And Still She Dreams of LA…

Lone palm + distant plane

A November weekend and a cheap plane ticket seemed like a good enough reason to visit LA, but add in a Torches show and an offer of a personalized tour of East Side neighborhoods I hadn’t yet explored? Sign me up! Here’s a budget tip for those wishing to travel to LA: Bob Hope Airport in Burbank: cheaper flights, less hassle, and that glamorous feeling of walking across the tarmac to your gate, with a beautiful view of the mountains just beyond.

Mountains beyond mountains (over Utah)

Desert mountains en route over Utah

Nice view Los Angeles!

View from The Hub, downtown LA

After I arrived I jumped right into the LA fun by meeting the wonderful ladies from the Academy for Handmade for lunch at LA son Roy Choi’s fast food rice bowl restaurant in Chinatown Chego! and then talked about their upcoming crowd funding campaign and exciting plans for their awards ceremony next year. They have a great space at The Hub, a really cool co-working and business incubator space in the Arts District in downtown LA (as an aside, my friend Sophia Stuart wrote a lovely piece on The Hub for LA I’m Yours).

Torches at the Echoplex

Torches play the Echoplex, November 8, 2013

Songs about cat castles and ouji boards... HOTT MT - great band!

HOTT MT at the Echoplex

Next we headed to drinks and dinner at Mohawk Bend, a local and seasonal inspired restaurant serving craft beers in Echo Park, followed by one of the best shows I’ve seen by Torches at the Echoplex. It’s been so amazing to watch this band steadily grow their career over the past year and a half. Their sound has grown bolder, but still anchored by catchy, jangle laden melodies and pensive lyrics. During some of the newer songs I felt my hairs standing on end. I hear they’re working on a new album, so I can’t wait for what is next for these enterprising musicians.  HOTT MT opened for them and they were a great discovery – songs about cat castles and ouji boards fronted by a very energetic singer who reminded me a bit of a female David Bowie!

Amazing Brunch at Cliff's Edge

Perfect brunch at Cliff’s Edge

Palms, palms and more palms!

The palms of Silver Lake

Saturday morning I joined my favorite music and fiction writer Liz Barker of the Strawberry Fields Whatever blog for a leisurely brunch in the lush back garden of the Cliff’s Edge, a super cute restaurant in Silver Lake with great “shabby chic” decor – I wish my apartment was decorated like that restaurant. Next I took a wander around the Silver Lake farmers market and picked up some handmade, soy, scented candles to remind me of LA back in cold Brooklyn.

At the “Eagle’s Nest” – Shakeytown Radio HQ

Then I joined my new (but very dear) zine friend Brodie Foster Hubbard for a customized tour of the East Side. We spent the afternoon sipping coffee and chatting about life and career choices before jumping in to recording an episode of his podcast “The Shakeytown Radio Hour.” I’m really happy with the results and invite you to listen in on us talking about pursing and building a DIY life, job and negotiating a creative lifestyle and career in uncertain economic times.

Craziest thing I've ever eaten... DIY doughnut! Thanks @brodiehubbard

Very excited about my DIY Donut at Donut Friend!

Brodie took me on a guided tour of Eastside neighborhoods that I hadn’t gotten a chance to see yet: Eagle Rock, Atwater Village and Highland Park. We stopped into Pop Hop, a great used, new and art book shop, and then headed to Donut Friend, a donut shop among LA donut shops if I’ve ever seen one. It’s owned by Mark Trombino, the drummer from Drive Like Jehu, and features vegan and gluten free options. There’s a variety of pre-made donut delights, all named after bands, and I had to stop myself from picking up a tshirt that says “Rites of Sprinkles” on it… on second though, I might mail order one… but Brodie and I both opted for the “DIY donut” option (of course!) and I ended up concocting one I called the “Northern Soul” – a chocolate cake donut with ricotta cheese and raspberry jam filling, with maple glaze and coconut bacon on top. I also deemed it the “Craziest thing I have ever eaten.” And it was delicious.

Took a beautiful Sunday hike in Malibu!

Hiking in Solstice Canyon

The next morning Brodie and I headed to the Freeways Collide zine event and picked up some great little zines about Joy Division, witchery and being a gemini from Deirdree, and then took a wander through the Hollywood farmers market. I was happy I got to finally check out this bonanza of fresh produce and street food and after filling up on ice coffee, pupusas and persimmons, I met up with my friend Kabir and headed towards Malibu for an afternoon hike. A Sunday drive to Malibu is practically an LA tradition for me now and I was glad that Kabir and Emily came with me to check out a new (to me) hiking spot: Solstice Canyon (there’s a great site for hikes in and around LA called Modern Hiker that my friend Phoebe pointed me to, very very helpful!). We hiked along the bottom of the canyon to the ruins of a mid-century ranch and then up the hill for sweeping views of the Pacific. It was perfect.

