LA stories

LA from Mulholland Drive
Los Angeles is an amazing city. It gets a bad rap for all the Hollywood excess and shallowness, but I truly love it there and always feel comfortable and at ease. Who can argue with beautiful, sunny days with temperatures in the 70s and low 80s in November? And it's a dry heat, which is far more pleasant than the swampy humidity of the south. At night, it's deliciously cool. I totally understand why people are seduced by LA, because it always works its magic on me. I also love its idiosyncrasies: the lack of left turn signals, the weekly street cleanings in the neighborhoods that require parking strategies, the way old and new – people, places and things – bump up against each other to create the unexpected, the towering avenues of palm trees. There is a reason it's called "La La Land," because Los Angeles is like no place else.

I just got back from a week in LA with fellow Atlantan and Sibling Rivalry Press poet Theresa Davis. We guest lectured to Cecilia Woloch's poetry class at USC and gave three readings: Beyond Baroque in Venice, Coffee Cartel in Redondo Beach and at The Ugly Mug in the OC. In between those readings, I got the chance to play tour guide for Theresa, who was making her first visit to LA. Here's a little recap of our week.

The view from Cecilia's apartment in Mid-Wilshire.
We arrived on Halloween night at LAX, quickly picked up our rental car and made it over to Cecilia's place in Mid-Wilshire. Cecilia's apartment is a writer's dream: tall ceilings, lined with bookcases, a big writing desk. We went on a midnight run to Vons on Pico Boulevard to stock up on coffee, breakfast items and other necessities. The old adage about never shopping when you're hungry (or tired) is true. We bought bagels, but forgot the cream cheese and chips but no salsa. 

On Friday, we headed over to the University of Southern California campus to talk with Cecilia's poetry students. Theresa and I talked about our work, answered questions, and then gave them a prompt to write a poem to share with the class. The students are truly bright, gifted writers. We were excited about how open they were with their lives, struggles and issues. I would never want to be a teacher or professor full-time, but it's always a treat to do it on occasion. It gives me hope about poetry and makes me temporarily forget all the bullshit in the po'biz world. After class, we headed over to Hollywood for In-N-Out Burger. Double doubles and animal fries – yes, please!

Still in Hollywood... you can almost see the sign
over my shoulder.
Saturday was an off day, so I took Theresa over to Hollywood to see the movie star footprints outside the  Chinese Theatre, the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the Hollywood & Highland Center with its views of the Hollywood sign and giant courtyard inspired by the Babylon scene from D.W. Griffith's Intolerance. We had brunch at Grub, which is best known for its "crack" bacon. It was good, but not habit forming and a little overpriced. 

We stopped by Skylight Books, where I picked up the UK edition of Morrissey's Autobiography, then we then zoomed up into the winding streets of Laurel Canyon and up to Mulholland Drive. We pulled over for the impressive view of LA and took pictures. Afterwards, we went and met friend and fellow Sibling Rivalry poet, Steven Reigns, for dessert over in West Hollywood.

Theresa Davis at Beyond Baroque
On Sunday, we headed out early to Venice Beach to have dinner and walk along the beach before our reading at Beyond Baroque. We sat in on the open mic and read a poem, too. Unfortunately, Beyond Baroque schedules its open mic for an hour at 5 p.m. and its features at 8 p.m., which meant we lost the majority of our potential audience. Luckily, people we know and had wanted to meet – like Sarah Maclay, Bonnie Kaplan and E. Amato – showed up to buy books and hear us. Beyond Baroque is a legendary space, having hosted everyone from Allen Ginsberg to Patti Smith, and it was great to perform their a second time, but I hope they will tinker with the scheduling to make for a smoother evening.

Monday was another off day, so we wound up at Amoeba Music, the giant music and movie store on Sunset Boulevard. I could have spent all day and every dime of my money in there. Theresa helped me focus and I only spent $20. That evening, we were over in Los Feliz to meet poet and friend Charlie Jensen for dinner and poetry gossip at Umami Burger. On our many driving adventures, we also discovered radio station 94.7 FM, which plays smooth R&B, so lots of Sade, Teena Marie,  Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Al Green, Luther Vandross and Marvin Gaye. We locked that station in and listened to it everyday. 

The Getty Center
Charlie recommended a visit to The Getty Center, so we headed over there on Tuesday. You take a tram up to the Getty, which sits high atop a hill in Brentwood overlooking all of LA. The architecture and gardens are simply stunning, and I could picture myself sitting on one of the terraces writing poetry.  The big exhibition on show was Cuban-born photographer Abelardo Morell's "The Universe Next Door." His use of camera obscura and mix of whimsy and wonder was truly inspiring. 

That night, we drove down to Redondo Beach for our reading with the Redondo Poets at Coffee Cartel. The wonderful Larry Colker welcomed us and Theresa and I were interviewed and filmed by local journalism students about our work. There was a big, appreciative audience who were also eager to buy books. That's always a plus. It was my third reading at Coffee Cartel over the last 10 years and it truly is one of my favorite places to read.

Me, Theresa and Steven at The Ugly Mug.
On Wednesday, I met an old Atlanta friend, Ronnie, for lunch in Hollywood. He's been living in LA for five years and loves it there. "I would never come back to Georgia," he said. Ronnie is one of those seduced by the sunny skies and easygoing nature of the city.

That evening, we headed to the OC with Steven Reigns for our reading at The Ugly Mug in Orange. Traffic was nightmarish and we literally arrived right before the gig started, spending two and half hours in transit. But it was worth the drive. Ben Trigg and Steve Ramirez – the Two Idiots Peddling Poetry duo – are hilarious hosts and great poets. Once again, it was a generous audience eager to listen and buy books. While Theresa and some friends went for drinks afterwards, Steven and I went in search of In-N-Out and promptly got lost somewhere in Garden Grove. But we found our double doubles. 

This was my first trip to LA since 2007, and I promised everyone I saw out there that it wouldn't be six years before I made my next one. Theresa was an excellent traveling companion and our work meshes so well together. Thank you, LA, thank you for being so good to us.


Unknown said…
Reading your blog reminded me of all those places I used to haunt, back when I lived there. Glad you enjoyed the city... I hope I can go back some day too.
Anonymous said…
I don't know why it says "Unknown"--it's me, JC!
Hi Coll-Coll,
I loved reading about La-La Land. I agree that it is seductive;L.A. bewitches me still.... :)
Glad you found Joy there!
I love that You and Theresa and Cecilia were together-- what a merry group! :)

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