Blue Skies and 70 Degree Weather

By the end of our first weekend in San Diego, Riley and I have impressively gathered just about everything we will need for the next three and a half months. My teal colored Schwinn road/mountain bike hybrid rests lazily beside Riley’s classic Bianchi on our porch. Beside our green, yellow and red striped couch a new printer (costing $5 on Craigslist) spits out paper like the first Pulitzer Press. And by the front door a used grey tennis basket filled with 80 or so tennis balls and a red agility ladder lean against the pale white wall. Oh, and we even have 2 new friends: Samantha and Jordan, who we got in contact with through Riley and Samantha’s mutual friend, Abbey. And of course, I’ve made time to play a round of disc golf at Balboa Park, the number one most played disc golf course in the world.

Our second week in this city of never-ending blue skies and an eerily minute temperature range (between 68 degrees and 76 degrees Fahrenheit) begins with work-related errands. Riley spends hours driving back and forth from various school districts, handing in her substitute-teacher application while I travel to all parts of San Diego and the surrounding towns interviewing for tennis positions and privately coaching aspiring tennis stars. In my free time I coordinate with our handyman, Hank, and our landlord, Ed, in attempt to fix the door which won’t close and internet which won’t work. “Миша?  вы говорите по руски?” were the first words spoken to me by Ed, meaning “Misha? Do you speak Russian?” Turns out, he’s Russian and Jewish, like me.

It’s been barely over a week since we’ve arrived here and due to Riley’s endless network of friends we have another double date tonight. This time with Ainsley and Patrick. Ainsley is the sister of Riley’s good friend and former coworker at Dunwoody Springs Charter School, Courtney. Riley and I park our car down a dark street about a quarter mile away from this hopping brewery/restaurant. Ballast Point is the name, home to the unreasonably expensive Grapefruit Sculpin IPA beer. We arrive at the doorstep of this intricately designed boat-themed building. Another couple arrives simultaneously. Although I have never seen or heard a description of our soon-to-be companions tonight, my gut tells me these two are who we will be dining with tonight. Tall, blonde-haired and blue eyed, Ainsley is a beautiful woman, appearing about the same age as us. Her lover, Patrick, bears similar tall and handsome features. With long, fashionably imperfect hairstyles and wide, carefree smiles, both look like they belong at the beach. Probably why they reside, well, on the beach. The four of us spend a lovely night together drinking, eating and talking. I am instantly drawn to this couple and foresee many friendly times together in the future.

Our second weekend arrives before we even remember the first one ending. I play my first tennis league match and win. In the process I make a friend, Freeman, who invites Riley and me to his Super Bowl party in a few weeks. With few obligations and a bit more free time Riley and I spend a lot of quality time together. We bike together before the sun sets, take leisurely trips to the grocery store, and sit on our porch reading and writing. This form of time consumption passes just as quickly as when we were frantically driving everywhere within a 35 mile radius of our home, attempting to capture jobs and household items. Before I know it, it’s Sunday night and I’m staring at my computer screen, the mouse-arrow resting atop the “Submit Payment” button. After weeks, actually months, of contemplation this is the closest I’ve been to finally purchasing a drone. With the $2,700 commitment staring me straight in the face, a few beads of sweat form atop my shivering hand. I press down on the mousepad. The order has been placed. In two days I will receive my drone allowing Steven and my business, dubbed Sky Vision Studios, to take flight.

Monday, January 25 rolls around marking Riley’s first day of work. She bikes the 2 plus miles to the home of the woman whose three kids need a nanny. The oldest is 4 years old. The youngest is 5 weeks old. Monday also marks the day I find out if I passed the CBEST. For those who forgot or who missed it, the CBEST is the exam I took in San Francisco on January 10 in attempt to become a certified substitute teacher. The exam during which I illegally blocked an inch of a woman’s driveway with Riley’s car, resulting in the vehicle being towed and me paying $700 to liberate it. A bittersweet moment as I read my passing scores, wondering if it was worth all the trouble.

To put it bluntly, I spend the next few days bumming around. I ride my bike a good bit, exploring the local farmers market and some of the local shops. I run nearly every day and play tennis whenever I find a willing opponent. I spend way too much time cleaning our home of things that don’t need to be cleaned. And I get a fair amount of reading and writing done. On Thursday Riley and I attend the substitute orientation for La Mesa Spring Valley School District. In a few weeks we’ll be able to start subbing in this district located about 10 miles east of our residence. The next day we run 10 miles along the coast, from Mission Beach to Pacific Beach to La Jolla and back the way we came.