Pacific View from Solstice Canyon

The view of the Pacific from Solstice Canyon

Back in downtown LA I got to try a French dip sandwich at Cole’s, one of the two “original” French dip restaurants, which I loved for its dark wood bar and classic cocktails. Then Kabir and I went to our favorite spot for a Sunday night in LA, Mignon wine bar (just two doors down from Cole’s) for some great hand selected wine and artisanal cheese and the sweetest servers ever. The perfect end to another great LA weekend.

Downtown LA from Griffith Park

Hazy downtown LA from Griffith Park

I headed home on Monday, but first squeezed in a hike in Griffith Park to gaze dreamily at the downtown city scape and bake in the sun and then a coconut kale smoothie at Naturewell to round off the visit. It’s a good thing I got the sun and my vitamins in too. The next day, back in New York, it snowed. How’s that for some cognitive dissonance?

The Great American Road Trip Part 2: West Coast

The modern travel way, Olympia, Washington

The modern travel way, Olympia, Washington

My epic summer travels continued this month up and down the West Coast. After two weeks in the Midwest, the West Coast felt like familiar territory. I used to live in Portland, Oregon on-and-off between 2000 and 2004 and I’d recently visited Seattle and San Francisco. Unlike my Midwest adventures, I for this trip I relied more on public and mass transit to get around, except in Seattle and Olympia where your flexibility is limited by the public transit options and I find that in Seattle, like LA, people obsess over talking about traffic and parking.

The sweet, seductive architecture of SE Portland

The sweet, seductive architecture of SE Portland

My sweet, borrowed PDX ride "Banana Lightening"

My sweet, borrowed PDX ride “Banana Lightening”

While it has a reputation for being a rainy climate, the truth is, summer in the Northwest is glorious. Days are overall sunny with warm days that cool off at night. It’s the perfect temperature to dreamily drink an iced coffee, ride a bike leisurely around the city, meet your friends for a picnic in the park, or sip cocktails on the patio.

Sharing a table with Meredith at the Portland Zine Symposium!

Sharing a table with Meredith at the Portland Zine Symposium!

Zinester mail from @nicolejgeorges xoxo!

Zine symposium mail from Nicole Georges!

The Portland Zine Symposium was a big reason why I chose to be in Portland when I did. It’s really amazing to see a project I helped start 13 years ago continue with such vigor and be taken up by a totally new team of people. I feel like that’s the exact legacy I hoped to create with the symposium and I’m so glad to see it worked out. It was also nice to return as a participant and not have the stress of an organizer.  However, much of Portland reminded me of that heady time in my early 20s when I lived there. I would be biking along a street on my borrowed, bright yellow, vintage folding bike named “Banana Lightening” aka “Banana Question,” and remember a feeling I had in that same place over ten years ago. I felt amazed that I had grown up, but still half way convinced that I was going to encounter my 22-year-old self around any given corner.

I love Olympia!

I love Olympia!

I felt a similar feeling in Olympia, where I hadn’t spent too much time since attending the Yo Yo A Go Go music festival in 1999 when I was 18. Then I was a giddy teenager fresh out of my small town. There I saw acts like Elliot Smith, Quasi and the Need play the historic Capitol Theater and spent time blissfully sleeping on a motel floor with four other indie rock fans and meeting up with my zine pen pals from all over the country.

Capitol Theater, Olympia, Washington, where indie rock history was made

Capitol Theater, Olympia, Washington, where indie rock history was made

Olympia now has a strange, sleepy vibe, though it is still home to a very dedicated creative community. The staples I remember like Dumpster Values thrift store, Rainy Day Records, and K Records homebase, are still there, though they have moved. There’s plenty of new, cool places, like the Northern for all ages shows (and good coffee in the morning from a coffee bar called Bar Francis) and Quality Burrito for delicious tacos and cocktails. One of my favorite places to re-visit was The Reef – greasy spoon diner in front, dive bar in back, where the bar tender played KARP on the jukebox in an evening that felt perfectly fitting for Olympia past and present.

An Olympia classic

An Olympia classic

Karaoke pandas, Olympia, Washington

Karaoke pandas, Olympia, Washington

My last day in Washington State got a little cloudy, so it was quite a big change when I hopped an Alaska Airlines flight down to hot, sunny and flat Sacramento. It was my fifth time in California in the past year and it felt great to be back in the Golden State. I got to learn about the growing creative community in California’s capitol and present at the sweetest nonprofit, Hello XOXO, a new space dedicated to fostering women’s creativity and entrepreneurship.

