Tuesday, January 12, 2010

LA Stories: So Glad I Went to College

Here are a few of the random tasks I've been assigned:
1) Remove spiders and cobwebs from the insides of boots
2) Bail mosquito-infested larvae-water out a landscaping fountain
3) Dig through someone's "Sex Drawer" to find an item...
4) sew fur onto a bicycle
5) My boss handed me part of a weird-looking plant and said "find out what this is and if I can eat it."
6) Bring keys and rescue a girlfriend who locked herself out of her car
7) Retrieve Brian De Palma's daughter's diploma from the frame shop
8) Go get "one of everything" from a sushi restaurant
9) Relocate 247 reels of film in large canisters from Melbourne, Australia to Sydney, Australia over the phone.
10) Condense a 1,400 pg. novel down to 7 pages in 3 days.

For the record, I enjoyed the hell out of most of these jobs, and have been lucky to have some amazingly kind mad geniuses to work with.
On #8, my boss shared the sushi with me and we ate ourselves into a sashimi coma. It was delightful!

LA Stories: Lunch for the Boss

While at my Culver City Internship, I was asked to go get lunch for the Big Boss. I'll call this boss "Steve."
Steve's assistant, "April," came to get me, and handed me $12.00. April said, "hey, would you mind going to pick up Steve's lunch? It's down the street at the Salad Depot, and it'll cost $11.90."
Looking at the cash I was given, I said, "Sure, no problem- do you think a ten-cent tip is OK for the to-go staff?"
April said, "Don't worry about it."
So I didn't.
When I got to the Salad Depot, I gave the to-go girl the $12.00, and told her "Sorry I wasn't given more for you."
She said "Don't worry about it."
So I didn't.
When I got back to Culver City, I gave Steve's lunch to April, and she took it in to Steve. About 3 minutes later, she comes out and says, "uh, Steve wants that ten cents back.."
Oops. Since I'd left it with the to-go girl, I started fishing around for a dime in my purse, but it became obvious I didn't have enough change.
April nervously waved me off, telling me "not to worry about it 'this time,'" that they'd "figure something out."
I explained to April that since I had previously worked as a to-go girl, I knew how much I appreciated the tips, and how much they meant to me since it usually involved me taking time away from my other Hostess duties at my busy restaurant.
The CFO of the company rounded the corner at that exact moment, and said, "Yeah, well, we don't tip those people." The CFO then got in his Cadillac Escalade and drove off.

LA Stories: The Security Guard

We have a homeless gentleman who lives in the parking garage adjacent to our apartment building. Because he is typically found at his "post," where he likes to pee in his clothes and sing to the recyclable materials he harvests, I like to call him "The Security Guard."
It makes him less scary when I can focus on his dependable nature rather than his bat-shit craziness.

Case in point: at one point in his life, this man was involved in criminal enterprise with a border collie. I know this, because he followed me down the sidewalk recently, exclaiming, "I told that God-Damned Border Collie, I told him, I said, 'one of us is getting the needle- the other, IT'S JAIL FOR LIFE!!!'"

Another time, he was quietly humming to himself while I was waiting for the elevator. Then he spontaneously burst out laughing so violently, I jumped about a foot in the air and dropped everything I was carrying. My microwavable lunch rolled into a puddle of what I can only assume was dog pee. Perhaps from that very same Border Collie...

LA Stories: How the Known "Zombieland" Rules Apply to L.A. Internships

1) Cardio
Everyone here works out. Up the stairs, down the stairs, to the copier, to the Starbucks, out for the boss' lunch. If you're not running for it, you're slacking.
2) Beware of Bathrooms
As an unpaid intern, generally, bathroom breaks are frowned upon. But, if you absolutely can't hold it for 11 hours, go ahead- use the fancy shmancy bathroom- but beware: if ANYTHING goes wrong with the plumbing, you have to be the one to deal with it... or slink off and let the next guy deal.
3) Seatbelts
4) Double-Tap
Most of the time an intern is at the computer "doing coverage" is actually spent looking for jobs online. Didn't get the job you applied for? Surprise Surprise- but hit 'em up again later. Make sure that the guy that DID get the job stuck around.
8) Get a kick-ass partner
Then make sure they don't take a contract in Syracuse. Also, trust your fellow interns- they'll get your back and expect you to get theirs. On the other hand, there's the famous Gore Vidal quote: "Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little."
15) Know your way out
Keep that GPS handy. Everything you've ever heard about South Central is true.
17) Don't Be a Hero
When your boss at your unpaid internship is furious because "someone" (read: you) forgot to move his cereal bowls from the upstairs dishwasher back to the downstairs pantry and he demands to know who was in charge of dishes, plead ignorance. He may suspect you're covering for someone, but chances are he might not think it's you.
18) Limber Up
It's easy to lapse into a vegetative state while doing coverage in a dark cold basement for hours on end, or sitting like an Automaton at the reception desk, but you need to be ready to run at a moment's notice. If the downstairs copier magically springs to life, collate and book it upstairs, brads in place- or else. Also, 30 seconds on hold is years in Hollywood time. Run, run, RUN. See Rule #1.
21) Avoid Strip Clubs
They're really a last resort for employment.
23) God Bless Rednecks
Not a lot of these out here, but odds are if you're lucky enough to meet one, they won't treat you as bad as the LA douchebags do.
31) Check the backseat
Especially if your errands take you to any bad parts of LA. (read: any part not in Beverly Hills.)
32) Enjoy the Little Things
Free Cup 'o Noodles and pilfered snacks = free lunch and dinner.
Any errands = time to phone loved ones.
Reception Duty = face time with clients.
Boss in a Meeting = basement party

LA Stories: Sliders and Screenwriters

OK, if there's two things I hate in this world, it's sliders and screenwriters. Actually, three things: sliders, screenwriters, and Ricky Martin.
Since the reasons for hating Ricky Martin are all too obvious, I'll elaborate on my first two Objects D'SevereAnger...

1) Sliders
They're just tiny burgers, Los Angeles! That's all they are! Seriously! We moved out here, and all of a sudden, Slider-Mania starts and every single restaurant is flaunting them like they've re-invented the Jesus. TACO STANDS sell sliders. WTF. They're cool and all, but buffalo sliders? Elk sliders? Chicken and veggie sliders? These are crimes against God, and I won't stand for it anymore. I told Jay- the next person who says "slider" to me gets punched in the face...
Then I saw my friend Clay at HHN. He is a Slider. GAHHHHHH.

2) Screenwriters
I've never felt so un-fucking special in all my life. Since birth, I was raised to believe that I had a precious gift. That I was talented. That I was unique, and different. Talented. A singular dazzling Unicorn amongst the Reindeer and their games.
Now I've come out here to the Land of Unicorns, and lo-
...I'm not so special anymore.
In fact, EVERYONE is a screenwriter out here. The wardrobe ladies at HHN? Screenwriters. The guy working at Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf? F-ing screenwriter. The CameraGuy? Also a screenwriter. Oh, and every single actor out here is ALSO a screenwriter. My friend Rob is a Production Assistant. And a screenwriter. All of the interns at all three (unpaid) internships are all screenwriters.
With actors, you can kind of get a sense if they're going to be sucky actors or not. With bat-shit crazy introverted writers, it's anyone's guess.
Here's an example of a typical exchange:
(The following takes place between me and a fat girl at a party.)
GIRL AT PARTY- Hi! I'm so-and-so's wife!
ME- Oh, hey. Jaime. Nice to meet you.
GIRL AT PARTY- Are you an actress?
ME- (laughs) No, no- I moved out here so I could write.
GIRL AT PARTY- I have a book deal!
ME- That's great! Congratulations!
GIRL AT PARTY- I get 8% of profit- my agents get 20%.
ME- (clearly bored by now) Wow, that's really awesome.
GIRL AT PARTY- It's the sequel to Phantom of the Opera.
ME- (edging away)- That's great... I'm sure Gaston Leroux (the author of the original novel) will be happy to see that.
GIRL AT PARTY- (not getting it) He's dead!
ME- I'm gonna go get a drink now...

Later, she approached me and demanded to try some of my drink. I told her I was a germaphobe, so, sorry.
LATER Later, she took ahold of my hair while I was dancing and told me what I pretty pony I was. She then went around with an invisible knife and mimed stabbing everyone.

Here's another example:
(This took place in the line for wardrobe at HHN)
GUY IN LINE: Why are you so smiley?
ME: Oh- I just got to meet Rob Zombie, like, an hour ago. I'm a huge horror fan, so-
GUY IN LINE: (inturrupts) Yeah, I see him all the time. I got to chat with him a little back a while ago.
ME: (one-upped) Wow! That's cool- did you notice he was short?
GUY IN LINE: Of course, that was the second time I met him. The first time I met him, he was hanging out with Quentin Tarantino.
ME: (now two-upped.) Oh, that's cool.
GUY IN LINE: I was talking to them about how when I met Ely Roth, he was blahblahblahblahblah
ME- (now 3-upped, tuning out) uh-hunh...
GUY IN LINE: blah blah So I pitched them my screenplay because I think they'd be the only two directors I'd want, and I blah blah blah, and it's about this twist on horror, like blah blah...
ME- (lying) I think I forgot something in my lockers.

So if douchebag three-upping screenwriters are constantly pitching their shitty ideas, it automatically discredits anyone with legitimately good ideas. You can only spit on soup so many times before all you taste is spit.
Also, did you notice how in both scenarios, the only reason these people asked me anything was so they could tell me about their writing?
What's weirder is that they're pitching to ME, like I'm someone who can help them. And if these guys who've been out here eating sliders and experiencing a modicum of success (they're still out here so they must be doing something right) then what chance do I have?
I'm floating in a sea of writers- it's like all those images of Hell, where you see the River Styx and all those Damned crowded, drowning eternally, drifting in the eternal endless void of bodies.
Even so, at least these guys are writing. The majority of "writers" out here are just people with ideas they've never committed to paper. Or they've given a suggestion to a writer, so now that they've "collaborated," they're in the club. I suppose even the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf guy is a writer, because he wrote my name on my to-go order. At least he didn't try to pitch me.
The worst of all this (aside from my own clearly visible raging insecurity) is that all of these jerkoffs think that they're beautiful Unicorns too- and it's made me paranoid as hell...
If these guys moved out here thinking they're talented and gifted and precious and magic, then am I just like them?
What separates their confidence in their ability from mine? How do I know if my faith in myself is justified?
Surely these guys have a support network, and friends and parents who encourage them too...
Am I just kidding myself?
Part of me knows I can't give up at this stage in the game. I owe it to myself, to Jay (who I dragged out here against his will) and to everyone who's been encouraging and supportive along the way. If I puss out now, what was the point?
I could go take my cats and my husband back to Orlando, live with my Mom, make Jay miserable, make our cats miserable, make my Mom's cats miserable, and try to reconcile with the death of a dream.
It'll be easier- I can blame the economy. It'll be true. I can blame my health, which is getting worse with every breath I can't take in this smog-infused cesspool. I can blame my nerves. I can blame my cardiac condition. I can point my fingers every which way, including within. I AM SCARED. But that's nothing to be ashamed of. People fail. I tried- that's more than most people do. I took a risk and I bombed. There's honor in there. Somewhere.
I'll beg for more work at Universal and Sea World. I'll buy stilts and be the girl who's a little too old to wear those costumes. Eventually, our finances will start to recover and we'll have some beautiful babies.
And I'll get horrible postpartum depression, drown them in my mom's pool and slash my wrists.
Easy Cheesy!
What is the "or?"
Stay out here- face my fear for a little longer. Hold in there and watch any sort of financial security crumble. We've run out of savings- our credit cards will eventually all max out, and we'll file for bankruptcy. We will move to a smaller, scarier apartment in a worse part of town than we are in now. Jay will be forced to get a "real" job, and he'll resent me for it.
Stress will eat us both alive, from the inside out. It will show on our faces, little by little closing any windows we'd have to our lives back Home.
I'll work at Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf.
But it'll be OK- because I'm really a ScreenWriter.

