I’m almost loathe to call it a roadtrip to LA, because it was more than that. Living in Orlando is practically living on the other side of the continent, so in a very real sense, I drove across the continent of North America. Here, see?
On a Wednesday afternoon, after work on my computer had wound down for the day, I said a tearful goodbye to my father and hopped into my packed Kia Soul. I pulled back out of the driveway. Waved goodbye to my dad, and set out into the world. Just as I reached the main road, a crazed giggle managed to escape from me. “Holy Shit. I’m actually doing this.” I said aloud. All of my worldly possessions, literally absolutely everything on the planet that I own is sitting in this little red spaceship. And I expected this spaceship to take me across the planet.
Ruby NoHo, as I like to call her, is a beautiful new red hatchback with a sunroof, sound system, and no maintenance worries. Having driven around a rickety old truck or hand me down green van for the better part of ten years, owning a brand new car simultaneously freaks me out and excites me. It’s slick and sexy and one thousand percent more susceptible to bumps and scratches than my old beater truck.
I made my way up to UNF to see my little brother Mark for the last time in a long time. He was supposed to come and see me off by helping me finish up packing a couple days before hand, but ended up oversleeping and through a bumbling combination of family drama and bad timing, got left at UNF while my little sister came home with the car, stranding him. I make the drive in a few short hours time, the first of many.
I meet up with Mark and we go find a little pub to have some dinner and a drink at. It’s a cool pub, the walls lined with pennies, and a steampunk’d motif everywhere, not bad at all. For Mark, drinking is still a new thing for him, newly 21. Though lately, you wouldn’t be able to tell he’s so young and fresh faced from the scars he’s had in the past year. Mentally and physically, they’ve taken a toll on him, and trying to connect with him has been proving more and more challenging. We spend a few treasured hours having stouts, Banh Mi sandwiches, and banter filled with talk of Germany, Economy, and LA plans.
The next morning I’m off and out early, catching my sister Mary for a hug on a stroke of good luck and onto the constant drone of the highway.
The scenery of the american south east, especially florida, tends to be a million clones of pine trees and the kind of greenery that seems like it’s constantly encroaching onto the roadway. A voracious, carnivorous kind of plant that is trying to eat the pavement or consume the closest building. Watching it all fly by your window is much like eating a fistful of seaweed, a dull, green blur that leaves you thirsty and listless.
I was just finishing my first round of podcasts when I pulled into Pensacola to have lunch with an old friend, Becki. She and I have lunch at the quintessential american diner, a cash only, converted home off a two lane road that serves the basic american essentials: Burgers and Shakes. The waitress that served us had been with the establishment for over 50 years, and the burger was excellent.
After a delightful conversation, it was off into the swamps of Louisiana and the New Movement Theater in New Orleans. The theater there is on the first floor of a two floor converted home, and it was grey and dreary when I arrived. I grabbed a quick bite at a local BBQ joint and then scurried out to the theater where I met a couple wonderful improvisers.
I was able to take part in the Thursday night open jam, helping to fulfill one of my life goals: To improvise in all 50 states. (Sidebar: If you want to have me come play or teach a workshop in your state, I’d love to! Email me!) I ended up hanging around the theater to catch some of the great improv going on in NoLa, which was rather excellent and intelligent work. I was delighted to see the players on the stage wholly trusting each other and sharing in the discovery of the work. It’s a damn shame that the theater that night was sparsely populated, as the level of improv going on was excellent.
I stayed the night at the house of the wonderful Mike Spara, who was so gracious as to put me up for two nights while in New Orleans. (THANK YOU SO MUCH!) The place was in the 9th ward, one of the hardest hit areas from Hurricane Katrina, and 10 years after the event, you could still see the scars on the buildings and community there.
I explored the city this day, eating delicious beignet, muffaletta, local coffee, and of course, a bourbon on bourbon street. The rich history of the town was everywhere, and the culture was as thick as the air; you could spoon it out of the air and slurp it down.
Bourbon street was especially interesting. I described it to my mother in a message like this:
“Okay. This place is more of a swamp than Florida ever was. In terms of weather, it’s a soup today. Bourbon street is the haven for anyone ever stuck in the mentality of being 20. Not 21, when its legal to drink, but 20, when its still awesome and subversive. The showmen and bartenders here have had their fair share of insanity and have somehow become embroiled permanently in the madness.”