Hello XOXO - a nonprofit fostering women's creative community in Sacramento, CA
Hello XOXO – a nonprofit fostering women’s creative community in Sacramento, CA
Decor love at Hello XOXO

Decor love at Hello XOXO

I wasn’t long in Sacramento though, and after just a quick afternoon and evening I headed to Berkeley to browse the selection at Amoeba records, and meet up with my favorite California boys, Torches, who were touring up the West Coast while I was headed down. It was great to compare road notes over sandwiches and mimosas and think about how much we have all grown creatively since meeting about a year and a bit ago.

Tour highlight: lunch with these rock stars @torches_music

Lunch with Torches, also on tour, in Berkeley

After sending the boys off I took the BART into San Francisco, my last tour stop. I love how San Francisco’s hills rise up over the bay, how the fog blows across it in strange wisps, and how the pastel buildings tile up its impossibly steep slopes. That said, by the time I reached San Francisco I was feeling a little tired. I was ready to go home.

Brunch seriousness

French “Soul Food” brunch in San Francisco!

Fortunately, if you’ve got a friend in San Francisco, they usually know what you need. In this case, Amy took me to Brenda’s, an amazing French Soul Food influenced brunch joint, and then bought a bottle of champagne that we drank out of plastic cups in a park full of palm trees, lavender plants and cute dogs. It was the perfect end to my travels.

Champagne in the park in the 3-D Nickey Hayden glass

Last day of tour and living the San Francisco park life

Seeing new places, returning to places I love and meeting up with people I love in these places, is one of the most life affirming things one can do, in my opinion. At the same time, I’m happy to have a solid home base in Brooklyn, a place where I can nurture my own creativity and reach out to the world from. Being on tour especially means being on almost every waking minute. It means putting your best foot forward always and being open to possibility and risk while getting what you need to do accomplished. My summer was hardly relaxing or carefree, but it was a hugely absorbing journey that’s left me so grateful for the opportunity I was able to create to talk about my passions and projects and remember what’s valuable to me: community, connection, and creativity. And it’s through that kind of risk taking that we learn and grow.

Who Dares Wins

My new motto on the wall of the Makeshift Society

The Great American Road Trip Part 1: Midwest

Somewhere in Missouri, en route to Tulsa

Somewhere in Missouri, en route to Tulsa

“Killerfemme, where have you been this summer?” “Where haven’t I been?” I think, at this point. I’ve spent the past three months visiting 17 states and 23 different cities on a book tour to connect with DIY and handmade business owners to promote my first book Grow: How to take your do it yourself project and passion to the next level and quit your job! Besides getting to meet rad creative people all over the country, I’m really grateful that Grow gave me a reason to travel to places I hadn’t been since 2002, the last time I took a cross country road trip, like Columbus, Ohio and Indianapolis, Indiana. It also took me to places I’d never been before (and hope to go back to) like Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Omaha, Nebraska.

Art changes everything in Minneapolis and everywhere.

Art changes everything in Minneapolis and everywhere.

In front of Mickey's Dining Car in St. Paul, Minnesota

In front of Mickey’s Dining Car in St. Paul, Minnesota. Open 24 hours a day for nearly 70 years!

The lure of the open road has been immortalized in American literature and culture, with John Steinbeck to Jack Kerouac being some of the most prominent. Of course, as an angst ridden teenager I was deeply influenced by the later and wrote a whole faux road trip novel at age 15 having barely left Maine or and only visited New York City once. This summer I was really excited to set out in mid-July to “middle America,” or “fly over country” as it is so dismissively called by some ignorant coastal souls. This trip was hardly a drug-fueled whim like those of my beatnik brothers (are you kidding? I was driving! I hardly had a drink!), but a journey with the explicit purpose of promoting Grow. I wrote about what I learned about DIY and craft business on the Grow blog, but of course, one can’t work 24/7. So here I wanted to share some more personal images from the lovely places I visited.

Nice neon! Madison, Wisconsin

Nice neon! Madison, Wisconsin

One of the best parts of the trip was the opportunity to connect with friends I had met through publishing zines and the underground, punk community over a decade ago. Some of them I had figured I’d never see again, but instead, here they were, living full, beautiful, inspiring lives. For me, seeing these women again showed me why the concept of DIY has remained so compelling: when you are committed to making something, adding value to your community, and forging a genuine connection with other creatives, those relationships last.

