Two Years Earlier: October 2010
Santa Monica, California

I look at my phone to check and see if it’s time.

Of course, it’s time. It’s always time.

Sitting on my white leather couch -my first and only couch that’s been with me since college, I stare across the room, through the windows.

Ohhh, the sky.

I just love the sky. And, it’d be a safe bet to assume that no one living at this apartment complex feels the way I do about these windows: in love. They cover the entire back wall, and they’re tall because of the ceiling. In other words –if you don’t already know it, high ceilings are the best. Once you’ve fallen in love with your very own high ceiling, you won’t even need to fully understand feng shui -you’ll get the gist. It just feels good.

Get up, you have to get going.

I know, I know -I have to get going. That’s because today is a Tuesday; every Tuesday night, I have my writing class.

The wondrous idea to take a class sprouted about a month ago. I signed up for my Creative Non-fiction class while sitting outside on my little Los Angeles apartment balcony. The balcony faces an alley that separates my apartment from the next. It’s also where you’ll find each tenant’s gated parking garage.

Although seemingly frightening to some (a.k.a. one of my “first” cousins from Texas), I’ve only witnessed a few incidents in the alley, while peeking out the bedroom window.

One time, there was a ton of cop cars, lined all along the narrow passageway. Lights all-a-flash, yet I never heard one siren; I figured drugs were involved. Another time, there was a helicopter hovering above, circling the premises, splashing its light. I turned on the news and quickly discovered that -yes, they were on a mission to find a certain someone.

All in all, I’ve never felt at harm. I love the alley, just like I love my gated parking spot, high ceilings & windows to boot.

You need to leave. Get in the shower.

Tonight’s writing class is extra special. Each individual within my group is assigned to read aloud his or her written piece on “a moment when everything changed.” Part of what makes this so special is the fact that I have five or so hours to get ready, face the commute (no problemo), and find the peace within -the peace that’s needed when writing something that’s good enough to share.

Instead of waking up and doing all of that, I live accordingly to my usual ways: go with the flow. Nevertheless, it is time . . . time to hop in the shower, dress up in whatever I feel like wearing (i.e., LA attire), get in the car, & float towards the mysterious streets of downtown Los Angeles.

. . . . .

I still don’t get downtown LA. The downtown area always looks cool, once I notice its greatness while driving on the 10 East. The Staple Center often shines its bright lights, shooting out & in-between your customary downtown skyscrapers.

Having been born and raised in Portland, I was accustomed to the word “downtown” as equivalent to “the best area in one’s life.” Downtown LA seems to signify anything but that -at least for me & my LA excursions (four years and counting).

No one ever says:

“Hey, lets meet downtown!”

“Shopping, downtown?”

“Let’s go see a movie, downtown.”

The entire city of Los Angeles expands to infinity and beyond. This (2nd largest) city (in the US) feels obliged to encompass a (whole new) world, comprised of 88 (incorporated) cities, with over 3.4 million people -NBD.

During my first few months in Los Angeles, I undecidely chose to live without my GPS, finding myself completely lost. I highly recommend it. I know LA more than I know my hometown. And, this is the way in which my mind breaks it down…

First off, everybody goes to . . . Hollywood.  North Hollywood neighbors Burbank, most easily remembered as the area in which most television and moving-making studios reside. West Hollywood‘s a place that’s filled with a lot of cool-looking restaurants and bars that, “…Wait. Why is this place full of guys and guys only.” And, then we have Hollywood (Hollywood-Hollywood). Hollywood-Hollywood is the first place in which I lived (kinda cool, hey). I always refer to this as “when I lived in ghetto Hollywood.” Hollywood is the real deal; this is where the “stars” are, along the Walk of Fame and fortune, swarming with tourists, wrapped up in a starving-artist-styled Jack Sparrow photo-op. Hollywood-Hollywood is quite possibly the dirtiest city I’ve ever been to; it can’t help but show all its ugly, old, intoxicatingly rich colors.

Next on tour, we have the most suffocating, hot weather, amid more affordable apartments. As Cher from Clueless would say, “…Is that in the Valley?”  Why yes, yes it is. I know little to nothing about this area. I once made a visit, in order to practice a scene for acting class. My scene partner shared a tiny one-bedroom apartment with another actor; that said, the Valley is a place that enables you to survive while trying to make it “big.”

Next off, we have, “…this Westside, cause you and I know it’s the best side…,” most prominently the beaches of Redondo, Manhattan, Hermosa, & Venice. And, let’s not forget [cue in Sheryl Crow] when the sun comes up, over Santa Monica boulevard; SM is my favorite.

