The ability to store and recreate the impressions garnered from moments flying by throughout the day is an exercise in imperfect memory. The inability to create new memories has been a common occurrence for a long long time.
I ride into Santa Barbara around 10 pm and make my way downtown, toward the Old Hotel. The night is cool, and I can feel the salt in the air tingeing my nostrils. I park on a back street, unpack my things, and make my way through the lot toward the rear entrance.
The interior of the hotel is bright and elegant, like a well put together old photograph of a modernist era Parisian café. Over the speakers, I hear a piano rendition of Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York. The girl tending the lobby counter is pleasant and has a pretty round face. Her medium length blonde hair is tied back into a ponytail with a dark blue ribbon, and as I approach the counter her face perks up, like a trained actor ready to deliver her lines.
“Welcome to the Hotel Santa Barbara, how are you tonight?”
“I’m doing great, thanks. A little chilly outside. It’s been a long day.”
“Well, we’re here to serve you. How can I help you? Do you have a reservation with us, or if not, would like to book a room for the night? ”
“I actually already have something booked.”
“Oh, excellent. Let’s find you in the computer. Last name?”
“Vega, first name Sean”
I pull out my phone, open up my e-mail, and find the appropriate booking information. The girl asks for my credit card and ID, and after we go through the de facto motions of exchanging the necessary information, she asks, “will you be expecting anyone tonight? Or, is it just you?”
“Just me,” I say.
“Ok, sure thing, just sign here.”
She hands me two key cards in a paper sleeve, and I thank her.
“If you need anything else, I’ll be here all night. Well,” she pauses, thinking over what she just said, “I won’t be, but the front desk will be open, and someone will be here.”
I smile as she says this.
I take the elevator up to the third floor with an Argentine couple who are just making their way back in from a long day outside. Apparently this is their first time in the States, and they are travelling all the way up the West Coast before hopping over to Chicago and then New York.
“Take care,” I tell them, “and good luck with everything.” I step out of the elevator and make my down the hall.
Once in my room, I run a bath and strip down. I go over my checklist for the next few hours: cold shower, shave, and then a walk down the street to my favorite bar.
The water is warm, and I have a glass of scotch and soda on the floor outside the tub. I wonder how many moments like this exist in a year. Times when you are perfectly alone, and perfectly still, and even though the world outside exists in all of its glorious mess, there is still a calm and present center in your exclusionary bubble. Getting frustrated with the outside should be easier as I get older, and my anxieties should be more present and maybe a little more visible, yet it seems to be the opposite. The awareness of who I am, and what I’m doing, is more pronounced, and takes a lead role in how I approach every day. I am stronger and wiser and more focused than I ever thought I could be. But even then, the little things sometimes find a way of worming themselves through.
I overheard a conversation at a Thai place the other day about how someone’s friend wanted to move, was dying to move out to Highland Park from Venice because the rent had just gotten too expensive and she just couldn’t pay anymore. Not with her freelance bullshit career making soy candles and water vortexed to higher frequencies.
“What the actual fuck?” I thought. The conversation almost compelled me to turn around and tell the couple to go and tell their friend to fuck themselves gently. Almost.
I exhale, “All of these expats don’t know fucking shit.”
There is an alternative vision of the city in my mind. A city that’s dark around the edges, and classic in all of the right places. The neighborhoods are strung together by a collection of highways and freeways and roads that are post-war and industrial, yet snake around large and quiet suburbs where people who have lived here their entire life are making a foundational stamp on their little piece of land so close to the big city. There’s no need in their lives for vortexed water or new age catchphrases. They never wanted to be actors in anyone’s half assed attempt at a screenplay, and they could care less about attending some famous persons’ party up on Mullholland. Everyone silently understands that the streets northwest of the 101 are populated with expendable people who barge into the city, make a selfish mess of it, and when things don’t work out, leave because LA is vain and vapid and too hard. It’s not St. Louis, or Cleveland, or Seattle. It’s not friendly, and it shouldn’t be. Because it’s beautiful and savage and untamable, and to try, to begin to attempt to stop the madness is madness in itself.
“So just leave,” I want to tell them. “Don’t even try; pack your bags and run, because everything will break your heart”, and even though it sounds silly, I have to ask, “where are you from, and how long will you be staying?”