good morning, california

"Travel does not exist without home...If we never return to the place we started, we would just be wandering, lost.  Home is a reflecting surface, a place to measure our growth and enrich us after being infused with the outside world." — Josh Gates

I leave for California tomorrow. Just over my one year anniversary from my last trip there. Part of me worries, for some reason, that I won’t come back. My body will get swept up with the wind and the dust of the desert and I’ll roll down a hill in Coachella Valley and die as I’m serenaded by the songs of laughter. Less eloquently put, I fear that something terribly awesome is going to happen this time, to my soul, and I’ll die on the streets of California in a not so particularly glamorous fashion. My biggest fear about dying is dying alone and away from my best friends and family. I try to tie up all my loose ends before I travel anywhere far because you never know how your plane will go down. You never know what rocky mountain or shore awaits you on the ground. You never know how your love will fare, 40,000 feet in the air.  

The first thing you do when you get to California is take a picture of the palm trees. L.A. people are so lucky. They’re so alive and so chic and unbothered. Everyone is glamorous, even the people without homes. I've fallen madly in love with Los Angeles. The city is magic. It casts a spell on you. your feet don’t even have to be planted ten-toes deep in the sand to feel the warmth of the city.

I’ve been drinking so much while in California. Every day. Almost every hour of every day. I fear I'm turning into a wino. In Beverly HIlls, we lunched at some pretty posh restaurants in the middle of the day. We’d narrate lives for the people who ate there. One would be a housewife, a few would be businessmen on lunch, we’d see other tourist trying to blend in and pass as actual locals; they were failing. They’d all be eating lunch but something about the way they all ate or the fact that we were all here at this semi-hipster, upscale place, felt a bit surreal. Felt like we were on the set of a sit-com. We played along. We ate our food. Took some selfies. And left.

I met Paris Hilton on Saturday night. It was a trip. She was dancing down the street, walking in front of us. She was dressed up as a fairy but she looked like an angel. When I was 10, Paris Hilton was my idea of Hollywood. So meeting her in California, of all places, was very fitting. My pre-teen, adolescent self would be pissing herself right now.

I’m in Palm Springs. Coachella ended last night. Mac Miller and Ariana Grande were standing behind us during Kendrick’s set. Ariana wore a black bandana to hide her face. Presumably so us normal folk wouldn't be able to recognize her. The disguise worked well. Her gleaming, made-up eyes could have belonged to anyone. What gave away her ruse was her buzz-cut headed famous boyfriend Mac Miller, and the fact that her arms were glued to his. It’s strange seeing famous people; out in the wild, out of their proverbial Hollywood cages. They all look 3 inches taller in photos and on TV. They all appear to have this air of mysticism. But when you see them in person, they’re humanized. They’re real but they still seem unreal. But that mysticism and allure evaporate a bit. They don’t seem as glamorous and alien.

I’m sitting outside of our Airbnb, waiting for Tina to get out of the shower so we can leave. We’re heading to Joshua Tree today. Finally. My dream location since I was 16. I’m drinking a beer. A Coors Light. I’m sitting on an old plastic wooden chair that I dragged outside from inside the house. Everything here is very scenic. It’s very quiet and almost too perfect for me. Too perfect for what I probably deserve. The air is very still and warm. Not suffocatingly hot like the last 3 days of Coachella. The bees and wasps in California are so well behaved. They hardly come up to you. They don’t even care about humans down here. They’re nothing like the wasps in Canada.

Palm Springs is the ultimate suburbia. Cookie-cutter everything. I could never live here. I’d go Stepford mad. But at least I’d look elegant. Coming from where I come from, it’s hard to believe places this perfect actually exist. I’m still waiting for anything bad to happen. Something awful to wake me from this picturesque seemingly perfect dream. I’m trying to take it all in. All the palms. All the springs. I probably won’t be back here for a very long time. All this life makes me remember where I live. Makes me remember where I come from. Makes me realize my heart is never going home.

