Goodbye, Los Angeles

Driving Off Into the Sunset

I’ve said goodbye to many things over the last few years. Things, and people, and experiences. My dufflebag was first. It was followed by a bandana that fell off while I was hiking in Parque Tayrona, (and washed up on the beach an hour later so is once again with me). My travel pack sprouted one structural break after another starting somewhere in Asia, got repaired in Kenya, and sprang another leak before I got back to the states. More significant are the less physical things to which I’ve said goodbye: economic security, a physical grounding in place, an emotional safety net. Recently, constant adventure. And now, the perfect combination of them all: Bessie.

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I should know better than to blog about Bessie. Last time I waxed poetic about my reliable steed, she countered by ‘stranding’ me in Oregon for three days while she was fixed to the tune of more than her worth. It was late last summer, and I was heading down to LA to confirm I should move there. Despite having been on the road in some form for over a year at that point, I had just begun to feel homeless, in the sense that I was not in one place, but should be. I was unrooted. My movement was less of an adventure and more of an aimless pause in a waiting room of mid-life.

The Eugene stranding was a blessing in disguise. It was a reminder that wherever you are, there is an adventure to be had, something new in the mundane. I visited the museum at the University of Oregon, where the art was amazing and the campus a cool respite from the heat.

A Buddha of layered paper

A Buddha of layered paper

I managed to get to the Bell Telephone Pioneer Museum, with cool switchboards and a badass phone-fixing Barbie, during its four open hours of the week. There was good beer (hello, Oregon), decent food and more important, always, than any of this, were the unbelievably nice people of Eugene, from the motel clerk to the amazing team at Action Automotive, who cheerfully ferried me around town. Even when she lets me down, Bessie builds me up.

Colorful phone wire becoming obsolete at the Bell Pioneer Telephone Museum

Colorful phone wire becoming obsolete at the Bell Pioneer Telephone Museum

Since then, Bessie and I have driven almost 14,000 more miles. My commitment to be the one to get her over 200k miles has wavered as I contemplate all the places she may strand me when she gives up the ghost. Lights I’ve never noticed have lit up – and stayed on – in the dash display. Twice, the brake fluid has needed topping. I finally listened to the signs she was giving me. At 198,890 miles, we said goodbye.

When I began to clean Bessie out to sell her, one memory after another came pouring out. There was the fossil found behind a friend’s house in Taos that I keep for good luck, the Italian notebook I use as a travelogue, and the 20-year old swiss army knife I use for everything and anything. From the stick shift, I removed a rosary from Chimayo and from the rearview, a Hello-Kitty phone decoration a friend brought back from a business meeting in Japan. And then there was the visor organizer

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A small collection of small collections in my visor

Inside, I found an entrance ticket to the Santa Fe museums dated Dec 22. The only Christmas I drove to Santa Fe was in 2007, the first year I owned my home, which means that this ticket was used two days before my house was broken into the first time. While unfolding it, I could smell powdered sugar melting into the thumbprint cookies I was making when the alarm company called. 

The art before the con

The art before the con

Tucked into a mesh side pocket of the organizer I found a stack of business cards, dating back to 2003. The gold US Senate crest on one of them reminded me that my parking sticker from some Capitol Hill garage is still tucked way down at the base of my window.

My 1.5x3 inch life

My 1.5×3 inch life

I found a faded receipt from the Dry Clean Super Center in Dallas, onto which had once been written the address and phone number of the owner. The store lost a new dress of mine, and the employee with whom I was discussing this lured me outside the shop to finish our argument because he could tell the rising tone of my voice was attracting the attention of other customers. The dress had only been worn once, and he wanted to pay me no more than half its value. My fury was mostly about the way he bested me in our negotiations, and my frustration at the degree of my anger. Despite it being the least expensive cleaning location in town, I never went back. Two nights ago, while looking for someplace to eat in Red Bluff, California, I noticed Yelp has messaging. In my inbox was a note he had written me several months after the incident to say that he found my dress but had been too embarrassed to contact me. The note is only dated “more than two years ago;” the faded date on the receipt says 2009.

