There’s a certain quality to driving—or, in my case, riding in cars with friends (‘cause I can’t drive to save my life)—around Southern California that you just don’t get anywhere else. Something about the regal, towering palm trees that line the streets, the ocean breeze that blows against your face (when you’re cruising down the Pacific Coast Highway), and, my absolute favorite, the creamy flares that result when the rays of that fabled California sunset hit your windshield in the sweetest possible angle. It could be the pedestrians in all their nonchalant, celluloid chic glory (Melrose tops my list in this department)—or, in the case of most of my girlfriends, the fellow motorists in the car to your left or to your right or right in front of you, especially those who are dead ringers for Brody Jenner (and you thought I was gonna say those with hilarious window chalks or cute bobbleheads)! And speaking of girlfriends, sometimes it’s just the people you’re in the car with. Whatever it is, there’s always something about it. Something that makes you want to cue a theme song, whether in your head or on your iPod/stereo.
Yes, a soundtrack is crucial when you’re driving—or riding—around the L.A. area. If you’re rolling down those streets and you’re not bobbing your head or tapping your steering wheel to something, it’s either your mind is in another place (let’s just hope that it’s on your money, but, even so, isn’t there a circa 1994 Snoop Doggy Dog jam for that?), you’re plain jaded (but, even so, isn’t there a circa 2000 Aerosmith song for that?), or something is just terribly, terribly wrong with you. Most people stick to just one song, putting the Repeat feature to good use. My brother-in-law Chester has Alice in Chains’s “Check My Brain” on a perpertual loop (which is why I like riding with him—been in love with this song since I had the privilege of hearing the band play it live during a Hollywood concert to promote their comeback album back in 2009); a friend from college, Winright, who works in L.A. as an occupational therapist and who is also an aspiring photographer, likes to move his car to, ironically, The Script’s “The Man Who Can’t Be Moved;” my friend Janice is all about One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful” right now; another friend Elane, whom I’ve nicknamed the “Queen of the 101” because, well, she can maneuver through that freeway like she’s the boss of it, is all about Nicki Minaj’s “Starships.”
As for me, I belong to the category of those who switch songs every corner I turn (just one of the perks of being a perennial shotgun rider: you got both hands free, so you have the luxury of manning your iPod or the stereo the whole time). Of course, I have a principal L.A. song, and that’s Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten”—I mean, what better song to help me pretend that I am Lauren Conrad than the theme of MTV’s The Hills, right?—but the minute I find out we are approaching a certain sweet spot or are about to get caught in a certain moment I am always quick to shuffle. For example: I have a song for whenever we’re approaching a palm-lined street or intersection (like that area of N New Hampshire just before it crosses Beverly), and that’s Long Beach Shortbus’s “California Grace” (“A palm tree can grow up and reach the sky/ I never did stop and wonder why/ It seems they climb into outer space/ I guess it’s cause they’re living under California grace…”). And whenever we’re cruising down the Pacific Coast Highway en route to Malibu, it’s, well, “Malibu” by Hole—although I’m quick to shift to Britney Spears’s “Sometimes” as soon as I find out that we’re fast approaching Paradise Cove, ‘cause that’s where the video for that song was shot. Down Melrose it’s always “This Town” by The Go-Go’s, and sometimes it’s “Walking in L.A.” by Missing Persons. Down Beverly Hills it’s always “Rolling with My Homies” by Coolio (hello, Clueless?), and sometimes it’s, well, “Beverly Hills” by Weezer. Down Hollywood and I see the Roosevelt looming in the distance it’s, well, “Hollywood” by Collective Soul. Down the 101 it’s “California” by Phantom Planet. Whichever street we’re at, though, and it’s sunset, and I get those creamy flares in the windshield, it’s “California” by Atherton (“The lights they shine so bright/ They shine for you tonight/ So come on, baby/ Come home to California…”). I even have a song for when I didn’t feel like going out in the first place but somebody just had to drag me, and that’s “California” by Rufus Wainwright (“California/ California/ You’re such a wonder that I think I’ll stay in bed…”)! And the list—or, should I say playlist—goes on and on and on…
But my absolute, absolute favorite song to play when I’m rolling down those streets with my homies is that song that I play when the rolling is done aimlessly (i.e., random, unplanned, destination unknown) and the homies in question are my homegirls. Two thumbs up if you guessed it’s “Summer Girls” by LFO!