First night at Joshua Tree. I'm having trouble sleeping. I woke up an hour ago and couldn't fall back asleep. When we arrived here, our host, Tao told us there were snakes and mountain lions roaming around here, especially at night. So our initial plan to do mushrooms and go for a late night hike was out of the question. Ever since he told us about the snakes, I keep thinking snakes are going to slither in through the cracks of our Airstream and into our bed and choke me in my sleep. Or worse, bite me, infecting me with venom and I’ll wake up suffocating. So I've been up thinking and texting my ex-boyfriend who is already at work, back in Canada. It was hotter in our Airstream an hour ago. Now the birds are awake and the wind must be too because it's blowing cool morning air in through the kitchen window that we couldn't figure out how to close. We're getting up for the sunrise in 30 minutes. I kind of wish sleep would compel me before then.

Back in L.A., We made a quick stop at In N’ Out on our way back to the city. Lauren drove us. She’s a lovely English girl we met while in Yucca Valley at Tao’s compound. He calls his compound “the whole”. I never asked him why but I assume it’s because everyone who ventures up there feels the communal quality of his home. Everything is shared, we’re all one family. One whole. Lauren though, she moved to L.A. a few months ago from London. She drove up to Joshua Tree alone three days ago, the same day we arrived there. She was supposed to leave yesterday but we convinced her to stay an extra day. She needed to be back in L.A. by 3PM for her shift this afternoon. She works at an upscale restaurant in West Hollywood. Before heading out of the desert, we made a stop her friend's place 10 minutes passed Joshua Tree. Her friend's name is Jordan. He’s a Hollywood movie director. He’s also from London. She told us that’s how they bonded. He made us all coffee and we drank it out on his back deck. He has one of those decks that are really low to the ground. The ones that are slapped together with concrete and a few inches of elevation. The ones that only qualify as decks because they’re in the backyard and people put patio furniture on them. The decks in Canada are big and raised and elevated. So elevated that wasps make nests under them. Jordan’s home is beautiful. A bit isolated down and off a dirt road. It’s one of those big boxy houses whose material is unidentifiable. It’s not wood but it has the varnish of plywood, and some aluminum, steel siding. And those big windows that cover the entire wall. Jordan told us all about the snakes and scorpions he’d see in his backyard, especially on hot days like today. He told us about the mansion on the hill “up there” (he pointed to a house on the hill directly perpendicular to his backyard) where they were shooting a movie last week. We kept hearing these loud booms and bangs while in his backyard. He told us the ‘booms’ were from blowing up dynamite and the ‘bangs’ were coming from a military training base nearby; they were gunshots.

We left Jordan’s and made it back into L.A. right at 3PM. Lauren disappeared into her restaurant and Tina and I were preparing to go exploring. Within minutes of our new friend entering her restaurant for her 3PM shift, she came back out, dripping in tears. She was fired. She didn't know why. Her boss didn’t give her a reason. He just let her go. We took her out for drinks. Then she drove us back to her place where we caught an uber back to Emily’s place in Brentwood.

We went to one of those Tarot reading places. Lauren told us about this place, House of Intuition is what it’s called. I got a woman named Karen. She was kind of intense. She smoked, I could hear it in her voice. I could also smell it on her clothes. I think it kind of added to her mystique. She asked me about life but before I could answer she cut me off and said: “Let the cards speak for themselves.” She shuffled the deck then laid out three cards and turned them over. Then she interpreted them for me. She did this a few more times. Then changed her deck of cards and laid out another 3 cards.

“This is the card of change,” she said. “You’re going to have a big change coming soon. You'll have to make a big decision between two tough choices."

I nodded. “Yes, I’m starting a new job. But I don't know if it’s the right fit for me or the right decision. I’m not sure if I should just stay at my current job. The new position is in Government Relations. And it’s a great position, but I don’t know if it’s the position I really want. I’m also going back to school this fall, but I really want to move to California.” In hindsight, that was probably an overshare.

She went on, “This is the ending and beginning card. Something in your life is ending and something new is beginning.”

I nodded, “Yes, this must be about my new job!”

She continued, “This card means there is going to be a big conflict in your life soon and it’s important to have compassion for yourself.”

