If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my getaway trip, it’s that getting lost in an entirely different city is priceless.
Sure, it was mainly a homecoming for me, but I find that when you force yourself to sit alone with you and your thoughts for six hours on the road, you’re forced to meet yourself again. You’re bound to think about your life, your career, your excitement to see the faces you’ve long awaited or your sadness to leave the place you’ve made a home for yourself — again.
It’s been almost a year and a half since I’ve last visited Southern California (and for those of you who know me, I made a home for myself there for my entire undergrad career at UC Irvine 2011-15). Safe to say, I missed it. I had a good thing going on down there. And I’ve made plenty of friends, connections and a real community for myself when it came to my music, writing and even Fil-Am roots. It was hard to find a home back in the Bay because I always felt most in my element in Southern California.
Long overdue return
A dear friend told me not too long ago, “You left the city for the woods and never came back.”
At that moment, I was working almost full-time at a coffee shop that I had planned to only be at for a few months. I was slowly creeping up on my one year and realized how much the job took a toll on me — I sacrificed sleep, energy and focus to approach my writing and music with a clear head, and also my late nights and time with friends. The only thing keeping me there was my joy of distraction, interaction and paycheck to fuel my “getaway fund” (i.e. moving out.)
The day I called it quits
One day mid-November, I was opening the store and working an eight-hour shift. A coworker didn’t show up and we were short-staffed. Drinks piled onto the screen and I was stuck on the espresso bar all morning, dealing with the usual cranky but most times patient customers. I usually don’t let the silly stress of an everyday thing get to me, but I remember beginning to ask myself that day, “Why am I even here? Why am I being relied on so heavily? And why am I not working towards my real career?”
At the end of my shift, I (unexpectedly) wrote my two-weeks notice and gave it to my assistant manager (our store manager was out for months on sick leave so the store was chaos). A little bit of sadness came over me because I loved seeing my coworkers everyday, but I told myself, “When you treat yourself well — in mind, body and soul — you’re giving the world the best you. And who doesn’t dig that?”
Preparing my leave
It took me a while to plan my trip. Thanksgiving happened, people were out of town, I wanted to give myself ample time to soak up being down there and I wanted to give my friends enough notice to plan a day for me to meet, while also finding myself a place to crash.
December hit and I said to myself, “It’s now or never. If I don’t go now, I’ll never go.” On Monday, December 5th, I packed a little more than a week’s worth of clothes into my car with my guitar, electronics, bath supplies and other goodies and hit the road.
“I don’t even know what I’m gonna do down there,” I told myself, “but it’ll be good.”
Most people ask me about how rough the drive is. For some reason, it ended up being more enjoyable than I thought.
1) I wasn’t driving the usual 7-8 hours to Irvine, but only 5-6 to South LA. 2) The open road, the movement and space to do whatever I want was actually nice. 3) Since I don’t have my own room at home, this was the first time I was able to just be with myself, my thoughts and enjoy my own time.
I cranked on my iPod and listened back to songs from Mandy Moore and A Walk To Remember, Meg & Dia, Maroon 5, Milo Greene and other mood-enducing nostalgic gems. I dangerously recorded videos of myself talking and reflecting about music and songs from my childhood, rambling about the thoughts in my head. The drive even inspired a song or two out of me. It was inspiring to just be — no worries, no regrets and just the open road in front of me. I was simply excited to getaway and return to the people and places who have made my heart its happiest.
I chronicled most of my trip with daily posts, reflections and my whereabouts through social media. Simply put, it was refreshing to see old and new faces. Faces who brightened mine up and reminded me of old comfort and memories; some friends who are happier with the time to actually take care of ourselves (maybe me losing weight, maybe them getting buffer); others where nothing seems to have changed (for the better); old mentors who still look out for me as opportunities are still presented; how #theressomethingaboutrachel still and always will exist; and how people who are connected with me online can see so much in me that it absolutely humbles my heart.
I woke up to my friend Brenda’s cats who slept beside me all night. (I did not realize how much of a love I would have for cats.) Everyone was gone at work so I had to brave the day, living as if I was on my own at home, just in a new city. I decided to explore local and record a new video at the beach. Trekked over to Manhattan Beach (which ended up being a flat, unideal beach to sit and relax) and thought of going on a run, but instead brought my stuff over and worked on a couple of the songs that had inspired me on my drive.
