Meeting My Long Beach Neighbors

Just when you think you’re at the end of your rope, a 50-year-old woman with no reservations sails a boat right under you, tells you to jump in, and hands you a glass of wine.

Seriously, things were getting tough and I wasn’t ready to admit it. People always compliment me on being able to make friends wherever I go. What most, aside from my closest friends, don’t realize is that I often hit a breaking point of absolute loneliness before I make my first real friend in a new place. Tonight was that breaking point, and tonight I made… an unlikely group of friends.

So my fiancée works night shift as an ICU nurse, the reason why we travel. And this weekend he was on from Thursday to Sunday night. I could justify staying in and curling up with Netflix on Thursday, but heading into the weekend with zero plans and no one to go anywhere with was an unbearable thought. I had already been to four open mic nights, and while I met a few cool people, no one really stuck. Plus you never know with an artistic scene. Sometimes it feels like everyone has something to prove, which can make it hard to really get to know anyone.

I remembered meeting a woman named Angela, who seemed only a little bit older than me, in the elevator last week. She told me her unit number and said to come knock if I ever wanted to hang out sometime. So Thursday night I put a post-it note on her door explaining my weekend situation and scribbled out my phone number in case she wanted to hang out. Well Friday came and went, and I got no response from Angela. So around 6pm, I gave up and headed to an orientation for volunteer work at the Long Beach Animal Care Services, aka the Long Beach SPCA Animal Shelter, hoping to make a friend.

Within the first ten minutes of this orientation, the supervisor asked us flat-out to commit to one year of volunteering before signing up. That was the end of my ability to volunteer at the shelter, but I decided to stay the full 2 hours because I had literally nothing else to do and I wanted to give the puppies treats at the end. On my way out, I offered one girl a ride in my Uber because she said she lived downtown, and while she declined because she had her bike on hand, another girl overheard me and told me she wouldn’t mind giving me a ride in her car. It was an act of kindness I really needed, and on the way we chatted about places to go and things to do in Long Beach that I hadn’t heard of before. Can’t wait to check out Tuesday $1 pupusa nights!

Anyway, I realized pretty quickly that there was an age gap between us that made me feel a little creepy to try to hang out with her – she wasn’t of drinking age yet, and well, I just turned 26. So I thanked her when we got to my building and said goodbye without asking for her number (oh, friend hunting can be so hard and awkward!).

Let me tell you a little bit about my building before I get into what happened next. I live in downtown Long Beach on Ocean Blvd, in a very nice building with beach access, garage parking, a fancy library with old furniture, a gym, pool, and sauna, etc. It is probably one of the tallest buildings in Long Beach, 16 floors high, and located right next to the most famous, very old, former hotel and now apartment building in Long Beach (it has gargoyles looking down on my balcony – I love it). I’m renting from a woman who owns the condo, but is currently upstate living with her boyfriend. If you hadn’t guessed yet, my building is filled with older wealthy people and doctors, the only types of people that can afford to own these condos. But the thing about Long Beach and the Los Angeles area in general is the older you get, the more eccentric you are. No one in my building is stuffy, bougie, or conservative in any way. At least that has been my experience.

So I entered my lobby and could tell immediately that there was a party going on in the library off to the right. With nothing else to do, I decided to wander in and see if this was a private event or not. I asked a sprightly, 70-year-old woman, whose name I would later learn was Mary, what kind of event this was. Well Mary was just THRILLED that I had been so brave as to wander in when I am “only a renter” because “the renters should feel welcome too” and immediately handed me a glass of wine, a ham sandwich with sauerkraut, and introduced me to like 10 people, most of whom were named Don, all of whom were around her age, clearly very wealthy, and very laid back.

I was a little bit overwhelmed, but enjoying myself. I noticed a table of people around my age standing and chatting. Mary took me over, butted right into their conversation, and introduced me to all of them. I felt a little bit awkward, but everyone was very nice. I then realized that the young woman to my left, who I had just struck up a conversation with, turned out to be Angela, the one whose door I had put my post-it note on the night before! Awkward!

Anyway, it turns out she didn’t get the note at all and immediately took my phone and put her cell number, email, and unit number into it. Whew! A friend! It was at this point that my left arm was grabbed by a 50-or-so year old woman with one blood-shot eye and a drunken slur in her speech. I’ll call this woman Trish. Apparently Trish lives just down the hall from me and knew I was in her friend’s apartment and had been meaning to come talk to me and my fiancée because she used to be a traveling therapist! She wanted to connect and take us out sometime.

This woman was a total character, I could not believe it. She brought up the Grand Prix, soon to come up in April, that will be happening literally right outside of our apartment:

“I don’t give a crap about the cars and stuff, but oh the parties! They have the VIP tent right outside and you need tickets and everything to get in, but I just get in anyway. And I’ll get you and your fiancée in too. We’ll have such a blast. Oh you’re going to love it.”

Seriously this was within 3 minutes of conversation, and I already had plans to party hard with this one-blood-shot-eyed, drunk, eccentric, and actually quite beautiful woman. I loved her.

