The first week of May, I made an impromptu visit to Los Angeles because of this guy below – and his impaired state of ambulatory mobility. After having bought film a couple times in the past few years, I finally committed to shooting some 35mm on the Canon AE-1 my dad gave me four years ago. This is a glimpse into southern California through my lens, and the eyes behind it.
[Travis parked along Hollywood Boulevard atop a star inscribed with a name unfamiliar to either of us.]
[Travis waiting to have his leg examined by the physician's assistant in Fullerton.]
The reason my twin brother is sitting on an exam table, feeling guilty about messing up the paper (though inevitable), stems from pneumatics. The front brakes on the bike he was riding (not his own) failed while taking laps during a motorcycle racing class at a track in Riverside. This sent him through hay bales and into a chain link fence. The result was a broken fibula. He’s also a newcomer to California with a dog, manual transmission truck, and empty apartment to move his belongings (including motorcycle) into. This is where I come into the picture: help.
[The iconic "Hollywood" hills sign.]
After taking care of doctor’s visits, we were able to take our only free afternoon together to experience the view from north LA’s Griffith Park.
[Downtown Los Angeles from the Griffith Observatory.]
Laguna Beach is perhaps the idyllic American beach town. Rolling hills give way to surf-side cliffs, which fall into the Pacific as pristine, sandy beaches. Picturesque cottages are nestled into the green coastline. The town is pretty much what you would expect, shiny and seemingly perfect. You may know Laguna Beach from the MTV reality series, or “The O.C.” Idealized in American pop culture as the it spot in California, Orange County also includes cities like Anaheim, home to families who live a less glamorous life.
Driving down Highway One to Laguna Beach, I passed a Maserati and McLaren dealership. I was unaware that the latter car maker sold cars from dealerships, with price tags starting around a quarter of a million dollars for the high-performance car based off the Formula 1 racer. If you look past the shiny exterior of Laguna, there’s another side of the town that exists under the surface projected into tourist experiences and the lives of the wealthy.
[Looking at the ocean from the curb across from Laguna High School.]
[One of Laguna's cottage houses in an alley a few blocks from the Cliffside beach.]
This is Luis. I noticed him taking a smoke break in front of his home at the end of Mermaid Street and asked if I could take his picture. After snapping a portrait, he remarks, “You know, I used to do that for a living.” He went on to share that he worked as a photographer in Europe for eight years. In his mid-twenties, while visiting his uncle in Seville, Spain, he had the opportunity to stay. A newspaper offered him employment as a photographer.
The job took him all over Europe. He even “got to go behind the Iron Curtain” on assignment, he said, saying it in a way that treated the opportunity like a cherished privilege. While sharing the last bit, I could tell his reminiscing had revived a longing for that time in his life. He loved his time abroad, and reluctantly returned to the States after eight years of fighting to hold and renew residency visas. Luis has been a resident of Laguna Beach for the past twelve years. Smiling, he says he hasn’t owned a television or a car since 1990.
La Sirena Grill
Upon arriving in California, my brother told me not to get too excited about prospects for Mexican food. As a pair of Texans, our standards are rather high (don’t take it too hard California). However, my first taste of Mexican cuisine in the Golden State surpassed my tempered expectations. Driving around Laguna Beach, the first open parking spot I found was on Mermaid street, in front of La Sirena Grill. After walking the blocks in the area, I circled back around to where I had parked my brother’s truck. The tiny restaurant, empty when I had parked, now entertained a line out the door and several folks eating at the tables on the sidewalk. A good queue is the best validation of any eatery’s promise. So, I hopped in line.
[The owner inside La Sirena. His wife promptly exited into the back after she realized her husband had pulled her to his side for a picture.]
After sidling up to the counter, I chose the carne asada plate for lunch. I apologize for not having a picture. I have a new personal rule about not Instagramming food, and felt a little self-conscious about hovering over my plate with a film camera. However, I wish I had. The asada steak is served with grilled bell peppers over flour tortillas. What brought it all together were the grilled Serrano peppers, stuffed with monterey jack cheese. Top that off with their homemade salsas that made me dismiss the stereotypes I heard about California’s Mexican food lacking the kick that Texans are used to. If you ever find yourself in Laguna Beach and want to break away from the swanky bistros along the main strip, check out La Sirena.
Wandering down Forest Avenue’s sidewalks filled with high-dollar art shops I came across Patrick. He wasn’t the first homeless person I had seen in Laguna, but he drew my attention. I handed him a couple dollars and sat down on the bench with him. I’m a social person. Traveling alone, if only for a day, can be a bit isolating. Being homeless is even more isolating. I figured I would rest and give him some company.
Originally from Cincinnati, he has been in California for the past decade. We discussed everything from the upcoming NFL draft to life in Laguna Beach. After falling on hard times, he came to Laguna “because it’s safe.” While first preference is given to what he called “residents”, Patrick can find a place to sleep and a meal some days at the local shelter. Being homeless in a city that works to keep an image devoid of struggle can be hard. Many of the residents, he said, either ignore or look down at him, and police will ticket for sleeping in public.
However, Patrick says there are the few that give him hope. Californians aren’t serious people, and there are a handful of people in town that go out of their way to show him kindness. Patrick is in a hard place right now and I told him I would ask you, who are reading this, to pray for him. He welcomed it. If you can, pray that our dear brother would find community, encouragement, meaningful work, and restoration of relationship with his ex-wife and daughter.
[UC Irvine in the valley behind Laguna Beach, looking North.]
[An old classic parked along Alta Laguna Blvd in one of the town's hilltop neighborhoods.]
[A flock of pelicans drifting above the breakers at Crystal Cove beach]
The last day of my time in California was spent moving Travis and his belongings into the new apartment. The final piece was his supermoto bike. Wary of theft, he decided to keep it in the apartment while he monitored the parking garage to gauge its security and find the best parking spot. Thankfully, it fit into the elevator and onto the third floor balcony.
[A much pleased Travis stands behind his bike in his new home.]