There I was, riding my bike naked through the streets of Chinatown, cars honking and pedestrians gawking as a chilly drizzle fell on me and 300 other intrepid fools who had braved the June gloom to wheel around downtown L.A. for the World Naked Bike Ride. Despite the weather and the pungent fug of wet nudist, the vibe was exuberant: we were FREE!
There was a Naked Bike Ride in Vegas that same evening, and while I probably should have been back home supporting my local nudist community…true to the square-ass nature of “Sin City,” you had to wear pasties and a thong at the Vegas ride — no nudity was technically allowed. LAME! So I went to L.A., and covered the ride for True Nudists.com, instead. Here’s a video I made for them:
After the ride, my sister and I hung around the finish line, just enjoying the diversity of the crowd. There was a solid turnout, and it was a pretty good mix of ages, races and demographics — and only 20 guys for every girl! There were the usual old white hippie dudes, old white surfer dudes, younger white alterna-dudes and one special dreadlocked trustafarian with an incense burner mounted on his handlebars, trailing a plume of Nag Champa. But there was also a decent number of African-American and Hispanic nudists (including one awesome pockmarked old cholo), and even a transgendered Asian beauty with a glossy curtain of jet black tresses cascading from his A-cups to her penis.
Standing naked on that urine-soaked Skid Row street corner surrounded by such a bounty of new-era humanity, it struck me how blasé my sis and I have become. Most people would freak the fuck out in such surroundings, but we were too busy talking to this sinewy pan-sexual formerly-transgender Hungarian new age guru wearing little more than Helmut Newton glasses and a silver-streaked ponytail, who invited us to a workshop he was teaching on the subject of Sex & Ego Death later that month in West Hollywood. Far out — how could I say no? I’ve already jettisoned my self-respect and dignity; if I could just ditch my ego, too, I’d really be free!
So I went back to Vegas, wrapped up my affairs, packed my adventure bags and headed back out to the Left Coast. For the past few years I’ve been in the habit of taking July and August off for the sake of my sanity; the monsoons had just started to roll into Vegas, leaving the air thick, humid and around 150 degrees, so it was high time to GTFO anyway. And what better way to start my 2016 Summer Adventure Tour than with a good old-fashioned ego-killing?
Now, I’ll be honest: I secretly expected this “workshop” to be a new-Age fuckfest veiled in a thin guise of intellectualism. To that end, I considered wearing a chastity belt or at least some really complicated ski pants; unfortunately, I had nothing like that in my summer adventure bags and had to wear a caftan with no underwear or anything underneath. Fortunately, however, my suspicions proved to be totally unfounded — despite a conspicuous pile of condoms and lube on the table, it really just turned out to be an opportunity for 10 or 12 of us earnest festival types to sit around the rec room of a West Hollywood apartment complex listening to the Hungarian guru recite a luridly detailed litany of his past sexploits.
And what sexploits they were!! Role playing in Bangkok, trussed up in Saran Wrap and fucked anonymously by partygoers in Harlem…that guy gets around, although he’s currently celibate, possibly due to exhaustion or maybe total ego implosion — I’m not sure, he never really did get around to the “Ego Death” part of the talk. It turned out he’d been invited to give his workshop at an upcoming European festival, and was just using us to practice on…so it ended up being nothing more than a very interesting evening, with everyone retiring up to the guru’s apartment for aloe vera cocktails afterward. Our host put on some Tiësto and changed into a skirt and some strappy Japanese underwear, and I would have loved nothing more than to get fucked up on aloe vera and party the night away with this fascinating person…but alas, my sis and I were on a mission for ego death, and we had an appointment the very next day in Tijuana.
When I was in San Diego a couple months ago, my sis and I were walking down the street in Pacific Beach, headed to meet some friends for post-Black’s Beach food & drink, when this random guy stopped us: “Aren’t you Sarah Jane?” (He said he recognized me by my “drunk chick cowboy hat.”) It turned out to be a photographer I’m Facebook friends with, so we ended up inviting him to join us…and astonishingly, he ended up knowing some of the people we were meeting, too — I guess they’re all part of the local bondage photography scene. Small world! Anyway, this photographer was born in Mexico and enjoys giving National Geographic-style tours of the red light district in Tijuana…so he invited my sis and I on just such a tour, next time I was in the area.
Fuck yeah, Tijuana! I always wanted to go there — from what I’d read, it was nothing but donkey shows, cheap drinks, prostitutes and hellraising Marines. In other words, kinda like Vegas…without the bullshit! Even better, our new friend also promised to take us to the best taco stand in the world, which just happens to be on a street corner right in the middle of the red light district — so we arranged to meet up with him in San Diego the day after our ego death workshop, and bring our appetites.
