Photo by Julia Dixon Evans
Ryan (right) and So Say We All's executive director Justin Hudnall
Ryan vs. Los Angeles is a seven-round battle in which Our Hero goes toe-to-toe against the City of Angels. In the event of no clear victory, L.A. wins by default, regardless of relevance, logic or reason.
Round 1: The Association of Writers & Programs conference (or AWP) is like Comic-Con for writers, but much more polite and slightly less farty. Every year, thousands of writers descend upon a predetermined city to sell/buy books, attend panels and get drunk to the capacity that only depressed writers can.
The conference is in Los Angeles, and I'm attending with So Say We All, the San Diego literary nonprofit where I act as creative director and publisher of literary horror journal Black Candies—just one of SSWA's publications.
We load my little Toyota Corolla with boxes of books and drive north. It's a two-hour journey, but it takes us five hours to get there because...well you've driven to L.A. (Winner: L.A. )
Round 2: The Omni hotel in downtown Los Angeles is an exquisite example of the dangers that lie beneath L.A.'s alluring exterior. For one, it charges $49 a night to park your car in the garage. I bring this up in conversation all weekend long. Nobody wants to hear about our hotel's parking situation, but I can't stop myself.
I find an overnight parking garage that only charges $16 for every 24 hours. I've never been so happy to pay $48 for parking. (Winner: Ryan? )
Round 3: There are hundreds of tables in the Los Angeles Convention Center—all occupied by niche presses, college journals, authors, you name it. Literary prowess and social anxiety as far as the eye can see.
So Say We All's table happens to be located right next to a publisher that had previously solicited me for my work and then never responded after I sent it to them—pretty much the same as writer "ghosting."
I introduce myself anyway, because after all, we're going to be neighbors for the next three days. Le's get neighborly. We shake hands. Pretty sure she recognizes my name. We spend the rest of the conference not making eye contact. (Winner: L.A.)
Round 4: The cafeteria in the convention center sells a single slice of pizza for $7. (Winner: L.A., overwhelmingly )
Round 5: I get sick on the second day of the conference. Actually, it's more like getting re-sick. I've had this cough for roughly a month, but the previous night's whiskey intake turned out to be nary as medicinal as I had drunkenly convinced myself.
It takes two types of cold medicines, a pain reliever and some fizzy vitamin C drink and an expensive-ass cup of regular coffee (from The OMMMNNI, [pronounced like "KHAAAN"]) to make me feel human enough to man So Say We All's table. But, damn, it works. The enthusiasm I muster to sell books—paired with my bloodshot eyes, swollen face, and old-man cough—is only slightly frightening. (Winner: Ryan )
Round 6: There's an offsite party at The Standard hotel, which is anything but standard due to the purposely upside-down signage on the front of the building. Whoa! Crazy!
The Standard's rooftop looks out on the grandeur of downtown L.A. A movie plays on the side of an adjacent building. Lots of fedoras up here. People snuggle in what can only be described as furniture cocoons. I pay $9 for a beer. This is the most L.A. thing I've ever done , I think. I sit with a small group of writers and try to think of things to talk about other than the parking situation at The Omni Hotel. (Winner: L.A. )
Round 7: My friend Jake pulls out a box of weed gummies on the third night of the conference, and given the tolls taken on my body and immune system, nothing has made more sense than eating these edibles. Jake distributes the drugs to me, our friend Julia and Adrian, a writer I admire and convinced to hang out with us at The OMMMNNI.
Adrian takes us to meet some other esteemed writers at a bar hosting a literary party. The moment I step out of the cab, the drugs kick in and I feel my social skills become sealed behind a coat of gummy anxiety. I beeline to the food table, and eat everyone's flatbread and chicken wings.
SSWA executive director Justin Hudnall texts, asking where we are. Jake and Julia race to reply with our address. I stare at my phone as their responses fill my screen. Then, thinking it's the best joke ever, I reply with the same text, but two minutes later. Julia and I laugh until my chest hurts. When Adrian asks what's so funny, I point to my phone but can't really explain it. Finally, I say, "It's funny if you're high," to which he responds: "I am high."
We leave that party to meet Justin, who is at the prestigious PEN Center USA's party. Weed paranoia sets in and I slink around in the party's dark periphery until finally resigning myself to the hot dog stand outside. I buy one and ask that they only put guacamole on it. Nearby, I think I see actress Fiona Dourif, star of the most recent Chucky movie (which I really liked). I go back inside to confirm this on my phone, but realize I'm standing in the middle of a fancy party looking at pics of Chucky. (Winner: Close call, but that guac dog was bomb. So, Ryan. )
Photo by Julia Dixon Evans
Ryan and Jake, with their bomb-ass guac-dogs
Champion: LA. Always and forever. Winning there is not allowed.