The City of Angels Part Three: The First Month

Part One: Departure
Part Two: A Perilous Journey

On Friday, September 18th, 2009, I used hotel Wi-Fi to update our blog. This is what I wrote then:

“We made our way into Los Angeles and immediately got lost. It wasn’t our fault (this time) as Priceline decided to give us directions that were completely ass-backwards. A boulevard was in fact a freeway. East really meant go West. Eventually we bungled our way to the Homestead hotel and got situated, watching Wonder Boys before falling asleep.

The next morning we got on searching for jobs. RJ started looking up places to pawn some stuff, I negotiated a few days’ stay at a nearby hostel, and then I got a call I truly wasn’t expecting: a talent agent working for one of the most presitigous talent search companies in L.A. told me he was interesting in accepting me as part of the group. We worked out financial details, what I needed to have prepared, and even a meet time for me to come by the office.

Unfortunately, with so much other stuff that needed doing and outrageous, if expected traffic, we weren’t able to make it by yesterday so I called and rescheduled.

Looking back, I realized I had said that it was me that booked the stay at the hostel that would become my home for the next five months. I guess I wanted to sound like I had my shit together, which wasn’t fair to the guy who really booked our room: DJ. He told us it was located in Hollywood. This will become relevant in a little bit.

Anyway, RJ had an old engagement ring he was trying to pawn, so the most apparently obvious place to do that was the Jewelry District. Where better to find a group of people most qualified to determine the value of the piece and offer an appropriate amount to procure it.

I cannot properly convey how much of an absolute shit show that first week or so was. The entire first five months were crazy enough, but we were fish out of the water, across the street, and straight on the grill upon arrival.

The car was running low on gas. We didn’t know how long RJ was going to be – and parking was atrocious, anyway – so DJ and I went on a mad dash around downtown L.A. trying to find a pump, looking frantically at the fuel gauge as it gradually ticked closer and closer to empty. We found a station eventually, practically on fumes, and realized we had no fucking idea where we were.

Also, we began to realize how idiotic our plan had been: RJ was supposed to hock the ring, buy a disposable phone and call us. But what if he couldn’t sell the ring? What if he couldn’t find a place that sold disposable phones? I was the only one with a working phone at the time. But who would I call?

And as DJ and I accidentally drove to Chinatown and followed that up by speeding down the wrong freeway, we realized that while Anchorage is a big little city, it’s the tiniest big city.

DJ and I parked somewhere and decided to look for RJ on foot. In retrospect, as many aspects of this move came to be, that probably was the worst thing we could have done. It’s all about ground coverage. It’s a logistics issue. Maybe we just didn’t want to waste the gas? Fuck if I know. RJ managed to find a payphone and some change and call me and we finally reconnected.

We drove to a nearby casino to wait until the traffic jam calmed down. DJ played blackjack again. DJ lost at blackjack again. The jam cleared up and we headed back towards the LAX area, but because we are terrible navigators, we wound up in Orange County before finally finding our way back. A whole day wasted and RJ got an insulting amount for a pretty stellar piece of jewelry out of it. Fantastic.

We applied for jobs, we joked around with each other. I was drinking Johnny Walker Red out of my flask and thinking that it tasted like ashtrays and maybe I would stick to rums. And speaking of ashtrays, DJ “playfully” through one at me and wound up shattering a light bulb all over my face and bed. Nothing worse than a mess came out of it, but it’s the sort of thing that sticks in your mind.

From the original blog:

“Today, we’re getting ready to check out of the hotel and move over to the Adventurer Hostel nearby. Once we check in, we’re going to head down to the office so I can meet this talent agent and discuss not only career opportunities but apparently a deal he can work out for me on head/body shots (he’s offered to cover the normally $800-1,200 bill, but said I’d probably want to pay the photographer $100 for studio time). Then, tonight, it’s $2 beers!”

I completely forgot $2 beers were one of the selling points of that place They quickly became irrelevant.

First things first, the hostel isn’t in Hollywood. It’s in fucking Inglewood, and the sight of bars on the windows of homes as we first rolled through didn’t fill us with a lot of good faith. But here, let 21-year-old me set the scene for you:

“At first, we were tremendously skeptical. It seemed as if the online ads were completely misleading. The sign out front is a little dilapidated. The outside wall is covered in vines. All in all, we were sure we made a tremendous mistake.

