Los Angeles

There is something liberating about travelling alone. It feeds the soul. It forces you into situations that leave you no choice but to connect to the world in a way you wouldn’t when travelling with anyone else.

Travelling alone meant that when I was in New York a few years back, I got talking to an artist while taking photographs at Grand Central Station and being invited to a gallery opening that evening which turned into a night of completely random drunkenness and experiencing a New York I would not have sought out in a million years. 

Travelling alone meant that when I was 21 in Berlin I was saved from myself. Six months with nothing but my thoughts made me confront a dark, torturous few years head on and made me re-evaluate the world, my place in it and of course myself. I also came back to the UK with a deep found love of literature, jazz and black and white photography. It was the spring board for the most fulfilling, creative and passionate few years of my life before I forgot all the lessons I had learnt…

Travelling alone is visceral. It reconnects you to the self that gets buried amongst the day to day. It purifies, clarifies and feeds you. Travelling alone is really effective at getting to the very essence of yourself.  If you don’t believe me - try it. 

These days of course travelling alone means that I can lose myself in photography, a slave to no-one but the whim of the lens. 

I found myself in Los Angeles at the beginning of July after a particularly heavy night on the town and a perfectly timed text from a friend.

We went to drama school together over 20 years ago, and as things tend to go - we fell in and out of contact over the years; so we’ve been trying to make an effort to meet up for the past couple of those years. He’s been in LA developing a sitcom, I’ve been parenting and sleeping mainly and it has never quite worked out. 

In March, on a particularly hazy Saturday night out in East London, a perfectly timed text at exactly the right point of exuberance resulted in booking flights to LA to see my friend. 

I didn’t really think about it until too late on Sunday during the last gasp of a tragically violent hangover - you know those moments of clarity where you start to piece together what happened the night before…

It was too late to cancel by 12 minutes. 

Oh God, I couldn’t afford this, I have a divorce coming up and the Summer Holidays to endure - what the hell was I doing? 

I was going to LA

Long story short - my friend came back to the UK, had visa problems meaning he couldn’t get back into the USA and I was on my own. 

I could have cancelled. I had quite a bit of anxiety about going and having no one to experience it with. No-one to share the excitement, no-one to tell me where to be and what time. If you’re not used to that, it’s quite daunting. In the end I decided that I sure as hell wasn’t going to waste my money, so thought ‘grow the hell up, swallow it and have fun.’ 

Fun is not how I’d describe LA traffic. I’d heard about it, of course I had. I’d seen it in La La Land (I didn’t see anyone dancing); and it freaked me the hell out. The last time I drove in the USA, I managed to reverse out of a parking space into another car at about 3mph and had what seemed the entire South Carolina Fire Department come out to judge me while a drama queen chancer sniffed out a compensation claim and lorded it up until she was whipped away in an ambulance. So, yeah - the sight of full on crazy drivers around the airport at 11:30pm filled me with dread. I thought I might die. 

Good news: I didn’t die. Though I was driving a Kia…but I found E Street Radio; Just me, The Boss and the open highway. 

Because I’m a free spirit (read: unorganised) I didn’t have a whole lot of stuff I wanted to do in LA. It’s never been one of those places I’ve felt I needed to travel to. Whenever I go somewhere, I also don’t really want a lot of stuff planned so I can find my own way and make discoveries for myself. 

Having said that, I really wanted to do a studio tour. I am in love with the idealised 50s heyday of Hollywood; the studio system, Cecille B DeMille - all of that. So I booked a tour at Paramount which was a lesson in film history. It was all I love about film. All phoney, all polystyrene, smoke and mirrors and held together with gaffer tape. The younger me would want to live in this world forever. The Marx Brothers made Duck Soup here, Lucille Ball’s dressing room and the park she had made for her children are here; Taxi, Cheers, Frasier…all made here. Citizen Kane, Ben Hurr, Chariots of Fire….Top Gun (ugh) all here. 

The Paramount studios are the only studios you can still see the Hollywood Sign from the lot. 

