L.A. Story

On Friday, I went out to Burbank. It was for a friend’s birthday party. Normally, I don’t go to Burbank or the Valley, but I do for friends’ parties, because I love them, and will make sacrifices.

Unfortunately, having to go to Strange Part of Town with Confusing Freeways when you are expecting Out Of Town Guest isn’t the best plan. But it was the only plan that I could come up with. I couldn’t miss the party…but I had UBC Wayward Alumni #6 coming to visit.

Fortunately, this particular alumni’s had enough time in the States to figure out the freeway interchanges, and he managed to find Burbank, right on schedule. And so, in a slightly surreal in a random way moment, my ex-boyfriend from Vancouver ended up meeting me at a karaoke bar in Burbank, California.

There are friends from my past that I especially want to see Los Angeles. Andrew was always one of those. Not just because, as he said, three of his favorite movies are set here (Blade Runner, Chinatown, L.A. Confidential), but because he is the person I want to talk to about how I understand America. Andrew’s brilliance, combined with his experience as an expatriate in California, and his understanding of cities and social structure, make him one of the people I most wanted to share my Los Angeles with. I wanted to show him how I see the city, with all its perspectives, its forgotten history, its wonders and its mistakes. I wanted to show him how my Los Angeles is nothing like the external perception of the hellhole that it takes on in the San Francisco/Bay Area consciousness.

So we started on Saturday afternoon with a trip to the Natural History Museum, which is now featuring the exhibit on Jared Diamond’s COLLAPSE. It was fantastic. Andrew got to see dinosaurs. I got to see a model of downtown Los Angeles circa 1940, when Bunker Hill was still well-kept Victorian houses and the Art Deco civic center was the tallest and newest building downtown. And we both got to see the Collapse exhibit, which was done in the slightly overly-artistic way that the NHM tends to present exhibits. It illustrated the points of the book, but in new, multidimensional ways, and with a touch of cartoonish childishness that made it, in places, a child-interface exhibit with adult concepts. And the exhibit ended with a video showing different factors which could drastically affect SoCal’s millions of people, if not addressed and solved. It was a fantastic educational excursion.

Then we cut through downtown L.A., up Broadway and along Sixth, while I explained, “this used to be New York West.” And it was. Broadway, the old backbone of downtown L.A., was built to be like Broadway in New York. The Biltmore, where I always take my out of town visitors, is an old East Coast, neo-classical hotel, the only one of its kind in Los Angeles. We visited Grand Central Market, and went to the Bradbury Building, and then drove over to get lunch at Phillipes.

Phillipes is an L.A. institution. They serve French dip sandwiches. They have since 1908, when Phillipe (one of the members of the then-prominent French community who grew grapes and ran vinyards in what is now East L.A.) either accidentally or on purpose slopped gravy onto a sandwich. He claims to have invented it. Whether he did or not, the sandwiches are very tasty, especially with the in-house sinus clearin’ mustard. There’s sawdust on the floor, and long tables, and coffee is a dime a cup. I adore it. And it has the added bonus of being around the corner from both Chinatown and Olvera Street.

We walked down Olvera Street, but it was too late to see the original adobe. Instead, we contented ourselves with a trip to the “La Reina” mission, a still-functioning Catholic church, built at the start of the nineteenth century by the Spanish. We watched people light candles before Mass and take holy water. And then, as we walked back down the street, I had to stop outside Sepulveda Houseand squint, because I realized exactly how similar the building was to some of the architecture in New Orleans. America was, after all, a Spanish nation before it was an Anglo Saxon one.

On the way back, we had one of the more amusing quotes of the day. A slightly lurching black man came up and said, “Whoo-eee! You guys married?” Andrew immediately emphasized, “No!” The reply was, “you should be, because you got a damn fine woman there!” This was reinforced by the other crazy homeless guy a few feet down who catcalled, probably at my ass. I laughed most of the way back to the car.

From downtown, we went through the tunnels of I-5 to Griffith Park. I love Griffith Park. I love that it exists, almost by accident. I love that the poorer population of Los Angeles can enjoy it just as much as the wealthier. I love that you see people, families, couples, groups of friends, from all kinds of backgrounds, picnicking and hiking on weekends. And, of course, I love that you can see most of the city from it, which was kind of the point. We ended up walking a half-mile up the trail, far enough to see all of West L.A., from Malibu to LAX, from Playa del Rey inland through Watts and Compton and Southcentral. We could see downtown, Koreatown and Silverlake, and could see the Hollywood sign clearly a couple hills over. We could see east along the hills to Mount Washington and Highland Park. “And THAT,” I said, “THAT is Los Angeles.”