I know it’s not the most, um, intelligently written song in the world—many a radio blogger have even included it in their “Worst Songs Ever” list—and when you read the lyrics out loud they just don’t make sense at all, but that’s exactly what makes it amusing and what gives it its feel-good factor (I mean, come on, not every song has to go “speaking words of wisdom,” right?). Plus you gotta admit that it’s got some of the catchiest hooks you’ve ever heard in recent years! It’s the kind of song that doesn’t just make want to bob your head or tap your fingers on the wheel—it’s the kind of song that makes you want to throw your head back and your hands up! And for some reason it does make you feel like you’re “the girl from Abercrombie and Fitch!”
This shoot right here was one of those “Summer Girls” kind of afternoon. Eunice Beronio gave literal meaning to “it’s fly when girls stop by for the summer” when she flew in from Albuquerque to spend Memorial Day weekend in L.A. with her best friend Catherine “Cay” Mendoza. Cay is my best friend Cryse’s sister, and it was her who asked me to tag along for this reunion so I could take their photos. None of this was ever planned—except for some of their clothes, which I helped them pick out the minute before we dashed out of Cay’s Glendale apartment—which made it very exciting for me. For once I didn’t have to worry about logistics, like plotting the locations and the sequences and all that good stuff! “Let’s not treat this like a shoot,” Eunice told me as we hopped into Cay’s car. “Think of it as just plain hanging out! That’s it!” At first I was worried because, you know, not knowing where we were going meant my soundtrack was uncertain, but once Cay started the ignition and we started screaming and laughing our hearts out I knew right there and then that it was the perfect time to play a little LFO!
Loved that they took me to places that I’d never been to before, and I mean that quite literally. This was my first time to see Pasadena in broad daylight (up until then the only thing I knew about Pasadena was that it housed the Westminster Presbyterian Church where Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag got married), and the place just took my breath away. I especially found Old Town Pasadena very charming—the marriage of turn-of-the-century architecture and modern amenities took me to another place in time, and for a moment there I forgot that I was in California! I even fell in love with the back alleyways, so much so that I decided to shoot our first set there. There was so much more that we could do with the place, but we didn’t have very plenty of time, so after a round of shopping and some tapas off we bolted to find the 110 and then the 105 that were going to lead us to Hermosa Beach—because what is a “Summer Girls” kind of day without a trip to the beach, right? Now, I’d been to every single beach in this part of the world—from Malibu to Santa Monica to Venice Beach to Marina Del Rey to Manhattan Beach to Redondo Beach—but I’d managed to skip Hermosa Beach somehow, so them taking me here was just like an answered prayer. They couldn’t have picked a more perfect time, too—it was the weekend of the 40th annual Fiesta Hermosa! Downtown Hermosa was packed; good thing Cay knew someone who had an apartment in the area so we had no trouble looking for parking space. This wasn’t the first ever arts and crafts festival I had been to in my life, but this was definitely the largest, so the girls gave me some time to circle the fair to marvel at all the paintings, sculptures, ceramics, and photography. One particular booth caught my eye and made my heart stop, carrying colorful, whimsical photos of lifeguard stations from various beaches around SoCal (it’s unfortunate that I never got to get the photographer’s name!)—I was raring to buy a large-scale print, but had to stop myself upon realizing there was no way I could ever fit the thing into my transpacific luggage. They also had a couple of bands lined up for the afternoon, and by the time the girls and I reached the Pier Plaza it was this Tom Petty tribute band that took to the stage. Heartland rock did make a very good backdrop for this kind of affair, but I had to fight the urge to sing along to “Free Fallin’” because I had some unfinished “Summer Girls” business to attend to! I enjoyed the set that we did on the pier, but not as much as the ones we did under it. The girls just wouldn’t stop frolicking that I got carried away and got my precious shoes all wet in the process! We went overboard with all the carefree chaos that we ended up doing some pretty crazy, amoral stuff, although I regret to inform you that you won’t be seeing those photos on here—they’re definitely for our eyes only!
There was supposed to be three of them in these photos—one of their best friends, Camille Serafin, who’d just flown in from Cebu, was supposed to join us, but it was her first time in California, and her first time to be reunited with her mom and sister after almost a decade, and we seemed to know we just couldn’t steal her away from a moment like that. There’s definitely a next time, though! Well, at least that’s what Cay promised me! So hang in there, Camille!
