High, L.A. : How a Midwest Bae Spends Vacation

#TBT to February 11, 2015 when Chicago was a frigid bitch. Although, not nearly as frigid as he was last year, or the year before. While wrapped up snugly on the couch in a microfiber blanket, I was exhaustively scrolling through my Facebook feed in an eerie, zombie-like state. My cold, lethargic existence exploded to life when a blurb from Yelle caught my attention.


I knew if I didn’t escape Chiberia imminently I was going to jump off the Sears Tower. Luckily, I had been thinking about taking a trip to California for some time. To force the procurement of a plane ticket, I did the sensible thing and purchased a pair of tickets to see Yelle in Los Angeles for April 10th. To you 365 days/year warm-climate dwellers, yes, Chicago is still cold (and sometimes snowing!) in April. The following afternoon during my lunch break, I researched and purchased the cheapest, week long, April tenth-ish American Airlines ticket I could find (rackin’ up them miles, nigga). $326 later, the countdown to Los Angeles had begun. I booked a premium car through Hertz and, due to the copious amount of points I accrued, only paid $10 for a week.


Wednesday April 8th (Day 1): After parking the car next to a homeless man peeing in broad daylight on an electrical box, I began walking toward The California Market Center for the LA Men’s Market (@LAMENSMARKET), a bi-annual men’s trade event in downtown LA.

On the way, a cube-shaped building advertising coffee caught my attention. The Classic Coffee, located at the corner of Main Street and 9th Street, is hands-down the most inviting coffee spot I’ve ever visited. Floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides, dozens of hanging wall plants, and a multi-tiered wooden bench smothered in pillows ask patrons to hang around for awhile and soak up the sun and a good conversation with their caffeine. By the time I finished my latte, my bearings were secured and my excitement for LA Men’s Market (partnered with the caffeine rush) was in full swing.

I headed across the street to the thirteen-story building where the event took place. Little did I know, it was on the top floor — nice. It was glorious…I’m not typically into streetwear, but if I were to be swayed, this event pushed me over the edge. Two notable brands on which to keep an eye are Native Shoes (www.nativeshoes.com) and STIKELEATHER Apparel (www.stikeleatherapparel.com).

IMG_0014Native Shoes’ Apollo Moc collection serves a Nike Roshe Run vibe, but with super lightweight materials and a more unique design. These airy and comfortable kicks will be available F/W 2015.

Next, STIKELEATHER has developed a fresh take on modern, well-fitting blazers, baseball tees, and asymmetrical crews with — get this — completely invisible magnetic closures embedded in the fabric. Despite their muted color pallet, these fresh designs really make a statement. Did I buy anything? No. I was saving money for (legal) California weed.

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SPEAKING OF WEED, little did I know that almost everyone in California has a prescription for “medical” marijuana. After leaving the Market and stopping by Venice Beach, my friend hooked me up with three fat, pre-rolled joints from a dispensary. It only takes me two hits to get blasted — how in the hell can I finish these in 6 days?!

IMG_0191Thursday April 9th (Day 2): Located on the north-side of Hollywood, Runyon Canyon is a collection of 1.65, 2.65, and 3.25 mile hiking trails. It draws the attention of runners, yoga-enthusiasts, and (if you follow @lukeaustinphotosthe3rd on Instagram) the sexiest, shirtless gay men known to man. Before arriving, I didn’t know what to expect — I was wearing green-khaki shorts, a heavy, mesh, long-sleeved shirt, and a light-cotton floral blazer. As I approached the base of the shortest hill, I knew I was in for some sweat and stank. I removed the victory joint from my blazer and tied it around my waist. Time to climb.

The view from the top of the peak is absolutely incredible. Looking south showcases all of Los Angeles in its seemingly flat glory. Looking north reminds you of your five-figure salary, as every home is >4000 sq. feet and built into the side of a mountain.

