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Los Angeles - Sikamikanico in America, Part I

 How I would  have loved to have been around for the golden days of travel, when people dressed up to fly, went on long ocean voyages, and there were porters and valets and cocktails. I can see myself in a darling powder blue travel suit, my hair in pin curls set off with a jaunty hat, with my matching leather luggage taken care of my someone who calls me “madame”. But of course in those days, travel was completely out of the financial reach of schlubs like me, and looking elegant is beyond the question in any era. I can spend two hours trying to make myself look polished, walk out the door, get caught by a slight breeze and seem to have crawled through a hedge. I could don a twinset and pin curls and still arrive at the airport looking like I fell down the stairs on the way, which I very well may have done. So I’ll accept the indignities of travel in this era, kicking suitcases around the airport, being submitted to full body scans, and donning a plain dress and capri pants for the experience in the hope I don’t spill too much food on them along the way. 


I always think I’ll be able to sleep on long flights, then am quickly disabused of the notion the moment I get into my economy airline seat. Some people can sleep on planes. Not me. Sleeping upright is hard. I always try to book a window seat because it gives me something to lean against (also I have a child like love of looking out the window) and I never know what to do with my arms, needing to get into position before I can doze off. Most people seem to cross their arms when sleeping on planes but whenever I try it, my arms fall out of position as soon as I nod off, and I startle myself awake again, and on one unfortunate occasion waking my neighbour in the next seat as well. 


So I arrived at LAX, aghast and exhausted, at 6am. My hotel check in time wasn’t until 1pm, but I headed to the hotel anyway so I could at least drop my suitcase off, then get some breakfast and have a bit of a wander around – a seedy, tired wander, but an LA refresher ramble, until I could check in, shower and nap. But when I got there, the door was locked, the bell unanswered.  There was a phone number to call out of hours but I didn't have a sim card and was incommunicado unless connected to Wi-Fi so I had no way to do so. I was stuck with my heavy suitcases for four hours, it was unseasonably hot, and I was exhausted. 


They couldn’t even hear me bang on the door, because the entrance to the hotel was up a set of stairs on the first floor (or second floor, as the Americans would have it). Very cheap and very expensive hotels have shops in common. Expensive hotels have shops in the lobby; cheap hotels are often situated above a row of shops. There was a number to call, but as a freshly arrived international visitor my phone had no network access until I got to a phone store. By now it was 9am, and already nearing 30 degrees. I felt seedy, hot and exhausted, and my shoes were so tight on my airplane swollen feet that my toenails were cutting into other toes and every step was agony. And I had five hours to drag my bags around. Smashing. This was not a good start to my trip. So I saw Wilshire Boulevard out the window of a bus as I apologised profusely for my bags, seeking a mobile phone plan, food, and respite from the heat until I could get to my hotel and bitterly regret that this trip had ever seemed like a good idea. 

 

The Wiltern - sadly grubby even around here


 

You can't tell me that fence keeps idiots from getting into the Tar Pits

I do however love Los Angeles, although this seems to be a minority view. Before I made my first trip there, everyone I know was asking me why I would do such a thing. “Los Angeles is awful, why would you want to go there?”. And when I came home and raved about the place, people would say “Los Angeles is awful, how could you like it?”. Well, whatever; I often like things no one else seems to like, including fish paste on toast, although by admitting such a thing here publicly I’m ensuring that my years of singlehood will continue. As for LA, I loved its open space and big sky, spectacular sunsets, and sense that there was always something on, something exciting in reach. Last time I was there I crossed off most of the major attractions – Santa Monica, the Getty Museum – so on this trip I decided to visit Pasadena. 


If you're ever in Los Angeles for whatever reason, when you don't like Los Angeles, I bet you'd like Pasadena. It's walkable, preserves classic architecture and very cute. I see Pasadena as a model for how LA could be. I don't mean gentrified, lord knows the average income for Pasadena but I bet it's quite comfortable indeed. I don't mean the poor policed out of town (not that I know if that happens in Pasadena, but there are very few obviously unhoused people on the, streets).


