Day 5. In Santa Monica there is a mock Tudor building on the corner of a street that sells Heinz Tomato Soup for 4 bucks. You can get a bottle of Fairy for 7 or even a Yorkie Bar for too much. It looks like most of the shops in Stratford upon Avon in that it’s trying to look Tudor but isn’t, and it’s called “ye olde” something. In this case “Kings Head Shoppe“. It’s rather lovely to behold. I walk in and it seems to be doing a roaring trade. Santa Monica is where all the expat Brits tend to settle and I can see why. It’s got everything. It calls itself The City of Santa Monica and it sits on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. If you walk to the end of the pier you find a sign marking the end of Route 66. 2448 miles from Chicago, the road out west. You’ve made it pilgrim. This is the end of the road. Sit yourself down and have yourself a Jammie Dodger. That’ll be 4 dollars.
The town itself has a huge centre full of shops. There are pedestrianised boulevards, coffee shops, the first bookshop I’ve seen since I arrived, and chain stores. It’s like Milton Keynes with vomiting stegosaurus fountains instead of concrete cows. So I go shopping. There are no yoga mats for less than 50 bucks anywhere in Venice, but of course one for 10 in T (J?!) Maxx which I snag as I’ve taken to doing yoga every morning. When in Rome. Then I book myself a ticket for the matinee of Lalaland at 3.45. I call it research. And maybe it will cheer me up with the inauguration looming. Armed with ticket and mat I wander towards the ocean to prevent a shopping spree. The sun is blazing after a night full of rain, and I want to put my hand in the water. But I get distracted. There’s a bloody great big promenade with a funfair on it where Route 66 ends. Ferris wheels, roller coasters, fortune tellers, games. I burn 2 dollars in a ball shooting machine and get 500 tickets which nets me a vile fluffy pink tiger eating someone’s heart. Clutching it by the neck as a toddler would I become fascinated by the Pacific. I love the sea. Even in London I live by water. But this ocean… I can’t even contemplate the distances. I watch a man fishing at the end of the pier. He keeps pulling them in and chucking them back. Too small. But there are plenty of fish in this sea. My thoughts sink into it. I get out my phone and track ahead on the map. Page after page of scroll and then you barely miss New Zealand. I imagine striking out into it in a canoe. Vast.
Pulling myself away I go and immerse myself in Lalaland. I can tell you now after 5 days, it’s hard hitting documentary realism. Once again I’m lost in fantastic reverie. Here’s to the ones who dream. By the time I leave the cinema I’ve cried so much my beard is soaking wet. I was going to walk home, but I’m a wreck, and uber pool is 2.99. Trump gets in tomorrow. The cold is blowing in across the desert and tomorrow it will rain. My uber driver says “I honestly keep hoping I’m about to wake up from a terrible dream.” Ugh. Back to reality. What I wouldn’t pay for a comforting can of Heinz tomato soup.
Day 4 and I’m beginning to miss the easy friendships I left behind. The golden people where you can simultaneously love, mock, comfort and challenge one another. Now I am surrounded by strangers and have not carved out those furrows. There ARE old friends but the weight of years apart pulls heavy. Today was admin. Photos. I dislike looking at myself in a mirror so it’s been incredibly valuable to crowdsource opinion on my headshots. Thanks anyone who helped with that. I’ve been thinking about that tendency in me not to like to look at myself, in the context of what I am doing and where I am. What the hell am I doing drinking in LA at 27? Well, I’m neither drinking nor 27 fuckit. But I’m here. I always used to say “I’m the opposite of LA.” “Oh I’m not the type of person who goes out there.” I’ve said that many times. I suddenly wondered why. And I realised that, as much as anything else, it’s been informed by my love of words. I’m the opposite of LA. Simply because I’m AL. Yep, that’s the sort of shit I do to myself. So I had to come out here. To look at myself. To see if there is anything in LA for AL.
Everything here costs money. It’s not very forgiving. There’s a hierarchy of deserving based on ability to pay. It drives one to want to make more money. It drives ambition. The undercurrent is “there’s a huge amount of money here. If you can’t afford it, get some of it, climb the ladder, play the game, that’s what we do. Dance bear dance.” And yet somehow it feels like people are dancing for themselves in the mirror, not for the sultan. And perhaps I need to dance in the mirror for a bit. I need to be able to look hard at myself to properly take ownership of what I am trying to achieve professionally, which is career longevity and continuous challenge. And people do that here.
