Wednesday, April 28, 2010

“This is LA, we celebrate mediocrity”

Well, Los Angeles was certainly the strangest stop so far on this trip, and with the exception of not being able to eat at Randy’s Donuts or go to Venice Beach, I’m not particularly bummed that I had less than 48 hours here, since I totally Jack Bauered those hours.

Just before I arrived in LA, I had called the people I was hoping to crash with while I was in town. Unfortunately, they had just been evicted for, um…being too loud during personal relations. So I googled “Hostel, LA” and found The Banana Bungalow in West Hollywood. The Banana Bungalow is overly campy and tiki-themed to the max, and for some reason all of the foreigners there ate that shit up.

After checking in, I stepped on the patio for coffee and a cigarette. I was soon joined by two Brazilian men who were in town for Coachella. They asked what my plans in LA were;

Me- “Nothing concrete, really. Just going to wing it, play it by ear.”
Brazilian Man #1- “FIND WILL SMITH.”
Me- “…What?”
Brazilian Man #2- “The Fresh Prince! Hollywood! Look for the Fresh Prince!”
Brazilians in Unison- “DJ JAZZY JEFF!”

I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I was not going to spend my time in LA looking for the 1992 version of Will Smith.

Instead, I called my cousins Sean and Alex and spent the day hanging out with them and their awesome babies (that aren’t-so-babyish anymore) and getting a mini driving tour of LA. And now, as much as I’ve loved spending so much of this trip trying new restaurants and new foods, Alex made me a big homemade vegetarian feast and it was really incredible in the middle of the trip to taste slow food again. It was really fantastic to see family, hang out in the warm weather, and drink some wine. We capped off my visit to their place with a quintessential California dessert: Froyo.

After that, I caught up with my friend Bato at Golden State for french fries (with curry ketchup!), beer and ice cream. (Editor’s Note: to anyone reading this blog who is underage, do not listen when your parents tell you being a kid are the best years of your life. You can’t have beer and ice cream for dinner, so that can’t possibly be true.) Our waiter suggested we go to his friend’s bar, Surly Goat. Upon arriving, we made friends with the staff, as it was fairly empty for a Sunday night. They opened up the bar to Bato and I, letting us sample everything, and let us just start mixing shit together (Editors Note: Framboise and obsidian stout mixed together tastes like raspberry chocolate cake.) After we asked if they had any Sofie from Goose Island, they got the (completely misguided) impression that we were “girls who know their beer” and let us tap into their reserves, open their rare bottles, and browse the closed-to-the-public cooler. After about five hours and $120 worth of beer, we closed our $14 (!) tab and I stumbled back to my hostel, much to the chagrin of my terrified German roommate, so instead I had a tea party with some Irishmen on the floor of the common room downstairs.

In the morning, I caught up with Nyna, who I picked up in Arizona, Our mission was fairly simple: go to the beach. However, we got lost all over the Palisades and Santa Monica. It becomes especially hard to become unlose yourselves when the place where you’re lost in is so beautiful that you don’t really want to find your way out. So we drove around aimlessly, taking everything in and debating between pizza or burritos until we realized we could eat both. (Editors Note: My life is hard, please leave pity or kind words in blog comment section.) So we laid down a blanket and feasted at an empty beach, two friends who met as children and had barely seen each other since, sleeping and laughing an the shore in Santa Monica.

As Nyna drove back to Arizona, I wandered through West Hollywood, looking for a psychic to tell me exactly how the rest of my life was going to play out. I was hoping to find a shop that looks like Oda Mae Brown works there, but it was getting late and I had dinner plans, so I just stumbled into the first neon “PSYCHICS! PSYCHICS! PSYCHICS! LIVE NUDES” sign that I saw. (Editor’s Note: I made up the Live Nudes part.) This woman gives readings out of her living room and insisted that my life was miserable, that I had a very hard time making friends and connecting with people, that I hate my job and should quit, have an intensely close relationship with my parents, and am a hopeless romantic. There was not one single thing she said over the course of the reading that was remotely true, but maybe it’s my palm that’s the hack, not the $20 psychic on Beverly.

Leaving the psychic prepared to put in my two weeks notice and fall madly in love, I instead made dinner plans with a guy that I had gone to Canada with when I was 19. We called him Kilometers up there, but in California he goes by Miles. We headed to an Italian tapas trattoria by the Beverly Center, because apparently they are all about the fusion in LA.

Before dinner, I had received a text saying “What are your evening plans? Well cancel them, because we’re going to STEEL PANTHER.”  So as I was walking north down Fairfax, Jake and his girlfriend played Richard Gere to my Julia Roberts. (Editor’s Note: Except for the whole hooker thing.) Since the show didn’t start till 11, we went bowling to kill some time. I don’t know about you, but when I think of bowling, I think of beer-bellied old men with stories about ‘Nam, lounging around a wood-paneled alley, drinking Coors Light and getting a few hours away from the old lady. This bowling alley was not like that. More than a few people were wearing leather pants and drinking martinis, and when we walked in, Jake’s friend Caleb just winked at the bowling shoe guy and all of the sudden shots appeared and we were given free games of pool while we waited for our free bowling lane. Never underestimate the power of being attractive in Los Angeles.

