| FACES OF LOS ANGELES |

Santa Monica & Venice Beach

In Los Angeles, there is no shortage of interesting characters. This dude was no exception. As I was walking along the Venice Beach boardwalk, this gent was entertaining people with his pet python draped around his neck. I snapped a few photos of the candid moment, and then asked him if I could take a photo of just him. He did this pose with no hesitation, and this photo is the result. It's definitely one of my favorite photos from my trip. I ended up choosing it as my submission to the student newspaper at the University of Southern Maine, the Free Press, which encouraged students to submit photos from their winter break.

Mike was the only American friend I made on my trip, which speaks volumes on the state of diversity of backgrounds in LA. We met at USA Hostels, and he came with all of us on the Hollywood sign hike, and we ended up hanging out in the days afterwards. He's in real estate and was escaping the Chicago winter in LA. Since he rented a car - unlike the rest of us - he ended up driving us from Venice Beach to the Griffith Observatory (a few of us took an Uber to Venice Beach), as well as Malibu the next day. Consequently we got to explore more than we probably would have otherwise. I know I did. He was also super generous, and was fond of playing certain games while we traveled to and fro certain destinations. (There were a few. "Around the World" was one, and another was "My Town," which to my chagrin, I still don't understand, while Jaimee and Hollie went on to understand it eventually.) Mike and I ended up going to watch Uncut Gems at the TCL Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard - a legendary movie theatre known for its concrete handprints and signatures of film stars in its entrance. When we finally parted ways, it was definitely a bittersweet moment, just like it was with Jaimee, Hollie, Gabriel, Vik, and our friend Alvaro, whom I regrettably never got a photo of.

Being in LA, you're confronted by a myriad of food choices, thus making it easy to be in a perpetual state of ambivalence - especially when that's already an issue of yours (ahem, me). In Venice, we opted for Taco Venice, and Erika was the cashier. I noticed she had a bunch of ink on her arms, so after I ordered and was waiting around, and observing her affable disposition, I asked if I could take some photos of them. She protruded her arms outward, and while the lighting wasn't the best, I'm happy with how this came out. Went I went back to Taco Venice a couple days later on my own independent sojourn, I saw her again and asked if she had an Instagram account that I could tag her with if I uploaded the photo. She wrote it down on a napkin, but I ended up losing the napkin (not the only thing I lost, unfortunately, and to no surprise, since this seems to be in my nature). So I went back through my GoPro footage, and I had taken a video with my food and had recorded the napkin as well. When I found it, I uploaded the photo, tagged her, and we've been following each other ever since!

After a day of riding my bike around Venice, I eventually went back to Santa Monica and checked out the life on the pier. I stuck around for quite a while taking photos. LOTS of photos. While this photo may not exactly constitute a "face" of Los Angeles - after all, they're all silhouetted - I just liked how it represented life on the pier, with Pier Burger as a back drop.

This photo sort of gives me the heebie jeebies. First, because I've read and watched Stephen King's IT, whose notorious villain has a penchant for carrying around balloons. Second, because it's dark and moody, and the subject looks isolated in an otherwise very crowded environment. But finally, it's because this man at one point accosted me. I'm sure there is no shortage of tourists taking photos with their cameras, and so this man ought to have been accustomed to them. He had "caught" me taking photos from a distance that had him in it, but he was just one person among many in the photos - I hadn't been focusing on just him, aside from this photo that he didn't see me take (his back is turned, after all). Since it was dark, his identity was complete concealed, anyway. When he saw me taking photos, he approached me and kept saying things like "No photos, no photos, if you want photos, you pay me." But he wouldn't leave me alone as I retreated away from him while he continued to insist that I pay him. I can't remember how I responded, but I defended myself verbally. In that moment he appeared volatile, thus leaving me to think he was possibly aggressive or violent, which boosted my adrenaline. I tried to retreat to an area with more people, and eventually he left me alone.

Even though I felt a bit indignant for being accosted by this seemingly hostile stranger, I also sort of felt bad for him. He was just selling balloons on the pier to make whatever money he could. It was clear he was a low-income individual who was financially desperate. Even though I experienced something similar on Hollywood Boulevard one night, this guy had been persistent by essentially chasing after me. But, again, even though I didn't appreciate it, I at least understand the motive and hope he can be okay.

