Wild Young Minds: January 2016

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Roadtrip part 1: Coming into Los Angeles

The Mamas and Papas expected to feel safe and warm in L.A., the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Anthony Kiedis sang how sometimes he felt like his only friend was the City of Angels and Tupac, who wasn't even born on the West Coast, rapped how L.A. was the place to be - ''you've got to be there to know it, what everybody wanna see''. If you look at all the lyrics that are written about this famous city, you'd think it's pretty clear: L.A. is goddamn cool. After all, it's where all the stars live, it's where streets are called Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood Boulevard and Melrose Avenue, and it's where areas as Compton and Beverly Hills are based.
Interestingly enough, though, everyone I'd met so far, both in San Francisco as on my travels, told me: ''You're not gonna like L.A.''. In California, it seems you're either an LA or an SF person - it's impossible to be both. So I was expected to be the latter, since SF is smaller, has better public transportation and less shallow people. It might sound dorky, but these are all things I find extremely important when it comes to cities. Especially the public transportation. I heard that L.A. is no fun if you don't have a car. Since I was on my own and - more importantly -  not able to drive, I expected to see just the (touristic) highlights of L.A., since it would take me around 2 hours to come from destination A to B. Luckily, my great love for Couchsurfing rescued everything.

In case you didn't know my plan for this 3-week trip: after Christmas, I was to leave for L.A. and travel down South, maybe spend a day in Mexico, and continue my journey to Phoenix, Austin and New Orléans. How was I gonna pay for this, considering the fact I'd also been to Vegas, Yosemite, Sequoia, Portland, Seattle and Vancouver (and had paid rent in crazy expensive San Francisco above all)? Well, I was gonna travel by Greyhound. Yes, the bus that only the bottom 30% of the Americans use. I've actually started to like the Greyhound, though, for the fact that you'll never get bored on a station and there are no crying babies sitting next to you (whenever I'm on a plane, there's ALWAYS one either in front, next or behind me). But more about the Greyhound in my next posts, cause I have plenty of stories to tell! Anyway, Greyhound is comparatively cheap, especially since I have a student advantage card. Another reason I could travel cheaply, was that I was gonna couchsurf at most places. As you'll probably know already, Couchsurfing is a site where hosts share their houses and so you can have free accommodation.

I can be pretty organized sometimes - and other times not at all, as my friends and family know - so I arranged the places to stay days in advance. I was gonna stay with a guy who worked in the film industry, which I was really looking forward to. A day before I was supposed to leave, however, he sent me a message saying his parents gave him tickets to NY for Christmas and so he wasn't gonna be able to host me anymore. A damn fine gift, now that I think about it, but at that moment all I could think was: fuck your tickets, fuck Christmas gifts, fuck NY (fuck your parents might've flashed through my mind, but that goes a bit too far, doesn't it?). So, for a moment, I was slightly stressed, but fortunately Julio told me he could host me for three nights. Julio turned out to be awesome with a capital A.

Julio, originally from El Salvador, but living in L.A. for more than 25 years already, picked me up from the Greyhound station in his big truck. He lived in Frogtown, which is L.A.'s Hottest New Neighborhood according to LA Weekly. Julio took me to a cool Mexican place for tacos and afterwards, we bought a bottle of liquor. I have to say I've been pretty lucky with my hosts - we all shared a profound love of alcohol. I can't guarantee you that your host is gonna welcome you with wine when you use Couchsurfing, but in my case, it happened a few times! Lucky me. That night, we went to a Mexican bar, where a band performed Morrissey songs in Spanish. Mexicans really dig Morrissey, my host told me. And I could understand why, his songs in Spanish were very good.

The day after, Julio, who works with homeless people on Skid Row, didn't have to work. So he was able to bring me to Venice Beach. Since it was sunny, it was the perfect decision. Moreover, Venice Beach was high on my list, because it's where my favorite band practiced their first songs. The Doors! Second thing we did was take a couple of shots with me and my hero, who had his own mural. Because the first thing we did was eat pizza for breakfast. When in America... But no, this was special pizza, namely: a salad slice. It was honestly the best I've ever eaten (Home Slice Pizza in Austin included!) and all the pretty people in their sport outfits turned their heads when they walked passed me. It must've been the avocado, don't you think?

Afterwards, we went for a bike ride to Santa Monica and talked about everything. Turned out we got along very well! Since I want to keep my hosts as anonymous as I can, I won't reveal any personal stories, but Julio surely lived and lives an interesting life. Inspiring guy for sure! After the ride, we drank a beer and met a woman with the same kind of eyebrows as me, whose name I keep forgetting. But she was very cool and inspiring. Good story, yes. We went to see the sunset at a rooftop and that's when I thought: L.A. is not that bad at all!

It made a huge difference that my host drove me around a lot. I used public transportation only once. Therefore, I was able to see and do a lot. On Monday morning, we drove to the Hollywood sign, which was high up in the hills. Cool to see, but in the end, it's just a sign. You're not allowed to climb up there - I know, super cool if we'd done so, but my host had to go to work. So I had breakfast at the beginning of the Walk of Fame, photographed some stars (the ones on the ground, unfortunately) and continued my way to Melrose Avenue and Sunset Boulevard. Both streets were not that special. Sunset Boulevard was actually extremely boring.

The thing about L.A. is that you don't meet anyone on the streets, since everyone is in their car or in their houses. When I was 10 years younger and when my dream was becoming an actress, this place would've been heaven to me. Honestly, I wanted to be in the movies so bad, dreamed about Hollywood, becoming friends with Lindsay Lohan, the Olsen Twins and Hilary Duff, and marrying Orlando Bloom or Chad Michael Murray. I still dream about marrying Johnny Depp, come to think of it, but that's another story.

Anyway, after this boring walk I went to Universal Studios, which was cooler than I expected. We could ride in a cute little bus and walk around the touristic shops. Sometimes you just gotta do those things. In the evening, me and my host ate Thai food and watched ''The Soloist'', which was filmed right around the corner of my host's place. The next day I stayed close to the Greyhound station, since I didn't want to pay for public transportation, it was gonna take hours anyway and my sense of direction is extremely - yes, extremely - bad. I know, I had to survive for three more weeks on my own in the States, but L.A. just didn't feel like the right place to practice this ability. As Kerouac wrote in ''On the Road'' (which I read in the Greyhound): ''LA is the loneliest and most brutal of American cities; NY gets god-awful cold in the winter but there's a feeling of wacky comradeship somewhere in some streets. LA is a jungle''.

Conclusion? Were the people right in their expectation of me not liking LA? Well, the thing is... If you expect to dislike a city so bad, it can only turn out good. I had a great time with my host, he even gave me a little souvenir of a pirate duck, which kept me company on my entire trip. I was also very lucky that he could drive me around, I loved the constant sun in L.A., the beaches and the Mexican influences. True, L.A. is nothing like SF. Not as authentic, intellectual, architecturally interesting, personal and alive (in my opinion). But at least I was able to say that for myself now. I could never live - or die - in L.A. But staying there for three days was not that bad. Not that bad at all.