When I found out I had to go to LA for a quick work trip I started planning what yoga classes I could slip in.
I would take Annie Carpenter at Exhale as soon as I landed, and Vinnie Marino at Yoga Works right before I flew out. With filming all day Tuesday in Glendale, east of LA, and meetings on Wednesday, there wasn't going to be time for much more.
And so I went for the high notes: two yoga world big shots who both taught in an area of the yoga world that is sometimes called The Mothership: Venice and Santa Monica.
For the few days I was working, I was psyched anticipating Vinnie Marion's class at Yoga Works before I returned to New York. I knew he had become somewhat of a celebrity since I was last in LA, in 2008, so I checked the schedule obsessively to make sure he would actually be teaching on the Thursday morning I had available.
I spoke to Joni Yong, L.A.'s Accidental Yogist blogger, who said she'd join me there. She warned me to arrive early since Vinnie's classes---even at 80 people in a room, and one inch between mats---sell out.
"Get there thirty minutes before. And bring a towel. You are going to sweat, and Yoga Works doesn't rent towels.
"Duly warned.The next day, I was up at 6 and already strategizing how to handle Vinnie's class.
I couldn't reserve a spot online—the YWMain web site was not set up for that—and I didn't have a towel. I didn't want to eat too much before class. But more to the point, I didn't know where to eat.
My friendly AirBnB host pointed me to some coffee shops along Abbot Kinney and Main Street. That's how I ended up at Intelligentsia for an over-the-top experience of a latte.
It was just after 7am, and the glass and steel cafe, set back dramatically from the boutique-filled boulevard, had only 4 or 5 customers.
("I never go there," said my host, "The lines are out the door. And it's such a scene. But at this time you should be fine.")
I parked right out in front and walked up into the recessed space. The guy ahead of me paused at the threshold. "PLEASE WAIT HERE" said a sign, "Your friendly barista will be right with you."
"You have to wait?" I asked the guy. "Right here?"
"Yeah, it's weird isn't it?"
It felt like being summoned before the royal court.
For their roles as courtiers, the four baristas, men and women in their late 20s, wore ties of a hipster persuasion: short, or frayed, or exactly matching material, or tucked in between the buttons of their shirt. They had determined but relaxed expressions as if gracefully embarking on difficult and highly important diplomatic missions. They were ambassadors, we were foreigners, and coffee was the king.
My courtier, once I was called to the bar, looked like he could be a cinephile when he wasn't pouring milky drinks. He had that wiry look (and scrubby facial hair) of the very smart and hyper active. He complemented my necklace and named the metal. Then he disappeared and two young women took over.
Caffeinated, I remembered I needed a towel. So I asked the baristas where, at 7:30 am on a Thursday, could I buy something, anything, even a face cloth or a dish towel.
"I'm about to take a really sweaty yoga class." I said, "And I'm getting on a plane right after."
They paused their creative work mid stream. "I think there's a CVS down on Main Street, not far away," said the younger-looking one. "They should have dish towels."
I found the CVS. It did indeed have dishtowels. I bought a package of 3 for a mere $2.99. Things were going well. And I have to say that the latte was delicious. Milk counts as food, I thought. This smooth and creamy beverage can be breakfast.
It was now 8:30. I drove to Yoga Works and parked, proud to have found a spot (finding parking is an art that, as a car-less NYer, I needed more time to master). I was also way early, not my usual style.
Yoga Works is in a low building right on Main Street, with a small clothing boutique in the front and a lot of cubbyholes for shoes. The people waiting for class chatting comfortably with each other, like they might have known each other for a long time. They might have lived near the beach in Santa Monica for a long time, too. They were sunburned, fit, older, standing around with their mats rolled under their armpits.
"I'd like to take Vinnie's class," I told the fresh-faced woman behind the desk
.And then I heard the words I most didn't want to hear.
"Actually Vinnie is not teaching this morning."
Argh! I'd booked my flight around his class. I'd arranged my schedule just so I could be here. I'd even checked the schedule repeatedly. How could this be happening? "But the sub is someone he's handpicked to teach for him."
That might be true, I thought, but she wasn't Vinnie.
I noticed that Joni, a self-described short Asian woman, was not there among the students waiting to take class. Later—too late—I got her Tweet: "Just found out Vinnie's class is subbed out this am and I've never heard of the sub teacher..."
There would be no happy pictures of this New York yoga blogger and that LA yoga blogger chumming it up at Yoga Works Santa Monica. Not today.
I had a few minutes to decide what to do, but I was pretty much backed into a corner. Classes at nearby Exhale were starting in 5 minutes, but I didn't know those teachers, either. Plus, I'd wanted to have a total Mothership Experience, so if I abandoned Yoga Works now, my experience would be lopsided.
I decided to stay. The nice desk girl gave me a free mat. I went into the studio and sat on the large, golden-colored floor imagining it covered, mat to mat, with sweating and grunting yogis. The Hispanic-looking cleaning ladies, in smock vests, were busily Swiffering the floor and ventilating the room with multiple fans. If Vinnie had been teaching, I knew I'd be one of those puddles they were now mopping up. My arms were still shaky from the Kundalini class I'd taken the night before in Hollywood, and my abs were totally wrecked.
Vinnie’s sub taught a muscular class that began with a quick Rumi quote and a long abdominal sequence. We were 10 sweaty folks instead of the rumored 80. Shortly after, she was calling out big poses that I didn't feel ready for. The general tone of the class was 'push your body.'
Maybe because I'd already done a yoga class each day for the last 3 days, or maybe because the rumor is true that in New York, yoga is not as hard as in L.A., I wasn't into working on such a purely physical level.
And, I thought, it was probably just as well that Vinnie wasn't there. He might have driven me completely into the ground.
Towards the end, the sub asked us to do more abdominal work, 20-30 "reps" of boat-pose to half-boat-pose and back. Instead, I sat cross-legged on my mat. I didn't want to, even to make her feel okay about her difficult position of subbing for a yoga celebrity.
Disappointed, tired—and frustrated by my incomplete Mothership experience—I headed to the showers. I was thinking about my flight back, contemplating the differences between NY and LA, both culturally and yogically, as the water cooled me down. I got out, toweled my hair and wiped down my face, arms and shoulders. A woman from class was talking to me about the shower, was it warm enough, or cold enough, wasn't the temperature impossible to regulate? Were they going to fix it etc.
Half-listening, I looked back into the mirror I noticed my face was covered in pils of blue fluff. A slight blue tint was showing on my arms: the dishtowel was disintegrating on me. The more I wiped, the more the fluff appeared.
I switched to paper towel—but the fluff and the blue die was everywhere and I couldn't get it off me.
Naked, and a mess, I threw out all the towels and got back into the shower. This time, I wiped off with my dirty yoga clothes. It wasn't perfect. You know: their stretchy, wicking fabric is designed *not* to absorb water.
The best method, I realized, was to let the California air dry me. Maybe this is the updated version of letting it all hang out.