As I mentioned in a previous post, you can't discuss Los Angeles without discussing its homeless population. It's easy as a tourist to take photos of only the pretty things that glitter in the glamorous City of Angels. But, as the aphorism goes, not all that glitters is gold. While Los Angeles does indeed contain an enormous bounty of enviable beauty from the Hollywood hills to Santa Monica and Venice Beach, it also contains not just an unenviable crime rate and homeless population. The homeless population in LA county alone is about 10,000 people short of the entire population of the city of Portland, Maine - around 55,000. This woman - who appeared in her 60s - was amongst that population. Whether caused by mental illness, drug use or any other reason, my heart is so broken for the people in these situations. This woman is no exception. If you zoom in, the cup next to her is a McDonald’s cup that just reads “God Bless,” with a cross at the bottom. I sincerely hope she and the countless others in situations similar to her’s are able to get the help they desperately need.

After sauntering around Santa Monica Pier for a couple hours, I wanted a beer and some food - naturally. So I looked up breweries in the area, and I was happy to find this one, whimsically named The Dudes' Brewing Co., which also served food. The pizza and beer I had were completely satisfying and I ended up going back the next day for more, if I recall correctly. It was situated in an outdoor mall. That night happened to be Comedy Night at the brewery, and this guy with his bushy 'stache was on the lineup.

This woman was another comedian on the lineup. She was hilarious and I remember her making some joke about her being a "horse girl" growing up, "but not a weird one."

Arnold was the MAN. But I originally wasn’t so sure .

I went to rent a bike from his shop, Santa Monica Beach Bicycle Rentals, and when I went in and was greeted by him, he gave me weird vibes. I even stepped out and Google searched his shop to make sure it was legit and that I wouldn’t be dealing with someone sketchy or unreliable. Turns out his shop received overwhelmingly positive reviews, so I went back in and not only did he help me with the bike (accompanied with a basket and a seat fitting), he gave me a map of Santa Monica and Venice Beach trails so I knew where I’d be going and plan my itinerary. I ended up having so much fun I went back the next day and rented the same bike for an even longer journey.

Before I embarked on the ride on the second day, I asked Arnold if I could take his picture, and I honestly thought he’d say no because he seemed like the type who’d be reluctant to have his photo taken, let alone shared. But he was mad cool about it - per usual it seemed in LA - and I’m glad I got some of the bikes in the background. We even had some fun conversations, and he told me the “cold” weather was making business slow (the high was in the 60s - ideal for me, but not for many in warm climates!)

If you ever go out to Santa Monica, visit his shop for an amazing bike ride along the beach! Thanks so much Arnold for your affable personality and for being the purveyor of two of my favorite days in LA!

I was on a bike ride through Venice Beach, heading toward the famous Venice Canals, when I ran into this woman and her trio of furry friends. She helped direct me to the canals (and told me I was currently heading on a path I wasn’t allowed on), and we ended up having a friendly exchange with each other. Her name eludes me - I remember it being unique, one I hadn’t heard before - but as we parted ways I asked if I could take her picture. She agreed and luckily one of the dogs decided to put on a performance to make a better photo than it would have been otherwise

There are a lot of colorful characters in a lot of different cities (literally, evidently), but some really catch your eye more than others!

As I wandered around Venice Beach with my camera, I saw this dude sauntering about - he didn’t really seem to be doing a performance of any sort, interestingly - and asked if I could take his picture. He wasn’t at all shy and said go right ahead, so I snapped quite a few from different angles, and this was my favorite. I wish I had gotten his name, whether real or fictional, but at least I ascertained he is indeed some kind of performer (and not just a guy walking around in clown costume) based on the balloons and cash in his bag.

If there’s a “Keep Los Angeles Weird” movement, this dude is definitely playing his role - and I say that affectionately.

---

Thank you so much for (virtually) joining me on my trip in Los Angeles! Clearly, there are a lot of curious & intriguing people here - residents and visitors alike. I hope this series helped illuminate some of the life to be seen and experienced in this fun and vibrant city. Cheers!

Check out the other installments of this series:

Part I: Downtown

Part II: Beverly Hills & Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Part III: Hollywood