She summarized her findings: “Pick a job that feeds your soul and not your ego. Your new government relations job is not for you. I don’t see you liking it. You won’t last long. Maybe a year. You’re meant to be in the arts. Finish school. You will be ready to move to California in about 3 years, between the age of 27-30, but you will visit California a lot in the meantime. You need to start delegating more. You're going to do a lot of traveling. And as for your diet, you need to purify yourself."

She said all of this in a very passive, nonchalant tone. Almost like this was routine. Most people see fortune readers, like horoscopes, as a bunch of garbage. And maybe all of Karen’s answers were just vague enough to be universally applied to anyone, but the weird thing about her answers was that everything she said is what I already knew, I just hadn't vocalized it or voiced it to anyone.

I left feeling even more rattled and confused about life. Tina burst through the curtains of her tarot reading, beaming, “That was amazing! Oh my god I can’t wait to tell you what my guy said. How was yours?” My facial expression said it all.  

San Francisco is lovely. All the hills are like rolling pillows. The houses are very European and stacked and lined perfectly in diagonal slopes. The air is cool in the mornings. I can’t stop thinking about the tarot reading.

It's my mom's birthday today. I need to do something special for her when I get back. I think I'll write her a nice letter again. On the back of a postcard that I bought in downtown L.A., at the LACMA. I miss my family very much. I'm torn. I want to stay on this trip forever but I also know I need to get back to Canada. I really do love it here. I don’t want to go back yet. The end of the trip is inching closer and the ends of trips give me anxiety because I know the euphoria and bliss and peace will be over soon. Then it’s back to Normal and back to Ordinary. But normal and ordinary don't come with days upon days of sunshine and beaches. My normal and ordinary is a 9-5 day job that underwhelms me. The opposite of normal and ordinary is what my soul needs. It’s the opposite of where I am now but where I want to be; here, in Cali.   

Everyone is someone in L.A. Everyone's an aspiring actor or model, working at a coffee shop for extra income because the coffee shop is “accommodating” of their audition schedules. Everyone's a sports agent, or an acting agent, or just any agent of any kind. Or they are an athlete “just passing through.” Or a famous Australian Youtuber that’s here for the week. The cool thing about being a tourist in L.A. is that people assume you’re also a local and they ask you questions like “Hey, are you an actor?,” or “Who are you represented by?,” and “Which Equinox do you workout at?”

Some days I would answer, “the Equinox in downtown L.A.” and other days I would begrudgingly and unfortunately reply “Oh, I’m from Canada. I’m just visiting.”

We leave tomorrow. Fun’s almost over. I now know that it’s possible to be in two places at once. My soul lives here but my body and physical being are home in Canada. I didn’t get it at the start of my trip, but I get it now. I need to go home, if for nothing else, to reinforce all I have learned while away. Tomorrow is today now. Good morning California. Goodbye. See you soon.

I hate planes. It’s funny how my skin just snaps back into place the minute it feels cool Canadian air. I’m back home now. I was sad about it yesterday but it was also freezing and cloudy; the first hint of cold and clouds I’d experienced in 14 days. I’d completely forgotten what that kind of weather feels like. I feel better today. Probably because I had the day off from work to do absolutely nothing with my time except watch TV shows and become reacquainted with reality. I should be writing an article right now but I had this pressing urgent need to write this instead. It must be because of the way the sun is setting right now. I feel inspired. I almost forgot it was almost summertime here. All day, I’ve found myself relating the time here to that of California’s. It’s currently 6:56PM on a Wednesday but in L.A. it’s only just going to 4.

I feel fine being back. I don’t know how long it will last but for right now I feel okay. I’m not as desperate for love. I’m not as itching to get out of this city. I know my place for the time being, and it’s here.  And my level of content and slight restlessness isn’t a direct cause of my tarot reading. It’s just how I feel. I feel fine. I’m here now. According to Karen, in 3 years I will be drifting with the lackadaisical haze of Los Angeles. I will be free, I will be happy, and I will know myself. For the time being, I will be great. Still searching for the rest of me in everything.

Herein lies the end to my marvelously enlightening trip. Enlightened and in love with the kind shores of California. ✉

piece + visuals by: nneka nngabo



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