So, I got back from the USA yesterday. It has been maybe the biggest adventure of my life in terms of intensity, distance travelled and general amounts of new, weird, cool stuff.
I appreciate that seeing other people's holiday pictures can be a bit... well, either boring or uneccesarily jealousy inducing... but I hope that in illustrated form and with accompanying captions to assure you that it really was *not* all fun all the time (although it was lots of fun), this will be some kind of interesting ride for you too...
So on April 23rd, I got the train down to London to stay with my wonderful friend Michael (who lets me stay at his place so often and so generously!)
I got an email the day before to say that it was only £15 to get a first class train upgrade and I decided that as I was ON HOLIDAY I'd treat myself. TBH it probably wasn't worth it, but I had fun feeling wealthy and special for a couple of hours, and drinking a cup of tea from a ceramic mug.
So something that's gonna become pretty quickly apparent is that I did more than one drawing a day while I was travelling. I just realised that I wanted to do my memories of this trip justice, and when I'm away from work I enjoy spending some extra time drawing, even if some of them are not great, it was a fun and soothing process to be doing a lot of the time, which let me tell you, I needed...
Anyway, flying. I don't like flying.
Nine years ago, I met US comedian/musician Reggie Watts. I didn't really know who he was, but had followed him on Twitter after someone else posted a funny video of him doing his thing. Pretty much the day after I followed him, he tweeted asking if anyone in Brighton fancied hanging out, as he was at a loose end before a show there the next day. I too, was at a loose end, so... sure. Why not right? (I use this anecdote forever as my life example of: be adventurous, go places, say yes to things — you never know where it might lead)
What proceeded from there has been one of the most unlikely, wonderful friendships (and briefly romances) I could ever have imagined. If you've seen Reggie's work you'll probably get the idea that he is one of the most spectacularly intelligent, articulate, weird, talented performers out there. I knew none of this when I met him, but it all became very quickly apparent. I am continually flattered and amazed that he enjoys hanging out with me — goodness knows I love hanging out with him.
Anyway, the point of all this is to say — he got me my flights. I'd been planning this trip for so many years and had just about managed to scrape together the money for budget budget budget flights (Norwegian do some great deals!) I messaged him to tell him I was going to be in LA and suggest we should hang out, and he asked why I was visiting. I told him it was my 30th birthday gift to myself, and without hesitation, he was like 'oh, I'll get your flights of course!'
I had pause for like... about 10 seconds? Then, yes, of course. For him this is just a drop in the ocean... For me, it's EVERYTHING. It makes this trip possible, basically. I might be the luckiest girl in the world though. Believe me, I appreciate this pretty infinitely.
And when the tickets came through... Business class. That, I clearly did not ask for or expect. This will likely be the first and last time I ever fly business class unless my life takes some very unexpected turns, so I tried to make the most of it, although sadly many of its facets may have been lost on me, as someone who doesn't drink alcohol, is vegan, and is fundamentally unable to sleep on a plane, no matter how comfortable the bed.
But anyway, I definitely DID enjoy many aspects of it, like the special treatment speeding you through check in/security, and the ridiculous lounge. Again, there was lots of free booze (sorry for not taking advantage of that, friends), lots of free food (but very little vegan, sadly), but I most enjoyed comfortable quiet seating with power sockets, and toilets where you had a whole room to yourself rather than cubicles. It's the little things...
On to the plane... Again, the seats are lovely, but they immediately hand you about 10 things as you board (giant pillow, blankets, headphones, wash bag, champagne, bottle of water, menu, customs card thingy, pen...) and then immediately start making brusque announcements about how everything must be stowed away but HOW, WHERE... And then rest of the flight was basically just me being awkward and getting things stuck down the side of the seat/lost in the folds of my skirt. OH, FOR A SHELF or a DRAWER or something (business class complaints, lol)
Completely failed to sleep on the flight (although it was daytime, so not that much of a problem although a nap might have been nice), and then suffered some fairly brutal phobia horror on the landing into Boston...