LA Stories: Parallel Universal, Halloween Horror Nights

"You can't go home again."
Nor can you simulate it by re-creating events 3,000 miles away.
HHN Hollywood is alright... it's not what I'm used to. The difference is this:
Universal Studios Orlando is a Theme Park constructed with "studios" as an afterthought.
Universal Studios Hollywood is Studios created with a Theme Park as an afterthought.
From the moment you arrive at the massive "Jurassic Parking," your car is swallowed and you're spit out into CityWalk. You walk for a couple of blocks, past a dazzling array of restaurants and shops- everything from Tony Roma's to Sketcher's to Jamba Juice to Howl at the Moon- and you arrive at Walter's Gate. This is how the Theme Park Employees get in the park.

If you work there regularly, you swipe your ID and walk through. We "temporary employees," who hand our badges in at the end of the month, simply flash our red paper card with our info written on it at a guard who ignores us. There is no bag check. No one really even notices that you're walking backstage.

Then, you can either walk a looong way to Scare Base, or hop in a van. I generally choose the van, because it is usually ass hot during the day, and it's a good 10-minute hike otherwise. The van (or your feet) take you to Scare Base, which is located on the bottom floor of another Giant Parking Garage.

In the first section of Scare Base, there's a small waiting area with a small TV set up, playing horror movies. There's about 30 white plastic folding chairs, with Scareactors in various stages of preparedness. There are two long cheapy warped mirrors (like the kind in scary public restrooms) up along a chain-link fence. On the other side, there's the non-airbrush prosthetics and painted makeup area. Carpet, light-up mirrors, and about 20 makeup artists gluing pieces of rubber and latex onto people's faces. One of these people looks disturbingly like Kymber.

You walk through make-up and then there's an aisle of unmarked dressing areas blocked off by curtains, which leads for lots of confusion and "oops- sorry." Since there are no signs on the curtains to indicate which gender goes where, it's always full of surprises.

After that, you walk past costuming, which has the entire selection of costumes for the entire event (with the exception of Bill and Ted's and Rocky Horror.)

Then you arrive at Check-In, where your Coordinator sits with a clipboard and initials that they've seen you arrive.

Everyone has a three-digit number. Once you've checked in, you tell your number to wardrobe, who, so far, have been friendly, helpful, and pre-emptively thoughtful. All our clothes come back actually cleaned, and not just Febreezed- they're awesome here! Wardrobe takes your driver's license from you, and has you initial that you've received your entire costume. Mine is this:
A see-through white negligee with marabou trim, slippers, and panties. Yikes. As the negligee has been ripped open down the front and bloodied, they offered me topstick to tape my boobs in. They also gave me a short soft bathrobe to wear after I told them that we have no break area, and that we break outside. My panties are so tiny, they creep towards my kidneys every time I move, so they wind up acting more or less like a thong. It's the least I've ever worn, and it's pretty embarrassing to have my ass cheeks flapping in the breeze, but, it's a living.

After you're in costume, you head over to make-up. Since I don't have a prosthetic piece, they hand me a plastic-lined form to bring to another section of the parking garage, specifically for airbrush and liquid blood. I hand to form to a lady (from Orlando) at a splatter-proof plastic-lined canopy, and she rubs red-colored hair-gel on my sternum, arms, legs, face, and neck. It's cold and sticky, so I sit on the edge of a plastic chair (now no longer white) for about an hour or so and chitchat while I dry. As it takes this gel hours to fully dry, I am pretty much prancing around naked in front of everybody, and as a result I haven't made too many female friends. (They are probably wishing their ass cheeks could dangle and flap in the wind, like mine. Jealous bitches.)

The prosthetics and masks look amazing- I'm a little disappointed with the red gel on me, because it just looks like someone finger painted on my skin. In the movie, my character has her heart removed with a pickaxe. On the HHN website, the drawing of my character shows a gaping hole in the chest cavity. I assumed there would be a latex piece or something, but, not so much. It doesn't look realistic at all- fortunately, my room is dark. The makeup artist who smears the gel on me is fresh from Orlando, where she claims to have applied numerous times for HHN at Orlando, but never got hired. I am not surprised.

This whole process, start to finish, takes about 40 minutes, including putting on my eyeliner, lashes, lipstick and whatnot. When it gets closer to start-time, there's a slow migration towards the mouth of the parking structure, where more vans take people to their various destinations. I get my fake blood and ass cheeks all over the van and everyone in it, but no one minds much. There are tiny lockers at Scare Base to leave stuff in, but they pretty much only fit my sneakers anyway, and I need my phone, makeup, a mirror, and often homework from my (unpaid) internship, so I bring my backpack and plastic bag full of my clothes with me. They're awkward to carry because my blood still hasn't dried.

The van drops us off at Entertainment Base, which is full of cheap, super-comfortable leather couches. It's got a flat-screen TV which I've never seen not on a sports channel, a fridge, a small table, and angry performers who totally resent us. The women's locker room is massive, with a canopied sitting area, bistro-style table, "quiet" changing rooms with curtains specifically for privacy and down time, and the ubiquitous head shots on lockers and above massive lighted mirrors. It's clear where Marilyn gets ready, and where the Mabels sit. There's also a section on the purple painted walls which says "Movin' on," with the head shots of past performers.

But this is not where we break. Oh no- this is where we can cram stuff into the fridge and sneak in to pee every now and then. Our breakroom is the stone wall adjacent to our "Maze," which is what the houses are called here. It's cold and too close to shrubbery which constantly leaves sticky burrs on us. My hair, robe, and marabou are covered with Botanical jism. (Which is a great name for a band.) It gets cold, cold, COLD here at night, and the robe doesn't cover my bloody legs. I will get sick for sure. The people who sweat inside the maze, then come out and freeze, and so on and so on all night will too. Bleh.

My Maze is the "My Bloody Valentine" one- it's in a massive tent, but you'd never know it was a tent once you're inside. They have amazing set-dressers and props designers here (a-duh), and it's every bit as good as what I've seen in Orlando- I'm very impressed with what a great job they've done making our tent look like a mineshaft. The Maze is themed very closely with the movie, so guests go through a mine accident scene, then to my hotel, where I distract them with my nekkidness as my partners scare them. With the exception of the pickaxe victims in my house, and my scene partner (a bloody bald guy in boxers and a bloody tee-shirt) all the guys are Harry Warden- the main bad guy from the film. They wear a heavy jumpsuit, ninja mask, gas mask, and miner's hat. It's unbearably hot for them and they fog up constantly. It's awful, but the guys seem alright with it.

There's some familiar types- the resident house creepy fat guy, and the girl who complains about everything, but other than that, there's no real sense of camaraderie here. EVERYONE'S AN ACTOR, so this is nothing special to them- it's just another gig, not a sacred tradition. Our only female Harry Warden is a gorgeous 26-year-old Show Girl from Vegas- my amazing scene partner (boxer guy) is a makeup artist/actor. The "torso" shovel victim is a stand-up comic. About 6 of the Harry Wardens are personal trainer/actors. A few are writers. Everyone moved out to LA with a dream. ...I'm not special. Boo. And my ass is exposed.

Our managers are incredibly laid back and friendly- the duo in charge of My Bloody Valentine seem easy-going and relaxed. There are no Boo Bucks here, but there are Take 5's, and they're great about recognizing people for really good scares. They're constantly in the maze, and hang out in my room a lot. For obvious reasons. (I think they're looking out for the nekkid people, which is nice.) At points throughout the night, I'll have me, my "boyfriend," Harry Warden, a manager, and a ride-n-show person all in my room. Not exactly subtle, but safe for sure. I fear no Cholo.

Since Universal doesn't sell alcohol at Horror Nights, people seem much much tamer. This is a good thing for me, but a part of me misses the element of excitement- the "us vs. the drunk a-holes" mentality that seemed to fuse any Orlando House with a spirit of family. That's lacking here. It was a full moon Saturday peak night last night, at capacity (20,000), and the worst thing that happened in my maze was that my "boyfriend's" back-to-back got his boxers pulled down. And he was dumb enough to be going commando. This frat-house level of prank seemed more endearing than malicious.

After a long night of half-hour on/half-hour off, we walk alllll the way back to Scare Base, use baby wipes to un-bloody ourselves, trade our costumes in for our ID's, and sign out. There's usually a van with a warm heater on inside to take us back to ShittyWalk, where we schlep to Jurassic Parking amongst the stream of guests who are doing the same thing. Hopefully, you find your car with relative ease, and begin the long slow spiral of concrete out of the garage.

The final scare of the night belongs to the cracked-out guy who staggers out in front of traffic near Hollywood Blvd, then shambles off like a Creature of The Night while horns blare at him. Then, at 3 in the morning, I park in the city garage next to my building, and head inside to decompress. My cats, who have not adjusted to the new feeding schedule, voice their displeasure.

It's not the same. It's smaller and more organized in some aspects. But, like my character, the heart is missing. If home is where the heart is, then I am severely homesick still.
I keep seeing familiar faces and experiencing the sensation of recognition, only to find that that person only reminds me of someone I should be seeing. I miss my friends. I miss familiarity. I miss my stilts. I miss underwear that fits. I'll be home in December- but for now, it's back to the mines.

