Tag Archives: travel

Gothically Beverly: Underbelly of The Hills

29 Aug


Gothic Bev THE SIGNGlorious weather, gorgeous youth (real or not), and gargantuan wealth.That’s what most Americans think of 90210, yes?

Mike's wedding fire and pool

Beverly Hills  has all that of course, but I’m continually struck by an elusive something dark  just around the corner of  Sunshiny Happyland. Something not happy or sunshiny or youthful. An element of… not evil (everybody knows that’s here!) exactly, but a strain of the Gothic. Something Mary Shelley would appreciate.

gothic car under wrapsAll the cars under wraps, for starters. A body-bagg-y thing.

And,  the preponderance of spikes:

Gothic Beverly ashy spikesThey’re everywhere.

Gothic Beverly spikesAs if this were not  just the land of the rich and beautiful, but also where the Munsters live.

Gothic Beverly  black spikes

And then the ubiquitous pruning style:

Trees Gothicly

Ed Gorey meets Ed Scissorhands! But despite a heavy-handed human approach, nature here will never be completely managed.

gothic tree roots

These roots speak to me of an underbelly in the Hills, a submerged thirst for the perverse and uncontrolled. It’s in the air too:

Gothically Beverly

And down certain streets:

gothis sidewalkAnd certain alleys:Toilets Gothicly

Ok, maybe I got carried away one day channeling Shelley, Gorey, Ken Russell, and David Lynch (and a little Faulkner). But check out this lawn and tell me you don’t feel the dark, stark, and eerie isolation of  the Hills:

gothic statue of liberty lawn

Told ya! What’s goin’ on in 90210?


Nothin’ to worry about. The Wives (and the Juice Lady) have it under control. It’s all healthy, wealthy, and wise here…IMG_0472

Most Days.

I bite Nicolle

Come vist, Dear Reader!

Happy Shiny Sunnyland awaits you!

IMG_0030(8) Everything is as it appears.




















Rite of Purification At Blue Wave Or, Alarms Blare As Sacred Cow Gets Bath (Forgive Me).

19 May

Before I rolled into LA last January, I stopped in Arizona to get my oil changed; the guys at Lube Up asked where I was headed.
“L.A.!!!” I yelled, with on-the-road-alone delirium.

“You cannot drive into L.A. looking like that,” the handsome stocky oil man said grimly. Fortunately he was talking about my car–at least that’s where his finger pointed. The Pruis had been through two snow storms, the dust bowl, and a couple psychic breaks. My girl looked her age.

I followed his advice and got Little Sister all gussied up; she didn’t look like Beverly Hills exactly, but she looked like good clean fun–which was perfect for driving down Santa Monica and singing Sheryl Crow.

So fifteen months later, I have a job as a personal assistant, and part of my responsibilities include driving Madame around and I couldn’t let that happen until the Prius looked and smelled better than she did. I’d had the car cleaned twice since moving here–in LA LA ethos, that’s like sending your un-toilet trained toddler to pre-school without a diaper. It’s neglectful to the point of abuse, it’s disgusting, and it could be a sign of a psychotic break. (Why does that keep coming up?) Or, simply a sign of the devil.

In L.A., the semiotics are simple: Your Car, Your Child. Or: Your Car, Your Mother. Or Your Moral Worth. Or: the Size Of Your Male Organ. At any rate: OUR AUTOS, OUR SELVES.

Back on the Santa Monica Boulevard, I found the BLUE WAVE CAR WASH and pulled in, only to be dazzled by the options.
car wash signs

And the prices. I won’t say what I got, but suffice to say it cost me what I get paid for quite a few hours of work. Duty called, I answered. And no one would accuse the Pruis of being trash or ungodly. I am what I am; leave my car out of it.

