The Del Monte Speakeasy. I mentioned it way back, but not in great detail. It was a ground and basement level bar, and got its name from the prohibition-era (1920s, I believe) “speakeasies” which sold mostly mob-bootlegged booze from beneath or behind more legitimate shops that the right people knew to go to. And of course since prohibition ended its upstairs area was able to become the bar, while downstairs was mainly reserved for live music. As in the above-linked post, I enjoyed some of said music during my first foray on LA, but this New Year’s Day morning the music, which from memory came from a lone DJ, was confined upstairs. The Del Monte was what you might call a swanky bar, but not overly so, with lots of dark-hued wood and stained glass, old-world style lights. It was like a beautiful woman who doesn’t bother with makeup, and hardly needs to. It consisted of a simple 20 or 30 metre-long wooden bar, facing an equally long lounge area separated by a wall with entrances at both ends and an open area in front of the bar which led to a dance-floor at the back as big as most living rooms. Imagine a clichéd Venice Beach NYE party, and that’s what was happening within the speakeasy. Not that that was a bad thing. You could feel the room’s energy bouncing along your skin, as 30 to 50 people wearing not a lot despite the cold outside danced and drank – still chasing that elusive best night of the year dream we’re all led to believe NYE should always be. I remember a bloke. He was from my hostel. We chatted – or yelled – to each other and drank before at some point we were on the dance floor and then suddenly there were two girls. He danced with the taller, plumper but not unattractive blonde one while I did the same with her shorter, lithe, elfin-faced and also blonde friend. Then, to my surprise and somewhat horror, the bar closed far too early for my liking at 2am and security ushered the four of us out along with everyone else and we momentarily found ourselves smoking on the sidewalk. She leant in, asked me where I was staying then, after I answered and indeed pointed because I could see the hostel from there, took my hand and led me east along Windward Avenue.
She’d already gone when I woke to my alarm at 8.30am – which gave me just enough time to check out by 10am. My 12-bed room had been empty at just after 2am the previous night but naturally, as I struggled to see through bloodshot eyes, there were three or four people snoring or dreaming away scattered through the room. I quietly as possible showered, brushed my teeth, deodorised, packed, and left the room. This was the day of departure, and the final one of the trip, at that. The flight wasn’t until very late in the afternoon. About 5pm. I can’t remember exactly. So, not wanting to lug it all over wherever I chose to visit last in the city before flying out, as I had done in Dublin, I left my pack at the hostel and decided to visit Santa Monica once more, via the ocean front walk. While without notes thinking back on traversing the coast that first day of 2013 and final day of my journey, I’d like to be able to say some inspiring, even life-changing thoughts came to me. But that almost certainly was not the case. I suppose at least in hindsight it’s clear: life’s not like that. Just because something significant, based on timing or impact or location, is occurring to you, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be greatly changed by it. Oftentimes, things just happen. Then you unceremoniously move on. Then similar things might happen later. There’s no real significance to it. We are all but one person among 7 billion. And I guess if one important thought came to me as I approached the Santa Monica Pier, then that was it: a deep yet not unpleasant appreciation of my own definitive insignificance. So many personally profound things occurred to me during that trip, not to mention during my entire life, but in 1000 years – and in fact at the time – the broader world will care little, if at all. A sense of one’s own importance is, well, important. But such a sense should come from within, and if you look for it reflected in people, creatures and things around you, you will be disappointed by its absence until the day you die. In other words: it was just a walk, no less or more significant than any other, from one place to another. I took a right at the pier and entered Santa Monica.
Hollywood, I assumed, would be full of “plastic people and fat tourists”, as I wrote in justification of not visiting it. Another justification was my experience of Santa Monica. Today, New Year’s Day, was not my first experience of the area. I’d briefly checked it out while in LA during October 2012. And to be honest I felt like I was in Hollywood, or what I imagined it to be like, albeit by the sea. Santa Monica spoke to me of one thing: opulence. It was where La La Land’s rich or wannabe rich lived or shopped, or lived and shopped. Perhaps, ironically, I’m a snob, but most of the wares in the area’s shops seemed designed to convey a single message, upon possession: “I’m wealthy.” “Look how great I am.” Clothes and jewellery and trinkets and useless pieces of pleasant-looking crap swirled before my eyes and might have crushed my spirit if I wasn’t prepared for what I was seeing. God knows why I decided to make Santa Monica my last experience. I would have been better off wandering off into the suburbs behind Venice Beach, if it wasn’t for the fact that I’d already done that. It was suitably anti-climactic. Here was a trip I took, alone, across one and a bit continents in order to experience by design or accident things that particularly suited me. And now, at the end, I was wiling away the few hours before departure in a part of the United States that reminded me only of the wanker wasteland I called home: the Gold Coast. I suppose from that point-of-view, it was an effective way of getting back to reality. But I was not morose. I’d heard tell of a man who was returning to wherever he called home from a journey similar to mine, when I first landed in LA. It was said he was “terrified”, or some such sentiment, of rejoining society. At worst, I was resigned. But at best I figured it was just the way it had to go, especially because I wasn’t on a working visa and had very little money left. So I enjoyed Santa Monica for what it was. There was the odd busking budding rock star or violinist or accordionist. And some of Venice’s freaks were wandering around, probably pan handling. With still a few hours up my sleeve, I decided to watch the Les Miserables film showing at the time. Not my usual taste, but as to its quality, let’s just say I will forever judge harshly those I meet who haven’t enjoyed it. After the movie, I estimated how long it would take to walk back to Venice Beach, catch a cab, and make my flight. And, guessing I had a few minutes, I laid down awhile on some afternoon-sunned grass north of the pier, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Stared into the sky. Reflected. Then I stood up, pulled on the backpack, brushed myself off. And got going.