March 30, 2010

The Waiting Game

Anyone who knows me would say I spend my whole life doing.

I would say I spend it waiting.

In the late summer of 1975, I waited an extra three weeks in my mother's womb before starting to push my way out. By the time I decided it was time to go, my mother's belly was hanging so low that she had to hold it up with both hands. By the time I started pushing headfirst, it took me only four hours to get out.

I've been impatient ever since.

When I get up in the morning, I can't wait to go back to bed. When I eat lunch, I can't wait for dinner. When I go to a concert or a movie, I can't wait for it to be over. When I send an email or leave a voicemail, I excitedly wait until it becomes excruciatingly clear that a reply will not come.

During most of my childhood, I waited. I waited for my father to come home from work every night except for Sunday. The waiting was worst on Friday nights, when my father kept late bank hours, but on Friday nights, I got to keep him at home instead of losing him to his night job in the credit department at Sears.

When my father wasn't home, while I waited for his return, I also waited for the yelling to stop. I waited for someone to discover the hell I was living in and whisk me away. I waited to be older, to move out and to  escape the yelling forever.

My whole life, I've waited to be older so that life would get better. When I was in college - and finally out of my parents' house - I couldn't wait to graduate. When I graduated, I couldn't wait to move to New York. (I did the next day.) When I moved to New York, I couldn't wait to get a job in the music industry. (I did within a month.) When I started as an assistant at Atlantic Records, I couldn't wait to get my own office and have someone else answer my phones. (I did in just over two years.) As a budding executive, I couldn't wait to make more money than my father. (I did by the time I was 30. He was 58.)

After the tumultuous decade of my 20s - an age I'd held such high hopes for - everyone told me that life would get so much better in my 30s. I'm still waiting for that.

I'm still waiting to lose my baby fat. I'm still waiting to be dateable. I'm still waiting for a reason, a purpose, a destiny, a comfort.

And all the while I'm waiting, I just have to keep moving forward.

Right now, in this moment, I'm waiting to find out whether or not I'm moving to LA in April. Time is ticking away, time for packing and apartment-hunting and car-buying and address-changing and long-last-looking and teary goodbye-ing. But I can wait a few minutes, a few hours, a few days. There are much bigger things that have kept me waiting for much longer.

Some things may keep me waiting forever...

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March 27, 2010

Potential Energy Becomes Kinetic

To listen to me, you'd think that all I did in California was take pictures, go on hikes, and eat and drink. But I was there to meet with people - current, past, and potential clients, and anyone who might help me find a job or support me in my hypothetical move across the country.

It's easier in LA, because I've been traveling there on business for at least ten years now, and have a handful of friends, business associates and acquaintances already there - unfortunately pretty much all in the music industry. Despite arriving to one meeting only to find out it had been canceled, I managed to squeeze a lot into LA, including one potential new client and, surprisingly, one potential job that may relocate me there sooner than I thought.

Funny when you think you're just in a meeting, and it turns into a job interview. Then again, 13 years into a career, is there that much of a difference anymore?

The same thing happened in San Diego, where I had to beg more to get people to agree to meet with me. I was lucky enough to be introduced to some San Diegans through my contacts elsewhere, but others I hunted down via blind outreach to info@ email addresses, human resource departments, and actual job applications. Surprisingly, people who I'd never met, who didn't really work in music and entertainment, were actually more than willing to meet with me, with immediate offers for help. And what I thought was an informational interview at The Old Globe Theatre turned out to be an actual interview, for a job I could actually do and probably would enjoy doing.

More than once, within a few minutes of meeting me, the person behind the desk - or the other side of the table at a coffee shop or taco bar - would say, "I really like your energy," and surprised, I would thank them. I wondered if there's just a receptiveness to people in California, or whether my energy was different, changed in some way on the other coast, far from home, despite the stress of driving and navigating and getting lost and being late. Or maybe it's both, a difference on both sides that finally allows me to connect with people with little effort or investment, just...being.

It happened everywhere while I was in California, not just dressed up for a meeting, handing out my business card, but with bartenders, receptionists, musicians in the house band, fellow drinkers, hotel owners, and Weight Watchers meeting leaders. People bought me drinks, took my number and actually used it, became my Facebook friend and offered to help me find a job.

How is it that in a state that's pretty much as broke as New York (probably more), people find a way to be...nice?

Now that I've returned to New York, which became cold and windy the minute I landed at JFK and where I walk invisibly down sidewalks while being accosted by girls with giant purses and shopping bags, I'm facing a very real job opportunity which may place me in LA by May 1. With a month or less to pack up my belongings I want to keep, and give away those I don't, I will need to move myself for the first time in six years.

