We woke up this morning in Beverly Hills, packed the car, and headed to Hollywood for breakfast and the view at the Soho House.
Breakfast was perfectly ostentatious. A latte course and a French press coffee course. Stephen got steak and eggs. Dylan got a BLT. I got eggs benedict. We were happy.
After breakfast, we visited the photo booth because obviously.
The day’s plan was to drive to Joshua Tree and then make our way to Sedona that night. We drove out of LA and into the desert air-drumming to Tame Impala and enthusiastically off-key singing to Sweetheart of the Rodeo.
Finally we reached Joshua Tree. The bizarre landscape stretched out in every direction, occasionally interrupted by huge mounds of boulders and the park’s eponymous trees.
We pulled over, walked into the desert, and started climbing an enormous pile of boulders. Stephen and Dylan scampered up with ease. I was slower and more risk-averse. Soon I was looking up at them.
"I think we’re a lot more limber than you are," 22-year-old Stephen said. I did not disagree.
After they conquered the mountain we continued driving through the park. There were alien lands.
And more alien lands.
Once we were out of the park we drove through a big storm. Stephen captured this photo of the lightning after I badgered him to try. Success!
Mostly there was driving. We drove three hours to Joshua Tree from LA and then three hours from Joshua Tree to Phoenix. There we stopped for an incredible meal at a place called Gallo Blanco (we found it via Foursquare — thx Foursquare!) where everything was delicious.
From Phoenix we drove another 90 miles to Sedona in darkness. We’re in a hotel for the night, and in the morning we’ll awake to see Sedona for the first time. We’re ready for whatever tomorrow will bring.
Today at 4pm I picked Stephen and Dylan up from LAX. They had flown together from Roanoke to Atlanta, and then Atlanta to Los Angeles. I found them curbside:
We made our way with the bags to the parking garage, and along the way ran into my friend Eleanor, a musician who was here with her band to play a festival in LA this weekend. A good omen, I thought.
Neither Stephen or Dylan have been to California before so I wanted to begin the trip dramatically: by driving up the Pacific Coast Highway to Venice. We crawled through traffic blasting music, finally making our way to Venice, the Pacific Ocean a flash at the end of a street.
We parked the car, took off our shoes and socks, and walked down to the beach. “We need to start this trip by putting our feet into the Pacific,” I explained. And so we did. Pants legs rolled up, dancing around in the waves, all of us shooting iPhone videos of each other shooting iPhone videos of each other.
"I was just in the Atlantic Ocean yesterday," Dylan said. We all agreed this was cool.
We made our way back to the car and kept driving north. I wanted to take them to Malibu, that stretch where the foothills, road, and ocean are one. We swung around curves, the road almost disappearing into the surf like the beach levels in “Super Mario Kart,” tires skidding along the sand and surf.
My friend Stacey had texted earlier in the day to invite us to the set of a movie she’s producing: “Wish I Was Here,” the new Zach Braff movie that was funded on Kickstarter. They were filming on the beach in Santa Monica. We turned around and headed that way.
We found them in a parking lot under tents. Stacey and Zach gave me big hugs, and I introduced them to Stephen and Dylan. Standing around were people who had backed the project for the reward of visiting the set. I introduced myself and amazingly two of the people had lived in Floyd, Virginia (a tiny town not far from where I grew up and Dylan and Stephen live), and knew Haden, my best friend since I was 15. The smallest of small worlds.
That night they were shooting a scene where Zach and Kate Hudson sat and talked on a lifeguard tower by the Santa Monica Pier. Behind them a ferris wheel and roller coaster flashed.
We stood in the director’s tent (Zach is also the director, so in the tent were Renetta, the script supervisor, Adam, Zach’s brother and the movie’s screenwriter, and Stacey, the producer) and watched the monitor while wearing headphones that carried the sound from the boom mic nearby.
The experience was amazing. It was an open mic, and we got to hear Zach directing Kate, and commenting on the shot. “It’s amazing when you picture something and then it’s actually like you imagined it,” he said. I knew exactly what he meant.