“How is it December right now?” I said to the camera, pointing to the ocean breeze. Something about that breezy air gets me every time. (Later that night, my friend took me to see the Sleepy Hollow Christmas Lights in Torrance, a rich neighborhood decked out in gorgeous Christmas decorations. I had tried to meet with another friend that day who was stuck at LAX just 15 minutes away. Oh, the timing.)
I had planned a lunch date in Garden Grove with two of my old college roommates, Maddy and Angelica. Safe to say, it felt like no time had passed. It absolutely warmed my heart to see them, as they were the two younger hooligans I often poked fun at the most. I got the monkey pillow pet and ukulele I had left in my apartment back, and then decided to head out to Orange County because my body was itching for a run at the beach. I caught a gorgeous sunset at Corona Del Mar — one of my favorite beaches during my undergrad years at UC Irvine — and ran across the coastline for about an hour.
I spent the rest of the night visiting my old PACN mentor Danny Spitzer at the Bren Events Center across campus as he updated me on all the new installations at the Bren — upgraded lighting controls, bigger events and a new concert agenda for the upcoming year. We’ve kept in touch throughout the year as he supports my music and writing career and I his beach photography. He pulled up some great house and electronic tracks on YouTube, only then to pull up my own videos saying, “I know good music and you and your friend (Giann) could be something!” We grabbed a bite to eat and he talked to me about linking up with a fellow UCI alumna at Goldenvoice. I have to say, it’s absolutely humbling to have someone who sees so much potential, growth and drive in you during your days as PACN Coordinator (#PACN35) and still wants to help you with your future endeavors.
The big day of traveling. I woke up with some last minute plans to meet up with one of my longtime online friends and followers Debbi Shibuya (@debskittles), who has been one of the most supportive, encouraging and optimistic people I have had the pleasure of getting to know. Since she is often out at sea for a majority of the year working as a cruise ship entertainer, the rare chance we were both in the same place at the same time made us have to meet.
I trekked over to the middle of Downtown Los Angeles, getting lost in the busy streets and parking structures and met up at Philz Coffee for a good hour to chat. Turns out she first found me when I did my first ever artist interview with Kina Grannis back in May 2014 and loved how raw and genuine my interview was. She’s followed my blog ever since and has constantly supported my thoughts, musings, drive and love for music… (“You’re gonna be so famous!” she said to my disagreement and continued to tell me stories of friends and her own father who make a living playing music.) You know that saying you’re naturally attracted to people who you see pieces of yourself in? That couldn’t be more fitting here.
Afterwards, I had some time to kill before I finally met up with my favorite guy on and behind the camera, Robert Herrera. Ever since that first Facebook message last July, we had been surprised at how intertwined our lives already were — mutual friends in the music industry due to my lifetime Meg & Dia-fandom, several concerts in the pop-punk world and Fil-Am functions where we were in the same room but never crossed paths.
He mentioned a place to meet at a little hideaway in the middle of Downtown Los Angeles that offered a beautiful skyline view of the city. After talking with each other for a long time online, you can bet it’s always a little weird to adjust to a face-to-face relationship. But after some walking and talking (“You’re real!”), we made normal conversation. I had no ideas on what songs to record as he suggested recording a video with the skyline, so we made a trip to the Santa Monica Pier. A guy by the name of Luke Wilson kept running into us, so we decided to say hello and grab a picture with him, then taking it easy by breathing in that sweet Santa Monica air.
A lazy Friday morning had me make a trip out to Irvine to visit my old neighbor and “sixth roommate” Daniel. The day was weirdly cold and foggy so it turned into a fail beach run and instead went out for boba, food, jam seshes and some time spent in his house while he went out for a work dinner. It’s so crazy to realize how long it’s been since we’ve seen each other (we’ve made lots of trips over the years driving up and down NorCal to SoCal) so it was funny to hear him say, “You lost weight!” and me say, “You got so much buffer!” Safe to say, Irvine hasn’t changed and there’s always not much to do there if you’re not in school or not with a family. I finally had some “me time” to play and work on some music at his place, as well as spend some FaceTime time. I had some free time to meet up with my “Kuya” Brent from my first-year in Kababayan, as he’s been one I’ve kept in touch with throughout the years. It was great to hear that he’s moved up within the video game testing world and is being relocated to the Bay Area to work with Sony Playstation (lots of congrats to him and his big move!). The rest of the night turned into a fail Downtown Fullerton trip as we bummed the rest of the night at home.
