Left Coast

Coffee sops, art galleries, gastro-pubs, old buildings, and a mismatch of political views; this isn’t New York’s East Village. It’s surprisingly, a world away, Riverside, CA.

Riverside may not be one of the world’s great cultural centers, but it’s ideal for a lovely holiday. Nestled in Southern California’s Box Springs Mountains, the city played host to my greatest daydreams. Growing up there in the 90s, the same thought persisted. “Oy, I want to leave this town surrounded by brown mountains and move to New York City,” said I.

I eventually moved to New York in my early twenties. In Manhattan, I have most recently resided in a small fifth floor walk-up. My windows overlook a quintessentially New York landscape. To one side, there are charming brownstones. If you glare up, the imposing redbrick projects, smile back. If you step outside onto my fire escape, the Midtown skyline flashes brightly way down the street.

This is my New York reality. Hence, my father’s home in Riverside has always been a lovely escape. Going out west has always meant delicious food in the fridge, cable TV and chirping crickets, thanks to the serene terrain.

Like any good Californian transplanted into a New Yorker, I’ve made an art form out of not driving a car. Traffic, parallel parking and freeways send my neurosis levels to skyrocketing high levels. Typically, I have my father and/or generous friends drive me around. However, I gave driving another shot.

My dad gave me the keys to his car. Like any proper creature of habit, I decided to re-create my East village routine in the heart of Downtown Riverside. I drove there, one Saturday afternoon.

Firstly, I commenced with a walk. I admired Riverside’s antiquity. It’s flower shops, restaurants gone al fresco, little fountains and street musicians provided a tranquil, but surprisingly lively vibe in the heart of suburban madness.

That afternoon, I enjoyed a latte at the local indie coffee shop and explored the titles at the favorite used bookstores. After a whole lot of strolling, I headed for a sandwich at the gourmet deli, Simple Simon’s.

After a day, which mirrored my routine in New York City, I still longed for that most suburban of moments. Risking loosing my cool urban card, I set off for that delicious slice of American peach pie.

“This top 40 station stinks,” said I. Quickly, I switched to 80’s music. Missing Persons, Culture Club & Depeche Mode were the soundtrack of my road trip. It brought me back to a time, when I romanticized about being an adult.

I parked in a parallel parking spot and stared up into the bright blue California sky. There it is, the Galleria at Tyler, Riverside’s premier shopping destination, where Nordstrom meets Forever 21 meets Cinnabon.

My first stop was Nordstrom’s. Since, we don’t have a Nordy’s (Nordstrom’s nickname), I went wild. I always adored their sneakers department. The sweet smell of men’s cologne dominated my nostrils. As, I secretly wished I had a boyfriend to enjoy this suburban moment.

After Nordstrom’s, I snuck into the actual mall. It was interesting. This was a world I once longed for, but like braces, had been buried in the graveyard of teenage angst. The galleria was secretly an enjoyable experience.

Also, the people watching was intriguing and different from my usual East Village/Upper West Side afternoons. There were soccer moms, different tribes of teenagers from gothic people to preps, families representing virtually every culture and college kids. After my quick run-through, I had my mall fix for a long while.

I returned back to my dad’s house, feeling slightly accomplished. That afternoon, I stepped out into the back patio and sniffed around, “oh it really smells like the suburbs,” said I. The suburbs smell like grass, but I most prefer the exotic smells of New York, when it’s not on the subway in summer.


Fashion Week

In Tokyo, fashion isn’t about a simple storefront. Gucci, Prada and Chanel have lavish tall buildings, which scream expensive and opulent. Sometimes, the buildings even project images of very svelte tall models working the catwalk.

The neighborhoods of Tokyo are identified by their style sense. Ginza screams expensive. Omotesando is home of ultra chic shops, where fashion shoots are as common as Starbucks coffee cups on the Upper West Side.  In Shinjuku, the power suit is the norm. Harajuku is home to eccentric fashion, which can be dubbed as cartoonish or even avant-garde. While Shibuya is also home to teenage tribes of fashionistas.

Tokyo like most couture frenzy capitals has fashion week. However, on the sidewalks of the Japanese capital with its marriage of glitz, sophistication and urban street edge, fashion week is a daily occurrence. It happens in the metro, bars, and cafes.

The Japanese are obsessed with a beautiful presentation. Everything from fruit to sweaters is presented with an extreme sense of perfection. Tokyo is one of my favorite fashion cities. However, I don’t particularly love shopping when I travel. On a trip to Paris, I did splurge for once.

Like the Japanese ideal of a beautiful presentation, Galeries Lafayette takes the notion to a whole new level. The legendary Parisian department store is a staple in France. I dragged my dad a former marine there. He was a wonderful sport about it.