So…Steel Panther. They are an 80’s hair metal cover band that has been an LA staple for years akin to Spinal Tap. However, many people seem to be either in denial or just not care that they are a fake band, as many legit hair metal fans showed up and the things that girls were willing to do to get the attention of these heavily-botoxed, over-40 actors in Nikki Sixx wigs was remarkable. Let’s just say there was a lot of hair mousse and vagina that night.

Anyways, the show is pretty small, you can easily stand up front by the “band” with little effort. That is, unless Dane Cook is there. Whenever celebrities show up at SP shows (which is fairly often since its on Sunset Strip), they wait until they get nice and sloshed and then make them come on stage to sing Guns & Roses songs. So we just stood there, singing Paradise City with Dane Cook, as he remained oblivious to the merciless mocking. And I was with the best three people for it, people who could appreciate not knowing what the fuck was going on and laugh hysterically but were not too cool to sing along when Every Rose Has Its Thorn started.

Morning came, I threw my stuff in a bag, freaked out my German roommate for the last time, and headed back to Union Station. So far the ride to San Francisco has been unbearably beautiful. We go in and out of tunnels carved through the middle of mountains and are 100 feet from the Pacific coast. There are stretches where we ride along on cliffs, but the fog is so heavy you can’t see past the rails and it legitimately feels like you are on the edge of the world.

Love from the rails of northern California,

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Arizona - Everyone has guns, but they're really nice.

The way to preface an entry about my time in Arizona is that it was absolutely incredible, but in a much different way than Austin. In Austin, there were a million things to do and a million eager people who just wanted to take you under their wing, show you their city, and laugh hysterically with you. What made Arizona so incredible for me is that while its pictures may not get as many “likes” on Facebook, the time spent there was the definition of connecting and engaging and having incredible conversations with interesting and intelligent people.

In Arizona, we drank strong espresso and drove around through mountains and palm trees and talked about politics and the education system and immigration reform, but also Celine Dion and monster-truck rallies. We ate midnight sloppy joes and Torino beer then talked about relationships over falafel and lemonade. We shopped for robots and records, as well as trombones in an antique store with a Doberman who nuzzles you as you shop. We went to biker bars and put Cher on the jukebox and Mexican restaurants where you could feast for $6 and get suspiciously racist stick-on mustaches for an extra $.50. We wandered around bougie boutiques mentally plagiarizing their overpriced goods before playing a board game called Mr. Bacon’s Big Adventure at a punk kid’s birthday party.

Earliest thing I see my first morning is Brian making me coffee with blue agave nectar and Fran prancing around pantsless, saying “I’m SO glad you’re here!” I think that is the most appropriate way to sum up Brian Kelly and Francesca Musumeci, in that they are inherently warm, and also that they know how to cut right to the core of me with my two weaknesses of coffee and an abhorrent attitude towards pants.

And while they insisted that Arizona culture is severely lacking, we still managed to hit up some really rad places, including:

Smeeks- Have you ever wondered where you could buy meatball-flavored gumballs, candy that you thought didn’t exist past 1992 and toenail clippers shaped like a ’57 Bel Air? Wonder no more. They also had my personal Kryptonite: a photobooth:

(The second strip was included in the price, which we didn’t know, hence the Ringu-like blank first frame.)

Red Hot Robot- not 24 hours before arriving in Arizona, I was brainstorming with a friend on how to properly celebrate Daft Punk’s robot birthday, and how tactless it would be to show up without a gift. I worry no more, because Ms. Manners would totally approve of my party etiquette after my stop here, assuming Ms. Manners has a chapter on how to properly behave at robot birthday parties.

At this point, we stopped being Brian and Meg, 24 year olds, and became like, Elmore and Gertie, 90 year olds, as we spent the afternoon antiquing, trying on sequin lion jackets and vintage dresses, searching for skeleton keys and reading postcards sent between friends in the 1920’s.

I have always said that I needed to see a southwestern sunset before I die, and while I saw one from the train in New Mexico, Brian sends me a text one night saying “find somewhere high, look west.” Ever obedient, I did and saw this:

And felt my heart explode.

In my first small-world encounter that Tempe had to offer, a girl from my old neighborhood that I grew up in (Sacramento Avenue, represent) works around the corner from the place I was staying and picked me up to bring me to A Mountain, where we hiked up and talked about her upcoming nuptials and family and happiness all while taking in this view on an incredibly crisp night where the air inexplicably smelled of barbecue. (Editors Note: Not complaining.)

