I really wanted to buy a juice….just not from any of the people on this strip.
We hit Venice Beach on a weekday and thought it was pretty quiet. We went for a swim – as is our rule, no matter how cold – and then lay under the lifeguard stand so our pale friend didn’t fry.
There was a family beside us in the shade, one woman lying like a huge clothed Buddha in the sand. She lay on her side with her monstrous stomach spread around her like a group of friends.
Her sausage dog named Sister put up a ferocious display as we settled down next to them.
“Come here mama,” giant woman said to Sister.
“Come sit down back here, you not scaring anybody.”
Sister sat back down and the woman spilt some of her Bud Light on the ground and then accidentally rolled into it. I stretched out in the beaming sun to work on my tan.
The beach was beautiful, the pavement buzzing with cyclists, roller bladers and joggers.
We went to check out the rest of this famous slice of coastline…..and then we hit it.
The land of scab-rats. Wtf Venice Beach.
All along the main strip/street (once you left the gorgeous beach) were suss people selling weird stuff. We made our way along the strip like bug-eyed school kids.
Three guys were sitting on a bench with a sign up saying ‘fishing for nugs- any lil bit a green helps.”
“Hey big guy,” one yelled out.
“Help a brother out.”
Another guy held a sign saying “fuck you, give me money,” and another’s simply said “need money for weed.”
There were shops selling tacky everything, from shirts to hot pants with terrible sayings scrawled across the butt. There was a ‘green doctor’ with signs up saying no photos, and, obviously, the smell of weed wound its way down the street.
People everywhere tried to sell you stuff, or give you copies of their CDs. Others stood around, bludgeoned into oblivion by the grind of daily poverty.
An attractive lady was standing in the middle of it all banging a bongo drum.
“Real live spoken word for you, right here on Venice Beach,” she said in her cool, lazy accent.
I wanted to stop and listen, but we were on a pretty tight budget and the others thought she looked cracked out.
The whole thing reminded me of the tourist strips in Thailand. Tacky.
Homeless people stretched out under blankets in the shade of the palm trees.
It was sad and sobering.
Further up at the famous outdoor gym, Muscle Beach, an ultra tanned older man who looked like he could use a good ironing worked out shirtless.
Some guys played basketball and people just generally hung out.
It was a mixed vibe.
There was a graffiti park with tags everywhere and a bunch of skaters ripping up the skate park, and then that was it. We were out.
Catch ya never Venice Beach.
You sliver of quivers
You giver of pleasures
Pink point of climax
Wet song of seduction
You prick up like dogs’ ears
Or nipples in cold
Oh how you control me
As shudders unfold
Soft as the centre
Of slow blooming flowers
Love maker, bed shaker
We could talk for hours
Women through the ages
Have known your secret depth
So small and unassuming
But harbouring such breadth
You make me think of running through the willows
You make me think of sighing into pillows
I salute you sweet clitoris
While I was staying at Newport Beach I had just enough time to epilate one leg and pluck one eyebrow. Luckily they were both on the same side of my body, so depending which way you approached….I was looking good.
Or at least half good.
Anyway, I thought it was a healthy dose of realism for Newport Beach, where bad looking people were deported.
We visited Mary’s work and headed out on the research/educational boat she calls an office.
“Now if you look very carefully we might be able to see some sea birds, and maybe even some other animals,” the instructor was saying to the field trip.
Then boom! Chaos on deck.
They had spotted a whale and 25 squealing kids ran to the front deck, Iphones in hand.
Iphones!!! At tweenhood. Bloody hell. Pretty sure I was still campaigning for my own room at that age.
A gray whale and her calf were closer to shore than I would have believed. We stood on the top deck and looked in wonder.
26 years on earth and today I was seeing my first whale. It was amazing. She surfaced to breathe, spouting through her blowhole, the little calf sticking close by her side.
Mary told me they will always position themselves between a boat and their calf.
It was magic, and I felt a great sense of gratitude to the Sea Shepherd crew, and a great sadness that anyone could hunt and kill these animals for an unnecessary food source.
I thought of the long, beautiful calls she must be making underwater. Echoing as though through a cathedral. I thought of her baby, surrounded by blue, and with the thing it loved most in the world.
I’ve always loved the ocean, and Dana Point turned on a cracking day for us.
I learned that the white rocks making up the stone pier/ship wall thing were actually white from years of bird shit. No longer evoking the whitewashed romance of Greece! Baha.
The crew dragged up a shining mass of kelp, vibrant green and khaki tangles; wild as sea witch hair.
I loved the stuff. It slid and slopped against the side of the boat as the marine bios hacked some off to sample.
I could feel the sun smiling down on me, polishing my shoulders into two brown bulbs, warning my nose of its Rudolph potential.
A burst of laughter, and they brandished the algae sample towards us, floaters swirling through the plastic container.
One of the kids had vomited overboard, and the sample had caught nothing but that. The best kind of funny is always the gross kind.
That night we got burgers and I fought the urge to run into the streets, throw up my arms and scream, “show me the salad America!”
I never knew I would miss you this much lettuce, tomato, cucumber and baby spinach.
I fell asleep in mattress land in the loungeroom, surrounded by people I love. This is what it must be like to be a kitten in a litter, I thought.
In the morning we woke early and softened the blow with mugs of the good black stuff. (Not Guinness, the other good black stuff).