It ended up being four of us: my sis and I, our tour guide and another guy from the photography scene who also happens to be a practitioner of Orgasmic Meditation — basically, a real wholesome crew. We all met up at our tour guide’s house around 5pm and headed for the border, parking in one of the little lots on the U.S. side and then just walking across. Despite it being a Friday night, there was no line at all; Mexico is easier to get into than even the shittiest Vegas nightclub, and there were no douchebag bouncers at the door, either. ¡Fabuloso!
Once in Tijuana, our guide took us on a sort of walking tour around the main drag. Everywhere you looked there were crumbling, colorful old buildings housing shops, bars, nightclubs and restaurants, but a lot of them were shuttered and in various awesomely photogenic states of decay; apparently the U.S. military doesn’t let our San Diego-based heroes go down there anymore, and that combined with alarmist media reports has killed off around 90% of the tourist business in Tijuana. We were pretty much the only Anglos down there, which was kinda weird…but honestly, not that different from walking around my neighborhood in Vegas (East Charleston Blvd).
To give us the full experience, our guide first took us into the swanky, glamorous old Hotel Caesar for cocktails; since this was supposedly where the Caesar salad was invented, we also shared one of those, and it was fucking amazing. The ambiance was clubby 1920s steakhouse chic, and you seriously could have been in any Vegas casino or hipster bar; it was that nice. Meanwhile out front, Hummer limos ferried shrieking Quinceañera parties up and down the street as leathery, toothless men sold gum and Chupa Chups from tiny alleyway kiosks, and an entrepreneurial hack photographed tourists next to a horse painted like a zebra. Except for a group of adorable Mexican punk rock kids being purposely shiftless in black leather jackets and Misfits t-shirts, everyone was busy and on the hustle — but all that was nothing compared to what we were about to witness in the red light district!
Before we made our way a few blocks over into the underworld, our host took us into a couple of adorably gentrified little hipster areas so that we could see for ourselves that Tijuana is not just a den of sin and iniquity; like many other ravaged urban areas in North America, earnest, mustachioed Millennials are fighting to reclaim their city with an arsenal of artisanal soap shops, cafés, and craft-brewpubs — only somehow, what comes off as annoyingly pretentious in the U.S.
struck me as touchingly optimistic down there. Talk about fighting an uphill battle — those kids have their work cut out for them! But it looked like they were doing all right; we went down this one little alleyway full of tiny shops, cafés and bars, and the scene was vibrant and bustling, with people of all ages sitting around little tables made of old wooden pallets as a troubadour played guitar on a makeshift stage bathed in the flickering light of votive candles. It was reminiscent of those art walks they have in most major U.S. cities on the First Friday or Third Thursday of every month; a hard-won little pocket of artsy fartsy introspection in a roiling sea of psychedelic, ear-splitting, unregulated, unmitigated chaos.
All of which was well and good…but I came for the chaos; ain’t no artisanal soap strong enough to kill an ego!! So we made our way back out into the exuberantly madding crowd toward the red light district. Along the way we passed a few fully-costumed 8-piece mariachi bands that just hang out on the street corners down there, musical prostitutes waiting to be hired by some passing baller in need of entertainment for his daughter’s Quinceañera or wedding or whatever. Our tour guide hired this one band to play us a couple songs right there on the corner, and it was fantastic — first they rolled their eyes through yet another performance of “Cielito Lindo” (my request; I can’t help it, I love that song and all it stands for), and then at our guide’s request they did “El Rey,” a macho anthem about a guy with absolutely nothing who still claims to be King of his world. Hey now!
As astonishing as I found seeing fully-costumed 8-piece mariachi bands just hanging around on the street waiting to be hired….shit got even more surreal once we got into the gritty part of town. We were walking down the sidewalk checking out all the various brothels, strip clubs and bars, headed toward the legendary taco stand, when we came upon another band of musicians standing around waiting to be hired. These guys didn’t have on fancy costumes or sombreros or anything — just jeans and t-shirts, clarinets and trumpets, a snare drum and a bass drum and one guy toting a duct-taped tuba; this was banda Sinaloense, an absolutely incredible style of music that can only be described as exuberantly ear-splitting cacophonous madness! I never heard anything like it — our guide paid them to play a song called “Las Mañanitas,” which is supposedly like the Mexican version of “Good Morning to You…” but fuck, if someone woke me up with this racket I’d probably have a heart attack!!! The band struck in with frenzied gusto, banging cymbals, braying trumpets, the shrill blast of madly tootling clarinets intertwining with the machine-gun/garbage-can-lid-rattling rat-a-tat of the snare drum….and all the while, this little banty rooster of a guy in the middle just standing there with his hands in his jean pockets bellowing mellifluously in a hearty baritone. Fucking madness! I LOVED IT SO MUCH!!
