I was scheduled for a midday meeting in Santa Monica recently, so I decided to take advantage of the favorable timing and location to spend the morning doing something nice. For me, this usually means trying to find a great local place to enjoy a cup of coffee and absorb a new neighborhood. Having grown up in Southern California, I always had a fondness for Venice Beach which happens to have a number of well-regarded cafes so I made my way to Intelligentsia on Abbot Kinney Blvd. I probably hadn’t been to Venice Beach in at least 10 years, and the visits from my college days were usually punctuated by all-hours visits to bohemian dens such as Van Gogh’s Ear or daytime boardwalk serenades from rollerskating, electric guitar wielding, portably amplified djinn. Abbot Kinney is . . . different from all that, but still uniquely Venice. That said, after abandoning any hope of comfort and slothful assimilation into Intelligentsia’s decidedly unergonomic furnishings, I found myself successfully caffeinated and seeking more dynamic stimulation. I had a nice time browsing the various shops, but I figured I had time for at least one adventure. I temporarily became one of those annoying people who becomes completely absorbed in using their phone while trying to move through a public space, and a bit of serendipitous internet searching led me to a walking tour of “hidden” Venice. I read the section on the “walk streets” of Venice with interest and looked up and noticed that I was literally at the corner of Palms & Electric Ave. which marked the beginning of the walking tour. Coincidence?
As directed by the above post, I sought the “narrow pathway through the bushes and trees,” feeling like some kind of urban conquistador, and believing that it was very possible that I was the only person on earth who knew about this secret passageway. I found myself on a “street” that was just about wide enough for 2-3 people. Most people would probably consider this a sidewalk, except there weren’t any of those tedious automotive streets adjoining it to lend the critical “side” appellation. On either side, were actual front gates that led to actual front yards and houses with actual street addresses. It was narrow enough that in some stretches, the trees and bushes on either side created a living archway of shade and natural beauty.
Emerging from one of these walk streets into the “real world” was a bit of a shock to the senses. Not that any of the surrounding streets are particularly congested or busy, but strolling the walk streets just feels “right” and everything else just feels “wrong.” It’s as if we really missed the mark as urban planners on a global scale, and that this is how we were actually meant to live, build, and grow communities. All I wanted to do was to get back into that outdoor corridor cocoon; so I did, finding the entrance to another one of the streets so that bliss could once again ensue.
The architecture on these streets is the typical mashup of styles that one expects from certain coastal communities — a bit eccentric, generally inconsistent, but with a satisfying coherence from the shared values of comfort and uniqueness. A treehouse here, a lost dog sign there, an empty patio ready to welcome drinks with friends at sunset; it feels like life is being lived here, not that this is some novelty or sideshow. As I wandered, my mind felt more at peace, and I felt able to shelve my thoughts, forget about my phone, not obsess over my meeting, and actually just enjoy being in the moment. I realized that this special environment, literally hidden in plain sight and free for anyone to explore, transported me to an inner place where I could observe my surroundings in a pure state of wonder and reflection. It is the quintessence of the type of immersive experiences that I seek in travel, installation art, themed entertainment, transmedia, etc., and a vital inspiration for the immersive experiences that I hope to create for others to enjoy.
Having completed a circuit and finding myself more or less where I started, I noticed that I had lost track of time. I ordinarily abhor being late to meetings, especially with people I’ve never met, so I dashed off a quick text, “running late. inexcusably detained by local magic.” The reply came back momentarily, “no problem. magic is good.” I knew it would be a good meeting.