I could easily say that my drive through east New Mexico and west Texas is one of my favorites, and the most different. I've been on the lush west coast for some time now, but I had a sneaking suspicion that I would enjoy the rugged scenery and vast landscapes. I was very right.
I joke that my favorite things to photograph are rust and roads. It became clear to me, that this particular part of the country was my personal jackpot.
At the border of New Mexico and Texas, I pulled off onto a dirt road that ran parallel to the interstate. It was dark, but I could see some abandoned buildings spotting the road and heavy equipment behind them. They were in clear view from the interstate and I wasn't too worried about being harassed, I knew I would want to take some photos, so I parked my car and stayed for the night. When I woke up, I felt like I had been transported to an alien planet. One that used to be inhabited by farmers.
There is an absurd amount of abandoned buildings and run down operations along the interstate. At one point, I passed an entire town that looked as if it had been abandoned around the year 1967. The only thing that seemed to be in use was a small church, smack in the middle. It gave me chills.
I'm not too familiar with the economic history of that part of Texas, but it must of at one time been booming, and then collapsed. There were abandoned oil rigs, bars, gas stations, motels. All of these signs that people were traveling there from out of town. But the only thing left were a couple employees of road-side stores and a few houses in the distance.
I arrived in Bluegrove, Texas to see my friend and old roommate in Fairbanks, Jenny. She had visited someone in Bluegrove and fell in love with the place. I tried to fight it, but part of me understood.
On top of feeling like I was entering an abandoned, alien planet, I felt such an enveloping nostalgia, like I'd travelled through a time vacuum. It's hard to describe the feeling of what an entire town seems to give off, but it was like a snow globe, but the size of a planet. I swore to Jenny, the sky was bigger, and that if I looked out far enough, I could see the Earth curving down.
I have been in vast landscapes before. Backcountry hiking through Denali National Park will make anyone feel like a bug on a planet. But this was different.
There were no comforting mountains holding you in place, cupping there long arms around you. I could almost imagine that if I jumped too high, I would fall up and out into the abyss, like an astronaut into space.
When the magic hour for photography fell upon us, when the sun decided it was time to go down, my stomach and heart seemed to swell into this gooey, warm appreciative mush.
Jenny drove us to her friend's house so we could take a group trip into town to the grocery store, (true story). It's about a 20-30 minute drive down all dirt, backroads. On the way there, I kept yelling, "Stop! I need to take a picture!" If I had been driving, I would have never made it. I could have taken a picture every five feet for 20 miles.
I was in such a state of visual excitement. At one point, I saw some cows, grazing in a field. I looked at Jenny, pointed out the window and actually yelled, "THE COWS!" I was like a newborn.
We piled into a small, older car, popped open some Michelob Ultra's (not my usual pick but who am I to complain), and took off down the dirt road, sunset in full bloom, now. There were two dead hogs strewn along the ditch, bloated. There were fields of cows, dozens of them. Jenny joked that there were more cows than people. The grass was mostly yellowed and lit up by the sunset. The sky had remained stark blue in defiance and nearly naked trees and fat green shrubs lined the road and dotted the barren landscape far back away from the road.
The car made a strange noise and drove like a go-kart. They talked about the new girl who just got hired at the corner store, about the guy that sells sodas from his fridge so people don't have to drive to town. They talked about the men in their lives, working out on the ranches and cooking them dinners. I didn't say much.
I was in awe of everything.
The grocery store had pictures of football players and cheerleaders up on the windows. The only other car in the parking lot read, "GO BEARCATS!" in washable marker on the window. There was a Christmas display of pictures all the employees, dressed in their vests, hanging on a Christmas tree. The girls were on one side. The boys were on the other.
The sun was gone by the time we left the store. In the dark, we stopped by the corner store and there was a group of teenagers standing by a truck at the pump.
I remember this girl. She was beautiful. She stared at us in suspicious curiosity as we passed. I pictured what her life might be like and what it could turn into. I felt this strange urge to speak to her, take her away.
I thought about how I used to be that same girl in that small town, watching intruders pass through my private space. I vividly remember a they came and went, and wondering what life could be like out there, and feeling the pull into the vast unknown.
When are beer bottles were empty, we rolled the windows down, sat on the edge of the window as the little car strove violently down the dirt road and lugged them as hard as we could at metal signs. I know what you're thinking. But, I was in a snow globe! Rules don't apply in Texas!
I felt like I was in Footloose.
The next day, I hugged Jenny goodbye and gave the dogs a few last pets. I took my time getting in my car. I looked out at this planet that I felt my heart attaching itself to. The yellow field on the other side of the road - The electricity poles, the wooden and wire fences, "THE COWS!"
I didn't want to leave. It all felt like a dream.
I initially gave Jenny a hard time about moving to the middle of nowhere, Texas. But now, I understood completely.
I felt like that 14-year-old girl, like time didn't really matter and the rest of the world - all the strangeness of everything except for this, was so unfathomably far away that perhaps, just maybe,
it didn't exist.
I have officially left the beach.
Sunday morning, I loaded up my car, stocked up on supplies from the 99 cents store, returned some borrowed Harry Potter books to a friend and took the 10 interstate out of Los Angeles. I missed it immediately. Once again, I found myself in that familiar place of bittersweet departure. There is a piece of my heart on the Venice boardwalk.
On Saturday, I commuted one last time, found my usual, secret (illegal) parking spot and carried my heavy suitcase, chair and sign across Main Street, Pacific Avenue and finally, down the boardwalk until I found an opening.