Noticing a few Filipinos playing with a selfie stick a few clicks away, I approached them and joked, “I left my selfie stick at home — would you mind taking a photo of me?” The young woman was really nice, and even added a third-party camera lens to my phone to take a better picture. “I’m really fascinated by iPhone photography,” she says. After capturing dozens of pictures, I mentioned I was visiting from Chicago for the week. Her and her friends suggested restaurants, coffee shops, and other neighborhoods to explore. I was smitten by such generosity — I regret not asking for their contact information. Life of a Cancer…
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After making it back down the hill, I pulled out and smoked half of my now soggy joint on the way back to my rental car. For the rest of the day I explored the mansions in Beverly Hills and walked around a few shops in Melrose. A particularly elegant coffee  house, called Alfred Coffee and Kitchen (http://www.alfredcoffee.com), was recommended by my new Runyon friends. It’s quiet, but a little on the expensive side (a salad wrap and 16oz iced chai was about $18). BUT, the clientele looks like a million bucks — I was eye-fucking everyone.

I rounded out my evening exploring the mansions along Carmelita Avenue in Beverly Hills. Nothing instills more paranoia than smoking a joint while passing Aston Martins and Rolls Royces parked casually on the street.

When night fell, I drove up to Griffith Observatory to capture a glimpse of the glowing city under a black sky.

Friday April 10th (Day 3): Today was a special day for two reasons: First, the initial reason I came to L.A. was upon me — Yelle performing @ The Roxy. Second, an iconic day for one of the most influential organizations in the world — pre-orders begin for Apple Watch. While spending hundreds of dollars on another device that will take my attention away from humans and nature and the “real world” isn’t necessarily the most economical or emotionally-present decision I could make, it’s a decision I made for two key reasons.

First, it is an iconic fashion piece. Despite what Editor-in-Chief Nilay Patel and his colleagues at The Verge say about the Watch, this is the most highly anticipated, customizable piece of wearable technology to ever exist. Infinitely customizable watch faces, six new bands in an array of colors patented and built by Apple, and the potential for an unlimited number of third-party bands make this device acquirable and appealing to all ages, body types, and genders. Despite the millions of dollars I assume the company has spent on advertising, they knew what they were doing when they built a camera viewfinder for your iPhone into the Watch. #FreeAdvertising.

Second, I’ve never purchased or owned an expensive timepiece. I know what some of you are thinking….WHY WOULD YOU SPEND HUNDREDS OF DOLLARS ON A “WATCH” THAT WILL BE OBSOLETE IN THREE YEARS? It’s simple. Every watch I’ve ever owned (I’ve owned about 10) has cost between $50 and $100. When the battery dies after 3-4 years, not once have I ever replaced it. Sure, If I did replace the battery, I would wear them for many years to come. However, fashion and taste and aesthetic tend to change and develop as I age and I experience new things. For 3 or 4 or 6 or whatever years, I can customize Apple Watch with different bands until a new watch is released. Spending $500-1000 on a revolutionary piece of technology every few years is nothing considering we “upgrade” our things – shoes, cell phones, computers, jewery, etc. – all the time. I’ll wager that most of the people criticizing people purchasing an Apple Watch versus a Rolex spend more money replacing their PCs than us “iSheep” do replacing or beloved Apple devices.
Before the Apple store opened, I stopped by Marmalade Cafe to grab some salmon and poached-egg goodness. To prevent being late for my Watch try-on appointment, I scarfed my meal in about fifteen minutes and ran over to the store. Although they didn’t have the exact color/model I wanted to try-on, I knew in my soul which one to buy. July cannot come soon enough.
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Come nightfall, I called an old college buddy and invited him to see Yelle (I always buy two concert tickets, just because). While waiting for him to arrive, I walked around West Hollywood and finished joint number one. I can’t emphasize enough how amazing it feels to publicly smoke and enjoy marijuana without anxiety of being arrested. Hey, rest of the U.S., can you catch up, please?