A faded, angry dry cleaning receipt

A faded, angry dry-cleaning receipt

One after another I dug these bits of my life from the nooks and crannies of my car. There was a flyer for a friend’s short film  that showed at AFI Dallas, also in 2009. The friend is now a successful director.  Behind it, two thank you notes, from 2006 and 2007, evidence of my bad habit of opening mail in my car (and not cleaning it out, but that was obvious already). They are wedding thank-you notes from a brother-in-law and a sister.

Long-forgotten, still beloved thank-yous

Long-forgotten, still-beloved thank-yous

In addition to some pots and pans, the sister also thanked me for the flip flops I got the bridal party members to wear during the reception when our heels proved too much. Mine were grey with bedazzled flowers on the thin thong straps. I remember them well because I hardly wore them until the fall of 2013, when I took them with me around the world, and left them with my hosts, and a bit of my heart, in Kenya.

Long-forgotten, still-beloved flipflops

Long-forgotten, still-beloved flipflops

I pulled a removable decal from the windshield.

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It’s a tinkerbell-like fairy.  I have no idea where it came from originally, but I found it on the kitchen window of my apartment in Seattle – the one I moved out of in 2002 when I headed to Texas. She has been flying right in front of me as I drove these last 13 years, and it was time to say goodbye. But now is a time for new adventures. 3,000 miles into my next car, I’m ready to tuck away some different memories that will last me the next decade and a half, and I’ve got a door-pocket full of national monument postcards to prove it.

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Even Spanky was a little sad to see Bessie go

On the Road, United States

Going for Gold

They came for the gold. They were a little late, and they weren’t quite in the right place, and the competition did a little better, but they found enough, close enough, to keep something going until someone hit it big. And then it ran out, and so did they.

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Bodie’s story is typical in the Sierras: boomtown gone bust. Here, it’s even more typical than its successful counterpart, boomtown gone boom. For every Reno, there are ten Bodies, most of them long disintegrated into scraps of wood and metal strewn around the mountains, in places no one ever goes. Why one survives better than another is anyone’s guess. In the beginning, it’s about ore, but in the end, chance makes the decision.

I first came to Bodie when I was about 13, on a vacation with my family that based us near Lake Tahoe and took us on day trips like this one, through the smaller towns on the east side of the mountains and then out six miles of dirt road in the heat and dust. In my memory, we rode here in the back of my uncle’s blue Toyota panel van, named Squirt, after the soft drink. It is a magnificent sight, coming up out of nowhere, the buildings nestled between hills, rising above scrubby manzanita and the sandy ground with just enough consistency of shape and variation of color so that you can tell there is a town, even at a distance.

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The last time I was in Bodie was 25 years ago. It was the summer after my high school graduation and somehow I lucked into a trip to the mountains with my mom, uncle, and grandfather. No sisters. It was right before my grandfather unraveled into the abyss of dementia. I knew it was starting though, because he kept telling the television to slow down, and asking why the picture had to change so fast. (A sentiment, to be honest, I now share with him.) Between outings, I pulled a blanket onto the windy lawn behind the condo and read Bukowski’s Women, in what had become a burgeoning love affair with his debauched misogyny that even now, I betray my feminist instincts to devour.

I had been given my very own Olympus OM-1 as a graduation present, and this was the first of many trips on which it would accompany me. Even then, they were hard to find. I loved the feel of its weight in my hand, the click of the lens as I switched between f-stops, the ratchet of the film being clicked into place. I lugged it up into Lundy canyon with me, photographing columbine. And then, I took it to Bodie.

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Bodie was founded in 1859 after gold was discovered in the hills. The cache wasn’t great, and compared poorly to the mass of silver found in nearby Aurora. Twenty years later, gold-bearing ore was discovered and the town boomed to around 6,000 people at its height. It was big enough for a bank, a red light district, and gymnasium called the Bodie Club, which sported both workout rings, and cold beer.

