Keep Venice Weird

For decades, Venice has been known as a place where the wonderfully weird and way-out converge. A community of nonconformists trying to preserve a piece of Los Angeles that’s still pure in origin and protected from over-gentrification.

Despite the influx of newly renovated mid century mod palaces, pretty faces and tech companies migrating to the neighbourhood en masse, Venice is still weird.

The Venice Boardwalk is where the more colorful locals tend to congregate, although anywhere between Washington and Ocean Park, and east towards Lincoln is a people-watching paradise. Middle-aged men whizzing by on skateboards with the same temerity of a teenager, because no one gives a fuck how old you are. It’s irrelevant. No one is judging anyone. Everyone simply observes.

Even on upscale Abbot Kinney people don’t take themselves too seriously. One night, after too many craft cocktails, we found ourselves at Abbot’s Pizza for a slice on the way home. While in line, a popular 90s dance track came on and my husband started to boogie a little. Then the woman in front of him, dreadlocks piled high on her head with a toddler in tow, began to dance uncontrollably until the whole line-up was going for it.

During lunch one day, we overheard the table next to us chatting with some older gentlemen who declared they were long-time Venice residents. When asked what they did for a living, they said they used to play with a band called The Mamas & the Papas.

We’ve become addicted to what I call affirmation shakes at Café Gratitude on Rose Ave. When ordering, you ask for your smoothie beginning with ‘I am’ followed by whatever concoction you’ve chosen, like ‘Grace’ for example (my favorite). I am grace. And then you suck it back through a paper, recyclable straw while listening in on the tarot reading going on at the next table.

Staying on Victoria Ave, a sleepy, palm-lined street about 10 minutes by bike from the beach, characters still emerged daily. The Barry Gibb lookalike who walks his little dog every morning – same time – always rocking an ankle length fringed vest and flowing scarf to match. The mysterious tube TV that was left on our sidewalk and remained there for 10 days. The artists, established and aspiring. Folks who never left the 70s…or the 70s never left them.

But if it’s madness you crave, the Boardwalk is your jam. You’ll encounter iconic buskers that work the strip every day like Harry Perry, who rocks out on guitar while twirling circles around the tourists on his jacked-up rollerblades. Being recognized by him is kind of like a Venice rite of passage. There’s the Venice Beach Freakshow luring lookie loos in with America’s smallest man and the bearded lady – the best 5 bucks you’ll spend at the beach. There’s the transient travelers with signs that say ‘will strip for cash’ or ‘field goal my nuts for 20 bucks’. Or the more creative offerings like the First Organic Television, which is basically a guy with a TV screen wrapped round his face shouting nonsense at you as you scurry past him.

One of the things I love most is the non-stop party vibe of Venice. Men on roller skates dancing to disco in the basketball courts before the b-ballers arrive. While cruising the bike path, every few minutes someone breezes by with a ghetto blaster blaring everything from Marvin Gaye to the new Kendrick Lamar album. And what better way to end a day in Venice than jumping into the centre of the Drum Circle – a weekend ritual that goes from late afternoon until sunset – and dancing like hundreds of eyes aren’t watching your every move.

The woman we stayed with – Jenny, a designer and long time Venice resident – told us a story of how she had to leave for a while to appreciate how special her neighborhood is. Right around the recession she needed to, as she described, restore her faith in Americans. So she kitted out a VW van and embarked on a road trip that followed along the outer edges of the continental US. North along the west coast, east through the mid west, south along the eastern seaboard until her beloved van blew up in middle-of-nowhere Florida. Literally, flames a mile high.

Not wanting to quit before her journey was complete, she bought a miniature school bus and converted it to a road-trip-ready vessel that would carry her through the final leg of her tour.

These are the people who built Venice. The weird and the wonderful.

venice-beach

venice-beach

venice-beach

venice-beach

venice-beach

venice-beach

Follow along @thelasessions

Advertisements

Viva Venice

Three years ago, I was in San Diego on business and decided to extend my stay in SoCal to meet my husband for the weekend in Los Angeles. We settled on Venice, having never spent much time there before. I remember very distinctly sitting on the patio of a Mexican restaurant on Washington Boulevard, waiting for my husband and fantasizing about what it would be like to live there.

The breeze was constant, the temperature was perfect and the vibe was friendly. Neighbourly. And peaceful. Like stumbling upon a tropical oasis in the middle of an arid desert, Venice seemed like a tight-knit community tucked away in the chaos of LA County.

After a few more subsequent trips south, we find ourselves back in Venice to soak up the warmth and the weirdoes. The nouveau bohemians and the Jim Morrison tribute bands. Aspiring artists and American-made treasures ­– vintage, reworked or made new. Musicians seeking a new scene or experience to draw inspiration from. Writers, like me, in sidewalk cafés lingering long after their americanos are finished.

After surviving another long, wet winter on the west coast of Canada, every time I step outside here I breathe a sigh of relief. No socks, no umbrella, no bra. My suitcase was stuffed with only sandals, flowing dresses and kimonos, things I seem to accumulate like crazy despite the cooler climate of home.

We bike everywhere. Big rusty cruisers and no helmets, right alongside the bustling traffic heading to the beach. Something I’d never attempt at home, but all the locals do it, so somehow that makes it feel safe. You hear so many horror stories of traffic in LA, but not in Venice. Not if you do it right.

We’ve holed up in a quaint B’n’B hidden amidst sprawling bougainvillea and lemon trees. Our host has lived in the neighbourhood for 20 years and tells us how much the area has changed. Shortly after she took possession of the house, a teenager was shot and killed down the street. Venice 13 gang tags kept popping up on her fence and well-known hipster haven Abbot Kinney was nothing more than a few shops and dive bars. Balancing gentrification and the history and character that makes Venice so special is delicate business.

While some of Venice’s more iconic sights like Muscle Beach and the longstanding Freak Show will always draw a crowd, it’s the allure of the unexpected that pulls me in. The tropical flowers that grow in every nook and cranny of every side street. Designer pop-up shops in parking lots (I scored a dress and kimono by Mumu yesterday). Masterful murals adorning doorways and alleyways while skaters fly by on their longboards. The charm never seems to fade.

Maybe it’s just a honeymoon phase. Maybe there are dangers and nuisances the locals are concealing. But from where I sit on this breezy backyard patio just off of Abbot Kinney, the fantasy continues.

Standing on a hill in my mountain of dreams,
Telling myself it’s not as hard, hard, hard as it seems.

– Going to California, Led Zepplin

venice-beach

venice-beach

venice-beach

venice-beach

venice-beach

Follow along @thelasessions