Wednesday, April 7, 2010


In Miami we danced and sang like children under the moonlight and the bright sun. The sweaty, dark rooms where lights flashed and the easy bite of expensive liquor made hours slip by until a stumble into the rudely unexpected dawn. Gazing out to sea from rooftop bars with music so loud it echoes off the horizon. Hand in the air, a primal yell, trying to touch the moon. Feeling exactly the right kind of lonely freedom.


And serendipity: I left something behind in Miami, on the beach in the cold wind, like grains of sand through your fingers. But that story is one of a few I can’t tell here.


My plane touched down in the afternoon hours of monday. This was a full day and a half before my friend Nate would arrive, and I needed to find some things to do to kill time. This was pretty hard, especially without a car. I ended up taking the bus to downtown for $2 instead of a $25 cab fare. This seemed like a small victory, but later a bit ridiculous as the cost of this leg of the trip was astronomical, relatively speaking. I would continue to attempt to take the bus later on, but it was so painfully slow that I eventually gave up on it altogether.

In any case I checked into my temporary hotel and set about exploring downtown miami. This took about 20 minutes. Then I came back to my hotel and sat down to write and sort through pictures. The day blew by.


The next day I set off to miami beach. Again I took the bus, which was more than an hour to go something like 6 miles. Miami beach was much more amenable, with big crowds of people on the streets and cafes on the sidewalks. It was quite a bit like the promenade and venice beach but the ocean was on the wrong side. I found a cheap and good sandwich place, ate lunch near our hotel and bought a good amount of bad liquor and some plastic bottles.

I was there with Nate, my friend from volunteering with the Obama campaign in the northern suburbs of Las Vegas. He and I, like many of us, had kept in touch and hung out a lot since the election. More than a few people had expressed interest in Miami, but only Nate and I followed through. He had been going through a lot in the last year and this experience seemed to let him off a leash. I wasn’t really prepared for how much he would be in his element.


So it goes like this: the winter music conference is a trade show more or less entirely about house music. And as a soap conference intrinsically means a lot of washing, a house music conference means a whole shit ton of parties. So you can imagine I had the noblest of bohemian intentions when I signed up. Mind you, house isn't really my favorite genre - I listen to a lot of everything, but given my druthers I'll take a certain kind of british rock or a more vocal and melodic form of electronic music called trance. There were enough good trance DJs coming that it was worth it and I picked up a few new favorites along the way.

But really, the experience for the vast majority of it was showing up solo to an event, drinking enough to relax (or filling up said plastic bottles with something strong and cheap) and maybe striking up a conversation with a stranger. For someone with a good amount of natural shyness like myself, it was an intense rollercoaster. More often than I'd like to admit, I would perch myself in a corner with a beer and just chill. When the music was good it was bliss and when it wasn't I was quite lonely. But when the music was really good, there's no place I'd rather be, no matter the company. It may surprise some of you to know: I can dance. Not well, but it happens.


I'm sure you're wondering about the experience a single dude would have with girls here. Those of you reading this that know me know that, well, I do ok. Not great, just ok. And it was really no different from going to a constant streams of bars and clubs in Los Angeles. Drinks and cover charges were too expensive to catch a younger crowd so it skewed older, late 20s and early 30s. A lot of plastic surgery, more than I've seen in all my years in LA by a large margin.

And of course, the sheer number of single guys there on the prowl puts any reasonable single girl on guard. I watched a really amusing scene of a group of guys trying to ask a really provocatively dressed girl if she was a hooker. She very politely interrupted her cell phone conversation as she clip-clopped down the street in skyscraper heels to tell them that, no, she wasn't one. They apparently interpreted that as being not a denial but merely her opening negotation and followed her down the street quoting prices. She seemed to take it in, er, stride.

So it seemed like being a gentleman and attempting to give out innocent compliments was generally met with skepticism and hostility. Being sincere and modest and polite never seems to play too well in these kinds of crowds. But I managed to have some good conversation with interesting people, nevertheless.


This is my favorite story of the week: I had a long conversation in our hotel bar with a woman from Venezuela. She was married with kids so it wasn't flirtatous, just a conversation. I told her about my travels and my work and she was quite fascinated. Hold on, she says, I want you to meet my friends.

Turns out in the same hotel is some kind of big-deal fashion show and her friends are models. I'm suddenly surrounded by south american women in expensive clothes that in heels tower far over me. I tell them my whole story again and they're aghast. They're all articulate and interesting and I'm enjoying this very innocent and fun exchange. You should come hang out with us at the 'W', one of them suggests. I say sure, I'll meet them there soon. They take off and I say I'll call them later.

Later in the week I would find out that the W is spoken of in hushed tones in Miami Beach as being the most exclusive and selective club in the city. I had assumed it was just some hotel bar, but no, it was a neon box filled with beautiful people. And me, in my cheap shirt and ripped jeans, showing up at the door later that same night in front of a line of resentful people and waltzing in with these models in front of a red-faced doorman who wanted nothing more than to physically eject me from his fiefdom. It was a moment I'll never forget.