The Blue Wave Car Wash is actually shaped and painted like a wave, graced by the most scraggly palm trees I’ve ever seen.

car wash dying palm trees

That The Blue Wave has its own gift shop more than makes up for its riffraff plant life.

car wash gift store

Who doesn’t want, while waiting for the car to be cleaned, to buy some potpourri and funny cat figurines? I’ll admit that, far more seductive to me was the taco truck.

car wash taco trunk

The Blue Wave has an outdoor waiting area.

car wash sitting area
Where there are ads reminding you of all the other things in your life that need attending to.
carwash ads

While your car is transmogrified, you can find out where to find a new surfboard, DUI lawyer, and drug counselor.
I sat down in a big comfy black faux-leather chair, spilling salsa onto the seat, and dropping jalapeños down its cracks. It was a few minutes before I saw the signs on the wall alerting me to the fact that this was a massage chair, and unless I was paying to plunk myself down there (not to mention whipping up jalapeño puree in the chair’s pillows), an alarm would go off.

car wash chair alarm

Hence the terribly loud WAHN WAHN WAHN that had been blaring just about the same amount of time I’d been wolfing the taco in my comfy seat. I jumped to standing attention, looking as innocent as it is possible for a woman with a filthy car and salsa on her chin.
But, low,and behold!

car wash guy washing my car

But by now the Prius wasn’t filthy; she was Renewed! She preened under this man’s TLC. She made up for my salsa, my sins.
Nevertheless, I remembered Sheryl’s lyrics:
This ain’t no disco
This ain’t no country club either, this is L.A.
And the girls just wanna have some fun, by sittin’ around
Drinking beer at noon on a Tuesday with an ugly guy named Billy
In a bar next to a Car Wash on Santa Monica Boulevard.

In a few minutes, I got into my pristine and lemon-fresh automobile. I cast a brief glance around for Ugly Billy…and then headed home. Car cleaned! Conscience clear! Mostly. At least (I hoped) no one would spot the psychic breaks and spiritual slips under the tire dressing, clay wax, and air freshener. About the jalapeños, I am truly sorry.

Back On The Road: Wilshire Boulevard, Scott Sportster, Biking Past And Present

12 Apr

ciclavia me with bike I got a bike! (Never mind that Peggy and Carol and I were actually looking to rent a car. But low and behold, behind Enterprise Rentals there was  a hole in the wall  with used–possibly stolen?–bikes, and while Peggy and Carol got a car, I negotiated the hole-in-the-wall-bike-guy down sixty bucks!) My Scott Sportster is black and white, and I don’t have to squirm uncomfortably when I swing one of my hip replacements over the seat. It’s the first Girl Bike I’ve ever owned.

AND THEN I found out about CICLAVIE: April 6th, Wilshire Boulevard is closed to cars for several miles, and you can ride or walk from Beverly Hills to Downtown. Talk about an antidote to LA LA LAND AUTO CULTURE! And talk about my virgin ride. Well, let’s don’t talk about it. Let’s just enjoy the photos: The Gaylord–a classic line of text in the sky. ciclavie Gaylord Most people were riding together in groups–families, couples, friends. Lots of people had music blaring from small CD players. ciclavie girls in pink I was caught up in the fray and so happy to be on my new bike. I was also feeling alone. You have a date tonight, I reminded myself.  We made our way into KoreaTown. ciclavie Karoke And through some hybrid neighborhoods where the aromas in the air spell WEST COAST NORTH AMERICA. ciclavie Mexican chicken, Thai, Sushi That I was flying on my new (used) Scott Sportster as if we’d been together forever, charging into Downtown LA with thousands of other bike riders made my heart sing. I remembered riding my bike  in Champaign-Urbana in the 1970’s–to the swimming pool, to my job at Lincoln Square, to friends’ houses. Many of the streets were  made of thick, red bricks. Bumpy. There were also bike rides out to the farms, just blocks from my house. Cows, soybeans, the white square houses of farmers.  Decades later, riding my bike in LA, I am Midwestern Girl singing the song of the open road on Wilshire Boulevard. . .whodathunkit!?ciclavie riding through parkPedaling in the hot sun, I remembered my son Noah becoming a serious biker at 14, riding 40 miles a day on a regular basis. It scared me because of his Type 1 Diabetes. Of course he carried juice and a granola bar and a phone–but the phone didn’t work out there on those Finger Lakes roads. At first I watched the clock the whole time he was gone. He always came back. He entered races, and won first or second place.