The gravity of it being my final time doing all these things weighed on me. I didn't mind. I wanted to soak it all in. There were all the familiar faces there. The man selling handmade frames with flowers inside, the painter, the old musician, who never stops smiling, the homeless kids. They all greeted me warmly as I passed. Even the CD guy made an appearance and we had one final debate over whether I would give him my love or not. I think I'm going to miss that guy.
It turned out to be my busiest day at Venice, ever. It was hard to tell people that it was my last day.
At sunset, the police drive down the boardwalk, and if anyone is caught still selling or busking, they are ticketed. So when the sun started to set and I had three people all waiting for a poem, I got a little nervous. I finally had to take my sign down, to prevent people from approaching me while I typed the remaining poems.
The sunset was warm and vibrant. I buckled my typewriter in one last time and headed to the car. I suddenly realized I had forgotten something. A guy named Derrick had asked for me to write him a poem titled "A Karaoke song you can grow into" and leave it at his apartment right off the boardwalk. I am a man of my word, so I sat in my driver's seat, typewriter on my lap, and typed out one last one. I folded it and put it in his mailbox.
My time in Los Angeles was complete.
My traveling companion from Alaska and I drove straight for the Mojave Desert, which is in between L.A. and Vegas. When we stop at places and talk to people, they are always extremely interested in us Alaskans. It's funny how quickly I've forgotten this since I've been in L.A. It is really fun to now be part of an Alaskan gang. It's not just me.
We hiked the Kelso sand dune, (he went all the way to the top). I kept hoping to see a roadrunner, but was excited when at sunset, I spotted a coyote running across the road.
That night, when I was laying in my tent, I heard footsteps and am convinced a coyote (that same one?) was checking me out.
I've never spent much time in the desert. (Cold girl for life!) So it was a new and weird experience to wake up in the middle of this desolate, brown world. I felt like I was in an old Western movie.
It was almost down to freezing temperatures that night. By the time I woke up around 8am, it was blazing hot again. Of course, I decided to wear all black and became the number one target for the sun in the desert that day.
In the daylight, we realized we were surrounded for miles by Joshua trees, which are famous for their abundance in this part of the world. Turns out, we were camped right near the largest concentration of Joshua trees in this desert!
We walked out into their midst and explored. It was the strangest forest I've ever been in.
Hotel rooms in Vegas are known for being dirt cheap. We got a room right on Fremont St. for $21. It's one of the oldest hotels and casinos in old Las Vegas, right next to the Golden Nugget and the Plaza. The only thing is you have to pay a "resort fee" at these places, which adds another $20 or so.
The Fremont strip is kind of like the Venice boardwalk. It's covered, light up and there is a zip-line with people flying down the line above us. There were dozens of bars, strip clubs, tourists and buskers. I've seen a lot of crazy in Venice, but I stopped dead in my tracks at the site of one man with a tower of cardboard signs with religious insults, draped in the strangest hodgepodge of red clothing, standing on top of a wheelchair scooter, silently. He didn't even move. Then I realized he was watching a street performance. Some men were rapping into mics. There was one standing behind them all, like he was in charge. He had a heavy, floor length white fur coat and was puffing on a cigar. Perhaps, he was their busking pimp?
I didn't know the rules, but there were homeless people with cardboard signs everywhere and it looked pretty laid back. Right as my butt hit my chair, the man pictured below approached me with a very serious face. Maybe it wasn't as laid back as I thought. He immediately began engaging me about what I did. It was hard at first to tell what he wanted.
Then we started a role-playing. "Let's say, I come up to you and we start chatting and I want you to write me a poem about butterflies. What do you do?"
"I write you the best poem about butterflies you've ever read."
This was not the answer he wanted. It became clear that what I was doing was considered commerce and would require a special permit, unlike those attained by artists and people asking for spare change.
I then spent the next few minutes, trying to convince this guy (Brian) that I was an artist! This was an artistic challenge for the audience! I take donations! I will be writing poems whether people come up to me or not!
Eventually, he came around. Though I did need to go get registered at the kiosk (free) and he would "talk to the city council" about whether it was considered commerce or not. I didn't care. I'm out of here tomorrow!
Once I finally got registered and set up, I was busy. So busy, I had to take my sign down so I could finish and leave. Occasionally, crowds of people would surround me and I couldn't see anything but people. A young couple from Colorado waiting for a while only to come up to me and sing me a limerick, that they wrote for me! It was incredibly touching! A woman, who I wrote something titled "lovely reunion" for, cried. It was pretty loud and I had to yell, but I'm pretty sure another guy hired me to do some writing work? Whatever that means.
Oh, and Brian came back. Also, the guy that worked at the registration kiosk.
Overall, I was (once again) overwhelmed and surprised by the positive reactions from the average American, walking down a sidewalk.
It never ceases to amaze me.
The purity of it all.
It's hard work. Especially when I write non-stop. Sometimes I can hardly look up. It's been a lesson on how to be a one-person show. I am the restaurant, the hostess, the server and the meal. That metaphor is a little odd.
It was REALLY nice to have someone with me to help engage people while they waited and take pictures! I look cool!
Oh, and I found a new sidewalk boyfriend. Sorry CD man!
Leaving L.A. was hard. I miss my adorable friends and my goofy brother.
The more I do this, the more I realize this is something special.
The more I give, the more I get.
I can't wait to see what the rest of the country has to offer. It's going to be hard to beat Vegas.