Airbnb Open in Los Angeles 2016

This blog will describe my experience both in a trip to Los Angeles, and at the Airbnb Open in Los Angeles, in November 2016.

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Instead of flying down, my plan was to rent a car for a week, stay at an Airbnb in Los Angeles, and use the car to do some sightseeing both in Los Angeles and in Southern California, before returning home.  Okay I’ll come out and admit it — I was less interested in attending the Airbnb Open than in going to LA to just visit friends and tour around.  As I’ll go on to describe here, I think that apart from the opportunity to meet other hosts and have those fun personal connections (which in my view was the best part of the Airbnb Open!) there is a limited degree to which one more “Be the best/most excited host you can be!” type of talk  can benefit experienced hosts.

So I drove down highway 5, in the Central Valley, from Northern to Southern California, and enjoyed the colors of dusk as I neared the GrapeVine pass.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I arrived at my Airbnb rental in the West Lake district of Los Angeles, unpacked and enjoyed the quiet. The place was like a secret island retreat in the midst of a dense urban area!

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The luscious secluded courtyard of my very urban, west-downtown LA Airbnb!

 

The next morning, I went up to Mulholland drive to a host get together, and enjoyed the opportunity to take in the views from this reknowned scenic drive on the hill above the Los Angeles basin.

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Downtown LA from Mulholland Drive

 

I did some walking along Mulholland Drive, and found a park with some dirt trails.  Going off trail, I actually found a large deer antler, there in the center of this mega-city!!  Also, while walking along Mulholland road itself (which apparently almost no one does…and there are no sidewalks!) I also found a turtle shell just lying there, 4 ft from the busy roadway! Who was this turtle, how did it get there? Curious minds want to know!

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After the host get together, I headed out to go for a hike near the Hollywood Sign, on a route suggested by one of the hosts, a route that would pass a place called the “Wisdom Tree.”  There is a rough dirt trail that ascends up this hilltop, between the sprawl of Hollywood and the Los Angeles basin  to the south, and the San Fernando Valley with Universal City to the north.  I found a very intriguing scene when I summited the hill — Wisdom Tree is a site where people — mostly, young people — come to leave wishes, prayers and blessings written on scraps of paper, and placed under one of dozens of rock piles that cover the hilltop.  It’s a pilgrimage site of sorts, and I felt there was a fantastic positive energy there.  Gosh, doesn’t every city needs a mountaintop as a pilgrimage destination? It needn’t be Christian or Hindu, and it needn’t be associated with any particular religion.  Because the urge to make a pilgrimage to a holy site, to pour out one’s heart, is a deep spiritual archetype and truth residing in our souls, and it’s there regardless what religion we are, or even if we have no religion.  So I give thanks for LA’s Wisdom Tree mountain, for being this place for people.
A chest containing many notebooks with more prayers and wishes sits just below the tree. At least 20 young people were present, enjoying the warm evening, and reading some of the notes or writing their own.  Further down the trail, I came across another group of young people making a video.  The energy among all these folks was just so buoyant and positive — I was so impressed! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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After that, I quickly hiked over to the top of the Hollywood Sign, at “Hugh Hefner Overlook”.  Apparently Hugh Hefner and Ann Getty bought this land and preserved it, thus protecting this ridgetop and its magnificent views and indeed, its importance now as a spiritual destination, from the sprawl and growth that characterizes the city of Los Angeles. See that “H” in the Hollywood sign in my photo below? I’d later found out an interesting fact at the Museum of Death on Hollywood Blvd — an actress named Peg Entwhistle leapt to her death from the top of the “H” in 1932.  Prudently, the H and the rest of the Hollywood sign are now fenced off from hikers and sightseers.

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Downtown LA From above Hollywood sign
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Hugh Hefner Overlook

The Forest Lawn Cemetery from the hills above:

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The next day, November 18th, the Airbnb Open officially began.  We headed downtown to register and obtain the programs which provided choices of different events and talks all day from 9am to 5pm.

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We each got a gift bag, and a wristband which not only identified us as paid attendees, but also had some techhy tricks that it could do.  The wristbands had little LED lights in them, and the local Airbnb wifi network was controllling these lights.  So, about 5 minutes before each talk began, the wristbands would beep.  There were other tricks the wristbands could do — they could foster connection.  A host told me that there was a water filling station in one place where if one host touched one pole, and another host touched a different water pole, then when the two hosts joined hands, water would emerge from the spigot — but only when the two hosts made contact.

