— Patti Smith, Pratt Commencement 2010
Astrud Gilberto: Meditation - from The Astrud Gilberto Album, 1965
San Francisco. Oakland. California. Wow.
What an exciting way to leave Los Angeles. Matthew and I left his flat with a stop to Starbucks and due to the grandiose size of the city, arrived a few minutes tardy for my Megabus reservation. The bus driver pulled out as I ran up waiving the bus down with multiple bags in hand. The kind driver actually stopped the bus, checked my reservation and let me on board. I couldn’t have expressed more gratitude to this kind man – he enabled me to continue my journey as planned. It was perfect.
Six and a half hours later I had arrived in downtown Oakland. After mapping out the proper route to my homeboy Blake’s casa, I was on my way. Two stops to transfer, two stops to Asbury and I was about a mile in walking distance. Hauling my heavy luggage while taking in the middle-class residential scenery, I had finally arrived and boy did it feel good not only to get settled, but also to see an old friend. The last time we saw each other was random chance while in Pittsburgh this past summer. I was visiting family for a few days, while he was coming in for a friends’ wedding. The irony of the situation was that I was with a girlfriend and Blake’s younger brother, Brendyn. Blake wasn’t supposed to arrive until after my departure but after accumulating much speed on his motorcycle, he came in early. Prior to that, we were kickin’ it all cool in Praha, drinking lagers and exploring the elderly stomping grounds inhabited by proper Czechs.
Anyways. After washing, dressing and a quick cucumber vodka on the rocks, I was given a helmet. We were riding via motorcycle to “the Mission” to go to a Latin American tapas restaurant called “Lolo”. Here we sipped on mezcal cocktails while catching up and getting acquainted to Blake’s lovely lady friend, Robyn, a techno loving fashionista with sass and pizzazz. After we ate until our stomach’s were content, we bid Robyn farewell as she had to rise early in the morning for work and continued to the “Knockout” where Blake would DJ in-between several performers including Metal Mother, a woman who is reminiscent of a down to earth Grimes, with the kindness and humbleness of Mother Teresa (perhaps an exaggeration, but she was really quite lovely, maybe it’s no coincidence that her stage name has “Mother” in it).
Now, the Knockout doesn’t look like the friendliest bar. It’s a punk spot, known for its eclectic tunes and badass demeanor, but I managed to meet a plethora of kind folks and have a really spectacular time. All of the performers did a wonderful job including Blake, whom I couldn’t applaud more for his unique taste in experimental electronica.
We ended the evening by stopping by a friend, Nihar’s home nearby. We sipped on Fireball as we watched the most outrageous films that would entrance even the most outlandish of individuals. It might even “dehydrate” the campy personality of John “Waters”. It was a lovely first evening in the northern part of the state. I dug it.
We woke up a little sleepy on Thursday and embarked on a journey to “Brown Sugar Kitchen” in West Oakland. This spot was established by chef extraordinaire, Tanya Holland, originally from New York, brought up by southern parents and educated by La Varenne Ecole de Cuisine. This little gem of a restaurant features locally grown, organic and seasonal ingredients. We shared their famous chicken and waffles paired with shrimp gumbo. Perfect.
After brunch we headed home. I worked on job applications. Blake napped. He awoke as the sun set and we began to get ready for a night “crosstown” – that is a night of Crosstown Rebels, Damian Lazarus’ label. He was playing with Kenny Glasgow from Art Department at a venue in the Mission called “Public Works”. In my opinion, Glasgow’s set was on point. Interesting mixed with variations to keep the crowd captivated. I adore Lazarus, but in this case, I felt his performance could have been stronger. During the evening, Blake introduced me to his welcoming friend Evan. As Blake ended the evening, heading back to Oakland, I stayed with Evan and joined him and his crew on a late nightcap through the rusty dusty neighborhood adequately called, the “Tenderloin”.
