Oh, Los Angeles! Supposed City of Angels and probably one of my least favorite cities on the planet. I’ve never had good history with visits to Orange County, and like most Western U.S born and bred kids, I’ve been to SoCal more than my fair share. I suppose when that’s the case, and the Happiest Place On Earth resides just left of center from this otherwise unpopular town for a young child, you never really think to give it a less than Disney chance as a grown up. I mean. Why would you?
I’ve been to Los Angeles on tour, as the tour manager for Skies Over Berlin, and I attribute LA to the snowballing demise of my relationship with the guitarist at the time. So, LA strike 1.
I’ve been to Los Angeles on one of those classic Freshman Kerouac type trips after losing my first real job (computer programmer). I couldn’t think of anything better to do with that last paycheck than to get in the car with as little as a back pack, pick up three of my friends, throw a bunch of near-expired canned food in the trunk, and take a full circle trip from Provo, Utah to Sacramento to Oakland to San Francisco, and down the PCH to Malibu to Santa Monica and over to Joshua Tree National Park and home.
On that trip, we followed a garage style, two-person noise band through three or four shows. We were nearly arrested for sleeping in a park. When I refused to go it alone as the only girl in a San Francisco hostel and couldn’t find a single hotel with vacancy, I blew everything I had on a top room floor at the Hilton on the Bay which meant it was nothing but canned beans and pickled beets for my meals the rest of the trip.
We learned quickly to drive around at night and sleep during the day. No one arrests you for sleeping on a beach when it’s light outside. Together, we shared a jug of wine (literally a jug) on someone’s private beach at the edge of a gated Malibu neighborhood that I still don’t even know how we got into. And in the end, we drove into 29 Palms military base to pick up a high school friend of mine that had just joined the marines and we spent the weekend camping with marines in Joshua Tree National Park. We met some hippies. And the entire seen of watching my friends sit around a fire, in a drunken drum circle with interpretive dancing hippie chicks from the camp next door while marine bred men and women repeatedly yelled to each other, “Give me 50!” seeming to be in a constant state of competition, I decided I needed space and disappeared on a far off rock where I slept by myself in one single sleeping back, freezing through the night, and baked into wakefulness by the dessert morning as a squinted at a scorpion minding its own business just beside me.
The drive home was quiet. My ability to deal with human beings and the petty needs of my passengers was long spent. And I was furious at being the only one so broke and so put out by the remaining experience that none of us hardly spoke ever again. Winter came and I left them in the snow, one by one, to deal with their own problems. In the vey room where “No Hardcore Dancing In The Living Room” was born, and written as a hit song of the future, I learned about MySpace for the first time and took unfriending to a whole new level when I stopped just one block short of leaving the party, opened the passenger door, and shoved my so called date out of the door, into the snow where he sat indecently laughing and completely unmoved by the boldness of my final goodbye.
Strike 2, LA.
Many years later, all the better for having made it through those initial years and beyond those learned-from mistakes, I thought this time would be different. I flew to LA a week early to spend most of the time with a long lost best friend living at the southern tip of Orange County on the beach, taking care of her new family and her husbands grandfather in exchange for their first home together. I was there for all the joys of their first child and in the moment they realized they were pregnant with number 2. But I had to move on after just a few days. I had really come to town to pick up a Director I had dated once and previously worked with on a music video that turned out to be less than impressive once the Editor’s took hold of it.
At this point, I had been working hard on my first screenplay. I was asked to write the life story of someone I had never met before, and the Director and I were about to catch a flight to North Carolina to meet our amazing subject for the first time and start filming some General B-Roll footage.
But everything about the guy was self eluded and almost delusional. He had played his way to the top. And while I have massive respect for any artist living the realities of seven rotating roommates in a three bedroom Hollywood Hills apartment complex, I didn’t have the patience to be treated like I owed anyone a damn deli plate. And if you’ve been in the entertainment business, you know the deli tray types. After an incredibly boring and completely ignored +1 visit to a Film Festival in Newport or Venice or one of those useless beach towns, and a long night on the couch of these struggling artist’s apartment, the demands were too high and I had been nice enough. Not only had he cancelled for no real reason, he was now demanding I pay his cancellation fees and revoke the ticket I had bought him so that he could use the credit to purchase himself another ticket for another purpose.
Back then, shelling out for two round trip passes for a non-paying gig built on the dream of what we could actually build from this amazing story, THAT was something I was willing to do. I even drove across the dessert to afford to fly out of LA and with the promise of being that name he could drop as we made the rounds at this LA based film festival that turned into seven hours of me sitting on a bench waiting for directions that never came.