I fit right in to this place spiritually, in that it is as confused as I am. What am I? A practising christianobuddhist greek pantheist. Utterly pretentious, doubly confused. It probably make my tinder profile here go bananas if I put it. There’s a hindobuddhist palmreading tarotovoodaic psychic ayurvedic astrologicoptic herbalist medium on every street corner peddling massively conflicting ideas for 10 bucks. “Do three hail shivas every morning while banging a gong with a chicken leg and chewing fennel.”
This morning 20 women of all ages with bright floral lycra went through asana to the soundtrack of one grunting man at the back wearing sheer Bikram pants and feeling like he’d somehow teleported into one of those seventies movies his mother used to watch. He hasn’t found his groove yet, nor his people, nor his area. But he’s trying to remember who he is through the prism of getting up every morning and saying yes to everything.
I’m glad I’m here, and equally glad that I am not enmeshed in the game of here. I want to play it a bit. I do want to go into a studio and have a couple of meetings and see that side of it. But I haven’t buried my expectation in it, which makes me feel like I have perspective. Today has been admin so no walking. Normal service will probably resume tomorrow.
This beautiful shot was taken by David Drew.
Day 3 and I’m in West Hollywood. There’s a little island of expat Brits who have a regular breakfast subsidised by Air New Zealand. They all meet on Tuesday morning to have bacon and eggs, tiny little pots of baked beans, bottomless tea, and chats about the British things that British people chat about. Traffic, weather, admin, accommodation, family. It’s a big group and has been running for years. I flew Air New Zealand so perhaps the subsidy will offset the flight a little. Getting there involves two buses through rush hour. I’m worried about the expense of an uber. As it happens I travel entirely free. On the first bus I artlessly produce my wodge of twenty dollar bills and ask if there’s change. The driver laughs at me in the way of people who can operate the machine. “I’ve been using it for ages, I know there’s no change, he should know what I know.”
A friendly passenger pities my haplessness and gives me $1.75. She advises that I go to a laundromat and get a load of quarters. I thank her profusely, and walk embarrassed past grinning strangers. 20 stops later I have to get on a connecting bus and there are no laundromats in sight, so still no change. Feeling slightly ashamed of myself I duplicate my behaviour and sure enough it yields the same result. Taking my seat in another grinning bus it occurs to me that I could probably travel for free all month if I could keep the act fresh. Until I get a repeat customer and then I get shot. Best go to the laundromat. But the genial lost Englishman thing evidently has traction.
Breakfast involves a lot of talking and people trying to establish if I’m important. I hate to disappoint so I remain elusive high status and leave abruptly. They ask me to get involved in something called The Toscars, which could be amusing and fits my timing. The details are hazy. I walk lots of hot streets and settle in a coffee shop full of sunglasses and sandals. It’s springtime in Hoxton! It’s ALWAYS springtime in Hoxton here, kids. I organise to meet an old friend. He comes round in his car. For the first time in a while I have a conversation that is not informed by subtext. “This place is weird, it has no centre.” I venture. “That’s because YOU are the centre. It wouldn’t work if there was an actual centre. Wherever YOU are, that’s the centre, for everyone here.” We talk about Trump. “Do you think there’ll be a protest here on inauguration?” “This is Hollywood. There’s no politics.” We cover a lot of ground in a short space of time and he buys me a steak and blue cheese sandwich which almost makes me cry. “The medium food here is the best in the world.” It’s also 16 bucks. Last night I saw a basic loaf of sourdough in a supermarket for 7.50. I’m going to be eating a lot of sardines. My friend drops me back at the coffee shop in time to catch the falling sun. It drops early. I sit listening to people offer to send each other their resumé, meet with someone else and give them mine, and get an uber pool all the way home for $2.50. No idea how that happened. Travel money makes no sense here. There’s a lot that makes no sense. But at least I get the sunset from the uber.
Dawn day 2 in the crazy house this morning saw me stripping my bed to the soundtrack of roosters and a little yapdog outside the window that seemed endlessly concerned by my presence and desperate to warn everyone. I loved the guys there though. It’s a huge family originally from Mexico – 8 brothers and sisters and their sick mother, with all their partners, pets and habits. They were all working multiple jobs and renting out their space, crashing early in the evening and getting up before dawn, which fitted my jet lag well. And they had made a beautiful house, and were generous. They positively forced me to eat all the bagels I could manage, with endless cream cheese, and if I ever ran into them they were eager to chat. But the area was a bit weird and I went for a walk last night and it did feel pretty stark and deserted. So I went with my instinct and moved to Venice, to a hostel.