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The gift bag also contained a gift book — written by the famous “Senior Nomads” who are traveling the world in their senior years, and have stayed at over 150 Airbnb’s in their more than a year on the road. The book is a good guidebook both for guests who intend to do major travel, as well as for hosts who want to know how best to set up their home for such guests.  But the book doesn’t describe much about what the Senior Nomads actually experienced on their travels, so in that sense it disappointed me, because that’s what I am most interested in.  Not how were the Airbnb’s set up but what did you see, think, feel, while you were traveling?  In what ways were you delighted, how were you challenged, what were the funny/sad/scary stories from your trip?

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What was on the menu for the talks?
Talks were to be offered at 4 different venues located within a couple blocks of each other, all on Broadway in downtown LA.  (The Orpheum Theater, The Theatre at Ace Hotel, The Downtown Palace Theatre, and Los Angeles Theatre).  As well, there were a number of other sites downtown being used by the Open — Clifton’s, a 3-story “Cabinet of Curiosities”, featured glass boxes containing entire stuffed bear, deer, and a large artificial tree with a fireplace at its base.  This was a hangout spot to get food or drinks, and to chat with Airbnb staff or drop in at tables with information for hosts.  There was a “share your story” building where hosts were encouraged to engage in artistic ways of telling their hosting story.  There was a bar that held “peer to peer” sessions, and there was the Oasis, a bandstand and the site for the musical events of the Open.

Here were the events offered the first day:

  1.  Creative Living Beyond Fear with Elizabeth Gilbert
  2.  Designing for Success by Chip Conley, and others
  3.  The Downtown Story — about the revitalization of downtown LA — Blair Besten, Brigham Yen, Mister Cartoon and Trevor Kale
  4.  Feed Your Creative Imagination — with Brian Chesky, Brian Grazer, Frank Gehry and others
  5.  Finding your Inner Happy Host — Elizabeth Bohannon and others
  6. Expand Your Business, Host for Others — Suana Wang and Andrea Diamond
  7.  Beyond the Home: The Future of Airbnb — Joe Zadeh (JoeBot) and others
  8. Sucessful Remote Hosting — Alex Nigg, Tammi Sims, Adam Bilter
  9.  Connecting with Hosts around the world
  10. Building a Brand on Airbnb
  11.  To Win Big, Go Local
  12.  The Making of a Movement for Home Sharing
  13.  Creating the Ultimate Guest Experience
  14. New Host Tools for 2017
  15. Working Together with the Travel Industry
  16. Making the Best out of your Listing
  17.  Universal Belonging — with Eric Holder
  18.  Leaps of Faith: Strategic Risk Taking — Chip Conley
  19.  Building Relationships with Landlords and Neighbors
  20. The Small Business Effect
  21.  Community Driven Business and Brand
  22.  Protect your guests, protect yourself
  23.  Designing the Mobile app for home hosts
  24. Optimize your listing
  25. Host your passion
  26. Be a 5 star host
  27. The Beauty of Travel
  28. Host Life Balance Workshop

As you can see, there is quite a lot of focus on being a better, and better, more successful and yet more and more successful host.  This gets tiring after a while for many of us, particularly for experienced hosts who’ve already learned a lot about hosting, and who have reached our limit as to how much more we can do to improve, improve, improve and be better, better and best.  How about just some mindfulness focus on just being happy where we are instead of always trying to reach for more and more?

The bell of mindfulness rings today and it says “whatever/wherever you are right now, is enough.”
I started out the day with Elizabeth Gilbert’s talk on Creative Living beyond Fear, which was quite funny if not  necessarily closely related to the hosting business itself.  Gilbert is a writer (author of the bestseller Eat Pray Love) and it was hilarious to hear of her adventures traveling around the world for her book talks and carrying out her self-imposed task of asking various strangers, “What are you most excited about right now?” She came up with this question to ask strangers, because she wanted to stay authentic, and have real connections with people, real intimacy, and thought this would do the trick — even if the question was a bit invasive.  (I would find it invasive — but nevertheless, Elizabeth would get to know me if she put this question to me, because I’d give her a what-for through my response, which would then open up to some authentic dialogue).

When I heard this question I saw the link to Airbnb, as “excited” is a word that hosts will know shows up in just about every email we get from Airbnb.  We’re excited to be hosts, we’re excited to have guests, we’re excited to be part of Airbnb and drink the koolaid, and, hopefully, with all that koolaid, we’re still excited when the guests break our TV or violate our house rules.