The thing about me and flying is this: I have a phobia of vomiting. I also have motion sickness. Sometimes flights get choppy. I am utterly terrified of vomiting on a plane. Scared about the plane crashing? Nah, not in the slightest. Freaked out by flying? It's weird, but also, fine. And yet I still spend whole flights in a state of anxious fear for reasons entirely different to most people who spend flights in a state of anxious fear. Luckily it was mostly smooth, but the landing into Boston seemed super choppy to me (no one else seemed bothered though, so it probably wasn't that bad), but that meant that upon landing, rather than being all 'YAY AMERICA!' I was all 'I need a quiet sit down and a glass of water and some quiet breathing exercises', which is not ideal.
But you know, I had that sit down, and that glass of water, and did some breathing, and calmed myself down enough to get the bus then train to my friend Deb's place, where I sat in a cafe and waited for her to return from work.
Everything felt VERY INTENSE, possibly a hangover from my stressful landing, all smells felt really strong and unfamiliar, and everything seemed very visually striking — I think just my little brain taking in all the new unfamiliar details of the world around me. Goodness knows I am fascinated by details but it isn't always helpful in this kind of context.
Details like, for example, American toilets. I have both IBS (thankfully no flare ups at all this trip though) and the tiniest bladder (sadly stress-induced for a great part, so that was not super helpful). I go to the toilet a lot. I notice toilets. And let me tell you, American toilets are WEIRD.
For starters — the water is like a lake. Why is there so much?! I went into about three toilets at the airport assuming they were all blocked and then realised: the water is just that high over here?! And then, those toilet stalls. Just HUGE gaps top and bottom, and even gaps around the sides of the doors so you can see right in?! No American who I asked was able to explain to me any logic for this. It's just how things are done, and let me tell you, it sucks. And then the flush? Like...? It SUCKS somehow, rather than pushes? Some of them are INCREDIBLY LOUD and terrifying, others disconcertingly quiet. There is no in between. I found it deeply unnerving and entirely different from how UK toilets work. And the flush handle is generally weirdly located such that you have to lean way too low over the bowl to reach it, this is all bad design guys, baaaaad design.
Anyway, I got settled at Deb’s place, she took me to Wholefoods where I got incredibly over excited about American groceries, but still all was not well. On the first night when I should have been getting right with my jet lag, I just did not sleep, due to sudden and agonising toothache. OH NO guys, OH NO. I do NOT want to have to engage with the US healthcare system on this trip. I feared a cracked filling, and realised that, were that the case, waiting 3 weeks until my return home to get it seen to would be deeply unwise, a) because of ongoing pain, and b) because if I left it that long I might need root canal on my return. Spent a long while inspecting it in the bathroom mirror trying to figure out what the hell was going on. Did some salty mouthwashes. Leroy the cat smashed one of Deb's nice sentimental-value glasses that I used for said mouthwash because I left it in a place where Leroy smashes things and I didn't realise it was a special glass. Still feel guilty.
Found a local dentist who would look it over for just $25, and thankfully (I guess), it turned out to be a wisdom tooth coming through, with the prescription: tough it out/painkillers. Honestly, this came as a huge relief. Despite the pain, I knew that it was kind of... an okay pain? Which psychogically put me in a much better place. However, in order to come to this conclusion, they had to give me an x-ray. Now, I have (medically diagnosed, its official!) 'tiny mouth'. This means that those x-ray machines which just slot tidily into most people's mouths are an absolute nightmare for me, and getting it to the back so they could photograph the wisdom tooth was just making me gag and panic (again, the vomit phobia). This was NOT IDEAL, so despite the reassurance of knowing what was wrong, another distressing 'Am I going to throw up' moment so soon after the previous day's motion sickness put me in not a great headspace.
It was also raining, which was not great, but I didn't just want to fritter away the day hiding in Deb's flat feeling sorry for myself (which was my first instinct), so I forced myself out to explore. I ended up meandering past the Mary Baker Eddy Library, a Christian Science institution, which is home to the famed 'Mapparium'. The Mapparium is a giant stained glass globe that features a map of the world as it was around 1935. It's an utterly beautiful thing and I am hugely resentful that they won't let you take any pictures of the inside. I want a selfie with your shiny map, damn it guys. Afterwards, I strolled around a little more, got a lovely vegan burger lunch at a great chain called 'By Chloe', and treated myself to some very nice coloured pencils to cheer myself up, and enable me to render the Mapparium in glorious technicolour. (Honestly it felt extravagant at the time as they were about $23, but those pencils were one of the best purchases of the trip.)