Venice is very different. They seem to have canals that are entirely pretentious and serve no purpose except to live on. There are still small dogs, but carried in baskets or halfheartedly walked by stick thin twentysomethings with sunglasses and platforms. There’s yoga on every block and you’re more likely to find Matcha than coffee. I’ve been walking around thinking of the guys in that church. I move area just by hitting a few buttons on my iPad. They are scared they’ll lose their house in the area I moved from. While I’m in a coffee shop looking at pictures of myself their kids are shooting one another.
I walked up the side of a river in Glendale yesterday and it was like a shanty town for the dispossessed, some of whom had brought all their possessions to live for a while between a freeway and a trickling urban river. Some of them had brought skis, fire grates, cases and cases of possessions, beautiful curtains for shelters. Others had shopping trolleys packed with all familiar household objects. Some were cooking jambalaya with good implements on open fires. Others were smoking pot in filthy tents. One lady was fishing, many people were washing things in the river. I guess they aren’t moved along and the area is just used as a cycle track. Certainly I was the only man walking that didn’t live there. I wondered about all their stories, how they had ended up there, how they found their happiness, what might happen to them. Here’s me with my flat in Chelsea and my job making stories, and these people might have once had much more, and now you can walk past them and almost not see them unless you look.
After checking my privilege I went to meet a lovely man called Ryan to talk about movies and ambition on a roof garden while his miniature husky inspected us and we sipped espresso. Then I walked to muscle beach to see hulking brutes pose for photos, and did some yoga. Soon I’ll go back to my comfortable bed in a room full of bunks. The weather today has been gorgeous, like springtime in London. I’m very very lucky to be here, and to be able to share this with you.
Day 1 and I am up before dawn. The Airbnb is lovely but full of sleeping strangers and considering I rolled in late last night and went straight to bed I’m aware they might be a little uncomfortable with me wandering around switching all the lights on. The patio is full of horny cats rolling around in the predawn, and as I close the door behind me and incompetently jiggle my keys in a terrible attempt to lock the door, the neighbours’ rooster wakes, guilty, and starts crowing. I stand to admire the palm trees and traces of red in the sky, and then open the big security gate that leads to the street. The cats make a break for it but I block them with my feet. I don’t know the rules here. As I close it behind me another man exits the house, precipitated by my incompetent attempts to lock his door. He introduces himself as Artur, and comes through the gate also blocking the cats. With all these cats it’s a miracle there’s a rooster. I tell Artur I don’t have a car but I’m going for a walk. He asks me if I’m mad. I tell him I hope not, and he offers me a lift. “Don’t walk around here.” He is going into work in his uber. He drives me to a starbucks on Jefferson and tells me it’s safer round here. He then gives me his number and insists that I call him if I am in danger. He repeatedly tells me to trust nobody. I trust him. It’s still dark, but Starbucks is open so I buy him a coffee and one for myself. I order myself a flat white as they have one on the menu, which is progress from the last time I was here. It’s a latte, but at least they’re trying. Artur makes sure I know that the emergency number is 911, and clarifies that he is best friends with all the local police because his family sorts out their life insurance. The last guy I met called Artur gave me a lift from France to London and left me standing by his van at Calais with a massive wrench in case “someone tries to sneak under the van”. Is there genuine danger, or are people called Artur lovely yet paranoid? Either way he leaves me on the street clutching a flat latte and feeling I might need to look over my shoulder. I shrug it off and go for a walk as the dawn cracks around me. Big shops, big stone churches, lots and lots and lots of cars, big trees, things built for show. I think I’m going to need to rent a car. Uber will break me and the buses are pretty bad here. I find a metro station. Artur has told me that nobody knows how to use the metro. An opportunity to be a pioneer? Sadly it doesn’t go in the direction I need to go, which is back to the cats, through this dangerzone of Artur’s. So I walk, following Google Maps, and there is nobody else walking. I walk through discarded clothes and ripped off bags, auto parts lying neglected on pavements, human turds, shopping trolleys. After an hour I come upon a small building with stained glass. Outside it sits a gigantic man with a gun. People are going in. On impulse, I go in too. To St. Matthew’s Evangelical Baptist Church. I stand at the back but it is obvious that I am new. I’m the only white face, and they worship together daily. I am gently asked to introduce myself. They make me feel welcome and the pastor preaches a gospel of hope and transformation. His context is that of children dead or in prison, and the shackles of deep poverty. I find the message very pertinent, full of hope, and a call to arms. “Too many of us mistake our stopping place for our staying place.” After the service, he runs to catch me in the street as I walk away. He thanks me, and warns me “This is a bad area. You should be careful here.” I walk back to the digs and open the fence. This time the cats don’t seem so keen to go out onto the street. Or is that my imagination?