That said, I have to admit that I tend to be an “excited” person myself.  Yep, I’m not a Millennial — I’m not even Gen X — gosh I’m actually a Baby Boomer, a real oldie — but….I’m nearly always “excited” — and not because of corporate hype!.  It’s related to my own style of creative living which began years ago — actually over half a century ago, at age 2, as I recall — when I first just started doing whatever the heck I wanted and ignoring all the social pressure to conform.  I recall standing at age 2 in my backyard and having a couple other 2 -year olds peer at me and say “you’re different”.  Yes, hon.  And I still am.   And it’s exciting.

All those attending Elizabeth’s talk were given a copy of her new book, Big Magic, where she explores the creative process and what supports it.

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One of the most interesting things Gilbert said, was when she presented her idea that

“Ideas are a conscious force in the universe, spending time circling the world, looking for a human being to help them take form.  It is one of the holiest, most mystical experiences you can have, to say yes to an idea.”  

Gilbert views this as “magic”, and as she says in her book, she really means magic in a Harry Potter way.  I find this personification (or spiritualization) of ideas quite fun and exciting, but for me this has more to do with my art and writing projects than my Airbnb hosting.  That said, Airbnb hosting does give rise to a good number of anecdotes that can be used for creative storytelling!   And one Airbnb host from Hollywood has started her own comedy mini-series on the theme!  See the trailer for her show  here .

I read Gilbert’s book Big Magic during my trip, and I found it quite inspiring and energizing.  It seeks to break apart many of the misconceptions we have about the creative process, and thus make the creative journey available to more people, presenting it what it really is — our birthright, as well as our hardwiring.  We’re all hardwired to create.  We just need some help removing the obstacles to accessing this!

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Next, I attended the talk about the revitalization of downtown Los Angeles.  Downtown LA has been being revitalized for about 12 years now, since 2004, and while one of the speakers pointed out that for LA (as for San Francisco) “there is a massive housing shortage in LA”, the revitalization of downtown should not be viewed as “gentrification” because it’s not involving pushing people out.  The residential SRO’s, the single room occupancy units where the low income residents of downtown can live, have been preserved — this in distinction to San Francisco, where the residential SRO’s have not been preserved, but have been lost to new development.  Brigham, an Asian man from Utah, said that LA has the title of homeless capital of the nation, but he insisted that we need not give up on this issue and resign ourselves to the perennial nature of homelessness.  He pointed out that in Taipei, in the city his parents are from, there are no homeless, and one can wander the streets at 3am and feel perfectly safe.  As I reflected on this, I thought that elements of Asian culture probably mitigate against homelessness in a way that elements of American culture do not.  For instance, the  values of shame and honor play a much greater role in Asian culture than in American culture. And family bonds play a greater role in Asian culture as well.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

At 11am, I went to listen to “JoeBot” talk about the new direction Airbnb is going — and this was one of the biggest media stories about the Open — Airbnb is going to offer “Experiences.”   See one of the media stories about that here . What are “experiences”? They are basically any type of activity, workshop, or tour that a host wants to organize and invite guests to participate in.  Guests can book an “experience” just like they would book accomodations.  The idea of the experience is to help guests get to know the local area more intimately than a standard tourist could do — so Airbnb is in some sense imagining these experiences as the antithesis of standard, boring “package” tours.  In fact when the first hints of the experience offering were first revealed, Airbnb’s advertisement was “Don’t “DO” Paris…LIVE in Paris!”  ( see the Airbnb ad here  )and was trying hard to recreate itself as a Superbrand that imagines travel in a whole new way, a way that it hopes will appeal to the Millennials and younger folks.

So, an “experience” might be…going mountain biking in Marin County. Taking a class in doing star photography at night.  Learning how to brew your own beer.  Learning how to do burlesque dancing.  However, unlike accomodations listings, it would seem that in order to list an “experience” , one has to live in a certain place — only 50 cities presently offer experiences — and one has to get Airbnb to help create the ad.  Each “experience” has its own “movie poster” type listing photo and comes with a “movie trailer” type video which seems to be made by an Airbnb photographer/videographer.  Airbnb is calling this experience project “our largest and most ambitious project.”  Those who dont’ live in one of the 50 cities that presently offer experiences, can apply to do an experience nonetheless, at this site .  JoeBot says that hosts in cities which have enough applicants may be able to do experiences.

I am not yet sure what I think of Airbnb “Experiences” other than thinking that this is still another type of packaged experience.  And something about real experience to me, is that it resists packaging.  Experience is unpredictable and enjoyable experiences arise at times we might not have expected — they werent’ paid, scheduled events.  Authentic experience seems to need imaginative space around it….for me, experience arises out of space.  If I have empty space ….which often means, time to just do nothing….this gives birth to something.  An idea, an adventure.  It’s more difficult for an “experience” to arise when time is scheduled, programmed…packaged.