We started our trip in the men’s store, which is separated by a bridge from the ladies’ shop. I browsed through the shirts and was approached by a very handsome Frenchmen. “Hello Lover” I thought to myself. He was so charming. Although, the shirts I was buying had a lovely presentation, the handsome salesman helped inspire my monetary contribution to the French economy.

Besides, the handsome salesman, Galeries Lafayette had a more stunning side to it. Crossing the bridge overlooking the traffic of the Boulevard Haussmann, we arrived in the women’s department. It had huge golden dome with balconies overlooking the makeup department.

If I were a lady or drag queen, this would too inspire me to blow major Euros. It looked like one were shopping inside the world’s most fancy opera house. Even my dad was very impressed by the department store’s interior. When I came home to the States, the shirts didn’t look as nice. However, I did enjoy my pictures of the legendary Paris department store.

Visiting Tokyo and Paris gave me a view of what inspires the pages of Vogue and other fashion mags from around the world. Both are cities, where designers either keep their fashion formal or give their line a distinctive edge. However, fashion week can happen everyday in places where clothes and self-expression are monumental.

Gay And The City

The unpredictable makes New York exciting. While, most American cities revel in the norm and expected, New Yorkers find joy in the mystery on the corner of 14th and Broadway. Romance is one of those oddities, which one often avoids. New York is the singleton’s paradise. There are too many men, too little time.

The New York City subway is as romantic as schlepping groceries up a six story walk up. However, the subway can produce some of the most romantic moments. Manhattan is America’s gay mecca. Naturally, gay is the norm.

I’ve found myself romanced on the subway. There was Mr. Hell’s Kitchen, who I met for an evening stroll in the Lower East Side. While we walked and talked circling the gritty yet hip sidewalks of Ludlow & Rivington, cupid’s arrow hit me in the head, ouch.

The Lower East Side has plenty of dark corners. However, we waited till we were on the subway to show how we really felt for each other. Right there, at the N train in Union Square, we made out. Both of us were completely sober. The subway kissing session was only that. After I walked him from the subway to his apartment in the west 40’s, the romance ended when the clock struck midnight.

While, I probably won’t make out with a guy on the subway again. There have been more subtle moments of romance on the busy train. During rush hour, a handsome guy sat leg to leg with me. Close leg contact is more understandable in people gridlock. As the train emptied, our legs were still attached. It seemed like someone had stuck us together with crazy glue. There was a certain amount of electricity. In the end I didn’t make a move and neither did he. Therefore, when his stop came, he simply left.

The innocent and over affectionate may have been part of my subway love story, but the awkward could also be added into the mix. One of the worst parts of the unpredictable is running into those guys who I dated from online that just keep popping out in the subway like Waldo. My remedy, get really involved in the New York Post and don’t look to the right side (or whatever side their at).

Gay happens, as does love. I’m not looking for Mr. Prince Charming. However, it’s nice to know he’s out there somewhere. He might be hiding under a rock or working at a cubicle overlooking Madison Square Park, but with gay being more accepted (especially in big cities like New York) coming out of the closet is easier. One could make out on the subway without one weird stare.

Square Shaped Brain

Conformity ran rampant in my Catholic school upbringing. Even in art, my teachers were against any notion of self-expression. In eighth grade, I was given an assignment to draw the Flat Iron Building using pastels. Vigorously, I plugged away capturing every aspect of the legendary New York icon.

However, my teacher hated my approach to drawing. Skeletor, as I like to call her insisted that the picture did not look like an exact replica of the Flat Iron. I argued, that it was my artistic interpretation. She made me change the picture, but I revolted, resulting in a low art grade.

Although, my parents were conservative, they loved my rebellious nature at times. When I brought home, my Flat Iron building picture. My mom took one look at it and said, “your bitch teacher doesn’t know what she’s talking about.” The next day, my dad bought a frame for it and displayed my work of art in their bedroom.

Growing into adulthood, everything I was taught about art was wrong sans the biographies of famous painters. I was fortunate enough to have visited many museums around the world from Paris’ Musee Orsay to Roppongi Hills’ Mori Art gallery center in Tokyo. It opened my eyes to the notion/cliché that art is really in the eye of the beholder. No museum better exemplifies this than the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

MOMA (as it’s often referred to) is one of my favorite slices of Midtown. I wander each level with sense of curiosity. The most recent exhibits have challenged what I was taught in school.

A crumbled map, toy collections from Russia and the set of Peewee’s Playhouse were being examined like a grand Vincent Van Gough painting. Even the surrealism of Salvador Dali would take art enthusiasts time to translate the meaning.