Bank Fare

Bank Fare

Gas Station

Gas Station

It bustled with business, a train track was built, families laid claim. Miner’s organized into a union, and Chinese workers built a Chinatown on one end of town. But by late 1880, mining booms in Montana, Utah, and Arizona began to pull people away. Despite a resurgence in the early 1890’s, when cyanide processing allowed a second-pass at discarded mill tailings, the population continued to diminish, until the 1910 census recorded just 698 people, mostly families, still living in the town. By 1932, when a fire demolished much of ‘downtown,’ Bodie, it was down to 120 people.

The Remaining Safe

The Remaining Safe

My memory of Bodie is mostly of the wood, and the wind. On that visit 25 years ago, the story of the town was different. It was of a place people had left in a hurry, due to a fire in the mine. Food plates were on the table, clothes still hung on hooks, pottery and goods still lined the shelves of the store. I may have made that story up to match the pictures I took, looking in through six-pained windows at a yellow pitcher, a table setting. The wood warmed a reddish brown in the sun, grooves worn deep in the pattern of its grain by the wind, heat, and cold of the century it stood there. Curtains, edged in lace and slightly tattered, frame the scenes.

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Now, Bodie has a proper parking lot and a restroom, and the day I was there, a google-camera car was in the lot. The driver got out and put on a photographic contraption to walk the main streets of town, so soon you can experience it from your desktop.

The Google Car

The Google Car

But the wood is the same. Even when the sacred photographic light of morning has passed and the amateur professionals are packing up their tripods, the wood still glows weathered and warm. The picket fences that remain have grown skinny and rickety over time, their moorings less secure.

I assume this was a barber shop?

I assume this was a barber shop?

The buildings stand proud against the few defined streets. The hotel is there (no guests), and the Bodie Club. The mercantile is now a museum/foundation shop. The piles of debris, or of trash – wood, cans, bits of tin and leftover shoes – have grown a little larger as time wears down structure. Trash as artifact and memory. Reminders.

Reminders.

Reminders.

The wind is still predominate. Bodie is nestled in a crook of hills and as you walk upwards past the mine, toward the hilltop, the wind falls down against you, whispering secrets as it goes. When you walk the main street out of town, to the north – to where a bank and a brothel once stood – you hear little but your footsteps, the breathing of the dog that follows behind you, panting against the heating sun. The wind blows across the top of the metal stanchions that mark property lines and Do Not Enter areas like the sound of a drunken cowboy blowing across the top of his beer bottle in mockery of your wander. It slips quickly through the spaces left between shrinking wooden slats, pulling splinters of them with it, beckoning you in, just a little closer, just come here for one minute, it has something to tell you. Don’t leave yet; your time will come soon enough and it will be here, whispering, long after you have gone.

Main Street

Main Street

Life Skills, Los Angeles

Why Next Year, I’m Celebrating Purim

I’ve never been much of one for Halloween. But next year, I’m celebrating Purim.

I know they are totally unrelated holidays, one about paganism and the other the triumph of a people over oppression. But they are celebrated in very similar ways: costumes and candy. Let me leave my sugar addiction out of this and focus on the costumes.

I’ve never been much of one for dressing up in a costume. Maybe it’s the pressure of creating the complete alter persona, when my personal persona already felt like an act. Maybe it’s the act of acting, which seemed disingenuous. It could be the subtle but persistent undercurrent that “slut” was the way to go – was it the easy way out? Was it a latent desire to be slutty? Maybe it was the tension between my inner feminist and my inner fun-lover that never liked looking that one in the eye. Maybe it’s nothing more than a simple lack of creativity.

I took a break of more than a decade between Halloween costumes. Between my first year in grad school – when I hastily ironed glitter letters spelling “Princess” on a black t-shirt and donned it with a tiara to hit 6th Street in Austin:

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– and my last year in Dallas when I got caught up in the infectious spirit of friends who live for Halloween and Mardi-Gras, and told me I wasn’t allowed to their annual party without a costume, which sent me on a spiral of craftivity that resulted in a “Toddlers in Tiaras” getup

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(a failed one, I confess – most people thought I was just trying to be a beauty queen), I spent most Halloweens pretending not to be home.

