Blast Off Into the Heart of Darkness

On Friday January 18th, I woke up and immediately went for a final run amongst the beautiful snowy hills I’ve grown so fond of over the last 2 years. Due to the exploratory nature of the run, I mistakenly trespassed into a ritzy neighborhood. Once I realized this I just decided to keep going, and came to a palatial druglord villa near the top of the mountain. It was enough to make me slow down for a second to gawk.

taken from the realtor’s site. “The crown jewel of Prescott.” only  $4.8 MILLION 

I noticed the realty sign in front of it, so I jumped the fence and discovered that the artificially-terraced-and-sodded ‘back yard’ had one of the best views of Prescott (and neighboring Prescott Valley for that matter) I had ever seen. There was even a pool that spilled over the edge of the man made cliff, which was frozen solid for an even more awesome effect than was intended. I stopped and meditated in gratitude for such an epic, if not illegal, way to say goodbye to the place that had been my home for the past 2 years.

view from pool. taken from realtor’s website, obviously at night. I was there in the morning and honestly it looked better in the sunlight. 

Leaving Prescott proved to be harder than I thought, in several ways. I didn’t realize how tight the little Arizona mountain town’s grip on me until I tried to escape it. Even after several month’s public knowledge of my departure, a proclamation of gratitude and goodbye and an enormous social arena, and 2 separate going-away parties, there were still enough last minute come-see-me-before-you-leave endeavors to delay my departure a good 4-5 hours. However, I am truly happy to have such a large group of people care for me. The last time I left a city, everyone just assumed I was dead. Literally. Granted this was a different part of my life that involved hard drugs and general scumbaggery. But the point is, Life has taken me to a drastically different place and I’m grateful for that. And these friends are pretty diverse, too. Between all of my friends I was able to discern places to stay, friends of friends to meet up with, and cool things to do in pretty much every spot between LA and Vancouver.

This is Alex from Prescott. He taught me how  to use a dry bag, and instructed me to swim in the Oakland bay. 

After a morning of last minute preparations, heartfelt goodbyes, and a particularly heart wrenching last moment with my girlfriend, Christine, I was off into the west.

The drive out of Prescott was beautiful as I took the 89 out the back way and wound down through the mountains, but as soon as I hit flat ground it was pretty boring. I had a growing urge to urinate, and when this came to a peak I took the nearest exit, which was “Desert Center”. I soon discovered that Desert Center was nothing but an enormous dirt/gravel lot with some abandoned businesses. I did seize the opportunity to piss, though, but as soon as I got a good stream going, a Jeep blazed through the lot, apparently only to do a few donuts and kick up a dust cloud that lingered. I gathered my wits and genitalia, and took this picture as the sun set behind a post-apocalyptic gas station.

ghost stop

Fear and Loathing in the City of Angels

Upon arriving in LA, I called my CouchSurfing host, Lorenzo, and parked on the street outside of his apartment in Mar Vista. After knowing me for only 5 minutes he unbelievably gave me a set of keys to his apartment, set me up to sleep on his futon, and went to bed. What a guy. 
Then I called my friend, Kimba, and was informed to meet her at “Das Bunker.” I was excited because this was one of the weirdo nightclubs I had scoped out on the internet, and wanted to check it out. Now that someone I knew was there, I had to go. If you can’t tell by the name, the club focuses exclusively on Industrial music, mostly german. This is one of the cool things about LA. Not many places have enough of a population to support such a fringe interest. But in LA, that %.001 of the populace is enough folks to fill a basement nightclub and let a totally weird scene thrive. 
I followed my phone’s directions deep into foreign territory, and found myself in a deserted part of town with nothing but Korean lettering visible anywhere for miles. A voice in my head started referring to the area as “Koreatown” and narrating how I was lost in this strange land, but I felt very racist and politically-incorrect for even thinking this. Hilariously enough, I later found out that this area actually IS called “Koreatown,” and, as usual, my subconscious flagellation was totally unwarranted. I was confused but continued onward and found that my Google maps had directed me to a place called “Catch One” that was possibly the only active establishment for miles. Seemed wrong, but I said “screw it.” and bravely approached. The bouncer frisked me (apparently missing the utility knife in my pants) and sent me up. I saw a freakishly dressed couple and followed them down a narrow staircase to find, against all doubt, the promised Bunker. It was too dark for a decent photo, so I stole some from their website that are a pretty accurate representation of my experience:
There was a disappointingly happy discotheque-style dancefloor on the main floor with the bar, but after a bit  of wandering I followed the distorted throbbing down another level. Here I found the real stuff. There was a live group dressed like sado-masochists and screaming german over harshly distorted beats, and a weird crowd to match. I liked it but wandered even farther into the annals of the establishment to find “Das Noise Room,” where a (debatably) female DJ was blaring some of the harshest electronic music I’ve ever heard in an almost pitch-black room. This dark and claustrophobic atmosphere struck a chord with me and I danced up a healthy sweat for a while, forgetting all about meeting Kimba. Eventually I emerged and caught the tail end of the live set, and found Kimba shortly after. We talked, danced, and eventually gave in to exhaustion, but agreed to meet in the morning. 
I was extremely hungry, and the canned chicken in my car just wasn’t going to cut it, so I ventured over to the nearest In-N-Out burger, which happened to be in Hollywood – at 2 AM on a Friday night. Along the way I was aggressively passed, had brights flashed at me, honked at, and even had a flamboyantly dressed gentleman step into the road in front of me just to ridicule the haphazard paintjob on my 96 Corolla. None of this phased me. I was truly a driven man at this point, near the breaking point of hunger. But just as I neared the notorious Sunset boulevard, I laid eyes on an establishment that called to me much clearer than In-N-Out: the similarly hyphenated Chick-Fil-A. I pulled into the drive thru and obtained the succulent breastmeat I have come to expect from America’s finest christ-fearing and gay-hating chicken retailer, and after quickly scarfing it, escaped the deranged limelight to return to Lorenzo’s home and sleep.
———————————–Day 2———————————
I woke up and contemplated LA. All my life people have been painting it as this terrible Voltron-like assimilation of everything wrong with america. And maybe that is true. Probably is. Everything about it seems to go against my ideals and even aesthetics.  But I didn’t come to LA to philisophize myself into a dark corner and catch the Fear. I came here as part of a freewheeling journey, where my only real objective is to gather experience. And last night, that objective was accomplished in full. So who gives a fuck, really? It’s clearly ‘not my scene.’ But it’s not like I have to live here.
After resolving the argument in my head about by continued and voluntary presence here in the american heart of darkness, I got to know Lorenzo and his brother and roommate, Edward. They are both very friendly software engineers working on an Android app called Valarm, and soon I meet their respective girlfriends, Izza, and Buffy. Everyone is super nice and accommodating, and Buffy even makes me pancakes. Edward shows me his library of guidebooks, and shows me good places to jog nearby, and Lorenzo shows me the myriad of musical instruments about the living room. These are good people. I took out their trash and found this unique expression of love on someone’s motorcycle:

