Monday, October 4, 2010

LA Story

About three years ago, shortly after Sarah and I returned from our trip, my brother, Travis, and his wife, Meghan, moved down to Los Angeles so that she could pursue a career in acting and he could pursue one in film production. Sadly, while they've been back up to Washington a least a couple times each year, we've only been able to go down to visit them once. But, because I have the Best Wife Evah™, and because she offered to watch Stella while I went down for a long weekend, I was able to spend some time with them, see their latest apartment (they've moved since our first trip) and explore LA some more.

So, last Thursday evening, I boarded my neon-pink-lit Virgin America flight, sat down 15 rows behind Arianna Huffington, and quickly found myself at LAX, being picked up by my brother. Unfortunately, because my flight arrived a little after 11pm, it didn't provide us with much time to explore; but we were still able to grab a late night beer and bite to eat at a neighborhood pub.

The next morning, feeling slightly worn out from our 3am bedtime, my brother and I fumbled through our morning routines, and then he took me out to show me a couple of neighborhood comic stores. The first, Skylight Books, was actually a book store proper, but their annex store features a large collection of trades and graphic novels up by the front door. The second, The Secret Headquarters, was a smallish comic book store with an old-time leather and polished wood feel. As someone who's always argued that comics should be treated with the same respect as other book forms, and not be surrounded by and buried under piles of action figures and Magic cards; both stores made me very happy.

After checking out both stores, we picked up Meghan back at the apartment, and went to check out a Cuban restaurant that they'd heard good things about, La Caridad. La Caridad ended up being a small, unassuming hole in the wall. The type of place where everyone else being served was speaking Spanish and the food was tasty without being flashy. As I eagerly ate my beef, rice and beans, I announced to Trav and Meg that this was exactly the type of thing I was hoping to do there.

As we finished our meal, we talked about what our options were for the day. Since I've been to LA a couple of times before, and even lived near Anaheim for a super-brief two-month period back around 2000, they didn't feel obligated to take me to all the usual tours traps. But, when one of them mentioned that they new the location of the entrance to Batman's Batcave (from the old, campy TV series), I knew that's what I had to see first.

A short drive, and an even shorter "hike," and we were there. A short tunnel punched through a narrow hillside, dead-ending on the other side of the tunnel.

Trav and Meg do their best Batman and Robin impression. I'll let you decide which is which.

Coming back from the Batcave, we noticed that we were near the trail-head up to the Hollywood sign. And, since Trav and Meg had never made the hike themselves, we figured it was worth a go. Now, apparently, the hike was only supposed to be about a mile and a half one way, but after going the wrong way at least once, and tromping up broken pavement in the afternoon sun, it somehow turned into a "Death March" not dissimilar from mine and Sarah's hike to the Virgin Mary's House in Turkey.

To add a little insult to injury, when you got to the top of the trail, you couldn't even walk up to the sign, but instead found yourself standing on a fenced trail above it. Still nice view, at least!

The Hollywood sign from above, and the sprawl of LA beyond.

After taking the view in a bit, there's was nothing left to do but head back down the hill and go to YogurtLand! Yum! I've never been so excited about frozen yogurt before. It was actually sort of embarrassing.

With our bellies full of self-serve yogurt, we headed back to Trav and Meg's place to burn it off with a rousing game of Trivial Pursuit, and then a late night app platter and beer at another neighborhood sports bar, Good.

Saturday morning, Meghan had to work, so Trav and I hoped on the bus and headed into downtown to walk around and do a little site seeing. First off, he took me into the library where we marveled at the atrium and this painted, domed ceiling:

The mural was amazing in its detail, but probably my favorite touch was the globe chandelier.

After the library, we wandered pass the toy district where I picked up a $2 pair of sunglasses. Note that, despite having bought sunglasses in several developing countries, this was probably the cheapest I've ever scored a pair. Then it was on to Little Tokyo for a sushi and Bento box lunch. Poor Sarah, she always has to listen to me grumble when she suggests we get sushi and what's one of the first things I do when I go on vacation without her? Get sushi. Though, to be fair, I was in Little Tokyo. It only made sense.

The Bento Box and some sushi from lunch.

With lunch in our bellies, we headed onward to Union Station. I'd seen several of Trav and Meg's amazing and atmospheric photos of them in Union Station before, so I thought it was important that I take some too.

Ooooh, artsy. I swear, someday, I'll learn to take decent photographs.

Me, posing in my $2 sunglasses, for what might someday become a Facebook profile photo.

Also, while we were there, we watched as staff set up for some formal event in a side room. The man working the information desk speculated that it was an Armenian wedding. Whatever it was, it was probably going to be a wild time, since each table included not just a bottle of wine, but also a bottle of whiskey.

Olvera St: Touristy, but pleasant.

Back outside, we made our way to Olvera Street. Besides being a market filled with Mexican themed tchotchkes, was also a quaint and shaded (if crowded) cobble-stone street, that also featured tourist-centric restaurants and LA's oldest house.It was cute, but by then we were both getting a little hot and tired and decided to make our way back home...

...but not before swinging back past the Grand Central Market and La Cita. The Grand Central Market was, like Pike Place Market for Seattle, LAs original market space. And, wandering through it, they still sold an array of fruit, vegetables, seafood and meat. La Cita, located right next to the market, is a funky old Mexican bar that seems to live some sort of weird double life: Inside, it was filled with middle-aged Mexicans and on the back patio it was rapidly filling up with 20-something, urban hipsters. The seemly easy truce between the two groups made for a surreal experience, to say the least.

Grand Central Market. When Sarah and I travel, one of our favorite places to visit are market places. The ones you find in the US might not feature as much bizarre food or questionable sanitation, but they are still great to stroll through.

Trav and La Cita. Unfortunately, you can't see much of it... beyond the wrought iron fence of the courtyard, and some Budweiser banners. But, trust me when I say the inside looked like Terry Gilliam's version of a Mexican-themed bar.

After throwing back a beer at La Cita, and making a mini-hike back to the bus stop, we were soon back at Trav and Meg's apartment. Meeting up with Meg, we decided to head back out for a taco dinner at El Chava. At El Chava, we were rapidly befriended by a guy named Al. Al was so quintessentially LA that I had trouble believing he was real: A hyperactive hip-hopper who managed to squeeze three or four celebrity names into each of his partying stories... while simultaneously declaring that he didn't really care for all that "celebrity stuff."

Making our eventual escape from Al, the night made the slow transition into a mini-pub crawl, which featured eventually running into our friends Russ and Ang, and brief (but unfortunately not brief enough) visit to "Jumbo's Clown Room," and eventually ending up with Trav and I shouting over the music at some vaguely Buddhist-Circus themed club near their hour.

The next morning, moving slowly again, we made our way back to Good for a long breakfast, and so that Trav could watch the Seahawks play.

Maybe not the most flattering picture of Travis, but it still pretty accurately represents that morning.

Then, with an unfortunate Seahawks game behind us, I was back on the plane and home again. All in all a fun trip. Before Trav and Meg moved to LA, I would always declare that it was possibly my least favorite place I'd been. But, I have to admit that, based on this visit and mine and Sarah's previous trip, I've begun to warm to LA. Sure, its large, dirty and congested. And, sure, vast swaths of it tend to suffer from the type of suburban sprawl that makes my skin crawl. But, at the same time, it's also now revealed itself to be a city filled with an amazing mix of cultures, food, interesting neighborhood and fun people. And, as long as Trav and Meg are down there, I'll look forward to visiting!

...though, maybe next time Stella and Sarah will be there too!

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