The Account of My Wanderings from California to New York

June 19 and beyond.

California coast

The final punctuation on my adventures as a Californian had come. Heavily it weighed on me on the eve of my departure. It was that long, awful drive across the big country. It was that long, dark, introspective descent into the nether regions of my brain on those long lonely western roads. It was going to be a doozy.

In the morning I got in my car and drove east.

400 miles on the 40 and then some. I was experiencing America the way God intended: at 80 miles an hour with air conditioning.

Arizona desert highways

There were plenty of Navajo trinket stands along the roadside in Arizona should a curious traveler decide to obtain a keepsake to commemorate their sojourn. But I had no time for such things.

After about 9 hours of driving I stopped to eat. I had been eating only Slim Jims and apples out of a plastic bag on the passenger’s seat. The weird Navajo man at the Inn ‘n’ Grille made dinner unsettling. He kept repeating, “Where you headed, sir? Are you sure about the address? It gets dangerous…at night.” He was not speaking to me. I heard this a total of seven times. What was most unnerving was that he kept repeating it to two young, disinterested girls.

Utah rocks

After passing through Monument Valley at sunset (a truly wondrous sight) I got a hotel in Moab, Utah. In my hotel room I believe I did something that just might have ruined me forever. I sat in the massage chair for a straight 2 hours. It changes a man.

Following a night of crazed cartoon dreams of desert roads lunging at me from every angle at 100 miles an hour I awoke. I knew I had to get an early start. Not just to make good time, but because when undertaking such a thing as driving 13 hours a day you have to get going before your brain can wake up and stop you. Sleeping-in spells doom for such trips.

It was not long before my car entered Colorado. The parched rock spires gradually metamorphosized into imposing stone towers and grand precipices festooned with manly pines. It actually felt like the earth was bullying us in our cars with its majesty. My photographs cannot do justice to their striking beauty. In fifty years this paragraph will remind me better than all of the foolish pictures I took.

Colorado scenery

When I passed Denver I realized that it was the first city I saw since I left Buena Park, California. Much of America seems sparse and inhospitable. Having never before trekked the southwest corner I admit that my own country struck me as somewhat alien. It would have been totally unfamiliar had it not been for Roadrunner cartoons.

Beyond Denver I hit the Great Plains. The scenery becomes insufferably homogenous here. Such flat and repetitious landscapes can create the illusion that you’re standing still. My mind wandered to a few spooky places. Luckily insanity was mostly staved off.

The radio stations sputtered only country music, gospel music, conservative talk radio, and gospel talk radio. This was the land where sports and religion reigned supreme. And who can blame them for clinging to tradition. There’s not much else out there. I can honestly say, however, that conservative talk radio might just be one of the worst things in the world. Did all of the Midwest still think Obama was a Muslim?

Kansas (aka Flatland)

I started to go buggy in the brain but I still had 3 ½ hours to go before Liz’s house in McPherson, Kansas. Crashing on her couch sounded better than paying for another hotel and I was supposed to see some old friends from when I went to Central Christian College. The radio interrupted what sounded like Richard Burton reading passages from Ezekial to issue a storm warning. Apparently I was passing into the eye of a tornado. So I hit the gas in the hopes of outrunning it.

I made it.

The next few days had me sleeping on couches and playing with babies and dogs and seeing old friends who had either never left Kansas or had been cursed to return. Some had married. Some hadn’t. The agonizing nightmare was that things just seemed to settle and stopped moving forward here. All was stagnation. Was it Kansas? Was it marriage? Was it merely my perception of the situation? I couldn’t be sure, but I didn’t want to wait around to study it further lest I too be cursed to stay and live and die on the prairie.

There’s a reason everyone looks the same in Kansas past the age of sixty.

They’re lovely people and I wish them the best. I only hope that they can leave this place someday.

After a rambunctious yet relaxing few days rollicking with old friends I hit the road again and wound up in Columbus, Ohio in one day. The next day was the shortest day. I only drove for eight hours. When I hit New York I found myself trapped in a system that I had been able to avoid throughout my entire journey. I was now on New York’s infamous toll roads. I was not sure if my funds would get me home, but I thought I would chance it.

What other choice did I have?

Somewhere between Illinois and Pennsylvania

Pulling up to the tollbooth in my hometown I noted that I did not have enough cash. Naturally, these money-hungry relics do not accept plastic. I was only twenty-three cents short and the troll inside the booth was waiting for the remainder. I told him I had driven all the way from Los Angeles to see my family and the troll took pity on me and let me pass.

I was back in the land of lopsided barns.

A word or two about my hometown: I used to avoid explaining exactly where I was from. I used to just say “New York” and leave them to imagine I hailed from the City. Only occasionally did I correct people or reveal the truly bumpkin nature of the village I was born and raised in. Upstate New York is a sad place. Zero economic growth and miserable weather. The fact that the rotting husks of countless abandoned factories leftover from the Industrial Revolution speckle the landscape does not add to the cheeriness. It reminds folks that they were once on top, generations ago. Now the drug-addled heap of society that lurks in these festering inbred stalls of forgotten hickdom wander about aimlessly. I doubt many even realize what the dead factories symbolize or what they were.

Long ago the Erie Canal went right through my village. When I was growing up all that remained was the overgrown towpath that donkeys used to trot as they dragged the barges. The towpath was a popular destination for kids to go get high.

The Mohawk Valley is a spooky shell that I seem to relate less and less to every time I return to it.

Home sweet home.

Had all my time so close to Hollywood, the phony nerve of culture, tainted my view of the land where I was born? Maybe so. The phrase “you can’t go home again” stung my face like a heavy wool glove soaked in ice cold water. I was not in Southern California anymore, nor would I be for at least a year. Maybe more.