Yelle was amazing — funny, engaging, and full of life. Her performance was perfectly planned and curated, including selfies with the audience, bongo drum solos, choreography with the drummers, and a meet-and-greet after the show. I haven’t purchased band merchandise in a long time, but this was an easy decision. If you’ve been dying for electronic, out-of-this-world beats with french vocals, check out her SoundCloud. I had never heard her opening band, Seattle-based “HIBOU”, but their electric guitar, west-coast vibe, and hot-as-shit bandmates are definitely worth checking out.
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Saturday April 11th (Day 4): People who know me personally know my wardrobe consists of three primary colors: Black, gray, and brown. As I scroll through my Instagram feed from the Winter months, most of my photos have a very clear ominous tone, even if the content or subject is positive. Today was perhaps my favorite day of the entire trip, as it popped my winter-woe cherry and allowed me to embrace color and warmth for the first time this year.

I began at Santa Monica pier, enjoying the sounds of children laughing and talented singers and musicians entertaining and gracing us. A bit crowded up-top, I escaped the boardwalk to walk along the beach, smoking joint number two and allowing the sound of the crashing waves to break away the armor I built during Chicago’s winter months. After finding the most attractive man sitting alone in the sand, I sat close enough to ogle behind sunglasses but far enough away to disguise my lurkiness. I sat for about 45 minutes, silent, eyes closed, high as a fucking kite, thinking, “Is this real?” Officers circling the beach in dune-buggies, a collection of kite-enthusiasts flying dozens of kites, rollerbladers whizzing past — I was enamored. Furthermore, the condos lining the sand were like nothing I’ve ever seen. One had a yellow-spiral staircase reminding me of slides I frequented as a child. One building was white, structured, with floor-to-ceiling windows sitting boldly like a miniature White House. One was a bold orange, flashing symmetry from all angles. I was half tempted to knock on each door and ask if I could be a live-in nanny/sex-slave — anything to see (and stay) in those condos!
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Sunday April 12th (Day 5)
: I woke up early today to go to church. Just kidding. Do people still do that? I woke up early to get some writing done, as well as spend some time at Amoeba Music on Sunset Boulevard — the world’s largest independent record store. Imagine two stories and about ten-thousand square feet of vinyl, posters, DVDs, CDs, and LaserDiscs (yes, LaserDiscs). I spent about 15 minutes walking around with the new album from Lapalux, Lustmore, until realizing my port-less and driverless MacBook won’t eat the damn disc. I downloaded the album later when I returned to my Airbnb (I recommend you do the same). Soon after, I went to Starbucks and awaited the arrival of my old college friend. We roamed the touristy part of Hollywood Boulevard, dodging local thugs asking if we “had a cell phone to check the time” (literally, we crossed the street to avoid them). While helping me finish joint number two, I took my friend a bit north to explore unfrequented hills. “I love this shit,” he says. I wouldn’t normally come over here, but this is really pretty.” If anyone ever wants to walk until your legs feel like they’re going to fall off, hit me up.
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After a long day of exploring, I said goodbye to my friend, went back to my loft, started joint number three, and passed out.