The good thing is, I feel like California is waiting for me with open arms...

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March 26, 2010

Photo Essay: Dangerous Bluffs

We didn't have to be at the Salk Institute for our architecture tour until noon, so on our last day in San Diego, we hiked some new terrain: the "dangerous bluffs" along the mesa of Torrey Pines, whose cliffs I'd only previously whizzed by on a glider.

While up in the air, my paragliding instructor had pointed out the steep trails that go all the way down to the beach, piquing my interest. Since we were going to be just down the road anyway, we decided to tackle them.

A lot of the trail is actually very well marked, with sand-covered stairs lined with wildflowers.

The Parry Grove Trail has suffered terrible devastation from the Bark Beetle, rendering the trees into piles of woodchip rubble.

But there is plenty of color and life along the trail, in stark contrast against the green bluffs and the blue Pacific Ocean.

Red Butte, a great lookout point at the crossroads of the Razor Point, Yucca Point, and Beach trails.

You can see the park's namesake torrey pines through the mist at the top of the mesa...

We spent about an hour and a half in the state park but we could have spent all day. It's crowded with runners, bikers, and strollers but it's the perfect haven for the nearby city-dwellers, and overcitified visitors like me.

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March 25, 2010

Toxic Imperial Valley: VBS.TV

Here's one part of the Salton Sea area I haven't really seen (yet), and a story that's not often told...

Courtesy of VBS.TV, episode #2 of 2

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Photo Essay: San Diego's Modern Science

After reading about how Dwell-tastic it is, I booked an appointment to take a free architectural tour of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, down the road from the gliderport where I went paragliding last July. I couldn't be in San Diego for meetings without fitting in at least one or two sightseeing excursions.

The scientists at the Salk, which was established in the 1960s by the developer of the polio vaccine, study everything from plant biology to neuroscience to genetics to diseases. The institute was built on the Torrey Pines mesa overlooking the Pacific Ocean in La Jolla, just north of San Diego, as a place where scientists, research teams, and students could work together in a collaborative environment that adapted over time to their changing needs, required little maintenance, would withstand an earthquake, and would be worthy of a visit from Picasso (who, unfortunately, never did visit).

Most of the campus is built around this central courtyard, one of its most famous design features, and one of the last to be completed.

Water feature

Much of the structure is built out of concrete, in separate segments to provide enough give during seismic activity.

The concrete showcases some intentional design features of its own, including the lack of removal of air bubbles, and these lead plugs.

Weathered teak

Although it is still technically outdoors (outside the library), this teak sliding door has retained its color.

One of the three functional laboratory floors.

A rare view into one of the three alternating utility floors that power the labs, not open to the public

The Salk Institute campus - namely, the main building that surrounds the courtyard - is considered by some to be the most significant architectural site in San Diego. Designed by world-renowned architect Louis Kahn, it is flooded in daylight, even in the basement, and today looks very much like it did when it was first built.

I hope one day to return to witness the sunset, which twice a year is perfectly centered when looking out over the ocean from the courtyard.

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March 22, 2010

Photo Essay: Whitewater Redemption

Since last summer, when I went on a different hike nearly every day, I've tramped a lot of trails.

I've conquered the snowy hike, the flooded hike, the insurmountable hike and even the creepy hike.

But as I was getting ready to plan another hike during my return to the Joshua Tree area, instead of finding some new, uncharted adventure, I decided to return to a previously failed one: Whitewater Canyon Preserve.

I'd tried to hike the relatively easy Canyon View Loop Trail but had gotten lost somewhere on the Pacific Crest Trail and got hot, ran out of water and turned back. But on this trip, working to our advantage were the slightly overcast sky and hot but comparatively temperate weather.

And we also asked for directions at the ranger station.

What we got in return was a high climb along a narrow, precarious ridge and stunning views of the white rock canyon below while flanked by beds of wildflowers in full bloom.

Actually knowing where I was going this time, thanks to the ranger station.

Familiar rock-lined paths, where the trail was still flat.

Yep, still on the trail.

Off the road somewhere between the beginning and end of the loop. We started at the end and worked our way back to the ranger station.

Shards along the beginning of the trail, where signs warned us not to take anything.

Bed of wildflowers

The view of the dry river valley on the way up the ridge.

Winding path

View from high up the ridge, on the way down, through steep, slippery switchbacks.

The familiar bridge that crosses the water runoff - this is shortly before I got lost the last time.

