The ride from Phoenix to LA is fairly flat and featureless. It should be an easy drive…unless it’s raining. It kinda sucks. No one is used to raining in the desert so folks were driving slow, or erratic. I buckled down and had to watch carefully which means driving tense. The rain somewhat subsided as I approached Palm Springs so I decided to take a diversion for coffee.
I haven’t been to Palm Springs since 1997, so I really don’t remember anything about it. The rugged mountains were cloaked in low clouds which made it appear gorgeous and mysterious. I stopped in Ernest Coffee for an Americano & some blog time. The shop was decorated nicely in “Brooklyn Modern” style including raw concrete, barn wood panels, chalkboards, and interesting regulars (yes I include regulars as decoration because without them it would be sterile). The drink was great and the vibe had a relaxed energy. I sat in the window with views of the clouded mountains, tall palm trees, & luxury vehicles.
I’m glad that I stopped because once I got back on the interstate it started to rain again. Did I mention that folks don’t know how to drive in the rain? By the time I reached Ontario the traffic was bumper to bumper with nothing but a sea of red lights. I hate to be that person, but I cannot imagine putting up with this much traffic on a regular basis. It’s mind numbing. But like a pot at the end of the rainbow, I knew that I would soon see Kenneth & Andrew!
I met Andrew at a comic book store on Melrose Avenue. I haven’t been in a comic book store in years and have forgotten how colorful they are. Andrew met me at the door and introduced me to his friends. It was a warm welcome back to the town that I hadn’t seen in over 20 years.
My first full day in LA was a day of rest. I was able to sleep in for the first time in a while. The only big thing on my agenda was to visit Velveteria, a museum to the black velvet arts. I had seen it on an episode of Anthony Bourdain from the mid-2000s. They originally started in Portland, Oregon but relocated to LA in 2013. I’ve told people about Velveteria for years. My friend Olivia is a black velvet aficionado. She reached out when she saw my itinerary to remind me of the museum. She had heard that it was going to close at the end of the month. Hopefully, that won’t happen because this place is a gem.
The admission is $10 but well worth the money because Carl has over 400 pieces of art on display. And, Carl is a ham. He has stories for each piece and they are whoppers! There’s evidence of velvet arts back to the Marco Polo days. The oldest piece that is on display is from Japan and date to the early 1900s. Painting on black velvet requires the use of the negative space. The artist only has one chance with each stroke because the paint sticks on the first pass with little or no opportunity to correct mistakes. I was completely surprised by the breadth of subjects. There were the stereotypic kitsch poodles & Elvis but more impressive were his early Polynesian pieces. Some of them were breathtaking and legit fine art. My favorites were the Polynesian pieces that were about 100 years old.
Carl has over 4000 in his personal collection and is working with a documentarian to tell his story. That exposure could bring this museum into the spotlight that it deserves. In the meantime, if you are in LA you must visit! It’s in Chinatown so you could pair it with some shopping and food for a full afternoon.
Without having a good writing transition, here’s a quick history of my relationship with LA. In 1997, I moved cross country on a whim. I had just finished college, my lease was up, & my relationship had tanked when my friend Robert offered space on his couch. We had been friends since the 7th grade. I took the opportunity to move cross-country with $700 in my pocket.
I stayed in LA for about 18 months. It was not a good time in my life due to spiritually, mentally, & physically unhealthy actions. Looking back, I fault this city for too many of my own decisions. I still have dreams sometimes about driving around LA looking for something that I can’t find. As I drove down streets that were suddenly familiar, I was filled with mixed emotions. Those weird feelings subsided quickly once I saw friends. Now a few days into the visit, I realize I was never truly at home while here. It’s easy to be one of the people that say, “this traffic sucks” or “OMG another parking ticket” but I honestly never clicked with LA.
Without being trite, I’ve concluded that “it’s not you, it’s me” this town might be right for some people, just not me.