In Oakland, I still keep the window open at all times, even if it's windy and cold at night. The bay air is soft, cool, damp... it seeps in and reminds you that the ocean is close by. Almost every night recently, the sound of several fireworks can be heard coming from not far away.
I don't know who it is or why they're doing it, but the startling sound keeps an underlying sense of tensity in the air. The swirl of world events, news, and media that I passively soak up on the Internet gives me a general sense of worry.
I'm a worrier. I'm adverse to things that may give me pain. I try my best to not let it get to me, but I always find myself coming up with assumptions based on very little evidence or interaction.
"Is this worth pursuing?" "Is this worth committing to?" "If I do this will the next year pass by in a flash?" Why do these thoughts continue to swim into my mind for almost every scenario and every person I meet?
I over think things into oblivion.
There's a feeling I get whenever I step foot into even a remotely crowded place. It's the anxiety. I feel the whole room look up for a brief second, and suddenly I feel myself questioning everything about my appearance. "Are my shoes weird?" "Is my hair messed up?" "Do I look out of place?"
This stems from a deep uncomfortableness with myself. And while I feel hindered by these thoughts and feelings. I have to fight and commit to going out. How will I make progress else wise?
But then... Why am I even out in the first place? What do I want to do today? What are my goals? Who do I even look up to? Where are my mentors? Who am I striving to be?
These past few months that I didn't work can be thought as a "summer vacation." However I didn't travel much and I wasn't completely carefree.
// George and Lennie
I've become a regular at a cafe in the Tenderloin called George & Lennie. How much of a regular? I wash the dishes, make espresso shots, and have exclusive access to the wifi. It's like I semi-work there, except that I'm not getting paid (I sometimes get tips or a $20 bill).
It would take quite a bit to explain why I like this shop so much, but the gist of it is... the coffee shop isn't really a coffee shop, but a physical extension of Brett, the full-bearded, burly, tattooed owner of the shop who previously worked at Four Barrel Coffee for several years.
I was meeting a former coworker for coffee near his apartment. I immediately assumed we were going to Philz, but he guided me towards a small neighborhood joint I've never noticed before.
One of the first details I noticed upon entering the cafe was the large-format printer on the far side of the cafe. I remember several years ago trying to convince a business-minded friend to invest in a printer, only to have him dismiss it as "throwing away money."
My first conversation with Brett entailed me asking about what he did with it, and him responding with "Hey, I'm more about doing than talking."
He shut me out. Quick and efficient.
But I felt something there, so I returned and showed him some of my photos. We've been friends ever since.
The cafe is an embodiment of that "just try it" attitude, if he feels the notion to do something, he'll do it.
From the settings on the coffee grinder and espresso machine, the music, the interior of the shop... everything seems to be tweaked and fiddled around with constantly. In a given week a plant can be seen in different corners of the shop, on different table and bar tops, hung on the door, even hanged from the ceiling from a newly installed bracket. The music, which mostly comes from an extensive record collection near the bar, is constantly being changed based on his mood. Folk, oldie, indie, hip hop, metal, on rare occasion... EDM, you never know what's next, but it's always well chosen, and has a constant underlying aesthetic that you can't put your finger on.
The thing is, he doesn't run his cafe like a real business. He often doesn't charge people, a lot of the snacks and pastries come from his friends' businesses on a bartering basis, it's located in one of the worst parts of the city, and no one he hires can quite take his place.
But it's easy to see why he's doing it all. Among the myriad of different customers, most of the regulars are active photographers and artists who have art openings across the city. It's truly a hub for creatives to gather and converse.
And that's why I like it. In a city where most people seem to be going at light-speed, where the consistent story is that the big bad tech companies are ruining the lives for the common person, there's this humble coffee shop, somehow existing in the middle of all, trying its best to go its own pace.
Now if only I could consistently pour hearts and ferns into latte's.
Brett is contained chaos. It's like he's constantly taking on new and uncomfortable things. Print jobs from extremely picky clients, pop up art shows, signing a lease for an office space across the street from the cafe. For me, an observer with a little more insight, everything he does has a high margin of failure, and man, the moments when it looks like he's failing are so cringe-worthy. He doesn't even have much money or assets, he just does a lot of things with this endearing, bold attitude.
On a fun-filled festival day in the tenderloin, we went back to his apartment on Divis for a bbq. Sinking into the sofa, the only thing on our minds was what Radiohead record to play next. After hearing my favorite songs on the second half of The Bends, I stood up to change the record to his choice, Kid A. "There's one more song you idiot! Don't touch it!" Brett exclaimed.