Zine Grrrl reunion at Quimby's in Chicago: Nicole Wolfersberger, me, and Rebecca Ann Rakstad

Zine Grrrl reunion at Quimby’s in Chicago: Nicole Wolfersberger, me, and Rebecca Ann Rakstad

Ohio river crossing, Cincinnati, Ohio

Ohio river crossing, Cincinnati, Ohio

I shouldn’t have to say it, but the Midwest suffers a bad wrap from those on the coasts, even though so many people living here are from there. It’s a diverse place and full of history. It contains key locations along the Underground Railroad (don’t think that walking across the Ohio River from Kentucky to Ohio didn’t give me chills), to battles fought in “Indian Country”  over questions of slavery versus freedom and Native sovereignty in Kansas and Oklahoma, to current events, as Detroit declared bankruptcy just days after I visited (it’s not my fault!).

Grow workshopping, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Grow workshopping, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Steakfinger House, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Steakfinger House, Tulsa, Oklahoma

The Midwest is also breathtakingly beautiful. Though it may not boast the drama of the Rocky Mountains or the Pacific Coast, it has a sky that stretches on forever, rolling green fields, and dusty roads that scream, “Take an adventure, America!” While I am a reluctant American, spending two weeks in the Midwest reminded me that I am very much of this country. I appreciate the pioneering and the “Can do, make to” spirit of the people I met in my travels.

Train crossing on the Oklahoma/Kansas border

Train crossing on the Oklahoma/Kansas border

Little Freshie, fresh slushie in 101 degree Kansas City, Missouri

Little Freshie, fresh slushie in 101 degree Kansas City, Missouri

Also, breaking news: Brooklyn, NY and Portland, OR are no longer so original or special. Do you think I had to give up fair trade, cold brew coffee or organic, local produce while I was on the road? Quite the opposite! Cities and small towns all over the US are bursting with local goodness and it’s exciting to feel like “local flavor” actually means something again.

Celebrating a tour well done, Omaha, Nebraska

Celebrating a tour well done, Omaha, Nebraska

However, I also found myself enjoying some mass produced pleasures, like the fact that you can get 20 different kinds of iced tea for under $2 at a “gourmet” gas station like Quik Trip (thought I just got black, unsweetened tea). I mean, thank you, America, this iced tea kept me awake through some long drives and was delicious to boot. So, if you ever think, “Should I visit Tulsa? Or Omaha?” the answer is emphatically,
“Yes!”

Morning, Omaha, Nebraska

Morning, Omaha, Nebraska

This tour brought to you by vats of Quik Trip Iced Tea

This tour brought to you by vats of Quik Trip Iced Tea

Main Street Sheridan, Sunday Morning

Trail Hotel

Sometimes a place strikes you. The architecture. The quality of the light. The collection of buildings that are more than the sum of their parts. Early Sunday morning in Sheridan, Wyoming my uncle (who is an accomplished photographer) and I took a walk down Main Street to capture the signs and buildings that had captured our attention and imagination throughout our days there. The morning light and sky gives the photos a dusty, timeless quality, but if you look closely you can see that this place is firmly rooted in the present: new shops selling fancy Western Wear mixed in with shuttered, empty storefronts; a renovated theatre and faded painted signs and bricks. I think that we have a tendency to fix smaller towns in our minds as places that are “removed” from the march of time. However, I think these places that make up “Main Street USA” are where our culture and economy are lived, felt and experienced on a human scale and a day-to-day level.
Rainbow Bar

Boot Liquidation

Sorry We're Closed

Western Windows

Parking in Rear

Mint Bar

Hotel Rex

There’s more Wyoming views on Flickr.

The Green Grass of Wyoming

Looking towards the Bighorns

When I was a child my mom and I would go out to Sheridan, Wyoming for two weeks a summer to visit my Aunt, Uncle and first cousins Ben and Heather. We would go in June or July, but I can’t remember the last time that we visited that the rolling, grassy hills and mesas around their house were green. By the time we arrived they were always baked a light beige with the red clay soil and rocks peeking through. It was a real treat to head out to Wyoming for a family gathering last weekend and be pleasantly surprised to see that the hills were still green, contrasting the roads and soil of red rock. I love it out on the range because I feel like these small roads stretch forever towards the horizon, the air is permeated with the smell of sage brush, and the sky is huge and expansive, giving me a sense of space, freedom and possibility. While Montana holds the official title, I would say with confidence, that Wyoming is also big sky country.

Out for a Walk

Trailer Tableau

Sunflowers on the range

Mama and Foal

There’s more photos on Flickr.