I marvel at pictures of my friends who go all out for these occasions, and I can’t get there. Is it competition? Is it confidence? Whatever it is, Purim is sucking me in.

I live in Hancock Park, a neighborhood of Los Angeles that is predominately Jewish. Very Jewish. Forelocks and overcoats and wigs on the women Jewish. Families walking to temple on Fridays and kosher grocery closed on Saturday Jewish. Last night, the world erupted in firecrackers that sent my dog running under the couch, trembling. And this morning, the world is alive in costumes.

In the two miles I just walked, I must have passed 100 people in costume. Only one was dressed like a cheerleader. None was dressed as a slutty nurse. Many were clowns with rainbow hair. One young boy was dressed as a fat yuppie, stuffing overflowing around his belly so that his plaid shirt bulged above the belt holding up khaki pants, and a false butt bugged out beneath them. I saw an astronaut, a ninja, a baker, and an Haredi who had rainbow-striped his shtreimel (his big, round, fur hat, disrespectfully analogized to a lampshade – see below), so that it looked as if he wore a circus tent on his head. The award-winner, to me, was a group of five multi-aged siblings dressed as newsboys from the 30s, complete with knickers and caps. That is, not counting the Mustang convertible of young men in kippas that I saw pulling out of a temple parking lot – but I think that just happened to be how they were rolling this morning.

 

Shtreimel

Shtreimel

Because today is a holiday, all these young people were out in the neighborhood, many going between two bounce houses set up on the front yards of their apartment complexes. Remnants of confetti lie on the sidewalk, sparkling in the morning sun, and boys run around blowing plastic horns. It is a holiday about joy, and creativity, and perseverance. It is a holiday that celebrates one woman, her honesty and her bravery. And maybe some revenge.

I’m not sure whether it’s the creativity, the community, or the history of Purim that has me intrigued, but I’m already contemplating outfits for next year. And French maid is not among them.

Moving, United States

Digging In

Transition is an amazing thing. An amazing, exhausting, thing. It isn’t a hibernation. It isn’t a caterpillar-to-butterfly transformation. You don’t go into a cocoon and emerge beautiful, powerful, and able to fly. It is a piece-meal business, changing your life. It happens bit by bit, in unnoticeable ways. You dig in. That’s it. You just dig in.

Right now, for me, digging in means settling in. It is the exact opposite, and yet very similar to, digging into traveling. Rather than finding my rhythm in movement and planning, I’m finding rhythm in planning stillness. I’m looking for a home, and a job, and a routine. I speak the national language in Los Angeles (sort of), but it is just as new to me as a foreign country, and even small things are as big an adventure as they would be in a foreign place. And they involve a big adventure’s worth of energy. To buy yogurt and apples, there are ten decisions to be made: grocery store or farmers market? Which grocery? Which farmers’ market? How do I get there? Where do I park? What city am I in and what is their policy on grocery store bags? You make the same exhausting mistakes you may make on a foreign adventure, like accidentally going to Trader Joe’s on a Sunday afternoon. If you’ve seen the Whole Foods Parking Lot video you know what I’m saying. I’m not saying I did this…just….it would be a mistake.  So is buying frozen food on the night of the Hero 6 premier if you happen to live two blocks from the Chinese Theater. I find myself watching an inordinate amount of television and it bores me, and then I realize I need boredom, since I can’t even drive to a grocery store without gps assistance. Boredom can be bliss when newness is exhausting.

I quickly learned to use Waze instead of the map on my iphone. It’s a cross between the blessing of crowdsourcing at its most amazing and a horrendously distracting video game played while driving. I’ve learned that a Prius can take up two lanes, just like a dually, despite also being able to drive underneath one. I’ve felt compassion for people spending money on Panameras, because good god where can you drive that thing the way it’s meant to be driven in a place where traffic never goes more than 65 miles per hour? I’ve absorbed that driving rhythm in LA is: fast as you can (50-60) on a surface street, slower than molasses on the highway. I’ve learned just how long it can take to go 2.1 miles. And I’m disturbed, but not deterred.