For all of this, I had patience. But being ditched on a project that I believed in after all I had done for him, was infuriating. Working as a quality assurance specialist for $10 an hour while going to school, was where my time immediately started to feel more than just wasted, but outright abused. And to be standing there, in a parking lot, given a story about how his car was busted and since he’s not going to North Carolina with me anyway, could he just drive mine while I was away? In fact, he thought he’d do me a favor by driving it back to Utah for me so I could save myself the gas and just pay my airplane ticket change fee to fly back to Salt Lake City instead of back to LA. And you know what, that sounded like a fair plan to me. I never wanted to see LA again.
LA strike 3.
Still, nothing is as it seems. Our first long road trip lead to reading Kerouac and decidedly skipping out on a group of friendships that would lead my life to ruins rather than all the places I hoped to go.
And being a tour manager undoubtedly helped when instead of having a screenplay to write, I spent my week in North Carolina really examining the one simple truth that ever came from that damn boys mouth as I let him ditch out on a project for the last time. “You really gotta stop doing all of this for free…” Even he knew he had gone to the far corners of taking advantage of my every “in” that fell in line with the self-brand that built around hustle and true authenticity. And from that day forward, I never worked another day in the entertainment industry for free. In fact, there on a couch in North Carolina is where Sony Music found me and my entire life shifted as I spent the next five years living the dream. My dream.
And knowing how fate always has a higher sense of honor than our own sense of reality, I forgot about all the other equally horrific and disappointing times I went to LA with an intention and left hurt. This time, I simply arrived and all I was giving LA was 24 hours of my time, and I had absolutely no set intention for his those hours should play out.
Finally, LA had something to offer. Or maybe it wasn’t LA at all, it was simply that thing you can make of any moment in time.
The entire day was unexpected.
My brother picked us up from our 6am flight and I was happy to see him. Hugs all around.
He drove us to Santa Monica where we enjoyed a quiet breakfast long before the city was fully awake, and before we were done, my long time best friend and brother, Byron came to join us for an extra Crepe and a little more coffee.
After Byron had to go back home to work on a project, the rest of us ventured on to RPV to pick up my brother’s family and have lunch. Will had to work. So my nephew Jack was the only one to come. While my brother decided on a place to eat, Jack showed us his smooth moves on a hand me down skateboard he used for a brand new, self-built manual pad he set up in the garage of their apartment complex. And like kids, we skated. Well, he skated. Stark stood on the board, and I attempted to luge through the parking garage before realizing I had a scarf on and my face was soon about to meet the ground involuntarily.
While skating, Jack tore off the entire front side of his shoes which led us to whispering in the corner with his parents about possibly finding a skate shop to spend he afternoon in where we could get him some things for a late Christmas gift.
However, we didn’t tell Jack a word. We went to lunch, which Stark fell in love with, and Jack passed out asleep in the back seat while we ventured to the official Vans skatepark and store in Redondo Beach.
Every moment for the next couple of hours was entirely worth watching every pure, child-like expression come across his face as each moment grew into a bigger and bigger day until it all seemed like the most determined day of his life.
First, Stark and Jack got into browsing boards. We let Jack teach us all about boards and board types while I laid down about ten cents worth of skating knowledge simply by knowing what trucks were and that every self-respecting skater would refer to his board simply as a “deck” and never a board. I felt like the old mom trying to be in with a random hobby her kid picked up that she knew nothing about. Except I did. I knew enough to have the anecdote of my own skateboarding accident. I even received a deck as a gift once. Ya, a gift from Alternative Press magazine at an invitation-only party at SxSw in 2008. I carried that deck with me for years. It sat in my always “soon to be” office with piles of cool, free swag and awards I had received for simply being a bad ass to so many people that turned up in all kinds of places throughout the world and felt the need to share their success with me. It’s all those moments that led up to that ridiculously unbelievable life I led, and more importantly, led to all the knowledge I needed in that single moment to be able to say to my nephew, build the deck of your dreams. And when he was too shy, I demanded the girl bring out the “black independent label trucks” as Stark stood there, dropping knowledge on the Bones Brigade – something we only learned together at our first Sundance we shared.
And now life comes full circle, as we work away over to another year at Sundance and leave in our wake a completely altered lifestyle for a 14 year old boy that has nothing but moments – both hard and good – that will tumble him towards a bigger picture some day.
His face lit up in total shock and disbelief as his board came together and he slowly gained the confidence over his new found reality to truly say what he wanted, and explain why this was the better board – something Stark and I wouldn’t have guessed or picked out in a million years.
And the mix of terror and excitement on his face as he watched the total for his brand new deck ring up and instantly disappear as I paid for it, and the girl behind the counter gathered all his things to take away as he insisted, “NO! I want to build it myself.” It didn’t matter to him that building his new deck would be free. He wanted to feel it. He wanted to get his hands dirty and really figure it out. We were proud, and the typical OC Mom behind the counter commented, “I have mad respect for that.”