I decided to make a trip out to the Irvine Farmers Market (my old beloved farmers market I have so missed from my undergrad years) on a mission to return to the infamous “Hummus Guy.” He would always pop up at the Vendor Fair at UCI since my first-year and I would always get samples, to the point that he remembered and hooked it up for me every time. Little did I know, he still remembered me and said, “It’s been a long time!” He gave me the 3 for $10 UCI discount, as always, and I helped myself to the best hummus I have ever had (no other market or hummus from the Bay competes with Baba Foods!). I also bought an green-ginger cold-pressed juice for a mere $3 and hit the road back to Gardena to see my friend (whom I was also glad to give her back her bed for the night and remainder of my trip, and was glad to snap such a model-esque photo of her baby Moty).
My friend was recovering from her hungover (haha) so I had a free day. Rob decided to come and take me to San Pedro, a city between Orange County and South LA which I have never been to, nor heard of. The day was sadly cold and foggy again, but he took me sightseeing around a place he used to skate as we also stumbled on an old naval war base (which was hilariously dead and un-romantic). I wanted to see the water over the San Pedro bay (even though the fog killed the view) and ended up enjoying that so much more. A calm end to the night with some quality time and conversation made me not want the night to end, but I was back at my friend’s place and slept with a smile on my face.
Sunday was finally girl’s day! Brenda and I decided to meet up with our other friend from UCI Gaby at her new place in West Hollywood to meet up for brunch around 10am. We walked over to The Grove since she lives right across and had brunch at Ulysses Voyage. I had a damn yummy portobello mushroom eggs benedict with a side of fruit, as well as complementary Greek donuts (with Yelp check-in, of course) that were to die for.
We trekked back to my friend’s place as an old guy was about to key my car since I accidentally parked in his parking spot (her apartment complex has assigned parking), as I found my car with trash boxes on top of it and ignoring the angry man’s relentless rants. We shopped around The Grove more, then went around Melrose to grab coffee and do more dangerous shopping. We visited her absolutely-insanely-cool work office at Fishbowl Studios in the heart of Melrose, as she cuts movie trailers for a living. We then spent the rest of the night at the Library bar and lounge for a chill drink and homemade avocado toast at her apartment. Felt like grown-ups in college, once again.
Monday means everyone’s back to work and I had the day to myself again. It’s been one-week since I left and I didn’t quite feel like my trip was done yet, so I decided to do some more sightseeing and soul-searching. Trekked out early to Los Angeles to find a good solo hike and stumbled on an overlook on Mulholland Drive. This area of Los Angeles is by Griffith Park and an area I was slightly more familiar with, so I spent some time on my feet reflecting on my week, as well as recording and playing some videos with the view of Los Angeles behind me.
Hunger stroke so I decided to see what was nearby, and found a Thai street eatery that was disappointing and decided to spend the rest of my time at the Grove (again) to do some shopping at the farmers market and reading at the Barnes & Noble there. “This feels like a normal day back at home,” I told myself, just without the luxury of my own home or space to take refuge and only my car to take me places. I stumbled on a place called Berlin’s in a small strip mall by the Beverly Center, which unexpectedly offers up bomb boba (their almond matcha green tea boba was absolutely one of the best I’ve ever had).
I made the trip back to Gardena and a longtime Instagram friend by the name of Kevyn Ikemoto (@standardrecords), whom you can recall I did a Guitar + Art Project with a while back, suggested of renting out a rehearsal studio to jam. Turns out all the rooms were booked so we met up at a local bar (I drank water while he buzzed the night away), and we ended up having genuinely great conversations on art, being an artist, offering critique and your own unique perspective as an artist. Conversations on my “being too good to be a tortured artist” came up, as well as me being no surprise to my online persona, “just life-size.” We had a late night jam session in front of his house as he showed me some guitar techniques and his pedal gear. I was absolutely about to fall asleep, but sometimes those rare 2am jams during a rare trip down south are worth it!
Another solo day turned into down time working on my laptop to then making a trip out to Orange County for an impromptu photoshoot with another Instagram friend by the name of Dillon. I took some time to breathe in the Newport air — a beach I often frequented with other UCI folk — and then took casual portraits around Newport and Huntington Beach.
It was great to put a face behind the name, as Dillon has wanted to take my pictures for a long while and has openly supported my drive to leave my past job and my outlooks on life. He ended up telling me about his Christian faith and family — the kind of values that make up one’s character. We also ended up receiving a free ~$40 Japanese dinner at The Backhouse in Huntington Beach because 1) they forgot to serve us, 2) our food took a while to come, 3) they ended up hoarding us with free miso, edamame and rice and 4) when my friend’s card didn’t work, they comped the meal for us. We ended up walking into a trendy yet cozy lounge called The Bungalow and then called it a night.