The next day was my work day, visiting Kings Boston, one of the group of colleges I work for. I've worked for Kings Education as an in-house designer for over 7 years now. I love the variety of what I get to do, while also enjoying the consistency and brand building of working in-house. Because we're a small team, I get to touch on everything from brochures and advertising, right through to interior design, educational materials, manufactured products and running training/education for fellow colleagues in design software, which was mostly what I was doing this trip. We have a number of locations in the US, the most prominent of these being Boston, New Jersey, New York and LA, all of which I was finally getting to visit. This was super exciting to me, having been email corresponding with people who work at these places for a number of years in some cases, not to mention having been seeing pictures of and marketing these places for so long, I was so excited to finally see them in real life. The lovely ladies at Kings Boston gave me the most excellent welcome, and the sun finally came out!
But despite a lovely day meeting lovely people, all was still not entirely well with me... The pain in my tooth was distracting and stopping me sleeping well, which meant I was struggling to get right with the jet lag. My motion sickness was proving a real struggle... I was driven by several people over my time in the US, and let's just say.... US driving style seems a bit more agressive than in the UK, particularly in Boston. Hard off the lights and sharp into stops and junctions and corners. This did not treat me well. Plus the bladder stuff I mentioned earlier.
All of these things were combining to make me start feeling the outside edges of panic attacks creeping in. Panic attacks are not a regular feature of my life, thankfully, and I'm usually able to talk myself down by recognising them in their early stages, but still. Not doing super great.
Deb took such good care of me though. She took me to the H-mart which was the most incredible intense ridiculous Asian supermarket I've ever been to. They had ALL THE THINGS. And more. I got intrigued by an entirely new foodstuff to me, Korean rice cakes (the dense, gelatinous ones traditionally served in a spicy red sauce, or in soup). Deb bought some and cooked them up along with loads of other delights and it was amazing!
My failure to deal with jetlag meant that I was waking up anywhere between 4 and 6 each morning (and tired by about 8 at night!), not helped by the bin lorry coming past VERY LOUDLY every morning at prescisely 4.50.
But I'd sit in the darkened room and watch them do their thing, fairly admiring of their timing precision and efficiency, if nothing else.
Despite aforementioned physical struggles, I was also very conscious that I’M IN AMERICA. I’ve dreamt of this for so long. I can’t just stay in and hide all day, no matter how tempting that might seem. So I definitely forced myself to get out and about, although preferring to go for several shorter outings rather than full day trips anywhere.
I managed to go for a run — I'd been very keen not to stop running while on this holiday, because I was worried about losing the small amount of fitness I've gained over the last year, but it wasn't until this three days in that I felt able to make it out. I'm so glad I did though — I ran along the river early in the morning in glorious sunshine and it was one of the most beautiful, joyous runs I've ever done, with university rowing teams gliding down the glimmering river and the buildings of downtown Boston glinting in the sunlight.
Later that day I also managed to go see some of historic Boston, but look, let me be honest, I have very little interest in history in general (SORRY) so I enjoyed pretty buildings, ate some tasty food, went to uniqlo in Quincy Market, had a lovely time, but generally probably didn't engage with it on the level one maybe should.
In the afternoon I travelled over to the MFA (Museum of Fine Arts) and saw, amongst other things, the incredible Escher exhibiton that's currently on there. He's clearly a genius, but some of his lesser known works were what really struck me, so it felt particularly worthwhile. I also spent far too much money on terrible/amazing art themed socks, which I am blaming entirely on jet lag...
The next day, more glorious sunshine, more out and abouts. Went over to Harvard to pretend to be wealthy and intelligent. Then in the afternoon, to Downtown Boston, to stand in front of the Atlantic ocean from the other side to usual, and admire the big tall shiny buildings.
Bit of Deb fan art... But no seriously, my friend Deb is great, she let me stay in her apartment for nearly a week, fed me all kinds of lovely foods, give me rides, lent me rain wear, and generally offered the best possible welcome to the US I could have asked for.
The next day it was time to leave Boston and head down to New Jersey. My general dislike of flying and love of trains meant that I was pretty happy to be doing this bit of the trip by rail. I was visiting New Jersey pretty much entirely for work reasons, although was actually genuinely happy to be seeing another bit of the US outside of the major cities like Boston, NY and LA.
