Friday, November 7, 2014

Los Angeles!

When I say my mom is a fan of Ellen, I mean it in the most hardcore, best-friend-necklace wearing, taping-if-she-had-PVR, first-name-basis kind of way.  She talks about her on a daily basis and refers to her so casually that we’ve all sort of started thinking Ellen is part of the family.  During our weekly coffee catch-up sessions, amidst stories about work and bus mishaps, “Ellen said…” will always make its way into conversation. My mom has been a fan for years, so when I got a phone call from LA telling me there was a set of tickets available for an upcoming taping of the show, I didn’t think twice about booking our flights to California. Oh, and why did I get a random phone call from LA? Because my mom registered me for tickets. Yeah. Big fan. 

I had never been to LA, and didn’t know anything about where to go, what to do, or even what to wear (contents of my bag: 3 sweaters, 2 pairs of jeans). I kept looking up pictures of places we could visit, but nothing made sense…it was just so glamorous and overwhelming, and unlike anything I could have ever planned for. When I thought about LA, I pictured uncomfortable American Apparel models, spray tans spraying wildly into the air at every street corner, and millions of tiny chihuahuas.  (I don’t know what in my childhood contributed to this cognitive glitch.)
For my mom, this was a very important trip, not only because she was about to see her ultimate idol, but because she doesn’t really travel much aside from our comfortable yearly adventure to Cuba.  I don’t know what I was thinking when I thought she would be quiet or shy on this trip, but I was very wrong, as always.  “We’re going to see a show, this kind of show, it is called Ellen!” My mom told the taxi driver at 3 AM on the way to the airport. “I just cannot believe it!”
At passport control, my mom hopped around excitedly. I reminded her that last time she did that, she was ‘randomly’ swabbed for narcotics, but that didn’t stop her. The rest of our border-crossing segment went as follows:

Officer: “Do you have any friends or relatives in the United States?”  
Mom: “Yes:  Ellen!”
Officer: “Excuse me?”
Me: “She means Ellen Degeneres. We’re going to the show.”
Officer: “Oh. Are you excited?”
Mom: “YES! YES! YES!”
Me: “Sir, we’re excited, but…not too excited. Not like…crazy excited. Just like…casually…excited. Safely.”
Crisis averted

We had about ten million (three) connecting flights, of which I would like to be reminded the next time I try to save a few bucks on travel, and while the first one Val and I filled with songs about crossing the border with inappropriate objects in our carry-on, the other two were infinitely less interesting and much more exhausting.  Of course, I blame my endless ignorance about geography on that one. Oh, so we’re flying to the other side of the continent, right? That should be like…hour…hour forty five?  Pretty much the only fun thing that happened on the second flight was the hour I spent playing with a cute sneaky baby. This baby would grab my finger and pull it away, only to be told by her mom to return it to me, which she would do very officially, grabbing it again when she thought I wasn't looking.




 Another fun thing was that every plane we took had a delay, which meant us sprinting wildly through airports immediately upon landing, boarding the plane drenched in sweat, and laughing like idiots at the opportunity to finally score a quick Frapp at the Washington airport. Thanks for the photo bomb, mom!

Caramel Frappuccino, Marisa style!

Oh, and no big deal, but on the way to Colorado (lol like…WHAT? Why was that part of the trip???) we saw the most breathtaking view of the mountains.  So that was the fun part of that flight. Also when Val didn’t go to the washroom the entire time because she thought she’d get sucked out of the plane. Also fun: mom and I continuously insisting on the validity of her concern.


And then, it happened: we arrived!
I could not believe the scenery that greeted us as we left the Burbank airport.  All around us, mountains and palm trees. It felt like we had entered onto the set of a movie, and surrounding us was silence and warm, delicate sunshine.  

From the Bob Hope Airport

I now know why they call it the city of angels. Everyone, from the cashiers, to the hotel receptionist, to the maintenance workers were so, so nice. We would stop on the street to look at a map and immediately someone would come over and ask us if we need help getting somewhere.  On another occasion, I had stopped to take a picture of a flower, when a guy came up to me and said: “Do you know what that plant is called?” I began to answer, “I should know this, but..” when he said: “It’s called bird of paradise! Gorgeous, huh?” 

A Bird of Paradise!
 
 Santa Monica is by far my favorite place of all. It was so calm and cozy, and everywhere you went was never too far from the beach.  We walked through a little outdoor mall called 3rd Street Promenade, where seriously talented teenage boys sang Adele hits, and where my mom took about two hours to order a frozen latte ("Can I have the one like that one but with the dark but only and if bigger take the cream and also no cream?") at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, by which point I had mummified from embarrassment.



