Butt in chair. That’s really the only rule of writing. Beyond that, we all have our own quirks. If it were solely up to me, I’d write in five-star hotels, preferably with a view of the ocean. Think Casa del Mar in Santa Monica on a sunny day. But my muse doesn’t roll that way. She likes to get down and dirty, as long as the coffee is strong and the bathrooms are clean. Pleasing us both is a more difficult task than one might think, even in the dense javadom of West L.A.
Lately, I’ve been writing at Caffe’ Luxxe (two f’s, two x’s) in the Brentwood Country Mart. Or, rather, I’ve been sipping their smooth, chocolatey Gibraltars and eating baguettes with raspberry jam while trying to write. My girl refuses to join me there. Maybe it’s the desperate housewives in their Lulu Lemon tanks and Goyard totes. Or the the snippets of conversation… I’ve been on Xanax since 9-11… I told him, he’s got to push himself now that he’s in sixth grade. She has little patience for the worried well and their first world problems. I’m more empathetic, but easily distracted. The minute my fingers start typing, my brain loses focus. I wonder, what’s up with those middle-aged men in head-to-toe spandex riding three thousand dollar racing bikes in the middle of the day? They’re not nerdy enough to be television writers, but not hip enough to be film directors. Agency chiefs with took a buyout? I’ve got to get out before I create any more backstory.
Deus Ex Machina is a motorcycle accessories shop-slash-café at the Corner of Lincoln and Venice Boulevard. With its rustic wood tables, comfy couches, and dogs roaming around, it feels like sitting in your own garage, if the white noise in your garage were a blend of milk steaming and Spotify. The food is tasty, especially the thick toast and serve-yourself jam in flavors like Bourbon Peach and Jalapeno Blueberry. Their liberal canine policy edits out the jerky element; in fact, if you’re bothered by a strange dog licking your toes, this is perhaps not the best place for you. My muse loves it. She did some of her best work there this summer. There’s just one small issue: cleanliness. I actually believe you can’t maintain a healthy immune system without eating a little dirt. But the day I witnessed one of the baristas wipe up some dog vomit and then go immediately to the espresso machine without washing his hands, my inner germaphobe took pause. And I’m pretty sure there was rat poop on the table when I arrived one morning shortly after opening. Just sayin’.
So I decide to return to my old stomping grounds on Abbot Kinney in Venice, Intelligentsia. With the summer tourist traffic thinned out, there’s virtually no line, and I’m looking forward to sitting down with a nice short-pour cappuccino. I’m hungry but not in the mood for anything sugary so the barista suggests the Spam and Kimchi croissant. “It’s really good. Especially with some Sriracha on top.” “Really?” I say. “Because that sounds disgusting.” I want to tell him that just because something is vintage and ironic and trendy, that doesn’t make it good. I want to dare him to spell sriracha. As if on cue, a guy covered in neck tattoos walks by. My muse rolls her eyes as if to say “Told ya so.” Somehow, I’d forgotten how loud the music is and, frankly, how annoyingly hip the people are. No offense to my friends who were early adapters to the area. You moved in when the real estate was cheap. You dug the surfer-aging hippie-struggling artist-homeless veteran-smalltime drug dealer all living together in a kumbaya of ocean breeze. But with the advent of “Silicon Beach” driving prices up so that only chain stores can afford the rent, Abbot Kinney’s old charm is rapidly evaporating.
My final stop is the Venice Grind in Mar Vista, where all the people who cannot afford three million dollar bungalows still live. There are a few more businesses popping up on this stretch of Venice Boulevard, but still plenty of grit to satisfy my girl. A more mellow but still hip crowd populates the local businesses, the way Venice used to be twenty years ago. The neck tattoos feel more earned here, like they belong to a person who knows his way around a Fender, as opposed to the poseurs on Abbot Kinney who seem inked up for the occasion. One drawback to the Grind: the coffee is like Colon Blow. But they have normal food (bagels, croissants, cookies) and plenty of places to plug in your laptop. The music is soft and the guy behind the counter is nice. I think I’ll stay for a while.