Trish was clearly a vivacious woman who would either find the party or create it herself in any situation. She seemed to know and be very close with everyone in the building. She beckoned over one of the older guys, Wilson, and introduced us. After learning which apartment I was in, Wilson immediately ran upstairs to grab his iPad so that he could show me some photos he took from my landlord’s balcony a year or two back.

While he was gone, Trish informed me that Wilson has some “obsessions”. She wasn’t kidding. His condo is apparently like a museum (I’m supposed to be getting a full tour next week) filled with old relics from the most famous ships around the world that date up to a hundred years back. He even has a letter that a woman wrote to her husband as a passenger on the Titanic, just before it sank. Now in our building, almost everyone has a view of the Queen Mary – a very old, supposedly haunted ship that is permanently docked and now a museum and theater in Long Beach. But apparently Wilson’s apartment has the absolute best view of the ship in the whole building, and that’s why he lives there.

Long Beach Photography

Wilson started showing me photos and man were they cool! He must own around 25 lenses with all the different shots he has. And with everyone being around the same age and all friends and owners in this building, he had shots of a bunch of different apartments, including the penthouse. The penthouse is awesome, covered in funky sea art that makes you feel like you’re underwater. Even the bathroom has a wall of mosaic sea creatures underwater, all of which light up with LED lights when you flip a switch.

“What I would give to just have 2 hours alone in that bedroom and bathroom,” Trish exclaimed about the penthouse.

As we kept scrolling through photos, I soon learned that Wilson was gay when we got to photos of some guys around the pool area of our place.

“Oh honey, they are gorgeous,” said Trish, looking at a photo of three middle-aged guys standing around the pool. “I have never seen so many cute men and none of them interested. It’s frustrating! Oh the frustration, every night it comes. Let me tell you.”

I was dying of laughter on the inside. Who are these people who just fell into my lap on this evening that was supposed to have been spent alone with my television shows? Angela came over at this point to scroll through the photos with us, which soon got to a cruise that Trish and Wilson took together over 10 years ago. Photos of Pisa, Turkey, and the French Riviera. I was drooling over the fabulous life these people have lived.

“That’s where I spent my second honeymoon,” Trish told me, pointing to a very famous hotel in France, the name of which I don’t remember anymore.

As she’s talking, Trish spills some of her mug of red wine that she had been clutching between her legs. All three of us were sitting pretty close on the couch together, and I guess some of the wine got onto Wilson’s black pants and onto the couch cushion. Wilson stood up at once, clearly upset.

“These old people,” Trish complained while Wilson ran to get napkins, “they make a scene out of everything. They’re so fussy. We could be in the middle of a 5-star restaurant and he would still stand up and make a scene like this. It’s just champagne Wilson!”

Wilson, so clearly annoyed, grabbed a separate chair and sat away from us, leaving us his iPad to keep scrolling through.

“Just kidding, it was red wine,” Trish whispered to me. “Now quick, email yourself some of these photos to show your family later. He gets so stingy with his pictures, but I think it’d be nice for you to have some to show to your family. Let them see where you live! I’m going to email some to myself as well.”

And that’s how I acquired quite a few photos of our building from the amazing but fussy photographer, Wilson from the 4th floor. (Full disclosure: When Trish had gone to the bathroom, I did ask Wilson if he minded that I had emailed some of these photos to myself and whether it was ok to post some on my blog, and he gave me the ‘OK.’)

When Trish came back, she chatted some more to Angela and me.

“Of course I’ve been to every club in Vegas,” said Trish. “I don’t go back as often anymore, but when I moved here 15 years ago, I was going there 2 to 3 times every month.”

As the night went on, Angela and I both got pretty tired from wine and decided to head upstairs. Trish joined, and what do you know, we have plans for happy hour this Monday. Not exactly what I was expecting when I hoped to God I would make friends tonight, but it’s certainly something to write about. Here are some photos from Wilson below:

The Pacific Apartments in Long Beach California

The Pacific Apartments in Long Beach

The Pacific Apartments in Long Beach California

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2016: A New Year of Travel

Happy New Year! It has officially been a week since we were all preparing to countdown to 2016, with that fiery motivation to have a better year burning in our hearts. As an effort to hold onto the momentum (and inspire you to do the same), I’ve decided to put together a new list of resolutions, just for Cleaving Leaveland and traveling.

Goals to Carry Into 2016

1. Be Where I Am. This was a hard one for me last year for a few reasons. The first is that when I packed up to leave New York City and embark on two years of traveling the US, I left behind a very strong and empowering community of friends. Even when I ended up in places like Seattle where I made a lot of strong friendships, I found it difficult to appreciate them because my eyes were always looking at my friends in New York. The second reason it was so difficult to be present was that I kept getting let down thinking I was going to end up in one place and job opportunities, or lack thereof, put me in another place entirely. But when missing out on living in Austin meant opening up my eyes to the amazingness of Seattle, I realized that my disappointment had been a waste of time and energy. This is an adventure after all. Which leads me to my next goal…

2. Keep An Open Mind. Traveling is not really an exploration if I have a locked mindset of where I want to be and what I want to see. Last year I was hoping to get to Austin and instead went to Seattle, which quickly became my favorite city in the US. Just this January I had hoped to end up in New Orleans, and instead I’m off to Long Beach, CA. I have only been to Long Beach once in my life and I mostly spent my time there partying in a college house. This is going to be a whole new adventure for me. I was really hoping to do some ghost tours, take piano lessons, and see some alligators in the south, but maybe I’ll take a surfing lesson or two instead. Last year I was not a happy camper to end up in Phoenix, but it ended up being one of the most transformative 3 months for me in my travels. So this year I plan to keep an open mind, and go wherever the wind (and jobs) take me.

