September 30, 2013

My First Birthday Alone in LA

Pretty much ever since I knew I was moving to LA, I was panic-stricken about how I would celebrate my birthday.

In New York, I'd gotten used to throwing myself big parties attended by lots of friends, coworkers, sometimes even out-of-towners, and past and future lovers to bestow me with birthday kisses. I went skydiving for my 30th birthday, accompanied by a caravan of cars full of spectators and fellow jumpers willing to go all the way out to East Stroudsburg, PA to free fall over the Poconos.

For my first LA birthday, I convinced Michelle and Edith to meet me in Vegas.

Last year, Edith visited me here in LA and humored my request to ride a tiny train in Griffith Park and do other birthday nonsense.

This year, I was facing my birthday alone. I had to face my birthday alone. I can't rely on my New York girlfriends to keep me company every year. I have to build my own life, out here.


But as my birthday approached, and crankiness ensued, in the decision between fight or flight, I almost flew. I was this close to booking a ticket for New York to spend my birthday there.

But as much as I reconsidered the flight, I ignored the fight. I kept hoping my birthday would just go away, that I'd magically fall into a coma and wake up in October, just in time to celebrate Halloween. I kept hoping that someone here in LA would remember my impending birthday and suggest a course of action. It's hard to plan your own birthday. And if I don't have a buddy or roommate or significant other to help me plan a celebration, who on God's green earth would actually come?

Every time I deliberated a birthday dinner or drinks, I imagined myself sitting alone at the bar. It doesn't matter that I do that every night anyway. The heartbreak arises when the invited do not come. Perhaps better not to invite.

So, now two hours into my waking, daylight birthday, I still have no plan, for today, or tonight. I sit outside the library, waiting for it to open. I regret the almond dark chocolate cupcake I bought for myself last night at Sprinkles, which I ended up not liking very much. I regret the French toast I chose for breakfast, which was too big and too hurried and too touristy and washed down with coffee I didn't like very much, ordered only because they don't carry Diet Coke.

I regret starting off my birthday celebration by getting stood up. I shouldn't have accepted his dinner invitation, at least not on that day. But, not having any other plans, I was thrilled to receive an invitation from anyone, even a stranger. I shouldn't have relied on that stranger's kindness.

At this point today, I'm just hoping nothing bad happens. If it's a nothing, uneventful day, I'll be grateful. If I get to talk to a couple of friends on the phone, I'll be thrilled.

I celebrate life on plenty of other days, all alone, out there in the world. I drink wine in the afternoon. I get massages. I explore the nether reaches. I seize adventure.

I'm just too tired for it today.

So maybe it's just Monday.

No one to kiss.

Then again, no one to break my heart.

September 29, 2013

Photo Essay: The Faces of Bonnie Springs Ranch, Old Nevada (Closed, As of 2019)

[Lsst updated 3/29/19 8:35 PM PT—Bonnie Springs has been sold to a developer and is now permanently closed and will be razed.]

In the Pioneer Days of the 19th century, a lot of wagon trains made their way through Old Nevada merely on their way to California.

Lured perhaps by California gold instead of Nevada silver, or by the ocean instead of landlocked desert, that meant they had to cross Death Valley to get there.

They needed a place to cool off and get a drink of water before they made the arduous trip, one that as we know, many didn't make all the way through.

Now within the Red Rock Canyon area, Bonnie Springs Ranch was built as such a stopover point, and a century later was transformed into a tourist attraction, a good place to take a break from Vegas.

Like Pioneertown or even Paramount Ranch, it's a throwback that glorifies gunfights and public hangings...

...and mining and saloon girls.

When I visited back in 2013, this ghost town was very much alive.

There were many faces watching me walk through...

...whether in the petting zoo...

...through the "Old Town"... the Shooting Gallery...

...and on the front porch, greeting you when you arrive...

...and practically winking at you as you go...

...beckoning visitors, "Y'All Come Back Soon" to Old Nevada.

[Update] Bonnie Springs Ranch dated back to the 1950s, with the "Old West" town replica to follow in the 1970s and the petting zoo in the 1980s. It's surrounded by BLM-owned land, so it's still remote. But the new development of homes will wipe any memory of it away.

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September 27, 2013

Photo Essay: Pinball Hall of Fame - Riviera Annex, Vegas (Closed As of 2016)

[Last Updated 11/26/18 7:09 PM PT—The Riviera was sold in 2015 and demolition was completed in 2016. The pinball collection of the annex was returned to the main location of the Pinball Hall of Fame.]

One of the reasons I don't (or shouldn't) gamble is because I play the games of chance for the fun of them, not to win.

I'm better off in an arcade.

So during my trip to Vegas this week - during which I did not even play one nickel slot - I was happy to plunk $5.00 worth of quarters down, way in the back of the Riviera casino, to play some classic pinball machines.