From his girlfriend Katie, his daughter Elanor, to all of his weird, quirky cafe regulars, his life is surrounded with a sense of warmth and true authenticity.
In my search for a mentor, I initially thought Brett would be a great fit, but... I don't really think I can call him that since he's still an immature baby 50% of the time. He's become more of a dear friend.
In the words of Brett, most likely after taking a bong hit after a cop has entered the cafe only to make enough smalltalk to use the restroom, "Fucking A."
Unemployed lyfe has been a mixed bag of phases. At first I was lost, as if I couldn't even remember what I was up to before I moved to SF. There was a temporary feeling of freedom, immediately followed by a feeling of worry. What's next..? What am I doing..?
I tried becoming a photographer again. I created the site pestophoto.com
While I really feel like this could have been successful, I didn't feel a love for the photos I was making. I didn't even bother to tell people I made the website...
I received advice from several people. "Sublet your apartment and travel to Asia." "Get in your car and drive across Utah." "I'd kill to be in your situation, don't waste this chance."
As much as I was broadcasting that I was in a "situation" and looking for suggestions, I fucking hate it when people tell me what to do.
Let me be confused, let my mind go astray, it'll find it's course eventually. It's more important that we talk about things that give off an air of inspiration or motivation than to talk about the immediate actions themselves and what I can expect out of them. (Actually you can give me suggestions, but don't make it obvious that you are, haha)
More on this later...
//Trip to Portland
I would consider Portlandia to be one of my most cherished and beloved TV shows... right up there with Scrubs, The Office, and Insomniac(please tell me some of you watched this show). From the feminist bookstore, to the couple who is super over-prepared for any outdoor activity, to the scene of how extreme forgetting your re-usable bag can be. For me, the hilarity in the show lies in the high probability that these outlandish characters and scenarios are actually being played out everyday in the real Portland, that they stem from a close reality.
Over the past couple years, I've looked up airline bike-transport rules numerous times, dreaming of one day bringing my Surly Crosscheck from Austin and riding around the city. But it all seemed like too much trouble, and I never made it out there.
A week after leaving my job I convinced Matt to drive up to Portland with me, with the real motive being to strap a bike rack onto his car.
I would say Matt is the closest friend I've made since moving here, which is surprising since he's an adherent gluten-free vegan.
In the past I've been blown up with multi-page'd criticisms for blogging that you have to "find new friends" that will support your foodie-adventures. Even my so-adorned Anthony Bourdain has vocalized his disdain for vegetarians.
Matt definitely fits the stereotype to a tee, he will always ask if an item "has gluten in it", which usually makes whomever is serving us "check with the kitchen" - leaving us without service for several more minutes.
But I've found his "pickiness" to be a great vehicle for me to try things I would have never before. Vegetarian diners, gluten free waffles, Vegetarian meat-substitute Chinese joints. It's a great counter part to my chashu-laden normal eating habits. More importantly, while I do enjoy a great food establishment, I've learned to give less a fuck about it. The more days I have that are so busy that I need a quick meal just to sustain whatever I'm doing, the better. I don't have any favorite or regular restaurants in the bay area, except for maybe the Burrito Express down the block from my place.
After you get outside of the Silicon Valley bubble, everything suddenly becomes amazingly cheap. We stopped by an organic grocery store for a roadside lunch, and a container of pesto pasta that would normally run $12+ in the SF was less than $4. Gas stations were service-only, requiring an attendant to pump your gas.
Matt powered through the 9-10 hour drive by himself, making jokes about "syrup in my shasta" as we drove by Mt. Shasta.
In writing this, I actually forgot what we did after getting in. I had to go through photos which reminded me that after going to a pretend dive bar(the music was sooo bad), then to a ping-pong themed bar, we ended up at a weird ass late-night Cajun restaurant underneath a bridge at the end of the night.
I still find myself waking up and craving that spot's "garlic shrimp linguini." It's like the best drunk food ever.
"Pips and Bounce." They had ping pong shaped ice cubes for their cocktails...
I found Portland to be very familiar and comforting, as if I've experienced all of the key entities of the city somewhere else. Food trucks, public transit, cute little knick knack shops and bookstores, trendy bars, dive bars, trendy restaurants, bike shops, vegan gluten-free restaurants. It's as if Portland was the source and mecca for all these bits of "new American culture."
