I am sitting in a giant ashtray. The grains of sand all around me are grey and black with bits of shell, cigarette stubs and the odd shard of broken brown glass.
When I look to the right, I see a powder blue painted lifeguard’s hut – straight out of a movie scene; the kind that has sculpted men and bronzed women in red swimsuits running down a beach, chasing criminals.
In the distance to the right is the famous Santa Monica pier with the pencilled sketch of the mountains behind it. But the golden white sun which streams down onto the sand around me is not enough to warm the goosebumps that have risen on my upper arms from the cold Pacific breeze.
And so I leave the small clusters of people who are sun-bathing, reading and playing volleyball on the sands of Venice beach and go inland to walk along Venice boardwalk.
A strip nearly two to three kilometres trims the edge between the beach and the land and it is filled with acts and shows of all kinds. A Santa Monica version of Ripley’s: with a bearded woman (blond ringlets on her hair, a white silk dress and parasol and a heavy beard) sitting on a chair at the entrance to the hall. Next to her is the a swarthy complexioned Wolf man with black hair that grows all over his face, neatly trimmed. A black man emerges from the dark insides as I walk past and he is probably supposed to epitomise the colonial understanding of an African man: he has a leather skirt tied around his waits, a feathery head dress, a shield and spear in his right arm and enough piercings on his nose and ears to impress even the heavily pierced and tattooed crowd of Venice beach.
They are clearly the hook to lure in the inquisitive pedestrian if the two headed turtle that sits in a tank at the bottom of the stairs doesn’t succeed.
A couple more steps and I see what seems to be a junk metal store except that life sized Transformers stand at the entrance and outside fashioned from bits of scrap. A sign is attached to the display robot outside which reads photos for $1. The shop owners clearly realised that while a sale would require more effort, display and photography could also generate a revenue stream for their quirky store.
Similarly enterprising individuals line the rest of the strip, each with their own signs asking for donations if a photo is taken or outrightly stating that the charge for a photo is $1. Fusion bands with two Africans playing the drums – one is in a colourful African shirt and the other is incongruous in a blue and white checked shirt. Next to them a mzungu with dreadlocks and a top hat plays a percussion instrument. The carefully orchestrated picture is completed by the white haired man in the cowboy hat on the guitar.
One character doesn’t even bother with a pitch. Best not to lose as he snoozes, he just has a written sign asking for money. A pile of worn shoes litter the front of his perch and above it a sign that reads “Couch Surfing. Anything helps. Trades Welcome. Donations are loved.” Behind the sign, he snoozes in a makeshift tent shelter cuddled around his guitar.
Numerous henna tattoo parlours promising a natural tattoo which is not permanent and pain free, strewn with photos of provocative patterns drawn on women’s bodies. And just as common are the stalls that sell feathery dream catchers, and silver jewellery.
The burst of colour and creativity just explodes on this section of the strip as you walk up towards Venice beach. But turn right and walk towards Ocean Park and it is a completely different feel. No 4:20 smokers here.
Here there are green lawned parks with picnic tables and benches; palm trees swaying in the breeze silhouetted against the clear blue sky alongside funny kites; and crowds of golden coloured cyclists circling the track on their 2 wheelers, tandems, pedicabs and electric standing scooters.