We left the venue and dropped by Evan’s, a linear apartment with rooms popping out of each side. He lives with a fellow named Max and two other folks I had yet to meet. While at the party, Max and I chatted about Washington and discovered we both worked at the same corrupt restaurant at perhaps the same time (though my stint there was rather short due to the operation of the establishment). As we continued the evening, further relationships unraveled. For example, Max’s best friend growing up, is not only a friend of mine, but a dear gal pal’s former lover. Who would have guessed that the world could be so small from nearly 3,000 miles away?
After stopping by the casa, we walked a few blocks to a dilapidated, yet charming, art collective and loft run by a jubilant group of boys. Immediately we were invited to drinks and conversation by the multifarious collection of people in attendance. I felt like I was in a modern day depiction of Warhol’s Factory – from the crowd, to the decoration to even the literal definition of the neighborhood; flesh – it was a wonderful representation of San Francisco that I wish to never forget. I met some of the most barbarous characters from an adorable intoxicated young man who had just come back from the army, enjoying an evening full of debauchery to a sexually confused fashion designer even to the generic blonde girl next door of whom I can’t remember her name; they were all kind creatures playing a role in this animated tale.
Eventually it was our time to leave the place that I now dub the “Tender Factory” – I joined the gang I was with and headed back to their home. After some more conversation and a debrief of the night we had just had, we all laid down to rest. It was a lively time to say the least.
I awoke and shortly after, my new comrade Evan had done the same. We brunched at the tastiest little café called Brenda’s French Soul Food – I think one could understand the kind of cuisine that is served. We each ordered a Bloody Mary to accompany our Shrimp & Grits and Beignet Flight. As we enjoyed our brunch, the two of us realized how much we had in common. We shared life philosophies such as the places we had traveled, music we have a passion for and the food that not only tickles our fancy, but also tickles our bellies. It was the a fantastic afternoon delight paired with some of my favorite artists in R&B, soul and jazz, such as Nina Simone and James Brown. It was the most illustrious way to end my evening spent with a member of my newfound San Franciscan family.
Evan and I split ways as I walked from the ‘Loin (as it is cleverly shortened by some) to infamous “Haight Street”. A perfect 2.4-mile walk (according to Google Maps) across the city is the best way to not only explore but to get acclimated with the environment around me. I made my journey with phone calls to some friends and family, telling them about what a sensational time I had been having and explored what is generally called, “The Haight”. My jaunt primarily consisted of popping into the many second hand stores on the blocks, always on the prowl for treasures. I was able to purchase an adorable leather and mesh cap to cover my greasy hair as well as add to my collection of hats that I had recently learned how to wear. Perfect. And right in time for my dear friend Reeves to meet up with me after his afternoon stroll through town. Reeves and I know each other through the social circuit in Pittsburgh. In 2010 he moved to California and now is a visual merchandiser for Uniqlo; a colorful company for a bright young man (aha)!
I watched him devour a delicious slice (unfortunately for me I was still full from Brenda’s) and we walked off to the street made famous by Harvey Milk, “Castro Street”. As we walked along the small neighborhood, I kept on getting flashbacks of what the area was like years ago, in a time when this area was once filled with hope towards social equality for all. I kept on thinking how jubilant Milk would be to see the area prosper in the way that it has and now takes pride in its reputation of being gay friendly. Reeves and I sipped on some cocktails at various bars and then hopped on the subway back to the Tenderloin. He went to his home to take a nap and I met back up with my new crew. The night was about to begin. Seth Troxler was spinning at Public Works and we were all making a night out of it.
As we got to the venue, we all sort of created our own path. I was entranced with the music and the lights and though remained social with the people I was with, sort of got lost in the environment. Troxler laid down a delicious set full of techno, house and minimal. He dropped in vocals at the appropriate time with the light ornament around him complementing his performance. It was divine. Prior to his completion, Blake picked me up (in an automobile) with two of his buddies. We went back to their studio, an elaborate musical paradise they called “the Bunker” while the two gentlemen (INHALT) played us some tunes and conversed about music.