LA Stories: The Guy With The Knife

I was helping my pseudo-boss from my (unpaid) internship pack his life into a UHAUL Truck so he and his girlfriend could make a short cross-town move. I volunteered for this job, because I am an idiot. I thought I'd be able to spend some time with him and ask all sorts of pertinent industry-related questions, but instead, I got to wait outside with the truck.
Specifically, wait in the BACK of the metal-lined truck, in 97-degree weather, while a mountain range burned nearby. It was fairly uncomfortable.

My pseudoboss and his girlfriend and their roommates and his friend and one other intern were loading stuff into the truck from the 12th story of a building with the World's Slowest Elevators, and nobody wanted to wait outside with the truck in this brutal weather. I was staring at the sidewalk, fantasizing that my pseudoboss would buy us lunch (never happened) and gazing jealously at the happy people eating at a taco stand adjacent to my pseudoboss' building. I was alone.
Which is why no one else saw what I saw:

A short south-American-looking man with dark skin and a moustache walked down the sidewalk near where our truck was parked. I noticed him because he had a straw Panama Jack hat, a flowered shirt and khaki shorts and sandals- he looked like a guy in a costume. Kind of like a tour guide through a tropical jungle. He walked, right-to-left, past the truck.

Then he walked left-to-right past the truck, and this time, he stopped to pick up some litter off the sidewalk and throw it away. Now he REALLY had my attention- a costumed do-gooder? Could this guy be some sort of Los Angeles Superhero? Who else picks up random trash off the sidewalk? Nobody, that's who. This guy was awesome.

Then he walked by the truck again, right to left, CARRYING A KNIFE. Not just any knife, either- a wickedly thin curved knife with a slight hook-shape at the tip- a knife meant for gutting... I was a little freaked out at this point. He carried the blade against his inner arm, to conceal it, and walked with a deliberate stride past the truck. "Oh God," I thought- "He's going to go kill whoever threw that trash on the sidewalk!"

I must've been distracted by the arrival of the other moving-people, because there was a flurry of activity in the truck and then I was by myself again. Sure enough, there he was again- walking right-to-left, carrying duct tape. "Jesus Tapdancing Christ," I thought- "He's found the perpetrator, he's gutted him, and now he's gonna tape his pieces up into plastic bags and throw them into different dumpsters around town for sure!"

I was continuously asked for money by the city's shambling homeless, and watched some giant line-backer-sized man literally ricochet from side to side down the street picking fights and hugging people. Another man insisted that I purchase a bottle of marinade from him, so he could spend the night in a shelter. All this while I'm in the back of a U-Haul truck.

We finished the move, unloading the truck in Korea Town while an Independence Day-Style mushroom cloud of smoke and ash loomed over the city. Epic, and scary. My psuedoboss' girlfriend brought me back to his old place to pick up my car, but I was starving at this point and decided to suck it up and spend a little money to eat at the taco stand. (I had my eye on a handmade sign advertising the 99-cent Jr. taco allll day.) Upon entering the taco stand, I was immediately greeted by THE PANAMA HACK!!! HE STILL HAD HIS KNIFE!!! OMIGOD I WAS A GONER!!! ...But instead, he offered to make me a taco as he used the knife and the tape to create another handmade sign.

It was his restaurant, which explains why he cared about the taco trash on the sidewalk outside. Whew. That was a close one- I bought a taco from the pleasant little man, and went on about my day.

LA Stories: Spacetooth

There's a few different categories of Crazy Homeless People in LA, and most of them are scary. I'm used to the sweet, respectful homeless of Orlando, who would stay behind their little blue panhandling box and say "God Bless You," or some other innocuous slogan.
I could even totally handle the homeless of New York, when I spent my summer there. They were always in the same spot, wearing parkas in the sweltering heat. They would hold a Styrofoam cup out to you as you walked by, and you could donate (or not) at your discretion with no ill-will or untoward pressure other than social conscience.

In LA, naturally, it's different. There's SO MANY people here living on the streets, because the weather's pretty awesome all year round. LA has a massive homeless population. I watched a documentary about it, and many of the people who run the local shelters said that lots of LA's homeless are homeless by choice. (Try renting here and you'll see why this is not surprising.)

However, theft and violence against the homeless frequently goes unreported, and this city seems to be Mecca for Serial Killers. There's no easier target for Serial Killers than someone who won't be missed for a couple of days.

There's the regulars on my block. I have created some callously-named categories in which I place the homeless people I see.
I am going to hell for this, but if I can categorize someone, it makes me less afraid of them. Here's what I see:

Mutterers- they shuffle around and mutter and pretty much don't bother anyone.

ScreenWriters- the bitter angry people who make up fully-fleshed-out stories about why they need an exact dollar/change amount, complete with names and locations. ("Hey, can you loan me $1.65- I'm serious- my friend Stacey is stranded at the bus stop in Santa Fill-in-the-blank, and I've gotta bring her the money so she can get her baby home.")

Musicians- 'nuff said.

Golgathas- these folks have clear walking patterns up and down the street. They are covered in vomit and poop. (Both their own and that of others.) I so wish I was exaggerating, but I'm not. They carry caked on layers of this along Hollywood Blvd. like dung beetles. I'm so sad for these people but it really doesn't seem to bother them. They are oblivious extremely stinky, and tend to walk close to people and brush against them, creating bio-transfer. Nasty.

Dementias- these are the abandoned LA elderly who people forgot about. They sing to things, and ask you to give them a ride back to Detriot, or vehemently insist that you call Carl so the police will leave them alone and let them sleep in the bushes! My friend Jenn recently rescued one of these people, because she's awesome.

The Snails- these people have shopping carts or strollers in which they pack sooooo much random stuff, it billows out in a huge snail-shell shape. Like the psuedopods they are named for, "they carry their house with them."

The Eskimo- these folks pile on layer after layer of hoodie, sweater, scarf, gloves, ski hats, etc, and huddle under a bus stop like it was an igloo. They mostly sleep all day, because night for them can last 4 months.

and, drumroll please for my personal most-frightening:

The Ranters- these people scare the crap out of me. They will be silent for the most part, and then, while you're walking past them, suddenly cry out or scream or wail at the top of their lungs, launching into a completely incoherent stream of aggressive-sounding threats, profanity, or just raging. It's startling and ultimately very very scary, because I have no idea what they're so upset about and if they're just telling their story or they're about to truly rip into some passerby. I have been startled to the point of dropping everything I had in my arms because the guy leaning against the CVS wall just started screaming, seemingly for no reason.

After not knowing how to cope with the Ranters, and being followed for 3 blocks by a fast-walking guy yelling at the top of his lungs about "that god-damned border collie knows what's going on, and I'm gonna tell him what for!," I made a discovery!

You know how BlueTooth Technology makes it look like people are talking to themselves when they're really just on an earpiece and talking on the phone?

Well, Ranters have special "SpaceTooth Technology." It's a tiny earpiece that no one can see (because it's from Space, duh) and it's connected to Beings in Space who are overseeing our every thought and action.

These Supreme OverLords are aware of, for example, the fact that my 3-block follower-gentleman is having a quarrel with another sentient being, (in this case, a dog) and are listening to him as he vents his frustrations. It's a 2-way conversation, where these people can explain what's going on to the Beings in Space... We just can't hear the other end of the conversation, becaue we don't have this special earpiece.
Sometimes, the Space People talk and talk, and then abruptly place their Earth Friends on hold, and it's the crappy Space Hold-Music that makes people suddenly scream and wail out and startle the s*#t out of everyone else.

"SpaceTooth Technology. It's awesome, it's invisible." (TM)

So, maybe from now on, the Ranters won't scare me so badly anymore. They probably won't pull out a shard of broken bottle and stab me because I'm near them. After all, it's not me they're upset with- it's the Goddamn Border Collie.

LA Stories: Personal Assistant's Fairy Tale

Jaime was assisting the PropsMaster for "24," when she was sent out to Melrose Mac with $1000 cash and told to purchase 3 three-terabyte harddrives. She also had numerous other errands to run, such as finding a play-by-play bracelet (???), a discontinued LED clip light, vacuum bags, and figuring out whether or not the PropsMaster should eat a plant she had found while hiking.
Jaime was extremely focused, because she wanted to continue working for the Propsmaster.

She went to a Botanica in Long Beach to identify the plant sample. She went to a Sports Chalet in Van Nuys and picked up the play-by-play bracelet. She ordered the vacuum bags online, and then headed to the WalMart in Northridge (in the Valley) to find the LED light. On her way out of the WalMart, a Mexican lady called out to her, waving aloft a plastic bag full of ripe red cherries. "Cher-riesss?" the lady sang.

"No thank you," Jaime said, and continued on her way. She wanted to get to Melrose Mac before they closed, and it made her nervous to carry that much cash around. But the Valley is hellaciously hot, and as she was stopped at a red light, a SECOND Mexican was swinging bags of luscious red juicy mouthwatering cherries near the cars and whistling. These neon-red succulent moist cherries had beads of water on them, and they sparkled like rubies in the hazy smoggy light of the valley- a red beacon of edible justice. It was too much to resist.

Jaime gave the Mexican the $1000 and took a bag of cherries back to the PropsMaster instead. "Where are my harddrives?" the PropsMaster asked. "Where is that $1000 cash I gave you?!?"

"Here," Jaime said. "I got these cherries for you instead- a Mexican sold them to me."

"What am I going to do with CHERRIES?!?" The PropsMaster was angry. "What am I going to store all this footage of Keifer Sutherland kicking ass and blowing stuff up on?!?" She hurled the cherries out the window. "You're fired!" she screamed.

Jaime was sad, but as she slunk back to her car, she noticed the ground was shaking- was this an infamous California earthquake? No- she looked at where the cherries had landed and all at once, a massive escalator sprang forth from the ground, and grew and grew and grew, all the way up into the Smog.

Jaime got on the escalator, and rode it up, up, up, into the SmogLand, where a massive TV/Film Literary Talent Agency loomed in the distance. "Ho, Hum, Ho, Hum, who will I hire in the interim," a giant voice boomed from the Agency.

Jaime walked carefully along the thin yellow smog until she could peek into the door of this huge Literary Agency. Inside was a Giant Agent, sitting at a giant desk. "Ho, Hum, Ho, Hum, Who will I hire in the interim?" the Giant mused again.

Jaime noticed a faint glow coming from the Giant's desk- a screenplay was sparkling- 120 pages of pure Hollywood Gold! She knew she had to have the script, but she didn't want to interview with the Giant, because Giants don't pay- they only hire interns. Instead, she hid behind a fake plant in the lobby and waited.

As the Giant typed a job-placement ad online on the UTA joblist, he suddenly grew very sleepy, and fell asleep at his desk. His snores rattled the agency. Jaime snuck over to the massive desk and snatched the screenplay, heading for the door. However, the door struck her on her ass on the way out, making a meaty "thwapping" sound that awoke the sleeping Agent. He stood up with a start, and immediately noticed that his screenplay was missing.