Also…I don’t know about you…but…my guests dont’ tend to come to my area with open schedules.  They pretty much have their plans set before they arrive.  And if they have open time, they tend to want to wander — and wandering and being spontaneous, doing something unplanned, — again, the open space in life often provides a better experience than engaging in a packaged experience.

JoeBot said, “Experiences are what people are collecting now (as opposed to material things) but it’s too hard for people to get those experiences.”

Why is this hard? Let’s go back to Elizabeth Gilbert’s talk, on Creative living.  Wake up, open eyes, plug brain into head, disconnect robotic cultural programming,  and engage imagination.  And there you go…you’re on your way to having genuine experience.

I went for lunch at one of the recommended downtown spots, and enjoyed some views along the way.  The architecture of the Open was probably much more fascinating to me than the talks themselves.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There was so much beauty in these old art deco hotels!  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I hardly had time to explore them all.

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As several hosts commented, even the bathrooms were stunning.  We had not previously experienced going to a restroom solely to admire the architecture and the stunning detail — lights, tile, fixtures, mirrors — really amazing.  When I went to the restroom in one of the event sites, perhaps it was the Palace Theatre, the first room I came to was a large oval lounge, as big as a ballroom. This was the restroom lounge! A whole ballroom of space just to sit and adjust your makeup or tighten your belt! Then, off the lounge was a huge mirrored room that looked like a hall of mirrors in an amusement park.  There must have been two dozen mirrors in the room. Then from there, enter the restroom itself, which was also surprisingly gorgeous.

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Out around town, there were other sights to see — there were some “Rent Responsibly” folks interviewing hosts —

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There was Clifton’s, the “Cabinet of Curiosities” and host hangout spot.

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While I was out and about at mid-day, it so happened that a button I was wearing got some attention by a couple folks.  This button was designed by a host and handed out to a few friends, to give some voice opposing Airbnb’s “infants come for free” policy which has been on and then off, now seems on again.

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While I was walking along the street, a woman next to me inquired about this button, and it turned out she was a reporter, and was interested in hearing more about things that hosts don’t feel so “excited” about with Airbnb.  Well I thought she’d know some of those since she’s a host herself — and there are certainly no lack of complaints on the Airbnb Community Center, either!  Later, I went to give “feedback” to Airbnb staff up on the 3rd floor of Clifton’s, and one of the staffpersons noticed my button too and I explained it and he photographed it.

So let me explain this again here:  Airbnb has lately set up a drop down menu so that when guests go to book a place, they have to indicate how many infants and how many children they are bringing.  But, under the improbable claim by Airbnb that this is giving hosts “more controls”!!, it is doing no such thing, since the dropdown menu tells the guests that “infants are not counted as guests.”  Not!

Not only does this remove the control the host needs to be able to charge for that infant guest, but it does its best to set guests at battle with hosts when Airbnb is telling them one thing (all the while saying in their TOS, “Airbnb has no right to run the host’s listing…”) and host is saying another, namely, yes there IS a charge for that infant!  Also, if the infant doesn’t count as a guest, a host who has a max of 2 guests could end up arguing with 2 adults who want to bring 3 infants, about just how many are in their party.  Hint: the infants are not invisible, immaterial, disembodied beings.  Yes, they are guests.

While on the subject of children, I mentioned to the Airbnb staff that it’s been in the news lately that Airbnb hosts have been sued for saying “no children” in their ad.  They hadn’t heard this.  I suggested they get right on the subject and find out.  Doesn’t this seem important for Airbnb to know, particularly when for quite some time they’ve encouraged hosts to come right out and state in their ad that they dont’ accept children, all in violation of the Fair Housing Act? Get informed!

That afternoon, I attended “Universal Belonging”, in which Airbnb Chief of Legal Affairs officer Belinda Johnson interviewed Eric Holder.  I was hoping to hear something interesting about the nondiscrimination policy, but Holder was there mainly to chat about his experience as US Attorney General.

One of the more interesting elements of this talk was a topic introduced by Johnica Reed Hawkins, who is a journalist who studies and writes about race and travel. She’s traveled to Cuba and written about race/travel issues there.  She said that Airbnb appealed to her in large part because it offered a “democratization of travel”, and one thing she really likes is the idea that a “travelogue” or travel article, no longer need issue from a place of privilege. It’s now possible for minority voices and the historically non-privileged to tell their own stories of travel.    Well, it’s not like people were ever prohibited from writing their own personal stories of travel, regardless their race or social status, and we do now live in the age of the blogger-travelogue — something that wasn’t available to the non-genteel classes in the 19th century.  But I think she has a point that the culture is changing as far as what stories gain traction.