I was glad to have the chance to redeem myself to this trail, though I'd had such a good time during my last visit even without completing it. And with wildflower season being so short, it was such a treat to see the desert hills - just a few miles outside of Palm Springs and down the hill from Joshua Tree - so lush and green.

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March 21, 2010

Scenes from the Hi Desert: Mexican Serenade

It may not have been the most convenient choice, but when we had the chance to drive three hours to spend one night at the Rimrock Ranch in Pioneertown, CA near Joshua Tree, we jumped at it.

Although we didn't arrive in town until after 7 p.m., we managed to squeeze in dinner at La Casita Nueva an hour before they closed (even on a Saturday night!).

We ate fish tacos and camarones rancheros while being serenaded by these guys.


It's been several months since I stayed in Joshua Tree. My favorite coffee house may have closed, but last night and today I experienced lots of welcome deja vu driving along unlit country roads and shopping for wine at Stater Bros. I wish I could have spent more time there, but as they say, it's always best to keep me wanting more...

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The Road to Nowhere

I'm thinking about moving to California, enough to go there on a scouting mission and take some meetings, but I had a hard time figuring out when to schedule a trip. It was all too overwhelming. I needed a reason, and if that reason wasn't being flown in by a record label (like last year), or a job interview, then what could it be?

Then Edith found out about an Atlas Obscura-hosted tour of California City, a ghost town of sorts, north of LA and less than an hour west of Barstow, that I didn't hear about until after I'd returned from my month in Joshua Tree. Go exploring on the first annual "Obscura Day," and build meetings in LA before and in San Diego afterwards? Done.

So the real purpose of my trip was the meetings, but the anchor was California City.

California City seemed to us like another Salton Sea - designed with high hopes, never inhabited as expected, its remaining residents struggling for a sense of identity. In some ways that's true, but without a (admittedly freakish) sea, California City is...a whole lot of nothin'.

Our excursion wasn't really a tour, but rather, as we found out upon our arrival, conceived as somewhat of a looky-loo flashmob. Entirely self-guided, we were pointed to a state park trailer where we could buy a map, and off we went.

As we found out, the city's roads were built in intricate patterns. Some were paved but have been taken over by drifting dirt and sand (thanks to a lot of dust kicked up by the motocross and dirtbikers that use the OHV trails that run throughout). Some were never paved, despite being named after cars like Chrysler, Lincoln, and Oldsmobile. You can still see the sign posts where life was supposed to be, plots where water lines and sewer pipes were never laid.

We kept looking for something, anything, but every road led us nowhere. We finally followed signs to a park which led us up a hill to a scenic lookout, where we got an aerial view of the layout. The roads looked like geometric scars in the earth, crop circles with no alien purpose, clearings for no cars, horses, or people.

Apparently California City is most fascinating when seen from directly above it - either by, I suppose, plane or Google Maps. Driving through it, we thought, "There has to be something more than this."

True, the empty part is kind of California City's "Old Town," abandoned before it was ever even inhabited. The "Ville Nouvelle" has a Rite Aid, a prison, a golf course, more parks, some apartment complexes, and even a lake.

The lake is where we found our most fascinating treasure: the old Lake Shore Inn, a relatively stable living ruin that allowed us to slip through its chainlink fence, stand behind its bar and climb its stairs without injury or punishment.

We parked our car in a proper spot in its lot, whose blacktop has been scarred by outcroppings of grass growth, nature's revenge on what man did to it out there in the middle of nowhere in California City.

There was a bit of ephemera scattered around, unstolen, unvandalized. No one cares enough about California City to pillage it.

The pool was full of dirt and stunk of rotting, but it was noticeably lacking in graffiti and skateboard tracks.

Inside, we were surprised that there was none of the stink of the outside pool. Although windows and mirrors were shattered, holes torn through walls, unrecognizable debris everywhere, the motel had not become a bird refuge or a haven for drug-addled teenagers. Is it possible that even the birds didn't care?

Skulking around the top floor of the Lake Shore Inn's remaining empty shell, a filmmaker adjusting his tripod looked at us and said, "I hope you didn't come all the way out here just for this."

This was some of the most significant exploring that we'd done of an abandoned building. We cared. We dreamed about taking the elevator to the top floor, and looking out over the lake first thing in the morning and before we went to sleep.

Will California City ever become the thriving suburbia it was originally planned to be? Or will it forever stand in the shadow of neighboring Mojave, whose recent unveiling of Virgin Galactic's spaceship put it on the interplanetary map?

It's hard to know for sure. But I still have high hopes for the Salton Sea.

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