The Final Leg

After a warm night’s rest we wake up bright and early for a run. As Riley and I have said before, we believe that running is the best way to experience a city. When you walk you’re moving at an average speed of 1-3 mph. It would take nearly all the daylight a winter day has to offer to cover 10 miles. Driving is too fast. How much can you really see when you’re flying by structures too quick to distinguish their shapes and colors? Running is the perfect medium. You can cover a half-marathon’s distance in 2 to 3 hours, yet you’re moving slow enough to notice the agony on the face of the 40 something year old woman standing beside the hotdog stand and spilling ketchup onto her new pair of Steve Madden shoes.

Our jog begins at our car and heads South East towards the water. We run along the temperate shore for a few miles before turning onto State Street. This prominent road cuts through the heart of Santa Barbara, exposing the town’s finest restaurants, galleries and shops. Rainbow flags mark our entrance into the gay district. The familiar sizzle and delightful smell of a cooking burger catches my attention. We’ll be going there later, I think to myself as I jot a mental note of the restaurant’s name. After a few distracting miles, the jubilant stretch of road ends and we encounter the residential part of State Street. Quaint, 2-bedroom homes flood both sides of us. A man with tattooed arms bulging out of his undersized graphic t-shirt uses a leaf blower to reposition his freshly cut flowery shrubs. A retired woman with droopy bags beneath her eyes shuffles over to her mailbox in sweat pants and dark green slippers.

5 miles into our run we hang a left onto a road which should loop us back to our starting point. Upon passing a park and a golf course we are suddenly running along the shoulder of a freeway centered between two evergreen mountains. Minimal cars drive along this steep road. The excess oxygen being released mixed with my already overstimulated endorphins places me into a very happy state.

I think back to the map of Santa Barbara etched into my memory. Cliff Drive is where we turn next. With there being virtually no civilization on this road, and massive hills on either side of me, I start to fear the gradient of Cliff Drive. My fears are confirmed around mile 7 when we make our second to last left turn. The first mile of Cliff Drive is all uphill. With the ocean, only a few hundred feet to our right, teasing us with its flatness, Riley and I are tempted to end our run a few miles early. But we carry on. An excruciatingly slow 2 miles later we make our final left turn towards the car.

“How much farther?” Riley yells from behind me, as the road triples in steepness.

“1 mile,” I shout back.

100 feet later I no longer hear the elegant slap of Riley’s shoes against concrete. I look behind me and see mostly empty space. About a block and a half farther back I spot Riley, walking.

I turn around and jog over to my exhausted girlfriend. We walk the final half mile to our car.

After each of us inhales a quart of water, Riley and I hop in the car and head toward the burger joint I spotted earlier. I down a tasty charbroiled hamburger while Riley nibbles on her turkey burger. We split an order of sweet potato fries for good measure.

Next stop: Josh’s house.

Josh is a best friend of mine. He and I met in our first year as teenagers. We were at sleepaway camp. Actually, let’s backtrack. A few hours prior to arriving on the grounds of this sleepaway camp (dubbed French Woods Festival of the Performing Arts) I was at the New Ark airport. There were about 20 of us Florida teens who had just landed in this unfamiliar city up North, and we were anxiously standing by the conveyer belt, awaiting our luggage. One of the Floridians – a skinny boy with dark hair and Jewish features – got bored of waiting for his oversized suitcase so he hopped on the conveyer belt. Round and round he went, until security kicked him off. This was Josh.

Immediately, I knew Josh was cool. My assumptions were reaffirmed as I’d often see Josh walking around the camp grounds with the “ruffian crowd.” These were the kids who had no respect for the laws of camp. They snuck into the skate park after hours, rode down the steepest hills on their Razor scooters and skipped the evening activities to play basketball in the gym or poker in their bunk. Mind you, we’re talking about a sleepaway camp for rich, Jewish kids who sing, dance and act. Josh’s crew was BAD. Camp ended and a few years passed. I was now 15 and waiting in line at the Fall Out Boy concert in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Who else is standing in line, wearing a pink studded belt? Josh freaking Zelcer.

“You’re the kid who rode around the conveyer belt in the New Ark airport,” I said to the gnarly kid leaning ever-so-cool against the concrete wall.

“Yup. And you hung out with Ben, right?” Josh asked me, referring to the only thing I had going for me back then (Ben was one of the cooler kids at camp).

The rest is history.

Now we’re 25, almost 26, and our friendship remains strong despite not having seen each other in nearly 3 years.

I park our car along a curb in Universal City. Before Riley and I can open our car doors, a manic man with long black hair tied in a man-bun, intentionally ragged facial hair and a leather jacket worn over his wife-beater comes sprinting at us.