On Friday night my drone arrives. I spend all of Saturday piecing it together and watching countless hours of YouTube tutorials. Riley goes to Pacific Beach with Ainsley and Patrick while I continue working on my new obsession. Antsy beyond belief, around midnight I’m ready to take my baby on her first flight. That was my first mistake – flying at night. Not quite following the tutorials, I approach an area only moderately well lit. But to compensate, I ensure there’s minimal obstructions in the sky. I’ll merely start her up, fly her 5-6 feet in the air for a minute or so, land her, and call it a night, I tell myself. I turn the remote controller on, followed by the drone battery. So far so good. I place the controller in GPS mode and calibrate the drone, connecting it to the 7 nearest satellites. I then press the joysticks down and towards each other to start the motors and propellers. Wonderful. Slowly but surely I press the left joystick towards the sky, instructing the drone to elevate. And that’s exactly what she does. I stop at about 3 feet. Suddenly the drone begins to drift to the right towards a fence. That’s not supposed to happen, I panic. I zoom the drone to the left, but she begins to inch downwards towards the ground. I zoom the drone up. Again, she drifts to the right towards the fence. Panic blinding me, I’m unable to save the drone from hitting the chain-linked fence. Down she falls onto her side before bouncing up wildly and hitting the fence again. With the propellers flaying I have no option but to turn the remote controller off. Big mistake. Once the controller is turned off, the drone loses connection and shoots up into the sky at an unimaginable speed, slicing my leg in multiple places with its carbon propellers. Just as the drone is about to fly away into the pitch black sky forever, I manage to slap it down with my left hand. The propeller slices a chunk of my left thumb off, hovers in place for a second and then shoots up into the sky again. There goes $2,700 I think to myself holding back tears of pain and sadness. Just then, a miracle happens and the drone slams into the only thin sliver of telephone wire in the area. A spark of current as the two conduits of electricity merge and the drone comes toppling down before slamming against the top of a wooden fence and tumbling into a stranger’s fenced in yard. Silence. I climb the fence, smearing blood on the unvarnished wood, and jump into the yard retrieving my lifeless piece of technology. All 4 propellers have snapped in half and a bloody thumbprint resides on the drone body. Feeling agonizingly numb, I gather the shards, climb back over the fence and head home.

I have trouble sleeping that night. And early the next morning I have a tennis match in Coronado. My finger still bleeds and I can’t hold the racquet in my left hand, causing me to lose the match badly. The only redeeming aspect of the morning is meeting my tennis opponent, Ted. Ted is in his 50’s and a very skilled tennis player. After hearing about Steven and my start-up he offers me the names of 3 realtors in the area with whom I should network. He also informs me that his girlfriend works for a local CPA firm that may be interested in taking me on as a part time employee. I thank Ted for the offer but tell him I’m not interested.

The following week Riley begins substitute teaching in North County. These schools are a ways away (about 25-30 miles) and are attended by mostly affluent students. “The school lobby looked fancier than some of the nicest hotels I’ve been in,” Riley illustrates to me after her first day subbing in Encinitas.

Realizing it’s been nearly a week since I’ve spoken to my mom, I give her a ring. We shoot the shit and catch up on our lives, now separated by thousands of miles. Upon informing her about my encounter with Ted this past weekend (leaving out the missing chunk of finger), my mom’s tone of voice becomes very serious: “Misha, that’s an amazing opportunity. You can earn money, gain experience doing taxes and still have plenty of free time to explore. You need to speak to that man again and at least look into the job he’s suggesting.” And I do exactly that. I shoot Ted an email requesting the contact info for the owner of the firm. Ted gets back to me within a few hours with a name and an email address. “Shoot him your resume,” he tells me. So I do, along with a narrative explaining my desire to travel the country while avoiding going broke. The next day I hear back from the company’s secretary. She informs me that the owner, Mike, would like to have a phone interview with me the next day. The next day (Thursday) I speak with Mike and we seem to connect quite well. The secretary then calls me again informing me that Mike would like to meet me in person the following Monday, February 9. The farther along I get in this process the more I desire this job. Although I have zero experience doing taxes (I’m an auditor by trade), I believe this will be a wonderful skill to learn. Plus, some financial peace of mind.

