I enter the Hinano Cafe and spot Scott sitting at the corner of the bar with a half-drunk pitcher of beer, a crumpled bag of Lay’s, and a half-eaten double cheeseburger.
Residing beachside, with minimal seating, a Wurlitzer jukebox, and a couple of TVs, Hinano is a proper dive bar. The perfect place for a couple of journalists to throw back a few and talk shop.
I wind my way around the pool tables to where he’s sitting, breathing in the smell of fresh-popped popcorn. Scott raises his eyes to meet mine, nods, and signals the bartender for another glass. As she places it on the counter, he orders me a cheeseburger.
“No cheese,” I say to her, with a smile.
She just looks at me, a physical manifestation of the direct, no-nonsense attitude of the bar. One that says we’re cool, so you be cool.
“Oh, that’s right,” Scott says. Suddenly remembering my lactose-intolerance. “Hey, you want a hot dog on that?”
“Uh, no. Thanks,” I say, as I pour myself a beer.
An old-school, East Coast grinder, now in his mid-forties, Scott began his career straight out of college as an unpaid beat writer, reporting on the New York City music scene in the early 80’s. He spent his career bouncing between papers and magazines, carefully traversing the landmines of the industry, working his way up the editorial ranks, most recently accepting the position of executive editor at Alpha. I first met him when he came to speak to our journalism club at Columbia my junior year. He’s been a friend and mentor ever since.
“Throw a dog on top of that for him,” he says to the bartender, with a wink.
“So what’s up?” I say. “Why the urgency to meet?”
His smile fades and he casts his eyes downward.
“If it’s about the article, I—”
“It’s over, Riley,” he says.
I look at him, confused. “What’re you talking about?”
“The magazine. They shut it down. It’s done.”
“What? Why?” I say, stunned.
“Wasn’t making money, I guess. Fake news. Ad blockers. Clickbait headlines. You know, all that shit.”
I’m at a loss for words.
“Sorry, man. Your piece on Keen was good,” he says. “Nice angle on the exploitation of millennials and their eagerness to get involved with causes they’re passionate about.”
The compliment passes over me as I envision my dwindling bank account.
We sit in silence for a few moments.
“Ah, whatever,” I finally say, taking a swig of my beer. “Maybe I’ll just go work for one of those corporate editorial sites. Write engaging content for Coke or Red Bull. Maybe even Taco Bell.”
“Nonsense,” he says, as he motions to the bartender to refill our pitcher.
“Don’t scoff, Scott. Their breakfast offerings are surprisingly good.”
“This is just a temporary setback, Riley. Every journalist has them.”
“You never did,” I say.
“True. But this is a different time, what with digital and social media. Journalists nowadays have to be brands as well as great reporters. And you made quite a name for yourself, winning all those awards for your coverage of the Mali Civil War.”
“Yeah, I guess that was pretty good.”
“It was great,” he says, pointedly. “It was courageous and vulnerable, and it spoke to the truth of what was really going on there.”
“I was really surprised you came out here after that. With your interest in politics, I thought you would’ve ended up in DC, writing for The Atlantic.”
“I guess I was just looking for a fresh start. Something new. Something interesting,” I say.
“Isn’t that why you went abroad in the first place?”
“Yeah, but the threat of being deported… or worse. Figured my luck was running out. Growing on the east coast, I couldn’t think of a better place than California. The sun’s always shining here, and everybody’s happy.”
“That’s what I thought when I first moved out here. Give it a few years, though, and you’ll be missing winter and the scowls it brings.”
I roll my eyes.
“Okay, maybe not winter, but definitely fall,” he says, as the bartender drops off a fresh pitcher, without a word. “You know, they’re doing great tech reporting at Los Angeles Magazine, particularly in long-form; you should shop it there. I could make some calls if you’d like.”
“I’ll keep it in mind.”
“All right. Hey, you mentioned you had a new piece of info?”
“Yeah, turned out to be unusable, though.”
“Ah, that’s too bad,” he says. “When it rains, it pours I guess. …Well, just finish it and let me know what I can do.”
Scott stands up and throws a couple of twenties on the counter. He puts a consoling hand on my shoulder as he turns heads for the door.
I stare at my untouched burger.
I turn to face a man sitting next to me. I didn’t even know he was there. His face is tanned and weathered. His disheveled blonde hair and unkempt beard the color of the sawdust strewn on the floor. He smiles at me as he munches on the free popcorn.
“Sorry,” he says, not sounding very apologetic. “Couldn’t help but overhear your conversation.
He reaches past me, grabs the pitcher, and fills his glass. “You mind?” he says.
Figuring this guy to be one of the salty locals who frequents the bar, I just shake my head.
“That dude was right, ya know,” he says, taking a sip. “You can probably sell that story somewhere else. Keen’s hot right now.”
“Wait. You know about Keen?” I say, unable to hide my surprise.
“We’re sittin’ in the heart of Silicon Beach, aren’t we?”
“Yeah, no, it’s just you—”
He laughs and takes another sip of his beer. “Look, these kids, they’re different from you and me. They want to help, make a difference in the world. They actually think that’s still possible. And what are they doing all day, everyday? Staring at their phones. So to create an app that sends them info about causes, makes it easy to donate money to them and get their friends involved, all in a way that feels authentic?” he says, shaking his head. “That guy’s a genius.”
“You think Blake Astor is a genius?” I say.
“No,” he says, grabbing a pepperoncini from my plate.
Seriously, is this guy for real?
“He was just in the right place at the right time. I’m talking about Grant Smith. You know, the investor? He’s the brains behind the entire operation. I think he—”
The guys phone buzzes. “Shit,” he says, as he grabs it off the counter. “Gotta go.”
“Hey, you gonna finish that?” he says, as he stands up.
I look at him confused.
“Your burger. You gonna finish it?”
“Oh, no. Go ahead,” I say, as I slide it over to him.
He grabs it and starts chewing in one fluid motion.
“No cheese?” I hear him grumble, as he walks away.
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