On Tuesday, August 17, 2010 I decided it was time to move to Los Angeles to pursue my career in Entertainment. I had been struggling with the idea for about a week (and been planning it for a year) and I remember sitting in the family van with my brother in Newmarket, unsure of whether it was the right time. I was really stuck, there were pros and cons on both sides. I ultimately decided to go, based on the notion that when you can't decide between the risky option, and the safe option, you should choose the risky one. Or at least that was the kind of person I wanted to be. So I said bye to my friends and family, packed up the van with everything I wanted to bring with me, and two days later I was driving that same 1996 Honda Odyssey down the driveway and around the corner. I remember thinking "Okay, time to get back into adventure mode." I was pretty excited.
One of the real objectives of this trip was to make my way across the continent without a map. My parents gave me a GPS but I turned it off as soon as I rounded that corner. All I knew was that I was headed southwest, and all I needed was my grandfather's compass to get there. That compass originally belonged to my great great step grandfather, Nova Scotia's Captain Guy Tanner. In a collision at sea he reportedly lost 21 of his 28 men and was never the same afterwards. That compass got him through WWII so I figured it could get me to California.
In the months prior to my trip, I took careful precaution to not look at any US maps. I knew little about the layout of the states and I wanted to keep it that way.
I left Richmond Hill around 1 pm and hit the border several hours later. On my way there I refined my story about the "vacation" I was going on and my imaginary friend in Michigan. I didn't want to lie but the U.S. doesn't want more filmmakers, especially ones without a degree (I was a Dean's List drop-out) so there was no way I could immigrate legally (trust me, I looked).
When I reached the border I told the guard my story but he had me pulled over and my van searched. It's a good thing I didn't end up bringing that 'package.' (Note: NEVER attempt that. EVER. Not worth it. America is a big place, it has plenty of fruit already.)
Anyways I eventually made it across the border and grabbed some dinner ("10 McNuggits for $2! I love this country!"). Then I got some gas ("What the hell is a galleon?") and headed out east to Chicago. About a half hour in I decided I didn't want to see the Midwest so I turned South and hit, to my surprise, Ohio.
Ohio was cool. It was dark for most of my stay so I didn't see a hell of a lot but I passed through Toledo, Dayton and Cincinnati and found a great classic rock station. Speeding down the I-75 at night listening to Great American music is how I remember Ohio. At some point I might have passed through Indiana but I'm not sure. When I hit Cincinnati and crossed the bridge into Kentucky I was awestruck, it's such a beautiful, colorful night skyline. Wasn't expecting that.
Kentucky was alright, it was dark and foggy for most of my drive. I didn't stay on the highway the whole time, I veered off into a small town at some point and walked around a bit. Saw a gun store for the first time in my life. Eventually I came across a huge, beautiful high school in Bourbon county (I just googled it, apparently it's called Bourbon County High School). They had an enormous football stadium. Walking up those bleachers under the giant lights, I finally understood why high school football is such a huge part of American culture.
Eventually I hit Tennessee and pulled into a gas station parking lot to get some sleep. After a couple minutes a cop (dressed in beige cop attire) approached my window to tell me, in his Tennessee accent, "I just wanted to let you know I'm here, if you need anything." Cool.
The next morning I wandered into the gas station to use the bathroom. Some Cletus-lookalike guy in the urinal next to me said "Hi," I greeted him back. "Ur not from round ere?" No I told him. But he was friendly so I liked him.
I was hungry so after an hour or so of driving I pulled over in some small town. I parked on the side of the road and made my way up to a little corner restaurant but it was closed. "On a Friday afternoon?" That's when I realized the town was empty. There was pretty much no one around and lots of stores were closed down, broken windows. Recession. Right. I hurried back to my van.
Drove for a bit longer and eventually ended up grabbing some breakfast at a diner. Had eggs and some mushed potato or corn dish I'd never heard of before, (might of been called "grits") then I continued driving south, unsure of where I'd end up next. Eventually I started seeing signs for Atlanta so I knew I was in Georgia (or at least I was pretty sure). Most of the license plates said Georgia but on the highway you get a fair variety so you can never be sure. I pretty much sped through Georgia, I was eager to get to Atlanta to dip my feet in the Gulf of Mexico. Turns out Atlanta is hundreds of miles from the Gulf of Mexico, but I wouldn't find this out for months (I actually just checked now).
Next I hit Alabama and started singing "Sweet Home Alabama." It wasn't a very good rendition but what else are you supposed to do when driving around alone for days on end? You talk to yourself a lot, just to exercise your throat muscles. I usually end up debating with myself, explaining why things are the way they are and all that.
So Alabama was pretty cool, I drove around some small towns a bit but I still wanted to see the ocean and Texas. So I was pretty surprised when I stumbled across this little place called Mississippi. Basically the main thing I got from Mississippi was a love of baseball. And there was a song on the radio about a "Mississippi girl," basically a tomboy with small town values and such. The radio stations out there were pretty red, but a good way to get a sense of local culture.