Turns out we were wrong! We checked in, pulled our car around to the back where it was locked nice and secure into a gated, barbwired parking lot. While that might seem a little sketchy in and of itself, it was to keep people out, not people in. In the building area itself, there’s a pool table, some vending machines, a pool, some arcade games and internet you can pay to use. Or free WiFi, if you have a laptop (like DJ and I! Joy!). There’s a bar and restaurant area. Every day there’s free popcorn, a half hour free buffet with some decent chips, tater tots, french fries, rice w/peas, some bread. If you have the coupons, there’s a Champagne Party every night where you can have a free couple glasses of champagne. Happy hour has $2 beers and margaritas.

Due to some overbooking issues they were having, they moved us from a dorm room (20 beds) to a private room with two beds and our own private bathroom and television. All in all, not a bad deal.”

Not so bad, right? This is a hostel for youth and international travelers. The amenities were decent enough. We just wanted to stay around long enough to get jobs and find an apartment.

I’m going to jump ahead a little bit and spoil this for you: RJ and I lived in that place for five. Fucking. Months. And that idyllic first impression? Complete and total bullshit. By the time we left, people were dead, people were searching for me, there was a psychotic masturbator, I had met one of the loves of my life, and I was definitely guilty and/or complicit in a few crimes.

Case in point: that first night, we all got amazingly drunk. DJ played the South Park pinball machine until the employees literally pulled the plug because of how late it was. RJ and DJ went up to the room about three in the morning. I stayed out about a half an hour later to try and write, but then went up and pulled both of them out onto the catwalk. Across the hall, a Russian girl had called the police because her bathroom wasn’t working. She threatened to literally shit all over the sidewalk unless it was taken care of immediately. The cops said there was nothing they could do but get the manager’s attention. Which they did, and I assume the situation was resolved, because she and her roommates were there the next day.

This was the first night. That’s one of the tamest things that happened.

“The next day, Saturday, we loaded into the car and headed downtown for me to get headshots and bodyshots taken by a pretty big-deal photographer. We had some growing unease, however, as the studio ended up being in the middle of some warehouses that looked like they’d been condemned for quite some time. From a clay head laying around to a giant, abandoned steel mill with “God is Dead” spraypainted on the walls, to a bag of candy mysteriously sitting on the ground next to a dumpster, to a Murder Horse [statue], everything screamed Murder-Death-Kill.

We found the right building and waited outside until the photographer, Brian, as well as the talent agent, Mike, showed up. I headed up with them while RJ and DJ went for smokes and waited in the car. When we actually got INTO the studio, I was pretty impressed with the set-up. Some sweet lighting equipment, some sweet props, some gorgeous photos from past subjects. There was a really creepy Jesus wall, though, and four cats lounging around, one of which was missing an eye.”

Yeah, I’m hesitant now to believe that guy was a “big-time” anything other than a super weird, cat-freak recluse. His pad WAS pretty sweet. Super artsy, clean, well-lit. If it weren’t located on the third floor of an abandoned building in the middle of fucking Chernobyl, if these two total strangers hadn’t told my two friends in the creepiest imaginable way to wait outside while they lured me into this murder factory, you know, if none of that… then it would have been alright.

I paid $100 for the studio time  (“You’ve got to spend money to make money”, I told myself sullenly as my funds continued to gradually diminish), we got gas in in a sketchy neighborhood and went home. DJ decided to take it easy while RJ and I threw caution to the wind and got drunk. Around 3AM, I went to the room and fell asleep on the floor. RJ and the Australian guy he had been playing pool with earlier in the night met up with a quartet of British women. Despite the pool being closed after ten, the six of them somehow managed to avoid detection as they swam from 4-7AM, RJ mostly clothed.

I only know this because he burst into the room in the wee hours of the morning, startling me awake. “Where the hell have you been?” I asked like an angry parent. “Do you have any idea what time it is?”

“Pool with british chicks. And Eric.”

“What? Who? What?” All in all, it was a decent night.