Apartment hunting in Los Angeles is like apartment hunting in San Francisco in the mid 90’s. Every place I go has eight people lined up waiting to view it. Spanky being over 15 pounds greatly reduces one’s housing opportunities. I’m glad I started looking at options online in August, because I had two months to train myself not to throw up on the spot when someone tells me a small one-bedroom with no laundry, parking, or upgrades, but in a great neighborhood, goes for over $2000/month. And I’m thankful for all my presentation skills from business school (and for that one a-hole professor who liked to interrupt up in my face with questions during presentations) because I talk a great game around not having a job, yet still feeling sure I can pay rent for the next 12  months.

After showing up 20 minutes early to every apartment in which I was interested and sitting on the stoop, bank statements in hand, I found one by lucking out. I called about an apartment that of course had been rented the prior day, but discovered that its identical twin had just notified the landlord of a January vacation. The owner (who told me he probably liked me better for having quit my job to travel, than asked me what my sign was and was relieved to hear I was a Pisces, because none of his crazy renters had ever been Pisces) approved me for a preview showing, and I took it on the spot. It’s in a quiet neighborhood where I’ve been warned against going to Trader Joe’s on Friday afternoon because the Hasidim are packing it full in preparation for Shabbat, and I can walk less than a mile to a great segment of Melrose, or to some decent bars on Highland. I get keys on the 8th, right after returning from purging my storage unit and turning my remaining belongings over to a mover.

 

Anybody need a chaise?

Anybody need a chaise?

What you are gifted when the prior tenant is a set designer. It comes with an apology because it's not to scale.

What you are gifted when the prior tenant is a set designer. It comes with an apology because it’s not to scale.

 

The weight that comes off from knowing I have a home is amazing. I’m light as air. It gives me energy to rework my resume and find an internship, where, because it’s California, they insist on paying me minimum wage so they don’t get sued over my slave labor. I was concerned this would hurt any unemployment I would potentially take in the near future, until I remembered that I haven’t had a job in 18 months, so my unemployment check would have been $0. Minimum wage is a step up.

The internship is with the production company for an awards show. I will keep my lips sealed on any luscious details except to say that a 9:30 start time, two kitchens stocked with everything from fruit to candy, and a bathroom so pristine that more than once I’ve been the first person to use it in a day are a far cry from my former (and likely future) life.

Here’s a visual aid of what I’m up to for the next couple months. Details to follow as life gets interesting, and my address gets permanent.

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Life Skills

LAAnniversary

Yesterday marks one month since I arrived in LA. You might be wondering off of which fantastic, far off cliff I fell, since I haven’t touched this blog, or any other writing, for most of that entire time.

I don’t know what happened. I was on a roll – writing every day, on a fantastic road trip, reuniting with the cutest dog on the planet (who has now started agility training, and gotten even cuter). I was in love, again, with the world out of which I had temporarily removed myself while chillaxing on Orcas in September. It felt fantastic. And then I got to LA.

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My goal, when I got here, was to spend these couple months doing absolutely everything and anything I could get my hands on, before a normal work schedule started again, and I had to restrict my museums and bookstores and flea markets to normal work people hours. I would spend this time transitioning to Los Angeles. But the truth is, I’ve done almost nothing.

I haven’t been to LACMA, or the Tar Pits, though I drove by them the other day while looking at apartments. I haven’t been to MOCA, or the beach, or on a Universal Studio Tour. I haven’t been to any of the fabulous bookstores I so looked forward to patronizing. I haven’t gone to see a live show be taped, or hit Disneyland, or the Santa Monica Pier. I’ve yet to make it to the Hello Kitty exhibit at the Japanese American Heritage Museum; I haven’t gone to the Chinese Theater, the bar at the Standard, or a black-tie movie premier. And I’m not best friends with Chelsea Handler…yet.