Next I hit Louisiana, which still wasn't Texas, but I was happy not to have missed it (I thought Louisiana was east of Georgia). By this time it was starting to get dark and I still hadn't seen the ocean! New Orleans was breathtaking though. The highways were like huge rollercoasters, I sped all over that city and had a hell of a time. Then I crossed a giant bridge that seemed to go on forever. Unfortunately it was late so I couldn't see much of the view, but the skyline was still awesome.
Started to get hungry at some point so I pulled into a parking lot around 3 am and wandered into a 24 hour restaurant. The cashier asked me what I wanted and I told her anything cheap that's a local specialty. There was a guy standing beside me with a cowboy hat on. I complimented him about the hat and he seemed really surprised and pleased. Eventually I got the sandwich and curly fries, and devoured it while watching Seinfeld on a TV in the wall. It was huge, saucy, messy, and delicious. I thanked the waitress a couple times and headed out. Weeks later while talking to my black roommate Koy about it, I realized that everyone in that restaurant was black and that my friendly demeanor was apparently a bit unorthodox for the region. Interesting.
Having now seen the ocean, but not stepped foot in it since I couldn't find the way to the beach, I head West and eventually entered Texas. At last! I drove for a bit and eventually got a room. The next morning, on my way through east Texas, I saw a young hitchhiker and picked him up. Unfortunately he only needed a fifteen minute ride. I talked to him a bit but he didn't have a lot to say. Turns out his dad is an electrician and he's the apprentice, but his dad was giving him a hard time so he was moving to a different city with some friends.
On my way through Houston (or San Antonio) I spot a car ahead of me with a sign on the rear window about selling knives. I'd been meaning to get a knife so I sped up to try and wave the guy down, but he sped up too! I didn't have a lot of time since I was running out of gas so I sped up more, but so did he! I couldn't catch him! I thought, "This is ridiculous, this is the worst salesman in the world, he's actually fleeing his customers!" Aggravated, and therefore determined, I chased the guy down this busy highway for several minutes. The highways were godly - several lanes wide and they swooped around each other like rollercoasters. It felt like I was miniature in a world built for giants.
Still chasing the guy, I noticed two monster trucks that seemed to be aggressively competing with me for the left lane. Furthermore, my speedometer had been broken for weeks so I didn't know how fast I was going. So there I was, speeding down these crazy highways, chasing a knife salesman, being chased by twin monster trucks, running out of gas, and having no idea where I was going or how quickly. So it was pretty much the highway scene from The Matrix Reloaded. The only thing that was missing was a samurai sword, and I'm pretty sure there was one in the salesman's trunk!
Eventually I totally lost the salesman and pulled over to get gas. He was just too fast to catch in a minivan.
The gas station didn't have self service as an option, to my surprise, so some Mexican worker approached the car, respectfully referred to me as "Sir," and filled it up. I learned it's the little things that make up culture.
Next I hit El Paso. The landscape and architecture were fantastic, unlike anything I'd ever seen before. I figured I must be close to Mexico now because the city basically seemed to be Mexico. Turns out I was on the border. I pulled into a Chilli's to grab dinner, sat at the bar and ordered a delicious chicken alfredo pasta. What looked to be a family of four were sitting a couple stools down from me, one of those 'perfect' Texan families. They were all attractive, all-American blondes. Of course the one I noticed the most was the teenage girl, but there was another guy her age sitting beside her. Not sure if it was the boyfriend. They were conventional, but they seemed happy enough. I tried to imagine their lives, their secrets, their beliefs. I think I kind of looked out of place there with my long hair and messy clothes, and I felt it. But I retreated into quiet contemplation as I am so often accustomed to do, and enjoyed my pasta.
My playlist is currently on Lindsey Buckingham singing "Landslide" and I think it's sentimental tone has subconsciously affected my writing.
I didn't hit any big cities in New Mexico, I was already over halfway through it when I entered through El Paso.
At the border into Arizona there was another car inspection. They pulled me over and sent in dogs to sniff it out. I thought "my dad wouldn't like to see those dogs on the upholstery," and "NEVER traffic anything," also "I hope they don't ask me why I'm bringing two guitars, recording equipment, and pretty much everything I own on vacation." They didn't ask. Unfortunately, I didn't get to see the Grand Canyon. That was the biggest downside of not having a map. I loved the Arizona desert though. There was another inspection on the way out of Arizona but when the guard saw my face he just let me pass without question.
So by now it was evening, and I had just entered California. CALIFORNIA! I knew I wouldn't be leaving for some time. I shouted a "Woo!" or something.
After a few hours of speeding through the night desert sky I spot a vast array of lights in the distance. As I drew nearer I thought "My God this place is so huge it must be L.A.!" Sure enough, it wasn't L.A., it was Indio, a city 300 times smaller than L.A.
So I got a room somewhere out there in the desert..
