I left London early on a rainy morning and went to Heathrow. Chaos reigned free at the airport after the cancellation of three New York flights caused major knock-on effects for standby passengers such as me. I met fellow travellers who had been in this limbo for four days!
In my previous life, the prospect of losing four of my limited holiday days would have sent me over the edge. However, as a nomad, I am on no particular schedule, so I decided to make this an opportunity to make new friends and read my book.
In the end, I lucked out. The backlog of paying passengers suddenly cleared up and thus limbo was rescinded. After waving good-bye to three New York planes, I finally made the fourth and last flight.
New York and Long Beach Island
I had been travelling for twenty-three hours by the time I reached the Manhattan flat of my friend Yaron. I mumbled an understatement about being tired and crashed to bed. The next day, Yaron carried me to his car, stowed me in the trunk and drove me to his beach house in Long Beach Island.
I spent four days at the gorgeous beach house with Yaron, his partner Brandon and a few of their close friends. Activities such as body surfing, eating ice cream on the beach, drinking G&T in the rooftop hot tub and jet skiing won’t really buy me many Pocahontas points, but it sure was a sweet start to my visit in the US. We also visited the Blooming Glen Farm.
I had one day to enjoy Yaron’s luxurious central Manhattan apartment before I once again found myself carrying my bags in the pouring rain, heading towards the airport.
I was picked up at Los Angeles airport by Don, a cowboy, grease monkey and friend I made last year at the Burning Man festival. (More about Burning Man later. For now, imagine heaven covered with dust.) Don lives with his partner, Jim, in Long Beach, a city 30 minutes’ drive from LA. They don’t have a guest room, so instead I lived in their motor home parked in the driveway. That’s right; I got a whole motor home to myself!
I spent a lot of my time in Long Beach preparing for this year’s Burning Man festival together with Don. However, it was not all work. Don took me to see RMS Queen Mary, a 1930’s ocean liner with an exquisite Art Deco interior, and the Scorpion, a Soviet submarine. If you want a delicious apple and ginger Martini, go to the former; if you want to experience crushing claustrophobia, visit the latter.
My most fun memory from Long Beach was when Don and his friends brought me to Oil Can Harry’s, a gay country western dance bar. You have not lived until you’ve seen a room full of gay cowboys line dancing to Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance. The place also featured ‘two stepping’, a dance I’ve never seen before. However, three lovely cowboys taught me how to dance it. Perhaps they were flirting, but they said I was pretty good — for a city boy.
I took six days off from the Burning Man preparations to visit friends in Los Angeles and see the city.
My first host was Tony who, like Don, I met at Burning Man last year. We went sightseeing to all the hot tourist spots such as the Hollywood sign, the star-studded Hollywood Boulevard and the Chinese Theatre with celebrity hand-and-foot prints. Tony also took me to Venice Beach, a bohemian town that reminded me of Camden market in London, except with sunshine and a sand beach.
The most interesting event for me was an early screening of a film in the heart of Hollywood: the Warner Brothers complex in Studio City. Walking in between the massive sound stages, I couldn’t help but be impressed by how so much of world cinema is mass-produced in these hangar-looking buildings.
When Tony could stand me no longer, he handed me over to yet more Burning Man friends: Bryan and Steve. I remembered Steve as a bare-chested horned satyr with a spring in his step, so I barely recognized him when I saw him in a perfectly human shape. Bryan and Steve are a couple living in a stunningly beautiful house in Hollywood Hills. They gave me the guest room, which was bigger than any of my London flats. Just outside the door lay the enclosed garden with a heated pool. (I’m now on negative Pocahontas points.)
I spent part of my days there counting my blessings while floating in the pool or playing with the guest room toilet with the built in bidet. (The toilet had a control panel!) However lovely such luxuries were, my most cherished memory of LA is a couple of unforgettable motorcycle rides with Steve.
Los Angeles is a surprisingly beautiful place. It is particularly beautiful when you have a big cruiser style motorcycle between your legs, holding on to a handsome man and swaying from side to side as you drive up the serpentine roads towards the breathtakingly scenic views on top of the forest-covered Hollywood Hills. One overpowering view after the other flashed before my eyes. The wind lashed against my face and the engine sound mixed with the haunting tunes of Sigur Ros in my earphones. I had one of those rare ‘God, I am so alive right now!‘ moments, a crystal clear and undeniable experience of pure mindfulness as all my senses come together in one.
Before Steve handed me back to Don, he drove me to San Pedro for a private pool party. The couple throwing the party had spent six years and a considerable amount of money to build a villa of such splendour that it made Steve’s stunning house look like a cardboard box underneath a bridge. It lay a stone throw and a few rattle snakes away from a lighthouse overlooking a dramatic coastline from where we could spot whales blowing up plumes of water as they surfaces to breathe. As mesmerizing as that piece of natural wonder was, we soon returned to the catered party with the free cocktail bar and three-course dining. (Pocahontas can kiss my …)
I want to thank Yaron, Brandon, Don, Jim, Tony, Steve and Bryan for taking me into their homes and showing me such generous hospitality. I can only hope that I will find a fraction of such good fortune on my future journeys. You’ve really made my time here unforgettable. You have my friendship and my love.
Stop the (word)press! Serendipity just hit my like a brick. I was proofreading this post when ‘Hollywood Hills’ by Sunrise Avenue played on the radio. I have never heard of the band nor the song before. It describes word-by-word how I feel right now, leaving you guys. Please, start the music and listen to the lyrics. I hope it moves you as much as it just moved me.