Since my stay ended up being longer than expected, most of my planned meet-ups had already happened. I had this second week to just chill and enjoy being on my “getaway.” (Also, I was happy to know that I barely spent anything the entire week, except on gas and a few clothes shopping.) I took this free Wednesday to be a beach bum and ventured out to Hermosa Beach. Caught the end of the farmers market there and viewed the breathtaking sunset over the pier. Took a couple of shots under the bridge (which I have never been able to see, as most beaches I have gone to don’t have an under-bridge you can walk through). Another girl was collecting seashells under the pier and pointed out a couple of starfish sticking to a peg under the bridge. She told me how the moon set the waves so far back that it’s easy to catch the shells, as gave me one herself. That brought a smile to my face and I let the ocean breeze inspire a song in my head for the rest of the night, as I felt like Moana.
I missed my friend Brenda as it felt weird I haven’t been able to hang out with her lately, so I decided to meet up with her in Century City as her friends were having a game night. Turns out the entire household ended up being a bunch of roommates my age from the Caribbean (I have never met anyone from the Caribbean) and I learned the game of Hearts and struffled to understand such an eclectic group of dialects. It was a fun, late night but I had planned to leave that next morning to beat the expected heavy rainfall on the grapevine back up north.
Day 10 — Last goodbye and drive back home
I decided to have one last brunch with Rob before heading back up north, so we agreed to meet up at 8am at Alcove Cafe, a gorgeous, intimate, magical little eatery tucked away by Los Feliz that I had popped into one time before but never dined at. Since it was a Thursday morning and we both had to drive about an hour out from the location, I woke up around 6am (mind you, only 4 hours of sleep) and left around 7:15am. We ended up arriving around the same time and enjoyed a calm, mellow morning over breakfast as the city was still waking up.
It was then that I began to feel how hard it was to leave as I had already begun to feel at home at my friend’s place, living with her two cats and out of my car. We hugged goodbye and I picked up some Porto’s (the must) before hitting the road back home. My car was packed and the drive ended up being way more emotional than I had thought. I drove the entire way straight (almost feeling like I drove half asleep) until I reached my first stop in Livermore for gas around 5pm (took a mere 5 hours). I listened to songs on the road that made me incredibly emotional and nostalgic (for no good reason, or maybe for good reason? Incredibly cliche movie moment right here!). I ended up grabbing a quick boba at a place in Livermore in the pouring rain as the storm and traffic picked up, and what ended up being an hour drive turned into two to get back home. As I stepped back onto my front porch, unlocking the door and turning the key, it felt a little unsettling to come back.
“It’s been a while,” I thought. But instead of feeling a sense of relief, I felt an immense feeling of wanting to go back.
I knew I had left a home back there.
“I don’t want to ramble on here, this isn’t a live blog post, I’m sure that will come later,” I recorded to my Instastory. “But if there’s anything I’ve taken away from this trip, it’s that getaway trips really do help you find yourself. It’s good to get yourself lost in a new city… and also live out of your car for a while. That’s always interesting.”
Ever since I quit my job a month ago, I haven’t had a moment to really feel out my unemployment. Thanksgiving happened, clean-out shopping hauls happened, and then my getaway trip to a week-long preparation for Christmas parties.
It’s funny how a little getaway, if even to a place you used to call home and is still familiar to you can help you gain a better perspective. Yes, I had my days of feeling utterly lost with no plan, but I find you need those moments to help ground you back to reality.
I was able to meet myself again on this trip — through the people who see the best in me, the places that bring out the best and the dreams inside that still hold dear to me. We all need a little traveling to remind ourselves of who we really are, because when you put yourselves in that situation, you’re forced to see how you react to different settings, scenarios, people and outcomes… This all reminded me of how much of a home I have down there, and how much more alive I feel. (Something about the air, maybe?) It’s the opportunities, the people, the sense of belonging and purpose I feel that I don’t quite get back home…
So why hide out back in the woods?
With love and honesty,
Side note: I’d love to hear your thoughts or even other wanderings on getaway trips, your own solo trips or soul searching. Even questions on something you’d want to know about me or any place or person I visited. I feel when we communicate and connect, we’re creating something bigger than ourselves, ya? ❤