Fresh off the plane we walk a mile and Uber to my cousin's house. He remotely opens the garage door because he's an engineer and has that kind of power from more than 3 hours away. We've been up since 5 am. We're jet lagged. The smog coats the tops of buildings like a familiar blanket of wine that rocks a bum to sleep. The waves lick the Hermosa Beach pier. Signs read 'Caution, contaminated fish,' 'cuidado, contaminar,' or something, in Spanish. We find a dude at a taco shack who wants to go to the show tomorrow. He never shows.
A man on the beach tells us the hydro-electric plant closed down three years ago. "There used to be Indians there, a saltwater mine that went to the ocean." We offer our swings to his little girls. "I wanta go higher," one of them says.
Our nalgene is full of red wine and it's 4 pm. The loudest sounds we hear are a drum circle on the beach and several thousand people packed inside a small bar on the side street where the dives are. I see Steelers jerseys and smell cigarettes. An asian woman at a yoga boutique asks us a thousand questions and points us to a studio for the next morning. We check it out online. $24 bucks for a class. That’s more than a pound of Alaskan Salmon, for comparison.
We continue to enter stores with no intention to buy anything. It's $80 for a haircut and even the bums have iPhones.
Passersby engage in conversations with men who've got their sticky fingers wrapped around thick cuban cigars and their wrinkled eyes covered by sunglasses and their frail bodies concealed beneath polo shirts and their smiles are cracked like the adobe bricks that hold their houses together.
We run into a couple at the hostess table of a restaurant. I joke about being there for the lighted fire tower. I'm not joking and that's why they're there too, to stay warm. "I'm playing tomorrow at The Mint. It's on Pico Boulevard." I don't know that this last bit is true. But someone said that's where the place was earlier and since then I've been telling everyone who asks me. I still don't know where the Black Rose Tavern is, but I'm playing there, Friday, if you're around.
We came to this side of the country to go to a guitar convention. It's a music merchandise thing called NAMM. That's in Anaheim. If you know California (or have access to the Internet/any basic knowledge of US geography) you know that's not really near LA. But I figured it'd cost us more to stay in Anaheim and shuttle back and forth to the convention every day than it would to stay with my cousin in Redondo Beach. So we're doing that.
We get dropped off in Venice Beach by my cousin around 9 am and a dark dreadlocked man on the street who later reveals his name to be Alejandro, asks me to play him a song. "It's in tune," he says, handing me his guitar––it isn't. And the strings are sticky from all too familiar hand-rolled cigarette fingers. But I play and he sings the refrain with me and so does Lauren. It's nice. Makes me feel something. "I'm Alejandro," he says. "Dees is Dolly."
I introduce myself and tell him the same thing I'm telling everyone, about my shows. I doubt they'll show up. It looks like they haven't moved in years. They've got a giant bear that's propping up Dolly. Alejandro says his arm is dislocated and that's why he isn't playing his guitar. "I gotta geddit feexed," he says, interrupting himself to speak to a passersby as he holds up his sign.
He's originally from Mexico, but now he's from here. Another person walks by and Alejandro starts his pitch, holding the sign. It reads: 'Why Lie, Need Beer,' a phrase I’ve seen before, with the flip-side reading 'Hungry Hungry Hobo.' The man says he doesn't speak English. "Hablas Español?" Alejandro says, and repeats the pitch again.
"They don't," he says after I finish a song about people practicing what they preach. "Things are changin, man," I say, though I'm not sure that's true. I hug Alejandro and give him a sticker. "Do zee honors man," he says, and I slap it on his guitar. Me and Lauren walk down the pier past cafés and parked cars and signs for sunglasses––2 for $10.
Venice Beach hasn't changed. I came here 3 years ago before I went to Australia and it was pretty much the same then––except I only got 1 pair of sunglasses for $10.
To the right are the same huts that sell sunglasses and shirts that say things like "I pooped today" and "I don't need Google. My wife knows everything." Pieces of text that should be reserved for Hallmark cards and Internet memes.
To the left are the same tent cities that consist of people who pawn their pictures and overspilled texted mismatched scratch-mastered CDs to tourists, hoping or, perhaps even believing, they're moving forward. They have ambitions to travel and yet seem content with staying in place, asking people the same thing day after day. I guess they’re hoping someone will leave a generous donation of a record deal or some other such form of what Todd Snider calls 'Easy Money.' I met a guy in Denver who thought that’d happen. He was good, too. Said he was going to New York. Had a guy from a company and everything was set. He emailed me later telling me it fell through. Pretty common in the music biz. Everybody says they’re gonna help you. But you really just gotta help yourself.
I hope they're writing, too, these people. The ones carrying dogs and spitting fire and selling $40 legal pot license assessments and holding signs and strumming missing-string guitars and eating pizza out of dumpsters and collecting cans for cash and sleeping under tents on windy beaches where the world seems to have forgotten that we're all a disjointed struggling mess of a family.
I hope they're writing about the one hippie walking the boardwalk with a guitar, but not playing it. "There probably isn't even anything in there," they think. That's me. That guy with the guitar. And here I am writing about them. The people sitting in the sand being the only ones they can. As if I were any better.
It's 10 miles from Venice Beach to the Santa Monica promenade and we walked it. All of it. We've been walking for 5 hours or so and we finally got food so we're good and full. Vegan food. We're doing the vegan thing now. 'Cause we watched a documentary and felt bad about animals and eating them and saw graphic images of a duck being cut in half. And that was screwed up, to be honest. And there's the whole pollution piece. About 40% of greenhouse gas emissions are from animal agriculture. People need to know about stuff like that. I'll bet that duck had a family for crissake.
The last time I did yoga was over 4 days ago. Same with running. My body feels weak. My lips are purple from the wine. The more I drink the less I feel my body. I'm playing in a little over an hour. We're talking to a man named Dennis. He's homeless, but was once on ABC News with his band. He plays the blues harmonica and puts my sticker on his bucket. Now he's a drummer on the street. Lost everything because of drugs and alcohol, a recurring theme in the entertainment genre. Alcohol and pills will getcha.
My cousin drops us at The Mint. There are 3 people and a sound guy who introduces himself. We do a sound check and everything is ready to go. Lauren and I leave to grab fries at a Burger place. There's some kind of jewish event happening. I know this because everybody's wearing Yamikas. That’s a family right there. For some reason, I feel like smiling and shaking everyone's hand and saying thank you.
Back at the show, I play and smile and tell stories and show people who I am and people clap. Some whistle. A couple people say they liked it, but that's the protocol at a show, usually. Most people don't say you suck. Those people are really the ones I like, actually. The real ones. They make me try harder in life. There’s nothing more powerful than someone who says: "no you can’t."