Stop Looking at the Ground, Start Looking at the Leaves
Two years ago, almost exactly, I stepped out of my suburban, cornfield comfort zone alone and went on one of my biggest adventures to date.
My fabulously talented friend, Alicia, was living in Astoria, NY during a summer internship. She told me (in a very Alicia, “Hey, if you think you can, no worries, but you’re an idiot if you don’t take advantage of this,” tone) to come visit.
The closest city I’d been to that resembled NYC was Chicago, which does not hold a candle to sheer size and life of NY. The closest I’d ever been to an Empire State of mind geographically was New Hampshire. Not exactly similar, to say the least.
My initial thought was, “Man, that would be so cool to make it to NY finally after years of Broadway dreaming. But, I can’t just leave and buy a plane ticket and go by myself.”
And then, I properly corrected myself, “Oh wait, I’m a freakin adult and yes I can do all those things!”
And that’s what I did.
A 5-hour layover, sipping airport wine with strangers, and a plane ticket cost away, I landed and finally understood what Frank Sinatra sang about.
I spent a few days with Alicia in her rented Astoria apartment, which overlooked the city better than a 1970’s album cover, especially on the building’s rooftop that was only a mere death-defying, rusty ladder climb away from view. We hit all the touristy NYC spots during my visit, and Alicia ran me around to some of her local loves (inside joke: Shake Shack on the subway).
Time Square and Central Park felt like massive theme parks. The price and crowds made living there not an option to me. But, being a tiny spec in the towering playground of opportunities and sinful indulgences that are NYC is something all humans should yield themselves to at least once.
Fast forward and I haven’t taken a trip by myself since NYC.
Granted, I’m not complaining because I’ve travelled to some life-changing places since, no doubt (see my “Desert Kingdom” blog post for more wanderlust). But, flying alone and taking only yourself along for the ride makes the exploit all the more stimulating. It’s like that nervous, tingly feeling you get on a second date when you know that person isn’t going to axe murder you, that you both are definitely into each other enough to suck face at the end of the night, and your outfit is on point. But, then that feeling is jacked up on coke.
Well, my friend Alicia lives in L.A. now to attend UCLA, because she’s a bad ass. And naturally, I had to take advantage of her fearlessness and take a little leap to visit her as well. And, it just so happens that our two mutual friends, Lori (a Mary-Louise Parker look-alike who is also an amazing actress), and Krysten (my Asian love from another mother since our high school scene days), made it out there too. Have I mentioned how incredibly proud I am of my inspiring friends?!?
These three beautiful people had been pushing me to visit them for more than a year now. Labor Day was coming up, and shockingly Zach (le boyfriend) and I had no plans. He’d been itching for some beach time, but in reality if he came with me to Cali, his ears would bleed from massive boredom of listening to me catch-up with my girls.
Nope, this was a trip I needed to venture alone!
So, I made up my mind, Facebook messaged Alicia, Lori and Krysten to see if my timing was good, made sleeping arrangements and bought a plane ticket. (Thank you to Zach for being supportive and being a single fur-baby parent for the long weekend).
Upon arriving in L.A. at 8:30pm, my first realization was that I could not call my friend Krysten my beloved pet name for her (Asian), due to the mass number of people that would be confused and offended. Willow, we aren’t in Indiana anymore.
L.A. was cooler at night than I expected. It was cleaner and more modern than I expected. It was more hipster and less hippie than I expected.
While I agree with Alicia that New York’s artistic diversity and ideas of beauty are far more assorted than the L.A. beach types, I loved being surrounded by the graffiti art, skater/surfer style and clean, colorful architecture of the West Coast city. It is gigantic and densely populated like New York, but L.A. is far more spread out, suburban and relaxing. If I had to pick between the two to vacation again, it’d be New York. If I had to pick a place to live, it’d be L.A.
The driving speeds and practices of L.A. residents was enough to make me have a heart attack, but the traffic was not too bad. This was good, because everything is 30 min away, so we (Alicia and Krysten) did a lot of driving. The positive point of L.A. being so sprawled out, though, is that even with more than 10 million residents, you don’t feel like you’re on top of everyone. And, instead of there being one Olive Garden that everyone wants to hit up on a Saturday night, there are so many places to eat and drink, that we barely waited in line anywhere, if at all.
Do you find yourself craving breakfast between that noon and 1pm hour? Then go visit L.A., because I swear this city is the king of brunch. Corn pancakes with avocado and feta at Figtree café by Venice beach? Yes please. Bottomless mimosas at Littlefork cafe for $16? Shut up and take my money. I did not have one bad or boring meal while I vacationed in L.A., and honestly the drinks and food were not too expensive in the slightest; I found the prices pretty similar to Indianapolis.
This is beginning to sound like a travel review guide for a magazine, so let me switch gears.
I spent my initial night/day in L.A. more like a resident. Drinks, brunch, shopping on Melrose and around The Grove, Farmer’s Market, tea shop, authentic Chinese food, and then watched Match Game in my hotel room while I FaceTimed with Zach. My allergies were kicking in, so I had to replace drinks at a swanky bar with Chinese herbal green tea and Nyquil for the evening.
But, my second day I vacationed like I do.
Alicia, Lori and I did pretty much a little bit of everything you could possibly do in L.A. without getting in the ocean.
We started off the day at Figtree for brunch (obviously) right on the Venice beach boardwalk. I’m not a day at the beach kind of person (you can tell by my ghostliness), but I still got some sand in my toes. The view was stunning, and I didn’t have to get sunburnt to enjoy it.