this is how people in LA express their affection to one another.

Shortly thereafter Kimba calls me and suggests we meet at Venice Beach. After parking nearby, I strapped my guitar to my back and walked to our meeting spot. I stopped and took a picture of this excellent Orson Welles-themed mural along the way.

if you don’t get he reference, look up “Touch of Evil”

Kimba gave me a quick run-down on the Venice Beach boardwalk, and then I was off into the freakshow. I described it to a friend later in the day: “You know how the Japanese take American culture and totally misinterpret it and twist it into something even more ridiculous? Well Venice Beach is as if the Japanese made a New Orleans-themed boardwalk.” The place is like a long, thin circus of humanity, set against a beautiful beach backdrop as some sort of sick joke.

this guy specializes in shitty oil paintings with the caption “DON’T FUCK WITH ME I’M A GODDESS”


impromptu drum circle, led by a frenetic, whistle-blowing dwarf (center, blue shirt)

This brought to mind my outrageous and traumatic first experience with Salvia, which happened to be with my schizophrenic best friend.  You can read about it here.

After scoping out the spectacle I was a bit stressed out, I guess from all the stimulation. So much bullshit from so many angles at once was exhausting. I sat down, pulled out my guitar and played some music to relax my mind. I zoned out and got pretty into it, and a young guy came and asked what he should put his money in. I opened up my guitar case and set it in front of me, and thus began my California busking career. Over the next few hours I played, sang, danced, and generally had a great time as onlookers passed and stared. Some gave me money, others didn’t even turn their heads. A couple of swagged-out black guys even stopped, rapped over my delta blues progression, and then proceeded to make it rain dollar bills whilst celebrating their lyrical victory. I ended the song at an appropriate moment and exchanged elaborate handshakes with both of them. I didn’t make a ton of money, but I wasn’t trying to. The way I saw it, I just did what I enjoy and do for free every day, and strangers gave me money for it. Not a bad deal. Eventually I came out of my busking trance and realized the sun was going down, so I packed up and used some of my busking profits to purchase a local delicacy, the pupusa. Its essentially a big corn tortilla stuffed with meat and cheese, and was extremely good and cheap.

beats the shit out of taco bell any day

Before leaving I noticed the undeniable beauty of the sun setting over the ocean, with the Santa Monica mountains in the background. Picture doesn’t really do it justice.

i guess this is why LA got so big in the first place.

After the sun set, I met another friend, Emily Ann, and went to a group meeting, details of which I cannot share due to the nature of anonymity. It was a very tolerant place, but this sign on the wall detailed the 3 things they won’t put up with.

cats are ok.

