Friday, March 19, 2010

Never Dull in Los Angeles

I love a good full travel day as much as the next person, but the thing about good full travel days is that they take a good full time to write about later.

On that note, let's go see if the laundry is done.

It is! Now on to the dryer. American washers and dryers? So big! I had forgotten. I could probably do three or four loads in one of these – too bad my clothes are limited. I should have tossed other people's stuff in. And it's cheap too – 1.25USD for laundry, 1USD for dryer. Is this standard, or just the hostel's price? Who can say.

Back to the story. I woke up for my free breakfast of bread and cereal. I do so love Raisin Bran. It's no Maximum Raisin (the one instance where the no-name knock off is superior to the real deal) but it will do. Raisins, quite possibly the most wonderful of all dried fruit – so much so that they get their own special name. Well, prunes get their own special name too, but they're not quite so wonderful.

All in all, raisin filled breakfast? Not bad for hostel grub. Then it was out to explore the city! After I figured out how to go out and explore the city. This would take some learning. I checked the internet, I looked at the hostel board, and then I grabbed the bus route maps that they had laying around.

The public transit in the greater LA area has been said to be a most terrible thing, but I was wondering if this was just because everyone here was so used to to driving their cars, and the few times they had to take the bus it was a god awful shock to their system.

So there I sat, pouring over the 720, the 704, and the 217 route maps. Each bus in LA costs 1.25 with no free transfers. But this isn't really all that bad when it appears every time you need to transfer, you have a destination that you wanted to see anyway. So after, shall we call it an hour and a half (I wanted to be really sure I understood what I was doing before I took off into this big scary wonderland. Would not want to end up in South Central Los Angeles by mistake. I don't know much about it in reality, but if the 1980 musings of NWA are anything to believed, when something happens in South Central Los Angeles, nothing happens, it's just another [person] dead.

Once I had completed all my planning though, then I was ready. And off I went, walking down to Ocean Street just jump on the 720. I have come to believe that the 7 means it is express, and that the 20 would do the same as the 720 just taking longer. Is this true? I'm not sure, but it's what I believe. There are also 900 series buses too which I think would probably be more express. But again, I'm not sure.

Stop number one was going to be Beverly Hills.

I got off the bus, right where I belonged, right on Rodeo Drive. Now, of course, you all should understand that this street was like a home away from home for someone like me. I've lived large in all the shopping areas of London, and recently passed through Milan, soaking up the consumerism and stylistic beauty. Now, I could show off my fashion on Rodeo drive, with all the rest of the beautiful people!

Or something to that effect, I'm sure. I was surprised that all the stores were open, honestly, I'm normally expecting something where you have to ring a bell and be allowed in by the shopkeeps – clearly this isn't the elite district I was led to believe it was. I have no time for these open door shops.

After watching four girls walk out of one shop, and then an old man double take after them, before he decided that looked like a store he would like to shop at, I knew I had to move on. Silver naked person statue photographed, and off I went. I wonder who it is.

Next, back onto the 720, and heading off to... hmm, I'm not sure what street I got off at, but believe you me, it's the street that the 217 runs down. I could have been ultra lazy and taken that bus for one stop, but no – I just walked three minutes down to The Farmers Market and Grove. This place is not a market, there will be no farmers selling things. Well – actually, there are some market stalls, but they're overshadowed by the number of restaurants.

This area is known as one of the best places to eat in all of LA and who am I to refuse eating at such a location? Especially when I discovered there was a BBQ restaurant at the back. I discovered this by reading the map of the food court. When a food court needs a fully functioning, colour coded map, you know that you're in the right spot for good eating.

The guy behind the counter called me forward and told me to check out the menu, take my time. I looked down upon it, “How am I supposed to choose?!” He laughed and walked away. After serious deliberation I narrowed it down to the chopped beef sandwich, and the pork sandwich. As luck would have it, the brisket was their specialty and thus the decision was made for me.

With a giant side of slaw, I dove into my meal, savoring every bite. I thought I should have a second meal, but that would probably not be the best financial decision I could make.

But then, as I walked out of the eating area, I passed by another place offering “the best hot dogs” (though Pink's Hot Dogs are said to be quite famous – but I don't feel like waiting three hours in line for them. Next time, LA, Next time.) and then I passed a place with funnel cakes – FUNNEL CAKES! I need more time in this city to eat!

But no, lunch was behind me, and all those treats, and pizzas by the slice, would need to wait. It was time to jump on the 217 bus and head on out to Hollywood.

Hollywood! Nah nah nah nah nah nah Hooooolly-wood!

Back in the early days of the internet, and text based browsing, was the first website I was able to guess at, and find. Search engines were few and far between – and you had to know the URL for those, which I did not at the time. When I found in those early nineties, I was excited. That same excitement fell upon me again as I discovered the true city.

The bus let me off right in front of the Chinese Theatre, my feet landing on Bill Cosby's walk of fame star. I had arrived. Tourists were everywhere, loving their time in the town, and people dressed in different costumes running various scams were setting to work.