There were a few others who spoke, but none really spoke to Airbnb’s nondiscrimination policy, other than in nice sounding generalities such as Johnson’s statement, “We have more work to do to make sure every single person can belong.”

Everyone can belong? I thought that statement was fairly ironic.    Because, at the very same time Belinda Johnson was trying to make sure every single person can belong,  reporters had apparently interviewed Brian Chesky about how many hosts had refused to sign on to Airbnb’s new “Community Commitment” where they either formally signed onto the nondiscrimination policy, or would be booted off the site.  When asked how many people refused to sign on, Brian said, “A lot.”  Okay then Brian, there’s a clue that Airbnb is ensuring that every single person cannot belong!  Many clearly are being explictly told they cannot belong,  if they refuse being coerced to sign onto Airbnb’s new Community Commitment agreement.  So it seems not quite true, this hype about everyone belonging.  Rather, I’d say Airbnb is communicating that it will pick certain ones it wants to have belong, and saying the others can just get lost.

As a reply to the prevailing “politically correct”perspective on diversity,  which is shallow because it’s often only skin deep, I’d like to offer my own view of diversity which I think is more complex and has more depth.  In this view,  diversity means, you respect people who have a different point of view.  Where have we gotten the idea that diversity should be only about skin color or difference in sexuality or gender, and not about anything else???  I think it’s dishonest to say we celebrate diversity, while at the same time we boot out of the room anyone who disagrees with us.  Also — isn’t this a great way to employ creativity and imagination?  I mean, talk about exciting — this really excites me — the idea that we can be challenged by new ideas, and possibly grow as a result of the alchemy that results from our contact with them!!

Imagine things like — people who disagree can actually be in the same community, and it wont’ kill us!!    It can make us richer, more complex — and we can grow through the challenges this tolerance and acceptance of diversity brings to us. Lovely! And this can bring the social and political healing we all need so much.

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When this talk closed, and Johnson indicated that the conversation on this topic of the nondiscrimination policy would continue at a restaurant down the street, I went there, hoping I might run into one or more of the speakers and present them my concerns about how the means Airbnb may use to enforce the nondiscrimination policy could negatively impact hosts. However, there was no one there at the restaurant to speak to. Ha! Fooled again!   This reminded me of the “disappearing customer service line” at Airbnb….the word  is …that there is a customer service phone line at Airbnb.  But…if you’re a new host especially….good luck finding it! It’s in hiding.

I also attended a talk on “New Host Tools for 2017” by Donna Boyer, and  found it somewhat informative , but it was a short talk, only half an hour.  She said that co-hosting is available for only a few cities now and more will be available for 2017.  She said that messaging on the app has been improved, and that now you can search messages by keyword.  Great! Also, saved responses are now available on the app, which you can use to answer frequently asked questions.  That’s very useful…as up to now I’d have to tell guests that they need to wait until I get home and am at my computer, before I can send them certain info.  You can also send photos via message — which can be helpful if for instance you want to show a photo of the flowerpot under which you’ve hidden your keys.  Ii like that…have had to do just that at times! Calendar is redesigned to see dates available and blocked — and you should be able to accept a reservation alteration via the app.

After this day’s events, I decided to have an unpackaged experience, and walked 2.3 miles from downtown, along Wilshire Blvd to the Airbnb listing where I was staying in WestLake,  a largely Hispanic neighborhood to the west of downtown.  At the Corner of South Alvarado and Wilshire,  I found many people had set up tables and there were selling some clothes and supplies in bulk quantities.  Large bottles of Head and Shoulders shampoo, liquid handsoap, or gallon jugs of Tide were available here for sale off card tables on the street, as well as an assortment of tennis shoes and mens’ shirts.  There was a whole card table economy running here! If I’d had more time and energy, I’d have loved to ask these folks doing these small businesses, some questions about their micro-economy here at the street corner.
I decided to “skip class” the next day and go sightseeing in LA instead of to more talks.  But for those who are interested, these are the talks that were presented on the 2nd day:

  1. Hospitality Moments of Truth
  2. Building Empathy through Community
  3. Expanding your mind through Travel
  4. The Joy of Hosting
  5. Optimizing your listing
  6. Stategies for Entrepreneurs — Ashton Kutcher and others
  7. The Power of Community — Host Connections around the world
  8. Cultivating the Art of Taste and Style
  9. Insights from World Travelers
  10. Building Cross-Cultural connections
  11. Q&A with the Founders
  12. Local Business, Local Hospitality
  13. Interior Design Tips
  14. Host as Concierge

In the talk by Ashton Kutcher, a Code Pink protester ran on stage and began yelling, something about Airbnb listings in Palestine — but apparently it was hard to hear her.  I wasn’t there but heard from others who were that  Ashton spoke to her and attempted to speak reasonably with her, and ultimately she just screamed more about Palestine and then was escorted offstage. Read more about that incident here . See the video of the Ashton Kutcher talk, including the Code Pink protester, here .

