50 States Challenge: California

Thursday, August 20, 2015

February 10 - 13, 2012
Los Angeles, Newport Beach, Huntington Beach

Oh, California.  The trip to kickoff the challenge.  I traveled with four guys, three of them co-workers.  When we arrived, I realized they rented a Mustang...for five of us...and our luggage.  Well, it was an adventure after all.  No one says all adventures go smoothly.

We stayed the first night with my co-worker's mom who lived in Orange County.  Two of my coworkers went to college together and they had a mutual friend (a girl!) who drove down from LA where she lived to hang out with us.  The first day we went out in Huntington Beach to get the "Cali" vibe.  If memory serves me correct, we walked into a few bars and they all seemed to have live bands playing.

The next morning we got up early and my coworker's mom took us on a tour all over Orange County.  We started off by driving around Laguna Beach, which fulfilled every single one of my teenage fantasies.  Although, I would have greatly enjoyed it if Kristin Cavallari walked by shouting "Stephen!"

After taking the scenic route all over Orange County, we took a ferry over to Newport Beach and grabbed something to eat, whereupon informing the waiter that I didn't drink, he brought me a massive goblet of water to drink from. The restaurant was along the beach so when we finished up, we walked across the street and touched the PACIFIC OCEAN.

California just understood me

When the thrill of touching the PACIFIC OCEAN was lost, we all piled into separate cars, the boys in the Mustang and Dana (college friend) and I in her car.  As we approached LA on that Saturday night, the radio announced the passing of Whitney Houston.  It was surreal being in the same city and actually staying in a place a few blocks from the Beverly Hills Hotel.  I lived in Manhattan, but Los Angeles just exudes this different energy.

When we finally got our things together we headed out on the town.  And the town was empty.  We went to multiple bars that seemed to be waiting for us to walk in because no one else was stopping by.

Finally settling on the W hotel, the bouncer clad in a bowler hat, leather jacket, and scarf took one look at us and said, "You must be from out of town, you're dressed like this is warm."  We went in and, well...it wasn't anything special.  The guys got into a weird argument with some Australian guy.  We left.  LA was less than impressive.

Inside the W Hotel, Los Angeles

The next day, we lounged by the pool in Dana's apartment complex and relaxed.  I drove around with Dana and a friend of hers and toured LA a little.  Dana's apartment complex boasts once housing Lauren Conrad.  Talk about a weekend getting all of the teenage feels all over again.

I think we ended up back in Huntington Beach or Newport Beach. I don't really remember, and none of that matters. What matters is that the trip all in all felt really...blah. I didn't feel moved the way I expected to or better for having come here. I was so desperate for this trip to mean something. After all, it was the kickstart to my new adventures. So, I grabbed a bottle of Miller Lite out of one of the guys' hands and I raised the bottle to my lips. I took my very first sip of alcohol.

And it was disgusting. I pushed the bottle back and ran to the bar, begging the bartender for water. With raised eyebrows, the bartender asked me why I was in such a hurry. I told him I'd just had my first sip of alcohol. He smiled and shouted, "Waters on everyone!" before handing me a cup. In New York if I made that type of comment to a bartender, they would shake their head and walk away. No one believes anything out of your mouth in New York. I guess in Cali, they aren't so cynical.

Collecting my water, I wandered away from the group of guys. I was getting a little tired of the drunken antics. You can drink anywhere, I thought. Why waste your time and memory during vacation?

I sat down on a bench against a wall and stared out at the people mingling. Someone tapped me on the shoulder and I turned. A girl smiled at me and asked me to join her table, so I did. She was moving to Portland in the next week and this was her going away party. I sat and chatted with the girl and her friends and enjoyed being pulled into their intimate group, stunned they were willing to pull in a stranger.

So, I think that was it. That the weird kindness of strangers still exists in a cold desolate town. Who knows. I was ready for the trip to end, but excited to see where the next trip would take me. Hopefully, the next one would have a little less alcohol content.

The guys and I piled back into the Mustang to head back to Orange County for our flight the next morning. The positive was that all of the guys had been drinking, leaving me to drive on the freeway. Not bad, not bad.

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