The night had come to an end. We went back to Blake’s. I showered and was royally tired. So shot, that I awoke the next day and it was already mid-afternoon!
Once I awoke and got myself together, Blake suited me up in motorcycle armor. We were going on about an hour-long ride to San Mateo County for a late lunch, early dinner type of deal at an infamous biker spot called “Alice’s Restaurant” – such a kind name for a spot notorious for serving all of the two wheeled bad asses. We gorged on sandwiches and bloody mary’s as we dined outside, encompassed by trees so tall and well nourished, they posed slight intimidation. Not to fear, we survived mother nature, who was just showing off and hopped back on the bike to return to Oakland. Once we got back, we turned on a film, “Let the Right One In” – a Swedish romantic horror film directed by Tomas Alfredson. Of course, I happened to fall asleep during the goriest scene in the nearly two-hour flick, but that’s the beauty of video, it can be watched repeatedly in lieu of sleepy Saturday nights!
Saint Patrick’s Day brings all the fools to town! Which is why Blake and I decided to head up to Cole Valley for a delightful brunch on the patio of “Zazie” – a gorgeous French bistro (really diggin’ the French manger in this city) with an extraordinary wait that was well worth the time spent in queue. We gorged on cocktails, pancakes eggs benedict, roasted potatoes and fruit. It was luscious. I wish I could eat like that every day. Preceding our meal, we walked on Haight Street, popping into several shops where Blake ran into friends including a shop of oddities featuring such items as strange as rat taxidermy and vintage opium viles. Quite the adventure to work up an appetite!
Following brunch, we went down to the Financial District to visit Robyn at Harputs, her place of work featuring well-crafted designs that would make Snooki look chic. Blake got a button down that looked divine on him. We then trekked back to Oakland where I continued my job application submission and he went to get Ethiopian with his dear friend Andrea. After their dinner, the two came back to the flat where we sipped on a red vino and discussed life. We all passed out as Blake prepared for his new position at a new social shopping network called “Wanelo” in the morning.
Monday. My last day. The two had already left for work by the time I had waken. I quickly packed up my belongings and got ready to head to San Francisco. After tactfully strutting a mile to the BART train with my amplified luggage, I made it to the Montgomery stop in downtown SF to head to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. There was an exhibit featuring the work of Garry Winogrand I had read about and anticipated seeing that afternoon.
Browsing through the collection of black and white prints ranging primarily from the 1950s-80s, I thought about the world we currently live in. Seeing time change through someone else’s lens shows how transparent it really is. The world becomes altered as it evolves, but do we take the time to notice it? Looking at these photographs from as late as the 80s, we are a completely new species. We dress, talk and live differently. I just can’t help to think how distant we will be in the future from where we are now. As the exhibit came to an end, the final photographs were of people who had bleak looks upon their faces and who weren’t looking at the camera. Though the photographer had passed away without any explanation of these shots, the curator imagined they depicted how he felt as his life was diminishing. I wonder if he contemplated the full spectrum of different lives he saw as he lived through 56 pertinent years in the shaping of modern America and I wonder if perhaps his realizations made him see the world through a unique lens that most of us don’t see with clarity.
As I continued through the different exhibitions in the museum, I was excited to see some familiar pieces such as a cow head Damian Hirst immersed in formaldehyde in a vitrine as well as pieces from Jackson Pollack, Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat; to name a few.
I continued my day by doing some work at a local coffee house, waiting to hear of Blake’s first day on the new job. We ended with a splendid dinner at a pub downtown and he set me off on the BART train to the San Francisco International airport where I continue to write this piece on my travels of the week. As I wait to board my flight, I recollect all of the remarkable memories that I’ve gathered. Every day is a new undertaking, I feel fortunate that I’m brave enough to take on the venture.
