Four years ago today I was the Neptune Queen of Venice. It was the happiest, brightest, best day of Summer ever ... and a week later, everything unraveled. My landlord jacked up the rent so high it was not possible, and I began a year of house sitting and couch surfing while trying desperately to stay in Venice, my home of 25 years. I got supremely ghosted by someone I loved. Then my beloved Mom got a bone infection in her toe, and I flew home to help her through it, putting my stuff into storage at 4th and Rose - thinking I'd be back in a few weeks. Then Mom's leg had to be amputated. Then the home where she was to live had a staff member that broke Mom's shoulder, so I had to get her out of there, signing up to be her caregiver myself. Then the pandemic hit. Then my brother who lives with my Mom had three strokes. Then George Floyd was murdered by the police here in Minneapolis ... and then we all got vaccinated and it was finally time for my return to Venice. After all the stories I had heard over the past year, I was nervous as to what state I might find my cherished chosen home town to be in, and had to see for myself.
What I found was that yes, there were a LOT of changes. Many of my favorite places (The French Market!) have closed, some not to return. There are a LOT more homeless, but honestly, that's everywhere, not just Venice. It might seem terrible at the beach, but take a drive through Hollywood. It's a living nightmare. Look at the freeway exit ramps in Minneapolis in the middle of winter. I don't blame people for getting to the beach if they're homeless - wouldn't you? We're all in this together - a very important reminder.
There was rumors and realities of terrible violence, but that's always been the case in Venice, but I didn't see or feel or hear of any during my two weeks back, thankfully. And in many ways, it felt like I never left - we all just picked up where we left off before the pandemic! But most importantly, the SPIRIT of Venice and its COMMUNITY, are still very much intact - if you know where to look for it. And I do.
I always start at the beach. I dove right into the frigid Pacific water, that I had missed so very much. My skin drying off from saltwater in the sunshine is possibly my favorite feeling in life, and I got a lot of it. It was fitting that I was met with a big heart of rose petals right in front of where I have always spent my time on the sand, what we call Playa de Los Amigos. Heaven.
The next stop is always the Skatepark, because it's the centerpiece of the entire Boardwalk - and I love it. There is always good skating to watch, and almost always a friendly face from the neighborhood.
When I first arrived, the entire area of the Boardwalk from the Skatepark all the way north was one big homeless encampment. By the time I left it was mostly cleaned up. I don't know what happened in between, and I hope there was compassion and empathy involved - because that is one big thing I saw lacking. There is a lot of fighting and complaining by some Venetians, but very few solutions being offered by those griping.
The VNC Election was happening while I was there ... and that was kind of ugly too. I'm very disappointed that Jim Murez was elected President, as I have yet to hear empathy or compassion from him in all the years that I've known him. Let's all hope that this position will help him find that part of himself within, because otherwise I don't see much harmony on deck for Venice. Everyone needs to make sure it's not just about those with property value concerns over People. I was also very disappointed that Sergio Perez from Great Western Hoagies didn't get in, because you don't get much more local or more awesome than him. But good for Mike Bravo, Jim Robb, and Alley Bean! We need people that CARE in leadership, and not just about their property values, but the COMMUNITY - which includes EVERYONE.
The beach is a good place to start not only for the water, but for the art and entertainment as well. There weren't as many street performers out down there, but murals everywhere, starting with the updated Starry Night by Rip Cronk. Beautiful! (Leave it alone, taggers!) ...
There were two by Jules Muck honoring luminaries from Venice's past, like Arthur L. Reese, the first Black resident of Venice, known as "The Wizard of Venice" for his inventions and decorations - like floats for Venice Mardi Gras! He sounded like a great time.
Right next to that is another Muck piece, featuring early Venice residents, Charlie Chaplin, Clara Bow, and Abbot Kinney himself. There is so much history in Venice, all of which will be celebrated in the new Venice Heritage Museum - coming soon!
A short stroll down the Boardwalk and you'll see a tribute to Kobe and Gigi Bryant - a loss that is still hard to believe, especially because I wasn't in L.A. at the time when it happened. Simply tragic.
Also tragic was the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. I had heard about the solidarity marches and support in Venice, and it was great to see images of George Floyd all the way across the country in the town that I love. Thank you! (and his filthy murderer Chauvin was just convicted for 22.5 years! Change begins now.)
