Allow me to introduce you to one of my favorite people, Sheena. Not only is she my cousin, but she is one of my closest friends.
Sheena and I are spankin' new roommates. This is really amazing, especially considering we hadn't had a real relationship prior to me moving back to Texas. We had always lived very far apart, and been in different phases of life. But now, we share a house, and are in similar phases of life (not really, Sheena is kicking life's butt and taking names, and I am making minimum wage, but *maybe* it all shakes out in the end). Honestly, I look up to her and appreciate her insights more than I could ever let her know.
So, one day, it works itself out that we are making a spontaneous trip together to........drum roll......Los Angeles.
Now, I had not been back to LA since leaving in February 2017. As those who know me know...I left on interesting terms. At the time, these terms made a lot of sense and I wouldn't take it back for the world. But, I had felt really nervous to return and face those memories. I cannot imagine a better person to face it with, than Sheena.
Both of us were pretty busy with work/life stuff before taking off, so honestly when the morning of came, it was sort of a fantasy. Neither of us had time to overthink or over-plan, and it was truly going to be a spontaneous experience.
Despite what we wish, COVID has not made its full exit from our lives, yet. And so, in an abundance of caution, I made a few reservations for the weekend. Otherwise, it was an open book.
We boarded the plane, and girded our loins for what would surely be an interesting experience of a weekend.
I'll say it. I cried during the descent into LA. Seeing the packed landscape, houses and buildings filling the view, the ocean... yeah I lost it. Unsurprisingly, this wasn't the last time I would feel emotional during the weekend.
After we de-planed and collected ourselves, came the transportation decision. We had been debating for a week whether renting a car or using ride-share would be best. Thanks to the pandemic, rental cars/hotels/etc prices had sky-rocketed. So, we thought we would just get there and see. After a tricky logistics situation, we landed ourselves on an Avis bus. I hesitantly asked a guy sitting next to us, "does this go to the rental place?" He said, "Have you never been to LA before?"
As we're pulling up, the announcer says, "preferred customers, only at this stop." Sheena and I laugh, knowing that last-minute procrastinators are not preferred. As soon as we saw the non-preferred line, the laughter stopped.
Immediately, we make the decision to forego the rental. We walk our suitcases a couple blocks, out of the Avis parking lot, onto the general street, and call an Uber.
And guess what, we saved money doing so.
For two oldest siblings, who love to have a plan, we would find that spontaneity was actually our friend during the whole weekend.
I don't think I've mentioned, but our flight landed in LA at 8:00 AM on Friday morning. By the time we got to our hotel, the Mondrian in West Hollywood, it was still only around 11:00 AM. We left our bags, got semi-ready in the bathroom, then headed to Venice Beach.
I was floored. My memories of Venice are traditional. Surfer vibes, a little hippie, with a sprinkling of House music.
What we discovered, was tents on tents on tents. Homeless, abounding. We walked down the beachfront strip, and I felt for the first time, nervous about the weekend. Had the city changed so much that I didn't know what I was doing anymore? I was worried about letting Sheena down. But, we detoured to Abbott Kinney, which I felt surely had to be the same.
It did not disappoint. We had lunch at Gjelina. A Mediterranean/Italian fusion with a hefty wine list. I remember living in LA, eating there, and thinking I had really made it in the big time. And four years later, I still felt that way. We laughed, ate some incredible pasta, and shook off the pressures from the morning of travel. It truly felt like a dream.
Earlier before going to Venice, we walked by a neon pink sign that read, "wine shop." Keeping this in mind came in handy once back at the hotel. We put on our sweats (uniforms), in true fashion, and ambled over to get some white and red.
That night, we didn't have any reservations. But, I quickly made one at Employees Only prior to leaving our hotel for the evening.
