February 27, 2011

One Month In

It's hard to believe I've already lived in Los Angeles for a month. I'm not quite moved into my apartment or out of my boxes yet, but I'm settling in in ways that count.

I've established my local, a restaurant where they know me by name and seem genuinely happy to see me.

I've gone on four dates.

I want to get up in the morning.

I accept invitations to hang out with groups of people I don't yet know.

I've gotten a lot better at parallel parking.

I don't miss New York.

But, in LA, I need to find a place to dance, and someone to love.

Then I'll really feel like I'm home.

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February 25, 2011

Photo Essay: Past the Mission

Houses of worship have always ranked high on my lists of places to visit when I travel to a new place. I've toured any number of cathedrals, churches, and mosques in my various domestic and international travels, but somehow - despite all the time I've spent in California - I've never managed to make it to a mission.

Until last weekend.

I guess it didn't occur to me that a mission listed on the National Register of Historic Places would still serve as a functioning house of worship, so when I pulled into a full parking lot early Sunday morning outside the Mission Santa Ines in Solvang, I was surprised. But sure enough, I'd already missed one mass and a pancake breakfast, and I was just in time for the second mass of the day.

It's quite a turnaround from the original iteration of the mission, which was built by the Spanish to try to convert the local Native Americans to Catholicism, and which operated as a functioning ranch for several years. The original footprint of the mission was huge, and actually similar to some of the mosques I've visited, with a large, open-air central courtyard...

...housed by an exterior wall, topped with Spanish tile.

But instead of going back inside to sit through service (about which I was somewhat curious), I stayed outside of the main building, discovering the mission's more interesting exterior features and nooks, including the gardens... area where you could walk through the Stations of the Cross...

...the view of the vineyard next door under low-hanging mist...

...and a cemetery of graves both unmarked and marked by reproduction wooden crosses...

...blank metal signs...

...and crumbling old headstones.

My mission visit was a decidedly architectural and historical one rather than a religious one, but walking through the cemetery, I did feel spirits around me, if not my own brand of spirituality derived from nature, solitude, and exploration.

I suppose this isn't what people have in mind when I tell them about traveling solo in Santa Barbara wine country. But there's a ton of stuff to do, besides winetasting, just a couple hours north of LA. And plenty of opportunity for future exploration in my search for greater meaning - even among the ruins, and the dead.

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February 23, 2011

Walking In LA

At least once a week, I try to walk a couple of miles in LA in one day.

Not on a hike through the mountains, taking pictures and navigating trails, but on the city streets - or, rather, the sidewalks.

They are seldom used, the sidewalks, here in LA - at least for walking. For the last three Tuesday nights, I've been walking to and from the LA edition of the cold reading series where I've been workshopping my Tunisia story, and my round trip route is desolate. On the way, around 8 at night, there is the valet retrieving one final set of car keys from his metal case, which looks like an electrical box affixed to the side of a luxury boutique. There is the woman waiting for the bus with her cart, so overflowing with goods I wonder if she's homeless. There is the group of three young men, clearly tourists, crossing the street confidently with a sense of purpose, and eying me curiously. On the way back, there are the men smoking outside a restaurant. There are the doormen from the swank hotel. And there is a single ambulance passing by, lights blaring, silently.

The Beverly Center looms in the shadow of itself, its stores empty but its restaurants bustling with patrons who do not emerge onto the sidewalk. The Cedars Sinai hospital hangs brightly in the sky, its beacon lights unflickering behind the city's street that does not move. The traffic lights change, regularly, but the cars passing through them seem confused when I pass, stopping and starting as though losing all memory of road rules and of how to operate heavy machinery.

I amble, headphones in ears, hands in pockets though sometimes gesticulating wildly to the side and over my head, in response to a song or a lyric or a beat or the rhythm of my own gait, the freedom of being alone on the sidewalk, on the streets, on the road. On my walk from Beverly Hills to West Hollywood, I traverse a stretch with no homeless vagrants, no cab drivers, no drug dealers, no skateboarders, no prosthelitizers, no pickpockets, no whistling men. No one is interested in what I've got.

These are my wide open spaces, the sidewalks and intersections occupied by no one at night.

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February 21, 2011

Photo Essay: Ostrichland USA

Everyone kept telling me I needed to go to California's Central Coast wine country in the summer.

