Tango Diva : Travel Stories for Women, by Women

It was a bold idea to tempt fate and risk the mixture—New Years and a clean slate on the one hand, and my ex-fiancé on the other. Wouldn’t it have been safer to stay in San Francisco with my friends for New Years? Gone to the same old places? Seen the same old faces?

Why was I going to Santa Monica? I’d never been there, I’d only seen Venice Beach in movies like Fletch, and what were the midnight-kiss rules when you’re hanging out with your ex?

I mean, we’d kind of resolved our issues. And we’d both kind of moved on. He’d had a serious girlfriend at one point, and I’d found solace carving out a corner of my own in his city, San Francisco. When I’d met him almost ten years ago, I had just moved to town and didn’t know anyone. Everyone I’d met belonged to him, and he got them all back when we split up. But somehow, I’d found the strength, the courage to remake the City in my own image, finding my own scene, my own favorite sushi bar, my own two feet.

Of course, it didn’t hurt that he took off to Indonesia (or “Indo” as he began calling it) for a year to get over me after I gave back the ring. So I’d had the City to myself for a while.

But the New Years line-up this year hadn’t done anything for me. None of the parties grabbed my attention, and a lot of my girlfriends had boyfriends now. I wanted to get away, but I didn’t want to go far or feel hassled in any way.

One of my year-end projects was house-cleaning, the kind where you actually go through all those bags and boxes looming in the corners, where lost treasures are found, and especially where you actually fill up those empty photo albums, even if you can’t quite remember the chronology.

I was having one of those quiet winter days at home where happiness was taking charge of my clutter. At the bottom of one box I found some old photos. I didn’t recognize the faces at first. One kind of tugged at me. It was my ex at a young age opening presents under a Christmas tree. And those were his parents at a younger age. His Dad with jet black hair—I’d only known him as silvery-gray.

These were my ex’s treasures. I called him immediately. And then we started talking. And I said I wanted to send him the pictures. And he said that I should give them to him in person, and why hadn’t I visited yet? The next thing I knew, I had promised to spend New Years with him. He wasn’t dating anyone, and I wasn’t dating anyone. It’d be a friends thing. Just friends.

I hit the road Friday morning, New Years Eve day. I had created a special iPod playlist for the occasion. And I was driving. Just me on the road. Just driving, playing my favorite songs. Rain threatened to hit, but the sun staged an impressive defense, and the result was rainbows up and down the I-5.

I got in just before sunset, and my ex was already out. He said to meet him on Main Street—he’d explain how to get there. I told him that my car had GPS. He laughed. “Now you finally can find your way out of a paper bag.”

I laughed too, because it was true and I wasn’t too proud to admit that. I parked my car and started walking, looking for the right bar. My cell phone rang. “Are you in a red shirt?”

I looked up and there he was on the opposite street corner. You know, he looked good. Really good. He’d grown out his light brown hair. It was wavy. He had neatly trimmed facial hair, a little goatee that actually look well kept, I like men that know their way around the best beard products. He looked fit, slightly tan, and his shirt was nice.

The light turned and he crossed towards me. We hugged. I’d forgotten that his eyes were green.

He said, “You look great.”

I hoped so. My outfit was a little daring- it was a red sweater with a zipper in front, and I’d pulled down the zipper far enough to show off the lacy top of a black camisole underneath. And my jeans were tight.

I followed him inside the bar. He told me that Arnold Schwarzenegger used to own it. His friends were on the patio and they were all new to me. They all shouted his name and I marveled that he really did have a life down here. His move had always been kind of abstract to me. He had come down here to be with his then-girlfriend. I assumed that he’d come back after their breakup, but he didn’t.

My ex said, “Let’s go to the next place. This place has slow service.” Everyone got up, even if their drinks were full. True to form, my ex was still calling the shots.

I tagged along to Enterprise Fish Co., where he, of course, knew the bartending staff. They had tiaras and noise makers behind the bar, too, and beads, so we got all dolled up. A waitress walked by and my ex confided that he was hoping that she’d come out with us later after she got off her shift.

She was pretty. Not amazingly drop dead pretty. But nice looking. I wondered if I was just nice-looking too.

Donned in New Years finery, we jumped in two taxis and turned through unfamiliar streets. I said I’d drive but my ex said not to because I’d had a glass of champagne. Now we were going to a house party. The taxis stopped on a dark corner and we all piled out. There wasn’t a soul on the street or a street lamp. On one side, there were dark balconies above us, and it seemed to me that all they looked out on what was an asphalt wasteland. It felt creepy. Headbanger music pounded the air as we walked down the deserted street. Here was a houseparty under way. Headbanger men were on the balcony and spilled down the stairs. I hoped this wasn’t our party. But it was the only sign of life.

We kept walking. I wasn’t too nervous with six guys around me, but I did wonder how I’d get back to my hotel. Yes, I had opted for a hotel. It just seemed like the right thing to do. You know?

