Lick your plate L.A.: Ramen

 

If your ramen place isn’t loud and slurpy, you are in the wrong place.

If you think ramen is packaged in plastic and heated up in the microwave before your third midterm exam, well that’s one way, but not the right way.

There should be pictures on a bendable menu and eye contact with the kitchen as you sit at the bar, staring with animal eyes waiting for your food to come. There should be excitement.

Places like Shin-Sen-Gumi in Sawtelle are what you are looking for; people lining the corner for a table with warm lights and food inside. There are so many reasons to eat (or drink!) a bowl of ramen: you do it to cure a shitty day, finish a drunken night, or eat alone, pleasing yourself with a large bowl of hot pork fat broth.

To me, ramen is buttery goodness. It’s a buttery warm comforting soup that is a canvas to additive statements such as Chashu, boiled eggs, and seaweed, along with all the spice you desire.

The plan is to ruin your diet and plans for the night because your belly won’t fit in that dress.

Simple, but impactful, it is the cure or some cure of some kind. Maybe we shouldn’t look so far for answers, just for lines around the corner.

 

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Don’t Fly out West: Part Two

At this point, we are far from home. No more Southern accents, no more cheap gas, and no more magnolia trees. We were headed from New Mexico to one of the world’s most amazing creations in a short five hours; The Grand Canyon.

When you go to The Grand Canyon, you will probably stay in Flagstaff, the town 45 minutes south. Maybe I watch too many movies, but Flagstaff was unexpected. We expected Arizona to be tumbleweeds, cactus, and thorns. Instead, I learned about the word “high desert,” and we were welcomed by mountains, grass, and lilac wildflowers.

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I highly recommend hiking here and staying at the KOA here in Flagstaff. There is a trampoline, and the campsite is below a mountain with trails through forests and bulging rocks, providing you with the most rewarding views.

https://koa.com/campgrounds/flagstaff/

 

Next, we stayed in the town closest to the Grand Canyon, Tusayan. This town is expensive. Though it is just filled with a McDonalds, some Western steakhouses and motels, it can hurt your wallet. Expect a $15 McDonald’s burger and $200 a night at motels. The trick is to reserve six months ahead of time… or do what we did and wake up exceptionally early and wait for first come first serve at Mather Campground. You are close to the canyon and spend something crazy like $10-15 a night. Get there early, or you will be paying $200 at the local joint.

https://www.recreation.gov/camping/map_of_Mather_Campground/r/campgroundMap.do?page=map&search=site&contractCode=NRSO&parkId=70971

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There are many ways to see the Canyon, and none are wrong. Expect for your jaw to drop, to lose your breath and to curse your existence for just now seeing this monumental site.

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This is a place that is pointless to describe. Not even the greats: Thoreau, Dickens, Twain…Hunter S. Thompson can use the magic of their words to describe what you see before you. The depth of the canyon is unfathomable, and you struggle at the thought of far it extends, how many horizons it touches. You are weak, small and suddenly unimportant in the presence of this earthly majesty. And yet you are also part of the story, made from the same Earth. Welcomed here are existential thoughts, humility, and appreciation. If you’re lucky enough you will get to experience a thunderstorm roll across the canyon, and you will really experience the drama of the place.

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This place is a thrill to face some height fears. Sit on the ledge and swing your feet over a 6,000 ft drop, you’ll lose all physical sensation. Your legs will go numb and jittery. Or take a chance and climb out on the protruding rocks past the ledges. Go where the dangerous people go. It will be terrifying and heart wrenching, but you’ll get a more thrilling and deserving view.

For more desert and adventure you can head a couple hours south to Sedona. There are many secret hidden spots as you drive, winding through the toasted orange mountains. This a place to “take lefts.” Don’t stay on the path and you’ll find secret places like this.

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And meet great people like this. Where you can share a drink later and eat homemade spaghetti in their cross-country rented Rv. Trading stories of travel and where we will all end up next.

 

 

 

IMG_3769.jpgVegas was never officially part of our plan, and definitely not mine. I’ve seen Oceans Eleven, The Hangover, I’ve read Fear and Loathing; I know what happens in Vegas. High rise buildings, blackjack, strippers, mobsters, rich people, tacky people-money hungry people. I know on that hot desperate desert strip you’re supposed to lose your mind, your liver, your money, and your wits. It’s a story that’s been told.