The next day RJ and I decided we wanted to go to the beach (“Drive west until you hit the ocean”, this smart-ass says, knocking the map out of my hand. And it worked.), and then were accosted by a homeless man on our way out. He asked for some money. I gave him something like $5 in change because any other cash I had on me was a $20 or higher. RJ was rolling with plastic. The man wanted more and began to swear at us.

“What did I do to deserve this insult? I’m a veteran! I served in Vietnam! I had to kill babies. Does that disturb you?”
“Yes, tremendously. We’ve got to go now.”

The Adventurer had doors that could be electronically locked from inside, unlocked only by a switch under the counter. This came in handy most nights and on afternoons like this one. Saved the desk ladies some hassle.

We were hungover and downed some cheap Chinese and then headed to the beach. Swimming was fun, in that filthy fucking water, but between the food, the hangover, and whatever salt and other nasty shit was in the ocean there made us vomit profusely. Also, I skinned my knee.

Back at the hostel, it was the British girls’ last night. The cops had been called earlier in the evening because someone had stolen their ipod. It wasn’t recovered. The cops showing up would become a recurring experience. RJ and I were invited to their room to play Uno and drink tea. One of them suggested ketchup and rice as a meal. I tried it. It’s… ehhh. The evening and early morning was nice, and we added each other all on Facebook before they left. Six years later, I think I’m still only friends with one of them.

The next day, we went to pick up some prints of my head and body shots. I thought the pictures turned out great. RJ thumbed through them and tapped on one. “In this one you look like someone told you your cat just died.” I was going for smoldering. Fuck me, right?

Later, after a meeting with this talent agent… do you know what a talent agent is? I didn’t when I first moved there. The talent agent isn’t an agent who gets in touch with casting directors and studios for you. He’s the guy who puts you in touch with agents. Kind of. This guy fucking sucked at his job. He called me twice after the headshots, I think. The only thing he did was get me professional pictures taken (decent enough) and access to an audition board where I could look for potential jobs. But I remember after the last meeting we had together, he talked to RJ and I in the parking garage. Upon finding out RJ does IT work, he said, “Look, keep this on the DL, but I’ve got this little side business maybe you could help me with.”

He proceeded to pull out his phone and pull up a softcore porn site with a terrible layout. He wanted RJ to fix it for free, with the promise of possibly finding a job for him later. RJ gave him his best serious face and told him he’d definitely think about it. We laughed about it over Denny’s minutes later.

A day or two later, I got an email for a runway modeling audition which, hahahahaha, most of you reading this have never seen me.  I wouldn’t say I’m an unattractive guy or terribly out of shape or anything, but I’m a far cry from model material. Also, I’m clumsy as all hell. I walk up stairs awkwardly. God forbid you see me run ever.

I remember going to that audition, because money is money, a chance is a chance. There was a long line of gorgeous people I had to stand in. I made awkward conversation. When it was my turn, I did my best to confidently strut down the runway, swung a super fucked pivot and shamefully walked away. I didn’t expect a call back from that and I didn’t get one.

That night DJ went down to the hostel bar for a few drinks. He came back absolutely plastered with arms full of hot dogs someone in the kitchen had given him for free. He excitedly explained that as he was drinking, he happened to sit next to and start up a conversation with the hostel’s owner, who lived in his own private room next to the bar. Somehow he convinced the man to give him a job as a shuttle drivers if he could get his driver’s license switched over. We resolved to do that the next day.

And this is where my original blog ended. From here, I’m going to have to try and remember the order of things as they happened to the best of my ability and recount some of the crazier stories that occurred.

Let me take a moment to kind of explain the setting of this hostel. The place was run by a pair of Tongan gangsters. And when I mean gangsters, I don’t mean in the street gang sense. I mean these guys were violent, racist thugs who used their influence and money to hold power over people. Employees were replaceable. No race or religion was safe from their condescension. The uncle owned the hostel and his nephew, fresh from prison, managed it.

The building was open 24 hours. The manager’s wife, and feisty but generally sweet Eastern European immigrant, usually handled the day end of stuff, but there were a handful of other women that ran the desk, too. I think there were three shuttle drivers at the time: one heavyset man who later had to quit because his gout so bad, one monstrous asshole that kept taking my fucking food without asking, and Shawn. We’ll get back to Shawn.

