Blog post Julie Graham
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller
Here’s what I know about the little town I’ve lived in for the last 20 years, a small village by the Santa Monica Bay that basks in its relative isolation from the thrumming street life of Venice and Santa Monica. I know these factoids by osmosis, just from living here, talking with friends who have lived here all their life, reading the local paper, and walking the neighborhood:
- In the 1920’s an exclusive group of rich and powerful men built a ranch in a canyon below Sunset Boulevard and called it, and themselves, the Uplifters Club. The name was a play on words, since they supported the arts by promoting and uplifting artistic endeavors, but also because they drank heavily (uplifting drinks to their mouths) during the prohibition era in speakeasies hidden around the ranch.
- In a mansion overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Thelma Todd, a famous and beloved actress, was murdered in1935. The mystery of who killed her and why has never been solved.
- A meditation center and shrine surrounded by a lush garden sits on a spring-fed lake at the edge of town. On the edge of the lake sits a windmill which has been converted into a chapel.
- In the mountains above my town sit the ruins of what was to be Hitler’s North American compound, had Germany won. It’s now a hiking destination and a graffiti artist’s dreamscape.
- A new street mall designed by a local developer is set to open next year, with nods to historical buildings of yesteryear.
- A small Italian restaurant next to the local Starbucks has a Hookah club after hours, members only.
- A champion Muay Thai boxer teaches and trains in a local martial arts studio. He’s the only man in the world who has ever won World Boxing titles with only one arm. He goes by the nickname “The One Armed Bandit.”
What do these factoids about my town have in common? Any one of them could be become a travel essay. The truth is, any fun fact — large or small — about your own hometown can make fascinating reading; the possibilities for travel writing are endless.
As a travel writer, this is how I look at any place I go, even if it’s just around the corner. What would I want people to know if I had to write about this place, or this person. What’s unique to the story? Recently, for instance, I wondered why there are different types of trees planted on each block in the neighborhood? What’s the city planning history behind this section of my town? And why is my street the only one in the town with a Japanese name?
I’ve lived in many urban areas that have infinite places of interest to write about and I’ve lived small bedroom communities too. Although it seemed at the time that there was nothing exciting about those humble suburban towns, in hindsight through the lens of travel narrative, I can now think of a dozen ideas that would make great reading. There are stories everywhere we look — journeying miles across oceans to find them is not necessary.
Seeing your neighborhood, town or city through the eyes of a travel writer is an incredible way to connect to your town. Writing it into a travel essay connects your hometown, and a bit of yourself, to the rest of the world.
Learn more about writing your own place in Julie’s class, Crafting Your Hood: Travel Writing from Your Own Backyard
Julie Graham has written award-winning articles on Halloween in Obidos, Portugal, theater costuming in Berkley, California and izakaya-hopping in Tokyo. Her work has appeared in Pilot Getaways, including destination vacation pieces on Sundance, Utah and St. Helena, Carmel and San Diego, California. Although trained as a news journalist, her penchant is for literary travel essays and memoir. She earned her degree in Communications and Journalism from Mills College and her Masters in Creative Writing from Antioch University, Los Angeles. Julie has two teenaged kids and a dog named Jasper; all of them drive her crazy, but when she travels, she misses them fiercely.