A week ago I was returning from Los Angeles (on a free plane ticket, thanks to points) and ever since I have been unable to find time to tell you about it. Tonight I have landed in a quiet place and will try.
Michelle and Cheryl were two of my friends at Brush Creek Ranch last year in Wyoming. We laughed a lot together, so we knew the work we were doing with one another was truly important. Over the past year we took several stabs at a reunion, and finally Cheryl and I just barreled our way into a California invitation, and arrived on Michelle’s doorstep, so to speak.
She lives in a studio apartment with a kitchen and bathroom, which she shares with her boyfriend, Greg. They sleep on a single bed, and the remainder of the one room is dedicated to books, art, and studio space. Their giant cat makes the bed that much smaller. Unable to host us in terms of sleeping space, she researched options and found a converted hotel in downtown L.A. called Stay on Main. Next to (and in some ways part of) Hotel Cecil, it was darling, and somewhat hostel-style with small rooms, and shared bathrooms down the hall. That, and the multi-lingual, foreign-born guests, were the only things remotely hostel-like. The furnishings were new (Ikea), the front desk provided services such as arranging the airport shuttle, and the wi-fi was free. There was a continental breakfast every morning, which was short on fruit or protein but had individually made-while-you-wait fresh waffles, and six different Stash tea flavors. (Five nights for two people was about $300, total.)
Stay on Main was located in an area that not too long ago would have seemed excessively dangerous, but is undergoing a re-gentrifying. There were still blocks we avoided, and I wouldn’t have walked at night alone, but otherwise this was a hip, upscale, urban experience. A few doors down was a high-end restaurant with an attached health food convenience store. I know that sounds weird, but I don’t know how else to describe it. Like a Kwik Shop for Whole Food shoppers.
Michelle quickly oriented us to public transportation, and in no time we had TAP cards and were jumping on and off the Metro and the bus network. She explained that many people didn’t even know L.A. had a subway system (it does) and she emphasized she meant people who live in L.A. don’t know about their own subway system. That’s too bad, since the free entertainment is on the subway. Future stars (that’s what they tell us, anyway) displayed song and dance routines which included Michael Jackson impersonations, and a self-appointed litter monitor implored us to keep the subway cars clean as the city had recently spent a significant amount of money upgrading them.
Another artist friend texted me a reminder that our residency-mate from Jentel lives in L.A. now, so I contacted her in time to learn about her open studio tour in Inglewood. A car-load of us piled in and made our way there (after an exciting preliminary stop at the wrong address). The studios were spacious, the art varied and rich, and the atmosphere throughout the building inviting and chatty. Tori, my Jentelian friend, had a performance scheduled as part of the studio tour which included a renowned opera singer in an art dress Tori had designed and made, singing work she had helped to create. The seating was outdoors, the performance included projected video (one of my all time fave things) and the planes flying low overhead as they dropped in for landing at LAX only enhanced the experience. How lucky I was to be there for this.
The experiences blur. So much wonderful food, much of it Vietnamese and Thai. Coffee at Intelligentsia. Santa Monica, where we watched slackliners and other acrobats, ate a veggie burger and fries on the pier, and walked the beach together. A spontaneous street dance. The hilarious, sardonic tour of Hollywood (seedy, weird and full of the hard sell) given by Michelle’s recently unemployed tour-guide boyfriend. Little Tokyo. Meeting Michelle’s street friend, employer friend, and writer friend. Discussing food intensely (gluten-free being a big topic this time) and sharing snacks. Looking at each other’s art projects and learning about stop-motion. Touring the oldest house in L.A., built when it was still Mexico. Drinking hot ginger limeade. Standing in line at a restaurant so cool it doesn’t have a name. Scoring Moab-colored Converse All Stars (me) and the most elegant purse ever made (Cheryl) in a thrift store.
All of our travel time (bus, metro, walking, taxi) was spent in fever-pitch discussion of our lives and our art. We asked for and received input, steeped ourselves in the culture of relationships built on respect for one another’s work, and reminded each other, just by the way we are choosing to live, that what we are doing makes sense to someone. To us. And by making sense to us, this group us, it somehow allows our lives to make more sense to ourselves.
I consider this to have been a scouting trip. There are many people in California I would like to spend more time with. Cheryl and I started brainstorming how to get an apartment out there for a month next year. We may have been under the influence of a smog-high, but even back in the Midwest fresh air, it sounds like a great idea.