Eatonville, WA, August 18th, 2014-Los Angeles is not for the faint of heart. It is a dichotomy of how stunningly beautiful and depressingly ugly life can be. As I pulled into the LA Greyhound terminal, I had a dollar to my name. I traded it for quarters and called my Uncle Mickey. Uncle Mickey is my Grandma’s brother and also one of the most local Angelenos around. He has been in the same apartment in San Pedro since the late ’70s. He and his neighbor, Jessica, came to pick me up. It was late and I hadn’t eaten much in the last three days. I hadn’t slept well in nearly three days and the combination of hunger and exhaustion made them the best thing I had seen in quite a while. Mickey and Jessica took me the “scenic” way through downtown LA so that I could see the nightlife and some of the sights, like the Staples Center. It was a whole different level of impressive.
Los Angeles has a huge population that I wasn’t quite prepared to understand. I’ve been around a bit and I’m not ashamed to say that at first, it was every bit as overwhelming as I was afraid it would be. The city itself is second only to New York in population and the easiest way to comprehend the number of people who live there is to witness the freeways and streets. The cars stretch as far as the eye can see in every direction. We pulled up to Mickey’s place and I went upstairs and saw the view he had looked at for nearly 40 years. That first moment, I understood why he had been there so long.
My newest place to sleep looked out over Los Angeles Harbor, Cabrillo Beach, San Pedro, Wilmington and Long Beach. It stopped me cold. I was still reeling from describe what it feels like to have your entire mind blown with new things every week but this summer, that’s exactly what I did. Uncle Mickey heated up some dinner for me, which I destroyed in three minutes flat and I hit the sack. Uncle Mickey got married 9 years ago and he hit the lottery (for the second time…). His wife, Eileen, and I met the following morning. It normally takes me a few days to get acclimated to a new place and this was no exception. I slept in and took it easy. That night, they treated me to dinner at Ports O’ Call restaurant in Ports O’ Call Village. Apparently, my great grandfather, Henry Stelmark, had run this area while he lived in Los Angeles, just a few blocks away from where I was staying. It was waterfront dining and there was a great band playing. We sat and had dinner and some drinks before taking back off for the house.
Now, I have to be honest, I had a very hard time in Los Angeles. I don’t like to be dependent on people beyond what I have to be. Coming into town with a dollar to my name really restricted what I could do with myself. I started looking for work as soon as I got there but there was something that I hadn’t planned on. LA is full of musicians and actors, all of whom have two and three jobs. The market for employment there is horrible. I wouldn’t recommend just moving to southern California without a plan. Having said that, if you are unemployed in LA, there is tons of stuff to do and see. I spent most of my time in San Pedro because I was limited to riding the bus when I could afford it but that was plenty to keep me occupied for the first week or two that I was there.
The first thing I found was the Marine Mammal Care Center, a great little place that rehabs injured seals and sea lions before releasing them back into the wild. It was my first encounter with the seals and sea lions that call California home but it wouldn’t be my last. As I walked around taking in the critters and taking pictures, I had the opportunity to talk with one of the volunteers. I wanted, pretty badly, to volunteer but I found out that because it was such a great place to volunteer, they only accept certain people. You have to be willing to volunteer at least one day per week for a year before they will consider you, so I was out of luck. On the upside, after I left, I wandered into a scene from one of my favorite movies.
The Korean Bell of Friendship is in two scenes in the movie The Usual Suspects. As I came up the hill and recognized it, I was stunned at not only the beauty of the park itself but also of the Pacific Ocean that it overlooks. It is in Fort MacArthur, a remnant of World War II. The bell sits atop a hill that used to house heavy machine guns and artillery, which is ironic, considering that it is a symbol of peace, and also because of the current situation in Korea. I spent quite a good amount of time around the Korean Bell. It was on the walk that Shadow (my uncle’s dog) and I would take on some days. The bell is rang on a few occasions, yearly, but I didn’t have the chance to hear it.