For my second small-world encounter, my junior-high best friend had now moved to within 2 miles of where I was and found out I was in town. The only thing you need to know of running into her was that it went something like this:

Me: “Hey, I know we haven’t seen each other in 10 years and that we randomly met up 1,800 miles from home, but I’m going to LA tomorrow and you should come.”

Her: “I’ll pack a bag.”

So after getting an Amtrak-themed album from Brian, new books on the transgender experience from Fran, and a new travel buddy, its time for the Sunset Limited to Los Angeles.

love, mz

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Cat on the Back of the Milk Carton

On my way out of Austin, Caroline and I went to Phil’s house so that she could meet/abduct the kitten. While the abduction was delayed because she decided to do the honest thing and ask the kitten’s family if she could take it, I have full faith it will one day be hers.

Phil wanted to take me to Barton Springs as kind of a ‘Goodbye to Austin’ experience, but once I told him I had gone the day before and we both admitted we didn’t really want to swim, we went and ate veggie burgers and drank margaritas at Shady Grove instead. I think that was a better way to say goodbye to Austin. Speaking of goodbye Austin, this was my final image of the city-proper as I rolled out of the station over Lady Bird Lake:

The train ride from Austin to Maricopa, Arizona was much more stimulating than the one from Chicago to Austin. No hate on Springfield, Illinois or anything, but seeing a southwestern sunset disappear into the mountains on the Mexican border totally beats anything that the Midwest had to offer.

ALSO (!!!), I saw what I know now is the infamous Prada Marfa! We were riding along and I see this on the side of the road:

Now, I know I hadn’t eaten anything since the burger and margaritas yesterday, but I didn’t think I was at the point of dying and going to heaven yet, or even this strong of hallucinations to be seeing high-end designers in the middle of the Texan desert. Apparently this is Prada Marfa, a social commentary/art installation. Quoting Caroline, “All hail West Texas!” (Editor’s Note: Big up to Miuccia for licensing out her name and products for this.)

I also saw the country’s largest natural bridge, some bitchin’ landscape, and the aforementioned sunset, but because bombarding you with pictures of these things is the modern day equivalent of making people crowd on the shag carpeting around the projector in your living room to look at vacation slides, here is a condensed version of the anti-Midwest sights:

Again on this train I have refrained from too much socializing or even eating in the dining car. I’m totally that creepy girl who doesn’t take her sunglasses off, sitting alone eating only ClifBars while listening to her iPod*. I know its “part of the Amtrak experience” to chat it up with your fellow vagabonds, but I’m really enjoying the time for introspection and catching up on all the new albums I’ve been meaning to listen to. Plus, the only people that want to talk to me are creepy dudes with prison tattoos who I later catch watching me sleep at night. Hypothetically.

*Do not try listening to Fuck Buttons on a 30-hour crowded mass transit ride. I thought I would give it a shot to wake me up, and I just ended up freaking myself out and having to switch to Neutral Milk Hotel and Belle & Sebastian to reach any kind of emotional equilibrium again.

But I arrived safe and sound in Maricopa, Arizona with Brian Kelly and Fran, who were waiting with open arms, laughingly bitching in their coats about how cold the 60 degree weather is as I’m wearing a strapless dress. Back at Fort Tits & Bits, Brian gave me some Arizona beer that looked like a movie prop (and I suspect might kill me as soon as I digest it) and Fran made me vegetarian sloppy joes as we reminisced about Chicago (Yes, I was there four days ago, but its been years for Fran and transplants need a good Giordano’s recollection once in a while. Editors Note: Fuck Lou Malnati’s.)


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Everything really is bigger in Texas, including the hangovers.

So Zach picked me up in Austin, we went and got my first meal in literally days that was not a Clif Bar. I caught up with Zach over sushi and pad thai, only to learn that he now lives in Forney, Texas on a petting zoo with emus and a bounce house.

Next I went to my first stop on what would become Meg Zandi’s Tour de Booze & Food in ATX at Barfly’s, a hole in the wall where its so dark you can’t see anyone and beer is only $1.50, so its pretty heavenly. But it’s also pretty fitting that Barfly’s is one letter off from being Barfys.

The next morning I get a phone call from a friend telling me “Hey, I live in Austin now, I’m coming to pick you up.” We spent the day exploring vintage shops, listening to records, garbage-picking furniture, playing with kittens and drinking Modelo under his pomegranate tree. My life is really hard.

I was dressed for that. One doesn’t really need any kind of protective apparel to be supremely lazy. However, then we somehow ended up hiking (albeit through one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been). You know how they say “Anything Fred could do, Ginger did backwards and in heels?” Well that day, I did everything that Phil and Vinny did, including climbing a mountain and fording a river, in a floor-length chiffon skirt and ballet flats.