It harkened me back to the days were my modest art was persecuted by the institution. I thought to myself  “if a crumpled up map and pictures of trailer park constitutes art, then my Flat Iron drawing can fall in the same category.”

After rebelling against my very conservative Catholic school, I found myself fighting to express myself both socially and creatively. Although, I was told that my expression was wrong, it never detoured me from mastering the art of breaking the rules. I loved every moment.


When I was a kid, my mother took a trip to Mexico City. She told me about how amazing it was to visit Frida Kahlo’s house. During the visit, she brought back Frida’s biography. The book was filled with pictures of Kahlo’s most intense paintings.

As an impressionable child, the images shocked and frightened me. It actually gave me nightmares for a while. I didn’t tell my parents this. However, many nightmares the paintings gave me, curiosity took over. I still looked at the book and developed a great degree of fascination with her art.

As an adult, I grew to admire and understand Frida Kahlo’s art more. In Buenos Aires, I went for a trip to the Museum of Latin American Art. They had a Kahlo painting on display. I was beyond excited to see one of her paintings in person.

Also at the museum was a Diego Rivera painting, Frida Kahlo’s husband. My mom loved his art too. She actually bought a bevy of posters to decorate our house with. Till this day my family home looks like a Mexican restaurant. Unfortunately, we don’t always have chips and salsa.

Seeing a favorite artist’s painting in person is one of the true joys of life. I remember seeing my first Andy Warhol painting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and Claude Monet at London’s National Gallery. It’s the equivalent of seeing a piece of history only read about it in books.

My most memorable art experience happened in Madrid. Spain’s capital is the nation’s high culture hub. The Prado is a shrine to the Spanish creative senses. I learned about everyone from Goya to El Greco in those proper walls of art. Nothing could prepare me for seeing Pablo Picasso’s Guernica at El Centro De Arte Reina Sofia.

That day, I entered the museum and scrambled to see the painting. In a dark room shining brightly from a distance with grey, black and white hues was the Guernica. It was grander than I anticipated.

Staring at the painting is an emotional experience. The significance and history behind it make it a historic piece. I analyzed the painting carefully. Standing up close to it then taking a seat to see it from afar. The cows and men all perished during the Guernica bombing were there with Picasso’s Cubism style of art.  It left me glued; the hues depicted were bleak and perfectly captured the misery of that dreadful day. The Guernica was one of those pieces, which was hard to leave.

I roamed around El Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. It was very accomplishing to see the vast art collection. However, I’ll never forget the Guernica. It’s been years, since I last met eyes with Picasso’s masterpiece. I am truly eager to see and analyze it again one day. I’ve been lucky enough to experience Mexican, Impressionist, Pop, Renaissance and even Avant-garde art in my lifetime. Going to museums will always be one of my favorite pastimes.

The Germ Capsule

Purell is a dear friend of mine. It keeps the germs away and makes me smile. No orange juice needed when I have the 99.9% germinator. However, there were those moments in life where I proclaimed “Oh shit, I left the Purell at my apartment.” Even after a careful survey of my messenger bag, no hand sanitizer to be found.

As an avid rider of the New York subway, my days without Purell were the equivalent of a Medieval soldier without his shield. On those days, there was always that one sick person, who happened to sneeze up a storm. Their favorite seat was always right next to mine, of course.

A couple days later, I made an art form of breathing out of one nostril. It inspired me to stock up on Purell and aggressively find a seat on the subway (as opposed to hanging on to a poll). Sometimes, there were the moments when I was the Loch Ness monster of the public transportation system.

In Tokyo, surgical masks are as common as black coats in New York. Everyone has them; they even come in a vast array of colors and styles. They use them for the obvious, to prevent germs spreading. However, I didn’t get the memo to bring a surgical mask to Japan. Hence, I became paranoid to sneeze. I would often times wet my lips, just so I wouldn’t sneeze in the middle of the metro.

All my memories of Tokyo take place in the winter, flu season. On one faithful metro ride to Ginza, my nose started to itch. I wet my lip and the sensation went to the back of my head. The itchy nostril feeling returned bringing its spew of menace into my throat. I was in the one train where everyone was sporting the surgical mask. The urge persisted I fought against it. However, troop sneeze-a-lot prevailed. I let a sneeze so loud; Godzilla would’ve run for cover.

I looked around and nobody cared. I am sure they were thinking “Purell, Purell where art thou?” Everyone was napping or playing on their mobile. Still, I didn’t catch on to the surgical mask trend.

These days, I drive a car. I feel like the boy in the bubble. It’s a relatively germ free place. However, I still miss my buses and subway, even if I am exposed to germs, the excitement of being in a big city makes up for a cough and sneeze later.