The following night Riley and I have yet another double date. This time the victims are Rachel and Grant, close friends of another couple, Alana and Will, with whom Riley was close with in Atlanta. We meet at Rachel and Grant’s house on the border of La Jolla and Pacific Beach and chat for a bit over a Heineken before walking over to a nearby Italian restaurant. It’s a tradition of ours to eat pasta the night before a big race. Oh, I don’t think I mentioned the race yet. I’ll get there in a minute. So Rachel, Grant, Riley and I eat and converse. I am mesmerized by Grant’s epic tales of living on a pirate ship for nearly 2 years and his adventurous hobbies of spear fishing, paddle boarding and exploring the depths of Mexico.

“We need to hang out with them more often,” I tell Riley after our meal. “They are so cool!”

Riley and I go to bed early that night knowing that we have a big race in the morning. Riley set a goal about a half decade ago to run a half marathon in every state. The Mermaid Series San Diego Half Marathon will be run in her 10th state. If you haven’t gathered by the name of the race, the Mermaid Series is an all-women’s race. Unfazed by the pink website background, the pictures of women all over the website and the survey questions asking which women’s magazine she would like to subscribe to, Riley registered for this race thinking it was your typical co-ed half-marathon. But it wasn’t. I was one of 8 male racers. Not that I’m complaining about running along the gorgeous coast of Mission Bay on a perfect morning with over 1000 fit women scrambling all around me, but I certainly didn’t fit in with my fellow racers. Excited by the estrogen around me, I run my fastest half marathon time of 1:46:37 (an 8:08/mile pace). Riley finishes with an impressive time of 1:56:50. Exhausted yet happy, Riley and I drive home, eat a large lunch and head to Coronado Beach, where we meet up with Ainsley and Patrick. We sunbathe and talk on the pure, white sand to the background sound of waves splashing against the shore. A beautiful, yet moderately populated beach, I find much appeal to this place.

After a surprisingly energetic half hour of Frisbee toss, the 4 of us pack our cars and drive over to Coronado Brewing. The beer is delicious. I down 2 tasty IPAs while munching a glorious bratwurst burger while Riley and our companions enjoy quesadillas. Our bellies feeling content, we exit the brewery and part ways. Soon after arriving home, a coma sets in and we call it an early night.

I sleep way too many hours and wake up Sunday morning with renewed purpose in life. As I had been sporadically for the past week, I commit to spending most of today filming with my drone. I drive around all of San Diego, from Balboa Park to PetCo Park to Coronado Beach and film anything and everything that may appear impressive from the sky. As we do nearly every night, Riley and I cook again tonight. A mouth-watering trout, asparagus and rice meal is on the menu tonight.

While Riley babysits Monday afternoon, I prep for my interview. Glad I brought a suit and ties, I think to myself. Dressed in my fanciest attire, I print 3 copies of my most updated resume and hop in the car at 20 minutes past 1. My interview is at 2:00pm, but I get there fifteen minutes early. I take my time adjusting my unusually long hair and wiping the beads of sweat off my forehead. I enter the building and ascend to the second floor, where Mike’s office is situated. A woman with shoulder length black hair and a contagiously wide smile welcomes me in and seats me in the lobby. Soon after, a tall, wiry man in his 50’s with the friendliest of eyes and an equally pleasant smile comes out of the hallway. “Misha?” he asks.

I stand up and stick my hand forward. “Nice to meet you in person, Mike,” I say, looking my potential future boss directly in the eyes, as I was taught as a teenager.

We walk into Mike’s office and talk for about an hour. I come out desiring the job even more than before. I then am guided to the conference room where one by one I meet Olivia and Janet, two of the company’s managers. Some expected and some unexpected interview questions and discussions later the interview process is concluded. “I’m going to interview the final candidate today and you’ll know if you get the job by tomorrow night,” Mike explains before ushering me out. Feeling stressed from 2 hours of exhibiting professionalism yet elated from the prospect of working for these wonderful individuals, I descend the stairs and head back to my car. The following evening I have an employment offer in my inbox. A sense of relief encompasses me as for the next 2 months I will have financial security.

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Our New Home

We follow the sidewalk running along the one way road dubbed Boundary Street for about 100 feet before veering to the right onto a dirt alley barely wide enough to fit a Mini-Cooper. Another 50 feet and we stop at a wooden fence, about a foot and a half taller than me. My body tingles with anticipation as our realtor, Cathy-Ann, fidgets with the stubborn lock as she attempts to insert a key into the heavy-duty lock securing the fence closed.