Last and least -least special- Downtown LA, the area that holds: office buildings; Kobe-cheating-Bryant and his entourage; your fashion-forward FIDM (Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising) friends; and, drug dealers (or so I’m told).

All in all, I might as well say it like it is & come clean, right off the bat: I am in love with this city -even the ugly parts.

You can pretty much live anywhere and say you live in LA. And, downtown LA would like to thank the Academy for being honored as “most boring, unexplored territory.”

I’m not one for boring, thus I’ve never felt inclined to go explore . . . until today.

Since downtown’s apparently filled with nothing, and since I need to write, the destination of choice is pretty much a given. I shall go to that which has become a home-away-from-home: SB (Starbucks).

Even if I’m at “home,” outside Los Angeles, I still go to SB, almost always with my mom. It’s our special daily tradition. Long ago, she reassured me that -yes, it is okay to treat yourself, once a day.

. . . . .

There’s a real beauty in Starbucks: the place is full of options. You can design your own drink, down to the temperature you’d like it (although I’ve never had too much interest in doing that).

While there’s an oblivion of drink options, there’s also a billion locations to choose from. For the most part, I’ve never been a lover of the decision-making process (although I took a decision-making psychology class in college, with the hope that I’d change a bit). I suppose that’s why Starbucks is special –I like making decisions there.

Although Starbucks gives you lots of choices, there’s comfort in that you know what to expect (to a certain extent). You know what drink options you have & those you’re partial to. No matter the location, you know you’ll see lots of green, the wavy, long-haired mermaid girl, free Wi-Fi (be still, my heart), employee customs and costumes, and all-too-similar decor that makes you forget which city you’re in. These are the familiarities you can count on, just like a home; yet, you can always allow yourself to feel a bit avant-garde, once making the saucy choice to add an extra shot –you dirty chai. That, or amused by the obscure corner location you’ve allowed yourself to float to, a location nearby nothing more than unknown office buildings in downtown LA.

During this delightfully amusing adventure, I opt for my usual drink.

“Hmm,” I say, as I look at the menu.

I don’t know why, but many & most times I pretend like I have to think about what I’d like to order, despite what the SB Angels* are well aware of. There’s an 85.25% chance that I’m going to say:

“I’d like a Grande Mocha Frappuccino -Light.”

Thereafter, I wait for the employee to write “MFL” on the bottom of my cup (so as not to overwhelm the person with too many requests). Once we’re all taken care of, an additional request is added, in an “if you wouldn’t mind, I must have this, as well” sort-of-tone:

“Oh, and double-blended, please.”

A lot of the new hires don’t know about the whole double-blended request.* If that’s the case, I say, “I think you write ‘X2’ on the cup.” These words are uttered in uncertainty, as I don’t want to make the person feel bad. After all, they’re the one who’s supposed to know.

After completing the lengthy task of ordering perfection-in-a-cup, I make my way over to the straws.

Let it be known: I adore the person who decided to give Starbucks’ customers straw options. Would you like a long, fat straw -or, a shorter, skinnier straw? Well, bless your heart and take your pick.

I always opt for the smaller straw because it’ll make the drink last a little longer.

Not only do I appreciate the smaller straw, but I’m also devoted to the tradition we have (“we,” as in the straw and I). Once I have the straw in hand, I take the wrapper off (ever-so-carefully). No matter who’s nearby, nor if it’s crowded or I’m “supposed to be” in a hurry, I brace myself while taking this extra minute. After all, it is time to seek my fortune: Is someone thinking of me?

To seek your fortune, you do as follows: Take the straw wrapper, and tie it in a knot -but, as you pull the wrapper to tie the knot, make sure and do it very quickly, in order to rip it in half. Thereafter, your destiny awaits.

If the straw still contains your untied knot on one side, no one is thinking of you: I’m sorry, but perhaps you’ll have a better day, tomorrow. If your straw is knot-less (i.e., you’ve pulled it fast and tight, only to see two pieces of a straw wrapper, one in each hand, each wholeheartedly free of a whole-to-partial knot), that’s when you know: y-e-s. Yes, someone, somewhere, is thinking of y-o-u.

When I find out someone’s thinking of me, my heart lights up in that very moment. It makes my day. And, I often feel the need to stuff the straw wrapper in my pocket -not because I’ll keep it forever, but because I’d hate to throw away something that signifies so much happiness.