Glittery Disco Balls

I don’t boogie, but I am a night owl. Hoot, hoot says the owl of night. Going out to a bar and dancing on a table isn’t my cup of miso soup. Often times, I have a natural buzz from pondering life’s philosophical questions, “how can I say thesaurus without lisping?” or “why aren’t there any dinosaurs in the bible?” These thoughts happen while the city morphs itself into a sleepyhead. All I want to do is walk, even in the darkness.

However, I’ve had my share of splendid nights out on the town. In New York, everything runs 24 hours, since the workdays are long and people are always up doing something. The subway, diners and Dunkin Donuts welcome those who are sleep deprived. Even in the world’s most happening cities, not everything runs 24 hours. Sure, some places have all night debauchery, but their metro/subways close early, wringing in the urbanite’s dilemma.

It’s a lesson, I learned the hard way in Tokyo. I ended an evening out in frenetically paced Shinjuku and had the need to take the subway down to Shibuya to fulfill a sweet’s craving late at night. After devouring a crepe and sipping on the most magnificent coffee, I walked to the metro station. Surprise, it was closed, since it was after midnight. Even though, I was on holiday, I didn’t want to spend my whole night wondering around. Therefore, I did the unthinkable.

I took a cab back to my hotel in Asakusa, which was quite a schlep. My sweet tooth cost me too many yen. However, seeing Tokyo by night was well worth it. I didn’t learn my lesson about catching the subway on time in London.

On my last trip to London, I met up with my British posse Sophie, Ella and Matilda. It was the dead of winter. The English capital felt like an Eskimo’s dreamland. Cold winds penetrated through my layers of clothes.

London is one of my favorite cities in the world. My English buddies took me all over. We hit a traditional pub complete with a portrait of the Queen mum pouring beer to display authentic British-ness. We then hit a couple of bars around the West End, from a gay bar to Soho House to a cave like watering hole, which served delicious booze and played Green Day (it really looked like a cave inside).

After too many laughs and whiskies, we emerged into the chilly London evening. I felt jet lagged and was determined to take a cab back to my hotel. They were going to North London, while I was off to Bayswater next to Notting Hill. We hailed for a cab, but all of London seemed to be in the classic black cabs.

I strategized a plan to finally obtain a proper cab. We positioned ourselves on all three different corners of Oxford Street. Alas, no cab would stop. I saw the distinctive red hued double decker buses pick up the survivors of the night, but I just wanted a nap. Finally, an hour passed and no cab. The wind chill effect took place. I used the collar of my pea coat to protect me from London’s harsh chilly winds.

Finally, Sophie suggested we take a car service home. After a quick sandwich stop, I left the West End in a chauffeured car, rather than a black cab and the cost was the same. London was more magical as my car made it’s way past the parade of window displays on Oxford Circus.

I got back to my hotel and slept wonderfully. The next day, I absorbed all my booze with a full English breakfast (toast, sausage, bacon, eggs over easy and a grilled tomato). I met up with my child hood friend, Rochelle that following night. Instead of playing cab spotting, we had tapas, hit a pub and grabbed the tube before midnight.

Nothing beats a night out in London, Tokyo and New York. I do enjoy the quiet nights in my backyard under  nature’s disco ball, the moon. I daydream, while remembering my adventures on late night subways and the taxicab scavenger hunt.

Track Home Jungle

Like any proper family in the city, we gave up a small 2-bedroom apartment for the burbs. We moved to Riverside, CA on this new housing development. This houses screamed architectural conformity, since they all looked the same. These architectural gems were two stories with large front/backyards & the ultimate in suburban luxury, a two-car garage.

Our newly built house sat on the foothills of the mountain. In the summer, they were brown & rugged. In the winter, it looked like Scotland, rolling with greenery & grey skies. One of the advantages of growing up in a track home was space. I had a vivid imagination & loved animals. Any chance, I received was the basis for persuading my parents to buy me a pet.

I nagged my parents till I got my way. They bought me a large fish tank & it was decorated a vivid colorful parade of fish. Unfortunately, for my parents I developed an interest in more furry animals. Thanks to all those Peter Rabbit books, I asked for a bunny. My dad bought me two beautiful bunnies. They were always pooping & mom had to hold herself from not screaming.

Our house was turning into a modest zoo. I loved every moment. My dad brought home two kittens. I would sneak the cats into the house, scaring my great grandma. One day, both cats ran away & came back looking portly. My mom figured they were pregnant. Soon, we had rabbits, baby kittens & a family of fish.