It feels very much of a city that hasn't been "hit with gentrification" but a city that has naturally grown into what it is. A fantastic meal, a fancy cocktail, and a complete bike tune up could be found for under $10 each. Streets were clean, public transit was everywhere, people in general were all just having a grand time.
This raises up the question: "Could I live here?" Very much yes. But there's a sinking feeling in the back of my mind that my brain would melt after a few months from the lack of drive and motivation. There's too many cheap and relaxing things to do for a guy who hasn't "found it" yet.
Also it's worth noting that Portland isn't very diverse.
Some of the events that occurred were:
Matt and I played pool and got tater tots at a "gluten-free" strip club.
After a lap dance, I traded Instagram handles with a stripper at Devil's Point.
- My bike got the best tune up of its life for $10, and I spent a lot of time exploring nooks and crannies of the city.
I got yelled at when trying to take photos of Matt at Burnside Skate park because I didn't have a skateboard. The guy then tried to convince me to buy him a beer.
I bought a bunch of useless clothes and gear at a Polar warehouse sale.
Despite being on a "printed material buying freeze" I bought a couple magazines and art books from a shop called National.
Tried the wings at Pok Pok. They were good, but I feel this restaurant is very much like.... "that popular restaurant your city has that everyone recommends you have to try, but in general is just an okay place."
Met up with Brian, former bartender at Oddjob who moved to Portland recently.
- Had one of the best brunches of my life at Broder Cafe
- I destroyed people at street fighter 3rd strike at a quarter arcade/bar.
While biking around, I came across the restaurant "Little Bird" which was featured on Munchies. Arriving quite sweaty and gnarly, I couldn't for the life of me, open the front door of the restaurant as bougey suit-wearing diners looked upon me. I actually had to step aside, and call the restaurant to ask if the restaurant was closed for a private event, which it wasn't, and then have them open the door for me. Soon after being sat at a mostly empty bar, a female single diner was sat next to me. I made small talk with the barista, and after quite a bit I mustered the courage to talk to the girl next to me. It was nice, she was from SF, we shared food, talked about whatever, and that was it, I biked back to the airBnB.
The highlight of the trip was attending the Zoo Bomb, which is a group bike ride that meets every Friday in Portland. It involves taking public transit(the TriMet) up to the zoo stop, which leads to an elevator that takes you directly up through the center of a very large hill which the zoo sits upon. We ran into some punk bmx kids that gave us shady directions on how to get to the meeting point... we ended up down by a freeway entrance. After back up the hill for a bit, we came across 2 "more credible looking" guys who lead us on a 45 minute hike through pitch black woods, until we arrived at a clearing with about 10 others. It was definitely surreal, to be hanging out with strangers in almost complete darkness, to have the stars very clearly overhead, to have the city sprawled out before us in every direction, to have an older guy play funky arabic dance music from his customized speaker mount on his bike. But it was comforting, as if this whole event was saying to me, "There's room for stuff like this. For these underground gatherings that are totally separate from any of the normal course of things, "the man", normal society."
With a "3, 2, 1! Zoooooooo BooooMB!" we set off on a 2 mile, all downhill ride filled with curves, hair-pin turns, and patches of pitch black.
I can't believe Matt did it on his skateboard. He is a god.
// A trip to SF MOMA
(Notice how they capitalize the O in "Of")
Helen took me to SFMOMA a few days before it opened to the public.
My first visit lasted 5 hours and I skipped a floor... there's definitely a lot to see and do. As I've said before, to me, it's not so much that you identify with every piece of art that you see, enjoy the fact that there's a large space devoted to art right in the middle of the city. A venue for someone to cut off a chunk of their emotion and present it in another form. A place for someone to try to convey their emotions, even if they're esoteric and strange.
There's a whole floor dedicated to photography. I thought it was a great exhibit, giving a thorough "history of photography" in it's context to California. From Ansel Adams and F/64, to the changing landscape of the SOMA district, to modern photos that have not been taken with a camera, there was a bit of everything. I'm looking forward to more focused and themed installations in the future.
Also, the SF MOMA ad campaign is by far the worst thing I've seen in my life. (link)
// Rayko Zine Fest
I finally made a zine. It's called Loaf Life.
The Rayko zine fest was kind of a flop. I sold 5 zines out of the 70 I printed. In the end though, I'm really glad I did it. It's sort of a business card for me now days, and I've received a lot of positive feedback.
Here's a pic of me with Israel at our table.
If you want a copy of Loaf Life message me and I'll mail one to you. (I really should have an online shop...)