The train journey from Boston to Trenton NJ was around 5 and a half hours, and actually, it somehow flew by. I really enjoyed looking out the window and seeing the different landscapes we passed through. The route actually went right along the coast of Rhode Island and Connecticut, which was beautiful, and then we flew through NYC and on down.
My colleague Chihae (who I'd never met before, but had done Skype chats with) had incredibly generously offered to let me stay at her place, and she met me at Trenton station with her wonderful dog Lexi.
We drove back to her place — an apartment in Lawrenceville, right round the corner from Rider University, on whose campus Kings Education has a base. I arrived mid afternoon on a Sunday, but Chihae somehow managed to give me a MEGA TOUR of the local sights in that short time...
We drove into nearby Princeton (of Ivy League university fame) where there was a cute street festival going on. She walked me round the beautiful university campus, including the pretty impressive art gallery (for a small town of that size), and through a combination of stealth, lies, and outright pretending to be students, into Princeton University's beautiful reading rooms. We also walked around a church, where I briefly had 'a moment'. Despite being religious, my religion generally takes a fairly quiet form of background comfort with few moments of that intensity that some religious people seem to describe. But in this church, there was a choir singing a hymn, I don't even know what it was, but it was one I've heard and sung all my life, from the tiny presbytarian church in the town where I grew up in Wales, through to the church I used to attend in Brighton before I became a Quaker... And here I am, on the other side of the world, further than I've ever been before, and here they are singing the same hymn, and I felt all my fears and anxieties washing away, replaced by a sense of deep calm, and comfort, and support and almost... weightlessness? It was, briefly, beautiful.
(But don't worry, back to business as usual anxiety wise, soon enough...)
We got some great pizza, and then Chihae took me to TRADER JOES and WEGMANS, two huge, weird supermarkets full of amazing strange things and I had the most amazing time while also being distressed that there was TOO MUCH GOOD STUFF and NOT ENOUGH TIME TO EAT IT ALL
So the next day was mostly work day, although I say work, it was actually more like Chihae giving me a tour of the Rider campus and me getting super hype about what a sweet deal US university students get. ENDLESS WAFFLES! 24 HOUR DANCE STUDIO! LOADS OF BIG COOL ECHOEY ROOMS TO HANG OUT IN! But you know, also a lifetime of debt, so swings and roundabouts I guess. We did do some actual work, and then Chihae, having grasped my fascination with American late capitalism took me to COSTCO and let me tell you, I had a wild time. Bought loadsa treats. Cooked ourselves a lovely dinner and chugged a massive iced tea.
Got a reasonably early night, but then awoke at 2.30am to just the most brutal panic attack... As I said earlier, usually I can see them coming and sort of stave them off with careful breathing and thinking, but somehow just flung awake, heart racing, fast breathing, and no IDEA why. Clearly this was horrible. I did not wish to freak out my new friend Chihae by waking her up, so lay quietly in the dark trying to talk myself down with much appreciated help from my friend Nat (with everyone in both the UK and US fast asleep, she happened to be working in Australia, which meant it was mid afternoon for her, and she could respond to my incoherant Whatsapps!)
I eventually fell back asleep, but was uneasy, as this was very uncharacteristic and strange, and I had no idea why it would happen, and, indeed, whether it would happen again.
Here's a not very good drawing of New York. I went to New York. The commuter train from Trenton to NY was much less salubrious than the long distance train, but it got me there in around an hour. New York was very hot. I'd been excited to use the subway system because I am a public transit nerd, but the directional signage was TERRIBLE such that I felt constantly uneasy about whether I was even going the right way.
I was very tired from bad sleep the previous night, but again, I'm in NEW YORK CITY, I must not just sit sadly in this small bedroom pondering on my failings, I've gotta get out there. So I forced myself into central Manhattan, perhaps not the greatest place in the world for someone feeling anxious and on-edge, and managed to find myself a very delicious vegan cream cheese bagel (and more cream cheese than I've ever seen in one place in my life), living the New York dream.
I then walked over to Central Park. Only a few blocks, but it was pushing 28 degrees, and I found myself feeling incredibly light headed and exhausted. Realistically, this was because a) hot, and b) tired, but at the time I was like I DON'T UNDERSTAND I HAVE EATEN AND DRUNK PLENTY WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME. Central Park is obviously beautiful (and SO much bigger than I'd even imagined, despite knowing it was big). I managed to explore a tiny corner of it then decided to cut my losses and head back to the Airbnb. Very tired, very hot (another delicious cooling iced tea helped) but extremely happy to have managed to get out, and despite all my weak physical body struggles, just SUPER PSYCHED to be in New York.