But I had a three day weekend this weekend, and after a few weeks of commuting daily in traffic, parallel parking, and fighting with other bargain shoppers, I was ready for some rolling hills and wide open spaces.

Because it's winter in Southern California, it was pretty rainy, so although I was itching for a hike in the mountains, my wine country experience in Santa Barbara County was limited to pretty much just one thing: wine.

Except when I got to feed the ostriches in Solvang, the Danish capital of the U.S.

At first, when they spot you, they seem really cute.


You're supposed to hold the bowl of food by its handle with two hands, because the ostriches will grab it away from you.

I giggled as they approached, cooing at the cuties.

They craned their necks above the fence to get to me...

Until they finally figured out that they could reach through the lower slats of the wooden fence. But there was only room for two or three ostriches to feed out of the bowl, which they pecked at feverishly.

The bowl of food didn't last long, and I suspected that the ostriches in the front - the most aggressive ones - generally get overfed and the ones in the back get neglected, so I went back for another bowl. But that one went quickly too, and because standing there with no food is considered a tease to the ostriches, I had to leave.

I blew them a kiss, pulled the hood back over my head, and trudged through the rain back to my car...

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February 19, 2011

Loneliness Ensues

It's been three weeks since I moved to LA. I haven't really felt lonely, or even missed New York, until now, when I've left Los Angeles.

I'm in Santa Barbara County on a road trip, and it's the first time I've really noticed that I'm alone in California.

There's nothing like a trip to wine country alone to force some self-reflection.

I didn't want to tell my coworkers I was going here alone. But once I was here alone, I had no recourse but to admit it, at least to myself. And those who persistently ask.

A tasting for one please. Just one? Yes.

Two tacos please. On the same plate? Yes.

Is there a long wait for a table? Yes, just for me. OK I'll try the bar.

Somehow I felt less out of place alone in New York than I do in California, maybe because of the friends who were never that far away. In Los Angeles, the anomaly of sitting alone at the bar has worked to my advantage: I meet lots of people and get VIP treatment from the staff. But somehow, on this road trip outside of Los Angeles, being alone has made me feel so lonely. For the first time since moving here.

The parking lot at the restaurant tonight was muddy and full of puddles. What if I got stuck? What would I do? Alone?

I can drink glasses of wine by myself. I can eat a personal pizza by myself. I can drive a couple hours north, find my way around, take pictures and absorb the local flavor, all by myself. I can sleep alone, wake alone, shower alone, and breakfast alone.

And I usually have no trouble traveling alone. But here in Santa Barbara, surrounded by winetasting groups and dinner dates, I wonder: how long can I stand living alone? I don't mean in my (fantastic) apartment, which I'm happy to share with no one. I life.

I've only been here three weeks, so I've got to give myself some time to make new friends, and deepen the friendships I already have out here. And maybe soon enough I'll be asking for a table for two.

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February 16, 2011

Photo Essay: Cheeseboro Canyon

It was about time. I'd been in LA for two weeks and I was dying for some greenery and wide open spaces.

So on our way to the Bottle Village, we stopped at Cheeseboro Canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains near Agoura Hills for a quick six-mile hike.

I asked the ranger what he recommended, and he pointed to an even quicker out-and-back trail that didn't look very interesting. When we inquired about a larger loop trail, he warned us, "That cross trail is pretty tough. I'll only take it by horse. It's not that it's that bad, it's just neverending."

But once we set off and felt confident in ourselves, I said, "I'm not scared of that cross trail," and my hiking partner said, "Me neither." So we agreed to try it, promising to turn back if it proved to be too challenging.

It wasn't.

The trail starts off mostly flat, for quite a ways.

We were surrounded by plenty of trees and shade.

And then we rose above the canyon to look down into it.

And then the trail went up and along a ridge, and up and up and up...

But we made it, despite some labored breathing, some uncomfortable (or, in my case, brand new) footwear, and the sun that rendered our cheeks rosy.

They're all multi-use trails, so the flat parts were full of other hikers and mountain bikers, but once we started climbing some real elevation, we had the trail mostly to ourselves, save for the occasional ranch vestiges, equestrians and the droppings left behind.

My whole body was sore by the end, but I was glad I hadn't been deterred by the warnings of the park ranger. I marvel at how ambitious I've become in the outdoors. But despite hangover and heartbreak on Sunday morning, climbing around that canyon made me glad to be alive.