From here its probably easiest just to do briefs of what else I did, because otherwise I’ll ramble on about Austin and how I’m planning on quitting my job, selling my possessions and living on Steph and Carrie’s floor for the rest of my life.

Whataburger- I told myself I would not eat at any chains on this trip. I made an exception for Whataburger because its regional, so not really cheating. I do not regret this decision at all, because Whataburger is fucking phenomenal.

Rio Rita’s – organic veggie pizza, a patio filled with dogs and friendly people, and giant bloody mary’s.

Torchy’s Taco’s – famous Austin staple, fried avocado tacos with Phil & Vinny as our physical-activity reward/negation.

Homeslice- despite being so full of fried avocado that I was physically in pain, I still went to Homeslice to drink more of Texas’s sweet nectar, Lone Star beer. Also, our waiter here was a perfect doppelganger to the Elmo Gym Buddy in I Love You, Man.

Alamo Drafthouse- a gorgeous old movie theatre that comes and brings you cake and beer while you’re watching the fucking campiest films ever. After a preview for the only horror movie I think I’ll ever see, our eyes feasted upon “Phantom of the Paradise”, a horrifically-acted, fabulously campy Brian De Palma film about a deranged machinist-composer killing people covered in sequins named Beef because a poor-man’s Bud Cort stole his cantata.

Nomad’s - $1 Tecate, free packs of cigarettes, a dog that lives out on the patio and comes and sits next to you while you drink. No further explanation needed.

East Side Café- great menu, but we went at the same time as all the Ladies That Lunch, so we were too scared to talk so we just ate our fancy burgers and eavesdropped on people talking about what plastic surgery to get next.

Barton Springs- a natural swimming pool where the water is warm and the people are naked. As a Chicago native, swimming and sunbathing in April was enough to almost make me want to join the nudey crew.

Mighty Cone- not enough food these days come in cones, but Mighty Cone is out to change that. A trailer full of fried foods that come in cone form is precisely why I am considering never leaving Austin.

Hey, Cupcake! – delicious vegan cupcakes served out of an Airstream trailer by really adorable boys.

Haley’s Porch- this is not a Texas landmark. This is really just my friend’s porch where the beer is plentiful, the neighborhood is full of Bouncey Houses and a professional clown lives across the street.

The Liberty- it was after Haley’s porch. Recalled details are few.

Kerbey’s Diner- ah Kerbey’s. Its open past bar close, and serves massive amounts of queso and avocado-based foods, so I was in love. There is nothing like sitting at a table with 7 people you met in the last 24 hours laughing so hard you can’t breathe, inhaling a plate of food like you’re (insert name of that hot dog eating champion guy here).

 A million thanks to Steph and Carrie for not only letting a stranger sleep on their couch, but also taking me all over the city and showing me what's up. So much love and gratitude!

And to the new friends in you all.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

taking the train is not nearly as hoboriffic as the movies make it look

The night before I left Chicago, I said I’d go out and have one drink with friends to say goodbye, maybe two. Literally 12 hours later, as the sun came up, I caught a train home, threw some shit in a bag and left for a month.

The train was an interesting experience, to say the very least. Sadly, I was too hungover to really engage, but somewhere around Little Rock, someone stood up and said “Food Swap?” and everyone in my car pulled out whatever they had to offer, elementary-lunchroom-style, and started sharing food. I threw in my shittiest snack, a chocolate chip Kudos bar, and cashed in on some gummy bears (yes, I am aware this just earned me the worst kind of karma). Then some old dude yelled at me for not being married, so I just stared at him silently while eating my (okay, his) gummy bears before passing out again.

Otherwise, the train was all good. I know people were getting restless after being in one seat for 30 hours, but I, on the other hand, was really relishing the opportunity to be really, phenomenally lazy for 30 hours straight.

(Do not be fooled by these photos of Saint Louis. They look majestic, it smelled like rotten garbage and skunked beer.)

After I arrived in Austin, one of my oldest loves, Zach came to pick me up! I didn’t take a picture, so just take this one of us from nearly a decade ago and add some facial hair. On Zach, too, I guess.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Cue Europe's biggest hit..."The Final Countdown"


A few weeks after the ticket snafu, Amtrak refunded all of my money, and I repurchased my rail pass.

Things are just about confirmed, though I'm still waffling on whether or not I want to go to Los Angeles. Despite being home to Roscoe's World Famous Chicken and Waffles (a legit selling point),  I could make a stop in Santa Barbara instead, to see my dear friend who is currently living in a Suburban on the beach with a Bull Mastiff. I guess words don't really do it justice, but I think it could be a great time.

Anyways, I'm more than open to suggestions of things to do in any and all of the cities, and I've got almost no itinerary so let me know if you'd like to kick it!

This will probably be my last post until I actually hit the rails, so until then...

big love,