He biked a hundred miles around Cayuga Lake in the local AIDS-Benefit ride. I drove around the lake, meeting him at pit stops. He was one of two of the youngest riders to finish. The next year he wanted to do it again, and  didn’t want me to follow him. I had one of those parent epiphanies: this is not your journey; it’s his. (I followed him anyway.)ciclavie Bradley This is Bradley. (His mom let me take the picture.) Bradley channels  Evil Knievel, Lance, and Superman. And he smiles a lot, though NOT for the camera. I also met Minerva (who smiles on and off camera.) cic la vie Asian girl At a certain point, I realized my front tire was a little flat, so I stopped to get it inflated. ciclavie bike repair   Wouldn’t you know, as the friendly pump guy filled the tire with air, the inner tube broke. He replaced it for free. I was on the open road again! I started to think about time. ciclavie stones in air Actually not as poetic as all that. Just remembering I was supposed to call my date at 5, and then we’d meet up at 6. I felt dread. I didn’t know why. ciclavie DEAD END I realized I would rather see a friend, talk to Noah on the phone, watch a movie alone, take a walk–than have this date. He is a kind, warm, attentive guy. What’s wrong with you? ciclavie tar pit On my way home, passing La Brea Tar Pits–the metaphors were piling up. I just don’t feel the urge to see him. IMG_1464 I decided to call him and suggest another night. Right, wrong, don’t know. How important is chemistry–at this age? I think I need it.

The whole trip–my virgin ride on the Scottster (my bike and I had become close so nicknames were in order)–was a mere ten miles. But it had carried me somewhere new, and memories of bike riding had emerged from the tar pits of my brain.

A decade ago, I followed Noah’s lead and bought a serious bike and rode it regularly. He and I did two triathlons together. He kicked ass.  I was just glad to finish.

ciclavie skateboard and push pole

Toward the end of CICLAVIE, I saw this guy, one of a group of young people on a skateboard, pushing themselves with poles. Talk about Hybrid Cultural Go!

Aim. Push Off. Don’t take yourself too seriously.  Short and long strides, feel the road and fly. Make sure someone knows where you are. On this journey.

LA LA LA: Love Affair with LA LA LAND continues!

26 Feb

A year, and I’m still in love–requited? Who knows. But LA LA Land has been pretty good to me around this one-year anniversary. I got a story-telling gig, some new floral arranging customers, and now I’m blogging at the juice bar (as well as continuing to peddle the green stuff in Beverly Hills). I’m now Kirsten at Kreation@wordpress. If anyone asks, my Ph.D. was in nutrition.

This blog is a visual love poem to my newfound home. Entirely family-friendly visuals. (Never fear, Dear Reader, raunchy porn poem to follow! )  Let me start here:

IMG_0069-2This is the roof of the Thompson hotel; it’s a block away. I sneak into the hotel as if I belong there, sit by the pool or in a cabana and watch young beautiful people talk about “treatments”–both kinds, face stuff and screenplay stuff, and appreciate the fact that as a middle-aged woman I don’t feel the need to pose. Treatments, shreatments.

I love this  low-key monument in downtown LA:


The history! The schmistry! The 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s early 70’s are alive and well (sort of well). Driving around LA, I feel like I’m on a tour of  post-Fordian to early-social-revolution Urban American life.
Oasis Motel

Try looking at this and not singing a Burt Bachrach song:

car washIf that didn’t work, this’ll getcha:

playboy officerI do like glamour (and tolerate some retarded notions about femininity.) I like that  last week, a TV show was being filmed TV on my block.

No park filmingThey begged me to play the role of the Woman In Transition but I had to get to the juice store.

I love that LA has several Kosher Mexican restaurants. My fav:

mexikosherI love LA’s  plant life. And lack of irony.


IMG_1823(The first image is what I see out of my window when I write.)

I love that people wear what they want, do what they want, and look you in the eye and say “Nice handbag!” Or they look you in the handbag and say “Nice eyes!”

I’ve come out of a shell here and feel like there’s a certain there here, a kind of home where no one blinks an eye at my amalgam of identities: ex-academic, juice girl, fashionista wannabe, writer, adoring mother, floral arranger, Jon Hamm stalker (don’t tell him–I’m getting SO close.)

IMG_0892This city  holds me rapt with its kooky worldliness,with its beauty–natural and unworldly.

IMG_1795 Dear Reader? Tell me what makes your home, your home.