The bar was usually tended by one of two women. Selma was a wild, dark-haired young Slovenian woman who liked to get black-out drunk on the clock, break glasses on the ground or by throwing them at whatever patron pissed her off, sing loudly and out of tune to “I Got 5 On It”, and generally be a total mess. The other was Zhana, a beautiful, buxom, soft-spoken, terribly naive Russian woman who was dating an emotionally manipulative, greaser-Lou-Diamond-Phillips-looking piece of shit named Robbie. They were two of maybe four employees that I genuinely liked consistently.

Now, RJ and I were almost at the end of our ropes financially. We were willing to do a lot of shit work for cash, so we meandered down to the main entrance and introduced ourselves. “Hey, we just moved from Alaska, we’re roommates of the guy you were talking to, he got his license and you hired him as a shuttle driver, we need work, too, yadda yadda yadda.” And it worked, because the turnover rate was so high. RJ and I became desk workers, and RJ sometimes also filled in as a shuttle driver, usually during the day.

Employment came with some perks! Eh, sort of. For one, Selma stopped charging us for drinks unless it came in in a pitcher, and then it was always $6. Any drink, in a pitcher, six dollars. Also, our cost of living went down. Barely. They knocked the state tax off the cost of our room, which I think saved us $20-30 a month.

Let me explain the rooms: there were four and eight bed communal dorm rooms for travelers, with no lockers, so theft was common. There were private, one bed rooms. You would walk in, the first room would have a couch and maybe a little table and a television. Then a doorway, which sometimes had a door and sometimes didn’t (RJ and I shared a room for a while without a door, so when my girlfriend came over, certain activities were a little awkward. Not doing those activities never occurred to us; the man had headphones). The second room would have a bed and the bathroom.

And then there were the two bed bedrooms. First room had a bed and and a television, second room had a bed and the bathroom. These are what we got, and when there were three of us, I often either had to share a bed with one of them, sleep on the floor, or sleep on this uncomfortable little cot that put twin beds to shame. We paid $850 a month for this arrangement. As employees of this fucking dump.

The minimum wage in California in 2009 was $8.00 an hour. That’s pretty much exactly what we were getting paid, so I kept applying to other jobs and auditions, RJ began looking into EMT school, and DJ… well, a woman asked him to drive her around some nights to different places to make money, and at the end of the night, she would give him 20% of whatever she made. That went on until one day we were talking and realized… well… he had accidentally become a pimp. So that stopped and not long after, that girl and her friend were removed from the hostel for completely unrelated reasons.

He went back to allocating some of his paycheck to blackjack. We lived down the road from the Hollywood Parks casino, so he’d head down there sometime. I went with him one night. He gave me $20 and told me I could keep what I won. RJ was working the shuttle at the time, but came over when he was done. He played an arcade game while we gambled. I was up $49. DJ was down $150, and he stormed over to RJ and stared at the arcade box for a minute before he told him, “You’re just throwing away money into that thing.”

Without looking at him, RJ replied, “I think I’m getting the same rate of return you are right now, but I’m having a lot more fun.”

And if it sounds like DJ was reckless with his money… well, he was.The three of us were all young, dumb men who had bitten off more than we could chew and made a ton of questionable, if not outright awful decisions. DJ ordered strippers for his birthday, for example. We were hanging out in the private room of this Australian guy, Chris, who was awesome. I remember RJ was working the desk that night. He paged up to the room to let us know when they arrived. DJ asked if they were hot, unaware that he was on speakerphone and RJ had to mumble an uncertain affirmative in front of the girls before sending them up. They were not. They took him into Chris’ bedroom, locked the door, gave an unethusiastic, half-naked strip show and, at some point, robbed him of $400.

He made his money back, sort of, by using the medical marijuana license he had procured to sell weed to the owner of the hostel. None of us gave half a shit about any of it, really; we were trying to survive and we were trying to have fun while we did it.

But problems continued to pop up. While DJ was working the shuttle one night, RJ and I went a couple miles down the road to get some Panda Express. When we came out and got in the car, we discovered that the ignition had broken somehow. So, alone, the two of us began to push this car down Century Boulevard as night fell in the middle of Inglewood.