Embarking on a trip to the city of angels consisted of a flight that couldn’t have been more perfect. Sareen and I were collected by a Super Shuttle that dropped us off with plenty of time to board our plane with ease. We arrived at the gate, decided to grab a “nutritious” breakfast at Five Guys consisting of bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches paired with crisp Heinekens, while simultaneously running into our dear friend Perri who was beginning her journey to Istanbul.
It was the perfect start to a trip that encompassed all of the elements we were missing in Washington; radiant sunshine, vintage delicacies and fresh faces.
We landed in LA and headed to our boys’ flat located in the jubilant area of West Hollywood; an area so tasty that you can literally walk down Santa Monica Boulevard and find every flavor of homosexual male to feed your hunger infinitely. From “top” to “bottom”, it truly is a masculine fantasy.
So we decided we had to explore. Long story short, we ended up on a two hour walk leading us down La Cienega Boulevard where we pop into a National Council of Jewish Women charity shop. After demolishing the clothing racks, we agreed that it was time to chow down. Since there was nothing appealing in the kosher area of furniture and rug industries, we found ourselves popping into a lonely arts store to ask a creative associate suggestions for where we should venture to next.
We were directed to Culver City; an up-and-coming area that caters to post-work Sony employees with parched mouths in need of liquid delight. Here, we grabbed burgers with bloodys as we watched people walk amongst the streets from our outdoor seats. Once our eyes became sore and our stomach’s were full, we followed the host’s knowledge and proceeded to “Public School” - an ironic bar with an educational theme; decorated with vintage flash cards and accented with black and white composition menus. Here, we met a photographer, a man who we saw several times previously, as we observed the masses from our late lunch. He “taught” us of the wild wild west, captivating our conversation for hours, giving us anticipating for the trip to unravel.
After several glasses of wine and optimism for the rest of our time in the area, we went back to “WeHo” to change and head to Los Globos for “A Party Called Rhonda” - a music collaborative featuring a party and label, this month featuring legendary disc jockey, Todd Terry, a pioneer in the house realm.
We danced and enjoyed ourselves with a trip to Hollywood Boulevard to say hello to the “stars” while comparing hand and foot prints preceding the Chinese Theatre. But of course we couldn’t head home without a stop in the modern diner around the corner from Matthew’s bachelor pad. After we satisfied our late night famine, we laid our heads to rest with dreams of how lovely the rest of our holiday would be.
Day 2. Lien joins our California expedition. And immediately we have an itinerary for her. Our friend Mani from Virginia happens to be in town for the weekend with his adorable pal, Danny, a sports journalist from São Paulo. The two scoop us up in their shiny, new Camero they rented the day before and took us on an excursion to Venice Beach with stops throughout the city including Rodeo Drive (we just had to see the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel where Julia Roberts held the ground proper as glorified prostitute) among other unique sites that were illuminating our eyes and blowing wind through our hair.
After a gorgeous drive, we park in Venice and patrol the boardwalk, schmoozing with street vendors and poking into assorted shops filled with memories of the touristic area. Before heading leaving the laid back waterfront, we grab a bite at a restaurant featuring a live cover band playing music to move our feet as we devour our greasy grub. It was the perfect way to end our time at the beach before a Saturday night out in the city.
Later we meet up with an old friend from Washington who is now an LA resident, a fellow whose creativity is amplified daily by his brand Durkl; a mens street wear line that suits up the most stylish men who dare to adorn themselves with trendy garb. We convene at a rustic restaurant and watering hold, “The Dresden Room” - an establishment around for ages that is hosted by Marty and Elayne, two senior jazz musicians who enhance a diverse room consisting of hipsters, locals and seasoned regulars. It was the most appropriate environment for my favorite cocktail, an extra dirty vodka martini, sure enough served “up” in vintage stemware.