I still stand by the fact that the best way to travel and immerse yourself in a city is to visit friends, because they know of all the city’s hidden gems, and what is really worth seeing.
Lori took us to the Lake Shrine Temple; a temple celebrating all religions with a sunken meditation garden where some of Gandhi’s ashes were placed. Peacefulness does not begin to describe the atmosphere. Merely thinking of the garden while trying to describe it is putting my brain in a tingly, restful place, like a soft spring breeze breathing through your ears and swimming around in your head.
Whether religious or not, I think it is important to understand the culture and history of multiple religions to better comprehend the world. And mediation opens anyone up to positivity and self-realization. I only wish I could’ve gone to one of the Temple’s services, which combines Hindu, Judaism, Christianity, and additional religions into one service, performing each religion’s practices individually.
After the three of us reached a Zen moment, we then decided to destroy it by visiting the Museum of Death. If you’ve ever watched shows like True Crime and wished there were gorier, more detailed pictures, they are waiting for you here.
The museum truly impressed us with its history and artifacts regarding funerals, autopsies and famous serial killings. But, it delves much deeper into demented murders, mass suicides, disturbing, real images of ways to die such as car crashes and beheadings, of bodies found after gang wars and videos. Even the autopsy photos, while scientific, are enough to make some people feel squeamish or even faint.
Even though it’d be a sad thing to miss, if you are even slightly troubled by gore, do not go to this museum, or have friends tell you when and when not to look. Literally the only thing more disturbing than this museum would be seeing actual carnage in person.
Surprisingly, after visiting the Museum of Death, we went and grabbed some Thai food for dinner.
Bellies full, we decided it was time to find a nice middle point between meditation and death, and we trudged the car all the way to the Griffith Observatory for some science and L.A. views.
It was perfect weather for the Observatory (minimal smog), because the balconies offer the best sight of the city. This was one of the many times my mind wandered to Zach, wishing he could see and feel what I was experiencing in that moment. Social media is great, but it didn’t do this view justice. I can only imagine how many romantic coffee dates are spent at the Griffith Observatory, overlooking the City of Angels in one another’s arms.
Our final spot of the night was the icing on my palm tree shaped cake: The Viper Room.
To those who are not aware, Alicia and I have been obsessed with Johnny Depp since he sexually awakened us as Captain Jack Sparrow when we were the mere age of 12. To those not up on their 1990’s culture, Johnny Depp used to own The Viper Room.
The Viper Room is literally one room with worn, 90’s dimpled leather booths and gothic wall lighting to one side, a stage in the middle with an authentic disco ball, and a neon lit bar on the other side. It smelled like grunge Johnny Depp’s inebriated, cocaine memories. I soaked in his musk.
We hit up the bar on the night a North Carolinian Orchestral Folk Rock band, The Collection, coincidentally played. I was already on cloud nine, sipping Jack (see what I did there?) and Coca-cola, making Alicia and Lori take selfies with me. But, when The Collection’s guitar, trombone, clarinet and percussion sang through the tiny black room, all three of us felt the air lift us up on little invisible pedestals as music and thin streams of alcohol reflecting the neon lights floated around our heads.
My lifted state encompassed that entire day with Lori and Alicia, and exactly what I wanted to get out of my West Coast trip. My ever growing smile hid amid the dark musk room, barely lit by lime green neon and folk sounds. I left The Viper Room as satisfied as Augustus Gloop in an all you can eat candy shop. I had discovered L.A.
There was a small part of me that wished Zach could have had the residual buzz from The Viper Room concert that’s still circling my brain. But, it wasn’t our moment to share. That point in time was meant for me, Alicia and Lori. And it was perfect in every sense of the impractical word.
(Warning: mushy moment ahead) Zach is my soulmate, my best friend and my partner. We love sharing our lives together and doing pretty much everything together. But, my trip reminded me that you always have to do things by yourself, too. You had memories before your soulmate, and you need to reconnect with those or make new memories after meeting your soulmate, sometimes without them.
No question I missed Zach while I gallivanted around L.A. At the same time, I also had so much pure Mallory fun. Your life journey doesn't end when you've found your person. If anything, it should make you feel more secure and safe to go and explore, even if it is without them occasionally, because you have a home to come back to. I loved my solo trip to NYC when I was single, and I loved my solo trip to L.A. while Zach was home with Willow.
To relationship pessimists: sure, serious relationships mean recognizing your flaws and choosing to be a better person and partner each day. But, if your actions aren't harmful, you shouldn't change as a person after you meet your soulmate.
Yes, in a relationship you are probably less nightlife crazy and drunk and inappropro than you were when you were single or with a bad partner (boy, did I have fun in college). However, that doesn't mean you left the party at 9:30pm.
You still left at 4am and had as much ridiculous fun with yourself, your friends and a sexy “other” making out on the dance floor. The only difference is that “other” is your partner instead of randoms. And, you're going home with that person, who you're about to eat Steak 'n Shake next to in bed with no shame (best friend status) before sexy time (with no walk of shame) and passing out happy and safe.
My partner and I are confident enough to travel and have a blast without the other, and we equally miss each other and can't wait to be home. Sometimes, you still have to experience life and goals and beauty without your person, or alone, or with others like Alicia, Lori and Krysten, who are equally important in your life journey.
Alicia made it to L.A., so I once again attached myself to her journey and took a fearless trip of my own. Dear 14-year-old Alicia and Mallory who first connected through a love of Depp: you will drink and dance in his old bar 10 years in the future. You will still be close friends even though you live far away from each other. We made it to NYC together. We made it to L.A. together. We made it to The Viper Room together.