At first I was creeped out by Venice Beach. Graffiti, drugs, piercings, tattoos. And the barefoot kids with blankets around their shoulders, dirty and out of it. Were their parents wondering, worrying, or neither?
But this time I visited SoCal, I was invited into the community when I tried Pop Tennis for the first time, hosted by the friendly, popular and talented pro there, Gino Bejarano http://ink361.com/app/users/ig-1587041474/poptennistv/photos. I loved this sport both for how it is played (slam the ball and run around), but as much for the environment. Disparate backgrounds and incomes don’t matter, nor is there any place for pretense. On the courts are dogs, radios, friends, bicycles, groceries. And there’s so much pot smoke in the air that it’s sometimes hard to catch your breath. The third time I played, I met a woman there at 10am on a Saturday. All twelve courts were all being used. By men. Tradition says you walk around and see which court is playing at your level, then lean your paddle against that door. Wiithin some reasonable amount of time, you go in and whomever’s been there the longest goes out. As there was one court with only two guys just starting, we challenged them, not knowing what level they were. When I saw two sweating cans of India Pale Ale on the bench with a pack of Nicorette gum, any concern I had subsided.
After a few hours on the court, the endorphins were flowing and I found myself much more curious and open to the surrounding community. I had a nice, long chat with the Snake Man. I bravely got close enough to put money in his bowl when he laughed and told me the snakes were fake. What?? Back in 2000, a homeless man gave him a bamboo flute and when he’d play it, people would tell him he needed a snake to charm. One day when he was running along the beach, he saw a plastic snake and picked it up. Some years later, he found the same one, and as both have 1989 inscribed on them, he knew it was a sign that this was the work he was meant to do. He calls it spreading the love and he’s been there for 15 years now.
Nearby, on Muscle Beach, is a no-nonsense gym on the other side of this structure. Outside and open to the elements, many of the weights and machines are a little bit rusty, but judging from those using the equipment, everything still works well. In Venice, many are in really good shape and all forms of exercise are taken very seriously. Volleyball looks more competitive than fun. Lots of surfers living out of their vans, trainers carrying heavy weights to the beach. Kettlebellers abound.
California is a state that has approved marijuana for medical use only. Pretty much everywhere, there are places like the one at Venice Beach below, where anyone can get a prescription for $40. I was shocked at how much more prevalent it is, treated similarly to alcohol. I smelled it everywhere, and early in the morning too. Perhaps Santa Monica uses it as air freshener.
While drinking an iced coffee right near the places in the photographs below, I was sitting on a bench behind the grass mound where a lot of the homeless kids hang out. I heard a guy asking what appeared to be his girlfriend if she would watch something. She said no. He asked her why, frustrated. She didn’t respond. I told him I would watch what turned out to be a huge trash bag of empties. He took off with his mirrored shades, blonde stubble and cruiser bike, announcing his return by crashing into the bag of cans and falling over on his bike. Unembarrassed, he mentioned that he wasn’t usually a “recycler” but that someone had given them to him. Then he offered me a soda.
Here’s a cool thing, Venice Beach live cam http://venicebeachlivecam.tv/pages/Home
Here are some other pics of what is the feeling of Venice Beach. Can’t wait to go back.