Los Angeles is impossibly big. It's almost as if town planners put about 40 reasonable sized cities into a bag, shook them up, and scattered them over the hills, valleys and shore. Everyone here is married to their car, without one it's nearly impossible to get around, but being two days off being able to hire one, I had to stick to my worn down Nikes.
My shoes took me through suburban Hollywood, the hipster scene on Melrose Ave, the pram pushers of the new apartment buildings near La Brea and the food carts on Wilshire Blvd. It took around 90 minutes, but on a few recommendations I finally made to the LACMA.
The building is typical of the area, massive and strewn all over the park. Burbank’s own Tim Burton was having an expensive exhibit shown, and since Ed Wood is a brilliant film that I may have watched without paying, I offered the universe some balance and checked it out.
Goth heaven aside, the sketches and models from films are pretty amazing. Batman’s cowl wasn’t on display, and there was very little from Ed Wood, but the exhibit was still a highlight of the entire museum. Richard Serra’s massive steel curves are an easy second.
The park that houses the LACMA is also home to the La Brea tar pits, where methane and asphalt come to the surface in a way that would only comfort fans of burnouts. The Mastadons they pulled from the pits are pretty amazing and their size would rival some tanks, however they’re overshadowed by the existence of such a phenomenon occurring in the middle of a city. Say what you want about how big and smoggy the place is, but having that kind of history available while skyscrapers stand around you is impressive in any context.
I began a bit of a lucky streak in San Diego when I mashed the buttons on a vending machine and received two iced teas. This continued outside the tar pits when the same trick granted me two Dr Peppers for $1. However, the luckiest moment came after I walked up La Brea ave, and past the galleries and Jewish section. On a quick trip to Hollywood Blvd’s chemist for some sleeping pills (take that 17 hour flight) I bumped into Pim, my companion on that horrible Greyhound journey from Dallas to Albuquerque.
Our original plan to meet up was scuttled by an issue saving contact details on that bus trip, but through a bit of fortune I ran into him and his friend Pascal ahead of a hike. We stopped by their apartment building that sits just off the main part of Hollywood Blvd and grabbed a quick dinner before embarking on a guided tour of some of Hollywood’s lesser known parts.
One of the first stops was a dollar store, selling individual fighting fish in plastic cups that were half poured with a mysterious blue liquid. They were all available for a dollar, but that kind of cruelty had removed the fight from most of them. Without a doubt, those poor fish are easily one of the weirdest things I have ever seen on sale at a discount store, and I worked at one for two years.
Via some of the sketchier streets of Hollywood, Pim took me to the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, and though I’m not a fan of them at all (too many black metal photoshoots) he showed me the grave of Dee Dee Ramone and a large statue of his band-mate Johnny. It was certainly a surprising detour to the night, but definitely a cool way to spend my last night in Hollywood.
After what turned into hours of walking, I finally returned to the hostel and met a group of Kiwis on a quick tour of the States who are trying to get themselves as chemically challenged as possible. Two of them host one a radio show from Auckland and were on their way to London to interview the Foo Fighters. We stayed out until the bars began to close their doors, but on the walk home got to see some of that famed Hollywood ego, as cars with 26” wheels and a sense of impending gun crime took over the night. I called it a night around two, but the Kiwis were keen to keep partying like they’re Motley Crue.
Perla and her sister Cheese came by the next morning, and after a customary Denny’s stop we drove to the Elliott Smith wall on Sunset Blvd. I had tried to see it when I first arrived in Los Angeles, but due its poor state couldn’t, and ended up with some decent sunburn instead. This time it was apparent due to the hipsters that were already there to check it out. Tags, messages and posters hide most of the artwork (which has been repainted numerous times), but it was great to see one of the main things I’d come to see in Los Angeles – even if it had faded like an aging Hollywood starlet.
|Listen to Elliott Smith - Twilight|
That afternoon we drove through Beverly Hills on a visit to the Getty Center, where it’s hard to tell whether it’s the building or what’s in them that is more impressive. It’s one of the best places in the city, and the Saturday crowds really demonstrated this. As the sun set late in the evening, we drove through Koreatown and Downtown, where the real beauty of Los Angeles is apparent. The 1930s meets the modern world, and with a golden sun reflecting off the buildings it made me appreciate the city even more. To me, Los Angeles is one of those places I enjoy more and more the longer I am there. If you don’t like it, you simply haven’t been there long enough, or you’ve overstayed your visit by way too long.