The one bedroom apartment that had diligently housed all five of us was being surrendered back to Matt, Mary and their three thousand surfboards, and it was sad.
Mary wrapped me in one of the hugs only kind spirited people can give, and I felt a little fist close around my heart. I hoped it wouldn’t be so long between visits. I vowed to try everything to get across the five countries separating me from her wedding in August.
We hit the road north.
I was going to eat every piece of salad between here and San Francisco.
All the hipsters are in Cali, and they’re eating great tacos.
Listen up hipsters, if you’ve got a skill of some kind then Ocean Beach, San Diego has your name all over it. You can even get one of the bird OB stickers for your car.
We headed to San Diego to visit another old uni friend, and hit town spot on time for lunch.
Her car took us begrudgingly down the main street, its gear box groaning as it endured the corners.
Everywhere there were cool people. It was like the pavement was sprouting hipsters, but with a more street edge to them than Aussie hipsters.
They all seemed to have a skill of some sort. There were tattoo artists having a cigarette break below their parlours, surfers hoofing it towards the beach and skaters with great hair skating, chatting or just generally standing around like tattoo parlour adverts.
Yep, OB was cool. More than hipster cool though, it was laid back and had an atmosphere crunchy with fun. Everywhere there were happy nobodies enjoying happy lives.
It was a toss-up between the two storey bar on the corner (with good drinks and ocean views) and the local favourite, Oscars taco shop (both on Newport Av).
Good food won out and after parting with a tenner we sunk our teeth into the best thing I’ve eaten in a while.The surf and turf torta. God bless you Mexico.
San Diego was nothing like I expected. We got killer weather for the two days, so a big sun basted us all day before the winds picked up in the evening and the temperature dropped, consistent with a dessert climate.
The geography was some of my favourite. Rugged dessert beauty; dry arid looking cliffs, dropping off to a smashing blue ocean.
We picked our way along the bottom of the Sunset cliffs, birds wheeling above. Dedicated surfers were paddling out over rocks at the bottom of the staircase to catch a tricky wave that spat them out close to the sharp rocks.
Back in the clunking car we chewed bitumen for 20 minutes up to La Jolla Cove (pronounced La Hoiya) and were met with the overwhelming stench of a community of sea lions.
They were fantastic and wild and played like dogs.
They were not so loved by local business owners, with a group called Citizens for Odor Nuisance Abatement filing a lawsuit against the city of San Diego and state of California for the economic peril the mammals were wreaking/reeking on the area.
Some members of the group included restaurant and hotel owners, who I’m sure were losing customers.
I thought watching these sleek and seemingly spineless creatures (fluid in the ocean, bulbous on land) fight and flop across the rocks was the greatest thing ever. Humans and nature. We built on their home, I think it’s important to remember.
An article in the San Diego Reader, 2013 made me laugh particularly hard.
It referred to a post from the lifeguard log at La Jolla Cove which read:
…. “seal nuzzles and mounts woman off beach, [lifeguard Mark] Feighan in on board to assist and chase seal away.”
Full article here.
Anyway, one of the first things I saw after recovering from the smell was what I thought to be a brave seagull, waltzing up to a baby sea lion. Turns out the baby was dead, and the gull proceeded to peck both its eyes out. Oh nature.
That night we drank beers around one of the concrete fire pits that pepper the beach. The moon was bright and wonky, still a few days from full.
Every time we got cold we threw more wood on the fire, and every now and then some free-spirited soul would wander up to say g’day. It reminded me of our camping trips at Saunders beach in Townsville, where everyone curled up in the sand to sleep by the fire, their one uni blanket over them.
“It’s not that hard to be happy,” the guy beside me said. And I was glad someone had reminded me of that.
Waves crashed, Peanut the dog sniffed along the sand and the city lights prickled like gems on the mountains behind us.
Kenny Rogers drifted randomly through my head, singing (incorrectly) “San Diego midnight moonlight, tropical stars above,
San Diego midnight moonlight, the perfect place to fall in love.”
Everything is on steroids.
And EVERYone is driving the wrong way.
After a never ending flight from Brissie to LA we selected our phat red Chrysler from the hire depot and set off into the concrete jungle.
Driving on the opposite side of the road is scary enough as a passenger, so as Ryan hugged the wrong side of the road and monster trucks (aka normal vehicles for Americans) sidled up to us, I stuffed sour worms into my mouth and counted the lanes on the Freeway.
Nothing lights you up like seeing an old friend, and this one is quite something. The only girl I know who not only appreciated the vintage koala jumper I got her, but also made it look good. Sigh. I guess that’s just a given when you’re from Newport Beach.
The koalas glared back from Mary’s tanned skin with the gruesome glamour that only green sequin noses can create. True ambassadors for our sunny shores.
Mary’s house has twelve surfboard leaned against the wall. Nine in the loungeroom and three in the bedroom. Newport Beach must have some diverse waves. A whale holds the soap in the bathroom and a vibe you cannot argue with slides down your nose and loosens your whole take on life. The sun shone, we were jobless and homeless and life was perfect again.
Then the girls produced the largest punnett of strawberries I have ever seen (only $3.99 for 1.3kg) and told me you can get cheap vodka for $4 a litre and good vodka for $16 a litre.
WHAT A COUNTRY.
Bring it on Ameri-kaye-aye!