It was at that moment that he thought the excitement of his day was over, but it had only just begun. While he was enchanted by his dream board, his mom signed all the waivers and paid for his pass into the actual skate park. Until now, Jack’s idea of a skate park had only been what he was capable of doing in his own garage. He had admittedly learned everything he knew simply by watching a friend. But his friend wasn’t here now, and neither were the comforts of a dark lit, “no one is watching me” garage.
My stomach churned as I watched his face go flush in that way that tells you you’re really about to pass out. I had at least been around skaters enough to know exactly what it felt like to stand at the edge of a ramp and feel nothing but incapable. For me, I never made it down. I never made it in. I wouldn’t move beyond flat ground and I quickly moved from a narrow trick deck to a long board for simple, low grade cruising. Even then, I stuck to garages and I did nothing but skate garages until the day I lay my board to rest sometime around 25 years old. Just watching him stand against the wall, half observing and half trying to stay fully upright and conscious, I was already proud of him. He made it out there. He could come right back in without so much as standing on his board and giving it a try, and I would still be proud of him. It’s a real fear to face, and even more real when everyone around you seems like a pro and three year old kids are flying down ramps like they were born with a deck attached to their feet.
It was an unreal moment to watch him take off for the first time, and every moment for the next hour was equally terrifying. His face was permanently flush. And yet every time he went, he went a little faster the next time. And every time he landed it, he added more to his next run until he looked like he’d been there all along and kids were following him around, watching him do tricks, and attempting to learn from him.
With one day already made, it was time to go get the other nephew from his day at work and see if we could find something inspiring to him that could make the evening equally great. And, we did.
For the rest of the evening, just the boys and I went to the local mall where my college-bound nephew, Will, talked Machine Learning and robotics with Stark while we distracted him from what he thought was just his boring Aunt and Uncle joining him for some necessary clothes shopping he needed to do. We chatted him up as he moved around H&M, picking up things that were obviously meant only for work. A few times he’d stop and comment on a shirt he already owned or one he thought was cool. Eventually, I eavesdropped on his size and while we kept him chatting, I moved around the entire men’s department picking up anything simple, blue, and medium sized that I thought would match his unique Steez. And without saying a word, I’d start adding new clothes to the rack he was building for himself until it came time for him to narrow it down to what he could afford. We watched him decide against and put a few things back as you could see the math churning in his mind, weighing against his willingness to actually spend the money he had. That was the moment that I jokingly started in on an “I have a dream” speech in light of it being Martin Luther King Day in the States, and I ended it with a more obvious but still kind of vague way of telling him he could have anything he wanted.
That’s the moment where being practical moves to the idea of dreams and impossibilities, and it was equally fun to watch the excitement display in a very different but still quite obvious way for my nephew, Will. In order to make it in time for dinner, we raced to the next store where Will picked out things he obviously wanted, and ditched all sense of need. These were the things he’d never spend his own money on, but like every teenage kid, you could tell he’d thought about it before… “If I just had that one outfit, I’d be the coolest kid at the party.” We’ve all been there.
And there, in that last store, I felt bad that Jack insisted on buying his own shoes with the money his dad had given him, but I made no arguments for no other reason that I firmly believe kids need to regularly exercise asking, deciding, and ditch the all too often adopted notion of passively aggressively hoping others will step in and solve their problems for them – even if it’s just the cost of a shoe. He insisted once, and I asked him twice. To me, that was that. But, I still found it incredibly rewarding and even more telling that despite the fad for a skater, and despite his “Vans bro” pact he had with his skater friend, he chose to buy the canvas version of Stark’s exact pair of shoes. Those are the moments you realize just how vulnerable and impressionable every kid is. In hindsight, we suddenly realized when he had run home and put on his pink ADIDAS hoodie. Now, he’s buying the shoes and talking about how the covered front toe will keep his shoes from falling apart when skating. Not one single kid had ADIDAS on at the skate park. I noticed. I specifically looked. And in no part of history as ADIDAS ever been seen as a skate brand. This wasn’t just about practicality, this came down to the exact moment that Stark went and stood on his board, talking about his old days with skating. Stark stood there in his worn pair of ADIDAS Sambas, and a lasting impression was made. We weren’t the people that let him talk and called ourselves great listeners for it. We weren’t the people that threw down money and insisted we had made up for every missed birthday. We are the people that joined him in his interests. We genuinely joined each one of them. We participated. We made their world our world for a day, and it was the best day I could possibly ever imagine spending in the City of Angels.