Wow so candid shot
One thing I remembered to pack was my trusty white dress which fits like a charm on those 2-for-1-burrito days.  I’ve received compliments on this dress in Paris, Montreal, London, and New York. And once again, it didn’t let me down.  This time, I was complimented on it by a personal trainer and a girl picking up a pumpkin at a local Trader Joe’s.  Honestly, I’m just gonna go ahead and tell anyone who’s interested that this dress was ELEVEN DOLLARS at a Gap Factory Outlet.  It’s probably still there, if you wanna go for it. 

In between coffee orders, we took pictures in front of dinosaurs, some of which had partied a bit too hard the night before…


Jesus Gary, not again



And drove through rich neighborhoods where my mom asked elderly people why they were rich…



 …and where we saw pomegranate and lime trees!!!



 We also drank the most incredible coffees from an Italian café called Spazio (like this Nutella filled cappuccino)… 


The water was crisp, the sand was soft, and the Santa Monica Pier was grungy in that wonderful carnival way.  Every now and then, my mom would approach a sunbather and ask what they did for a living. As I continued melting  into a pile of mortification, the sunbathers addressed her inappropriate inquiries with this unexpected, overwhelming kindness that I have never encountered in any other place in the world.


And then, something even more magical happened: we saw a dolphin. We had been walking along the beach for a long time when suddenly we came across a group of people gathering, smiling, and pointing at the water.  It was a really endearing moment: at a time where few things seem to be enough to excite us-despite our thinning iPads and increasingly aerodynamic cars-what brought joy to the faces of all of these people was a little dolphin, playing in the water under a trail of sunlight.




At one point, I was greeted by a passerby with: “Hi! Sure is a nice day, huh? You look real good in your swimsuit!”  So there you go, ladies, another thrifty acquisition that brought in a surprising amount of compliments, and one you can acquire for $18.50 from Forever 21 (!!!)



On the beach, we also saw a ton of aqua-carrots. I believe that is the official terminology.


We were told that Venice Beach would be “something else” but I, of course, was in for much more than I expected.  While walking there, we came across a troupe of …gymnasts? Dancers? Bodybuilders? Circus performers? I don’t know what they were, but they were all doing push-ups and..I don't even know how to describe this...stretching? All together at once.  It looked like this:


We made friends with Moe, a celebrity trainer, and his friend John, who happened to own a beach-front condo and was very enthusiastic about us coming in to take pictures of the ocean from his penthouse suite.  While we politely declined on account of it being way too late for penthouse pictures, Moe told me all about his exciting life on the beach, and assured me that anyone could do anything they love if they just put their mind to it.  “I can see it in your eyes,” Moe said. Not sure what he saw, but the thought was certainly nice. My mom then realized that she had left out one human being from her distribution list, and promptly announced that “We are going to see Ellen!”  to which Moe replied “Oh, I know her. She’s a very nice person.”  He gave me his number in case I ever wanted a tour of Los Angeles, and while I forgot to message him, I feel pretty cool, kinda like Bart Simpson, that I can now say "Oh, I know someone in LA. He's friends with Ellen." Cowabunga dude. Okay, so I don't get out much.

Another incredible thing about Santa Monica was that I finally had the best burger I have ever had in my life.  This guy was an organic, grass-fed lamb burger, topped with fig jam, organic feta, slivers of kale and spinach, and the creamiest dressing in all of life.  We also got a side salad, and while I’m not a huge fan of salads in general, this one tasted like all of the best flavours in the world. I'm not going to try to describe what was in it. I'll just say that we gobbled it up like stallions.  Oh, sorry, hang on, did I mention that the cashier looked like Terrence Howard, and continuously encouraged us to keep getting free refills of the organic lavender lemonade that accompanied our meals?  Burger Lounge. A must.


This patron's double Ray-Bans were a great addition to the California experience.


The next part of our trip was in…I don’t know …Los Angeles proper? Where is The Grove? Honestly, I am still confused about where we were. Naming factual locations is a nightmare for the geographically-disabled, so I am really sorry.  Anyway, let’s say Los Angeles. Oh, actually, I forgot to mention that pretty much everywhere in LA is all organic, raw, fresh, and mega, ultra healthy.  So, we checked into our…let’s call it…place of stay.  (I will omit details pertaining to blood on lamp-shade and naked Lebanese man hanging clothes to dry on hallway railing) and made our way down to the healthiest grocery store on the planet: Erewhon. I thought that I had seen it all in my adventures in veganism, raw food, and juicing, but this was truly nothing like I had ever encountered before.  It was a beautiful, giant establishment, stocking anything you could possibly dream of, in any of the options I mentioned above, and then some. By some, I mean this random flower stand at the front of the store, which just blew me away:



And by everything else, I mean a freshly pressed organic juice bar, organic cafe, fridges and fridges of raw, vegan 'dairy' products, salads, pastries, sandwiches... 