We took a quick tour around the block, our guide pointing out this or that brothel, and then decided to have a drink or three at one of the more upscale strip clubs, Adelita’s. It wasn’t the most upscale club — according to our guide, those are boring (and I’m inclined to agree) — but Adelita’s was a nice, solid place to kick back and watch what I can only assume to be the Greatest Show on Earth. I’ve never seen anything like it!
On first glance, it appeared pretty much like any Vegas strip club — dimly lit neon interior, air thick with cigarette smoke and the smell of scented body lotion, half-naked chicks walking around in Lucite platforms clutching little purses, and a stage with two poles and an aerial hoop in the middle, surrounded by tables and chairs. The main difference was, there was no “sniffer’s row” (seats along the stage where the real pervs can get a close-up gander), nor was there a VIP room — there was no need. In free-market Tijuana, they cut out the middleman; unlike the U.S., a “strip club” here is basically just the parlor of a brothel. If you see a girl you like, there’s no need to beat around the bush with lap dances and elaborate tipping routines — you just hire her on the spot, and she takes you to one of the hotel rooms next door for a quickie.
To that end, there are little satin robes hanging by the door — like a boxer, the girl slips a robe over her stripperwear and leads her opponent into the rent-a-ring next door for a few rounds of the sweetest science of them all. The visuals down here in general were bizarre, but this took the cake — we even saw one chick wearing an Eyes Wide Shut mask with her robe, as if she didn’t want to be recognized on the short journey from the club door to the hotel. In any event, after she takes the guy up to the room and has sex, the girl takes a shower, freshens up, goes back to the club and hangs the robe back by the door for the next girl. Meanwhile, housekeeping comes in and changes the sheets — ready for the next guy. You want ego death? We got your ego death, right here.
But remember, this was one of the classier clubs; just around the block, the sidewalk itself was lined with juicy, young, overly-ripe women shoehorned into stretchy minidresses, leaning right up against the brick walls looking bored. They were all perfectly made up, perfectly coiffed, and on the whole an astonishingly good-looking lot; I guess I expected a bunch of old beaters fucking donkeys, I’m not sure. But I’m here to tell you…you can pay for some really good looking puss down in Tijuana! (And incidentally, I’m sorry to break it to you, but the whole donkey-show thing is an urban legend.)
Back inside, we hung around watching the show in fascinated awe. Unlike Vegas, they apparently pretty much let anyone into these clubs; a weatherbeaten, toothless little hunchback came around with a tray of gum and candy, a devilish old imp in wide-leg Jnco jeans with a bloated potbelly protruding from under his baby tee danced drunkenly around the floor, and a big fat slob dressed as Uncle Sam went around pouring booze into people’s mouths in honor of 4th of July (which was the following Monday — many of the club staff even wore t-shirts proclaiming “PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN” in day-glo neon). Meanwhile, hordes of astonishingly beautiful, zaftig, lingerie-clad women lined the walls; according to our tour guide, the conservative culture down there prohibits the prostitutes from openly soliciting business; they just stand around waiting for some guy to hit on them. Weird!!
Another weird thing we soon noticed was that almost all the women in this club had amazing, firm, beautifully round asses — it was like being in a peach orchard owned by Monsanto, as they were all eerily identical. After seeing about 30 or 40 perfect asses, it dawned on us that they were all fake — thanks to the proliferation of cheap plastic surgeons down there (and the complete lack of crossfit gyms), I’d guess that 3 out of 4 women working at Adelita’s had ass implants. Far out!! Again, I’d never seen anything like it — totally surreal.
So now our guide wanted to get one of the girls to come sit with us; the problem is, they don’t really do lap dances, they just want to take you upstairs right away. You can buy a girl a drink, but she’ll only sit at your table long enough to chug it; if you’re not into going upstairs, she’s gone. Still, our guide searched the club for a nice girl; he was looking for one with a natural ass, though, so it took him awhile…especially as he’d had quite a few drinks by this point, and was asking around for girls without “nalgas operadas” (which roughly translates to “operated asses,” and I’m not sure anyone understood what the fuck he was talking about). In any event he finally did get this one woman to come back to our table and sit on my lap for about 3 seconds while she shotgunned a beer; it was weird, as my sister and I had been watching that particular woman for the past hour, and she had just then returned from a trip next door with a guy she’d been manually stimulating at his table. All in a day’s work!