After having a delightful burger with Mike (Company Burger in NoLa, DO IT.) and watching a few more shows at the New Movement, I returned back to Mike’s place and read a bit of his copy of “Improv Wins”. I had to turn in for the day. Tomorrow would be the hardest day of driving yet and I would need to get an early start.
I awoke to the sounds of Mike coming through the front door. He was traveling out to Cuba that day and I had slept later than I anticipated. I scrambled to get ready and reload up the car before blasting off onto the highway. It would be a long day of driving, and the hours started to blur together.
After breaking through Louisiana and riding into Texas for a while, the rolling green hills and larger than life blue sky were entrancing. It made me realize exactly how people can fall in love with that place, so expansive, so simple. On the cool and sunny day I was driving through, you could see for miles and miles in any direction, to towns miles away where only a handful of people must live.
I would only stop for gas and a small snack all day, not needing much food for little effort. Eventually the stars started peeking out over the horizon, overtaking the world in twilight, and then darkness. Check out this panorama I took from a rest stop.
Eventually I rolled into Amarillo around 9pm, ravenously hungry and tired from the road. I stopped in at the tourist trap called “The Texan” and it did not disappoint in the least. I had a steak and sat right next to a friendly and authentically texan trucker who told me all about how he was worried about the unrest in Ferguson and how he was stockpiling arms and food for the eventual outcome.
I found my hotel for the night and collapsed onto my bed. Sleeping deeply and soundly.
I jumped into the car early in the morning and headed out across the painted mountains and desert of New Mexico. The scenery here is stunning and sparse. The color of the rocks against the sky and the fresh air were delightful to say the least. New Mexico, however, seemed the most impoverished state since leaving Louisiana, as I saw countless vagrants and old ramshackle buildings standing right next to shiny new indian casinos.
As I burn through the last of my podcasts, I exit the mountains of Arizona and come into the largest desert oasis I’ve ever seen, Phoenix, Arizona. The entire city is a perplexing impossibility of existence. The roads, buildings, practically everything looks brand new and as if it was straight out of the warehouse. I kept asking, “Where does everyone here get their water from”, to which I was told “The colorado river”. Click here for my Arizona Panorama.
I met with Rick, my excellent and gracious host from The Torch theater, who I had never met or spoken with over the phone. He was delightful and so incredibly nice to me during my stay. As a matter of fact, everyone I met in Phoenix (improvisers especially) was a real treat to speak and hang out with. I can’t stress how awesome the people in this town were to me.
I ride with Rick to meet the rest of his improv team The DSPLSRS (pronounced “Displacers”) and we hang out and chit chat for a while before putting on a Sunday night show at The Torch Theater. See below for my half of the show!
The next day, I woke up and made breakfast with Rick. It was this delightful combination of salsa’d corn chips with a fried egg. I’m not really doing the delicious dish justice, so just take a look for yourself. Talking with Rick reminded me of exactly why I moved out to LA in the first place, as he himself was looking for more opportunities than he was currently finding in Phoenix. He’s a graduate of the Annoyance Theater’s intensive and loves the work of improv. You can see it in the way he moves across the stage and with the intensity of his listening.
After voraciously consuming my breakfast, I headed off to see what kind of trouble I could get into around town. The answer was found in the Musical Instrument Museum. It’s a large building filled to the brim with exhibits on the state of modern, classical, folk music, you name it. It had exhibits on the musics of each country in the world and you can hear live piano anytime you step out into the hall. It was pretty great.
After landing at a coffee shop and catching up on email and writing a small blog post, I went out to teach my first workshop in AZ. It’s the first time I’ve marketed myself as any sort of improv guru, so it was a strange place to find myself coming in from outside the community and claiming any sort of authority. We worked on something I’m calling “The Character Generator”, which equips improvisers with the ability to come up with multiple characters of novel conception whenever they’d like to. It’s a cheat sheet for making interesting work happen on the stage. We all went out for some appetizers and a few libations, further chatting about improv, community, and, of all things, computer programming. :)
When I think about opening my new chapter in my life, I’d be remiss not to thank the people in my life who have invested in me, and I should keep my hard earned lessons in mind.
I made a list of character traits that I liked about myself and wanted to make sure I was going to keep.
Creativity, Generosity, Kindness, Talent, Love.
I realize now that I had found this in others during my trip, and in spades. Till the next journey.