A week or two previously, RJ and I, along with a pale Australian, we’re walking a couple blocks down the road around 11 at night to pick up some bottles from the liquor store. We were stopped by police who asked us where we were from because we were obviously not from around the area. After explaining we were from Alaska (and Australia), they told us we really shouldn’t be out at night in those parts. Then they refused to escort us to the liquor store, which, fair enough.

So with that in mind, RJ and I were pushing this fucking car as fast as we could. Darkness had fallen when a large, angry-looking black man began yelling at us, wondering what the fuck we were doing. He demanded we push it towards him, down an alley. I have no idea why we fucking did, but we pushed it towards him, down that alley, and into a gated chop shop where a chained Rottweiler barked and growled at us.

“Give me fifty dollars and wait here,” the man grated.
“Uh…”
“C’mon, man. Fifty bucks.”
RJ forked over the money and the man left for a solid twenty minutes. We waited uncomfortably, staying clear of the dog and shrinking away from the handful of other men that glared at us but didn’t say anything. And when that scary man came back? We found out he’d used the money to purchase parts, and he used those parts to install a button under the dash that you could push to start the car. He didn’t charge us for the installation. We felt like idiots.

And most of that first month was dumb luck, recklessness, idiocy and shenanigans. And then DJ got fired.

It was some time… had to be early November. Not long after Halloween. I remember hearing something about a group of six or seven other Alaskans checking in for a few days. RJ and I had the night off and we considered finding them to see if we knew any of them. DJ was working the desk and the shuttle with the manager’s wife. He kept leaving to pop into the bar to check on Selma. He had had a thing for her and believed she had a thing for him, too. Maybe she did, I don’t fucking know. She once poured champagne all over me and shoved ice down my pants, so literally nothing would surprise me where she’s concerned.

I do know that on that night, she was wearing some stilettos or something that were killing her heels. DJ took it upon himself to get her some flats from her room or her car or something, despite the manager’s wife being slammed with check-ins, leaving her to handle the new arrivals by herself. I happened to leave the room and be walking towards the bar when I see DJ and the manager’s wife arguing full-tilt, high enough volume that I could hear them through the lobby doors. Then the manager goes in and just tears DJ a new asshole. I saw my friend sink further and further into the lobby chair, hands gripping the arms so tightly his knuckles were white. He had thought he was safe due to his, uh, sales to the owner. It was becoming increasingly clear that that wasn’t the case.

I ran back upstairs and burst into the room with so much force that RJ recoiled in shock.

“We need to get you as drunk as possible as fast as possible,” I gasped.

“What? What? Why?”

“Because DJ’s getting fired right now and I’m 90% sure they’re going to try to get you to cover his shift.”

“Well, fuck THAT.”

RJ rolled out of bed and we crept in the shadows around the lobby and booked it to the bar. Selma poured us three shots apiece which we chased with a beer. A woman on the other side of the bar eyed us and said, “You must be the other Alaskans.”

“How did you know?”

“We can tell by the way you drink.”

The manager did find us and ask RJ to take over the shift. RJ breathed liquor directly into his face and “regrettably” said he couldn’t. The manager told us DJ was not only fired but kicked out and and asked us if that would be a problem. We said no, because dammit, we were gradually sort of making things work.

We helped DJ pack his shit. He arranged to get a room at a hotel down the road, and I gave him some DVDs to watch while he was there.

Then RJ and I went and partied with the other Alaskans. They were some kind of hippy folk band, and the lead singer was cute. And they could drink. Nothing came of any of that except me throwing up in the bushes outside of their room.

A week or so later, DJ ran out of money. He called his uncle who arranged for him to fly back to Alaska.

And then there were two.

Part Four: Love and Tribulation

Part Five: Awry

Part Six: Ruin

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The City of Angels Part Two: A Perilous Journey

Part One: Departure

Our car was fixed, our bellies were full, and we continued on our way through Canada. We spent several hours traveling and ran the gas gauge down until it was nearly empty. We pulled in to the first place we could, middle of the night, to refuel. I’ve seldom seen a more terrifying place.

The place was a bed and breakfast seemingly in the middle of nowhere. There were ancient gas pumps that needed to be turned on to operate, but there was no sign of movement in the building. It looked abandoned. The woods around the lot were thick and dark and spooky. The door was locked. The barn nearby had a table saw that we convinced ourselves was used to dismember bodies. Our car was almost out of gas; we wouldn’t be traveling very far without more fuel.