There was a place that I could go and grab some dinner just 5 minutes walk from my Airbnb, another 'By Chloe' which was the same place I'd got the great burger in Boston, so I was like 'cool, safe, easy and close, I can manage this'.
Got there, proceeded to feel the beginnings of another panic attack coming on. WHAT WHY?! have I come out to the USA to have a full blown mental breakdown?!
I managed to eat and then left as quickly as I could. I tried to go to Wholefoods to buy some provisions but barely managed to get around without having a full freak out, this was by far the worst I've ever felt panic-wise in a public place, and there was NO logic behind it, my sensible brain was like 'Emma what are you even scared of, you're in Wholefoods, you LOVE Wholefoods', while my body was like ADRENALIN! PANIC! HORROR!
Oh boy. Walked home trying to distract myself with all the incredibly beautiful things and people I saw walking through the Williamsburg neighborhood I was staying in (which, by the way, was lovely.)
Came home, sat quietly in my incredibly hot airbnb room, listened to an extremely boring documentary about reggae on late night time-shifted 6 music, and managed a fitful night's sleep, although thankfully woke up the next day feeling a lot better, which was good, because it was a work day!
I got the train from beautiful Grand Central station approx 40 min up to Bronxville where our college was. It was a beautiful day and a beautiful place, although over 30 degrees by this point which really is at the upper limit of my okayness.
Worked for the morning and then headed back down into Manhattan. Despite still feeling lingering residual stress, I really wanted to try and make the most of my time there, so I forced myself to go visit the High Line, which I'm SO glad I did, as it was an utterly wonderful public space, honestly probably my favourite park I've ever visited.
I headed back home via a wonderful vegan pizza place, stopping into a little shop on the way home to grab some cold drinks (it's still incredibly hot, not dropping below 28 even during the night, which in a room with no air conditioning is pretty tough). I ponder my choices in the refrigerator. Man, those iced teas have been so delicious
The iced tea
The panic attacks
IT WAS THE FUCKING ICED TEA
So friends, I learned a lesson.
And honestly, I felt SO much better for realising that was what had been going on. I don't drink coffee, caffienated tea, or even coca cola. I barely ever have any caffeine, and this is how I react when I do, although it's never been this extreme before. I used to drink the occasional red bull in my teens, when the effect was to make me even more bubbly and talkative than usual, but the last time I had one about 5 years ago, I remember that feeling — everything is going too fast, my brain, my heart, my lungs. Another 5 years on and it turns out that any concentrated amount of caffiene is enough to fully tip me over the edge into freaking out. I drink lipton's iced tea in the UK but apparently that doesn't have enough caffiene in it to make me feel anything, whereas US iced tea brands DEFINITELY DO. No more delicious iced tea for me. But also no more panic attacks. So, you know. This is okay.
By chance, my friend Wes was in NY at the same time, so we went out for breakfast together at incredible Champs vegan diner the next day. Wes is something of a vegan spiritual guide to me, he always gets the best deals at H&B and always has the hot tips on the freshest new vegan treats. This breakfast was no exception, just some of the finest delicious heavy (but fresh and tasty) vegan comfort food I've ever had. An absolute joy.
In the afternoon it was still just unbearably hot. I lay in my airbnb sweating and drawing and reading and listening for a few hours then forced myself to go out — was going to go to MOMA where it would be cool, but knew I wasn't in the headspace to spend long enough there to make the $25 entry fee worthwhile, so instead went to Macy's for more capitalism and air conditioning. Woohoo!
I spent a couple of hours there, then headed through the store towards the door by the metro line. As I emerged onto the street, I was confronted by a scene of absolute chaos — dense white smoke streaming everywhere, and people running in every direction, coughing and panicking. It appeared that two buses had just crashed, but the smoke was so dense and so strange it was hard to tell whether the buses were the cause, or had crashed because of it, and it was coming from somewhere else. In the panic the most logical thing to do seemed to be to try and get down into the metro as I'd intended, but once I got down the stairs surrounded by people also coughing and panicking, the smoke was just as thick down there, and I worried I'd made a horrible mistake, but I pressed forward through the barriers and it cleared, although an acrid smell remained.