The next morning I woke up to realize how deep I was into the desert, which was awesome. I love the desert, it feels like you're in a giant toaster oven. Snug and warm.
It was now the fourth day of my trip and I knew I'd be hitting L.A. in a matter of hours. I didn't know exactly where I was going to stay when I got there, but I'd figure that out soon enough.
Alright the next section of this story requires musical accompaniment. It's about one of those moments where the lyrics of a song seem to be describing your life as it's happening. If I ever tell the story in person, there'll be a live band playing behind me, but for now we'll just have to use a recording.
When I indicate, start the song and then keep reading. I've written the following section in such a way so that it's roughly timed in sync with the music, and with a little effort, you'll be able to read the lyrics as the song is singing them, thereby recreating the experience and thought process I had on my way to L.A., and which I've recollected below.
If you reach the lyrics before the song does just wait for them. Or you could just ignore these instructions and ruin the experience. You're free to do what you want with your life.
Start the song now then continue reading.
Okay so there were several musically magical moments on this trip, times when the radio played the right song at the right time, like it was a soundrack to a movie about my life. But what happened as I entered the L.A. vicinity was the best. You've got to understand my love for the song "Hotel California" by The Eagles. It's one of those songs that just takes a hold of a certain part of your life, it just takes you to a certain time and place.
Well a few years ago during a chat with my best friend, Trever, I told him "In five years I'll be driving through the desert in a red convertible listening to this song." He said "No you won't." That's Trever. Now I did ride through the desert on this trip, but my vehicle wasn't a red convertible, so I didn't listen to the song. I still have time.
Anyways, as I was entering the L.A. area, getting all excited, the radio puts on, you guessed it: "Hotel California." And so there I am, all excited to finally be here, after years of waiting, and I'm listening to the lyrics, like really listening to them:
On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair
Warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air
Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light
My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim
I had to stop for the night
And I'm like, "Well that was last night, that was Indio."
There she stood in the doorway;
I heard the mission bell
And I was thinking to myself,
'this could be heaven or this could be hell.'
(Keep reading, ignore the song)
And then I was like "...is this a warning?" Now I'm not a superstitious man, I'm an Atheist, which is why I don't believe in this stuff, that it was an actual warning, but I can appreciate the artistry in the universe, the way coincidences play themselves out, and the way we can choose to have them affect us.
(Right now you should be around the chorus)
Keep in mind my state of affairs as I'm hearing this - I was a straight A student, originally planning to go into Law or Medicine. Now I'm a university drop-out and aspiring filmmaker, a young artist off to an uncertain future in Los Angeles. "This could be heaven or this could be hell" pretty much sums it up. Am I making a mistake?
Her mind is tiffany-twisted, she got the Mercedes Benz
She got a lot of pretty, pretty boys, that she calls friends
How they dance in the courtyard, sweet summer sweat.
Some dance to remember, some dance to forget
Some don't dance at all.
So I called up the captain,
'please bring me my wine'
He said, 'we haven't had that spirit here
since nineteen sixty nine'
(Keep reading, ignore the song)
Okay so it's getting spooky here, but it's the last verse that really got me. Anyways you should be at another chorus about now.
Alright back to my state of affairs: So I'm driving to L.A. "the city of dreams" or "the city of crushed dreams" as the locals call it. I don't know anyone there, I don't know where I'm staying, where I'm even going to park, and I legally can't get a job. I'm a generally confident person but everyone has their doubts.
Mirrors on the ceiling,
The pink champagne on ice
And she said 'we are all just prisoners here,
of our own device'
Yeah that's L.A. alright.
And in the master's chambers,
They gathered for the feast
They stab it with their steely knives,
But they just can't kill the beast
Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
'Relax,' said the night man,
'We are programmed to receive.
You can checkout any time you like,
But you can never leave!'
And of course at this point, at the incredible solo, don't I enter a tunnel.
So here I am, the last line I heard is "You can never leave," and now I'm racing down a one way tunnel, no ending in sight, like a tunnel boring down into hell, the lights flashing past me, and the solo is still going, and I'm realizing "as an illegal immigrant I can't really leave, I have to stay here until I can get a green card."
And so the solo is still going, and I'm speeding to my like destiny, to the legendary Los Angeles, a city notorious for it's heaven/hell duality, and this incredible solo is the only thing I hear, with the lights still flashing by me, and let's just say it was amazing. Let's leave it at that.
So upon exiting the tunnel I was basically in Los Angeles, maybe even technically, I'm not sure where the city line is. I kept heading west until I hit Westwood, home of UCLA and the only L.A. district I knew. While looking for parking I spoke to some guy who told me about this Santa Monica place, by the water. I didn't know then that I'd end up living there. So I decided to check it out.
Drove out to the Pacific Palisades cliffs and parked, then walked out to the beach. Set my feet in the water and admired the view I've now come to know and love. Then I started to head back to the van and that's when I met Gary. But that's a whole other adventure.