Rose water muffin! Wow!


Organic everything! 


 And this meant that, during our stay, our lunches and breakfasts looked like this.



And they even had thyroid -enhancing juice with sort of my name on it! I didn't get any, though, because it looked like boogers. (But still! Wow!)



Another wonderful thing we found near our not-so-humble abode was a café called Andante Coffee Roasters, where I had some of the best coffee I’ve ever had in my life. I don’t know how you can mix coffee beans with water and end up with something creamy, but they did it, and I can still taste the aromatic almost perfume-like decadence now. This is another place I would definitely recommend if you're in the uhhh..something...neighborhood, somewhere in LA.




Near this something-or-other neighborhood there was also a place called The Grove which is a really cute outdoor village-like mall, complete with a fountain and adorable little trolley transporting weary shoppers from store to store.  At night, the fountain dances, illuminated by fuschia lights, and the trees glow from twinkle lights hung between them, stretched amidst little boutiques.



Umm sorry about the alien entities materializing behind us

We walked through the little streets, absorbing the enchantment, while makeup booth attendants asked us if they could just ask us one quick question about our skincare routines. No, we said lovingly, continuing to walk until it was time to head back to our place of refuge, which was, luckily, within comfortable walking distance.

A few days before we left for this trip, I asked my mom what she wanted to see there besides Ellen. “I don’t know about LA,” she said, “But I want to see the celebrities.”  Okay mom. One celebrity homes tour coming up. We boarded a pseudo-Jeep early Monday morning, and were driven around Hollywood and Beverly Hills for what felt like eternity, stalking the homes of Justin Timberlake, who has a security guard and a LOT of garbage:



Granted most of the bins are probably filled with old 7th Heaven VHS tapes (booyeah booyeah booyeah etc)

Keanu Reeves, who believes he is actually inside the Matrix…

No windows, no doors, just stainless steel walls

Avicii, who is a show-off…

Spyker...like when it comes to women's drinks (booyeah booyeah)
And my personal favorite, the apartment where Pretty Woman lived and where Richard Gere climbed up her ladder and oh my gosh *squeeeeee*


We also saw Kat Von Dee's tattoo parlor and learned that she charges like a thousand dollars every fifteen minutes, so I'll have to significantly scale down my tribal snake design idea.


And did you know that if you go too close to the Hollywood sign, helicopters will come after you and you'll get arrested? My mom really wanted to climb into the letter O, and upon learning about these homeland security regulations, she was very disappointed by this absolutely shitty view we had to settle on. Better than nothing, I always say!



At one point, we drove by Leonardo DiCaprio’s house just as he was pulling out of the driveway on a scooter. Our tour guide yelled “LEO’S GETTING AWAY!” which obviously freaked Leo out, so he drove off even faster, and we drove after him, of course never being able to catch up. Ugh come on man, you’ve been doing this for years, could you not have brought a net or something? I have a video of this, by the way, and I won't post it because I'm quite confident I would get sued if I did. So, just imagine Leo screaming and speeding on a scooter as a fat guy driving a Jeep full of white people chases him through the Hollywood Hills. Or perhaps the hills were of the Beverly variety. Thanks to me, we'll never know..

Then we totally pulled a Californian lifestyle, and sipped on iced teas at ‘Bucks and like, snacked on vitamins...



And then I saw my future at a nearby pharmacy..



And then, then, then…it was time for ELLEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Naturally, the morning of the show, I realized I had forgotten my detangling spray, and raced to the store to purchase a last-minute product that turned out to be pure shampoo that required washing out. So, of course, in typical fashion, I went on a national television show with my hair covered in soap. Cool. Moving on..
We arrived at the Warner Bros. studio, and my mom, of course, told the parking attendant that we were “Going to see El-“ “Yes, I know. Park right there.”


We entered the waiting area, and were given our seat tickets, and along with about a hundred other people, watched a safety video (no bringing guns into the studio!) and then some reruns of her greatest hits.


The waiting area
Our official tickets!

And this photo pretty much sums up how excited my mom has been about this very moment...



Then, we were herded off into a narrow hallway adjacent to the Ellen gift-shop, where we were arranged into an order based on our ticket numbers. Television sets blasted current top 40 hits, and it was then that I, singing along to Iggy Azalea’s “Black Widow” realized that the lyrics to the song were  not “I’m gonna love ya like a black little baby” but “black widow baby”. Live and learn.
Anyway, then we walked through the Ellen gift shop where we had the opportunity to purchase Ellen themed magnets and underwear. Then, we took selfies with her famous Oscars selfie photo, and well, here's mom.