All of that craziness had really worked up our appetites, so we headed back out to the street to this legendary taco stand that sits right on the corner of Calle Coahuila and Av. Ninos Heroes, serving up amazing tacos for around $1 apiece to a writhing mass of drunks, hustlers, prostitutes, intrepid tourists and even the occasional stroller-pushing suburban mom…24 hours a day, every single day of the year. I know I’ve already said this about 5 times in this blog, but….I’ve never seen anything like it!! Not only were the tacos legit as all fuck (I’m not exaggerating…best tacos for the price, ever) but the ambiance was to die for. The scene was straight out of Hieronymus Bosch’s most fevered nightmare — a seething crowd of humanity eating, drinking, singing, hustling, begging, braying, busking and basking in the mouth-watering aroma of asada and adobada, bathed in the fluorescent glow of the overhead streetlight. Meanwhile, that crazed banda Sinaloense was still banging away on their snare drums and trumpets just a few feet away — just another topping on the chaos-taco of life. Load ‘er up!
Keep in mind it was around 2am by this time — but people of all ages were gathered on this street corner, like it was 2 in the afternoon. While I was waiting for my tacos I struck up a conversation with a guy who asked me for a dollar to buy a taco. I said no, so then he tried to sell me this little pink Minnie Mouse bag for $1, which I declined as well. Finally he just offered to give me the bag, but I still didn’t want it — but next thing you know, a random old lady selling a box of candy came shuffling along, and he tried to sell it to her. Astonishingly, she seemed interested, rubbing the fabric between thumb and forefinger, brow furrowed: “¿Cuanto cuesta?” These people are always on the make — anyone who says Mexicans are lazy have a strange idea of laziness. To the contrary, the people I encountered down there struck me as manically, chaotically industrious.
Then I started talking to another local, who had grown up in the U.S. but was deported after his second DUI. His friend had passed him a cigarette while he was driving one day, but he didn’t realize the cigarette was laced with PCP. Whooooooops — the old switcheroo! Next thing you know he was demoted to living in Tijuana, hanging out on a street corner at 2am talking some drunk ding-dong in a paper cowboy hat. We actually encountered a few people down there who had grown up in the U.S. but were shunted back to Mexico, including this one poor teenage kid carrying a Hefty bag full of shoes from which he tried to sell us a pair of pointy-toed vintage 1996 ankle booties for $1. Interestingly, neither of these guys seemed bitter or resentful at the capriciousness of Fortune; they just rolled with it, getting drunk and selling shoes out of a bag and doing whatever it took to get by. They weren’t looking for pity or ego death or being made into a Saran-Wrap mummy for the pleasure of kinky New York party-goers; they were just trying to get some tacos.
Throughout all of this, incidentally, I should mention that not once all night did I feel unsafe or threatened by anyone — to the contrary, everyone was friendly as fuck, especially the bums. This one leathery old boozer sitting on the ground by the taco truck even shared his flask of mescal with me — and when I say “flask,” I really mean half-crushed plastic tonic-water bottle (and when I say “mescal,” I mean moonshine or lighter fluid or some combination of the two). It seemed rude to refuse, and besides…if I really wanted to kill my ego, lighter fluid seems like a surefire way to go. Salud!
After stuffing our faces with tacos, we hit up one last club for a nightcap before heading back home. Our guide wanted to take us to the other end of the
spectrum from Adelita’s — some really shitty club full of methheads he’d stumbled into once — but alas, he couldn’t remember where it was, so we settled for a drink at the Tropical Club instead, sort of a mini, lower-scale version of Adelita’s where we watched this immaculately dressed narco-type baller in a Stetson and jeweled cowboy boots sip cognac with his hi-class wife while chubby prostitutes cavorted to the crooning of a ranchera balladeer. By then I was so tired I could hardly see straight — it was 3am, but even at that hour, people were hustling and bustling on the street, laying out tattered blankets with pairs of worn-out sneakers for sale on the sidewalk, trying to make a buck come hell or high water. It never stops!!!
We finally crawled out of the chaos like primordial fish, leaving the red light district pulsing in spastic time to the strains of the still-banging banda Sinaloense, limping back through the tourist district with its loitering mariachis, back across the pungent canal with its unmistakeable perfume of seething human life, back across the border into the quiet, orderly U.S.A. — home of the civilized: 1099s, HOAs, business licenses and lap dances; it all seemed so ho-hum.
We cruised back to my friend’s house in an upscale suburb of San Diego and passed the fuck out in his spare bedroom, and just as I drifted off to sleep, I realized that though I may have left my heart in Tijuana….I still had my ego. D’oh!! Well, damn — I guess I’ll have to go back down there and try to get rid of it another time. Maybe I can roll out a blanket, sell it for a dollar…and get a taco, instead. It would be a worthy trade.