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February 15, 2011

Alone on Valentine's Day

Once again, I don't know what I expected.

We'd met by chance in LA in March, when I'd taken my first scouting trip to try to find a California job. He introduced himself after spotting me in the crowd, took my number, and used it.

When I returned to California two months later, we serendipitously ran into each other in Palm Springs and reunited, in a big way.

We saw each other again in June.




My visits to LA became more frequent, both because of the urgent need for a salary, and for the urgent need to see him. He didn't visit me in New York. But he moved heaven and earth to see me once a month or so in LA.

And then it stopped, without explanation.

It stopped just as my trips to LA became more serious, just as it started to look like I would be getting a job and moving here.

Just as I found someone in New York worth staying in New York for.

I dismissed his sudden unavailability as a product of work, stress, schedule, etc., and despite his obvious disinterest, he still became my backup plan. Because of my own romantic developments in New York, I began rehearsing what I'd say to explain why we couldn't hook up again. I continued to try to see him, as I returned to LA to officially interview for my job, look for an apartment, and prepare to move, but he, like so many before him, had gone missing.

And then my guy in New York went missing, too, and became the one that got away.

And suddenly I had no one.

I suspected my LA guy had found himself a girlfriend, so I did the only thing I could do: I asked him straight out. And thankfully, he was honest, and confirmed that he had, but couched with doubts as to how it would turn out.

My backup plan had put me on the backburner.

And I was left with nothing but confusion.

I'm here now. Why couldn't he wait for me to get here?

I guess it wasn't me he wanted.

So just over two weeks into living in Los Angeles, still very much new-in-town, tenderhearted, vulnerable, and alone, I've had two dates and have kissed three guys. None of them seem to be interested in pursuing anything more with me. My New York exes have gotten used to the idea of me being gone, and have stopped sending me drunken messages late at night (though not so late on the West Coast). My LA guy - who'd become a regular suitor when I wasn't even living in LA - has found himself another.

And once again, I am alone. On Valentine's Day.

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February 14, 2011

Photo Essay: Bottle Village (Updated for 2016)

Folk art is pretty common in California, but it's more common out in the desert (see: Salvation Mountain).

Circa 2016

But up in Simi Valley, there's a place made nearly entirely of bottles...

Circa 2016 entire campus constructed of soda bottles: Chlorox bottles, blue bottles, green bottles, brown bottles, and various ephemera...

Circa 2016

...all held together with mortar.

Circa 2016

I've now had a couple of rare opportunities to visit...

Circa 2016

...though its public tours and open houses are few and far between.

Circa 2016

There's the sense that it may not be long for this world—and you've got to experience it now, before it disappears completely.

Circa 2011

During my first visit in 2011, you could actually go inside of the buildings.

Circa 2011

But they sustained a lot of damage in the 1994 Northridge earthquake...

Circa 2011

...before which everything was intact.

Circa 2011

Now, however, entering most of the buildings—the schoolhouse, the shell house, the pencil house—is verboten.

Circa 2016

There are really only two structures that have close to their original four walls. The rest have been reduced down to facades...

Circa 2016

...or never had any walls at all.

Circa 2016

And you've not only got to step around the broken shards of glass underfoot...

Circa 2011

...but you've also got to wear soft-soled shoes to make sure you don't break any of the bottles further.

Circa 2011

At the time, bottles were cheap building materials...

Circa 2011

...mostly because they could be collected from the local dump for free.

Circa 2011

That means that what Grandma Prisbrey—the creator of Bottle Village—found was generally bottles of beer, wine, and other liquor.

Circa 2011

But once people knew that she collected something specific—say, baby doll heads...

Circa 2016

...they'd start bringing those with them to gift to her.

Circa 2016

After all, from the beginning, Bottle Village was always a tourist attraction.

Circa 2011

And as creepy as it was (and is)...

Circa 2011 love(d) it.

Circa 2016

A lot of people—even in the neighborhood—know Bottle Village is almost never open, so they clamor to get in if they see the gate open.

Circa 2016

But, of course, the more we visit it, the more our footsteps take a little something away from it.

Related post:
Photo Essay: Bottle Tree Ranch
Photo Essay: Low Tide at Dead Horse Bay