 

 

So, we went on a whim, and that’s the time I learned my one of many travel lessons: Try everything once and to stop bitchin’ and just go.

Boy did we do Vegas right. First lesson: skip the Airbnb’s and get a Groupon. We were able to stay at Planet Hollywood for about $40 a night. Vegas is about tricks and deals.

When we rode into Vegas, we were on a high. The strip looked just as cheesy and exciting as it does in the movies. Big flashy signs, mobs of American tourists, over-achieving people in over-priced cars, it was as if you stretched times square and fed it cocaine. It is a party town, and as we pulled into the Planet Hollywood garage, we had no plan, except to find a happy hour.

As we wandered around the mall at Planet Hollywood, we were amazed that the mall seemed like the whole world. It was never-ending stores and decorated like a different part of the world. We were walking through what looked like a “Vegas Morocco,” with its clay painting buildings and painted ceiling stars when we saw our happy hour sign.  We just found seats at the bar when we hear someone shouting at us.

“HEY, you’re in our seats.”

We looked to find a bunch of guys holding their beers laughing and cackling at us. There was a large burly man of middle eastern decent, two goofy drunk looking twin brothers and some others.

” Oh, we’re sorry,” we said with confusion but also hinting that this might be a joke.

One of them walked up to us, a handsome 6’something Georgian man whispered to us that it’s okay. He explained that they are groomsmen for a bachelor party and we are in the husband-to-be’s seat. He suggested playfully that we should stay and have a drink with them. As we talked and laughed, we saw an incredibly drunk man stumbling towards us wearing a “Where’s Waldo” shirt and everyone cheered and greeted the bachelor boy. We had met our group for the weekend.

We immediately hit it off with our new group, and the money and liquor were flowing.  We spent the first night running around, guzzling bottles on the street, and pretending we knew how to play poker while watching them blow $10,000-$20,000 on a game of blackjack. We lost thousands of dollars for them as we’d flirt and they would let us roll the dice; they didn’t even flinch.

As the hours and days steamed by we were lost in an adult playland. Things got more intense as the desert strip played with our impulsions. Paid drinks, free hotel room, flashy bills, and flashy signs.   Things started to get messy, twin 1 kicked twin 2 in the head in the lobby, I found twin 2 naked passed out in the bathtub, we got kicked out of the cabana party, and some mistakable late-night decisions were made.

Vegas did Vegas, and we rode it out. It wasn’t till later till we put two-and-two together on why we were skipping lines in clubs, going to $10,000 cabana suite parties and receiving 5-star service. We ignored the fact that the lead guy (let’s call him Mandy) was always sneaking off and conversating with the twin 1 & 2 or always on intense phone calls.

Simply put, we, three girls from Alabama had partied with Chicago mobsters.

What happened in Vegas couldn’t be repeated. It was my last stop to LA, and it was better than the movies, cause we actually lived it. The whole trip was better than imaginable. We did Las Vegas right, we did camping right, we did Santa Fe right, and I kept thinking how can I do Los Angeles right if I can’t even picture it and I’m 45 minutes away.

As we drove the last two sobering hours to my new home, LA it was a sobering feeling. The realizations started to kick in, I have nobody, no job, and no idea what LA is. I just have a hostel downtown I need to check in to, and then my friends, my one memory from home will leave.

I want to give you the story that it was a hard transition, that I struggled, but I didn’t. After my friends left on their flight, I cried for a couple minutes, called people from home and then sat at a Starbucks near LAX and thought about what I should do now.

The minute I hit downtown everything felt right. My hostel was located in the flower district, ironically also one block from the famous homeless community, “skid row.” I was fascinated by the contrast. The smell of flowers next to the smell of trash, the different people on the streets, the sounds of Spanish music filling my ears. I enjoyed every gritty, beautiful,  thrilling minute of it.

It all felt right, and it has ever since. My drive out here made me appreciate and understand LA and the west so much more. I now know what lies behind the desert mountains surrounding LA, and all the adventures behind me.

My car broke down three times, we got lost, we lived off lunch meat, slept under the desert starlight, shared dinners with amazing people, spilled jelly all over my car, laughed till we couldn’t breathe, but most importantly we drove out west.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fear, The Ultimate Paper Tiger

 

This move to LA has rearranged and redefined the word, fear for me. It is an emotion that strangles, induces self doubt and the mother and root to anxiety. The actual move wasn’t the fear factor, though it came with its’ anxieties, it is what has happened since.