The sun fell fast, and soon it was freezing cold and we were three idiots in T-shirts and shorts. Before we knew it the crew brought us coats and someone gave Dylan a huge blanket that he wrapped himself in like an Afghani villager:
Dylan plans to be a filmmaker, and Stacey took the time to introduce him to members of the crew and explain what they all did. The key grip, first assistant director, gaffer, hair, makeup, the whole works. Dylan took it in with a big grin. Soon he was standing with another of the movie’s producers, a man named Michael who made “The Big Chill” and a bunch of other movies. They were sharing their love for “Lawrence of Arabia.” Michael was impressed that Dylan knew what it was.
It was getting late and the boys were hungry. Before leaving Kate Hudson wanted to say hi, so we stayed and talked with her and Zach for a while. I told them about the trip we were about to take, and it made them wistful for the roadtrips they’d taken before. Interminable drives through Texas. The amazingness of Sedona. Everyone wished us a safe journey.
The night ended with dinner at a place called Jones Cafe in West Hollywood, a crowded room of leather booths, loud music, and people making the scene. After our dinner I drove us along the Sunset Strip, the billboards, signs, and crowds lighting our way.
Last week I decided that I should take a trip. I would rent a car in Los Angeles and spend 10 days driving through Arizona, rolling by the Grand Canyon, moving north through Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming before turning around and coming home. Four days ago I booked this trip with plans of doing it alone. Later that night I was struck with another idea.
I have two half-brothers, Stephen and Dylan, aged 22 and 17. They come from different families and don’t really know each other. So I decided to buy them flights to LA and the three of us would take the trip together. “Three Ami-bros,” as my mom called it.
Tomorrow they will join me here in LA.
Kendra Smith, “The Stars in Your Eyes”
Holy Name Of Mary Choral Family, “He’ll Give Us What We Really Need” from The Gospel According to Budgie II mix
In the Lower East Side there’s a pothole so big it’s become a tourist attraction. It’s a black, bare-gummed chasm that gapes from the asphalt. It appeared this week after the street began melting from six straight days of temperatures above 100 degrees.
From my apartment I’ve tracked the pothole’s growth by the sounds of cars scraping over it. The first couple of days it was a rough *scrape*, bumpers dipping into the hole and dragging their nails as they pulled out. As the hole has gotten deeper the scrape has become a more alarming *thunk*, and then the pull of the accelerator as the driver escapes.
When the hole first appeared someone put an orange traffic cone on top of it, and drivers inched their way around. This wasn’t always easy, as it’s a small street with parking on either side. As the pothole has gotten bigger the cone has gotten smaller, sinking further. Now only the top two inches of the cone stick out like a shark’s fin warning the most diligent of the danger below.
The pothole’s growth has accelerated. At first it sat astride the “O” in “STOP” that’s painted in white letters on the street. As the hole has stretched it’s overtaken and finally anthropomorphized the “O.” It’s a clever camouflage.
With the orange cone’s usefulness fading, two men today decided to protect traffic from the pothole on their own. One man was in his 50s, Latino, and wearing a visor and a white golf shirt. The other was about the same age, Asian, and wearing khakis and a striped golf shirt. The men tried to ward off traffic with the cone from inside the hole and a second one that had appeared.
The men mostly made things worse. Soon a block of cars stretched toward Grand Street while the Latino man barked (“WAIT! STOP! WAIT!”) and the Asian man shuffled the cones in various unhelpful configurations to guide the cars. With each car the dance repeated itself. Finally the cars gave up on the whole situation and the line began to slowly reverse. Eventually the men gave up too.
Right now traffic outside is light and the two men and one of the cones are gone. The original cone has returned to its watch in the street, and nearby a pair of tourists take a picture. Just wait until everyone back home hears about the potholes in New York City.
ESPN or NSA?
“I ain’t humanizing myself. It ain’t about me humanizing myself. At what point did I become unhuman?”
Last week I gave the commencement address at the McNally-Smith School of Music in St. Paul, Minnesota. It starts at the 45 minute mark.