When the sun had set we took to Mullholland Drive at night, being mindful of possible David Lynch films and local rattlesnakes. On both sides of the hill, the city really puts it on at the night. The grid pattern of lights dominate the view of the valley, while the skyscrapers and bright lights of Downtown, Hollywood, and Beverly Hills give life to the view from of the other side. It was another moment of being smitten by the city I feel too many visitors don’t get a chance to really appreciate.
Somewhere between laying my head on the air mattress and waking up the morning after, I completed my 25th lap of the sun. I’ve criticised myself before for being unemployed, unqualified and not having a permanent place to live at this age, but in reality I was pretty chuffed to complete the milestone on the other side of the world. Of course it would have been nice to spend the day with family and friends, but the place where you are born and grow up doesn’t determine where you should spend the rest of your days. The downsides of my current situation are nothing compared the brilliant year I’ve had, and I knew the risks before I left. In the end, rolling the dice and taking the chance proved greater than any of the consequences.
Perla and I visited the San Fernando swap meet, or as her and her sister call it, ‘the Mexican Mall’. Stalls are lined up in a large carpark and they sell anything you can imagine. For a few cents you can purchase vintage wrestling toys, maternity clothing, bootleg football shirts, stolen car stereos and even a casket. It almost made the aforementioned goldfish seem normal.
That afternoon Perla, her nephew, sister and myself headed to 6 Flags to spend the rest of the day on rollercoasters. Again, the significance of being away was lessened, as it was something unique to this being on the other side of the world. For hours we lined up to ride Tatsu, Riddler’s Revenge, Colossus, Goliath and some others before my brain was too shook up to continue. We missed X2 and Superman due to the line size, but I still managed to put a few inhibitions to the side and put some faith into engineers who are much smarter than I am. If anything, getting over a few fears and pushing yourself is just as significant about gaining a year as any present (though I did treat myself to a new Batman cape!(seriously, rollercoasters in capes is awesome)).
Staying with Perla’s family in Los Angeles proved a brilliant way to mix up my travelling experience. It’s a house with eight permanent residents, a dog, a visiting grandfather and for three nights, a smelly Australian. Her Mexican mother showed me how to make salsa, and her nephew tried to beat me at Fifa (good luck). Her two nieces did their best to teach me Spanish, but in wilder moments demonstrated that uniquely childish bravery and climbed and jumped off anything they could find. The whole stay was an absolutely lovely moment, and sharing the dinner table with the youngest members of the families and eating homemade Mexican food is one of the nicest experiences I’ve had this year.
My final day in the United States was spent in Koreatown, Los Angeles, exploring the district that has somewhat unknown to tourists. The hotel where Robert Kennedy was murdered has been turned into a school, but not without a memorial, while Art Deco theatres and office blocks make a strong visual impression on the area. The afternoon ended with a walk through MacArthur Park, where a pond and grassy hill area offers the nicest views of downtown from anywhere in the city. It’s one of the prettiest sites in the whole city, but as if it’s some sort of metaphor for the some of the America that I’ve experienced, the where the beauty of the park is somewhat overshadowed by the homeless people and shady types – not that I would change a thing about it.
The chance to say good-bye and thanks to Perla was rushed as I ran for a bus to LAX, the place where this magnificent year began. Jumping in a giant tin can and crossing the Pacific does carry some significance, and here’s hoping it’s nothing to do with closure. I love Wollongong, and as much as returning home is nice, no doubt leaving America is breaking my heart. I’ve had a brilliant year, but unfortunately it was always just that; a year. The time has been cut short, but my feelings toward the U.S.A. have only grown.
Pearl Jam - Man of the Hour
Sometimes, someone else finds the words for you.