I still have no idea what exactly happened, and it wasn't exactly what my already fragile sense of okayness needed, but I managed to get myself back to my Airbnb fine, thankfully (although not after getting on a train one stop in the wrong direction thanks to that utterly terrible signage)
In the evening I was meant to be going to see Shigeto at Elsewhere space, which I'd been really excited about. I went to the venue, stood there for about 10 minutes and then was like 'it's too hot and I'm too tired, I can't take it', bought a nice tote bag, and then left. My biggest gig fail ever but I think the right decision. (So sad to have missed though, apparently it was an incredible show)
The next day it was time to leave New York, and you know what, sorry New York, but I was glad to go. I want to return one day but I want to return when it's not pushing 30 degrees and I don't feel like I'm in the middle of a nervous breakdown.
Getting to JFK was a bloody nightmare too. (I mean, it all went smoothly, it was just a HASSLE, there didn't seem to be any easy way).
I don't like flying. It was 6 hours. It was fine. But I didn't enjoy it.
My work had arranged a ride from the airport for me, which I was very greatful for. The driver was INCREDIBLY talkative for the hour's drive (traffic!) to my airbnb. It was mostly very self-indulgant life story stuff, but peppered with random interesting geological and meterological facts about LA, which I guess kind of made it okay.
My Airbnb was LOVELY. This was the first place where I had a place to myself, and although I'd felt very welcome everywhere else I went, this was the first time I truly felt at home. Alfred briefly swung by to say hello. We stood in the beautiful (but finally not too hot) sunshine. There was a lovely dog. And a cat. And chickens. And the most beautiful flowers everywhere. Everything is beautiful in LA. (This is not true. But in that moment it was true.)
I'd been super excited to go see Baths at El Rey Theatre that night, but proceeded to fall into a deep sleep for about 12 hours and it was GREAT. GREAT! (Sorry tho Baths. ILY. Second gig fail of the week)
I woke up to more perfect sunshine, the peaceful sound of chickens clucking, and feeling refreshed and myself for the first time maybe since arriving in the US.
I walked to the nearest metro station to head downtown. I was fluctuating rapidly between 'this is the best place ever I'm so in love' and 'woah there are SO many homeless/vulnerable people, this is devastating, (and I feel quite unsafe in some ways)'. It happened that MacArthur park is particularly bad in this respect, but still, it was a recurring theme across all of LA, more so than anywhere else I went. It was utterly heartbreaking to see so many people with terrible health problems (mental and physical) living out of so many tents strewn across pavements. It's been said before and will be said again, but it's shocking that this is happening in one of the richest countries in the world. (The UK also has it's problems. This is not me making light of the situation here by any means.)
Downtown LA was not much better in that respect, and I found myself prey to more catcalling/random abuse (and compliments on my hair, admittedly, which makes a change from the UK) than I've ever recieved elsewhere, but somehow DESPITE this, still so so in love with the place. Visited 'The Last Bookstore', famous for its artful displays and just... being great, I guess? Also LA's main library which is a very lovely building, Grand Central Market, and more general meandering. Also, WHOLEFOODS
This Wholefoods was like... 10x more exciting even than any other Wholefoods I'd visited so far (and I'd visited basically every Wholefoods I'd seen). I legitimately got close to weeping with joy (while being disgusted with myself for getting so excited over some fucking miso mayonnaise and vegan cookies when there were people on the street just clinging on to life with barely any food/money)
But yeah, sorry, I did get really excited about the vegan miso mayonnaise, a whole cupboard of fresh baked vegan cookies, seemingly infinite fresh cooked food/salad bar, all the vegan cheeses, all the vegan meats, just ALL OF THE THINGS. Ah, capitalism.
And the COLOURS. Such colours. LA has the most incredibly beautiful, vibrant plant life, there are actually palm trees everywhere, and a huge penchant for beautiful hand painted signage and generally just loads of colour on everything. I love it.
The next day Alfred took me out for some brunch at a vegan place run by a cult. No, not Loving Hut. Another vegan place run by a different cult. There are probably others too. He suggested the most 'LA' thing on the venue, a big mound of acai berries, coconut yoghurt, granola, cocoa nibs, fresh fruit, and other such wholesome nonsense. It was very nice of course although I'm really *not* vegan for the health benefits...