"Whooo stole my Golden Screenplay?!?" he bellowed, and then he spotted Jaime making her way out.

"I-I was just optioning it!" Jaime cried.

"I'll grind your bones and make you into overpriced sushi," the Agent roared. He chased Jaime all the way back to the escalator, where Jaime began to rush down. She thought the Agent was going to stay in the SmogLand, but instead she turned to see a giant Porsche barreling down on her. Nearing the bottom of the escalator, she ran as fast as she could, but the Porsche closed in- she could see the veins bulging in the Agent's neck- certain doom was fast approaching-

But at the very last second, Keifer Sutherland appeared and yanked the Giant Agent from his car, kicked his ass, and exploded him dramatically.

"Oh my god- Keifer Sutherland!" Jaime was overjoyed to see him. "You saved me!- And I loved you in 'Flatliners!' How can I ever thank you?"

Keifer Sutherland just smiled and said, "Hey, no problem. I just do what I do best. Hey, are those cherries I see over there?" Keifer Sutherland popped some of the leftover cherries into his mouth as pieces of ash and Giant rained down around him like blown-up whale bits.

"Delicious," he said.

The PropsMaster had seen the whole thing, and saw that Jaime's Mexi-Cherries had made Keifer Sutherland smile, so she gave Jaime her job back and even paid her for her lunch hour.

As for Jaime, she went home that night and slept the sweet sleep of heroes, knowing that sometime soon, she would option the living crap out of her kickass Golden Screenplay.

The End.

LA Stories: The Korea-Town Spaceman

Jay and I were visiting Carlos, Keith, and Keia in Korea Town, which is an incredibly alliterative thing to do. We took the train.

DISCLAIMER: There is indeed public transportation in LA; it just blows. The buses are slow and terrifying, and incredibly unreliable. We constantly see signs posted about bus routes being changed or closed, and the one person I met who has taken the bus describes it as a nightmare.
The train is called The Metro, and whereas it seems foolhardy to ride a subway in the Land of Earthquakes, (helloooo, they base theme park attractions off of it) it is cheap and somewhat reasonable in terms of navigation and reliability.

Unlike real cities, where there are multiple Subway trains that run frequently, LA has a sorta-system. Even on a Saturday night at 9:40PM, there was a 20-minute gap in between trains at every station. It took us an hour and a half to get home from what would've been a 15 minute drive. (The difference is paying to park in Korea Town, and again in Hollywood when we got home.) It sucks but it's a good alternative if you hate spending $30 to park. Which I totally hate.

I also hate the Subway, because it's noisy and dirty and the seats are stinky like B.O. and I hate being underground and crowds make me nervous and the first time I rode it, a homeless guy stumbled off the car without pants or underwear. Some awesome good Samaritans held him upright while another kind-hearted soul tried to tie his pants up for him. All this while "Security" did a routine safety check of the car and mopped up most of the ejaculate.

But enough about ejaculate- this is a story about The Spaceman.

We'd just missed the train, so Jay and I sat on a large marble slab and prepared to wait 20 minutes for the next one. Other Metro-ers joined us, each with varying degrees of hygiene and consciousness of the concept of personal space. There was half of a seat left on the marble tuffet, next to Jay, when the Spaceman approached.

He was a Korean man, with short-cropped (science lab) hair, wearing a green flightsuit. His flightsuit bore no insignia; there was no name patch or squadron assignment. It was G.I., but not Government-Issued-to-him. He had loosely tied black combat boots on his feet, and carried a plastic bag containing a 6-pack of Korean purple soda (maybe?) in glass bottles.

The first odd thing about the Spaceman is that when he sat down next to Jay, he swung the bag with the bottles in a weird, jerky fashion, and in my mind I had a crystal clear vision of the bag of bottles slamming into Jay's face. The image was so fast and vivid that I reacted on instinct and thrust my arm out to try and protect Jay's face, but the bag merely followed its peaceful gravitational arc and landed harmlessly against the ground. Somehow, the image was beamed into my head, and it made me extremely uncomfortable. I lowered my arm with a sick feeling in my stomach.

The next thing I noticed about the Spaceman was that he was sweating. A LOT. Big, bulbous, cloudy-milky sweatdrops were formed and hovering on his face, neck, and hands. Any part of him I could see was... oozing....

And then we heard the noise:
"ehhhhhhhhhhhhhh... (pause)... ehhhhhhhhhhhhhhh... (pause) ...ehhhhhhhhhhhhhh"
Some sort of electronic space-croaking sound was coming from this man, but he wasn't moving or opening his mouth. He was right next to Jay, practically on his lap, but we couldn't tell how he was making this sound- it seemed to be coming from his chest cavity.

That's when we noticed that he was pulsing.
His chest (or "thorax") was ever-so-subtly gently pulsing in and out, like a balloon being inflated and deflated with air.
Convinced that at any moment, his Alien Host would pop out of his chest and eat us all, we high-tailed it for the train, which, Thank God, appeared at just that instant.

We never saw the Korea Town Spaceman again after that, but I am convinced that he was some sort of space traveller in human form with an Alien Host who enjoys grape soda and implanting violent thoughts in people's heads.

And I'ma ginnit! I won't tolerate Spacemen, their weird noises, their electro-pulsing or their evil brain neuro-trickery.
So I will take my car from now on.
Screw you, environment.

LA Stories: Zombie Attack

Jay and I were visiting our friend Jenn, who lives in Altadena. Altadena is just "alta" of Pasadena, and is very rural and moutainous and gorgeous. Pretty much everyone has land for horses and whatnot. During the day, numerous green parrots flit amongst the tree branches, and offer critiques on the pastoral tranquility below. Perfect breeding ground for The Undead.

Jenn lives in the guesthouse behind her landlord's house. To get to Jenn's cottage-type house, we had to park Jay's car on the gravel just off the country road she lives on, walk down her landlord's loooong driveway, and open a door to their courtyard. From there, we pass by their pool and could hang out with Jenn, which we did for about 10 minutes when we dropped her off one dark and zombie-infested night.

We quietly closed the door to Jenn's cottage, and tiptoed past the pool. As we did so, I could hear rustlings inside the main house. I suspected that the landlady was awake. As we tried to softly open and close the heavy wooden door leading from the courtyard to the driveway, we could hear the sound of the lock on the nearby door to the main house being turned.
Since we were being so quiet and respectful, I assumed that it was just the people inside the main house sensibly locking their doors, since they may have been aware that their renter had guests over.

We were half-way up the driveway when we heard Jay's car alarm make a soft staccato "bleep-bleep" noise, letting us know that it had been disturbed. I opened my mouth to make a comment to Jay when all of a sudden the courtyard door behind me flew open and we were rush-attacked by a Zombie!

It was Jenn's Landlady, in an old-fashioned long white long-sleeved nightgown JUST LIKE ZOMBIES WEAR, and she flew towards us in a rage, crab-leaping and scuttling, arms outstretched and hands in claw-grip form like a Danny Boyle "28 Days Later" Zombie! Omigod!!!

"CAN YOU!! DO!! SOMETHING!!! ABOUT THAT!!!" she screamed, presumably referring to the soft sheep-like bleating of Jay's car alarm.

I managed to stammer out, "uuhhh.. we were just leaving," to which she replied"
"RGHHHHAAAAHHHH!!!!" and crab-walked back inside to finish eating brains or whatever it is she does in her granny nightgown.

My heart was pounding a mile a minute as Jay and I hightailed it back to the car, where we burst out laughing in fear and survivor's hysteria.

We heard the courtyard door slam shut, and 1,000 sleeping parrots awoke and stirred in their branches.

We had just survived our first Zombie Attack in LA.

LA Stories: Manifest Destiny Pt. 9

Cabazon, California. It's not what you might first think of when you think of California, but to me, there could be no other place. What lies in Cabazon has been the pressure point of my soul since I was a child. It is, was, and will always for me, represent Arriving in California.
There is a movie from 1989 called "The Wizard," and it has Fred Savage and Beau Bridges and Christian Slater, but most importantly, it has The Dinosaurs.
There is this moment where a little autistic kid who has run away and hitchhiked across the country finds these Dinosaurs, and recognizes them from a postcard his parents have sent him from California. He starts screaming when he sees them: "Californiaaaa! Californiaaaa!!!!" and flies out of the car. Fred Savage's character looks for him and finds him nestled in the mouth of the T-Rex, holding the postcard. The child was looking for his parents, and thought they'd be there. Instead, his brother finds him and comforts him. Somehow the parents are gone forever- but the child has his brother and that is the important part. It is a sad and poignant moment. That's not the point.
The point is this: visually, aurally, and spiritually, it was burned into my soul the instant I saw that scene: Those Dinosaurs = California
This lasted my whole life. I saw those Dinosaurs again in Pee Wee's Big Adventure, and it just reinforced my beliefs- I would be on my own Big Adventure when I saw these creatures with my own eyes.
Even driving by Dinosaur World, between Orlando and Tampa, I'd always holler "Californiaaaa!" at the giant fiberglass dinosaurs, dreaming of the day I could scream it from a T-Rex's mouth.
And suddenly, we arrived.
Just off the side of the super-highway, there they stand, on an emerald green field.
I nestled at the feet of my God, the T-Rex, and waited for Jay so we could do the WishBone together at this sacred site.
Where beginnings happen. Our Big Adventure.
Kneeling, facing each other, Jay patiently endured while I insisted that we both say out loud what we wished for, so we could be on the same page and wish for the same things.
(It's a WishBone, not a Birthday Candle, so you can say it out loud.)
Once I was certain that we were agreed and on the same wavelength, we snapped the bone.
I have never seen a WishBone snap so evenly through the middle in all my life.
Jays side was slightly larger, but, as the brilliant Meghan Moroney had planned, everyone's a winner! God I love that girl.
The only visitors in the park, we paid $5, blazed though the cheap walk-through exhibits that politely encourage creationism, and made a bee-line for the massive orange T-Rex.
We climbed the spiral staircase inside, and entered the mouth.
I was home.
The wind blows fiercely through the jagged teeth of the beast, stinging my eyes, making them water, and whipping my hair around. From this vantage point, I could see the giant dinosaur gif shop and the highway, and the bluish purple light of the setting sun.
"Californiaaaaa!" I screamed, from my very primal heart and soul: "CALIFORNIAAAAAA!!!!!!"
Jay sat up there with me for a long time. When he was ready to go, I took an extra moment up there and prayed with everything I had to let me remember that feeling for the rest of my life. It was a hopeful, charged, magical moment, and I walked out of that giant fiberglass Dinosaur a stronger person.
I bought a postcard, which I will always keep with me to remind me of where I need to be when I feel lost. And like that child in the movie, I will hopefully realize that What I Need is traveling with me all along.