Point Fermin Park and Lighthouse are just a hop, skip and a jump from there as well. I spent quite a bit of time there. It’s a beautiful place where I actually got to see and hear some wild sea lions. Most of the areas around San Pedro look out on the Pacific Ocean and I’ll be the first to admit that it looks nothing at all like the ocean I’m used to seeing. It’s extremely blue and covered with kelp beds. It has the same beachy smell but that’s about where the similarities end. The shorelines are covered with rocks and protected by cliffs that rise a hundred feet or better up to the roads and homes. The tidepools are full of sea urchins, anemones, hermit crabs that gulls pick through, looking for treats. The weather is unbelievable. It stayed in the high 70s while I was there and there were very few days that didn’t have a breeze blowing. All in all, it’s nothing like North Carolina at the same time of year.
One of the coolest things I did in LA was go to the Cabrillo Beach Aquarium. I make it a point to see zoos and aquariums where I visit because I’ve always been amazed by the animals our planet serves as a home to. This particular aquarium is incredible. It’s smaller than some but it’s set up in such a way as to be very intimate. I made mention to the friend who went with me that it was neat because it seemed like we were trespassing in a laboratory or a home aquarium. They focus on the critters that are native to southern California and they do a great job of being a hands on experience. There is an outdoor touch tank where you can get up close and personal with starfish, urchins and fish and we even had the chance to hatch some baby grunions that day. Some of it is geared towards kids but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
I took the bus out of San Pedro on a few occasions. The first was a trip to Hermosa Beach to catch up with a friend from Wilmington, NC, Andy. Andy played music with our mutual friend, Chris Hayes, and we’d had a few chances to get acquainted. I found out he was in Los Angeles and we decided to burn up a day wandering around the beach. Suffice it to say that southern California looks like Baywatch with the exception that they aren’t all platinum blondes with “enhanced” features. In fact, most of the people that I saw looked like people anywhere else, just people. The myth that Los Angeles is full of movie stars and models is garbage. It’s a city, just like any other, that’s full of people. Big people, little people, tall people, short people, skinny people, fat people, white people, brown people and any other type of people you can imagine all live and get along, for the most part. Andy and I wandered around Hermosa for a while and he showed me a sweet little guitar shop up the street from the beach. They were a Gibson dealer with some really impressive collector guitars. I had the opportunity to play around a little on the Gibson J-Moohundred, a one of a kind acoustic that was painted to look like a cow. With a price tag of $12,000 dollars, it was out of my budget’s range but it was fun to check out.
I also had the chance to check out Redondo and Venice Beaches. Redondo was a job trip. I scored an opportunity to apply and interview at a fine dining restaurant called Chez Melange and Bouzy Gastropub. Apparently I had impressed them enough to land a “working interview” the next afternoon. I showed up and got busy helping to prep for the evening’s dinner service. It was nice to get out of the house and around some foodie types. The afternoon was spent chopping and cleaning garlic, chicken and the like. I got my hands on some Scooby snacks (treats that don’t make it out of the kitchen) and they were incredible. Those folks have their stuff together and put out some incredible edibles. Unfortunately, after my time in the kitchen was done, I had to admit to their sous chef that I didn’t intend on sticking around for a year like they wanted and that I wasn’t the guy for the job.
Venice Beach is unreal. The people are great and crazy and all over the place. There are guys roller blading with hot pants on while playing guitar and girls promoting medical marijuana clinics. Street performers bang away on instruments and put on shows right there on the boardwalk. Skateboarders soar over each other in the skate park while spectators watch from the safety of the railings. I spent a few hours walking around Venice Beach because my cousin, Raylene, who lives in PA had asked me about it. It was cool to walk around knowing that the pictures that I took were going to show her something that she was curious about and that I had the opportunity to see. I had read the book No One Here Gets Out Alive, a rock biography on The Doors, on the bus trip across country and it was something else to see the things that I had been reading about. It really is another world in Venice Beach.
Los Angeles was like entering another country. People are just people but the mindset there is quite a bit different than what I’ve experienced just about anywhere else. I spent a little more than a month and it definitely had a big impact on me. Thanks to some of my friends who have taken it upon themselves to help me when I need it, I raised the funding to make it out of LA and into San Diego, where I experienced time travel, Comic-Con, Tijuana, Russians, Mexicans and beer pong on a Barbie table. I took the Amtrak and once again, the train did not let me down. Tune in for the next article soon, you won’t be disappointed because SoCal didn’t disappoint.