Later, that evening I spoke to another host who I was staying with in my Airbnb in WestLake.  She had attended a talk where one of the founders, perhaps it was Nate, or maybe even Brian, had been speaking about all that Airbnb was doing for refugees.  Said this host in her charming Birmingham UK accent, “He ended the talk and the bloke was standing there with his arms spread wide like ‘e was Jesus Christ!

I think she had an opportunity to glimpse something that many of us feel a little uneasy about — how Airbnb often seems to take itself so seriously, that it can feel like a cult or a religion.  That’s the koolaid aspect, the excessive hoo-hah and rah-rah, the Tony Robbins Airbnb.  Well I can’t deny that there’s a high that we can feel when many Airbnb hosts are all in one place.  It definitely is fun.  We understand each other, we support each other, we’ve shared stories with each other…and it’s a true community we have.
But…we dont’ need to turn Airbnb hosting into a religion to have that sense of comraderie and enjoyment of our small business.   Many of us would simply appreciate a modest corporation that had a well-functioning website, which allowed us to do what we needed to do on it to advertise and obtain business.  We would rather not continually find new “improvements”  which interfere with our ability to do business — such as the most recent, where search results have a defacto setting to show only instant book listings!  (This may have just been a very bad beta test…let’s hope so anyhow).

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On Saturday, I visited Hollywood Boulevard, the Hollywood Wax Museum, Ripley’s Believe it or not Museum, and even the Museum of Death.  If I had had more time, I could also have stopped in at the Guiness World Records Museum, and the Museum of Broken Relationships.  That latter sounds like a good pilgrimage site for the recently broken up. But you may want to skip the Museum of Death!  I was expecting something cockamamie and campy, but let me put it this way…the deformed animals in jars of formaldehyde were the “light” aspect of the museum.  What was the “heavy” side, I dont’ want to even describe.  I had to close my eyes and pass through rooms trying to shield my face from what was on display there.   Suffice to say the place is a Goth Mecca pilgrimage site!
At the Wax Museum, I enjoyed the horror alley, which was indeed more plain old halloween like fun.

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There was an interesting  Mona Lisa painting at the wax museum!   And at Ripley’s , it was fun to meet the world’s tallest man. He would stay seated until you went up beside him and then he’d stand up and you could compare your height to his.  In this video I indicate my height (5 ft 7 inches) compared to his (8 ft 11 inches).  He’s a full yard towering over me.  World’s Tallest Man

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Weird man — Hollywood Wax Museum

 

I also visited Venice Beach with another host — we got there to enjoy the evening clouds and sunset, and walk along the boardwalk a bit.

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Bicyclist on Venice Beach

 

There was unusual architecture and several murals along the boardwalk —

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Interesting people —
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The next day, after the Airbnb Open had ended, before leaving Los Angeles I went to see the Watts Towers, the famous folk art site in South Central LA, and from there, to what may be the polar opposite — to see a bit of the opulent homes in Beverly Hills.

The Watts Towers are a  “folk art” or “outsider art”, created by Simon Rodia, an Italian immigrant, between 1921 and 1954.  Simon  felt within himself that “I’m going to do something, something big.”  Then he followed this inner prompting,   and out came the Watts Towers, over many years, created with found objects.  Rodia’s beautiful and striking creation exemplifies the value of being courageous and dedicated enough to follow the promptings issuing from a deep place within.
The Watts Towers are sometimes compared to another work of folk art in California, the work known as Salvation Mountain, created by Leonard Knight, over by Slab City and the Salton Sea.  Both are quite large, beautiful mosaic expressions made with found objects.

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Grafitti scrawled on church, Watts, South Central LA — I’d love to know the story of this — why do people vandalize the churches in their own neighborhood?

 

Beverly Hills privacy hedge:

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Beverly Hills Style — ostentatiousness

 

I found it interesting that in Beverly Hills, there were no people out walking.  The road were completely empty, except for luxury cars rushing here and there.  No one walking, no one out in their yard. Many of the roads were quite beautiful, wide and lined with large trees, really perfect for walking. So I got out and walked and I was the only one doing this.  A “see the stars’ homes” tourist bus passed me by and tourists stared out at me, craning their necks to see what movie star I might be.  I thought I am disappointing them by not waving and fulfilling their dream of a real live movie star who waved at them from Beverly Drive.