Nothing like a cocktail to ease the palette for an evening of dancing to some deep house. Brett Johnson was DJing a warehouse event thrown by “Jack” at a warehouse venue in an industrial part of town. The girls, the boys and I danced the night away to an all vinyl set. We rang daylight savings in proper, ignoring its intrusion for stealing an hour away from our vacation. We spent its savings and proceeded to get some sleep for the new day ahead.
Matthew awoke before the rest of us to sell some homes in his real estate game. I proceeded to CVS to buy some cheap champagne to concoct mimosas for my girls who were still in a slumber. There really is no better way to wake up than some bubbly with your orange juice. Sunday was made for shopping and that is exactly what we were set to do. But first, we sat down to a scumptious french brunch featuring oysters, eggs, duck and ham. Cafe D’Etoile in WeHo did not disappoint and fully prepared us for a lovely afternoon of browsing on Melrose. Lien conquered the shops, leaving with bags to put the rest of us to shame who came out empty handed. We ended the day by tasting the In-N-Out Burger craze to which we all expressed disappointment except for the inexpensive price of $4.03 for a cheese burger and fries.
The evening came to an end when our film rental of “Searching for Sugar Man” resulted in a two hour download wait and we all fell asleep in the queue.
A new day began, Lien left to greet Europe and Sareen and I ventured to Santa Monica to visit her mentor, shop and enjoy a change of scenery.
We hit all the second hand shops from Goodwill to Wasteland to Crossroads to Buffalo. It was brilliant. We left with goodies consisting of a Helmut Lang skirt for $42.50 to Current Elliott denim for $25, items and prices that are foreign to the conservative Washington retail market (and extremely refreshing and nostalgic from my childhood). We left Santa Monica, reminiscing about memorable times in Europe sitting in our “red light district” in a coffee shop courtyard tucked in a well groomed alley by the water. Santa Monica was heading to sleep while we were preparing for a night out back in LA.
I found out from Will that some friends I grew up with had moved to the area, so we invited Jimmy, one of the boys in town to venture to the Standard downtown for cocktails on the roof. We scooped him from his elaborate home and ventured downtown. There we met up with the loveliest sales associate from one of the shops in Santa Monica. He’s a California native, with an kind personality that enhanced our group for the evening. He entertained us as we were drinking by challenging dancers on the floor while inhaling a smurf-blue colored cocktail. Shortly after, around 1:30, the hotel employees began closing up the bar and asking us all to leave. Jimmy was kind enough to invite us all to his home to kick it all cool as a night cap. We listened to a wide range of music from hip hop to jazz, comparing musical notes amongst time and genre. It was a charming melody to end the evening. I ended up crashing on their couch and awaking to sunshine as the day awoke and proceeded to unravel.
I found myself in Studio City still sporting the long sleeved, floor length dress I had purchased in Santa Monica. I was starving. I walked down the driveway, past the gate, onto Ventura Boulevard. I find nourishment in a salad and smoothie, bringing it back to the house to consume by the pool. The water is penetrating my warm skin in the most becoming way, yet I’m feeling the need to head back to WeHo to bathe and regroup to proceed with the rest of the day. After catching up with Jimmy, I proceed on my mission to take public transit from point A to point B. After hopping on the wrong bus and getting off by the Universal City metro stop, I hop on the train, transfer to the bus and make it back in one piece. It just took around an hour… I suppose it could be worse in this massive city with a bleak transportation system.
My last day in LA is left for pure chilling. After showering and changing, my hospitable friend Bo collects me to take me to a few sights; a delicious juice bar run by an adorable couple, the La Brea Tar Pits and the famous light poles outside of the Los Angeles County Modern Art Museum. A perfect way to lure in some culture for my final hours in the city.
As I await Matthew’s return home from work, I began writing this blog post that ended up accumulating the majority of my evening. In the morning I’ll hop on a Megabus to Oakland for nearly a week of fun in northern California. I can’t even predict what kind of occurrences will erupt in the city they call the “Paris of the West”…