the idea that they all started drinking again once they knew that the strange people were gone.

Roof Pile
Roof Pile

We headed back up to the Spring Towers to hang out on the roof and ended up drinking until very late. We were en route to Zac’s apartment when I realized that I needed to go and there was no way that Zac and I were going to sober up enough to get to the airport. I needed to be on a 8:00 flight which meant I’d need to get to LAX by 7:00…It was already going on 6:00 so I decided to take the metro rail and airport bus shuttle. It cost me right around $5.25 to get to the airport.

I made sure not to make too much eye contact or breathe on people. I was in fear that they wouldn’t let me fly even though I was totally fine just really really tired and still a bit drunk. I bought some cashews and water after going through the world’s most terribly slow TSA line. I sat in my chair recalling the events of the evening and the week. It was completely packed.

In fact it never stopped. From the minute I touched down in LA and began yelling “LA BABY!” at LAX Patrons to the minute I hopped on the metro-rail it was a wild unrelenting ride. Fueled by alcohol and youthfulness I have to say it was one of the best vacatoins I’d ever been on. It was good to see my best friend and to experience Los Angeles from the persepective of a downtown patron. I have to say that all of my perceptions have changed quite a bit and I look forward to going back and knowing that I have somewhat of a home and a destination. I know a little bit about a neighborhood now and the people and places that are found within it. The scariness of downtown life has subsided and the excitement and strangeness of it all now make for fond memories and whistful engagements.

I reflected a bit on these thoughts on the plane ride…I was drifting in and out of consciousness most of the trip and at one point remember waking up with a massive charlie horse that sent my leg kicking into the middle of the isle and me yelping out of my slumber. Jerky movements and yelling don’t go well on airplanes, I may add.

Now I’m back to my yuppy corporate self…to live my other life, goodnight LA for now.

lunks


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