Heading out of Los Angeles

Becky Burns's picture

During Spring Break 2015, I traveled to Los Angeles from Chicago to spend some time with my adult daughter, Katie.  Katie is an actress and a writer, surviving in the City of Angels by relentlessly promoting herself, auditioning, working at a bookstore, and adding odd jobs when needed. She lives in a tiny room in a rented home near LAX, and so I needed to make arrangements to sleep in other quarters.  I took to the web and booked a room via AirBnb for the first time. This trip ended up presenting me with three “first time” experiences, as well as one “not again!” episode, all of which served to continue to mold my soul and spirit, inspiring me to do what I haven’t done in a long time: write. 


AirBnB, and More

The AirBnB room in Playa del Rey was lovely and convenient. It was in the home of Ballerini-Cooley Studios, and for those of you unfamiliar with AirBnb, you rent a room in someone’s home, as opposed to a hotel room. You get a local host, as well as a much less expensive place to stay! 

Katie picked me up after a delayed flight, and the host checked me in with lots of friendly chatter, intrigued by Katie and her profession, since he and his mother  run a photography studio right on site. I met his mother, Kathy, the next day. She also was curious about Katie, wanting me to find her online so that she could see her accomplishments and her photos. I clicked away, tickled by her interest and her big heart. Kathy told me that she had grown up in Milwaukee, and although she has lived in LA since the 80’s, her Midwestern spirit still drives her. I could sense that. I felt like I was visiting an aunt that I hadn’t seen in years, and was in her kitchen catching her up on the past two decades. 

Kathy met my daughter a couple of days later and spent hours with her, giving her advice about her career, her look, and her headshots. I knew she wanted to photograph Katie, and I wanted this to happen as well.  She took a few quick shots of Katie, and they were amazing. Turns out she’s been in business since 1974. She’s seen Hollywood change, and had a lot of valuable advice for Katie in terms of promoting herself and preparing herself for auditions. A few weeks later, she did Katie’s headshots. Such good work, don’t you think? Their website is www.ballerinicooleystudios.com 

Katie Burns

Ballerini-Cooley Studios, LA

Ballerini-Cooley Studios, LA


Uber Beach Run

Another newbie run was my first time using Uber, the online ride service. One morning Katie had to work and I wanted to go to the beach. I downloaded the app and once I put in where I wanted to go, it was almost instantaneous service. I had to quickly throw together a beach bag, as the Uber driver was already texting me to come outside!  It was a very inexpensive ride, and I enjoyed chatting with the driver. He was from France, shared stories of his time in LA and why he had decided to settle there, and spoke of how much he loved southern California. Again, easy engagement with a friendly, almost familiar host, as well as wonderful service.  I had the beach near the Santa Monica Pier almost to myself that morning, the waves crashing in with the air cool enough to warrant a sweatshirt.  

Santa Monica Pier


Joshua Tree National Park with Coyote the Trickster

Katie and I decided to leave the smog of LA for a day and drive out to Joshua Tree. We’d always wanted to see this National Park, and it was one of those places that we just hadn’t had a chance to visit. An oasis of desert wonderland about 100 miles east of LA, we knew that early spring would be a perfect time to explore. Mid-week, no crowds, a mild clear day and evening were predicted. And the expectation was that Joshua Tree would be exactly what we had hoped for – a respite from the city, a much overdue reconnection with nature.

We set out in the morning, relatively successful at avoiding the brunt of rush hour traffic. The day before we had searched the Airbnb website and  I had made the comment, “Well, I only know one person who lives in Joshua Tree – or at least she used to live there –  I met her briefly in Denver over a decade ago, and who knows if she is still there…”  There were about 4-5 rooms listed in and around Joshua Tree. And sure enough, one of them was in Paula’s home. What are the chances? It was a fun moment of serendipity.