This past month of traveling has been an incredible experience, and the timing couldn’t have been any more perfect, but I’m now ready to have a place to call home. There are joys that can only be attained traveling, but a girl like me eventually needs the stability of her own bed, clean bathroom, and organized closet. Seemingly ages later, the gate swings opens. We are exposed to a short, rectangular cottage separately fenced in from a larger unit in which our landlord and his fiance reside in. immediately before us rests a round metal table and four white, cushioned chairs under a spacious cloth umbrella. Beside it, a small, leafless tree and potted plants chatter among themselves A hummingbird, half the size of my palm, sweeps past my frizzling hair. With clear blue skies and a 75 degree forecast, I already foresee many afternoons spent reading and relaxing on this veranda.

As we approach the front door I notice “Shalom” written on a decoration hanging by the front door. As we later learn, the owner of the home is both Russian and Jewish, not unlike Misha. With a little less trouble, Cathy-Ann cracks open the front door. We are welcomed by a comfortably quaint room embodied by tile floors, wooden cabinets and jubilant decorations. It only takes a few seconds to identify everything in this charming living room and kitchen. Beside the door resides a small round kitchen table covered in a flowery table cloth. Almost pressed against it is a massive stainless-steel refrigerator large enough to house 2 family’s worth of food. To the right of the fridge are granite counter tops, an oven and stove and a washer and dryer. Opposite the kitchen sleeps a petite brightly striped couch, a wooden coffee table and a modest sized television atop a wooden TV-stand.

This room has everything one would need. It’s small, but not too small. It’s the perfect size for a couple with limited possessions. Our short tour continues into the bathroom, located beside the washer/dryer. My eyes brighten as (in my opinion) the most important room in the house sparkles with beauty. The spacious, tile-floored shower bears a tile-seat and a glass door. The porcelain toilet and shiny sink fit comfortably beside it.

Cathy-Ann, Misha and I then migrate to the bedroom, located on the opposite side of the house. Again, my expectations are exceeded. A queen sized bed screaming my name, a 3 drawer IKEA-esque dresser screaming Misha’s, a tall white wardrobe for my excessive supply of dresses, and a large wooden book shelf filled with months’ worth of books and games is more than we could have asked for.

I look over and see Misha grinning at me.

“Our first home together,” he says as he walks over and embraces me in a big bear hug.

We spend the bulk of the evening unpacking, only taking a break to watch an obnoxiously vibrant red, pink and purple sunset. We then ride over to the local Trader Joe’s for some groceries. Misha and I cook a delightful steak meal and down it with some celebratory red wine. We have successfully journeyed from Atlanta, Georgia to San Diego, California. This marks the end of a wonderful chapter in our lives and the beginning of the next.

I wake up my first day in San Diego to another perfect morning. Before starting my to-do list, I decide to go on a run through our neighborhood known as North Park. We chose to live in North Park as we had been informed by many that this up-and-coming neighborhood is the hip area for young people like ourselves. I begin my run. A half mile from our cottage lies University Avenue, a street boasting the neighborhood’s downtown. This diverse area provides a plethora of cafes , restaurants, coffee shops, boutiques, and microbreweries. A theatre and weekly farmer’s market also add to the variety. As I observe the countless happy youth and adults flood these eccentric streets and shops I already feel myself falling in love. There is already an overwhelming amount of things and places I’m ready to experience here.

The hours begin to fly by as Misha and I continue getting settled into our new home. Misha spends most of his time on Craigslist finding us deals on road bikes, a bike rack, impenetrable bike locks, a wine rack, and other essential items we weren’t able to squeeze into my compacted car. He also begins coordinating with potential tennis clients he’s gathered through various online and offline outlets. I spend my hours doing research on the required paperwork for substitute teaching. The process is a lot more complicated than I thought. Unlike Fulton County in Atlanta, San Diego County is divided into 42 separate districts each with unique requirements. Scheduling an appointment for fingerprints and teacher credentialing at the San Diego County Education Office is only the first step. Feeling the stress already rolling in I take a deep breath and continue on with my productivity.

Needing a break from filling out substitute teacher applications and attempting to master the art of scanning documents on our newly acquired (for $5), fresh-out-of-the-box printer, I check my email. I’m pleased to find an email from a woman I had been communicating with on http://www.care.com. She asks if I’d be interested in babysitting her 3 young children. I give her a call and after a 30 minute conversation, I am invited to come meet the kids the following Monday. Misha and I eat dinner that night with a sense of accomplishment. We both got an unprecedented amount of work accomplished today.

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.