LA Stories: Manifest Destiny Pt. 8

Driving through the final part of Arizona was excruciating- all I wanted was to be in California, and like those steam-mirages in the distance, it seemed to be just a little ways off- perpetually. We were so close- and suddenly, we were there! Without any fanfare or "Welcome to the Other Side of the Country" signs, we drove through what we thought was still an Arizona town and then realized we were, in face, in Needles.
In California.
Cue the music! Lights! Strike up the band! Where is the parade I ordered?!?
Instead, we sort of slipped in the back entrance of California- but it was still beautiful. Our ultimate stop lay just beyond the horizon, but first, we had to cross one last part of the desert. The hot, awful part.
The adrenaline rush of our arrival wore off, and I was dozing as we made our way through the Mojave. Jaime, however, was not only fully alert but kept waking me up to call out random names. I didn't really understand this until I bothered to look out my window and saw a long stretch of raised earth running parallel to the road. This was where they'd pushed some desert aside to lay down the asphalt for 66, and it rose about chest high, winding like a never-ending snake along the highway.
All along this levy, people had collected stones that populated the desert, and spelled out messages and names. James, Tim heart Sarah, Laura plus R.J.,, Pete loves Jenn, Mike, Jesus. (Jesus had done this multiple times.) For miles and miles, this scrolling message runs on and on. In a way, it reminded me of Newspaper Rock, and the petroglyphs left behind all those years ago: "I was here."
Jay asked me if I wanted to do one, and as he asked, the name "Jay" scrolled by. We decided not to at first, but as the miles wore on, the siren call became irresistible. We pulled over, ran around in the road because we could, (we hadn't spotted another soul for at least 40 miles) and began gathering stones. It was a time to ga-a-ther sto-ones to-oo-gether.
We chose dark, slate-gray colored stones, and began constructing a large letter "J," which we decided would be the most effective way of leaving our mark while not dying of heat exhaustion. Slipping around in the soft ground, my feet would scorch every time the sand slid across or under my feet. A dry desert wash ran under the highway, and some jackrabbits hiding underneath watched us with interest while we worked. When we finished and approached, they bolted off, probably pissed to give up their shady refuge. I struggled to make it back up the steep incline to our car, and completely lost a flip flop. Jay made it up no problem, but then had to go back for my shoe since the ground was literally burning my feet.
I liked laying the stones- people had obviously been doing this since the road had been created, and it looked (as far as we could tell) like no one disturbed anyone else's work. They just added their contribution. There were some stones that people who'd made the trip a few times had planned ahead- we saw some names spelled out in blue tiles, or spray-painted neon-colored rocks, but all of it was to spell out simple messages or names. Some were pretty elaborate, and probably involved multiple people or one very hot sweaty passionate individual, laboring alone. Either way it's awesome, and we had fun gathering blazing hot rocks in the sun to spell out our letter.
At some point during the lurch up the hill back to the car, my necklace broke off. Here's where it gets sad: the day before I left, my brother and sister-in-law gave me a special, one-of-a-kind necklace made by one of their artist friends. It was a neon pink heart-shaped necklace with Charlie the Unicorn on it, and I wore it every day of our journey as a protective talisman. I took it off only at night, and put it on first thing in the morning. I know it didn't fall off in the car, and it was still on my neck in the photographs we took in Oatman, so it had to have fallen off at that point.
It wouldn't be impossible to find that place again- after all, there is a large black letter J, and a wash, but as I learned in the Painted Desert, nature will claim whatever you leave behind. If Route 66 was covered by sand and brush, surely a neon pink heart would vanish in a single night of winds and tumbleweeds. They say you have to leave a part of yourself behind when you make a journey like this. Cross the Desert.
Well, dammit- why'd it have to be my favorite new necklace?
That night, when I realized it was missing, I cried for a long time, bitterly. The necklace had been the last thing James and Lori had touched, had given to me, and I felt as if my tangible physical connection to that world had been lost. The exhaustion from the trip, the malnutrition, the heartache I'd been delaying with the Mission At Hand, it all came crashing down on me. I cried till my teeth hurt, because I missed everything familiar so much, I missed my brother, I missed Lori, I missed my mom, I missed feeling protected- and this was just the first taste of the Without.
Plus it was Charlie the Unicorn. I love Charlie the Unicorn.
However, at that point, I had not realized it was missing, so when we got back to the car I was in high spirits. We drove for a while then made a U-turn to gape in amazement at an enormous tree growing in a wash, because the tree was covered in shoes. Absolutely bedecked, as if sneakers were its foliage. Probably 500 or so pairs adorned this tree, and it just sits out in the desert, silently waiting for more.
As I only had 2 pairs of shoes packed, (flip flops and cowboy boots) and neither one had laces to tie and hurl, I resisted the urge to add to the collection, but we enjoyed looking at it and marveling at what compelled the first few people to begin this. "We were here..."
A little ways after the Shoe Tree is Amboy's an old-fashioned filling station. We bought 2 cokes in glass bottles for $1.25, although we would've paid much, much more.
After traveling though the desert, a coke in a glass bottle was exactly the most perfect thing in the world. We sucked them down like wolverines as we drove past massive dry pools of chlorine, and finally made our way out of the desert and into fields of giant windmills.
These are the ones you see in the movies- fields and fields of these silver Giants- Quixote would crap himself. Jaime really liked them. They're so uniform and mechanical, trying to harvest something so wild and free-form as wind. It's incongruous. They were beautiful, but my supreme destination was just around the corner, and I couldn't think about anything other than getting to Cabazon...

LA Stories: Manifest Destiny Pt. 7

After a (lackluster, dammit) breakfast at Carl's Jr. (which we ate in the parking lot of the town's jail,) Jaime and I set off again, with our sights on Oatman, AZ.
Oatman is a famous tourist town high in the mountains near the border of Arizona and California. Those mountains were popular with the silver miners back in the day, and apparently, the Oatman family, party of 5, was manifesting destiny and migrating westward on the foundation that would eventually become 66 when they were attacked by Natives. The Natives murdered Ma and Pa Oatman, bludgeoned their teenage son and left him for dead, but took the 3 year-old and 7 year old daughter, Olive, with them.
The son recovered and went for help, but it was years before they could track the girls down, and by then, the younger one had died from disease and the older one, now 13, had her chin entirely tattooed with blue markings, as she had been traded around to various tribes as a slave.
The U.S. Government at that time had no qualms dealing with terrorists, so they gave the current owners 2 white horses and some blankets and beads in exchange for Olive.
Olive went on to lead a happy life, and she and her descendants started the town of Oatman near where she was recued, and named it after her family. Oatman is still around today, nestled amongst the ruins of abandoned Silver mines.
To get there, you drive about a bajillion flat straight miles on the last tail end of Route 66, then you go up, up, up some of the curviest windiest mountain terrain I've ever been through. The grade of the incline is so steep that before fuel pumps were invented, cars would have to be driven backwards up the road so that the gasoline tank would still drain into the engine properly. These roads are so narrow and the twists and turns are so steep, motorists used to hire locals to drive their cars (backwards) through the pass. All throughout the gorges, you can see cars that didn't fare so well, crushed and sometimes burned at the bottom. Not cool.
At the tippy-top of all this is Sitsgraeves Pass, which is an extremely beautiful place to park and stare at the rest of the world. Bizarrely enough, perhaps because of the name, or maybe a continued tradition from the covered wagon days when people didn't survive the roadtrip, Sitsgraves is populated by crosses. Tons of different "graves" adorn the mountainside- some for people like Elvis and Jimmy Hoffa, and others with photographs and glass-encased serviceman flags. Strange. There was also a TV monitor thrown away up there and a gila monster, which was neither dead or discarded, just awesome.
Meghan Moroney had given me an incredibly special gift before I left- we both got rolfed (torture) and then had a girl lunch at Sweet Tomatoes before her audition at Mad Cow. During lunch, she surprised me with a shiny emerald-colored box.
Inside, nestled amongst lilac-colored Easter Grass, was a WishBone. And not just any WishBone- a WishBone from a Universal Turkey!
"Make sure you and Jay both focus and with for the same thing, and then pull," she said, basically guaranteeing a wish come true.
This was quite possibly one of the coolest gifts I've ever received, and I kept it in the car with me the entire trip, waiting for the perfect moment.
Looking out at the world, from the top, in a place of memory and sacredness, I felt like it might be a good opportunity to pull it and make the wish.
We walked back to the car and retrieved it, (noticed the gila monster and TV set) and returned to the edge of the mountain.
And promptly chickened out.
I wanted to do it at a positive place, and as "charged" as Sitsgraves is energy-wise, it is a place for honoring the past. I needed a place that represented the future, because that is what the Wish is focused on. So, after holding it for a while and thinking about the past that we were leaving behind, we pressed on into the future- which happened to be Oatman.
Oatman is now sort of like Old Town- full of biker paraphernalia and post cards, but it is also special for another reason: the Burros!
When the mines closed down, the Burros had no more work, and since Jim Timon couldn't offer them any part-time hours, they were set loose to wander and forage for food. They also happen to be adorable, and so people in Oatman fed them.
Their descendants still live up near the mines, but they wander down to the town every day, and you can feed them apples or carrots. I'd kept an apple from the lobby of the New Mexican Econo-Lodge specifically for that purpose, and now carried it with me when we got out of the car to look for the burros.
Instead, we heard a cat walking towards us.
Now, cats are usually quiet and stealthy, but this cat was so large and... beefy, I guess, that we heard his footpads fall on the baked clay earth of the parking area. The cat sauntered into the nearest giftshop and hoped up on the counter. I scratched his neck and he began licking my hand incessantly. He was incredibly friendly. I asked the shopkeeper what his name was, and the owner said that he didn't belong to anyone, and that the people in town had seen him fighting with coyotes (and winning) so they named him John Wayne. John discovered that people would be kind to him if he was cool, so he consented to people petting and feeding him. He made me miss my cats fiercely.
We saw signs along the town requesting that you not feed the burros with carrot-stickers on their foreheads, and not to remove those stickers because they identified the burros with carrot allergies.
At long last, two beautiful burros approached us and I split my apple between the both of them. I get a huge kick out of feeding animals and petting them, so I enjoyed myself immensely. As for the Burros, they were fine being petted and adored, (much like John Wayne,) but either they'd been eating all day, or, the apple was, sadly, lackluster. Bahhh.
We washed the ass off our hands and hopped back into the car, leaving Oatman in our dust. However, on the way back down the mountain, we saw many more burros of all sorts of colors- it felt like going from Kansas to Oz, burro-wise. The pretty gray ones in town were beautiful enough, but these were burros from horses of a different color! Palomino-burros, or as I liked to call them, "burro-minos," in orange, yellow, milk-white and soft brown. Absolutely amazingly cool. I saw this beautiful one with a big fat pregnant belly that reminded me of Summer when she did the Wal-Mart video.
We pulled over to the side of the road to gape, and a burro approached Jay's open window and basically tried to nuzzle him to death, so we skedaddled.
The mountain's other side is a little more gentle slope, and eventually, we were back at sea-level (ish) and about to enter Needles.
Needles, for those of you keeping score, is a town in the beautiful state of Cali-forn-i-ay!