Paula gave us directions to get to a trailhead in the park that was “off the beaten path”, which both Katie and I prefer. Low person count, high nature vibe. Paula warned us to pay attention to land forms and markers on the trail. “You guys are regular hikers, right? You have experience with knowing where you are on a trail? This one can be confusing, so you have to pay attention.”  

“Oh yeah,” we replied…”We are hikers …we’ll figure it out.” We thanked her for her recommendation, and headed out with lots of water and sunscreen. Katie took her cheap Chinese umbrella for extra sun protection. With her directions, we easily found the trail head and set off.

Hiking Joshua Tree

Hiking Joshua Tree

I could feel Coyote on the trail, but I couldn’t see him. I’m sure he could see me, and was having quite a laugh. At first there was this sense that he was leading me by proxy. Off the path, onto the path, around the corner, up the hill. Yes, look…the beautiful blue sky, the light breeze, the perfect temperature for a walk in the desert. And yet I always had the sense that this was his territory, and he wasn’t going to let me just be there without some sort of big fat annoying joke. And sure enough…

It was truly a perfect day to hike in the desert. The sky was high with royal blue, the sun bright but not hot, a light breeze kept the flies at bay, and we were virtually the only souls on the trail. The rich landscape of succulents, sculpted boulders, and coarse sand the color of faded blonde allowed for a transport into a realm of otherworld fantasy. Katie climbed a few boulders, and with her blue umbrella looked like a goddess of ancient Persia or something. There were many turns on the trail that were relatively well-marked, and we ended up in a lull of trust. We knew the loop was a total of about 4-5 miles, and that there were two choices as to how to loop back to the trailhead. As we walked along in silence, I could sense Coyote. I always knew he was watching, and I reflected on how this trickster is part of my very own totem, and how my recent struggles with my lower back had so affected my ability to walk long distances, and how..oh my gosh…here I am walking a nice long distance and feeling pretty darn good! I could almost hear the creature chuckling. No really, I insisted, this is good. My back feels good and I’m getting a workout digging my shoes into this sand, and this is the first time in a very long time that I’d felt strong. Solid. Was that a wink, Sir Coyote? A snigger?

So you guessed it by now. We somehow missed the last part of the loop. If we had been paying close attention, as Paula had suggested, we may have noticed the landforms and figured out the proverbial fork in the road. As it turned out, we took the path that led us to backwards to a road. I had heard the cars in the distance, and thought that this meant we were almost back to the trailhead, so that directed the decision.  We weren’t the only ones. There were tons of footprints in the sand, another piece of misguidance. We thought, “Of course this is it – look at all the people that have gone this way,” ignoring the fact that there were just as many footprints going the other way. In my haste to go toward the main road, I missed the correct path. What a lesson. What a perfect trick, indeed! You have to hand it to Coyote – it was exactly what I needed to learn. 

So, after discovering that we were in fact NOT at the trailhead, we hiked along blacktop for about another mile before finding the trailhead and our car. By this time, my back was starting to hurt. It was probably at its absolute limit when we took the wrong turn a mile back, thinking we were heading to the trailhead right around the corner. It may have also been aggravated by the stress of getting a bit lost. In any case, I had overdone it. My sore back recovered, but not without some TLC time and rest. Coyote is shaking his head, of course. Wondering when I’ll pay attention and learn the lesson. It’s a life pattern. I’m working on it. 

Hiking Joshua Tree

Hiking Joshua Tree



Becky Burns, our Soulful Traveler editor, is an educator living in the Chicago area. Her column will give you insight and inspiration, taking you to the core or essence of the travel experience, something we all feel as a result of exploration and discovery. Look for her monthly postings describing local exploits in and around Chicago, regional road trips in the Midwest, national adventures from coast to coast, and overseas excursions. You are bound to be inspired and enriched, nodding your head in agreement as a familiar reminiscence comes to light again.  You can find her work at beckyburns.com or soothethespirit.com 


All photos courtesy and copyright Becky Burns