After the meeting, which was EXCELLENT, by the way, E.A. led me to “Nate ‘n’ Al’s” diner. We met in front to find that it was closed. I looked around and expressed both my distaste with the upscale nature of our surroundings, and my overwhelming need to urinate. E.A. informed me that this was Beverly Hills, and that I could consummate both sentiments simultaneously by relieving myself on the nearby Chanel fashion megaplex. She wasn’t serious, but I was, and seized the opportunity, leaving a long, unbroken trail of urine along the wall of the meticulously designed building. It is worth noting that at this point – I just realized I have publicly pissed on every single area of LA that I have been to, some even multiple times. Seriously. And not out of any vandalistic or destructive urge. Just out of necessity. I have a fast metabolism, drink lots of water, and LA isn’t big on public bathrooms. These three conditions have created a perfect storm of frequent public urination that will probably continue throughout my stay.

After some deliberation EA suggests we go to Mel’s diner in Hollywood. I am reticent because of my Hollywood experience the previous night, but am lured in by her promise of a free milkshake. Along the way I resisted the urge to steal this from a very expensive neighborhood:

not “Dick” or “Dick’s”. just “DICKS”

After reluctantly surrendering my car to the valet attendant at Mel’s we go in and get a table. Much to EA’s chagrin, I have brought in a can of tuna and a can opener. It seems a feasible option for protein intake without gross expenditure. I explain to her that this can of tuna cost me about a dollar, and will provide me with as much sustenance as a 10 dollar appetizer from the menu, before reading this elegant slogan off the can to her:

is this even possible?

Our waitress must’ve noticed my faux-pas, because we receive possibly the shittiest service ever. EA eventually just accepts my logic and we carry a decent conversation over the 6 dollar milkshakes (even more expensive than in Pulp Fiction!). I drive home in a daze brought on by exhaustion and sugar overload, and pass out almost immediately.

———————————–Day 3——————————–
The following morning I woke up and did some research on music in the area. I quickly was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of options and became mired in indecision. I decided to go on a run to clear my head. I ran down to a nice boulevard with a designated dirt running path down the center median, and got a good 3 miles in. 
On the way back I eyed a particularly climbable tree on the side of the road. I ran past it, but couldn’t resist and turned back. I intended only to climb up a couple of feet and sit with my feet dangling on a horizontal branch. But as soon as I got up into the tree, my inner baboon took over and before I knew it, I was at the very top, swaying in the breeze, taking in the view of a quaint little neighborhood. Couples jogged by with strollers or dogs, totally oblivious to the scenic vista right there in their front yard. They will probably never get to see their neighborhood the way that I did. After a few minutes at the top of the tree, I earnestly forgot where I was. I transported back to an 11 year old headspace where my biggest worry was how to occupy the hours between school and when my sister’s dance lesson let out. I would climb a similarly shaped magnolia tree and sit at the top to pass the time on many a hot, humid, Louisiana afternoon. After I came out of my nostalgic trance, I decided that it was probably time to go. Some lady’s yippy poodles were onto me, and if these socialites realized there was a transient wildman up a tree in their front yard, they would probably call the police. 
Back at Lorenzo’s I got to meet Kenny and Isabel, who are couchsurfing with Lorenzo as well. They are from Belgium and Spain respectively, but speak fluent English  so we get along well. They have been backpacking around the world for almost a year now. We talk about our next destination, and they plan to go to Sequoia National Forest next. This is a destination for me as well, so there is talk about the possibility of camping there together, which would be cool. 
I got a call from an old highschool bud, Alex, who was stationed at a marine base in Oceanside, about and hour and a half to the south. He was driving up and wanted to hang out. I had found a CouchSurfing meetup in Santa Monica, and figured that would be a good place to harvest info, so I told him to meet me there. After some frustration with parking in the ultra-commercial Santa Monica area, I made it to the meetup spot, and was greeted by a highly inebriated and extremely diverse group of people. I quickly found out that I was the only American there. There were people from Egypt, Belarus, Russia, England, Brazil, China, and many other countries I don’t remember. Everyone is so drunk, loud, and foreign that it is impossible to really understand anything, so when Alex arrives, we take off. After some walking around, we end up at a cyberpunk-esque glowing table enclosed in glass that looks off the edge of a 3 story mall over Santa Monica. We recount stories from our hometown, Lafayette, Louisiana, and once again I forget I am in LA. After a while we get pretty tired of the brightly lit commercialization of Santa Monica and head downtown for a show. On the way out, I saw and laughed at this mannequin. 
Santa Monica: so classy, even the mannequins look at you with disdain.
The place is called “The Smell” downtown, and it located in a back alley with no clear sign to designate it. Upon entering we are greeted with blaring Nintendo music and a young uncircumcised man screaming/rapping in the nude. Alex and I both exchange looks of approval and move closer to the stage.

It was “Chiptune Night Vol. 2”, which means that all the music we were hearing is made on antiquated 8-bit video game equipment, like original NES. There were literally people on stage playing GameBoys as musical instruments. It was cool.

I was pretty beat after a while so we parted ways and I went back to Mar Vista and to bed. 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s