“Joshhhh!” I yell, spreading my arms.

We embrace for an awkwardly long while.

Josh then introduces himself to Riley before helping us carry our luggage upstairs to his apartment. Josh’s abode is surprisingly clean and even more surprisingly empty.

“Where’s all your stuff?” I ask my old friend as I frantically search for a glass for water.

“We don’t have any,” Josh replies.

“You don’t have drinking glasses?”

“Not that I know of.”

“What about plates and stuff to cook with?”

“I don’t think so.”

After some heavy duty searching, I locate a single drinking capsule. “We’re going to have to get creative with cooking dinner this week,” I tell my girlfriend as I step out of the barren kitchen.

Still recovering from our run earlier in the day, Riley and I request a relaxed evening. No argument from Josh. We gather in the living room, Riley sitting on an ergonomic office chair extracted from the roommates room, Josh resting on a backless rocking chair and me cross-legged on the hardwood living room floor (as the only other item in the living room was a bicycle). Josh fills us in on his past 3 years of life, since moving to Los Angeles. He came out here to pursue a music career. I’ve always considered Josh to be the most musically talented individual I knew. As an aspiring rock star in my late teens I would call Josh nearly every day to tune my guitar over the phone. And he’d tune it to perfection every time.

“Unfortunately, talent only gets you so far,” Josh explains. He goes on to describe the difficulties and frustrations of being an aspiring artist in this city of aspiring artists. Backstabbing and self-interest is the name of the game out here. Every word spoken to you needs to be taken with a grain of salt, as it’s difficult to know someone’s true intentions. Josh has made and lost countless friends in this city. People who seemed interested in helping him but only ended up hurting him. Josh plays us some of his recordings.

“Damn, that one’s awesome,” I say during one particularly grand song. “How much did you get for writing that beat?”

“Zero. I kinda got screwed by the artist and producer.”

That seems to be the trend.

We listen to more of Josh’s songs. “I’ve probably written over 800 songs since getting here,” Josh tells us.

I do the math in my head – that’s about 1 song per day. “Wow,” I say.

Our stomach’s craving carbs and protein, we transition to the kitchen. Using a metal salad bowl, Riley cooks black and white rice and Brussels sprouts while I prepare curry chicken on a handle-less skillet. We gobble our tasty dinner down before heading to Josh’s room. I pull my guitar out of my heavy duty guitar case before resting the smooth wood on my thigh. Josh stands beside his keyboard, lips pressed against the mic. Reminiscent of our high school days in an emo pop-punk band, Josh and I jam. Riley lies beside me listening.

Josh abruptly stops singing. “Want to meet the girl I’m talking to?” he asks.

“Sure,” I say.

The 3 of us head to a nearby apartment complex where Josh’s lady-friend and 3 of her friends are enjoying drinks. I watch my old buddy fall in love before my eyes.

Morning comes and we decide to continue our active streak. Riley, Josh and I jump into Josh’s Elantra, now displaying over 100,000 miles, and drive to Runyon Canyon. The steepness of this hike isn’t overly welcoming after yesterday’s challenging run.

“This is my spot,” Josh says, upon reaching an opening beside a leafless tree.

We turn around and admire the foggy view of Los Angeles. We catch our breath for about 15 minutes before beginning our descent. This being a popular hike, we encounter well over 100 people. And nearly every one of them possesses a fit body, bronze tan and stylish attire.

“Does everyone look like this in L.A.?” I ask Josh.

“Yup.”

We get back to our car and drive a few blocks closer to Hollywood. We park and walk the famous streets full of fortune and fame. I read the names etched into the stars below me, counting how many I recognize.

“Are you wearing Ray-Ban’s?” a man asks me, awakening me from my celebrity-name-game.

“Yeah,” I say.

“Can we interview you?”

“Sure.”

The man asks Riley if she is also wearing Ray-Ban sunglasses, to which she replies affirmatively. I put my arm around my girlfriend as the cameras start rolling. One man holds a boom mic to my face, while two others point massive cameras at us and a 4th man asks us questions about why we wear Ray-Ban’s.

“We’ve been here less than a day and we’re already famous,” I say to Riley after receiving commemorative Ray-Ban notebooks.

Upon arriving back at the car we find a parking ticket wedged under Josh’s windshield wiper. Our bad luck with parking continues.