// Evo 2K16
EVO is the largest fighting game tournament of the year. This year was definitely going to be different. New version of the game, new set of friends.
On the flight over I set next to a guy named Jeremy who asked if I was going to EVO (I do look the part), we talked about street fighter almost the entire way of the hour-and-a-half flight. We shared a cab ride from the airport to the strip where I introduced him to my friends visiting from Texas, and we got some Monta Ramen.
Street fighter 5 had a double elmination bracket with 5000 entrants. You only can lose twice the whole weekend. I went 3-2, it's okay, kind of expected since I didn't really practice or play the new version of the game. Here's a link to one of my matches.
Overall it was another ridiculous EVO. I got to bond with my San Francisco gaming group, the "Drunken Masters" and meet several members that have moved away and currently live in Germany and New York. We had a karaoke night at Ellis Island, which I recommend to anyone visiting Las Vegas.
We gathered in hotel rooms late at night, and had all sorts of "esports celebrities" drop in for some games.
The last day's finals were hosted in a large stadium. It was surreal seeing so many people show up to a video game event.
In general, fuck Las Vegas. The strip is a shit hole, full of overpriced crap (even the buffets), where the worst highlights of our American culture come to shine. Downtown is fine, but not much better. There's some good Asian food, but so what?
My flight was delayed a couple hours, but I ran into some familiar faces at the terminal.
Here are some random events that have occurred over the past 4 months:
So did Jared. I'm suprised neither of them have met before.
I broke my 2nd digital Ricoh GR roller skating at Eunice's birthday. I've been shooting a lot of film with a loaner Film Ricoh GR1V, I'm currently getting them developed.
Nathan left Oddjob and is the bar manager at a new Japanese spot called Nomica. I can't wait to visit his new restaurant!
The beginnings of Pokemon Go really felt like a real life MMO. It was magic.
Went to a "down-and-dirty" Oakland backyard bondfire. It got weird when we started playing dead or alive (5?) on PS4 later in the night.
I saw Yumi Zouma with Phil. It was fun seeing him go on stage to dance with the band, hah.
Hickey drove to California in his truck with a camper in the back. We did all sorts of touristy things and bought too much chocolate.
I taught Pam how to drive in my 2002 Honda Accord that I've driven since I was 16. We drove around El Cerrito, ate crappy food at a 99 Ranch market, and quickly graduated from learning how to turn in a parking lot and drove through the Berkeley Hills. It was very stressful.
I went to Berkeley Bowl for the first time. What a wonderful place.
Finding a job was hard. Almost harder than 2 years ago. The same emotions resurged. "Why are you even applying..." No after no. This time I had 20 phone interviews. I had onsites where they would cut me off mid day with "Sorry we thought you were more experienced." "You're a great culture fit, that's for sure, but your skills don't align with what we need now."
You'd think that after a while you would develop a tolerance for that feeling, but every time it's as sharp as a tack, a knife to the heart and ego.
If you talked to me a week ago, I would have lamented my stress and hopelessness in finding something.
It turns out I got my new job at CloudFlare through the guy I met on the plane ride to EVO. You... really never know.
While I know my experience pales in comparison to other's challenges. It was definitely hard for me.
I've actually had an idea of who I want to be for a few years now... but the path has been veiled in a cloud of uncertainty. Unlike school, there wasn't a complete road map or list of requirements to get me there. Because of that I never took any steps towards it.
For some odd reason, it was instilled very early in me that trying wasn't cool. In avoiding being a "try-hard" I've developed many destructive habits.
It takes a lot of effort to make something look easy. Making an effort is commendable. Trying and failing, as if you don't already know... is the only way we can grow and learn. Failure is the most painful when you can feel success around the corner.
I sincerely hope people can change, that I, myself, can make a change.
While it feels like I'm trying my hardest to hold onto the "tech-life" which is filled with frivolous first-world problems and useless luxuries like on-demand delivery for anything(I ordered socks one time), I know that I'd like to stay in the Bay Area at least for another few years, there's so much I haven't seen or done yet.
I've made my first headway into communities that I think are meaningful and that I find interest in. I can feel myself growing, and that's important.
The photo gallery with a tote/magazine shop in the front. A nightly or weekend class for teaching photography. An immersive art exhibit using technology as a medium. All of these things are waiting to be tried and felt out.
The possibilities, while endless and daunting, are quickly becoming within my arm's reach.
~Until we meet again next time. VapeNaysh, Yall.