Who knew the Pinball Hall of Fame had an annex collection on the north end of the Strip?

Far from any competition... fact, far away from, really, anyone...

...I had those tables all to myself.

In this collection, the games dated back as far as the 1960s...

...showing a bit of wear...

...but showcasing a wide variety of illustration styles on the back board...

...which is really a work of art as much as the face of the table...

...and, of course, the game play.

You don't win anything back when you play pinball...

...except perhaps a sense of satisfaction (or, conversely, frustration)...

...but luckily you don't have to invest much in them, and their voices often egg you on.

It's as though the pinball machine wants you to win.

I bounced around to different machines, never mastering a single one...

...but the discovery of them, and the opportunity to play something with bells and lights...

...made my day.

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September 26, 2013

Photo Essay: Bottle Tree Ranch (Updated for 2019, RIP Elmer Long)

Last updated 7/9/19 8:17 PM PT

In the summer of 2009, I took a mini excursion from Joshua Tree - where I called home for a month - out up past the Amboy Crater, into the Mojave National Preserve, up and across the 15 freeway through Zzyzyx, Newberry Springs, Yermo, Barstow, Victorville, and back down to Joshua Tree.

In part, I was following the path of Route 66, trying to see too much of the Mojave, barely stopping to eat a Holland Burger at Emma Jean's.

circa 2009

There was a lot I missed.

circa 2009

I had stopped to gawk at Elmer's famed bottle trees, but the gate was closed and, at the time, I was too shy to barge in or even knock or find a bell to ring. (I've since gotten accustomed to storming the castle, for fear the castle will be torn down at any given time.)

circa 2009

Now that I've become a bit better-versed in folk art (having visited Bottle Village in Simi Valley, two tile houses and a beer bottle chapel), those bottle cacti were calling out to me, neglected, overlooked, a missed opportunity.

So, on my way back to Vegas today, I made a detour along the National Trails Highway to go see them.

circa 2018

And once I did, I couldn't believe it had taken me so long.

circa 2018

The property is officially known as Bottle Tree Ranch...

...and it appears as though the collection has expanded and updated a bit in the last four years since my limited roadside view of it.

It's nearly impossible to describe this place, to properly convey this grove of stalks and spokes and colored glass, appearing something like a decorated Christmas tree lot...

...but with the most peaceful clinking of bottles together, along with an occasional windchime and cowbell.

On a windy day like today, the bottles spin in place, glass rattling against metal...

...gently, rhythmically... the lapping of waves.

And when you look closer, you discover that the bottles are atop not only trunks and branches...

...and are found in a variety of configurations that challenge the logic of nature.

The light shines on each one differently.

The intrigue is in the details.

The Bottle Tree Ranch has all the appeal of junkyard art...

...but its organized chaos allows you to focus.

circa 2018

Close your eyes to feel the hot wind on your face, and listen to the trains go by.

Foreign visitors chat away as metal spins and creaks...

...and broken glass crunches under flip flopped feet.

There is no clatter in this forest. Only color and peace.

circa 2018

Update 4/7/18 10:45 PM PT: I finally met Elmer today! After my first two visits of not seeing him, I'd started to wonder whether he was still around or even if there had ever really been an Elmer.

First, he stood in his doorway in the back of the ranch, as a teenage boy quizzed him and reached into the shadows to shake his hand and introduce myself. That, of course, opened the door for me to do the same.

And then Elmer stepped into the sun and let me snap his photo.

I'll be honest, I felt kind of starstruck. I wasn't sure what to say to him, after having admired his art for nearly eight years.

"Are you still collecting?" I asked. He'd already told us about how he'd started picking through landfills, old mines, and old ghost towns when he was just a kid (6 or 8 years old, I forget).

"Nope, I'm done collecting. I've got a lot of stuff," he said. "Now, I've got to get to work."

What he meant, of course, was that there were more trees for him to plant, so to speak.

The only problem? That much rebar and glass gets pretty heavy—and while his mind is still strong, his body isn't so much.

He needs some help. Or, rather, he just needs some brawn.

He asked me where I was visiting from, and when I said LA, he told me about how he used to live in Gardena and then moved to Manhattan Beach for a while before going off to serve. But he's probably made the High Desert his home for longer than I've been alive.

What will happen to it when Elmer is gone? Will I ever see Elmer again?

One thing's for sure: If I want to see him again, I'll have to go back to his Bottle Tree Ranch.

Update 7/9/19 8:17 PM PT: Sadly, Elmer Long's son Ellsworth Hayes reports that his dad passed away from lung cancer on June 22, 2019. I never got to see him again, but hopefully the Bottle Tree Ranch will be preserved for future visits.

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