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Hi! If you hadn't noticed, I am traveling around the US. I am looking for nice, fun people who can put me up for a few nights and feed me (since I am broke) and show me a good time (since I like good times). If this sounds like fun for you, email me at justingrace AT mac DOT com with your info and address and phone number. I am especially looking for places to stay in the southern USA. Right now I really need a place to stay in or around the following places:

Riverside/Palm Springs/Indio/Joshua Tree, CA
Central Texas

Thanks in advance for your help! And now...

US Tour Day 3, Part 2: Enter Los Angeles

A little backstory is in order. I left my home at exactly 1 PM on September 17. When I woke up that day I had no idea what I was going to do in LA except for my photo shoot. September 17th at 12:10 PM—during the climax of my packing and hurrying to get out the door frenzy—I got an email from some readers of mine inviting me to stay with them and their housemates in Los Angeles for a few days, starting Friday! On Friday night we would have dinner and then go to a party in West Hollywood. On Saturday they were taking me to see some crazy concert with The Cure and Duran Duran! I was stoked!

So, fast forward to now. There I was in Santa Barbara. According to Yahoo Maps, there are 93.9 US miles between my starting point in Santa Barbara and my destination in Los Angeles. But what Yahoo Maps did not tell me was that, through the miracles of overpopulation and consumer excess, I was about to experience traffic beyond my wildest nightmares, casuing me to complete this journey in a fantastic 3 hours and 45 minutes. That averages out to almost exactly 25 miles per hour. That's not fast folks.

For hours I sat sandwiched between thousands of other motorists, paralyzed in place, baking in the sun. But, I was determined to have a good attitude. I kept reminding myself that this was part of the adventure. So, I snacked, getting my fingers all sticky from eating slice after slice of dried mangoes. Floating in a motionless sea of cars all much more fancy than my own, Bill Monroe's old bluegrass kept me company through my headphones. And I thought, "Traffic, sugary snacks, and old country music. Now this here is what America's all about."

I have this saying that only boring people get bored. Well, then the verdict is that I am officially boring, because after a few hours of that traffic I was itching for something to entertain me—anything. I mean, sure, there was the spectacular Pacific coastline to my right and the hills and mountains to my left and all that jazz. But, the pain of the traffic sort of dulled the excitement I might normally feel as I drove by something totally kick–ass. For example, driving by a beach at 70 miles per hour I might observe how beautiful that beach was as it whizzed by. But, sitting in my hot car—unable to get out of the car, yet still not going anywhere—any positive thoughts about that same beach were somewhat masked by my feelings of discomfort and suffering.

Now, believe me, my current state of mind is lollygagging—sort of a semi–focused, quasi–directed wandering of sorts. So, I am not really in the mindspace where I would get mad about traffic. I am dedicated to having fun. But, today I did have somewhere to be at a certain time—I had dinner and a party to get to!

My new friends live in a borough of Los Angeles called Echo Park. I don't know why they call it Echo Park. In fact, who cares why they call it that? What really matters is that I was exhausted when I got there. It took more focused effort than I wanted to admit at the time in order to keep my spirits up after the grueling drive. But good hosts know how to make a guy feel good fast. First, Hillary and Larissa and Leslie helped me carry all my things inside and moved me into their spare room. Then they made me a cocktail and sat me down on a chair that wasn't attached to a car and I felt much, much better. I took a few deep breaths and let myself sink deep into fun mode again.

Some of Absinthia's absinthe helped ease our moods before dinner.

Hillary and Larissa were amazing. I had only known them for minutes, yet there was a strong energy of familiarity in the air between us. Of course, that is probably largely due to the fact they had been reading about my and Andie's life for over a year. They probably knew more about me than most of my family members, which I thought was 10% eerie and 90% totally awesome. So, conversation flowed as easily as breathing, and that fun feeling flourished in the house.

But, soon it was time to take the fun on the road! I was swept off to Hollywood. Hollywood means so many things to the people of this world, but tonight to us it meant dinner. They had some place special in mind, some Thai joint they really fancied. I was just happy to be anywhere with such wonderful people, so I spent most of my time smiling—I didn't care if we ate rocks or handfuls of sand at that point.

