Sometime in November of 2007, my co-worker, Tommy Lee, who wore flip-flops to the office everyday and made more money than I probably ever will, saw me in the lunch room talking to my partner Jeremiah. I was talking about how I needed a haircut, and how my roommate was trying to convince me to see his friend who cut hair nearby our apartment.
Tommy said, “You don’t want a girl cutting your hair. You want a gay guy. You need to see a gay guy. I’ll set you up with my stylist. I’ll cover you, you just pay for the tip.”
“You don’t have to do that. That’s way too nice.”
“Not a problem, I’m happy to.”
The next week I walked into West End Salon at the corner of La Cienega and Melrose around 7:00 on a Friday night. I had called Justin, the stylist, a few minutes before and told him I would be there soon. He said it was fine, he was just finishing up a blow-dry.
I walked into the salon. It appeared empty. I read a Men’s Vogue magazine, which featured an article by Dean Wareham, former frontman for the indie rock bands Galaxie 500 and Luna. I was surprised to see him willfully associating himself with this magazine, but later discovered it was merely an excerpt from his forthcoming memoir. Regardless, the article provided a feeling of warmth and comfort that few other waiting room activities could have topped. This was definitely the place for me to get my hair cut.
Justin finished up his last client. The rest of the salon was empty. It was a dark Friday night. Justin rented out his own room inside the salon. He was an ex-coworker of Tommy’s when they both worked at Skechers Company.
He asked me, “So, what brought you out to L.A.?”
I considered this an excellent opportunity.
“I left Chicago on August 21. I had been living in the Lakeview neighborhood, just six blocks from Wrigley Field. I got sick of living there and one of my best friends from college had decided to move to L.A. with his girlfriend. They were going to ride across the country on a motorcycle. I decided it would be a fantastic opportunity, as I was planning a cross-country road trip around the same time and it would be a blast to do it with this particular friend, Sam. He just said he had to get his bike ready for the trip. He had recently joined a biker gang called “Fawty Bluntz,” based in Brooklyn. Anyways, I planned to meet him and his girlfriend at The Lost Sea, this underground lake inside of a cave in Sweetwater, Tennessee. I couldn’t wait to get this trip started enough. In hindsight, I wish I had stayed in Chicago until the legitimate end of my lease, August 31. I lost a dresser, $100, and a good deal of mental reasoning because I couldn’t wait.
“The first day I drove to Memphis and stayed overnight there. I stayed the next night there too. Then the next day, my friend Alec decided to drive to meet me in Nashville where I would be staying for the next two nights. After that, I drove to Chapel Hill.”
“What, where’s Chapel Hill?” Justin asked.
“North Carolina. So I stayed a night there and I talked to my friend Sam and he told me I would have to drive to New York because his bike wouldn’t be ready for a few more days. And I said okay. Now, the fact is I was waiting to drive to New York until a little over a month later, when my friend Giana was getting married, in early October. I went to school in New York and most of my friends live there so I decided, I love New York, why not go twice? So I drove from Chapel Hill to New York in one day. I met up with Sam and his girlfriend, Kelly, the first or second night there. His bike would be ready soon. We would have to drive to her parent’s house in Larchmont, NY, and then we would have to drive to his mother’s house, in Meriden, CT, and then back to Larchmont before we left, because he needed to pick up some stuff for the trip. After all of this preparation, when we finally made it back to Larchmont, on the eve of our departure, I get a phone call from my dad. This was on August 27, 2007. He starts off by saying that something really bad has happened, but that everything is, in fact, okay. Then he tells me that my little brother Michael has been stabbed on his first day of class at University of Colorado-Boulder.”
“Oh my God,” Justin said, pausing the hair cut, covering his mouth with his hand, “That’s so awful! Is he okay?”
“He’s fine now. And I actually talked to him that night and he told me he was fine. I had been planning to stop in Boulder on my way to California so I would be seeing him soon. He told me it was fine to do that. So did my Dad, paradoxically. Because we left the next morning, and drove to Harrisburg, PA, and I talked to my sister Meredith from a motel room there, and she told me I had to defer my trip to a later date and return to Chicago immediately. I told her there was no way I was going to do that. She said she had to go to Boston, and I had to be in Chicago to support our family in this time of crisis. I told her she just wanted me to go home so I could drive my little sister to school and take care of the pets, so she could move to Boston. She told me I was the biggest jerk in the world if I didn’t do that. She started crying on the phone. Eventually she hung up. Random friends from Chicago called afterwards. They had seen my brother on the front page of the Chicago Tribune. It was a major news story for the city. The next morning my Dad called me and told me that I must return to Chicago, even though everybody there was flying to Colorado to be with my brother. It made no sense.”
“We pushed on. The next night we camped out in Natural Bridge, VA, and that was probably the most fun I had with my two friends on that trip as a whole. The next day, we drove through the Blue Ridge Parkway, against my wishes. Though it was very scenic, and great fun on motorcycle, I did not have as easy a time with it in my car, could not keep up with the bike, nor appreciate the scenery. Later on that day just past Blacksburg near Roanoke, I saw in the back of my rear-view mirror some stuff flying off something. I thought for a second that it might have been Sam and Kelly’s bike. Maybe some of their bags had fallen off. In any case, I thought, they’ll repack it and meet me later. One thing I got annoyed about on this trip was how much slower I had to move with these two in tow. I knew we couldn’t afford to stop at too many places. About twenty minutes later, I got a call from Sam. He was saying they had a wreck, they had gotten in a motorcycle accident.”
“Oh my God,” Justin said, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“No, it happened. I turned around and drove to meet up with them at the Progressive Auto Insurance office in Roanoke, VA, and we stayed at a Quality Inn there, and they decided they would have to return to Massachusetts. Their bike was destroyed. We never seriously considered piling into my car. Their morale was crushed. The next morning they got a rental car and drove to Massachusetts. I drove to Birmingham, AL. The next night I drove to New Orleans, and I had a great time there. The next night I stayed at Houston, and ran up my biggest hotel bill at the Hilton there. After that, I drove down to see my friend Andres in McAllen, TX, this town I had never heard of before, even though it had a population over 100,000. It was right on the border of Mexico in the southeast corner of Texas. I stayed there for a few days, my longest stop anywhere since my three or four days in New York. After that I drove up to Austin, where my friends Jaime, Matt and Roxanne all lived. I stayed there for a while too, and that was probably my single favorite part of the trip, to be honest. After Austin, I should have realized that it was all going downhill from there. I drove to Oklahoma City the next night and ran up too big a hotel bill and ate at a very expensive restaurant and did not have that great a time. The next day I drove to Boulder, CO and stayed there for almost a week. I remember September 11 passed while I was staying there. After that, I drove to Hurricane (pronounced “Hurri-cahn”), Utah and stayed over there. The next day I made it to L.A. and stayed with my friends in Venice Beach.”
By then the hair cut was finished. Justin told me that Tommy had covered the price of the haircut. I had forgotten Justin’s name. I think I called him Harry. He corrected me and told me his name was Justin and I said I should have remembered that because I had a friend named Justyn, only he spelled it with a y. Justin said he sounded like the type of person that would fit right in here. I gave him $20 for the tip, because Tommy shouldn’t have paid for the hair cut, I said, and felt bad just giving $10 when it was a $40 price. Justin was very happy with the tip and I was very happy with the haircut. That was a very good time, November 2007.