 

Growing up in Alabama was limiting for me. It’s a place where things are actually black and white, growth is slow and not always mature, and difference is scarce and frowned upon. It was smothering and frankly I was bored. Within years of boredom, I lived a lot in my head creating fears and I was unknown to my own potential. Los Angeles has given me life. This sunny concrete jungle has exposed the bones and flesh of what I consider the real me.

After almost a year I believe it’s time to write a personal and vulnerable list of these “fears” and accomplishments I have conquered and some of the fears that still tug at me.

 

  1. Surviving in LA

People fueled me with doubt about me moving to one of the most expensive cities on Earth, with nobody and no job. Inside I had no doubt about my ability to pull this off, but there were few positive reactions to this news and that pressure can add up. Well bite into this: three weeks after college I jumped in my car with my two friends and a tent and drove out here. I have an apartment downtown, crazy friends, worked for crazy bosses and I’m headed to SouthEast Asia in six months. Their fear versus my impulsivity is the reason why those people never left their hometown and I live the life I have now.

2. I interviewed and wrote an article on a celebrity. 

3. I learned how to do a headstand off of a Groupon in a posh SilverLake Yoga studio.

4. I went to the doctor. 

Yes, that is a fear.

5. I worked for an impossible boss

The minute I finished my interview, I knew this was going to be the most challenging job I have had yet. I landed a position with a top fashion photographer, who was my mirror opposite in personality, work etc… Through the name calling, the screams and fits I stuck through. After many panic attacks and eye opening experiences, I am grateful for what I have learned and that I accepted the challenge.

6. I am published in a Fashion Magazine

Then realized I don’t like or care about Gucci’s next Summer line or Gigi Hadid’s new hairstyle.

6. My first boyfriend.

Concerning boys, I have always felt unloved. Growing up in Alabama the boys never liked me. They did not pay attention to me, and if they did it was for disrespectful reasons. I truly thought there was something wrong with me. That being creative and different was the reason, and I thought I would die never being loved. Moving to LA I have met all kinds of interesting guys, but one man in particular has shown me this love. I had some time in LA before I met him, and I didn’t feel alone when I was. LA has made me gain more respect for myself and began to start understanding and accepting myself. With this new sense of  acceptance and even fondness for myself I can properly be there for him.

6. My first guy best friends

As you learned, boys in Alabama are a certain breed. They wear short shorts, pink polo’s, drive loud $30,000 trucks and think the word ‘fag’ is funny. So I never had guy friends growing up. Besides one awesome friend that I can think of, my guy friends in LA are my first. This may sound like a silly fear or accomplishment, but it just shows how it wasn’t me that was weird or different but the limiting shallow people from back home.

 

Fears or goals I still need to accomplish: Go on a group hike with strangers, take singing lessons and sing at a small venue, background act, revive my hip hop dance days, write an article for another LA magazine.

My treasured spots in LA: What makes and keeps me happy

Echo Park

There is the very social side of the park where fashionable friends drink, laugh, smoke and reconnect over large picnic blankets.

Then there is the family side where all the Latino families eat killer street food and gather to watch and laugh as their children, nieces, nephews run around them.

I like the grassy space in between, with the lovers, hobos and dog owners.

Perry’s

There is a sweet spot between Santa Monica and Venice. There are actually multiple, but I like the one with the bright red umbrellas.

Perry’s is the first place I came to in LA after our cross-country road trip ended, my friends left and all that remained was myself and the unfamiliar chaos around me.

This beachside sandy cafe with overpriced food and perfect lounging chairs was my solace. It’s a place where I could sit in the LA heat and observe.. Observe my new home and my new city.
Surfers walk to the waves, tourists zip and zoom on their bikes, scooters also searching for that perfect LA. I feel safest when I get to study people and observe, and Perry’s gives me that along with great sunburns.

If I ever am at a wall and need a fresh look at things I sit in their lounge chairs, soak in the heat and observe the beach life and the different kinds of people that zoom by. I then take in my fresh breath, my new thoughts and head back downtown where I belong.

The Last Bookstore

My mysterious place with unending inspiration and novelty & where I hope to find myself.