The “Other Portland” Reconsidered

Dinner view

My early life is a tale of two Portlands. I grew up in and around the city of Portland, Maine. It is a small city of about 60,000 people about two hours north of Boston that features century-old brick buildings, wharves, narrow cobblestone streets, and handsome Victorian houses. Growing up there it had a vibe of being cultured, yet sleepy. There were bohemian feeling cafes, concerts and a good, but small art museum. In the early 1990s I saw “Alternative” bands of the era like Dinosaur Jr. and Belly play at a mid-sized theatre. It was relatively safe and very walkable. All in all, it was a great place to grow up.

Hover, in my mid-teens I fell in love with the “other” Portland (in New England speak), the much larger Portland, Oregon that came into its own in the 1990s as a hotbed of alternative culture and is now the reigning city of hipsterism (besides, perhaps, my current home town of Brooklyn). When I moved to Portland in 2000 I had to explain to people that I was, actually from the “other” Portland (that would be Maine, in Oregon and most everywhere else, speak).  Confusing!

Portland, Maine!

I always felt like Portland, Maine had great potential to be a hotbed for creativity. It’s not terribly expensive to live there, there’s old industrial space that could be available for artists and creative people, there’s an art school and a large public university an a cultural infrastructure in place to support creative people. Did I mention the restaurants are excellent? I always felt vaguely frustrated and let down by Portland, Maine in the 1990s. While places like Olympia, Washington were becoming focal points of DIY culture making Portland seemed to not quite be able to have it together. Bands from Portland rarely toured and when they did seemed to only make it as far as Boston. People barely expressed an interest in touring bands. The local art scene was dominated by cutesy crafts and lighthouse art. Until now.

Back for post-workshop, pre-pizza party cocktails

Cocktails at Eventide Oyster Company

In the early 2000s a few businesses helped usher in what seems to be a new wave for creative people in Portland, Maine. Ferdinand started selling letterpress goods, silkscreen t-shirts and vintage finds. Space Gallery started bringing in shows by cutting edge contemporary artist and hosting emerging and established touring indie rock bands. Geno’s rock club moved up from a scuzzy (but beloved) dive bar to a sprawling new space (it used to be a porn theater back in the day, but hey…), the Nickelodeon Cinema started showing indie as well as second run mainstream films downtown for cheap, and Z Fabrics started selling beautiful, contemporary cool cloth. These places helped breath life into Portland independent culture stalwarts, like Bullmoose Music and helped re-invigorate a tradition like the First Friday Arts Walk.

Serious hipster coffee comes to Portland, Maine

Coffee at Tandem

Returning to Portland on a recent weekend I was surprised at all the new, creative businesses that have opened up and feel like the city is supportive enough of independent, DIY, handcrafted culture to make a go at it. You can now get locally roasted coffee in the Bluebottle tradition from Tandem Coffee Roasters, outfit your inner (or outer) dandy at Portland Dry Goods and David Wood (David Wood has been a leading menswear purveyor in Portland for decades), embrace the prepster aesthetic and support “upcycling” at Seabags, browse hip, vintage, local, and handmade goods at Pinecone + Chickadee, and score amazing vintage deals at Find. Did I mention eating? Try Eventide Oyster Company for craft cocktails and yes, oysters, and Duckfat, which seems to be known the world over, for hearty sandwiches and fries cooked in the restaurant’s namesake (vegetarians beware!).

All of this to say, this past weekend I walked around in a state of quasi-disbelief. What I always hoped for “my” Portland is happening. I’m not quite ready to move back, but I’m looking forward to my next visit. Sitting at dinner at the hippie pizza place Flatbread Company I overheard a member of a bachelor party near us ask in all sincerity, “Are there nitrates in the pepperoni?” To which the waitress immediately replied, “No, of course not, they are homemade.” I had to pinch myself. Which Portland was I in?

Oh baby drive away to Malibu

Tattoo by Emily North

“Not Afraid Anymore” tattoo by Emily North

There are certain places that become a legend before you even get a chance to visit. As a child of the 80s “Malibu” had a strong currency in my mind though I didn’t understand what or where it was. The word conjured “Malibu Barbie,” with her flaxen hair and metallic swimsuit and pink hued beach mansion. In reality, I’m struck by Malibu’s rugged coast, its quiet beaches, and state parks full of cliffs and chaparral and hiking trails.

T-shirt: J Crew; Shorts and belt: Thrifted

T-shirt: J Crew; Shorts and belt: Thrifted

On my recent trip to LA I took a Saturday to drive out with two of my best friends to have brunch in Santa Monica and continue up the coast to El Matador State Park, a windswept beach full of rock formations, sea anemone, surf and beautiful sand for napping, sunning and restoring.