Perhaps I’d never return.

Ah, well. With any luck by the end of the summer I would be off to South Korea.

Five Coolest Places In LA

Los Angeles is home to many a tourist trap. They are crowded and overpriced and choking with smog. The trouble is that some of them are actually worth it. For all the phoniness there still are some truly neat things lurking in this strange cluster of sprawling towers and hills shrouded in pollutionary haze.

Everybody knows about the Hollywood strip. It’s congested and full of weirdos and people trying to sell you stuff, but you could buy everything on Sunset Boulevard and it still probably wouldn’t be more interesting than just walking down the main hub and taking in all the sights and sounds. You’ll see the famous sign and Griffith Observatory in the distance; the Roosevelt Hotel; the Kodak, El Capitan, Egyptian, and Chinese Theaters (and AFI Fest is free!); and more. Wackos dress up like movie characters and folks try to sell you tickets for ridiculous bus tours and unreasonably priced museums and, who knows, you might even get your thetan levels tested to see if you are indeed a prime candidate for Scientology. Don’t get suckered into buying annoying trinkets and things. Stick your hands in Humphrey Bogart’s prints in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater and take a walk up in the Hollywood hills. It’s free and fun.

Those are the givens. See them, but don’t waste your money there. There are many great museums and venues, but I will share what I deem to be the five coolest places in LA.

5. Now there are many cool and famous eateries and such in any city and I’m not saying this first place has the best food, but the atmosphere more than makes up for anything else. The Edison is a steampunk pub. The Edison’s charm lies in its brass and Victorian mystique. You do have to dress nice to get in. It is the only bar I’ve been to where pocket-watches, coats with tails, flapper gowns, and welder goggles are not only welcome but encouraged. It has rich, mysterious flavor and the the cinematic works of Georges Méliès (the silent French wizard of the early 1900s) dance and flicker on the brick walls inside this super cool subterranean haunt. It’s a cool place alright and neatly tucked away, but it’s still a little expensive if you plan on ordering anything…just weigh this experience against waiting in line for four hours at Pink’s. The Edison also has music and shows on occasion.

4. After some drinks at a swanky place out of the past maybe you’d like to watch a movie or two. All the new ones look like rubbish and the main streets are packed for a premiere. You want something to rent but you don’t have Netflix and those Red Boxes weird you out. Cinefile Video is the place for the truly fearless movie lover. They have everything so don’t waste your time looking for something ordinary. Here is your chance to explore the classic, wild, and perverse world of home viewing entertainment. Amoeba Music is still a classic, but for movie renting Cinefile is cozier and even more off the wall. Check it out. You will be amazed and overwhelmed by the insurmountable list of obscure titles and directors you’ve never even heard of.

3. I love the cultural towns. Little India, Little Italy, Koreatown, and all the others. They’re great in any city. Maybe it’s the Blade Runner tie in, but I really enjoy LA’s Chinatown. You will pass a grand arch complete with dragons and you will suddenly feel like you are in another country. For several blocks you will forget you are in Los Angeles. It may be more of a bizarre cultural experiment on my part, but I love going there and just walking around. There are shops, restaurants, and everything else. I love how unglamorous it feels and I love how everyone’s Chinese in there. It’s a nice counterpoint to the artificial glitz of Hollywood Blvd. It’s fun and peculiar and the prices aren’t bad. Just check the health grade in the window if you’re going to eat and don’t expect to read anything in English. Also check out Olvera Street while you’re in the area.

2. There are many great museums in the area. The Museum of Natural History (which is almost identical to the one in New York), LACMA, the Getty, etc. For me (and this list anyway) it has to be a curious little establishment known as The Museum of Jurassic Technology. It is cozy, tucked away, and odd. Of course I love it. It sounds like a standard science museum, but it is really a museum about the history of wonky science and superstition. You’ll learn about bizarre beliefs and cock-eyed geniuses who were halfway there to discovering the mysteries of this world as you traverse its dimly lit labyrinthine corridors. Each exhibit is unforgettably strange and kooky. As you navigate this unique structure it feels as though you have stepped into some sort of dream from the past. When you get upstairs you may enjoy some complimentary tea and cookies and pet the dogs. Always changing and very affordable, the Museum of Jurassic Technology is indeed one of the all time coolest places in LA. This place might as well be number one, but I have a longer history with my next choice.

On a side-note, an archaeologist friend of mine got me the backstage tour of the La Brea Tar Pits Museum and it was also very cool, but I imagine a behind-the-scenes tour might be hard to come by. Why is it the secret rooms are always niftier?

1. If my biases have not yet bled through entirely by now here they come. The coolest place in LA is The Silent Movie Theater. Los Angeles is home to many wonderful and specialty theaters, but this is my favorite theater out of all of them. I have had the most magical movie going experiences of my life at the Silent Movie Theater. They put out everything from arthouse to grindhouse cinema; silent classics and new underground flicks; forgotten oddities and the purposely terrible. They always have a program full of fascinating movies and the silent gems are accompanied by live piano. If it is playing in a big theater somewhere they won’t have it. Only enter if you seek something unique and special. In the hushed darkness of this tiny theater you will remember why the movies are magic. In addition to guest presenters and the occasional Q&A, they also sell very large cupcakes. I’ve only ever had amazing movie-going experiences there. Check out the New Beverly Cinema too.

There it is. Everybody goes to Disneyland and Universal Studios and they are fun and exciting, but if you’re looking to experience a different side of LA and you don’t have the cash for big shows check out some of these wonderful places.