In the evening I went for the briefest of catchups with Reggie. He was doing a short set at a tiny comedy show in Silverlake. This was kind of weird and felt like back when we first met. It was cute and fun, and we had a nice time. He is also the busiest person alive right now, with the James Corden thing, Taskmaster, and having just released an album this week (with John Tejada, as 'Wajatta' — I may be biased but it's VERY GOOD and you should defnitely check it out)... We planned to meet again later in the week, but we both failed (he let me know too late and I double booked myself, sigh!) so we never managed it. (He's in London in June though, so we'll see each other then, fingers crossed).
The next day, I went bouldering with Alfred in the morning. I used to go bouldering myself, and briefly got slightly better than beginner level good, but it all slipped away very rapidly when I stopped. Alfred goes pretty much every morning when he's in LA, so he is quite subtantially above beginner level good, while I have sufficiently weakened and regained the fear that I found it hard to even get off the ground. (And when I did, it was very undignified). Oh dear. We ate more food afterwards though and I am good at that.
In the afternoon I went and got my nails done with the utterly incredible Kelly, aka Bakenekonails. I'm not even going to tell you how much I spent. It was simultaneously more than anyone should ever spend on nails, while also being a complete bargain considering how much of a genius she is, and what absolute masterpieces she created. My inspiration points were 'dazzleships', 'The OMD album artwork for dazzleships', and 'that beautiful orangey pink colour of so many flowers in LA... and guys, she nailed it.
In the evening I just meandered happily around the neighbourhood I was staying in, just so joyous and overawed at how beautiful this place is, how incredibly far from home I am, and how ridiculously lucky I am to be here. No drawings or photos can do it justice really. LA is a complete joy.
I had an afternoon of work to do at our LA college in Hollywood. ACTUAL HOLLYWOOD. Starstruck more by the place and its history than any real interest in movies or movie stars. Starstruck nonetheless. Most starstruck by Amoeba records, the most incredible record shop, famed for its huge selection, long history and fantastic in-store shows. So, so excited to finally visit. And spend all my money. (Now would be a good time to note that I'm back at my desk and available for freelance work, right?)
After work, my colleagues took me to their Downtown LA office, for drinks at the bar on the roof of their building. They've long boasted about this, and I was always like 'yeah, whatever', imagining the UK equivalent, which would be cold, concrete, windswept... But this... Another moment of just... awe. In some ways, one of the most beautiful, certainly most striking places I've ever been, and SO LA. Sun setting, full of beautiful people up on top of the marble tower. Leafy plants and colourful sofas and loungers abound, with the setting sun reflecting around off the surrounding mirrored skyscrapers. Words and pictures can't truly do it justice, but I am so lucky to have been to such a place, strange and alien though it felt in some ways.
(I am aware that if you picked up one of those beautiful people and suddenly deposited them on top of the hill five minutes walk from my house, they might be similarly overawed by the sheer majesty of nature and greeness and splendour of the Yorkshire countryside, but what can I say, I'm hot for cities, and no amount of nature will ever move me like this kind of urban view.)
LA has held an important place in my heart for many years. As well as CLEARLY being the best of our US college locations (or so the marketing materials I produce have convinced me, and I stand by that having been there), it's also the home of a huge amount of my favourite music.
The LA beat scene has turned out/hosted countless of my favourite musicians — people like Flying Lotus, Daedelus, Tokimonsta, Baths, Busdriver, Samiyam, Thundercat, Dntel, Nosaj Thing, Teebs, Jonwayne, Kamasi Washington, Knxwledge, Linafornia, Mono/Poly, Open Mike Eagle, and so so many more.
(If you're interested, there are a couple of pieces here and here that talk a bit more about this scene and offer some recommendations)
(I've also put together a playlist of some of my favourites here if you wanna dive right in)
This whole scene has to a great extent soundtracked my life for the last decade since I first stumbled across Flying Lotus' music while I was at university. The sound of this stuff is so intertangled with my visions of Los Angeles of a city, and indeed often created with that place in mind by the artists, it's been such an incredible privilege to finally visit the place where all of this has come from. It's super varied, from Kamasi Washington's all out jazz through to heavy, hazy beats from the likes of Linafornia and Samiyam, rap artists like Jonwayne, Open Mike and Busdriver, Daedelus ridiculously eclectic and vast back catalouge, but everyone somehow shares some kind of... shimmer. Some kind of sunlight. Some kind of something that just makes it so unmistakably and inextricably Los Angeles — the Los Angeles of my imagining, which actually fits pretty well with the reality I've now seen some of.