I can't say I remember much about the inside. It was nothing special, loud and crowded. We did a few shots of expensive tequila and left to sit by the pool. I left not long after, I had a show I couldn't miss. But it was a high - I knew if I had been aggressive with them I would have been ignored. I did what came naturally and made some interesting friends in a funny situation. The doorman's face was so completely priceless. Sometimes nice guys finish first, asshole.


But let's not pretend I wasn't frustrated by the attention-whore nature of the whole affair. I told myself I was there to listen to music first and foremost but standing around by myself in crowded bars for hours, drinking ludicrously priced drinks after paying stupid high cover charges wasn't always that fun. I lost my patience a few times. I can't change myself in a social butterfly, nor would I want to, and that aspect of the experience was a sore spot at times. My friend Nate was in his element though, and when I caught up with him (which was not easy) it was an endless stream of handshakes and names I didn't remember seconds after I heard them.

Those few little moments, though, where the solitude makes letting yourself go all the more easy made it all worthwhile.


Eventually the conference with a hundred tiny parties in hotels and clubs gave way to the main event, a festival with most all the top DJs in the world - Tiesto, Guetta, Armin, those guys. I heard from somewhere it was a hundred thousand people. I've been to a few of these in Los Angeles, but this was someting else. Probably twice as many acts in half as much space. I remember just wandering around, jumping from tent to tent and just being blown away by the quality and variety of the artists. So amazing, and so worth the trip.

If I did it again, and I want to, I would come for much less time and have a much sharper focus rather than bouncing around from place to place. I would also bring more money. And it would be a blast to bring along a group, but if I had to do it alone again - I would, without question.

Then right on time it was Sunday and I somewhat literally pulled Nate from a group of friends doing cheap whiskey shots from stolen restaurant glasses with us and jumped into a $25 cab to the airport. I shut off my iphone for the last time and dug out my passport from my bag. Goodbye USA, hello London.


New York City, part 2

I had a day to kill between coming back from boston and flying out to miami, so I decided I would walk from mid-town to lower manhattan to see two spots I felt were important.



It’s very impossible to ignore this enormous, gaping hole in the ground. I expected to be pretty inoculated to this stuff by now, but I just wasn’t. It hit me in the gut.

I don't mean for this to take too much of a melancholic turn, but it was a train of thought that persisted that day.

I was just turning 20 that year, my second of college. I can recall so vividly what my life was like at that point because it was so scattered and odd at that time. I don't generally do anything the normal way, and my college experience was no different. I went to what they liked to call 'progressive' school, with no grades or tests and a campus in the middle of the woods.

Being the person I am, I rebelled against even this. I socialized very little and kept mostly to myself and a small circle of friends, dated one girl for almost the entire four years. My time was taken up in large part with studying and a weird collection of hobbies, including keeping weird varieties of fish and practicing obscure asian martial arts. I was of course an insufferable nerd but shied away from letting that dictate the rest of my identity. The picture to keep in your mind is of me with very long hair tied back, an all-black wardrobe under a long black coat. I wasn't shy exactly, just so completely inwardly focused that I never had any real desire to open up to anyone. (Including my girlfriend during this period, who says of that time - "I honestly had no idea who you really were.")

So you can imagine the emotional impact that the towers falling in manhattan had on me - none. I heard the news with shock and confusion but little real emotion. It's callous to say, but all the impassioned speeches and heartfelt words didn't move me. I don't mean to imply cruelty or disregard, just a vague numbness that characterized that period and wouldn't be pierced even by tragedy of such an epic scale.

Of course that's being too hard on myself - I'm hardly the first person to be self-centered at 19. And of course I am now as well, let's be honest, but it was something that occurred to me standing there looking into what can only be described as a wound in a beautiful city. I held a moment of silence, long overdue.



Lastly, it would be too big an omission for me not to mention the deeply mixed feelings it gave me about my plans to travel through the middle east. A nascent thought, and not one I can articulate yet.

I also made a point to jump on the ferry to Liberty Island to see the statue of liberty. I wanted to see it with a fresh set of eyes, having put in at least a decade and a half between the last time I saw it. Undeniably impressive. Of course, the USA being what it is, it was a extra charge to go inside, and there were two giant gift shops on the tiny island. Asian tourists of course all bought a green foam crown and ran around on the grass. It was a beautiful day for it.

However, there was a muslim family on the ferry, a wife with a tight headscarf and a tall, bearded husband pushing a stroller with a young infant. They baby started screaming very loudly and the mother desperately tried to calm it, but I felt their shame and embarrassment and panic. I couldn’t help thinking the last thing they wanted in this place was to be the center of attention and if they looked or were dressed differently it wouldn’t have the same immediate panic.




So then, I say goodbye to the northeast and head south to Miami. It’s cheating, of course – Miami has already come and gone and I’m sitting here in London writing this. I continue to debate the format of this blog – I leave out so many little details and interesting stuff that I would share but it would be haphazard. Things will change when I’m truly off on my own after Turkey, but until then I’ll continue to be introspective rather than anecdotal.

I picked up a copy of Murakami’s Norwegian Wood in the airport and it was haunting. I read it in a few nights like I sometimes do, in a feverish insomnia. I did the same with The Road and it left me unimpressed. There’s something interesting about that contrast but I can’t say what, exactly.