Velella's Drift

An account of Velella's voyage from Seattle to New York via Panama, 2009-2011

I’m not selling

Yesterday it rained in Los Angeles. It was a hard, gusty rain, more like what I remember growing up with in Minnesota than what I became used to in Seattle. Of course, having left the eternally moist Pacific Northwest just a couple months ago, my reaction as we turned on the fireplace and lit the lanterns was, “well I guess we couldn’t stave it off forever—it’s time to hibernate for winter.”

Velella again proved her worth in last night’s storm. We are anchored in a relatively exposed bay, of which my old friend RH Dana remarked in 1836, “I see utterly no value in using San Pedro as a proper port.” We chose not to drop a second anchor anyway, knowing that the wind was due to clock from SE to NW without respite, which would leave us with twisted anchor lines. So instead we let more chain out on our 33lb CQR and checked the GPS obsessively for 6 hours to make sure we weren’t dragging. The three games of Scrabble we played to pass the time were intense.

This morning we awoke to silence, which seems so palpable after a storm. Instead of the flags and canvas snapping and cracking in the wind, there was only the slow creaking of the mast, the lolling pen on the shelf, the small waves lapping the hull. Sun streamed brightly through the hatch above our berth, and the temperature had dropped. I put on my slippers, made some coffee, and lit the fireplace to take the edge off the chill.

As we rowed in to shore, we realized for the first time since arriving in Los Angeles that there is a mountain range here—a beautiful dramatic backdrop to the palm-tree-lined city. But these mountains, which do not look very far away, are almost never visible from the coast due to the smog. The air is brown. BROWN!

Enter my list of grievances about LA. I’m trying to have a good outlook about it, but I know I’m not doing so well overall when Prescott says “you seem like you’re in a good mood today” and I say “why” and he says “because I can hear you muttering and what you’re saying is all positive.”

I owe him a positive day since I had a conniption fit driving around LA last week. We were in the car for eight hours and saw not a single cute block of shops, restaurants, apartments or anything. It was obscene. It made me hyperventilate and realize that we don’t stand a chance here as hobo sailors. People drive 70mph everywhere while we walk. People pay upwards of $1200/month for a mooring they aren’t allowed to live aboard in, and we’re begging the port police for free anchorage. Chatting with people feels like talking to agents—it’s like everyone is “representing” themselves. They throw around “industry” terms and enthusiastic “oh yeah definitelys” but then change the subject immediately back to their big project or celebrity client. Even though we have a really fun story to tell, I honestly don’t have the desire or energy or talent even to outsell myself to everyone.

I asked Prescott about this distasteful trend, and he told me that I’d have to get used to it and learn to play the game. That is how many people approach life here—as if each interaction with another human being is a deal to be clinched in their favor. He said, it’s just a philosophy of how to win at life: you have adopt a “selling” mentality in order to stay afloat. If everyone’s doing it, you have to too or you’ll never be heard or noticed here. I had a rare moment of sputtering speechlessness in response. I sat in the backseat of the car looking at concrete nothing whizzing by, thinking about why that idea was so repugnant to me.

Under a sign that read “Lawndale” I realized that I could probably make friendly with LA temporarily, but I do not want to go through life selling. To fill the air with the brown smog of your own hot air seems so incredibly boring.

This morning, as we rowed to the beach in the bright, rain-cleared air, I thought about how I’ve embarked this trip to listen to the world, not put myself into it. By the time we returned to the boat in the afternoon, the smog had filled in the skyline, and I’d made up my mind. I’m still in the game, but not this one. The spreadsheet is open again, and I’m crunching numbers and deadlines to head offshore again for Mexico and ports beyond.



  josh wrote @

Ahhhhhmen! Sista!

  webecomeus wrote @

you have a fireplace?? who knew?

  Papa wrote @

I note your ability to keep your eyes on the (social) horizon, in spite of the haze. I suspect that results from hard-earned sea miles, m’dear Captain.

  Brook wrote @

And this is one of the many reasons that we love you! Don’t let them suck you in.

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