We head home and eat another home-cooked dinner before getting back in the car towards Santa Monica. Riley, Josh and I walk quietly along the boardwalk, listening to the sound of the dark waves splash against the equally as dark shore. We arrive at the well-known pier which we proceed to walk upon. Not much is happening on the pier at this hour but from the darkened carnival games, the towering Ferris wheel and the disinterested expression on the man standing behind the “Balloon Animals $1 – $5” stand I am reminded of an outdated fair that stopped being cool 20 years ago. Yet, it still exists.

On the way home that night, Josh gets a call from a producer – Beau Billionaire.

“Just a heads up – Beau talks a lot,” Josh says, as we approach the producer’s tiny, expensive studio. “Mark my words – he’s going to talk about being Jewish, heavy metal and how he’s the best producer in the world.”

And that’s exactly what he talks about. Among, many, many other things. Riley and my excitement and curiosity of being in a real live studio is quickly diffused once we learn that Beau is incapable of allowing a second to pass without him talking. Every time Josh, Riley or I open our mouths to speak we are easily overpowered by Beau’s tongue. Genuinely angry at the amount of verbiage coming out of this blonde-haired man’s mouth, I kick Josh in the leg amid one of Beau’s countless monologues. I mouth the words “Let’s go.”

Josh nods his head in agreement.

We wake up later than planned. By the time the eggs begin sizzling it’s already the afternoon. We slam the cholesterol-rich foods down our throats and rush out the door. Today’s first stop is the Getty Center, as recommended by my grandma and grandpa, Ella and Isaac. The Getty Center is a large plot of land housing $1.3 Billion worth of architecture and gardens overlooking Los Angeles. The Center is most famous for the Getty Museum, which features 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th Century paintings, sculptures and other arts from North America and Europe.

In attempt to bypass paying $20 for Getty Center parking, I pull into the nearby synagogue. “Synagogue member parking only,” reads a large sign. I park in one of the many open parking spots and approach the two men standing at the security office.

“Good afternoon,” I say to the two plump men donning silver badges above their left pectoral.

“How can we help you?” one of the men asks in New York-Jew accent.

“I have a favor to ask,” I tell them. “My friend and I are Jewish. We’re not members of this specific temple, but we do celebrate the high holidays. Would we be able to park here for a few hours while we check out the Getty?”

The two men exchange humored glances. They turn back to face me, neither speaking as they wait for the other to talk first.

“Sure,” says the man who had thus far been silent.

“We won’t get towed or ticketed or anything?” I ask.

“Nope, you’re good.”

“Thank you, guys. We really appreciate it.”

I get my friends from the car and we cross the street to the Getty. We arrive at the museum just in time for a tour of the Louis XIV and Louis XV exhibition. The prominence and riches of these French rulers is represented throughout the spotless white halls. Portraits twice the scale of actual humans, hand crafted tables and ornately decorated dressers survived for centuries and now stand before me. One particular item catches my attention. It’s called a Planisphere Clock. This incredible chunk of 18th Century technology contains multiple dials. The main dial has three overlapping circular plates and multiple hands to indicate the time, the months of the year and their zodiacal signs, the days of the lunar month and the local time in various cities and parts of the world. The four smaller dials above the main dial show the phases of the moon, a tidal calendar, the days of the week and the times of the eclipses of Jupiter’s first moon, Io. And atop this astronomical concoction the relative positions and motions of bodies in the solar system are shown. How this was created 300 years ago is beyond me.

After the exhibit Riley and I take a brief stroll through the gardens, admiring the well-irrigated flowers and trees before us and the modern architecture around us.

We arrive back at our vehicle with the sun still shining bright. Next stop, Venice Beach.

We park and walk straight towards the water. The sound of bearings spinning and polyurethane wheels sliding across concrete resonate in our ears as we approach a skate park. Josh borrows a skateboard from an unsuspecting pre-teen and rushes over to one of the larger obstacles. A small crowd of supporters gather to watch. Josh drops in on the steeply angled ramp like a pro, gaining enough speed to ride across the flat portion of the ramp towards the three stairs, each 1.5 feet in height and length. About a foot from the edge of the first step, Josh pushes his hind foot against the back of the skateboard causing it to rise to a 45 degree angle and slides his front foot across the black sandpaper top of the board. He and the board are airborne. Mouths gape open as Josh has enough speed and air to clear the jump.

Wham. Josh slams against the concrete, his skateboard slamming to the ground a few feet to his left. Not yet feeling the pain he jumps right up, grabs the board and runs back to the top of the ramp.

“He’s messin’ wit’ us,” says a local boy with dreaded hair and denim overalls. “No one is stupid enough to attempt that jump unless they know how to land it.”

The surrounding posse agrees.

Josh drops in again, this time going faster. He takes off at roughly the same spot as last time and lands with a thud on the concrete. His ankle didn’t fare as well this time, and contorts below Josh’s 140 pound frame.