Thank you, Eunice and Cay, for taking me on this nice little road trip! For the good times and letting it roll! Definitely one of the highlights of my summer! I know we were stuck inside the car 50% of the time, but, hey, that’s L.A., right? And, as I learned from you and from everyone else in California, it’s not the destination, and sometimes it’s not even the journey—it’s who you’re with that matters! Hope you love the photos! I believe in my heart I did a pretty decent job making you look like the girls “from Abercrombie and Fitch!” LOL. Seriously, though, it looks like these photos are going to me more useful to me than to you guys. It’s raining real hard in my part of the world as I’m writing this, and I’m stuck inside the house—good thing I have these photos of you girls to look at to remind me of carefree summertime rides!
Catherine Mendoza and Eunice Sarita Beronio | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon in Pasadena, CA, and Hermosa Beach, CA, on May 26, 2012
Not a planned shoot or anything—just me taking pictures of my fine homegirls Melanie and Michelle Ediza as they showed me around their new home, also known as New York City. So lucky that my travel dates coincided with the end of their spring term—with school out of their way (for a couple of days, at least), they had no excuse not to make time for me! “Come on, you’ve been to that place before—give those girls a break and show yourself around,” a common friend had quipped as I was booking my plane tickets. When will people understand that the point of going to a city like New York is to be with people who love the place as much as you do? I mean, it’s not called “the Big Apple” for nothing—small apple, knock yourself out and enjoy it on your own; but a big one is definitely meant for sharing. Besides, there was one part of the city that I never got to see during my first visit, and that’s Brooklyn—and these girls lived right by the Marcy Avenue station, which was just perfect! Funny thing, ’cause on the plane to JFK all that ever played in my head where those lines from that one Estelle song that goes: “Let’s go on the subway, take me to your hood/ I’ve never been to Brooklyn and I’d like to see what’s good…”
The hood in question being Williamsburg, and, boy, did I get to see what’s good! Fell in love with the quirky little storefronts down Bedford Ave., and the quaint little sidewalk and rooftop cafés that lent a deliciously eccentric touch to brunch hour. But, of course, none of these were as enthralling as the people that you bumped into on the streets—the guys looked like they were clones of a circa Midnite Vultures Beck, and like they were headed to some experimental rock jam session in some ultra-obscure basement; and the girls looked like they’d just stepped out of a Free People catalog! It was official: I had walked into hipster, grownup cool kid territory. And none of this bohemian coolness was contrived, too! If someone looked like an artist, there was a 99% chance he really was an artist. Yes, this was where paint-splattered jeans were authentic (it was in the early ‘90s that the area became publicly known as an “artists’ colony,” when about “an estimated 2,000” of them hightailed it here from Manhattan to eschew the hype and the perversely rising rents—as Brad Grooch wrote in the June 22, 1992 issue of New York, “Bohemia has always been 90 percent low-rent and 10 percent dream”). There was an obvious joke here that I tried so hard to restrain from making, and that was that, with their uptown girl style sense, Melanie and Michelle almost seemed like misfits in this part of town—I, however, had no trouble blending in, what with my acid wash denim vest with the insignia of the ‘70s horror punk band Misfits handpainted on the back (yes, the Misfits factor made me not a misfit!). Still, the girls couldn’t imagine settling anywhere else—why look further when they were digging the artsy, offbeat vibe (Melanie for one seemed to have gotten in touch with her muse, and she was getting her write stuff on now, not to mention she was also starting to get into painting), it was peaceful enough at night, and they were surrounded by good eats (one of their favorite places to take me for late dinner was this Dominican cuchifrito restaurant some 5 minutes away from their apartment that had something that tasted like our lechon kawali)? And even if it wasn’t their scene in terms of fashion, Michelle still knew where the cool consignment shops were, and she even took me to one where I got to buy boots that looked like they could’ve once belonged to Patti Smith (or Johnny Depp) for only $22!
Of course, we didn’t make it all about Brooklyn—70% of the time we spent taking Manhattan, too. I loved how there was a “division of labor” that took effect when it came to showing me around the island: Michelle was assigned to take me to the East Village, Gramercy, the Flatiron District, Korea Town, and Midtown, while Melanie took it upon herself to drag me to the Lower East Side, SoHo, Nolita, Bowery, Chelsea, the West Village, the Meatpacking District, Central Park, the Upper West Side, and the Upper East Side. So I’m writing this and making it sound like I was working them up pretty bad, but trust me when I say that they were very sprightly about the whole thing and approached their “tourist guide” duties with much gusto, and that it was me who nearly had a breakdown due to all that walking! I wouldn’t even wake up early—trust me to oversleep in the City that Never Sleeps—and they would tell me off for wasting time! Swear to God, there were times I felt like I was being punished, like when they’d insist I had to grab something to eat in every single neighborhood we stopped to see—normally I wouldn’t complain because, like them, I can eat everything in the world and gain only 1 pound, but it slows me down when I’m bloated, you see (of course I didn’t feel this way about when they introduced me the Halal guys down 53rd and 6th, and to Café Habana and Rice to Riches in Nolita—I would eat that stuff all day, everyday, if I had my way)! Still, I was grateful for their “iron hand” treatment—I mean, I’d probably end up seeing only 10% of the city if not for them!