One man was scamming a couple as I was scammed in New York – the blank DVD sale trick. I wanted to say something, but then I didn't want to have to run away, so soon in this crazy place. Next, I saw someone take a picture of people dressed as Darth Vader, without a helmet, and Princess Leia. After the photo, the guy who took it tipped a dollar. Darth Vader looks at it and shrugs, “a dollar? Normally people tip around ten bucks. A dollar?” I laughed aloud at this. No one is paying some random street costumed person ten bucks for a ridiculous photo. But then the taker of said image opened his wallet, and pulled out a five – a grand total of six bucks, now passing over. Are you kidding me?! I love this crazy town.

Next, I wandered up escalators, and stairs to stand under monoliths shaped like Egyptian elephants. You'll know it when you see it. There I could look out and see, for the first time, the Hollywood sign. There it was. Tiny in the distance. 500mm lenses made it fill the frame, quite nicely, and allow for a magical image. But, zoomed out you look at it and think, really? Is that all?

People tried to pose with it. I can't imagine why – it would appear a small white dot in the periphery of their image. Some might think it a smudge. “Why did you take a picture with those industrial buildings, and a highway? Ohh – you should clean your lens, you have a smudge there.” That's what people would say. Smudge. Smudge, smudge, smudge.


But then you walk away, and see your photo you took, and all you remember how crazy it is to see those letters on the hill – so iconic, and symbolic of pop-cultural North America.

With talks of it, perhaps, being torn down I had to see it. I had to photograph it. And it was worth every second. Because, when you walk away, you're left with this dreamy image of what Hollywood is. For three blocks, it's glitz, and it's glamour. And it's McDonald's selling Shamrock Shakes for St. Patty's day (I of course had one – so good, so good.)

But then things start to change. That wonderful Hollywood sign, it's really just an old billboard, isn't it? One that once read Hollywoodland. But we've created a mythos around it, and given it much more power and worth. Just like we do with Hollywood.

As I walked to Hollywood and Vine, the magic was still there, but then as I walked down Vine, towards Santa Monica Bldv. (and my 704 bus home) things started to change. Layers peeled away, and the magic was replaced with spray painted walls, no less than three fried chicken restaurants, and cracked sidewalks.

So close to wondrous, there is – the nothing. The difference between class can be felt here more than in most other places. The poor living under the watchful eyes of the rich, living – always in sight – upon the hills. It's a perfect metaphor, and is reminiscent of middle-aged Europe, where castles were always to be seen by the underclass, far below.

The streets don't feel as inviting, and the buses don't run on time. Hollywood is a dream, and the further you walk from its core, the quicker you're forced to wake up. It's a perfect metaphor for all those who leave home, their friends, their family, trying to come out here and strike it big. I thought that it must have always been fleeting, but not until I walked the streets did I understand to just what extent that was true.

Still – it is a beautiful dream while it lasts.

As for the buses? Forty minutes. That's how long I waited for the bus back to Santa Monica. But never mind that, it came, and I rode the one hour back, and then prepared for the night ahead. After all – St. Patty's day!

You see, way back in December, I was in Africa. And in Africa I met some people. One being this delightful girl from Santa Monica. And where is it that I find myself now? Santa Monica. All things being what they are, this combination of occurrences led to her picking me up from my hostel and whisking me away to dinner. After a visit with her puppy. Which is lovely.

I learned an important lesson here – do not buy a puppy with a roommate, if you have any thoughts of moving out within the next sixteen years. Especially if you're moving from the west to east coast.

How they will settle this dispute? I have no idea.

Dinner was Sushi, and for the first time in ages, I was in a location where the idea of eating sushi didn't seem terrible. The middle of deserts? Perhaps not the best of locations to try finding fresh fish. I do not often trust sushi while travelling, but here in beautiful Los Angeles? It worked out very well. Very well indeed.

And after food? Off to meet her friend, and then head out for St. Patty's day to meet even more people. Was I slightly nervous about this influx of new people? A little. But certain sitations make these moments easier. And a day like today? Well that was just fine. As would be revealed a number of these people work for various video game companies (EA, Sony) and proved to be most non-threatening. One just finished animations for God of War 3, the other is working Eas causal studio. None would reveal secrets of potential upcoming PSP2s. They exist. They must! I know this... except I don't. No amount of pina coladas (I felt these needed umbrellas) would pry their secret keeping lips.

Time passes, and it's time to head back to the hostel. I get a drive back, and then run upstairs to grab the shot glass I bought in Peru. This is handed over, finally relieving me of the fear of it breaking every time I go anywhere new, With this handed over, and night fallen, I say goodbye to my African-met friend, and head back upstairs to sleep.

There's another one for the books.

Lets be honest – this day was a lot better than spending 4 hours watching a parade in New York. On the plus side, the Staten Island ferry? That's good free fun – and people watching the remaining three hours of said parade were too enraptured to fill up the boat.

What will next year bring?

1 comment:

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