LA Stories: Manifest Destiny Pt. 6

Seeing sign after sign for Meteor City, Jay and I were stoked- we had built it up in our minds at this point to a totally awesome still-smoking-crater, complete with little green men and laser ray guns! (After all, this was "where NASA trained their elite space explorers," boasted a billboard.)
We followed 66 through the towns that we could, and enjoyed seeing the famous Tee-Pee style motels that have become an icon of the road. They were fun, but we were getting pretty jazzed about Meteor City! Meteor City! Come SEE: METEOR CITY!
When we exited on Meteor Crater Road, we pulled over to the (only) gas station to fuel up. The crater was only 6 miles away! Jay went inside to pay for the gas, and he also bought me a moon pie, just because he's awesome.
While he was inside the store, the gas station's outdated PA system was playing the same 4 minute advertisement to SEE THE CRATER, again and again and again. It reminded me of an old Capra-esque kind of deal: SEE the crater! WALK where the brave men and women of NASA have trained for their MOON ADVENTURES, etc. Classic.
By now it was blown way out of proportion in our minds, but we wanted to be smart about this, so we set a price limit. I didn't want to pay more than $8 to see this hole. Jay valued it at $7. This was, after all, a hole in the ground. When we pulled up to this fairly large brick exhibit blocking all view of the crater and were informed that admission was $25, we laughed all the way back to the car. No Universal Discount? Screw that noise.
A little disappointed, we drove the lonely 6 miles back toward the highway. My up-to-now completely useless notebook had mentioned that there was an old observatory in ruins somewhere near the exit, where tourists used to go and view the crater through telescopes.
We could see a large tower-looking structure in the distance beyond some craggy rocky fields, but we had no way of knowing if that was it, or what it was...
It'd be stupid to drive Jay's low-riding sportscar over barely-existent rock roads. There were gulches and potholes and tortise holes every six inches- these back roads were in terrible condition, the sun was starting to set and we knew we'd be screwed with no lights out there... But...
Ignoring a "No Trespassing" sign, (since we were no longer on Navajo land and it was only a civil offense, not Federal,) we slowly drove along the decomposing spine of a road, which mercilessly curved and circled back and eventually wound around nowhere near the observatory, but instead lead us to the highlight of our Route 66 adventure:
The Secret Packard Graveyard.
Surrounded by an island of broken beer bottles and oxidized cans, there were three old, old, OLD car skeletons, rusted through to pure iron, baking in the setting sun, out in the middle of a nowhere field off Meteor Crater Road.
These cars (one of which was turned over on its side) were old Fords and Packards from the 40's and 50's- and they'd been murdered. Riddled with bullet holes from every caliber you can imagine, these were more swiss cheese than automobiles. One car had a nasty shotgun blast straight through the roof right above the driver's seat... I shuddered thinking about the chain of events that lead to that. The amber sun shone in dusty shafts of light through the perforations in the iron, and then sparkled off the broken glass on the ground.
The glass was a thick layer- no smattering here; you could wade through the time-sanded sea of green, brown, and clear glass. Old-fashioned bottles and thousands of cans set each other's colors off in relief against the sunset, twinkling like earth-borne stars.
Curious lizards and a few jackrabbits came out to investigate, and we chased them to some nearby flat rocks to sit and marvel at our discovery.
I have no clue whose cars these were, why they've been repeatedly assassinated, and how thousands of different-era's beer cans and bottles wound up surrounding these rusting giants. But I absolutely loved seeing it.
On the way back to the main road, Jaime and I found an extremely easy-to-drive road that lead straight to what we think was the observatory structure, and had a good laugh at the simplicity. And yet, if we'd found it right away, we would've missed the best part!
The observatory ruins were beautiful- huge blocks of reddish stone formed the remains of a tower, and the last vestiges of the wooden stairs that had been inside now served as the base for a giant crow's nest. The homeowner came back while we were visiting and squawked at us. We'd ignored another "No Trespassing- You Will Go To Jail" sign to get to the tower, (the later part being added in spray paint, perhaps by a less fortunate visitor than we) so we scurried out before we overstayed our welcome, and made it back to Route 66 just as dark settled in, feeling very happy and satisfied with Meteor City.
Arizona was pretty dark after that point. We drove for a while, trying to find another Ghost Town that was roadblocked off from society. The town's maid drag was now camping grounds near the Navajo Army Armory. (???) I hate their tacos.
We did not forget Winona, in accordance to Bobby Troupe's wishes.
I saw an elk foraging for grass along the sloping forest hills once we were out of the desert. That was cool. We'd also seen both deer and antelope (not playing, just resting) earlier. Since buffalo are extinct, and we can't see them roam, this elk was a close enough approximation of a complete "Home, Home on the Range" experience.
We were extremely hungry after a while, so when we arrived at Seligman, and saw the Roadkill Cafe, we went for it. The parking lot was adjacent to a motorlodge full of Japanese men on matching rented motorcycles. That was fun.
The three waitresses on staff at the Roadkill that night were'nt prepared for a busy night, so there was a long wait before we got our food. I filled this void with the biggest beer I've ever had in my life. One of the best, too, if I recall correctly. I'd ordered the "Deer Delectables," which are riblets. (Everything on the menu has a morbid dead-animal name; it was awesome) and I don't remember what Jay had because for the next 30 minutes, all I did was eat. Non-stop. I ate so hard and so fast and so passionately, I hurt myself. And it was totally worth it.
For those of you who've been following this narrative, pretty much every meal I'd had since I left Orlando was either A) lackluster or B) a Navajo taco, which is disgusting.
I tell you these ribs were one of the best meals of my life. God I love those ribs. If I could marry those ribs and have sex with them and raise their rib-babies and then eat THEIR ribs, I totally would. In a heartbeat.
I think Jay liked his food that night, too, but at the time, I didn't care. Ribs.
Nearing Flagstaff, (our stop for the night,) I was looking out the window at the night sky and wishing we could pull over so I could see some stars. We'd missed the whole "stars at night, shine big and bright CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP" when we were deep in the heart of Texas due to the Electrical Storm, and I wouldn'tve traded that for the world, but the stars of the American Roadtrip were definitely on my wish list.
Without me saying a word, Jay pulled the car over and put the roof back.
"How'd you know?" I asked.
He shrugs. "I'd been wanting to do it for a while, but there was no good place to pull off."
God I love this man.
While Flagstaff twinkled at the bottom of the mountain roads, the stars twinkled above us. We were sandwiched in black velvet night and sparkles, as semi trucks blazed by us and the night wind played with my hair and chilled my ears. Delicious.
Once we arrived at the Econo-Lodge, we deemed it sanitary enough to take a shower. We were highly amused at the separate twin-sized beds in the room. It felt like a hotel foom you'd see on the Dick Van Dyke show. Jaime and I bounced back and forth on the beds and had a decent wrestle over real estate, which reminded us that we were thirsty and dehydrated. Probably me more so because of my giant beer. I went to go buy some water for us, but the vending machine was broken and the shops were closed. I asked the hotel clerk where I could go to get some, and a really cool old guy and his grandson gave me 4 cold bottles from their cooler. Fellow travelers looking out for one another. Very, very awesome.
There is a true sense of camaraderie on 66, and it shows. It shows when the zoologically uninformed trucker at Dairy Queen gives you career advice. It shows when the Japanese motorcycle mafia gives you a nod of approval as you exit your dusty car. It shows when the Blind Woman still tries to take a photo for you. You're all out there for totally different identical reasons- and you're all out there together, completely on your own.
I enjoyed the hell out of that cool water.

LA Stories: Manifest Destiny Pt. 5

After waking up in New Mexico and enjoying a (lackluster) complimentary Econo-lodge breakfast, we got back on the open road and headed towards Arizona. Between the two states lies The Continental Divide, which is a tiny souvenir shack nestled up against the highway, which overlooks a giant, thousand-mile-wide gulch. It's somewhat scenic, so we decided to capture the moment on something more substantial than an iphone camera.
I wanted to ask the little old lady in blueblockers to take a picture of us, but Jaime discouraged me because he is an independent and proud man who needs help from no one.
However, I felt long overdue for all the jillions of photos I take for tourists at the parks, so I asked anyway. She smiled and stretched out a liverspotted arthritic hand to take the camera from me, and pulled her blueblockers down revealing an eyepatch and cataracts the size of a fist. Awesome. She couldn't see well enough to take a picture, but bless her heart she tried. And Jaime mocked me for the next 23 miles.
We drove through Arizona, and the terrain became less plains-y and more deserty. Then the sand started taking on colors, and striations appeared in the cliffs in the distance. Jaime and I started talking about the "Painted Desert," and how we wondered where it was.
"Painted Desert/Petrified Forest- 45 mi." said a road sign.
And so we went!
Driving up, the Petrified Forest National Park doesn't seem that cool. We hadn't had lunch, so we ate at the little cafeteria. I had a Navajo Taco, which is a cornmeal pancake with ground beef, cheese, tomatoes, and puke piked on top of it. Jay had a burger.
Then, just to be ironic, we both got ice cream. In the desert. "Suck it, geographical limitations! It's 2009 and we are eating ice cream in the desert! Yeahhhhh!" (This was my inner monologue.
Then we paid our $10 and headed into the Park. There's a stretch of road about 30 miles long that you drive through, and periodically it's obscenely picturesque, so you get out and take some photos and poke around. It looks like Mars at some places- just an endless landscape of red and pink rocks and hills and cliffs and mountains. Well worth the price of admission- but it gets better: at one point, we got out to poke around, and we discovered bits of crystals on the ground. Like, ALL over the ground. Once we knew what we were looking for, we could see shiny objects everywhere! They were bits of sand that had been cooked and had become silica again- shiny and gorgeous and rough- picking them up, they looked like a cluster of small skyscrapers in your palm- an infinitesimal silver city. So cool.
You can't take anything out of the park, so we left them there, but they were absolutely gorgeous- like a really cool "surprise!" from Mother Nature when you thought you'd seen all her tricks.
We drove on, and found a line of telephone poles marching across the park. There was no road to accompany them, just the poles- rough, time-battered pine with the old school glass housing for the electrical parts on top. There was no wire either. We found out later that these used to run alongside the original route 66, and the desert had obliterated the remains of the road here. Trippy. (This was foreshadowing for things to come, with me...)
We saw a prairie dog! He was polite enough to wait for us to back the car up so Jay could take a glance, too, before scampering off and vanishing down a hole. Such a stereotype, but it's true- they totally scamper and disappear down holes.
We saw pretty purple flowers blooming on cacti, and then we got to Newspaper Rock.
This is a large canyon with petroglyphs carved into it. Petroglyphs are little pictorials made by people a long, long time ago. Like the 70's.
We stood on an overlook and used telescopes to peer into the canyon where some native was clearly restless. He drew people, dogs, lizards, antelope, gods, rain, food- everything that he saw. It's hard work to carve something into a rock, and I wish I could know what he (or they) wanted to tell us. The whole point of taking the time to make something Forever is so it'll be there after you're gone. If his message was, "we were here and this is what our life is like," then that's cool. It's actually kind of what I'm doing right this very moment.
In an over-the-top metaphor, while we were at Newspaper Rock, some giant ravens were flapping around below, and 'caw-ing.' Their bird noises reverberated off the petroglyph-covered rocks, making me think about an echo. The ghost of a sound while we stared at the ghost of a life. Pretty cool.
Then we arrived at the Crystal Forest, which was not nearly what I expected. I thought "crystals," like the pretty ones from earlier, but I was wrong. These are the remains of a forest that was covered by the planed a bajillion years ago, and being compressed underground made the wood turn into amethyst and quartz and jade and stuff. But it all kind of looks brownish-gray, and these somewhat cyllindrical rock things on the ground were trees. It's all well and good, but if you're going to hype something as The Crystal Forest to a girl who grew up with My Little Ponies, there better be some goddamn shiny jewel things everywhere. And butterflies, dammit.
There was, however, the teeniest, tiniest little bunny ever. We're talking teacup-sized. He popped out of a hole to be cute and we took some pictures. Then his set time was up and he went on break. He did not sign my autograph book.
After strolling though the land of grayish-brown cyllindrical rock things, we headed out of the park and met up with 66 again. The part that was above-ground, and not buried by layers of earth. The next Thing To See was a GIANT METEOR CRATER, and we couldn't wai