As for my move star sightings…. I went on a couple truly random drives through some of the more “hidden” of the Beverly Hills routes.  I saw the former homes of Lucille Ball, Rita Hayworth and Prince.  (I wasn’t that impressed with any of them…I think we have nicer homes in the Berkeley hills in the East Bay — less ornate fluff and stuff,  more original style) I may have passed by a couple real movie stars, but I’m not sufficiently immersed in pop culture to recognize them easily, and they wear sunglasses to avoid detection.  As in one case where  I was driving down a very narrow road looking for Bette Midler’s house, which was notated on one of the “Maps to the Stars Homes!” which I had bought on Hollywood Blvd.  But, I think Bette changed the numbers somehow to avoid detection — apparently Anne Margaret did the same, as her street number was nowhere to be found either — and I ended up scooting along a very narrow street while a very attractive young man wearing sunglasses walked his dog along the street.  Okay so there was ONE person out walking in Beverly Hills! I would not be able to say if he was a movie star or not. As I passed him by, he looked up at me with interest — was he wondering which movie star I was???  It’s an odd phenomenon of mutal movie star seeking that one gets caught up in, in Beverly Hills.

I also stopped in at a shop called “Wacko” in East Hollywood, which had a colorful display among its wacky goods.  There I bought a gift for a friend, the “OCD hand rinse”.  The directions on the back were that, after washing, one should place the cap back on the bottle, then check to make sure cap was fastened.  After checking if cap was fastened, check again to make sure cap is fastened.  You get the picture.

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I stopped by the Scientology Church, on Hollywood Blvd, the world headquarters of the cult, where svelte ladies dressed in black (“they dress like airline stewardesses”, said a local who lived around the block) patrol the sidewalk to seek hapless victims to invite to their “free movie” or a “personality test”.  I hadn’t realized that the Church of Scientology is really the Church of Science Fiction,  until I talked to this local man who I happened to encounter on the sidewalk near the big blue church. He told me  that they believe that an astral being named Xoltan will come and beam them up to other planets to live when they get sufficiently spiritually evolved.  They dont’ talk about any of this stuff on their website — they just solicit you to come to their free movies, or do their personality tests.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter being solicited by the agents of astral travel,  handed a “free movie” flyer by the mysterious ladies in black with the predatory eyes, I zipped off to Pasadena to visit another host friend, and stayed the night there. It occurred to me that Pasadena has what most of the rest of LA doesn’t have — earth.  It’s right up there in your face, the mountains before you.  In most of LA you can drive for miles and miles without feeling like you’re on the real, actual planet earth.  It’s all paved over, built up.  And barely a tree or blade of grass pokes through anywhere.   But out in Pasadena, at least, there are streets full of trees, cute gingerbread homes, and the San Gabriel Mountains rising up in front of your face. You can’t miss noticing the earth is present here.  Which is so important for someone like me with an earth-based spiritual path.

The funniest part of the trip occurred at this Pasadena visit:  at dinner, my friend’s young son looked up at me shyly and said, “Can I ask you a question?”

Yes of course.
“Why do you have a man’s face and the long hair of a girl? Are you a girl or a boy?”

Oh kids are wonderful!!! I thought my god if only adults could be this honest and innocent (for there was no jibe in this question, no meanness or contempt) , we’d have fewer problems with discrimination.  Everyone would just come out and say what they thought the other person looked like and ask why.  I laughed, responding that I had a masculine spirit but that I always liked long hair and in fact I was “a girl.”
Actually on the way down to LA I’d had a similar experience with an adult, but she responded in the adult way. I was at the Coalinga-Avenal rest stop off highway 5, in California’s long Central Valley, and was just walking out of the women’s restroom, when a woman walked towards me to use the facilities.  She took one look at me and stopped dead still, a look of shock on her face.  I knew what she was thinking. She was wondering if she was heading into the men’s restroom by mistake.  I find this amusing — do people really not know any gay folks?
The next morning I took off into these mountains and immediately began to feel much more at home than I had amidst the mega-city. I felt I could cut loose and breathe deeply again and be fully me.  The earth always has this effect on me!

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View from Grizzly Flat trail to Los Angeles Crest Drive
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Church of Scientology’s Spaceship spotted off Los Angeles Crest Highway

 

From the Los Angeles Crest Highway, I dropped down into the Lancaster Valley and enjoyed the desert sights there.