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I am living, temporarily, right smack dab in Hollywood, a block off Hollywood and Highland. It’s insane. It’s overstimulating. It’s fantastic, partly because I know it’s short term. I can walk to Runyon Canyon in ten minutes, but it takes 20 because Spanky has to stop and pee on every tree, light post, or meter box between here and there. On the way, we walk by the Magic Castle. Actually, everywhere we go except Starbucks, we walk by the Magic Castle.

From the top of the Canyon, which I hike to in my boots to support my old-lady ankles and with a backpack so I have water for me, water and a bowl for the dog, an inhaler, a phone, my keys, and a headlamp and an extra layer and whatever other paraphernalia one may need should an earthquake strike and strand me, I can see downtown, and Century City, and the Hollywood sign across the freeway in Griffith Park. I mention the paraphernalia because in Runyon, one is surrounded by people skipping uphill in tennis shoes, carrying a water bottle in one hand and a script in the other. I’m not one of them.

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On mornings when I go to work at a café, I usually walk to Tiago, which I found online. It’s right on Hollywood Boulevard, set back from the street and sporting a large, dog-friendly patio. To get there, Spanky and I walk by the Magic Castle; by the ASC Clubhouse; by Author Services, which always has an ear-pieced, Secret-Service-esque security guard by the parking entrance, as much to keep people in as to keep them out, and the ABLE (Association for a Better Living and Education) building (Hollywood is rife with Scientology buildings – if I disappear, it will likely be because they’ve taken me); and down a block or two on the Walk of Fame. I try not to let Spanky pee on any stars of people I like, and he has mostly complied.

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Every weekend that I’ve been here, someone has been in from out of town. The first weekend, it was a friend of my older sister’s, and we met for dinner at a tapas restaurant on Melrose. The following weekend, it was a former roommate in town for a conference. We went to a Thai restaurant, called Jitlada, that some locals had recommended to her in the past, and it turns out to be very well known, and more importantly, delicious. The next morning, we had breakfast at Huckleberry in Santa Monica. I joked about how I was going to have to learn to keep myself together when seeing famous people. I was mimicking what potential ridiculousness may befall me if I failed while I untied Spanky from outside the back door, where he had been patiently waiting for us, and when we got back to the car, my friend turned to me and said, “while you were telling me that story, Don Cheadle got into his car right behind you.”

A week later, a friend from Dallas was on a pre-planned trip to visit friends who live in Burbank. We went for a hike up to the observatory in Griffith Park before going to lunch at the Alcove in Los Feliz, which I have trouble pronouncing, because I speak even bad Spanish. An actress I recognized but can’t place by name came over to pet Spanky and tell me how well behaved he was. I confessed he was actually just exhausted. Sunday morning, I met my friend for brunch at the Commissary, a rooftop greenhouse restaurant in the Line Hotel referred to as Roy Choi’s latest installment. Apparently, he’s the bomb, as was this place.

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For Thanksgiving, I had the joy of being reunited with the OG Travel Companion, whose sister lives in Sherman Oaks. They went on and amazing cheese-shop trip that became a picnic for us at the Getty.  Note to readers: you won’t last long in the exhibits if you have a lunch of wine and cheese. But your stomach will be joyful. Prioritize accordingly.

Between these things, I’ve gone to a Moth Story Slam, and to hear Noah Gunderson at El Rey. I’ve hiked in Franklin Canyon with the dog, and had lunch at the Larchmont – thrilling in part because a famous person was there, but more so because I was dining with a friend whom I adore and haven’t had the joy of a solid lunch with in almost twenty years. Come to think of it, that’s the third or fourth time in a month I’ve had that pleasure: sharing a meal with someone who’s known me almost as long as I’ve known myself, and sometimes better. Maybe I have been doing something after all.

Transition is an amazing thing. An amazing, exhausting, thing. It isn’t a hibernation. It isn’t a caterpillar-to-butterfly transformation. You don’t go into a cocoon and emerge beautiful, powerful, and able to fly. It is a piece-meal business, changing your life. It happens bit by bit, in unnoticeable ways. You dig in. That’s it. You just dig in.

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