Over the 405 and Through Security To Ex-Stepmother’s House We Go

2 Dec

Noah at LAXIt’s been a long time since Noah and I have had a “normal” family holiday. Our family’s not normal. So suffice to say, it made sense to us to travel from Los Angeles to West Fairlee, Vermont for five days for Thanksgiving to visit my ex-stepmother, and Noah’s dad and stepmom. Family is as family does, and ours–does. Some things but not others. Like all families, normal or otherwise.

Fourteen hours after leaving LAX, we drove into Cleo’s driveway. Four decades ago, for four years, Cleo was married to my dad. She and I have been in close touch ever since–through her second marriage, her adopting her son (my brother!) Chris, my marriages and divorces, Noah’s arrival, and a lot of people dear to us dying. Noah and I climbed out of the rental car, and  crunched over the yard into her farmhouse kitchen. She had chicken and potatoes and pie in the oven. We stayed up talking until 2 am.

Cleo at T-GivingThis is Cleo remembering a kiss from Derrida. If you’re not familiar with the name, look up French Theorist Anyone Would Have Been Thrilled to Be Kissed By.

Next morning I woke up looking out the window at snow, ice, fur trees. Dorothy not in Beverly Hills anymore. Noah was downstairs, wide-eyed at the weather, and a Pendleton hat someone had at left at Cleo’s. She gave it to him.

Noah and Mom on Cleo's porch

We walked around outside.  Cleo lives right next to the West Fairlee Church. 19th- century. Stunning. A treasure of the community.

Fairlee church

Also, I got married there. Some time ago. Marriage didn’t work out but as you can see, God had nothing to do with that. The humans failed.  Noah strung up the lights for the coming Sunday service. Noah believes in God, one of the many cool things about my son. Not attached to a particular religion though. One of the many cool things. . .

Fairlee LakeDriving into town, we passed dark, delicious Fairlee lake. I’ve been swimming there since I was 12, Noah since he was 2. We played the “remember when” game: “Remember when we played tennis there, and got kicked off the courts because it was private?” (yup.) “Remember when. . .” We also talked about the future: “Do you have a plan, Mom?” (kinda.)

Then we got to Fairlee Center and went into Chapman’s–one of my favorite stores *anywhere*. Ike, the Counter Cat, was in his usual place:

Counter Cat

The counter. Next to the counter we found a singularly New England treat. (Like poi bowls at the Santa Monica Beach.)

turkey jerkyThey don’t have these cases of jerky at my Beverly Hills Whole Foods.  Newly vegetarian, I turned up my nose, while my mouth watered. Next stop the Fairlee Diner, a locale about as Vermont as you can get. Nothing without butter, ham,  syrup.

Fairlee Diner(Spot my cane?) We drove then to Hanover to shop at the Co Op. And then I looked all over town for a menorah because this year the first day of Chanukah fell on the same day as T-Giving. SO. . . I knew Hanover was WASPY, but the one and only menorah available was in a craft store and cost two hundred dollars!

It was time to return to Cleo’s and welcome our friends Mary and Jeff–who drove from New Paltz, NY, to spend the holiday with us. Mary is a kind of aunt to Noah, and he  a kind of nephew.


Noah spent the evening with his dad and stepmom who had driven from Ithaca to see him.  Jeff and Cleo talked solidly for hours because–as it turned out–they wrote about very similar theological issues. (Derrida, Death, and  Tao was all I could glean. And that Jeff had not been kissed by Derrida, but he was cool with that.) Mary, meanwhile,Mary making menorah got busy making a menorah for Chanukah. Look what the shiksa from Texas made with slate, pine–and, of course, play dough:menorahA fine addition for Mary’s resume. (AND NOW AVAILABLE IN CRAFT STORES EVERYWHERE FOR TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS.)

That night I slept the way one does in the cold,  dark, and safe, and then it was Thanksgiving.

Noah making beetsWe had many many dishes of various kinds; this is the beet man with his yellow and red stir fry. I made up a fennel and parm and olive thing that I would marry if I could and will probably never be able to duplicate. Sweet holiday moments. Not meant for replication.