And then, we were asked to turn off our cell phones so I have no pictures to show from the actual show but let me tell you: it was wild!  We were seated in the very front row, beside the production crew, so we saw every line, every direction, every prop, everything behind-the scenes…and which also meant I was not on TV, like, at all. Val, however, is a celebrity at this point (as is My Shoulder):


There was a hype guy, who would make a weird nasal sound like “waahh!” which meant we had to stand up and clap and cheer for everyone that came on the show, and between takes, production crew would run up to Ellen with lint rollers and pages of instructions.  Ellen was wonderful. She looked a little tired, but I think she’s been doing the show for twelve years so she’s allowed. My mom blew her kisses as the show started and of course, Ellen blew kisses back to her, so watch out Portia.  We also got to see Josh Duhamel which I did not mind at all: he was very nice and polite and gracefully accepted the dunk tank challenge.  And then, days later, I was flipping through Ok! magazine, or whatever those celebrity magazines are called, and I see this:


Here's why this is a big deal. Up until now, when I would read celebrity updates, I would never think these were actual people in actual places doing actual, real things. I always thought these magazines were just full of fairy tale types of stories and that those things didn't really exist. And now I see this, and it's basically shot from where I was sitting, and so it's pretty much a picture of me, so ladies and gentlemen, I am in a celebrity magazine.

At one point, Ellen walked past us and her hip touched mine, and oh my God she smelled so good. I don’t know what perfume she wears but it smells like sunshine and success.  I still can’t believe how close we were to the stage, we were so lucky! I could’ve literally reached over and touched her little white leather chair (but I would never do that – hi Warner Bros. Productions!)
My mom was really worried about her dance moves, but quickly got into the swing of things, settling on a slow, exotic hip twist.  We were instructed to never stop smiling, and she took that quite seriously, to the point where I began to worry that her mouth would never come together again.  She reapplied her lipstick during commercial breaks (smile intact, of course), and eagerly clapped to the beat of Lucy Hale’s performance, though I could tell she really, really wanted a flat screen TV or Nissan Versa.  I told her the audience doesn’t get a car after every show, and she nodded, clutching our complimentary CD in her little manicured hand on our way out.  All in all, she had a great time.



Malibu Beach was, unbeknownst to me, Surfer City.  Aside from the Roxy Quiksilver advertisements I used to flip through in my teenage Seventeen Magazine years, I had never seen a person on a surfboard (I guess they were like dolphins to me), and here, there were hundreds of them, so apparently that’s a real thing! I think, if we had more time, I would try surfing too. If you're into that, I would definitely recommend the beach!





I would also certainly recommend checking out the Rockenwagner Bakery back in Venice, if you’re into TOASTED MARSHMALLOW SWEET POTATO BROWNIES and eating generally delicious food that is highly admired by Chris Thile (from Punch Brothers) himself.




The little shops by the beach were adorable. From necklaces, to towels, to hair dye for dogs, to this beautiful collection of terrariums, everyone had something special to offer..


And, to add to my Fruit Hunters collection, we discovered Feijoa... (pronounced "fay-hoa")



And a Pepino Melon!


And at Trader Joe's, we found some amazing fall treats!



Umm so nothing out of the ordinary on our way back: while going through security, I had to take my shoes off, my sister had to take her laptop out of its case, and my mom put a whole papaya through the x-ray machine. 


Later, she ate the entire thing while discussing the perils of travel with a man headed to see his husband in San Francisco.

Looking back on the trip, I don't think I have never been around such a variety of sweet, kind people in my entire life.  How does a city, in its entirety, emit love and benevolence to such a magical extent? Shout-out to the cashier at Trader Joe’s who suggested to my mom that she could just throw her papaya on the ground to break it if she didn’t have a knife.   Equal shout-out to the cashier at the pharmacy who handed me my receipt and said “Gotta keep smiling! If you don’t have a sense of humour about life, you won’t make it!”



 And an extra shout-out to streets with names like Breeze Court, Rose Street, and my absolute favorite: Ocean Avenue.

Looking back on the trip, I also can’t believe how much I’ve changed. I remember years and years of dreaming about hopping out of my downtown condo onto a busy street, hailing a cab in my heels, and riding off into a flurry of parties and disco balls.  After spending a day in busy downtown Los Angeles, I found myself missing the peaceful Santa Monica shore, missing the quiet, the flowers, and the gentle wind. I found myself dreaming about watching a sunset from my little home, feeling the grass in my toes, and well, okay, sipping on a raw green juice, if I have to.  With all the planning I had done in my younger years, with all the certainty I felt in the way I envisioned my life, sometimes I don’t recognize myself sitting there in a pair of fuzzy reindeer socks instead of Manolos. And I think what's great about seeing things turn out differently is realizing that the most wonderful part about life is its unpredictability. At least, I think that’s what Ellen said.