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I stayed the night in a hotel in Mojave, CA — the humble “Desert Inn” just off the main drag, which was very quiet — my main concern.  I hate hotel rooms where you just hear people in the next room over talking loudly to each other, or you hear their TV loud and clear in your room. No worries here. Everyone I met who was staying at this hotel — three other people, three men — said, when I asked them about their travels, that there were here because their vehicle broke down. So they were more sad and glum than the usual hotel guest which seemed to make for quiet nights.

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Mojave Mosaic

The first two men said their transmission was shot and they wondered if they had enough to pay for a hotel room.  I surmised that between them they don’t own a credit card and scooted away from them before I ended up being asked if I would please chip in for their room. The thought occurred to me that if they can’t afford a $50 a night hotel room then it’s not likely they’ll be able to replace their transmission, and in time the desert will collect another abandoned husk of a car, a nice target for desert plinkers.
Then I met a man pulling in on a motorcycle, who I greeted — but he too had a glum face and he also was broken down.  He had sleeping bag and baggage attached to his motorcycle.  He said, “I drove the last 8 miles on a flat tire. I hope I can get the tire fixed in town.”  These men, their plans wrecked, made quiet hotelmates.  In the morning, when I headed out at 8:30am, there was the motorcyclist, asking if I could give him a ride to the next town over, because there was no one in this whole town who could fix a flat tire.  Unfortunately I wasn’t heading in the direction he needed to go.

I had tried to stay in an Airbnb n Mojave instead of a hotel, but there were none in town except for one listing by a “host” who didn’t quite get the concept — he was listing a vacant apartment with no furniture and no bed for $55 a night on Instant Book.  The original name for  this listing was, suitably, “Apartment for Rent” .

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After I settled into the hotel room, I went over to the “Family Dollar Store” across the way to get a snack — when I emerged, I found a wraith floating around in the dark in front of the store.  No, not a supernatural being — he was human, but he had wide, lost eyes, kind eyes really, and so he looked like a tall baby animal far from home.  He stood, about 6 ft 3, a giant of a man, but something soft about him, an innocent face, and wrapped in a large blue blanket like a baby.  He floated about a bit in front of the store, and I watched as someone, clearly a “local” greeted him as a friend and told him to “stay warm.”  It was about 38 degrees out and lowering.  I thought, what an unfortunate place to be a homeless panhandler.  But perhaps he does have a home and simply panhandles late into the night.

The next day, I emerged late, relishing the warmth of the hotel room and enjoying the time to write.  What I realized is that you don’t need a spiffy, creative perfect place to write or create.  You can do just fine in a very modest, extremely basic hotel room, as long as you’re comfortable!
I visited Red Rock Canyon State Park, which had some spectacular sights.

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Including “Window Rock”

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI found that I wasn’t quite hip to the way to camp down in Southern California.  I thought camping meant a tent and sleeping bag.  But everyone else in the campground, with the exception of one other man about my age ( I guess those of us who were born in the 60’s and 70’s still recall tent camping) was camping here in an RV or camper van.  Some of the thirty foot long RV’s were toting large trailer boxes full of god knows what extra campground necessities…flat screen TV, stereo, outdoor BBQ grill…well I did see some of the camping necessities later in the day, as they were driving around the campground.  Several dirt bikes zipped about, as well as a bright yellow dune buggy.  Until I put a stop to it by walking up to these folks in mid-zip and informing them that I was here to enjoy the quiet and not listen to off road vehicles zipping circles through the campground.  Later, I found out that they weren’t even camping overnight, they just came to use the campground as a racetrack — very odd since the entire State Park is very heavily devoted to off road vehicles.  Why not go out just about anywhere else to zip around? Why use the campground?  Ironically, they have just one little short trail for hiking and the rest is all dirt roads for 4WD or ORV use.

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My campsite at the base of the weird hills

It was a chill night camping out there — though daytime temps were in the 70’s, at night it was below freezing and when I woke I had to scrape ice off the car window.
I had to leave for home the next day, but it was time, because I was coming down with what would be a bad cold and so I needed to go home and plop into a real bed and rest.

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Wind turbines near Mojave

En route home, to liven up the long drive and set myself some interesting stops along the way, I did a little geocaching, which is an outdoor treasure seeking game.  People hide geocaches in various places — could be someplace interesting, could be someplace very plain.  And then they post the GPS coordinates of the cache online.  Then you look for the cache — a little plastic container with a logbook in it — and sign it, proving that you were there.  Then you log your finds.  There was one geocache called “Coming Soon” which was not too hard to find when you spotted the landmarks—

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And that is just a little bit about my experience of Los Angeles, So Cal and the Airbnb Open in 2016!

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