It was toward the end of 2015. I just spent a whole year working my full-time job (firefighter) and a part-time job (lawn business) while keeping up with my family duties and going to paramedic school. I was tired. My soul was worn out. My creativity was dying. I needed something else. Something fresh. I needed to step out of my life for a bit and rebalance.
What that really meant was that I just needed to smell the air of a place I’ve never been and get a little uncomfortable in the vital sense of the word.
I needed to get out of town, alone.
So I did.
I pledged to myself that 2016 was the year of ramblin’. I was going to spend money on new experiences, not things. It was time to get outside more. It was time to strip the fat and live life deliberately. I was going to use the scarcity of time wisely and, in the words of Joseph Campbell, let go of the life I planned so as to have the life waiting for me.
So my plan was to go far away from where I was. I had a hunger for the desert sand and to camp under the fierce stars. I was going to live deliberately, I decided, drifting around the world like a lost nomad, capturing moments through my lens and pen, searching for things beyond the scope of everydayness.
It was time to live to the point of tears.
After messing around on the internet for awhile, I found a round trip ticket to California for $300. Living in Florida, some 3000 miles away, I couldn’t believe the price. So I just bought it, no plans.
That’s it, man. A sporadic choice makes you adapt to its consequences. That’s what humans do best. Adapt. That’s why if you want to do something, see something or be something, just go for it and figure it out later.
So the first week of January I packed a bag with only the essentials–a few clothing items, a camera, a tent, a flask, Bukowski’s poems, and I flew out to California, alone.
I’ve never been there. And being a big fan of Cali’s late drunken poet, Charles Bukowski, and the great novelist, John Fante, I’ve always wanted to go. I wanted to see the cityscape that they wrote about, see the people, the streets, the gutters and the dive bars. So I flew into LA.
Now as an amateur photographer, I also wanted to see some of the beauty that California offered. So the first thing I did after I got into my modest rental car was head to the coast.
Santa Monica pier.
New place. New people. New sky. New smell. Alone I was, drivin’ the crowded streets of Cali looking for God knows what.
It was approaching twilight and I planned on camping on the beach up the coast. But first, I wanted to get a few shots of the pier at sunset. Santa Monica was filled with pretty interesting people. You had the general tourists, hipsters, lovers, homeless and of course, the vagabonds. There were a few passed out bums sleeping under the dock, a pint in their hand and odor emitting from their pores, but they were harmless.
Up on the pier, I sat by an old fellow. A musician with long hair and ragged clothes. He sang Leonard Cohen while I took a pull from my flask and looked out over the Pacific. It was a fine time.
As the shadows slanted east, the sun dipped behind the horizon and the dark rolled in. I got into my car and headed north, through Malibu up the Pacific Coast Highway.
I finally got to my campsite two hours later. Damn, it was shut up. No one was there. I was too late. I missed check in time.
And unfortunately, El Nino was flinging some ugly storms my way. The cold wind was kickin’ and the rain started. I heard on the radio to be prepared for flash floods and landslides in the area.
My first time ever in California and the weather is threatening to swallow me.
Oh well, I kept trying to remind myself of the words of Nietzsche, “Amor Fati”, translated– love your fate. Just say yes to it all.
So I left, drove a few miles and pulled into a local restaurant, grabbed a beer and asked some of the locals where to find a cheap motel. They directed me to a small town called Camarillo. It was more inland, about a 35-minute drive. They said I was bound to find a cheap motel and a dive bar or two there.
I was off.
After driving around a bit in this small town, I found a little motel off the main drag. I checked in, dropped my bag off in the room and headed out to town to find a watering hole. It wasn’t looking good. The town was pretty small, not much to it. I checked the map on my phone, found a bar (I think), and headed there.
This dive bar was located in a vacant shopping center. It didn’t have any windows. The door blended in with the wall. I couldn’t even peek in to see what was going on. I put my ear up to it, nothing.
Hell with it. Amor Fati. I opened the door.
Dive bar central, man. My kind of paradise. The 6 or so people in the bar gave me a quick look and went back to being drunk. It was a weeknight but you’d think it was the weekend with these rabble-rousers inside. They were dancing, chugging beer and whooping it up.
I figured one of two scenarios would likely go down. 1. I’d get my ass kicked and robbed for invading their territory without permission. Or 2. They’d be too damn drunk to even acknowledge I exist.
Luckily for me, it was the latter.
I pulled up a seat at the bar and ordered a beer. The bartender was a young girl, tired looking, but pleasant. She gave me a beer and went back to watching tv. There was another older gentleman sitting on the other side of the bar. Looked like a biker, ZZ Top style, nice beard, tattoos and thirst in his eyes.
On my third beer, finally, I was acknowledged. One of the locals took the time to come up to me and chat. He was a black dude, mid-forties, retired from the military. Told me he loves this small town. He had a little Mexican girlfriend who was also friendly. We sat and drank and talked while the others danced on the jukebox and ZZ Top at the end of the bar drank away.
Then it happens. The poetic voice of 2pac bellowed through the speakers. “California Love.”
Everyone stopped for a second, looked at each other, and all at once threw their hands in the air and started reciting every word. Even ZZ Top put his beer down, put his big ass arms up and spit every single lyric while his gray beard humped his chin.
I’m in Cali, baby.
Even though El Nino was punching me in the face, California was shaping out to be alright. I headed back to my motel, packed my backpack for the next day’s journey and passed out.
Tomorrow, I’m off to Joshua Tree National Park, where the true adventure begins.
Stay tuned for part 2.