There was no parking nearby, so we parked in the lot of nearby liquor store and pretended to buy something so we wouldn't get our car towed. The store cashier stood behind what looked like an inch of what I guessed was lexan or bullet–resistant glass of some sort. A whole wall of the stuff stood between him and the customers or potential criminals—it was like the boy in the bubble finally got a job.

The restaurant was a tiny, hole–in–the–wall sort of place in the sort of sketchy neighborhood that has liquor stores with bulletproof glass. I couldn't believe how aptly named the place was, too. The name the owner's chose for their restaurant business was—and I swear I am not making this up—Thai Food.

Thai Food's young waitress—their only waitress—sat us outside under one of those white car–port tents you buy at Costco for $80. They had converted the open–ended tent into a cute outside seating area with some lights and potted plants. The outside air felt perfect perfect and warm on my arms—I didn't need a jacket or even long sleeves, and I added one more thing to my ongoing list of reasons to move to LA. And when the food arrived I added another thing to that same list. Let's just say the restaurant's simple name really says it all: Thai Food was the fucking master of thai food.

Here we see Larissa wearing a hat purchased at Dracula's castle in Romania. Well, I think that was where she said she bought it. On the right is Barbara, hostess of the party and the birthday boy's main squeeze.

After dinner we motored to West Hollywood for a birthday shindig at their friends' house. I didn't know anyone there except the people I came with, but that was OK because I had buttons to give away! Buttons are so fun at parties. Whether people love them or hate them, they are great conversation starters. And, it really brings out a different vibe when you walk into a new place and just start giving away little presents to people with no expectation of any money or anything in return. Sometimes it really messes with their heads, as most folks in our culture are not expecting that sort of thing.

Hillary and me nursed some tropical concoction from a Tiki cup. The cup looked great—they had a whole set of them, all in different colors. There was one problem with the cup, though. It was way too big for alcoholic drinks, even with two people suckling from it. So, Hillary and I entered the land of the unsober pretty quickly.

The birthday boy was this guy named Dave. He was a photographer specializing in racy nudes, and his house was decked out in the most brilliant kitsch/Tiki theme. Every detail was perfect—no cup or ashtray or pillow or coaster was anything but the pinnacle of cool. A Rickenbacker bass hid behind a table, a postcard of Henry Miller peeked out from under a book. Dave was shy and funny and charming, the sort of guy that girls would want to hug.

I spent most of the evening nursing a huge drink from a Tiki cup and chatting with Lee, owner of Dionysus Records. It was impossible to not notice Lee when he walked in. He had swank written all over him, clearly the best dressed person for days. I made a mental note to make it a point to tell him how great he looked—you can never go wrong giving compliments. And, when I finally did tell him we got swept into conversation.

Now, this guy was a total hero. First of all, he had to be the most un–LA guy on the planet, which went against every stereotype of record company owners. He was humble, open, soft–spoken, and kind–natured. But, what really amazed me was that he refused to compromise his artistic vision. He only signed and put out music that was important to him—70's garage, old punk, and underground eclectica from the 60's and 70's. And, he had been holding true to his vision for twenty years.

Lee talked openly about his personal life and his professional life and the way they had been woven together for so many years. I sat captivated, happy that he didn't seem to mind answering my 50 million questions about his travels and his record label and his life. I always hoped there would be people like him, people who just picked this one thing they loved and did it and did it and did it, even though other people might not get the joke and the whole world might be crumbling around them. And, the best part of what he does is that he enables these musicians who are basically ignored if not altogether rejected by the mainstream to get their art out to the world. Sure, I think artists and musicians do great things. But, the person who helps those artists rise to new heights, the one who carries their creations to the people, now that person is a hero in my book. And, that was what Lee's life was all about.

Eventually it was time to roll, so we said our good–byes, which were good indeed, and headed back to Echo Park for some sleep.