The absolute centre of this scene is long running clubnight Low End Theory, each Wednesday out of the tiny Airliner nightclub on North Boulevard. This was an absolute must for my time in LA, and the whole thing was just an utter joy start to finish. I was introduced to Daddy Kev (one of the founders), shook his hand and and entirely failed to say anything meaningful about the huge impact the scene he helped found has had on my life. I met Wylie Cable, the head of Dome of Doom, one of the most incredible labels putting music out in LA right now, and we flailed happily at each other, as I was so excited to meet HIM, but somehow HE also knew who *I* was, and was excited to meet ME, what even?!
The music was incredible, start to finish, residents D-styles, Nobody, Kronika and Daddy Kev, and guests Aztek, DJ Brace and Daedelus. Just loads and loads of incredible music through this ridiculous soundsystem and I'm FINALLY through my jetleg and anxiety and physical struggles to just completely let go of all my worries and actually ENJOY it.
I am the luckiest.
The next day was my last full day in LA, but time for one of the most important parts — ocean! Alfred gave me a ride over to Santa Monica with another delicious lunch en-route (LA knows how to vegan), and while he ran some errands, I walked down to the pier, taking in my first ever view of the Pacific. So very far from home, so hard to believe. Another ocean. This is a terrible drawing of a beautiful place.
The pier was a joy. All the bad pier things. Trashy fairground rides and cheap food, but I love piers, and I love these pier things, and it was so strange to experience them away from their usual British seaside context for me.
I wandered down onto the beach, and dipped my feet in the ocean. At least partly for Alex, who I knew would have considered it a very missed opportunity not to dip my toes in a different sea. It was definitely worth doing, although as I walked back up the beach I became aware that they were coated in places in this thick, black substance that no amount of scraping or wiping would get off. Oh, just the TAR PITS and the sea is full of TAR and these people are just swimming in it like they don't care and apparently this is entirely normal, but no one told me. Fine.
Drove back at around 4... The drive out had taken 45 minutes or so, returning took around 2 hours, due to LA's ridiculous traffic situation, which basically means trying to get anywhere by car between about 13.00 and 20.00 is just hopeless. How does everyone live like this?!
But you know, it's not so bad when you're with someone you like, and out of every window view is some new, strange marvel of nature or architecture or infrastructure that is just entirely exciting and fascinating.
(But seriously though, sort it out LA, build more metro.)
And then, home. The flight home was the longest, and it felt it. I did not sleep. I think I am broken. Planes don't do good things to my body. For some reason I have to pee SO much. Just an anxiety thing maybe but there's really no reason for it (or does anyone know of any science why this might happen particularly on planes?), and it's tedious and embarrasing and means I really can't follow the well worn advice about remaining hydrated on flights because otherwise it's just EVEN WORSE. And my hands also get SO DRY. Why aeroplanes, why.
Due to all of the above and generalised 'I hate flying', I completely failed to sleep, just lay in the dark listening to Boards of Canada thinking about life, and death, and America, and my bladder, and home, and away from home, and feelings, and hopes, and dreams.
Also ate two weird af meals. Aeroplanes take on vegan is... not normal.
Three weeks of anxiety, travel, uncharacteristic heat, and 24 hours without sleep, kinda took their toll tbh, although weirdly I'd felt radiant throughout most of my time travelling (radiant aesthetically if not physically or mentally).
However, I am delighted to say that upon getting home, after a short nap, I powered through Eurovision like a champion (another blog about that soon with this year's drawings), slept solidly for 10 hours, and woke up with absolutely no ill effects — everyone said jet lag would be worse this way, but with the exception of feeling like death at the precise moment this picture depicts — standing at baggage reclaim in Manchester airport surrounded by a rowdy stag party feeling like I might die — I've since been fresh as a daisy and sleeping at entirely the accepted times, which is frankly, nice.
I've written a lot. It's been a lot. Well done if you made it this far. It's been good to write about it, even if no one else does make it this far.
Normal service will resume now. But a part of my heart is in LA.