So we stayed the night there, of course. We slept in the car, hoping the building wasn’t as empty as it seemed and that we could rectify our situation in the morning. Completely aware that I was paranoid for nothing, I still slept like shit, convinced I’d wake up to someone trying to break through the window to get me.

But we were fine, because of course we were. We had a flat tire, so we slapped a spare on, refueled and left. And we were fine! We saw moose and bison and bears  (and RJ apparently saw the ghost of a man wearing a yellow rain jacket), and we were fine!

Until the valve stem blew. I’m going to be honest: I don’t know what the fuck a valve stem is. I don’t know what it does or where it goes. I know that we pulled off to the side of the road and RJ said, “Well, I screwed it on, so let’s hope for the best” and tensions were high because this was the third thing to go wrong and we were still in the middle of Canada and DJ went off on me out of nowhere and I told him I’d kick the shit out of him and leave him on the side of the fucking road because his former employer still hadn’t given him several months of back pay so he hadn’t paid for shit so far.

Things were going swimmingly.

We rode in silence for a long time and switched drivers and moved along, all mad, but not really at anything except this series of unfortunate events. We stopped in Fort Nelson to get cheesecake and pie, use the cafe’s Wi-Fi to update the old blog and let our heads cool.

In Fort St. John, we continued using Fix-a-Flat on the tire we were limping along with to middling success. DJ and I played a little blackjack in a casino there and didn’t win, proving again that I am terrible with my own finances.

We left and I fell asleep hard in the back seat. I had a vivid nightmare. I don’t recall what it was about, thank god, but it jarred me so much that I awoke to a much more terrifying reality.

DJ was driving. We were currently in the middle of a snowstorm on a precarious road with no guard rails on the side and a sheer drop off a tall cliff. It was nighttime. A deer jumped in front of the car and DJ almost hit it, but he swerved and almost drove us off the cliff instead. He regained control of the car and it was about an hour before we found ourself on safer ground and with less aggressive snowfall.

We trucked along, feeling vulnerable and mortal, until we reached Prince George, where the car decided to shit the bed even further. The brakes weren’t responding the way they should. Like most of our problems, we discovered this in the middle of the night. We pulled into the parking lot of a strip mall. RJ, in shorts, knelt down beneath the car and found a gaping wound in the brake lines. He used gum to plug the hole and used a lighter to heat it and make it stay. This was obviously not a viable long-term solution and did nothing to help with the amount of lost efficiency we were already dealing with, but it would do until we could find a place to crash.

Let me rephrase that: a place to sleep.

DJ took the wheel and we headed for a hotel called Sandman Suites that sat at the bottom of a large hill. As our brakes were growing increasingly unreliable with every passing second, RJ and I gripped pillows and prepared to bail from the car should disaster prove imminent.

Fortunately (because I barely trust myself with a flight of stairs, much less leaping from a moving vehicle) it turned out alright. We rented a room for a couple nights and tried to take the stress of the situation off our minds by going for a dip in the pool. I like swimming a lot. I don’t know that I’ve ever written about that, but it’s therapy to me.

We bought a pack of Dude Beer (locally brewed, sold in an all-black box save for the name in bold white letters), some vodka, some McDonald’s and proceeded to get absolutely plastered. I snored so bad that night RJ opted to sleep in the tub.

We got the car fixed, temporarily, and drove down through William’s Lake and Pemberton until we finally reached Vancouver. The brakes were still giving us some shit, the transmission wasn’t doing much better and the spare tire was so flat we were almost running on the rim.

Luckily I have friends everywhere in the world. Though we’ve since lost touch, at the time I knew two women who lived in Vancouver that I had met three years previously in Barcelona and spent five days partying my ass off with. I called up Allie (who I was going to temporarily lived with during my original, unsuccessful attempt to move to Los Angeles), and she offered to give us a place to stay for a few days. Her boyfriend was a mechanic and he was able to order a replacement tire for the car.

In terms meantime, we did what we did best at the time: drink heavily.

We got a group together and wandered down to the Cambie Pub. We had to wait in line for an hour but stayed entertained by the local citizens. One homeless man played a 9/11 conspiracy song for us while another held a sign that that read “Smile If You Masturbate”. I took a picture with him. A few years later, someone I followed on Twitter shared a picture with the same man holding the same sign. God bless him.