T-Giving, Noah, Mary, Mom

Only once did I get into my cups and say silly self-pitying things. I found everyone lovely, and everyone seemed to tolerate me.  Even though she was under the weather, Mary cooked amazing dishes, cleaned, and made the now legendary menorah.  Cleo made everyone feel special and loved. Jeff fit into this brand new scene with people he’d never met like a real mensch. Deecie, Cleo’s sister, brought pie and belated birthday presents for me. (BIG THANK YOU, DEECIE). Noah was the best Noah ever.

And when it took us over twenty hours (two out of three flights were delayed) to get home, he just kept laughing. Especially when we got into the cab at LAX and the radio was playing “Jingle Bell Rock.” Tears were rolling down his cheeks. The absurdity of the traveling mishegas,  of the wintery song in the midst of a warm night with the windows rolled down,  palm trees bursting in air, had him pretty tickled. But perhaps it was also relief. We made it! We made a slightly crazy trip for a holiday with our not normal family. We. Made. It.

There’s been a lot of recovery this year, for which I am very thankful. Happy Thanksgiving, Dear Reader!


 Sandalled feet in BHAs my mother used to say after every trip, “Home Again, Home Again, jiggity jig.”  The next morning, back in sandals and with the sun beaming on my face, I walked around the corner to get coffee. Noah was in my apartment, registering on-line for the coming semester. The tailor and the post-woman both shouted out, “How’s the hip?!” I was without my cane. “I went to Vermont,” I answered nonsensically.

There’s no place like home: This one, that one. The other.

IMG_1459 A bedroom window

IMG_1339holds you in its frame. A view of where you’ve been, are, or will be. Home again, home again.

Home: The Last Place On Earth

8 Feb

arrived in LANic and me  arrival in LAUnlike my other overnight stops, for Flagstaff, I actually made a reservation.  The Hotel Monte Vista, built in the 1920’s with funds provided by, among others, Zane Grey. Once the main speakeasy in town, and still the tallest building in Flagstaff (not saying much), Hotel Monte Vista was dark and kitsch-raunchy inside; the lobby had an aged, sexy aura: murals of deserts on the walls and gold tassels twirling from heavy drapery.  It smelled like gin and sauerkraut and Emeraude perfume. Sixty two dollars a night. Mine was the Bob Hope Room–back in the day he’d stayed there, as had Bing Crosby, Esther Williams, Spencer Tracy, Jane Russell, and other glamorous ghosts from a bygone era. It was painted midnight blue and had spare furniture, a sitting chair that looked tired of being sat on, and a chest of drawers from the fifties. Haunted for sure.  That’s one of my favorite qualities in a room on the road–an occupying  spirit  that’s not just some homebody,  but the kind of ghost that appreciates  historic hotels.

The tiny restaurant/ bar reminded me of The Shining–no one there looked like they were from the 21st-century. Food service had just ended, so I went to Pita Pit, bought some  local cuisine, and brought it back to the lobby. Then I had a glass of wine at the bar and flirted wildly with the young,  Swedish bartender. Too young, not my type, not a cowboy, and not named Casey, but I’d been on the road for six days and five nights and a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.  Usually I  flirt with a stranger every third day, so it was high time.  When it looked like he might actually join me for a drink after he got off work, I high-tailed it back to the safety of the haunted Bob Hope room. Had dreams of driving and driving and never getting where I was going. About 3 am,  the bathroom door creaked and opened  a few inches on its own.  “L.A., L.A., L. A., L.A.,” I said to the ghost, as if the incantation might simultaneously make friends and ward it off.

In the morning, it had snowed.  “L.A., L.A, L.A., L. A.,” I said, gazing out the window.  But the snow didn’t make friends or go away. Natasha texted me, “GET OVER HERE.”  It snowed for an hour on my way out of Arizona. It was the last leg, over five hundred miles.  “Lord I’m one, lord I’m two, . . .Lord I’m five hundred miles away from home,” I sang. The first song I learned to play on the guitar.  My mom closed her bedroom door when I practiced. Now, I could feel her presence– Audrey the Intrepid Traveler, and all around Tough Cookie. She was the first divorced woman most of my friends knew.

The summer of my twelfth birthday she took four of  us camping in the Indiana dunes. After dark, we drove to the empty beach parking  lot and the four of us scrambled across the sand, threw off our clothes, and screamed into Lake Michigan. From the cold waves, I could see her cigarette ember; she was sitting on a towel close by.  Shortly it was joined by a flashlight aimed at us, and a stern man’s voice. “GET OUT OF THE WATER. THE BEACH IS CLOSED.”  His beam scanned our bobbing heads.