Bathing Suit: Esther Williams; Shorts and belt: Thrifted

Bathing Suit: Esther Williams; Shorts and belt: Thrifted

I also got to show off my new (and first!) tattoo by Emily North – a phrase taken from “Insight,” one of my favorite Joy Division songs that has stuck with me for over a decade. I find that Southern California is the perfect place to wash away fear and embrace possibility with an expansive view over the endless Pacific.

El Matador State Park

El Matador State Park, Malibu, California

To Los Angeles with Love

Malibu Sunset

Malibu Sunset

As a way to torture myself a little bit I loaded LA weather on my phone, so the other day when it was twelve degrees in New York City I could console myself with sunnier thoughts, knowing it was in the 70s in Los Angeles. Thankfully, winter can also be a great time to score cheap plane tickets, so when round trip prices from JFK to LAX dipped below $300 snagged one for a long weekend in the city that is my current source of infatuation, just in time for the first annual LA Art Book Fair.

LA early morning from Griffith Park

LA early morning from Griffith Park

I made time to visit my (new) favorite haunts in Silver Lake and Echo Park and to see friends, but also to explore more nooks and crannies of this sprawling metropolis. After a walk at the Baldwin Hills Scene Overlook and coffee to shake off my jetlag on Friday morning I headed downtown for the art book fair, which was being held at the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Geffen Building. As is the nature of these events I was immediately overwhelmed with bound creations and intriguing exhibitions, but I especially loved the “zine world” section of the fair and hope that one day I too could be considered a “zine master of the universe.”

In "Zine World" at the LA Art Book Fair

In “Zine World” at the LA Art Book Fair

Zine exhibitor at the LA Art Book Fair

Zine exhibitor at the LA Art Book Fair

I also feel like this trip gave me more chance to talk with artists, writers and creative types (outside of the film biz) who are making their lives and work in LA. I was especially excited to meet Mimi of the architectural zine and blog Loud Paper who recently moved from Brooklyn and was working the table for the LA Forum for Architecture and Urban Design, whose dayglo posters with quotes from LA architects and planners drew me from across the room. I also noticed some general trends in art books and zines at the fair: neon as an accent color was hot, everyone had a tote bag for sale, and about half of the zines available had some kind of homoerotic content (mostly male).

The poster on the upper right is now mine!

The poster on the upper right is now mine!

Friday evening coincided with (my) discovery of some of the restaurants and bars of the “Arts district” downtown (which may or may not have any actual artists still living there), with delicious continental beers at Wurstkuche (though I passed on the rattlesnake sausage they had on offer) and a suburbly proportioned, locally sourced dinner at Eat Drink Americano. Later that evening at the Satellite I discovered a new favorite band: the Happy Hollows, who enthusiastic delivery was matched only by the crowd’s enthusiastic reception. After New York’s jaded rock audiences, seeing the Happy Hollows and the warm crowd at the Satellite was a welcome change.

I started my Saturday with a lovely walk in Griffith Park and a pass through the Silver Lake farmer’s market for a coconut, kale and dandelion green smoothie. I later took a wander around West Hollywood, including a glance inside the beautiful new library, and had a wonderful chat all facilitated by Team Gloria, who is my constant source for writing and lifestyle inspiration. After a delicious, lingering brunch conversation about writing, zines and life in LA with Liz at Barbrix in Silver Lake I swung back by the book fair. I was so exhausted by the artistic possibilities I saw I had to take a nap before braving the freeways to Orange County.

Torches at the Constellation Room

Torches at the Constellation Room

As if my LA weekend couldn’t get any dreamier, my friends Torches let me know they were playing a last minute (and sold out!) show in Orange County at the Constellation Room. Despite my culture shock of finding a decent rock club in the middle of a suburban office park, to see Torches on their (sort of) home turn in Southern California was a dream come true. It was really fun to hear their new material, meet their new bassist Braedon, and see a whole group of fans gaze at them adoringly. The newer material rocks a little harder than the songs they played in NYC this fall and their set was full of pop hooks and great vocal harmonies and tremendous drumming by Eric. You can get a taste (and download a new track!) on their Soundcloud page.

I’m also proud to say that thanks to my Orange County jaunt I’ve started to perfect the art of talking like an Angelino and saying things like “Take the 605, to the 405, to the 5, to the 101, to the 110,” when discussing getting around.

IMG_3798

Azad and Braeden from Torches at the Constellation Room

Azad's pedal board

Azad’s pedal board

Sunday was a complete change of pace with a drive up the Pacific Coast Highway, through Malibu, to hike down a canyon at Circle X Ranch, an outing carefully orchestrated by my friend Phoebe and accompanied by my gracious host Kabir. After shuffling along NYC’s icy streets, to be out in the desert sun, smelling spring flowers and marveling at the sandstone cliffs felt like an entirely different world and completely freeing.