It’s a sign of the times that not many films are fully shot on the sound stages anymore - it’s often cheaper to film on location than to hire a backlot for an entire shoot. Though there was a film being shot the day I was there - some Marvel or DC stuff I don’t watch! 

Touristy, yes - but deeply satisfying. 

The only other thing I had planned that day was a sunset walk up to the Hollywood sign - so I took a walk up to Hollywood Boulevard via The Hollywood Forever Cemetery which was…strange. I don’t get why people would go there. I did, so I guess that answers my question - but why would you do it? I had a quick stroll round, saw Joey Ramone’s final resting place, and the great, great Mel Blanc and quickly walked back to the road. The one life lesson I learned there: Never, ever have your likeness etched into your headstone. You will look like shit for eternity. 

Hollywood Boulevard is also shit. Don’t bother. It’s like walking down Woolwich High Street with head shops every other door and homeless camps off the main stretch wherever space will allow. It smells, it’s dirty and insane that a town as rich as this is has such a desperately sad homelessness problem. 

I love America, I love Americans. But damn, they are sometimes very odd. Why do they hike? Why not walk? Why call it hiking? Hiking is getting on boots, a walking stick and wheezing your way through foggy, muddy fields then rewarding yourself in every pub on the way until you’ve had enough and you fall asleep face first in a ditch. 

What I did was not a hike. It was a leisurely stroll through the Hollywood Hills to enjoy the amazing views out over the Hollywood Resevoir and Mulholland Dam. It was only when walking through the beautiful Griffith Park and up through the hills to the top of Hollywood, just above and behind the iconic sign I truly appreciated the beauty of the city. Being part of a tour group, there was lots of photos and selfies, which is all fine and I get it - but it is moments like these; with stunning views, a warm breeze and the headspace to appreciate the beauty of life that I feel…completely at one with myself and the world around me. In these moments it is hard not to feel as alive as I have ever felt before. The yearning to stay in the moment forever is as powerful as any drug. And then it is gone. The moment passes. 

I bask in the warm glow of pure contentment before life resumes. These are moments we spend forever more chasing. 

Anyway, The only thing I wanted to do in LA - the ONLY thing was to go to The Comedy Store. To outsiders like me, this place is legendary. I was only in LA for a few nights, and was pretty damned busy so didn’t get to book a show - but went down late after my walk in the hills to chance my luck on the standby list. Just drinking a beer in the outside bar, watching comics ten feet away greet each other, bitch about the industry and hang out until they were nearly on or going home was more than enough for me. The other major benefit to travelling alone. People watching. Lots of people watching. It seemed to me that LA is truly a city that comes alive after dark. I was perched at a table where countless comedians have probably sat chilling before - and just to sit back and watch this little community with each other was fascinating; and I loved it. 

My time in LA was all too brief. It’s what happens when you buy tickets drunk. The rest of my time in LA was spent with another old friend on 4th July, flitting between pool parties and various beaches and English themed pubs in which we watched a Dodgers game, got talking to a college student who’d just spent a year in Ecuador and paid $14 for a pint of Kronenberg. Y’know, all those things that regularly happen in a Wetherspoons. 

4th July in America is one of the most profound and overwhelming things I think I will ever experience. As a bone fide paid up Brit, it’s good to feel that we have given the Yanks something to celebrate once a year. My friend’s house overlooks LA in all its glory, and was treated to a four hour firework display from 9pm until 1am when I called it quits. Because LA is quite close to Tijuana, just over the Mexican border; basically, LA go there to buy truck loads of illegal fireworks and gamble with their lives when it’s dark enough. It’s nuts. I want to spend every 4th July there. 

The thing I simultaneously adore and hate about travel is the fact that I am often so present in the moment that there are usually very few photographs to show for it. On one hand, this is great. It means that I am living. On the other hand, professionally, it means that I have not very much to show for my efforts. 

So, LA. a strange beast of a city that three days could never capture. Since I returned, so many links to LA and my past have cropped up, meaning I will never have to want for a place to stay ever again. I’ll be back, I know I will - but will I ever have the same wide eyed wonder that I did the first time I visited? Will I be able to go without the sense of expectation that allowed me to explore and discover everything for the first time? I don’t know…

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