Inside the bar, we got belligerent. I remember having a rum and coke in one hand and a whiskey and coke in the other. RJ was drinking directly from a full pitcher of beer. A kiosk was set up off to the side and an attractive woman was selling some new cinnamon whiskey. We bought too many shots of that shit while unsuccessfully flirting with her.

The group was so large that we had to take two cabs. We figured out about thirty dollars into the ride that none of us had cash and the cab’s card reader would only take one of our four cards, and that one only for $8.50. Instead of driving us to an ATM, he kicked us out in some neighborhood. We had a motherfucker of a time getting home. It got worked out eventually.

Later that night, I threw up hard and excessively. Probably in the top ten hardest times I’ve vomited and from 16 to about 21, I was the master of the puke and rally. There was no rallying here. There was only defeat.

When Joe, Allie’s boyfriend, got the tire in, he put it on the vehicle and gave it a look-over. The transmission was so fucking shot that he gave us a 50/50 chance of making it to Seattle, much less anywhere else.

We might have been irresponsible and reckless and a bit immature, but we were ballsy as hell. We decided to chance it.

I remember passing through the border. We had a little bit of trouble because DJ only had a military ID and no passport. I don’t know how the hell we got him into Canada without one, but it worked out. RJ and I kissed the ground once we re-entered America. We also took that time to clear out a cooler that didn’t cool quite enough and left a vegetable platter rotting in a puddle of melted ice. That was… unpleasant.

We stopped briefly in Seattle to take a picture of the Space Needle and some fancy IMAX theater. In retrospect, I find that hilarious. I’d go on to move to Seattle a little over a year later and couldn’t give one shit about the Space Needle then.

Tourist interest sated, we headed for Redding, California. Here’s what 21-year-old me had to say about that:

We drove and drove and drove, and it was smooth sailing. Know what smooth sailing is like? I’ll tell you. Smooth sailing is a straight, paved road that goes through multiple cities. It is not a twisting, winding, up and down “road” that’s half paved, full of wild animals, skirts cliffs with no guard rail, cuts through terrifying backwoods “towns” and is subject to some of the most varied weather phenomenons that one can ever experience.

We reached Redding and spent a day drinking beer with our friend Shane. From there, we headed down to Sacramento to refuel. We took a pit stop in Sacramento for another reason, though.

In my pocket, I had an address my mother had given me five years previously. This was the address to my biological father’s home. The address I sent a letter to and received a letter from my junior year of high school, the only correspondence the two of us have ever had. We tracked that house down.

I remember the day. The weather was nice, warm but with a light breeze rustling through some leafy trees lining the sidewalk. The house itself was a duplex with a porch. I remember my friends asking me if I wanted them to come with me. “I don’t know,” I said. “No, I don’t think so. I think I’ve got it,” I said after a minute. RJ came with me because he knew better.

I opened the door of the car, walked up to the curb, walked up to the steps, walked up to the door of the house. I lifted my hand and realized I had no idea what I was going to say. My chest felt tight. I was more nervous for this than I was losing my virginity. What would the first words be that I spoke aloud to the man who fathered and abandoned me?

I knocked. No one answered. I knocked again. No one answered. I checked the mailbox. The letter inside was addressed to an Asian woman. My father had moved.

I called around to a few places to try and find him based on the few things I knew about him. I didn’t find him. With a heavy heart, I told my friends it didn’t matter and we should continue. So we did, moving on down to Concord where we stayed with RJ’s cousin, her fiancée and their wonderful dog for a few nights. We played a lot of beer pong and did our best to empty a left over keg. We had barbecue. It was a nice break.

It was also the first place that we really seriously looked into places to stay and jobs to work. I submitted my resumé for some local acting gigs and DJ secured a hotel for one night and a room at a hostel for three. After a few nights of relaxation, we set out for Los Angeles.

We arrived. The trip took us two weeks. Not quite a year and a half later, a friend and I would drive from Anchorage to Vero Beach, Florida in four and a half days. But that also is a different story for a different day.

Anyway, that’s all for now.

Part Three: The First Month

Part Four: Love and Tribulation

Part Five: Awry

Part Six: Ruin