Shepard Fairey has a new one on Pacific letting you know that PATIENTS HAVE RIGHTS. I've been entangled in our broken healthcare system for going on two years now, and it is a serious battle every single day. It SUCKS, and needs to be moved to the top of America's problem list - with the CLIMATE (Remember that? It does).
Hampton Drive had a fantastic new piece celebrating all things Venice, and I love everything about it. The color palette, the images, the spirit!
From Venice's long history of resistance (never needed more than today!) to Muscle Beach and regular beach people, to tigers and lifeguard towers and ice cream - it's simply wonderful.
There's a great new mural over at Hoagie's too, and the day I saw it was the day Hecho En Venice had a booth set up in front of it and Oscar was the perfect photo subject to capture it with!
The parking lot that runs behind Abbot Kinney is full of murals always, and I really dug the new one of Stevie Nicks back there.
The rainbow crosswalk isn't really a mural, but it is really Venice.
You can see art just walking the regular streets of Venice, like this happy rainbow wall.
My favorite part of walking or biking around Venice is always the people that make the place. One smile from Fred at the Gonzo Africa Rasta booth at the beach will make your whole day.
I had so many happy reunions I don't know where to start, but one of the most important ones was with my great friend Beckett, who has a bunch of new teeth since I saw him last! We were stoked.
On my third night back there was a music night at The Penmar, the new venue at the Penmar Golf Course. I got my pals Paul Chesne and Lacey Cowden to join Blue Eyed Son and The Coastal Folk for a night of live music FINALLY, and it was simply the best. I got to see SO many friends all at once - without masks - and it was a true highlight of my return. Thank you to everyone there!
Hinano's was, of course, one of my first (and last!) stops, and it was so good to grab an exceptional burger, a frosty beer (they were out of Red Stripe though, what?!), and especially a hug from my pal, Melissa!
It was a blast to be just walking along a street and run into someone I adored that didn't even know I was back. It happened a lot, and was a boost to the soul each time - like when I randomly ran into my old pal and Skateboard Hall of Famer Ray Flores! Awesome.
The beach is sincerely holy to me - my Church, really - and I need as much time there as possible. It is truly healing for me, and I miss it deeply every day that I can't just walk to it. What a life giver!
The beach and ocean are the focus of nature for me in Venice, but natural beauty is also everywhere. I was so happy that I didn't miss the jacarandas this year! I came from purple lilacs in Minnesota and was met by the purple rain of jacaranda blossoms in Venice. Thankful!
The community garden at Beyond Baroque is thriving, and was a lovely spot to sit and take it all in for a moment.
I missed Venice sunsets so much. The free show every night was one of my favorite things to stop and appreciate and be grateful for. You come to realize that they're beautiful everywhere - just different. It's really more about the people that you spend them with ... and I try to view them with people I love whenever I look, so it's still been lovely. Just not Venice.
The creative spirit is what initially drew me to Venice, and it remains everywhere. Not just in the arts, but in the hearts, minds, and souls of its people. When the pandemic hit, people were still able to gather, because Venice folks thought up The Music Box - an actual box that performers get in to play music out on the sand (where all could be safe and distanced and still enjoy each other and the entertainment). I got to go on my last night in town, and it was exactly what I needed to sustain me until I'm back full time. Sunset, music, ocean waves on background vocals, and most importantly, FRIENDS. I just loved loved loved it. (and it's TONIGHT if you're in Venice!)
Time with my friends that are my family was the very best part of this return trip that FLEW by waaaaaay too fast, People! Phone calls and Facetimes and Zooms and texts and snail mail and everything is great, but to hug someone and look into their eyes as they well up with happiness to be back in each others' arms was an absolute elixir for my soul, one that I have carried with me through all the craziness that ensued the moment I got back to Minneapolis. I love my friends!
The Ladies! (Christina, Steph, Lacey, Mandy)
Jenny! (Thank you for letting me stay at your pad!)
Paddy and Lacey!
James and Danny! (Thank you for the excellent farewell Drag Brunch!)
Rebekah! (Thank you for letting me stay in the Shack!)
And so many more that I saw and didn't get photos with ... and that I sadly didn't see because the time went too fast (or they just didn't try!) that I love but will have to see in the future. But ALL of Venice, please know this. I'll be back ... and YOU ARE LOVED.
ALWAYS. XOXO, Your CJ