The onlookers have doubled in size. Three of the more skilled skaters stop their routine and gather along the edge of the skate park. One points at Josh and says something to his two talented friends. Disbelief in their eyes, all three boys turn to watch the brave soul attempt an impossible trick.

Despite his soon-to-be-throbbing ankle, Josh makes a third, a fourth and even a fifth attempt at jumping over the staircase. Each fall looks and sounds worse than the previous. Eventually, he gives up, snagging the skateboard in his left hand and walking it over to its rightful owner. Light applause and whistles are heard as the daredevil retires for the day.

With an hour until sunset, Riley, Josh and I walk along the famous boardwalk past monstrosities working out at the outdoor Muscle Beach gym, lively athletes filling the paddle tennis courts and street entertainers of all shapes, sizes and religions (including a man donning roller skates and a turban while playing heavy metal rock music). A few blocks after passing our 30th marijuana vendor, we hang a left and walk through a quiet residential area. We reach a bridge beneath which a river runs. The bank is lined with canoes.

“There is an entire series of rivers here. That’s why the city is named Venice,” Josh explains.

We return to the boardwalk just in time for the sunset. Josh and I sit atop a patch of rocks extending into the ocean as the sun concludes its reign for the day. The sky goes from blue, to yellow, to orange to red prior to transforming into various shades of pink and then going black.

It’s our last night in L.A. and we’re exhausted. Josh and I split a 6 pack of beer while Riley sips on some 2 Buck Chuck. We later use that same bottle of wine to film a music video for Josh’s next single, Perf. If I figure out how to post music videos to this blog, I’ll be more than happy to share the video with y’all.

We wake up late again. Josh, Riley and I each fill our arms with bags and walk down to the Acura. We pack the car and prepare our goodbyes. Josh and I embrace for a full minute. These few days in Los Angeles were beneficial to both of us. It was nice seeing an old friend. Especially, one as kind and genuine as Josh. Having a friend like that always cleanses the soul a bit. And I’m sure Josh appreciated the Industry-detox Riley and I put him through. I climb in the car and put it in drive. Out of the side view mirror Josh waves us goodbye. A wave of sentiment hits me. I’ve known this kid for half my life. It seems like just yesterday that a 15 year old Josh, with a massive Jew-fro, was standing in my parent’s dining room, wearing stolen bowling shoes and pajama pants and holding an acoustic guitar in his hands. It was my brother’s 7th birthday and Josh was improvising inappropriate children’s songs for the kids.

“Is he the clown?” one of the kids asked.

He’s still a clown. But a decade has passed and now he plays the guitar and sings for a living.

An hour and a half later Riley and I turn onto a pothole ridden road in Huntington Beach. To our right are a series of corporate buildings.

“That’s the one,” I say aloud upon spotting a sign bearing the name of an aerospace equipment and systems company.

We circle the parking lot until spotting a fit looking man wearing glasses, a striped blue and white button down shirt and navy blue slacks. A bead of sweat originates on his forehead and drips down the side of his face as he boils beneath the 80 degree winter sun. This is Borya, a lifelong friend of my father’s.

“I’ll drive. You guys can park in my spot,” he suggests as he approaches the driver’s seat of his vehicle.

Borya drives us to one of his favorite lunch spots in the area, a Pho restaurant serving massive bowls of boiled broth and your choice of Vietnamese meats and vegetables. I order chicken in my soup while Borya and Riley order rare steak in theirs. It’s been many a year since I’ve seen Borya and we have a lot to catch up on. He and I exchange enthusiastic stories about life, work and adventure in between massive slurps of burning hot liquid. Having historically been viewed as my father’s son, I greatly enjoy this rare opportunity to converse with Borya as a friend. Lunch ends too quickly, and our companion needs to return to work. We agree to meet up at Big Bear Mountain in the coming months for some mountain biking adventures.

Upon entering the beloved Acura yet again, Riley and I set off for the final leg of our road trip. With lunch resting comfortably in Riley’s stomach, it doesn’t take long for my girlfriend to fall asleep. A silent hour and a half and 8 highways later I turn onto Boundary Street in San Diego, California. The street is quiet and there is a surplus of parking spots. Thank God, I think to myself, recalling the grand we spent on parking tickets in the past month.

We pull up beside a dirt alley. Our realtor, Cathy-Ann, shows up two minutes later. She walks us towards the first house in the alley and unlocks the wooden gate. Then the front door. 34 days, 8 hours, 15 minutes and 5,498 miles later we’ve completed the journey from Atlanta, Georgia to San Diego, California.

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