“Point that somewhere else. They don’t have clothes on; they’re girls.” My mother’s voice said firmly.  We got out, our teeth chattering, and quickly wrapped ourselves in towels. Though the park ranger had pointed his light away from us, I noticed that out of of all of us I seemed to be the one with the least to show for being pubescent. I was a girl; they were something else. My mother herded us to the parking lot and into the red Opel, waved goodbye to the ranger, and cackled: “Well, we made his night.”

As I traveled from snow-covered mountain forest to the black, lunar landscape of the Mojave Desert, I felt Audrey, driving that tin car of a car, cigarette in hand, seat belt-less, ready for anything. Haunted by my mother, I am. Haunted as in: Can’t let go of her, so I  keep her memory up my sleeve, pretending  she can see me, living my life, driving in the Mojave. Actually, I’m probably haunting her. She may well  prefer to be left alone to do Dead People Stuff.

There are no billboards in the Mojave.  There is, in the Mojave:  little vegetation, no gas stations,  few cars, a few horses with no names. . .mostly just ashy volcanic rock and a sky that beckons one to disappear inside. In fact, I thought I might already have, unbeknownst to me, died. And gone to the Mojave. Death Valley was near. Acutely, I felt not only Audrey’s  spirit but others’ too, though I didn’t recognize them. The dead are alive and well, roaming, living large in the Mojave.  I felt God too. There are no signs proclaiming things about God because, Duh, God rules the Mojave.

I wanted to stay with this. And then saw myself there for eternity:  Me, Mom,  God forever. I couldn’t do it.  God, no–Oh, sorry God,  just please get me out of this godforsaken–no I don’t mean that–place. Can I meet you again, somewhere else? Rodeo Drive, they need you there, surely?  I will become a better person, God, just let me do it in Beverly Hills. 

Then there were little towns,  bigger towns, and billboards and gas stations and malls and other signs of human life and mortality.  My chosen path. And then my road became a four lane highway and intersected with other highways, and then there was a sign for Santa Monica Boulevard. Tunelessly I shrieked ” All I wanna do is have some fun/I got a feeling I’m not the only one/All I wanna do is have some fun/Until the sun comes up on Santa Monica Boulevard.” Thank you, God. Clearly I was indeed not the only one wanting fun; for an hour and a half I sat in traffic. Finally, I careened into Beverly Hills.  I parked in front of my new apartment, where Natasha also lived.  In the window, she was looking at her cell phone, dark hair in her face.  I tapped the window.

When our screaming subsided, she directed me to a lot where I parked my fearless companion, my Prius, my Prince. She ushered me into her apartment, a mirror of mine, and we screamed again.  Then she poured champagne and handed me a plate of cheese made without milk and crackers made of sprouted something, never baked. Raw food made by the woman with whom I used to scarf pizzas and burgers and Cheetos. I screamed with delight (her food really did rock).

Out came the yearbooks. Our photos:  ridiculous hair and attempts at knowing smiles. I read what I’d written in ninth grade–about our “amazing, crazy year” and certain boys who were referred to with initials, and how we’d be friends “forever.” More screaming.We’d actually lost touch for a decade here and there. As Natasha put me to bed on her couch, it was all I could do to mutter, “Whodathunk it, Nat?” “Not me,” she replied, on the way to the bathroom, with that familiar hair toss.

I feel so at home. So far from home. It had been a while since I knew where or what home was, and I was haunted by the idea of it. Or maybe it was me who was haunting home, searching for it, demanding its attention. Natasha turned off the lights. She had to get up at 6:30 for culinary school.

There are nights when something creaks, and seems to move by itself in the dark. And there are nights when, sleepless,  I creak, and then rearrange something–a chair, say,  to see if that is where it belongs. I had arrived in L.A., made it through snow, almost no gas, great beauty, desolation, desert, great beauty, snow, desert, traffic, self doubt, spiritual renewal and vaguely profound and mind bogglingly stupid thoughts. I made it.

My eyes were watching. What I didn’t know, but they were open.  And my ghosts were close, right where they belonged.