Hitting all the old spots in West Hollywood also made me feel emotional deep down. These spots, 23 year old Micah used to explore, feel intimidated and yet enamored by...the works. At 28, post-pandemic, things hit a little different. We waited in lines for Laurel Hardware, Tu Madre...no luck. In the end, we hit a local taco place and waited it out until our late-night reservation at Employees Only. Just like the Avis situation, spontaneity felt SO good. We laughed, kicked it with locals, and had one of the best nights.
After partying the night away, staying up late hanging around WeHo, listening to my golden hour playlist in the hotel room, we were feeling pretty exhausted. We went to the lobby to get some carbonated bevy's. The guy at the desk helped us out big time, procuring a bucket of ice for our drinks.
Sitting by the pool, in the cool air of LA in the morning, breathed life back into us. After taking our sweet time, we finally made it to our noon reservation at The Victorian in Santa Monica.
Another iconic relic from my past. Since I lived there, it had changed ownership and been completely remodeled. But, the crisp white exterior and air of general bliss remained. We continued the theme of the weekend, enjoying some fries, and soaked up the California sun.
After lunch, we Ubered to the Bungalow via Ocean Ave. The iconic pier, the iconic crowds...all of it. I couldn't help but feel nostalgia for the hundred bike rides I would take from my Santa Monica Blvd. apartment to the beach. It's true when they say you don't know a good thing til it's gone.
No luck at the Bungalow, no surprise, and so we headed to a last min res at Mercado. The margaritas were just as fresh as I remembered, and we enjoyed laughing at photos we took by the water and talking about how insane the views are by the beach. It really does feel like sweet escape when standing over the ocean, looking at the Pacific Highway and crowds on the Santa Monica Pier.
Saturday night. Straight from Santa Monica, we headed to downtown LA. This Uber particularly pulled at my heartstrings because it brought back my every-day commute to work. Strutting down the 10 freeway, bumper to bumper...the palm trees making the exterior of the drive so beautiful. It really was peaceful. It surprises people when I say that my commutes never really bothered me that much. Sure, the traffic was annoying, and it did feel like a time suck. But I never really could believe that I lived in LA until I was sitting in traffic with what felt like a million other people, having a shared experience. Looking at the incredible houses, sunrises and sunsets, palm trees, the Hollywood sign up in the hills.
Seeing the iconic buildings of downtown made me extremely happy. Some of my happiest memories were in DTLA with close friends I had made along the way. We went up the elevator to the rooftop of the Ace Hotel, to have an early mini dinner and some frose (ironic because it was SO COLD out that night) and wine. I loved watching the sunset over the glittering buildings.
That night, we kept it low-key and went to hangout in the room. These are some of my favorite memories of the whole weekend; me and Sheena, living completely in the moment, laughing our heads off, listening to music and absorbing our LA experience. Our hotel room had a view of the pool, and the city below. The glow illuminated our room and perfectly closed a perfect day.
The last day.
SAY IT AIN'T SO.
Honestly, we had been SO in the moment, for so much of the weekend, that it didn't feel real that it would come to an end. As we packed up our stuff and headed to Manhattan Beach, I began to feel a little sad. But, the good times didn't stop. After a beachside brunch, we carried our suitcases across the beach to get to the water where we would park it for a few hours before our flight.
Yes, this was absolutely the most hilarious part of the whole trip.
Two women, dressed in jeans and sweatshirts, carrying their luggage across hot sand. Everyone is dressed in swimsuits, playing sand volleyball, unencumbered except for maybe a bag containing a beach towel and book.
But having no choice, we THRIVED. There's something about sitting by the ocean. Not just any ocean, but the Pacific Ocean. The largest ocean in the world. Nothing ahead but miles and miles of water. Really terrifying, actually. But also humbling. It reminded me of my future, and how much is unknown and scary. But in the end, it is a really beautiful thing. Just like the weekend with Sheena. I can think of no better travel partner and fellow LA-explorer. I had so much fun showing her around, and felt so proud that she wanted to come with me.
And so, this one is for you, Sheena. Thank you for being you, for teaching me and listening to me, and for giving me a home. Love you always.