Then, of course, I had to get through some of the places we’d seen, so I cut down through Los Feliz to Hollywood, and would have gone past Graumann’s Chinese except for the roadblocks (movie premiere road closure). I took Highland down, cut over to La Brea, and down to Wilshire, to go past the Miracle Mile and the tar pits. I cut back up along Melrose and La Cienega to the Sunset Strip, past the Viper Room and the Whisky, and out through Beverly Hills, Bel Air and past UCLA. I drove all the way through the Palisades to Malibu, and then turned south on the PCH, and came back past the Santa Monica pier, into Venice, past the binoculars and finally, finally, back home.

And then we saw the randomness that is the 99 Center, heated up leftover gumbo for dinner, and went out with some of the girls and guys to the Otheroom in Venice. This is a bar I’ve always seen people spilling out of, and never been to. And there was a line – which was skippable if you could prove you were a local. I have business cards that say I work on Main Street in Venice, so we went right in to find everyone else inside, rocking out to the classic rock jukebox and drinking one of the dozens of types of beer served. “It’s like a bigger, better Burgundy Room!” Kelly exclaimed. We all love the Burgundy Room, but it’s in Hollywood, so finding a place like it in Venice, where we get to skip the lines for being locals, was fantastic. I’m happy.

Today was slow to start, because I cooked breakfast for the crew again. I did this last week, too, after the party cleanup. I made the last of the beignet mix from Cafe du Monde in New Orleans. I assigned my guy roomate to French toast detail and the resident deep fat frying expert to her beignet station, microwaved a package of imitation bacon (half beef, half turkey), and served cafe au lait and beignets, along with the more solid breakfast food, outside in the sunshine. Six of us – Deena and her roomate Kelly, my guy roomate and my adopted cousin, Andrew and I, all sat outside in our West L.A. backyard, for a leisurely late brunch on a gorgeous Sunday. It was very, very nice.

Then we had get on with the day, and move down to the beach so I could round out the Los Angeles experience for the out of town visitor. I took the NerdSquad with me to park at the Agency and walk the two blocks to the beach. The other girls went down to our friend Carolina’s new place in Marina del Rey. My crew swam and suntanned, napped and read, for an hour, and then drove down to join them. We found six friends in Marina, and added ourselves to the party chatting around the pool. After all, what’s a weekend in L.A. without a pool party? Or, for that matter, Mexican food? After we left, I suggested we stop by Oaxacan taco place that opened last month six blocks from the house. We tried goat burritos (shockingly good) and Oaxacan cheese quesadillas and very hot salsa.

Finally, we went for a walk down by the Venice canals. I never knew the canals were there before I moved here. But they are – less than 30% of Abbot-Kinney’s original Venice of America. They’re beautiful, of course, flanked with paths, crossed with fairytale bridges, lined with gorgeous gardens. Flowers spill out onto the walkways, and the canals themselves are a nice shade of deep green. On a sunny Sunday, it’s gorgeous. And we finished the walk by wandering down to the Venice pier, to watch the surfers at sunset before walking up the tourist strip back to the car.

“And THAT,” I said, “THAT is my Los Angeles. I totally expected it to be a hellhole when I moved here.”

“Yeah,” Andrew said. “I’ll admit, I’m pleasantly surprised.”

He also told me that I have a great setup here, just being by Venice. “I liked the rest of L.A.,” he said, “but I could take it or leave it. Venice, I can see why you love it. This place is cool.”

Yeah, it is. And I know L.A. now. I’m starting to understand it, through all the layers. I’m starting to see the perspectives, piece by piece. But Venice is really my home, where I spend most of my existence. I think I’ve forgotten that lately. It’s one of the greatest places in America to live, I think. Venice, California, one of America’s mythical destinations. I like it here. I would not be this happy if I’d ended up anywhere else in Los Angeles, if I was more than ten minutes by bike from Venice Beach itself.

And that, that is an L.A. Story weekend for you all. Los Angeles, through my eyes, my city, my home. And I was so happy to get to share it with one more friend. When are the rest of you coming to visit?

6 responses to “L.A. Story

  1. Have I mentioned lately just how much I appreciate your essays on LA? Thanks so much for sharing your impressions of an amazing city!

  2. You know I’ll be back eventually. You can’t keep me away for that long. Next time I go, I’ll promise to actually TRY the karaoke instead of just laughing/gawking at everyone who grabs the microphone.

    Also, could you send me Andrew’s (your roommate) email address? I realize that I told him I’d keep in touch and I haven’t bothered yet.

  3. Are you still planning to move here someday?

  4. andrew3dp (at) yahoo. he’ll be thrilled to hear from you, I’m sure.

  5. I sure am – I think I fall in love with it a little more every time I read an essay of yours. I can’t wait to see it for myself!

  6. “WOOO-EEEEE! You two married or something?”
    “No.”
    “Well, you’d better get on that then…that girl has some FINE lookin’ booty.”
    “A’rrrr. Booty.”

    sorry. couldn’t help it. love you!

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