My mom asked one day “Sure you don’t want to send the rabbits back to the wild?” I pondered the question; I did have my hands full the kittens. I agreed to send them into the wilderness, thanks to this special animal service my mom called.

The rabbits were soon replaced by a lizard & turtle, which my dad picked up for me at the pet store. My pets ate well. I tended to them, but my family was feeling overwhelmed with coming home to a zoo. One day, when I came home from school, I noticed all the kittens were gone. There was one white kitten meowing back at me. I screamed & ran indoors.

My mom & grandma had given the kittens away at the local supermarket. Grandma even made special bows, so they would appear extra cute. I eventually gave the two big cats to our neighbors. The lizard died & the turtle was also sent to (you guessed it) the wild.

After an era of pets, I gave up track home living for cramped New York apartment living. Therefore, the thought of starting my own zoo in a bedroom the size of a walk in closet didn’t sound tempting. However, I give my parents props for nurturing my eccentricities.

Pea Coat Wonderland

Pea coat season, also known as “soup season” is the only season that makes me want to moon walk for joy. Technically, it’s winter, but chilly days also occur in the autumn. During this most lovely time period, peacoats come out to play. Whether it’s the tube in London, New York’s Madison Square Park or Tokyo’s neon playground, the peacoat is synonymous with the cold & staying chic.

Of course, observing the different variations is what I adore. Thanks to the art of people watching, I can see the same grey pea coats look bohemian on one person & business like on another. People watching is both a skill & leisure activity. It’s more entertaining than an opera. The characters are more enticing than a book & it rarely gets boring.

I have many fond memories of just enjoying a bench or sidewalk cafe, while being immersed in people watching. I also take much inspiration from this activity. Seeing how other socialize & studying mannerisms sculpts my thinking & perception of the world. Here are some of my favorite memories & places when people watching seemed more interesting than ever.

Madrid’s La Zarzuela is Spain’s very old comedy opera. It’s performed in the lovely Teatro de La Zarzuela. In the Spanish capital, it’s freezing in the wintertime. Outside the opera house, it’s a sea of fur coats. In Madrid, fur coats are not only very fashionable, but highly desired especially for the winter. Castilian accents accentuate the Madrid fashion staple outside the opera house. Also, it’s lovely seeing all the young people intermingling with the old people. Everyone there has a common goal, to see a Spanish operatic tradition.

In New York, I adore taking the 86th street/crosstown during the day. The old people taking the bus are adorable, all dressed up, going to the market & lunch. It’s amazing & shows people can be stylish regardless of age. I love Tompskins Square Park in Alphabet city with its mix of homeless, wannabe hipsters & yuppies. There’s always a crowd gathered to watch a musician or a magician.

However, nothing beats the gay pier also known as Christopher Street pier in the spring. It’s a gathering place for gay guys. Everyone having a great time, lots of speedos & some kitsch added. The gay pier also feels like a small retreat in the middle of Downtown. Hanging out on the deck, watching the Hudson is euphoric. Seeing the New Jersey skyline reminds one that yeah this is nowhere near a vacation spot.

Paris’ cafes, it’s a French institution, which made people watching into an art form. Sure, the most cliché way to watch people is in a Parisian cafe. Even I’ve been guilty of watching people traffic from a cafe in the Champs Elysees (doesn’t say tourist at all). Le Marais, which is an eclectic mix of Jewish families, gays & tourists is my favorite place to people watch in the city.

Palm Springs, this is a special mention. Yes, I go to places, which aren’t covered in fog & clam chowder, sometimes. I love driving into Palm Springs with its very distinctive white windmills & mountains, which rise like skyscrapers from the ground up. Watching the world go by at the pool is entertaining. Poolside is not the catwalks of Paris or New York. It’s interesting to see the body art. Lots of tattoos, body types & loud music blaring, served with Jameson on the rocks & it’s wonderful free entertainment.

The Ginza district & Harajuku both in fashion forward Tokyo. Ginza is moneyed. All the Japanese ladies in their finest black designer outfits sip coffee. Some even stroll around in kimonos. While men in very expensive looking suits & ties play on smart phones.

Harajuku is the youthful funky, fun loving cousin to Ginza. Musically Ginza is Pavarotti, while Velvet Underground & Bowie symbolize Harajuku. Lots of crepe stands & everyone wants to rebel against the system in Harajuku, the fashion is more over the top than anywhere else. Grab a crepe & watch a different kind of neon parade go by.

People are like pea coats. Similar styles, sometimes matching colors, but regardless that exact look is different on people. Six continents & living in two coasts has been a blessing. I’ve been exposed to a social hotchpotch of cultures & best of all amazing opportunities to people watch.