But I'd like to see LA with a bit of a spit shine, or a pressure hose at least. Pasadena is immaculate. So many streets in LA are grubby. Compared to Sydney, which looks pristine in comparison. The streets get scrubbed. So why can't LA County? They might come back with a pitiful excuse like "we can't make street cleaning a priority when housing is such a problem". And you hear: "you selfish person, thinking about street cleaning and not the unhoused", while what they're really saying "it would be a waste to clean streets homeless people live on". On that happy note, Castle Green, which is just amazing, with Koi pond, wrap around veranda, Moorish and Victorian public areas, wrought iron elevator and marble steps. Can you imagine living there? I checked and the prices are around $1.1 million for a 1 bedroom unit, so I can't. 

 

Castle Green

 

Once was a carriage house (I think)

I also made my first trip to Venice Beach. Venice was long  a Mecca for LA’s counterculture, so like all countercultural neighbourhoods in big cities, it’s been so gentrified, with the corresponding increase in property prices, that participants in the counter culture can no longer afford to live there. (And no new housing has been built in Venice since 2007). The famous Venice boardwalk still exists though, and I’ve seen a lot worse in the field of tourist traps. One thing that separates Venice from a Fisherman’s Wharf or Darling Harbour is the pervasive smell of weed. I don’t care if you’ve spent fifteen years in share houses with a succession of guys who are trying to get a band together, you’ve never smelled so much pot in your life as you do walking around Venice. 

 

Venice, bitch

 

The aromatic boardwalk

I made sure to see the houses along the canals, which sounded like the worst sort of tacky nightmare but in reality are utterly charming. The original wooden cottages have in many instances been retained, and they all have lovely gardens.

 


 


I wish I could tell you I then spent the evening hanging out on the beach taking marijuana edibles and watching the sunset whilst listening to Lana Del Rey, but somehow I had neglected to pack a cable for the battery charger for my vaping mod. Tracking a compatible cable down took some doing, and all nicotine deprived when my battery finally died. Eventually I located the nearest option, a Best Buy in Westfield Culver City, a trip requiring two buses over 8 miles. When people say LA is spread out, they mean it. Look for something in Manhattan, and it’s 500 metres away. But in Los Angeles, try to find a particular retailer and there’s three locations in the city, each 11 miles from your hotel. So instead of having a spiritual experience I could now share with you all, I was on the other side of the world, and stuck in a Westfield. Just my luck.


At least Westfield had the air of the familiar, unlike my first real trip to an American supermarket, seeking out ready to eat foods to save money on eating out and the agonal tipping process that goes with it. The joint I chose was Ralphs, a supermarket name to give any Australian a little snigger, although Lord knows what Irish people must think when they visit Australia and see that (for complicated contractual reasons), Burger King down under goes by the moniker Hungry Jacks. 

No apostrophe = several Ralphs?


Sadly, Ralphs stocked mostly sensible foods and not the pancakes and sausage on a stick I’d been hoping to see in American supermarkets, so I can mock them. Stuff was expensive, though. This was a low income area, and prices seemed to be the same in US dollars as you’d see for items in Australian supermarkets, like $6 for a box of cereal or $5 a kilo for apples. Given that the minimum wage in America is $7.25 versus $21.38 in Australia, I’ve no idea how low income people in Los Angeles manage – they’d need to work for almost an hour for that box of cereal, whilst their Australian counterpart could get three boxes and a few apples from their hour’s labour, if they were the sort of person who spent their hours at work humming “she works hard for the money” whilst dreaming of a glut of Nutri Grain. 

 


 


The real highlight of this leg of the trip was a night time visit to the Griffith Observatory, up in the Hollywood Hills. It’s a masterpiece of Beaux-Arts architecture, and worth the visit for that alone, but the views afforded of the city at night are phenomenal. Sadly, my phone camera didn’t prove up to the job of capturing the moment, but I’ve always loved observing city lights from a distance. The shimmering lights seem to promise glamour and excitement, then you get down to street level at night and find it’s all alcohol and chaos. Not that I was up to any alcohol and chaos. I had to be up early the next morning for my road trip to Vegas. And so we roll on. 

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