I'm 17 living with Joe Sneva, a life long friend and lead singer of a band that I was in at the time. He burst into my room, "Matt you have to read this book!" He recites like a madmen as his finger skims across the page, 'All alone and free in the soft sands of the beach by the sigh of the sea out there, with the Ma-Wink fallopian virgin warm stars reflecting on the outer channel fluid belly waters.' Doesn't that just blow your mind?! If I have the chance I am going to reference Jack in our next song." That summer I was introduced to Jack Kerouac, that summer I was too young to understand what any of it meant.
Three travelers arrived In Portland on sunday night. They had been driving for weeks from LA, stopping in cities along the way, just as I did back in July. I had originally got a text from a mutual friend, Matt Perrone, to meet Grant Legan when he got into town. Grant is an amazing photographer who, like me, had forgone his full time job to live his life in the freelance world of uncertainty doing what he loves doing. We are both the same age and in the same situation. It didn't take long for us to become friends. Upon arriving to their room at the Ace Hotel we quickly jumped into getting to know each other with a bottle of wine, while they simultaneously blogged their recent photo shoot along the Oregon Coast from earlier that day. They are photographers and fashion bloggers with a strong following. The purpose of their trip was to shoot look books in different studios and settings for a few companies and blog about it. This is their life.
They had now made it to Portland and wanted to experience the city, so I took them on a crash course bar circuit on the east side. In the midst of getting to know each other we got into a conversation about tattoos. I had noticed that "Mad to live." is printed on the arm of Laura Ellner. It's part of a Jack Kerouac quote:
“the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”
After a night of bar hopping, which inevitably ended at Sassy's, we cabbed it back to the hotel room. We were in a good mood in a good room. Olivia Santo Domingo Lopez, pulls out a book to show me that she bought earlier at Powell's. It's "On The Road" by Jack Kerouac. We are all of the same generation.
The next night was Grants friend's birthday. We met at Dante's, a place I had previously never been to and will probably never go back to. Dante's is where we picked up the devil himself. It's dead so we decide to ditch it back to the east side to the Big Freedia concert, but our group is too big now to cab it together. We split up. Our night ensues back on the east side, still split up along a small stretch of Burnside composed of bars positioned close to each other. In all our debauchery, we managed to sync back at Sizzle Pie, but now our group has grown even more so. We have picked up new friends along the way. We are at our peak, everyone is having a damn good time. The night comes to an end as the excitement explodes at it's peak with everyone stumbling in every different direction, breaking the group down once again.
I get a call in the morning from Olivia. The somber tone of her wake up call is one I am all too familiar with. She says, "Matt, something terrible has happened." I begin to worry. "We have been robbed." I relax as my expectations were relieved of what I thought she was going to say. Their cameras, laptops, iPads, phones and clothes have been stolen. I rush back to the Ace. Olivia is on the hotel computer desperately searching craigslist for her Canon 5D Mark 3 along with the rest of their gear. I brought my computer to help in the search. Laura and Grant are at the police station filing a report. They are distraught. To my amazement Olivia pulls up the thief's Facebook. They had remembered from the night before the guy talking about where he was from. That along with his first name, gave them enough information to track him down through social media. Once Laura and Grant got back to the hotel, Olivia reminded them that the police will take too long and can't do much about their stolen goods. Grant gets a call from his brother in Chicago, he found out his address along with his phone number. This has now become an operation.
An hour later we find ourselves sitting outside the thief's house, the same devilish bastard we had met at Dante's. Emotionally enraged, the thought was to go kick down this mother fuckers door down... but we sat there and thought. While waiting there, the detectives arrived at the thief's house as well and went to the door unbeknownst that we were there watching. Nobody is home. We are now watching the detectives who are watching the house. Grant and Olivia are in the back seat scanning this guys life via social media. Every minute or so Grant would say something along the lines of "The last time he got a hair cut was on November 8th... he traveled to Europe in 2008... his roommates names are Mary Lee and Alex... his sister lives in the Midwest... he works at Ned Ludd."
A couple arrives at the house and instantly the detectives approach the house. Minutes later the detective calls Grant to update him that they looked into where he lives and talked to his roommate and that they are going to come back later in the evening to further their investigation. Olivia, keeping her cool, is not having it! She demands that they are not leaving Portland until they get their stuff back and every second we wait is a second he could be selling the things in Seattle. We are hungry, emotionally exhausted and very hungover from the night before so we leave to take a break. We go to a nearby bar to think things over and let the emotions simmer down. By now the thief knows the police are looking for him, his world is closing in on him. It's time to take our shot. Grant and Laura compose a text on Olivia's phone that sounded a lot like the scene from the movie Taken (see video below). We finish our beers and return to the guys house to wait...
It didn't take long for the guy to respond with a tone of fear and desperation. Within the next hour we were parked directly outside the thief's door waiting for him to put the belongings on the porch. This has now become a very real situation. The fact that there are people out there who are willing to take another person's livelihood without any empathy leads into this whole discussion of what people will do in desperate situations. Something in this thief's conscious told him it was okay to steal thinking he would get away with it... we are dealing with a nut case. Now we have him in an even more desperate situation with our threats. We have the power to ruin his livelihood and he knows it. How far is he willing to go? How far are we willing to go? These thoughts are running through my head as we sat there on the dimly lit street corner of Northeast Portland. Then a man in a black hoody approached the car and knocks on the window. The window rolls down. A gloved hand reaches in, I can see the finger tips are cut off just as I imagined a thief's hands would look. He starts handing in bags.
These are the mad ones, the ones mad to live. Even with their livelihoods on the line, these are the ones who's closing message to the thief was, "You don't know who you are fucking with." These are the ones for me, these are the ones I connect with. Like the mad talented writer, Joe Sneva, who I learned the life lessons of the LA music industry with. The one who taught me how to express emotion through art. These are the ones. The one's who believe in themselves. Passionate about their art and will go to unbelievable lengths to protect their dreams. Those who are constantly on the brink of self destruction from the unbearable weight of the reality of the world. The ones that are constantly looking for an answer, the adventurer, the explorers, the pioneers. Forcing expression of life itself through the cracks of their souls, through their eyes, through their mouths, fingertips, saying to the world, "you don't know who you are fucking with."