On this given Tuesday, my straw is free of knots…

Sticking the straw into my perfectly blended drink, I look around the room –size-up the place. This is the one stressful part  when embarking upon unknown SB territory: you never know if the place will be busy or not. And, I’m not one who likes to stand around, bolting towards the next open seat, seemingly trying to steal it from another person who’s just as eager. That’s rude.

Unsurprisingly, there are lots of business types -mostly men. Many a businessman happens to look directly at me, during the particular seconds that I cross-examine the place.

For me, those stares are just the same as an abrupt (and bothersome) cloud of heavy smoke. Once in a pink moon, when I’ve attended a bonfire, it’s always the same; even if they say, “smoke follows beauty,” I don’t care anymore. I’m a girl who’s had enough smoke, alcohol, chewing-tobacco lies, accompanied by their sidekick, Mr. Nonsense.

With this said, I make my way to one of the few available seats, next to a young, sweetly plump school boy who’s doing homework.

“Is this seat taken,” I ask with hope.

“No,” he shyly says, barely looking up at me, just the way I like it.

I open my MacBook, as well as my treasured notebook. This notebook has become a part of me, accompanying all of my LA adventures. It is the largest notebook I’ve ever owned; and, it’s the first notebook I know I’ll complete.

Finally, I am ready to write.

I feel so foggy-minded.

I’ve known exactly what I’d write about, ever since my teacher uttered the words, “You will each write about a moment when everything changed.” In fact, my hand was the very hand to slowly shoot up, once she began addressing this very mission:

“Is it okay if the ‘moment in which everything changed’ is a happy moment,” I asked, in complete & utter uncertainty.

Entirely bemused and with a charismatic grin, she replied, “Of course!”

“Okay, great,” I said. “Thank you.”

That was just peachy, yet I am sitting in SB, wordlessly devoted to the mission, enduring the fumes. There’s no typing of buttons, nor drawing of lines -lines essentially made in memories, just as wonderful as magic.

Thoughtless bouts -they skip on past me, in the flustering bustle of brief cases and bad energy. I’m receiving far less oxygen to my day-dreamy mind than usual. Is it because of the LA smog? No. Whenever someone mentions how terribly unclear this city is, I’m surprised that I’ve forgotten to notice, especially since my roots are heavily embedded in the rich soil of the rainy, gorgeously gloriously-green state named Oregon.

I seem to be a rare Angelino: I see a sky that’s beautifully blue. That said, the slight deprivation of oxygen is probably due to the smokey black hue of manly business suits, protruding my ability to be present and focus on the matter at hand.

I face a familiar obstruction in my path. The obstruction is presumably similar to the energizer bunny (i.e., the hare), his competitor (the cheerful tortoise), and the town (complete of cheerleaders and gamblers who couldn’t fathom a life less-filled with games).

With games, there’s always one point to prove (a point in which I loathe): who is better?

For whatever reason, the turtle is slow and partial to procrastination. Perhaps that’s due to the fact that the turtle would like to experience the joy -the joy that is the present moment- during his journey towards the finish line. Meanwhile, everyone else is captivated by the goal –the end point. But, isn’t it all so easy to see? We know who wins the race.

Right now, the way to win is outside of the smoke -into the light, the sun.

Where are the chairs? Really. There aren’t any chairs, outside?

Sitting in my car will have to suffice.

. . . . .

The space inside my car always seems to be missing.

A few years ago, I received a compliment that I loved. This very compliment left my career-less present filled with extra hope for a star-studded future.

At the time, Brandy (my best friend since first grade) was visiting her boyfriend, Toby.

In a nutshell, Toby has close connections to the entertainment industry.

Brandy, Toby, and I were about to go on some West Hollywood excursion -he lived there at the time. Suddenly, he asked if we could take my car.

“We can,” I said. “But, warning: my car is full of stuff.”

Toby didn’t care, although Brandy may have been frightened at the thought. Nevertheless, instead of cabbing it, as per (his) usual fancy way, we took the Jetta.

Once we got into my car, he began to analyze, Toby-style, speaking his thoughts without thinking them through.

“This is definitely the car of an actress,” Toby said. “An actress always carries her life inside her car.”

Unlike my usual analytical self, I didn’t survey the comment. I wasn’t sure whether he thought life-inside-a-car was a good or bad thing. All I knew was that I liked it. And, my heart couldn’t help but smile.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Angels – I believe there are angels everywhere, even in places like Starbucks, and especially in CVS.

Double-blended request If you order a Frappuccino, ‘double-blended’ isn’t a part of SB’s ‘land of options,’ for it’s entirely necessary -unless you enjoy the occasional ice crystal.