The WILD Ride To King’s Canyon
by: Xena Blair
October 5, 2012
I’m not the type of person who finds herself in an RV following a bunch of bikers I just met to Fresno. I’m standing outside Comune’s headquarters below Alameda on Factory Place. Downtown Los Angeles is an unwelcoming maze of littered concrete, broken bottles, weathered individuals and not enough brownstone. The oil seeps into the cracks of the cement that I proceed to throw my duffel bag onto. I stare up at the sky, enveloped in smog, realizing I have no clue what I’m getting myself into. Welcome to Comune.
I meet Corey Smith –art director at COMUNE– as I’m climbing into the RV to load my belongings. The license plate on the front of the RV reads ‘God Bless COMUNE’. Smith puts out his hand and introduces himself; his smile is welcoming and there is a familiar warmth to his demeanor. His shoulder length strawberry blonde hair rests against his worn leather jacket. ‘In God’s Hands’ is tattooed across his chest. I wonder to myself if his tattoo is an homage to an 80’s surfer film with the same title by the late Zalman King. There is an American flag pin and yellow Gadsden flag with a coiled rattlesnake, and the defiant words “Don’t Tread on Me” on his lapel. Factory Place is teeming with soft flesh and studded leather. Comune dudes lean against their motorcycles, smoke cigarettes, and relax before the long ride.
Comune, a lifestyle brand was formed by a group of friends who wanted to foster a creative environment for like-minded artists. Drop City, an offshoot of COMUNE was formed as an artist collective in Downtown Los Angeles. The purpose of this was to create a platform for contributors to showcase personal artwork and collaborate on different creative ideas. Drop City, named after the first rural commune in the 1960’s in Southern Utah, reinterprets and explores the American dream through unconventional short films, photography, paintings, drawing, and sculpture. When asked about the origin of the name Comune, Smith states “We chose Comune because we were truly living in a communal situation with everyone working together to achieve the same goals.” He continues, “All of the relationships with the artists we support have been formed through mutual friendships and word of mouth.” The stern growl of Harley engines linger in the background along with billows of tobacco smoke.
A homeless man pushes his grocery cart through the middle of the road. Little bits of cement, shards of glass and broken pavement get caught in the tiny wheels. I watch him collect empty cans and bottles while our party gathers outside the RV to joke about shotgunning beers before the big ride.
The macadam roads paves the way to Kings Canyon. The little stretch spent on the I-5 is congested with unflinching traffic. Chicks riding in RV joke about fucking in the woods and drinking whiskey. Shannon and the Clams blasts in the background. Upon our arrival, I see all the motorcycles lined up along the border of the campsite. A silhouette of chrome glistens, acting as a protective shield between us and the rest of the world.
Night falls. There are no helicopters in sight. The sky is a black canvas. And I’m able to see a myriad of stars illuminating the natural world. Women begin to paint each other’s faces with melted tubes of lipstick. I watch people climb up and down the narrow path to go skinny dipping in Pine Flat Lake.
People sneak in and out of each other’s tents. Someone cracks a joke about our campsite looking like Skid Row. Others are getting stick n’ pokes from Corey Smith. Smith grabs a framed yellow ruled paper from the RV that shows hand drawn flash designs of the tattoos he does. The frame is falling apart and the designs are imperfect. The top of the paper says “Tattoos by Corey”. Everyone is gathered around the picnic table cheering Smith on while he tattoos a broken bottle on his friend and fellow colleague Matt Blanco. There is no sterilization or gloves involved: just a needle, ink and someone holding a flashlight over the amateur tattoo artist.
The next morning I spot an AK47 cradled in a Pendleton blanket; I ask Corey to teach me how to shoot it. The spontaneity of this group begins to rub off on me. We line up empty beer cans, stacking them in a pyramid-like structure, adding left over marshmallows on top of the cans for an added challenge. After I get more proficient in my shooting technique Corey insists that I try shooting on manual. He then declares “No parents. No rules.” This is what it means to be young today, right? Voices drift in the background. My neighbors in the tent next to me are busy tinkering with their belongings, making their little plot of land more habitable. I spot a broom and and a mat at the entrance of my neighbor’s tent. I’m less organized, often soliciting help from my peers. The inside of my tent is beginning to look like my closet; messy, disorganized and bearing a striking resemblance to an episode of Hoarders. All my strenuous efforts to assemble my living quarters have been completely nullified. Finally, I start to warm up to my environment.
The morning of our departure we load our belongings into the RV; it smells of stale donuts and musty water from old bong hits. I picture the resin collecting at the base of the pipe, the smoke wafts upwards into my throat, a sour stench of shitty weed and flat beer pummeling my lungs into submission. I’m tired and dehydrated. I look down at my feet where a pile of left over trash from our campsite is stacked. We step over heaping piles of black garbage bags and deflated hot pink pool floaties. Our first break is at a diner close to the highway. There are motorcycles belonging to members of the Christian Motorcyclist Association. Our group awkwardly piles into the patio dining area. There’s about 20 of us wearing all black, leather, and ripped denim.
It begins to dawn on me that we have left the confines of our campsite and this is the beginning stages of a brief transition back into society. Scenery begins to change; trees and nature become more sparse. Almost instantly we hit Hollywood traffic. I see Capital Records and the Scientology Center. To my left, the Hollywood Sign. I’m home. Alameda is just how I left it. I see a homeless man washing his face. He is barefoot and using the faucet jutting out from the side of an unmarked building. There is a visible struggle to twist the water faucet on and off. Mildew is caked up around it.We unload our belongings; floral print down comforters, leftover organic snacks, matching luggage and bottled Fiji water. Pigeons with missing feathers huddle together across the way; playing with food crumbs and cellophane from empty packs of cigarettes. I say my goodbyes. At that moment I realize I’m free to reinvent myself as many times as I want. Comune reminded me of that, that it’s okay to break out of the mundane cycle of life and be free. Free to camp with strangers. Free to travel. Free to create. Free to party. Free to live. Perhaps I’ll always hold onto the American dream, at least my version of it; an amorphous idea that can be shaped and molded as I see fit. But for now; I’ll unpack, bathe, and watch the sun set in my city.
All photos by Magdalena Wosinska