LA Stories: Manifest Destiny Pt. 4

After leaving Amarillo, we set out on true Rt. 66, and for a while, I was frustrated. It had merged with Hwy. 40, so it just looked like modern interstate highway and not the Orwellian Time Machine I was anticipating. I wanted the Ghost of Tom Jode. I got Carl's Jr.
Eventually, were able to follow it enough (with the help of some absolutely useless maps I found on the internet) and through Jay's saint-like patience) to pull off and follow 66 when it would veer towards forgotten towns, and we'd cruise along the main drag.
This was great- this was more like it. Neon lights, kitsch, diners, the Blue Swallow Motel, old rusting trucks, antiques stores, filling stations. (Phillip's 66, named for a reason.) This glimpse into 1950's Americana touched my heart. I was peering out my window in curiosity the same way people have done for 50 years. Before Disney. Before Malls. Before highways. This was what Americans did to explore, take vacations, escape, and have fun. Breathing the same molecules as they did was healing, in a way. It was again a total sense of "right place right time."
It's easy to get caught up in our country's wars, economic issues, or our political policies, and to develop a sense of national shame or embarassment- a lot of the world hates us right now.
I wish they could take the drive we did, and see a more innocent America.
I fell in love with my country all over again on this road. There's so much beauty, ingenuity, creativity, and pure Spirit out there. Something unique to us, and incredibly special.
And then there's the hybrid mutant child of 66- Cline's Corners.
Cline's Corners is one of the rare survivors of the decay and abandon that eviscerated 66. It's location saved it- after the government destroyed most of 66 with the military convoys crossing the country in response to Vietnam, new roads were needed, so the SuperHighway was born, which was streamlined for efficiency. The new roads had no exits or ways to get to the towns along the former route 66, so they starved and died. Many of them are full-on ghost towns now, or completely blocked off from traffic with barricades and new forest growth separating their bones from modern society's view.
Cline's was lucky- it hovered on the edge, and the "modern motorist" can just pull right off the highway and into the parking lot. No muss no fuss.
As a result, it is sort of the "South of the Border" of New Mexico.
For Sale: keychains, postcards, talking toilet seats, carvings, "indian artifacts," plastic pirates, crucifixes, moccasins, lawn ornaments, coaster tiles, fairy statues, pistol holsters, frog fountains, tee-shirts, saltwater taffy, webcatchers, rabbit's feet, rattlesnake heads, plush toys, stress balls, leather jackets, chili sauce, armadillo-in-a-can, and fudge.
(If you open a store in the American Southwest, you must sell fudge. It is condition of your business license.)
Cline's also has a Subway subshop there. Jaime and I got a (lackluster) sub there, and took off before we bought anything else. It took the poor boy behind the sub counter honest-to-god 23 minutes to make 3 subs. He was special. Bless his heart.
Back on the road, we could see the plains extend into the buttes in the distance against a slate-grey sky. Beautiful. Occasionally, we'd spot some tumbleweed.
We stopped to get gas at a random filling station in the middle of nowhere. There was a german shepard snoozing in the heat outside the store. Next to the gas station was a pile of dirt, and an abandoned church.
Now when I say this place was in the middle of nowhere, think "50 miles + to ANYTHING.) This was a simple small church, with the doors torn off the hinges and a long 60's orange carpet up the aisle to the podium. Someone had spraypainted "sangre de Christo" (Christ's blood) along the walls, and there were a few beer cans along the pews. Blood-red curtains blew gently in the breeze that found it's way in through the broken windows, and it was deathly quiet.
Until a giant New Mexican swallow came tearing through the church, executed a few aerial loops while screaming at us, and then vanished. Total Scooby-Doo startle moment. Thanks for the cheap scare, Universe!
We poked around in the back where the minister's office would've been, too afraid to open the cabinets for fear of rattlesnakes or g-g-g..GHOSTS! Outside the church, we walked through some brambles back to our car and speculated about how tumbleweed is made.
After driving a little ways, we saw a yellowy-gold blur rolling along the side of the road, parallel to our car- a tumbleweed! In it's natural habitat! Actually tumbling! Jay and I freaked out, but we managed to pass it and Jay veered off to the side of the highway while I opened the door, effectively corralling the tumbleweed. I leaped from the car and wrestled it to the ground, pinning it with my body. Then we triumphantly held it aloft and posed with it like hunters holding up the heads of the Big Game. Victorious and exhausted, we decided to let it go. (A catch and release program is the best for maintaining a sustainable tumbleweed population.) After a final cuddle, I released it back into the wild, where it took off down the highway, shaken, but alive. I loved it.
Jaime's Grandmom had told us about a place she'd gone back-in-the-day with his Granddad- the Acoma Pueblos in Sky City. Apparently, it's the oldest still-active pueblo community in the country. We found the right exit and headed out for it.
To get to Sky City, you get to drive through a Navajo reservation, and there are signs asking you not to get out of your car or drive down any side roads, as a large portion of the lands are sacred and just for the Navajo people. I could understand whey they would set up a village there in the buttes- the rains and glaciers had carved out strange formations in the tops of the cliffs that looked like a cityscape. It looked like Gods at work. Sky people. So, to emulate that and to be close to the coolness, the Navajo built their city way way up on the top of a butte. And this city closes at 7pm sharp. We got there at 7:30, found a gate blocking the rest of the road, and then had the best drive back to the highway ever- the sky was reflecting gold and amber light on the rock formations, and the sky was pure silver again. The whole world in precious metals. Gorgeous. Jay pulled the moonroof back and I stood up on the seat and popped my head out like a prairie dog to soak in the golden light and silver wind. We were going fast, so my eyes were streaming water, which made me squint and the world seemed to dissolve a little. I could feel God. It was perfect. Right place right time.
It began to get dark, so we pressed on for a while and eventually had a (lackluster) dinner in a nearby town. We tried to go local and eat at the Cafecito, but, upon going inside and checking it out, we immediately opted for pizza hut, and settled in an unusually sanitary Econo-Lodge.

LA Stories: Manifest Destiny Pt. 3

After admiring our epically gross hotel room, complete with cattle-rustlin' mural by the green indoor pool, Jaime and I headed for breakfast- but not just any breakfast: A Big Texan breakfast.
The Big Texan is one of the first icons you encounter when joining Route 66 in Amarillo, and it's famous for a reason:
It's the home of the Free 72 oz. Steak, pardner!
Step right up, because if you can eat this 72-ounce steak in under one hour, it's free!
(If not, you have to pay $80 and feel deep personal shame- but you'll have leftovers for a month!)
Jay and I arrived at 10:18 in the morning, and we did not expect anyone to be attempting the challenge. We were wrong. A skinny kid and his girlfriend/aunt/milf show up at 10:30 and sit down on the deius in the center of the Old Saloon-themed restaurant. (By the way, this place is awesome- giant rocking chairs, like rattlesnakes, 15 flavors of fudge, shooting gallery, SO COOL!) The oldest, least-interested man in the world emerged from the kitchen with a scroll and announced that so-and-so was taking on the Big Texan steak challenge. He read the rules from the scroll; that the kid would have to finish the entire steak, a baked potato (not the skin) 3 giant fried shrimp and a small salad.
Meanwhile, in the back, the cooks are using both arms to flip this massive butterflied piect of meat. It was the circumference of an extra-large pizza.
They trot the steak out, and everyone in the restaurant (3 tables) gets us to see it. It's on a huge ginornous platter with jalepenos surrounding it. Stuck in the jalepenos are toothpicks with tiny Texas state flags on them. It's funny.
They have a basketball shotclock with a massive timer on it, and they cue it up at 60 minutes.
"Where you from, Kid?" someone asks, all breathless and excited. (It was me.)
"Miami," he responds, a steely determination in his eyes.
"GOOOOOO!" someone yells, as the clock starts counting down.
The guy launches into cutting this slab of beef, forking it and shovveling it into his mouth. It's obvious he's a competitive eater, and he is staring down that steak with conviction.
The cooks in the back cajole him on, coming out to watch with crossed arms.
"He's never gonna make it," they say loudly to one another.
We cheer him on as we eat our own (lackluster) breakfast, and poke around, buying postcards with pictures of the steak on them. I see stuffed armadillos for sale. We sit in the giant rocking chair, and admire someone's artwork- on the menu board, in chalk, they have written "Jesus loves Krishna" and drawn a heart around it. Jaime and I both take a photo of it, independently of each other. I rock out at the shooting gallery, where I plug a ton of audioanamatronic creatures that perform various amusing actions when shot. Dog ears flap. A zombie emerges from a grave. A pianist plays a tune.
After a while, it's time to check in on the Miami kid. He's down to the last few minutes, and, sadly, he still has a lot of steak left. Like, a LOT. I felt bad for him, but he still was chewing when the last few seconds ticked away.
We bought several flavors of fudge and went on our way, a little sad for the Miami Kid. We saw him walking back to their car with lots and lots of leftovers. He looked older, wiser, and full of steak.
Jay and I then drove to the Cadillac Ranch! It was out in a field, which was very muddy, and it wasn't quite as romantic and "ba-naaaaa" as I'd expected, but it was certainly 10 cadillacs buried nose down in the field, leaning at an angle. People are allowed to paint on them or color then or write on them however they please, and there's layer after layer of spraypaint. There was a bit of a crowd going. Jay took a call from his dad while we were there, and I made him hang up because I was afraid we were going to "miss something." I still think we might've. I didn't feel as amazed as I thought I would, but we made our mark and wrote our message to the world.
"Jaime and Jay"
"To California Dreams!"
We were there.
Then we were gone- Let the journey begin!

