Photos by Daniel Henderson
I began with a trip to Intelligentsia coffee in Venice, the legendary best Jo in L.A. It’s located on Abbott Kinney—a shopping/dining strip filled with hipsters searching for their spirit animals. I follow a trail of them headed to Intelligentsia like ants to an anthill. Upon entering, I find myself in the center of an amorphous blob of accessories: faux hawks, feather earrings, hats, suspenders, vests and bow ties. Plus it’s Movember. Ugh. My barista is the poster boy for hipsterdom: hair shaved on the sides, long on top, skinny jeans and tight plaid shirt. I doubt he could do one pull-up. This is the kind of guy that supermodels claw each other over in L.A. His eyes are stunning green and he appears handsome, but who knows what’s under that beard. He extends an atrophied arm and hands me my gluten-free chocolate muffin. I devour it with such fervor that I don’t notice my drink’s up. They tossed it on the counter unannounced; this is the anti-Starbucks. I grab my cup of coffee which is now freezing. A female barista comes to reclaim the pitcher of half-n-half that I’m apparently hoarding. To my horror, she pours another pitcher for my private consumption needs, like I’m planning on chugging a gallon of half-n-half straight. I pour the cream into a take-home cup with the cream just to prove her right. For a delicious cup of coffee sans douche, go to Cafe Lo/Cal in Santa Monica. Get a coffee flight and sample all of their delicious java varieties, especially the addictive Cold Brew Nitro they keep on tap.
Afterwards, I stroll along Venice boardwalk observing street artists painting surfboards, muscle beachers doing push-ups and hippies smoking weed. I don’t linger because it’s hot, crowded and I haven’t smelled this much piss since I sat next to Tommy in the third grade.
Caffeinated and quite possibly high from my stroll on the boardwalk, I head off for my big adventure: surfing. I take the Pacific Coast Highway up to Malibu and feel honored to be on this famous strip where so many Hollywood legends have gotten DUIs. My surf lesson is apparently taught by a famous actor. I figure he’s going to be some washed up film star (wink) but it’s the great John Philbin ("Point Break," "Blue Crush" and every other surf movie, ever.)
Me as Ninja.
“Do you play any sports?” he asks. Not my favorite question. I answer truthfully and we agree he’s going to give me the same lesson he gives to five year olds. I know for a fact that I’m going to suck on account of my hand-eye coordination problems and because I’m all around just bad at stuff. After careful coaching on the sand, we jump in the ocean. Right away he expects me to surf, which is a blatant violation of our five-year-old agreement, but I try anyway because I like when hot men boss me around. I mount the board, he tells me to stand up…and I do! Okay, it’s more like awkward squatting but still! I ride all the way to the shore like a boss. John Philbin tells me I’m a natural. He must be right because I managed to turn “heel-side” and ride across the wave! I can’t understand why everyone on the beach isn’t noticing how fucking fantastic I am. I hate to brag (not true) but when you discover the first thing you’re good at in life you can’t help it. For those of you reading this, it may have happened when you learned to ride a bike, or perhaps crawl. Not me. I’ve been a disappointment every step of the way, so this is huge. Feeling invincible, I turn “toeside” on a giant wave and wipeout hardcore. Clearly this raw talent needs to be developed a little more. Images of myself with beachy surfer highlights and a six-pack fill my head, and I’m seriously considering taking this up professionally.
The coolest I will ever be, ever.
I’m beyond starving and go to Nobu, the famous sushi restaurant from master chef Nobu Matsuhisa located right on the waterfront. I’m cautious walking up the street because without my swimsuit I have no undergarments, and I'm wearing a dress, so the good travelers of the Pacific Coast Highway are one sea breeze away from a money shot. Walking in, I immediately notice several gorgeous ladies dressed to the nines, clad with elephantine purses and only slightly smaller sunglasses. I, on the other hand, am commando in a t-shirt dress, sporting flip-flops and a piece of seaweed that is so deeply knotted in the back of my hair that I’ve resigned myself to adopting it and learning to love it as one of my own.
They hand me their menu and right away I notice the Nobu logo looks like a guy with a boner. First comes refreshing sake (celebrating Monday) in a silver teapot followed by the artichoke salad. Truffle oil, olive oil, crunchy dried miso, baby artichokes, Parmesan and chives—delicious and substantial enough for a Venice vegetarian’s dinner. For the main course, I order several pieces of fish including my favorite---fresh Amberjack belly---which tastes like poetry. Between the raw fish and my surf experience, I feel like I’ve gotten extremely intimate with the sea today—first the ocean had its way with me and now I'm having my way with the ocean.
I finish my day with a trip to the Russian spa. Driving there I pass the Thai restaurant, Jitlada. This place has grasshoppers on the menu and boxes of ancient baby dolls in the bathroom so you know it’s authentic. Here, you’re far more likely to encounter a celebrity than a familiar flavor. "The Simpsons" creator Matt Groening loves eating here so much that he’s ornamented the place with sketches of Homer and the gang saying things like “Mmmmm….Jitlada.” Be warned: you have to go frequently to build up immunity to the foreign bacteria; the first time you go you just might Jitlada your pants.
I arrive at Voda, a Russian spa that my old Jewish friends won’t shut up about. They have a salt water pool, a Jacuzzi and three Banyas (saunas); one ‘dry,’ one ‘wet’ and one ‘warm,’ which translates to hot, hotter and hottest. There’s also a giant steam and a room where they keep the large, snoring Russian men. I’ve signed up for their ‘Platza,’ a traditional Russian relaxation ritual. It takes place in the ‘dry’ (hot) Banya. I lay down on my stomach and they put a cold towel over my face to make sure my head doesn’t explode. Juan Carlos, an employee at the spa, (who I’m beginning to suspect is not Russian) picks up a bundle of oak branches, dips them in water and proceeds to beat me from head to toe. My instinct is to grab a stick and fight my way out of this boiling room of battery. Instead, I take a deep breath and pretend like I’m Russian and this is fun. The self-delusion works; when he presses the hot branches into my feet, I melt. J.C. flogs every inch of me and by the end, the sauna smells beautifully of oak. Afterwards, I plunge into ice-cold water, which is as desperately welcomed as a breath of fresh air in downtown L.A.
Me as a teenage mutant ninja drunk turtle.
Next, they give me a face mask that feels like getting infinitely stung by fire ants (of course I would get voluntarily stung in the face by a jellyfish if you told me it was anti-aging, so I don’t mind). I head to the spa bar for another Russian relaxation ritual—vodka. I order their Moscow Mule, which tastes like it came from an actual mule. I pair it with the tender Pemini—boiled meat dumplings (Pork? Beef? Both? No idea.) They are the ultimate comfort food and couldn’t be more authentically Russian than the guy with a unibrow sitting next to me yelling at the waitress for not bringing his vodka fast enough. I leave the spa so ‘relaxed’ that it just may land me in the dehydration unit of the nearest hospital.
Seven dog years of traffic later, my stay-cation comes to a close. I grab a bottle of Voss that would have cost $12 in a hotel mini-fridge and enter the best place in all of Los Angeles—my own bed.