Slump City

Slump City these days in my creative life. Even my painting has fallen out of its orbit. And the one little painting I sold got held up in the mail for over two weeks. I panicked, imagined an original work of art lying on a cold dirty floor or blowing like a discarded plastic bag around the streets of Los Angeles. 

My writing, well, writing is a joy when I know what to write about. And I know what to write about when things happen. Things happen when I travel. But I haven’t been traveling much lately. Not even across town. With the closing of the LA branch of the French bakery Dominique Ansel, I’m no longer motivated to navigate public transportation to get out of the bubble (my beach community). 

I used to take the LA metro rail everywhere. After a couple of metro cops were shot during the lockdown at a stop where I need to transfer, I stopped taking the metro rail for my excursions across the LA area. 

I did travel in late August early September to house sit in the San Diego area. I take a commuter bus to Union Station where I catch the Surfliner to San Diego. The temperature at the time was “brutto” as Italians say. It was too hot to walk from the house to the lap size pool in the yard.

A few days after that trip, Hurricane Kay blew up from Baja and thrashed our shores. The sudden downpour destabillized the ground beneath the railroad tracks along the coast between the Irvine and Oceanside stops. The train is the most efficient form of transportation to reach San Diego, and it runs along the beach after San Juan Capistrano right into the center of San Diego. You can’t beat walking two blocks to the hotels and restaurants when you reach the end of the line at the station in San Diego.

Although geologists and engineers will be working on the tracks for the next few months, the route still runs, interrupted with a bus transfer between the two stops. My holiday travel will be longer, but the train both ways is still cheaper than paying for gas which costs around $6 a gallon in California.

When I came back from my house sitting gig in September, the guys downstairs had moved out and renovations began on one of the two apartments remaining in their original state from the 1960s. So it could be the buzz saw killing my creativity.

First gripe: Apps have taken over my life. I need an app for everything. When I first moved back to the States, now a decade ago, I told some visiting Norwegian friends we should develop an app. Apps, maybe. The kind of apps enabling you as the inventor to siphon a few cents – or dollars – off of every user who performs the job or sells their own handmade product. I was enthralled with the idea of an app. At how little you had to do to make money while someone else did the work.

Little did I know it could have been as easy as developing an app for washing machines and dryers. I mean there are entrepreneurs out there designing apps for the Ukraine War to notify people of air raids. 

But I never even thought of an app as obvious as “Wash Connect.” Development of such an app is so obvious in retrospect. Dreaming up a way to avoid those quarters for the machines. It’s genius, if it works. 

Wash Connect came into my life maybe about a year ago, but the building I live in maintained a hybrid payment scheme. I’m not against apps, but some of them come with fees, sometimes hidden ones. Once I got charged $10 for paying someone $30 on Venmo. After that, I just sent a check. In Europe, I could just transfer money to bank accounts without any fee. I suppose there’s Zelle now for that. With the mood in the West, of leaders or corporations taking control of citizens’ bank accounts if you write something disagreeable makes me reluctant to add more apps to my phone linking any form of payment to them.

When I came back after a week of house sitting in San Diego, the washer and dryer had been converted over to payment through Wash Connect only. 

Shucks. 

I’ve refused so far to switch to the app. No thank you. I can because the laundromat is a five-minute walk from my apartment. Heck, I could always use a little extra exercise. And some free entertainment outside my small apartment. Because you can always make friends at the laundromat. 

“Do you know how detergent works?” a guy once asked me at a laundromat.

Things you ask single women in laundromats. “You mean critical micelle concentration, that?” I responded. He didn’t bother me again.

This time a woman who looked like she spends a good amount of time in the laundromat gave me a brief tour of the place. She recommended the front loaders, “They wash better,” and warned me about losing money in the new vending machine. She seemed to want to chat, but when I started to engage her further, she said, “I don’t have time to talk. I have work to do.” 

Then again you can meet a woman who drives her Tesla to the laundromat. 

Second gripe: I love to travel, but the whole business of flying annoys me these days. Maybe really since the institution of baggage check fees. Boarding planes just got crazier at that point. This summer I considered traveling to Indonesia to finally take a trip I made a deposit on in December of 2019. Fares were $8,000 on a flight I took a couple years before for less than $1,000. 

Bad enough. 

Because I still feel like I’m coming out of the fog of the lockdowns. That I am free and can do whatever I want. Research says it takes an average of 66 days to form a new habit. We had two years to form the new habit of doing nothing, going nowhere. And if these were only the worst habits.

But OK, I had to fly somewhere recently and now airlines have made buying a domestic ticket a several hour activity. It must be a side effect of the lockdowns. My strategy is to peruse Expedia and Travelocity first just to see where fares are at and who has them. I still get fooled by the cheapest fares that turn out to be Basic Economy. I think Basic Economy means you get a seat, but you don’t get to choose your seat. No bag on board, just a personal item, and no changes allowed. 

You go or you lose the money. 

Basic Economy and just Economy, used to be all there was until recently. Now there are additional categories of economy fares. You can upgrade so that you can choose your seat, and get a no change fee status and a carry-on. Then there’s a slight upgrade for another $50 dollars to get a full refund rather than change your flight if you have to cancel your trip. 

But there’s more. There’s also Economy plus. Extra legroom, but you still have to pay a fee for checked baggage.

You choose the flights you want and hit continue. Another screen appears for you to fill in your name, your frequent flier number, etc. And a small box at the bottom of the screen for locking in the price of the fare until you make up your mind (3 days, 7 days, or 14 days – $5.99, $8.99, or $12.99).

You hit continue. 

Another screen appears – travel add-ons. What? 

Bundle 1, $123, Economy plus seating with extra legroom, in seat power and seating closer to the front.  Bundle 2, $153, Bundle 1 plus checked bags. Bundle 3, $188, Bundle 2 plus faster check-in (not sure how much faster it is than checking in online) special security lines and earlier boarding. 

That’s just one way! All the same choices to weed through for the return flight but for different prices ($119, $149, and $167).

You hit continue and you finally reach the page for filling in your credit card number.

You hit purchase and the receipt pops up and is sent to your email.

And of course there’s an app to make flying easier. 

There was a time when you could accompany the passenger out onto the tarmac and watch while they boarded the plane.

Third gripe: The disconnect in the world. I’ve been saying for the last couple of years, it’s all theater. Now I’m sure of it. Ever since digital cameras and the internet bouncing from satellites in outer space were linked on our phones, we put ourselves on stage. Why else would someone think it’s a great idea to throw tomato soup or mashed potatoes on revered works of art, by artists who didn’t just sit around dreaming up ways to bring attention to themselves through inane actions? Such artist advanced their discipline. The obnoxious spoilers of revolutionary art demand change without acquiring the skills to create the change. 

Yes, being the answer to the problem is one way to achieve the results you want.

Theater used to take place on the sidewalk. I suppose theater still takes place on the sidewalks in Los Angeles. Or possibly in any open space around. Take a look at the village that has sprung up around the free area near a marsh preserve in southern California. This kind of theater is not free. We pay taxes and provide services for it to remain this way.

Good luck out there folks…

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