Speaking of “iron hand,” did I mention that one Saturday evening found us at the Bowery Hotel’s Library Bar, with Zooey Deschanel just a maraschino cherry’s throw away from us? Yes, I legit foamed in the mouth, and was about to jump out of my seat to have my picture taken with the (500) Days of Summer and New Girl star, but Melanie shot me a glance that said, “Don’t even think about it,” so I had no choice but to sit my ass down and settle for my glass of Hemingway. But strictness aside, Melanie and I did get to enjoy a lot of lighthearted, LOL moments—like when we went to the Met together to check out the Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations exhibition at the Costume Institute (ongoing until August 19, so if you’re in New York right now do check it out while you still have the chance), only to find out that the style of dress that we loved was actually called “ugly chic!” Nothing was funnier, though, than when we were standing somewhere in Broadway and W 81st, and then I ducked because I thought I felt an earthquake, and then Melanie just cracked up and said, “That was the 1 train under your feet, my dear!” Thank God not a lot of people were around to witness my stupidity!
My most memorable Manhattan moments with them, though, were those that had to do with our favorite Sex and the City hotspots (yes, no need to spend $48 on the SATC tour package ‘cause these girls got me covered). Wasn’t it only a couple of years back when we’d all went to watch the Sex and the City movie and cry over it together? And now here we were, Michelle and I, inside the New York Public Library, standing on the very staircase where Carrie Bradshaw had dragged her fabulous Vivienne Westwood wedding dress in shame after finding out Mr. Big had decided to stand her up. “Don’t get too ‘Carrie-d’ away, love!” Michelle screamed laughingly, perhaps because she sensed that I was about to cry. Of course, the trophy went to Melanie when, after a sumptuous late lunch at Le Charlot (the “little Paris off Madison”—and, yes, their crab and avocado salad is to die for), she asked for us to pay a little visit to the Ladies’ Pavillion at the Hernshead over at Central Park West. I’m sure most of you have never heard of this place before, but it’s where Carrie and Miranda, approximately an hour and 56 minutes into the first movie, sat down with pretty little Granary bread sandwiches and juices from Pret A Manger (they’re yummy, by the way) to discuss the issue of forgiveness, of putting things behind them and letting the past be the past, with India.Arie’s cover of Don Henley’s “The Heart of the Matter” playing in the background. This was my second time here, since I’d made it a point to see the place during my first New York trip some three years ago, but I guess this was Melanie’s first time despite having lived here for over a year now. I just thought it was cute how, right before we stepped into the foothpath that led to the Pavillion, she yanked her iPhone out so she could play “The Heart of the Matter”—nothing like good old-fashioned background music to set the mood, right? Now it’s impossible for me to think of that place—or to listen to that song—without thinking of her!
I love visiting friends from home in their new cities. It reacquaints you with the part of them that you miss the most, and acquaints you with the part of them that’s brand spanking new. Most people are gonna say that’s a pretty sticky situation to be stuck in—i.e., when you’re face-to-face with who a person used to be, and who they’ve become or are about to become. I say it’s the ideal situation, though, because then you get to enjoy the best of both worlds (not to mention it’s a great way to ensure you don’t get dropped from the equation as they make the transition). It’s kind of like being caught between two places. Like when you find yourself smack in the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge, for example—you look at Brooklyn, and then you look at Manhattan, and you can’t decide which view is more captivating, and so you just smile dreamily and soak both up. I loved the Melanie and Michelle in Cebu—the diligent, dreamy-eyed family-oriented sweethearts—but I also happen to love the Melanie and Michelle in New York—fearless, adventure-loving and independent young women, who were not afraid to laugh at themselves, and who were easily inspired. Again, it’s like when you’re made to choose between Brooklyn and Manhattan: you just don’t.
Melanie and Michelle Ediza | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon in New York, NY, on May 8-16, 2012