My ex rang a doorbell on the deserted end of the asphalt wasteland. We walked upstairs into a small apartment. Not many people were here, and the couple who were playing host and hostess were British and dressed in black leather. I was told that the boyfriend was responsible for all the paintings on the walls. I tried to be upbeat about them, the ones with blue squares on black backgrounds, and the ones with bleeding triangles on green backgrounds. Oh yes, I loved abstract art. Adored it.

Midnight came slowly. On the balcony, the boyfriend and his artist friends began shooting off illegal fireworks. My ex came and sat next to me on the couch, knowing that as long as there were explosions, I would be nervous. I just had a thing about loud pops.

At about ten to, hordes of people began showing up. This was their midnight destination. My ex knew them all and held court, still seated next to me. I sat there wondering if we would kiss. I wondered if he was wondering if we were going to kiss. I wondered if the girl from the bar was on her way. Did I even want to kiss him?

I asked him what part of town we were in. He was incredulous.

“You mean you don’t recognize it?”

“This alley?”

“Alley? Babe, this is Venice Beach!”

“It is? Like the movies?”

“The very one.”

“But it’s so dark and scary.”

“I’ll take you here tomorrow during the day and you’ll see.”

But I didn’t see. At least not with him. Just before midnight, the waitress showed up. Which was fine. I snuck out as they began to French kiss. A taxi was downstairs letting out a crowd of people, and I grabbed it and headed back to my car.

In the morning, New Years Day, I went to Venice Beach by myself. It was walking distance from my hotel. And it was like another world. There were street performers and street vendors, and cafés full of people. There were rollerbladers and people on bicycles and even a unicycle. I found the balcony from the night before- it looked out onto all this insanity, and the basketball courts from White Men Can’t Jump.

I didn’t hear from my ex that day, and I didn’t mind. I rented a bicycle and rode up and down the beach, finding the Santa Monica Pier and the Third Street Promenade. I was still glad that I hadn’t stayed in San Francisco.

I wonder if my ex was.

Stephanie’s Santa Monica/ Venice Beach Guide:

Hotels:

For the budgeted among us, the Bayside Hotel on Ocean Ave. is a bargain with kitchenettes, ocean views, free parking, and little patio areas where you can sip wine and watch the waves roll in. It provides just as much as you need and is perfectly located within walking distance of the Santa Monica Pier and Venice Beach. The beach is practically out your front porch!

2001 Ocean Avenue, 800.525.4447

For the luxe with bucks, definitely stay at the sumptuous Casa Del Mar. It’s next door to the Bayside Motel, and for just about five hundred more dollars, you can have an ocean view here, too! And you can park your car for around thirty bucks a day. The cocktail lounge overlooks the beach and Pier, and it’s just too much to sit here sipping champagne watching the sunset and the Ferriswheel lights blink on.

1910 Ocean Way

For the super hip traveler, the Viceroy is too cool for school. The scene by the pool is fab, and the bar inside is groovy, baby. It’s on Ocean too, but a block or so inland.

1819 Ocean Avenue at Pico, 800-670-6185

Restaurants:

Restaurant Hama is a fun sushi joint in Venice Beach where the locals like to go. The staff delights in your entry and shout greetings when you walk through the door.

213 Windward Ave, 310.396.8783

Schatzi’s is a bar and restaurant in Santa Monica that used to belong to Arnold Schwarzenegger- it was his first venture pre-Planet Hollywood. Schatzi means sweetie, and it sure is sweet with a great patio area, although you must be extra patient for your drinks because the cocktail waitresses are expected to perform at intervals in the hula show.

In the Courtyard Shops, 3110 Main, 310.399.4800

Enterprise Fish Co. off Main Street near Ocean is a fun restaurant and seafood bar with a big aquarium and live lobster tank, heated patio, a fully stoked bar, and if it’s good enough for my ex, then it’s gotta be pretty darn good. We just had drinks there but who wouldn’t love to come back for live Maine lobster??

174 Kinney St., 310.392.8366

The Sidewalk Café on Venice Beach is a daytime MUST! How fun to sit on their patio and watch street performers entertain you! Watch them mess with tourists, and after your brunch, walk along and check out their wild wares. And remember, only the unaware tourist gets made fun of, so watch your back!

On the corner of the Venice Boardwalk and Horizon, 310.399.5547

Shopping and Nightlife Areas:

Third Street Promenade—contrived shopping, restaurant, and entertainment area in downtown Santa Monica with three movie theaters on three blocks! But it’s car-free, so it’s fun to stroll around and check it out. * If you see an OG out there, don’t pay up till after he throws down.

Main Street—such a cool street! Bar after bar after restaurant after boutique. But be careful at night- one or two blocks in the wrong direction could be dodgy. I saw a pitbull wandering around off his leash. Yipes!

Main Street at Ashland is right about the heart of it

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