Monday April 13th (Day 6 – The Finale): At some point when I first arrived to the city, I passed a charming hotel with a diner on the first floor on the corner of 6th Street and Normandie Avenue (so charming, in fact, I pulled off to the side of the road to compose a note of its location in my phone). With sore legs and a groaning belly, I decided to head over to what I learned was Normandie Hotel, and its sister restaurant Cassell’s Hamburgers. One of the baristas (whose name escapes me now, sadly) was very sweet and beautiful — so much so that I asked if I could take her portrait. She didn’t feel comfortable being in a picture alone taken by a stranger (I don’t necessarily blame her), but she agreed to be in one with me. After our quick photoshoot, I went back inside and had brunch, followed by an experimental chai blend from my new friend, on the house.
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Years spent lusting over others’ pictures of towering street lights led me to The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Unfortunately, my dumb ass parked in a two hour zone a sizable distance away, so I felt hurried throughout my exploration. Hell, I could have easily spent two hours outside the museum worshiping the sky-scraping rock resting upon an underground walkway, the top of the building shaped like origami, stabbing the sky, and the shower of yellow, licorice-like strings hanging from the sky.
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I walked briskly as I entered the museum, quickly skimming the directory for exhibits that would appeal to me. I’m not a connoisseur of art by any means, nor do I have a particular favorite artist. However, after years of watching Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego (in the first episode of the series, The Stolen Smile, she travels around the world to steal facial-features from different pieces — eyes from Van Gogh, a nose from Picasso, and the mouth from the Mona Lisa), seeing a Picasso in real life was a very emotional moment. So much so that I risked being thrown out (or yelled at, at the very least) capturing a photo of one of his pieces. My favorite exhibit, Islamic Art Now: Contemporary Art of the Middle East, is the first of its kind at the museum. “Technology Killed Reality, 2013”, captured by interior/fashion designer turned photographer Abdullah Al Saab, displays a beautiful woman ignoring publications and other pieces of art to instead take a selfie. This concept isn’t new, especially in the Western world, but it is captured in a much more powerful and iconic fashion.
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As my final day came winding down, I couldn’t leave L.A. without getting my Pretty Woman on. Rodeo Drive was calling my name. I did a lap around some mansions to smoke 75% of my final joint, then headed over to the strip. I didn’t want to stay long, as my wallet was screaming “STAAAAAHHHHHHP”, but I did stop in Chanel to remind myself of how poor I am. A blouse for $3,000? Is this real life? As I continued to mosey, I came upon a bright, beautiful courtyard surrounded by a slew of restaurants and shops. I stopped at Sweet Beverly and ordered the most delicious banana, strawberry, and blueberry parfait I’ve ever consumed. It was $9, of course — which is probably the cheapest thing in Beverly Hills.
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As the sun began to set, I found myself driving to Silver Lake for one final nature-loving moment. The roads inclined at least 45 degrees, and were no doubt the cause of many “check engine” lights on residents’ vehicles. I climbed an iconic staircase to the top, sat on the stoop of one of the mansions, and watched the sun set as I took a few more hits of the joint.
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As a final hoorah, I took the train downtown to La Cita Bar for the weekly Mustache Mondays dance party. (Rather, I got on the train then waited 20 minutes for it to begin working. Some advice: Just Lyft, y’all — NEVER take the train in L.A.) It was perfect timing, as one of my favorite Instagram celebrities and Moschino brand ambassador, @Mazurbate, was DJing. I finished my final joint (R.I.P, legal weed) before approaching the bouncer, and went inside to some poppin’ ass Rasta beats, followed by #BBHMM. When I’m alone, it takes a few drinks for me to go from zero to one-hundred. In this instance, it only took two gin and tonics and I was at about one-hundred-fifty. The crowd around me was clearly surprised at my sudden urge to dance, as I had spent the first hour lurking, sipping my cocktail, and holding onto my purse. Within an instant, I corralled the people around me to follow suit. A girl approached me, saying how much she loved my moves. We instantly became friends. A dancer turned DJ, she told me that if I ever come back to L.A. and want to learn and grow from “some of the best”, she’s got my back. We exchanged Instagram handles and danced together the rest of the evening. At closing time, I took a Lyft back to the loft and prepared for my departure the following afternoon.

The warmth, as it burns the skin and inspires and puts anxiety to rest, is no substitute for the grind. It is slow — the city, it is slow. Almost too slow. Traffic moves constantly, its pace at crawl MPH. Stoned bodies smile, with sticky gums. They write, act, and talk about writing…acting. What are you working on? My audition is tomorrow. Are you in film? Advertisements loom. Homeless friends ask politely for a dollar while Six-figures worth of aluminum and pistons and leather line lavishly the perfectly-paved streets. The waves wash away worry, each breath a new hue of pleasure. Unforgettable.

Welcome to Hollywood.


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