LA Stories: Manifest Destiny Pt. 2

After Dinner with Mike and Latissia, his fiery Spanish flamenco-dancing girlfriend, (yrow!) Jaime and I headed to Wal-Mart in Covington, Louisiana, to replace a burnt-out headlight. This was a process. Normally, Wal-Marts are populated by Zombies, but if you go after-hours, you're doubling your odds. If you go after-hours in the Bayou, you gotta deal with Creole Cajun Zombies. Creole comes from Haiti, which, as you all know, is where zombies originated from. (Haiti, and Pittsburgh.)
So we parked, walked, found a headlight, took forever to check out because it's Wal-Mart, fough off Zombies, discovered it was the wrong size, bought the right size, took 3 different employees on the cerebral ride of their lives when while they learned how to make an exchange, fought off more zombies, and got back to our car with the right headlight.
During all this, someone had left a massive bull-dog in the van next to ours, and the dog missed his people. Severely. He cried "Brow, wou, wou, wou, woooooh!" so long, so loud, and so piteously, the whole time. He was sobbing his little doggy heart out, and it made my stomach hurt to hear him wailing. Such a classic, gutteral lonely sound.
While we were listening to the dog and repairing the light, some teenagers returned to their car, also nearby. One them approached the dog and made like he was going to punch it- the dog flinched as the boy screamed "Shut the f--k up!" at him. They laughed and got in their car, which is good, because if he'd hurt that dog I was considering kicking his ass until he made some similar sounds. I hated that kid so much.
After a somewhat sanitary hotel experience, we got in our car and drove into Texas. We drove, and drove, and drove. Texas is rather large, y'all. However, the reason it's so damn big is because it has to fit in the Texas Sky. If you've never seen it, Go. Just Go. The Texas Sky is the biggest roundest "hey, look, curvature of the earth" sky ever. It reminds you that you're on the face of a planet, and careening through the Universe, clinging to the Earth by gravity alone. And without gravity, you would float up into this colossal expanse of azure infinity- just you and the sky. It's nice. I liked it.
We counted off more cars and out-of-state license tags. We had over 30 states at this point. We began listing the unusual animals we saw on the side of the road as well, since we drove by beautiful long-horn Brahman cows and camels. Random, wonderful camels!
We stopped at a Dairy Queen, and met a trucker who asked us if we'd seen the "mammals" in addition to the camels.
"Yeah, you know, them fuzzy ones with the long necks and the ears up top. No humps."
"Oh," I said. "Llamas?"
"Yeah, that's them!"
He then told us that we should be truckdrivers together- a team. Apparently, zoological identification skills are in demand frequently along the road.
I made toe prints on Jaime's windshield because I'd stretched my feet out on the dashboard. I slept. We listened to NPR podcasts, because my husband is a closet geek, and learned about the Alamo, and Marco Polo, and angry violinists. We alternated between that, my super-cool Roadtrip playlist that I adored and Jay not-so-much, and basketball podcasts. We did not speed, because we were in Texas.
After a lackluster lunch at the Armadillo, Jay told me that he was pretty tired and that we should make it an early night and spend the night in Childress.
As soon as he said the town's name, I got a creeped out kind of sick feeling. It might've been the super lame chili, but I felt physically ill. I'd heard of that town somewhere, and what I heard was bad. I just couldn't place why it bothered me so much. I put up a huge irrational protest, but because my reasons were completely unfounded, and I couldn't explain why I felt so unsettled, we pressed on and arrived at Childress.
As we drove through the rundown ghost town, I felt more and more anxious. My heart was pounding in my chest, and when we finally arrived at the Econo-lodge (which totally looked like a prison) I felt a full-on panic attack approaching. Everything about that town felt wrong. A group of Mexicans hanging out in the parking lot stopped talking and stared as we walked across the dark lot to the dimly lit lobby. Everything was yellow and ...off.
The Eastern Indians inside were chatting with a man in Hindi at the desk, and they gave us a pleasant enough "we'll be right with you." Jay sensed that I was upset and asked me if I wanted to go. I swear I almost ran back to the car.
As we drove out of the town, a huge wave of relief washed over me- to this day, I still don't know what freaked me out so much. I feel like something absolutely horrible would've happened if we'd stayed- but because we didn't, something wonderful happened...
We decided to drive to Amarillo, and spend the night there, but as we charged across the plains, the sky went from dark to BLACK. Pitch black. The winds whipped up all around us, and then got very, very still. A dead pitch black nothing was all around us- no lights, no stars, just an endless motionless Void.
Then the storm broke.
Our car was rocked back and forth as the wind flung prairie and tumbleweed at our car, and the sky opened up with the longest, brightest lightning I've ever seen in my life. The world became electrified as steaks of fire shot back and forth across the clouds, and torrents of rain hurtled down. We could only see in still-frame instant glimpses, but what we saw was epic- sheets of rain, walls of it, plunging towards the earth- and black columns of clouds lurking in ominous-looking funnel shapes in the distance.
We were going to die.
But we didn't.
Instead, we drove on, the only people in the only car on the only road in the world, until the storm thrashed itself out. It petered out into a soft rain, and then nothing. The rush was incredible. Jaime and I had been on the edge of our seats with electricity, and now we were exhausted. We finally found an extremely nasty Econo-Lodge, and collapsed into bed.

LA Stories: Manifest Destiny Part 1

Leaving was surprisingly not the hardest part.
Bravado and Novelty are wonderful anesthesia.
Like a successful surgery, I didn't feel much until it was all over. Just a little pressure. You may feel a pinch, or a pulling sensation. This is all perfectly normal.
The hard part is post-surgery. When you try to adapt to life now that you're missing an important piece of yourself.
The Hard Part keeps showing up and WHAM over the head, and I think, "OK, THIS is the hard part, right here," but it's not the hard-EST part... The hard part hits you at IKEA when you break down crying in the mattress department because you wish you hadn't sold YOUR bed. It comes when you're driving in the ever-present bumper-to-bumper traffic and just missing your mom and knowing she's missing you too and there's not a damn thing in the world that'll help except time. The slow eventual numbing of pain. Like a chronic disease you can't cure, but you can only "manage it." A carrier for life.
But I digress.
The purpose of this is to chronicle How I Got Here and What I'm Doing, so if I full-on lose it later on there will be a record of my slow decent into Madness. Or, as I like to call it, "LA."
Jaime and I pulled out of my driveway at 11:30 in the morning on May 28th, and by 3:30pm we were on our way out of Florida. Things were downright uneventful throughout most of the day, and we began to look for out-of-state license tags on other cars along the highway. His brother made us a road-trip CD, and we listened to it. La la la, we sang. California, here we come!

We ploughed through Alabama, where I was convinced that I'd lived for 2 years of my early life. Called my mom and discovered that I was wrong, and I'd never lived in Alabama, ever.

The plan was to stop in Louisiana for the night, and as we were driving though Covington, I became hungry for some Cajun food. The sun was setting and I could see the pink and purple rays of the dying light reflecting in the waters of the bayou. Beautiful. I wondered how many alligators were watching the cars go by along the highway and just dreaming of the days when a tourist gets out to pee in the dark. Traffic was moving along at a good pace, but down the road about a mile we could see the flashing yellow and blue lights of a police cruiser and construction equipment. We slowed, and slowed, and came to a gradual stop in the right lane of the two lane highway. I was talking about my sudden and intense craving for jambalaya, or gumbo.
The truck behind us somehow missed all those lights, and the slowing down, and did not attempt to stop until it was way too late. Jay and I heard that god-awful sound of tires squealing against asphalt, and we saw the truck barreling down behind us, fishtailing and way too close way too fast. We were going to get rear-ended. We were going to get rear-ended, we were going to get thrown into the car in front of us, airbags would pop, our car would be totaled, and, both of us without insurance, would wind up with shoulder, back and neck injuries. The trip would be ruined- we'd have to go back to Florida to recover from our injuries. Years of physical therapy, thousands of dollars in x-rays and MRI's. Just like what happened to me 5 years ago. Why God Why.
Somehow, though, my Hero saw the truck too, and heard the screaming tires, and had the foresight to leave enough room between his car and the car in front of us, and he floored our Eclipse into the right-hand lane in the nick of time- the truck slammed through the empty space where we had just been, and continued on to slam into the car that had been in front of us, which slammed into the car in front of them. The squeal, the sonic-boom double-crunch of metal slamming into metal. That sound has been in my nightmares for years, and here it was again, 4 feet away from us. Airbags were deployed; back neck and shoulder injuries were distributed. All this happened right in front of the Highway Patrol Car, so, since Help was there and Jaime could tell that no one was seriously hurt, we moved on with traffic. I was literally shaking in my seat as my body had flooded itself with adrenaline and freak-out juice. It wasn't us. It wasn't me this time- it was someone else. I was OK. The tiger pounced, and it wasn't me.
This absolutely made me feel sure that we were in the right place at the right time. And even is we weren't, my clever and amazing husband saved us.
Oh, and if that isn't enough to make you a believer, after I calmed down, Jay suggested I call Mike Mayhall, our friend from Universal and Sea World, to get a recommendation of a good Cajun place to eat. Mike had moved to LA some years ago, but he knows his gumbo. We called Mike. He answered. He was 15 minutes down the highway from us, about to eat at a Cajun restaurant, did we want to join him? Yes, yes, I believe we did. And we did. And I ate jambalaya, gumbo, and red beans and rice, and oysters, and had a massive beer the size of a human head. The meal of a tiger-escapee. It tasted like Awesome.