3. Stop Watching TV. Okay, so I don’t really plan to stop watching all TV all the time. But I have been sitting on this one for a while. Then recently I saw a video of Obama talking to school-aged children about what it means to have a family. One of the more profound statements he made was that if you come home, and you sit in front of the TV watching a show or playing video games, then you’re not really there – you’re checked out. If watching TV is not helping me to “be where I am,” then it’s time to cut it out of my daily routine.

4. Run Outside Often. Or take walks. I like to run for exercise, and I’ve found that taking care of my health outdoors has led me to come across places I would have never explored otherwise (like the crystal shop in Seattle or my favorite independent bookstore in Phoenix). So I’m going to get outside often, whether with running, biking, or just taking a walk.

5. Record More. This is different than writing more, for me. I want to start really recording what I love about places, especially on the blog. Taking notes on the best Pho I found in Seattle or the cutest Bed and Breakfast I happened upon in Pennsylvania will add richer illustration to the map of my travels, and may come in handy as I revisit places later.

So my list only has 5 goals for blogging and traveling, but I’m hoping that keeping it short and simple will help me accomplish them more thoroughly. I have other personal goals of course (take another class, volunteer, pass less judgment on others), but this list should be enough to take my travels and Cleaving Leaveland to the next level. As some of you will know, I’m engaged to get married in late summer of 2017, so this will be my last full year of traveling. I plan to take it to the fullest. Come with me and enjoy the ride!

“Excuse me, Miss?” This Is Not New York

Something happened recently when my sister was in town that just crossed my mind today. We were out walking through Capitol Hill, just the two of us, and as we had just crossed a street a stranger approached us saying, “Excuse me, Miss, excuse me.”

Now, what I did was stare straight ahead, pretending that I could hear no one, and continued walking pretty much the same pace as though nothing was happening. My sister, on the other hand, stopped and listened to the guy. He was just visiting in Seattle and needed directions to where he was going, directions only I could have given him because my sister was a visitor as well. If she hadn’t stopped, I basically would have looked like a total asshole.

Of course I didn’t stop because that’s what I had learned to do in New York City. I had learned from experience, as all women do in the city, that “Excuse me, Miss” is almost always followed by unwanted words of sexual harassment.

As I looked back on it, I wondered if there is anything a man could say to me on the streets of New York to make me stop and listen to him. Saying “Excuse me, Miss” seems the most polite way to approach someone on the street if you need directions, but I wouldn’t stop for that. People handing out flyers can get very creative in New York, stopping you in your tracks because what they’re saying sounds so weird coming from a stranger, such as, “Is your birthday coming up?” or “You never responded to my text last night.”

But even those comments I learned to tune out while walking. I won’t tell you my birthday, I didn’t get your text, and excuse you, sir.

Maybe if I was a braver (or just less paranoid) person, I would have opened myself up to pleasant street interactions more in New York. I saw them happen for other people – eccentrics or neighbors getting to know each other right there on the sidewalk corner. And sure, there were some conversations I’d have with strangers in the subway when our train was inconveniently stopped underground for a while.

But not on the streets. Not in New York.

Because whenever I did stop or respond to “Excuse me, Miss,” I was greeted with unwanted sexual advances, such as “You are so beautiful, God Bless you,” (which may seem harmless, until you see how angry they get if you don’t smile or say something back), “Can I get your phone number?”, or the absolute worst, “Are you pregnant?” (something I think some men just say to piss women off or hurt their sense of self-confidence because you show no interest in them).

Fun Fact: One time I responded to an old man saying “Excuse me” on the sidewalk in Washington Heights and he barked in my face. Right up in it.

In the smaller big cities that I’ve visited, I think there is less enough people that you can expect an “Excuse me, Miss” to actually lead to something harmless like asking for directions or the time. And not to say that street harassment doesn’t happen everywhere – Seattle is safe, but it’s not immune to crime. However, the man eyeing me up and down to compliment the pattern on my pants had a very noticeable difference in his tone of voice than the one calling out “Sweetie” from across the street. And I should have noticed that tonal nuance when that guy asked my sister for directions.

I would like to open myself up more to kindness on the streets in Seattle and other places. Obviously street smarts are essential for any woman in any city, but maybe if I could just tone down the high-alert security system I seem to have put between myself and everyone on the street everywhere, I could actually meet some nice people and help out fellow travelers to new cities. I’d like to try.