Hiking at Circle X Ranch

Hiking at Circle X Ranch

Hiking at Circle X Ranch

Hiking at Circle X Ranch

To reward ourselves for our hiking efforts we stopped at Neptune’s Net, a fried seafood shack that is a favorite among the biker crowd. Between perfectly grilled fish tacos, crispy fried shrimp and a glimmering view of the pacific I was completely satisfied. The day was completed by watching the sun sink into the water, followed by a glass of wine and an excellent plate of artisanal cheese at super cute downtown wine bar Mignon.

Along the Pacific Coast Highway

Along the Pacific Coast Highway

Neptune's Net, a seafood shack favored by the biker set

Neptune’s Net, a seafood shack favored by the biker set

Suffice it to say, LA is still casting its spell on me and continues to lure me with all of its charms. I hope I can go back soon.

Downtown LA from Baldwin Hill Scenic Overlook

Downtown LA from Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook

Los Angeles You’re (Not Quite) Mine

Griffith Park observatory and downtown LA

Griffith Park observatory and downtown LA

There’s been a lot of debate about New York City versus Los Angeles taking place on the Internet right now. Perhaps I’m having a zeitgeist moment, because I never thought I would visit Los Angeles, but now I am completely smitten with the city. I thought I would add my two cents to the discussion. Growing up on the East Coast I was brought up to believe that LA was smoggy, dangerous, traffic chocked, and void of any interesting culture. When people would ask me where I wanted to travel I would tell them, “Anywhere but LA!” and claimed that my life would be complete if I never visited Los Angeles.

LA afternoon. Just chillin'.

Well, I’m happy to say that I was absolutely wrong. This year I found that I had a concentration of friends living in Los Angeles and in late fall found myself in desperate need of sun and a little perspective. Tickets between NYC and LA are fairly cheap, so in a moment of impulsiveness I booked a long weekend in the City of Angels.

I was excited about rock clubs, taco trucks, beaches, good coffee, walks in parks, juice bars and all the other wonders of LA my friends told me about. Then I read this article started to get nervous… what if all my friends flaked on me? Wasn’t that what I hated about living on the West Coast? What if I got lost and no one would return my calls and I spent all weekend alone on a crowded freeway? In a fit of nerves I even considered canceling my trip.

Hollywood California

I got over myself and booked a room on AirBnB in Silver Lake with a wonderful hostess named Stacie. I rented a car and consulted maps and driving advice (such as never, ever take the 405 freeway). I asked for suggestions of what to do and received a list long enough to last me several months. I packed all black clothes so people would be sure to know I was a New Yorker. I got the first manicure of my life so as not to look unkempt. And suddenly, right before I left all my friends made plans with me and the temperature in New York dropped to a wintery chill, which reinforced my decision to flee for a long weekend.

LA was everything I dreamed it would be, but even better. There were amazing rock clubs, like The Echo and The Satellite, and taco trucks galore (I even ate a burrito stuff with French fries… wow). I loved walking around the Silver Lake reservoir and and taking in the mountains that surround the city. I liked the proximity to nature and the fact that Griffith Park is a huge mountain in the middle of the city full of hiking trails and stunning views.

Griffith Park with Wallace the Lawless

Walking “Wallace the Lawless” in Griffith Park

I spent a lot of time loitering around Silver Lake and Echo Park and had two very capable tour guides in my friends Iris and Azad (joined at various times by Lil, Katie, Kabir and Erynne). Sunset Junction, in Silver Lake, has apparently been voted the hippest corner in the United States and I can see why. It boasts Intelligentsia coffee, one of the most coffee snobbiest cafes I’ve ever encountered (but delicious!), and a host of boutiques and cafes. Along Sunset in Silver Lake I soothed a combination of a hangover and jetlag with a coconut kale smoothie from Naturewell and found a beautiful dress that is going to be perfect for my New Years party at Ragg Mop vintage.  I also nursed a pint of local microbrew at Good and even dared to try LA pizza at Garage Pizza (it was tolerable… but I was also starving).

The Hippest Corner in the US

Rag Mop Vintage

Ragg Mop Vintage in Silver Lake

I did, eventually, venture out of Silver Lake, including a drive down the length of Sunset Boulevard bound for Venice Beach. Driving down Sunset felt like driving through every 80s TV show I’d ever seen. I shrieked as we drove down the strip, then was like “Whoa!” when we entered the leafy and posh Beverly Hills and then blurted out “No way!” when we passed Bel Air. I felt how people must feel when they visit New York City for the first time. To see places you’ve always heard about in popular culture and find they actually exist is a strange and exhilarating feeling.

Skate Park, Venice Becah

The famous skate park in Venice Beach

When we reached Venice Beach I took one look at the expanse of sand and declared Los Angeles to be next on my list of cities to move to. How could people not love it here? There’s so much beach!

Venice Liberty

Shirts at Venice Liberty… I bought the purple one!

I also poked around Pasadena and South Pasadena and got to fulfill a long standing dream of eating at In-N-Out Burger. You might say it doesn’t take much to please me and it’s true. Add a personalized tour of the massive Amoeba Records and some good hangouts at Cha Cha Lounge and the Red Lion (yes, back in Silver Lake) and brunch at Square One snickering at Scientologists across the street at their world headquarters, more brunch in the garden at the Alcove, and a farm to table dinner at A Frame in Culver City and… well, I’m pretty much sold on LA. I barely scratched the surface of all the cultural institutions there, but had a lovely visit to LACMA with my friend Erynne and managed to appease the natural history nerd child in me by taking in the La Brea tar pits (which are right next to LACMA in the middle of the city!).

Me and Kabir, Venice Beach

My friend Kabir and I in Venice Beach

So all of this to say that I haven’t loved a city this much since Paris. The weekend I spent in LA enabled a few big ideas about next steps in life that I have long been mulling over to fall into place. Stay tuned because I have big plans for 2013 and may well make Los Angeles mine.

Venice Beach Sunset Postcard

I’ll leave you with this song by Unrest and more photos on Flickr.

Wyoming Range Life

The view towards the Big Horn mountains

The last time I was in Wyoming I arrived in the middle of the night, having driven straight from Portland, Oregon on a compressed, cross country trip. To get there we drove through the Beartooth Mountains of Montana in August darkness, watching meteors streak down through the clear western air. I’ve joke that I am the penultimate East Coaster – that I walk and talk too fast and am too attached to the ocean to live anywhere else. However, chunks of my childhood summers were spent on the range and in the mountains of Northeastern Wyoming, visiting my Aunt, Uncle and two cousins in near Sheridan. I’d like to think that somehow, in some small way, that experience stays with me.

As a child and early teenager going to Wyoming was a dream come true. It is awash in wide open spaces to explore on horseback and was of pre-dawn mornings helping (however ineffectively) my uncle and aunt with the cattle they raise. Wyoming was freight trains, rattle snakes, sage brush, wild landscapes, and hours with my cousins playing Legos and reading Calving and Hobbes comics.

County roads, Wyarno, Wyoming

My grandmother lives in Wyoming now and so last weekend I caught (just barely) an early flight to Denver and then a propeller plane to Sheridan to visit her and the rest of my family. While the endless barbed wire fences, train tracks, range and sparse population are the polar opposite of where I live now, I felt a rush of familiarity and welcome when I arrived Wyoming. I love that place. I am a total outsider, but I feel a sense of awe and respect for the country there and the people who call it their home.

Coal train headed towards West Dutch depot

Maybe because we’ve just had a huge national election and the idea of what is “America” and who is “American” has been debated and thrown about ad nauseum I couldn’t help but think, “This is what people are talking about when they talk about America.” Here are hard working people who make a living from the land and another job to make ends meet. They drive sturdy American made trucks and cultivate a sense of Western independence. Native American history and contemporary culture is woven into the fabric of this place. This is where stories about the American West were made. And, yet. Wyoming cannot be reduced to a caricature. It is not a rustic idyll or a rural backwater. It’s a place as complex as “America” itself.

Winter Wyoming sunset

Wyoming is where I can have long conversations about the dangers of fracking with my Uncle, who is one of the toughest cowboys I’ve ever met. I remember he told me about what a bad idea it was 10 years ago, before anyone on the East Coast had really begun to talk about it. I wish New York State would take a cue from the experience of people in the west and see the havoc it wreaked on the environment there and how little benefit local people actually derived from it. It’s where I have out and proud gay family members, even though gay rights still has a long way to go there (and everywhere!). It’s where I can go out to lunch with my cousin I haven’t seen in 10 years and we can chat like we just saw each other yesterday. It’s a place I’m proud to know a little bit and proud to hold as part of my past and, hopefully, part of my future.

Western twilight

Sunset behind the Big Horn mountains

Below is a little look into my Wyoming past: wearing shorts, riding bareback on my Aunt’s Welsh pony, with awkwardly cut curly hair and in 12-year-old heaven