*I originally posted this on my old blog over the summer of 2017, and am sharing it again for those interested in reading about Los Angeles.
August 1, 2017
About a month ago, we found out a dear friend of ours had a triple bypass. Hearing this news, Michael immediately said we needed to go to Los Angeles to visit him. For most people, the idea of going to LA probably seems like a fabulous vacation to a city many people dream about visiting. Most people probably only dream about LA and never get there. I’m sorry for those people who would love to have taken my place to go. I wish I felt more excited about going to the entertainment capital of the world. Unfortunately, I am not a city girl, nor am I particularly starry-eyed for famous people who may or may not be douchebags. Are there famous people I would like to meet? Sure. I have a few dreams of meeting certain people who have inspired me over the years, but I don’t expect to run into Oprah, Amanda Palmer, or Gloria Steinem anytime soon. In any case, I have long had the impression that LA would be a nightmare of traffic jams, snotty people who are rude and obnoxious, and in general a cesspool of humanity struggling to survive if they weren’t millionaires. How very wrong I was. Well, in some ways.
Michael and I set out on a Saturday morning to make the seven-hour drive from the Carson Valley, leaving the dogs in a kennel because we couldn’t figure out how to make it possible to take them with us conveniently. Turns out it worked for the best to leave the dogs, but I’ll get to that later. We enjoyed the drive down 395, marveling at the mountains backing the vast grouping of National Parks and Forests from Yosemite to Sequoia, thrilled to have beautiful scenery to enjoy on our way to the city. Though we both deeply desire taking a trip to Yosemite, we didn’t have time to drive through the park if we wanted to get to the city in any reasonable time frame. We were in a bit of a crunch for time because Michael purchased tickets to see the Violent Femmes, who are touring with Echo and the Bunnymen, and we had to first stop at the apartment we rented for a night through Airbnb in order to check in before we could go pick up our friend for the concert. This time crunch was compounded by the fact that we could not drop off the dogs until 8am, which meant not leaving Minden until after 8:30. It would be tight, indeed.
This would be our first Airbnb stay, since we have typically just used hotels or motels anywhere we have traveled, though I have stayed at plenty of bed and breakfasts in the past. Something about the Airbnb business model concerned me; I always worried about the safety of using such a service in terms of cleanliness (about which I am very picky) and comfort (I have back problems and have trouble sleeping on crappy beds). But all the regular hotels in the region where we needed to be in the city were way out of our price range, so Michael found a couple of places to rent for the few days we would be in LA. When we got to the city and finally made our way through the skinny, winding streets of the Hollywood neighborhood of our rental (not easy in our incredibly large truck), we find ourselves standing in front of the door with absolutely no idea how to get inside. This is a problem, as we don’t have time to goof around. At already four in the afternoon, we didn’t have much of a window to drop our stuff and go get our friend before the concert at seven. As Michael starts looking on his phone for contact info of the owner, a man appears from behind the gate to the garden of the upper portion of the house. We ask him if he happens to know the code to open the locked door to the apartment, and he says it should already be open. Okay.
We get the door open, but then it turns out the door will not lock with the key pad, as the key pad is out of battery. This does not excite me. I have my computer with me in case I want to get writing done in down time, or perhaps get down some ideas for a collaboration with my friend, who also happens to be a writer. I am not leaving my computer in an unlocked apartment in LA, no matter how nice the neighborhood. Right now my computer is my livelihood, and I cannot afford to have it stolen. So we leave only our overnight bag and the food, feeling concerned by the lack of information and help. A quick inspection of the apartment revealed it was a rather nice place, but it seemed spartan and not quite as clean as one might expect a rental to be for guests. Without time to mess with our concerns, we left for the recuperative care center where our friend was staying and figured we’d worry about it later.
Not having seen this friend for a few years, the reunion was especially joyous. He seemed upbeat and energetic, considering the guy just had heart surgery. I expected him to be tired and out of breath, but he seemed chipper and was just fine with the climb into the truck (our truck is quite tall). We got to chatting on the ride to the concert, enjoying our time as much as we could while in the vehicle, but then we hit traffic moving very slowly, and then we hit long, long lines to enter the parking lot for the event center attached to a local fair. We checked the streets for parking as we drove, but we found nothing but signs noting the restrictions to those without permits, which is apparently common in LA. Who knew? So we waited and waited to creep and crawl into the Pacific Amphitheater parking lot, and didn’t get parked and on our way into the venue until an hour and a half after it started. Well, we thought, it should still be okay. Violent Femmes are the headliners, so they probably are just about to get on stage. Uh, nope.
We get into the amphitheater while the stage is being set up for the next band, thinking we just got lucky in our timing. And then Michael hears a man talking to someone about the fact that the Femmes just finished. Wha??? No!!! Oh, Michael was not happy. He had paid so much for tickets and parking for all of us, and all the trouble of getting to the venue and goofing around with the strange B and B just put it all over the edge. It probably didn’t help that when he purchased the tickets I wasn’t terribly grateful, since he and I argued about the fact that he had taken an extra shift without talking to me and had ruined some surprise plans I made for us to enjoy a date in Reno. Yeah, that pretty much sucked all the way around. So there we stood, forlorn and disappointed as the Bunnymen took the stage. I mean, Echo and the Bunnymen are a great band and I’m happy I got to see them play, but I really, really wanted to see the Violent Femmes. And Michael worked so hard to make me happy. Shit.
Well, we stayed for the handful of songs the Bunnymen played, and the venue turned out to be great for sound even though it was outdoors (often outdoor venues struggle to have decent sound to combat the fact that sound gets swallowed). It was enjoyable enough, but disappointment hung in the air. None of us dwelled on it aloud, but it was obvious Michael and I were just trying not to bitch and moan about the unfortunate series of events which made us late. We start talking about walking around the fair, to which we had free access with our concert tickets, and then Michael says we should probably just go back to our B and B. I thought we had decided to make it a surprise that we had managed to arrange to have another friend come for the night to visit as well, a friend who also hailed from our hometown of Olean, NY, and who was working in a city a couple of hours away. It would be a fun surprise, we thought, but Michael ended up spilling the beans in order to convince our friend to leave the fair so we could meet with the poor guy sitting around at the empty apartment waiting for us.
Thus we hit the road to head back to Hollywood, which takes nearly an hour. Our friend waiting took a catnap while we drove, and then we hung out chatting for a few hours, all of us rather giddy with exhaustion from the long day, travel, and for Michael and I, lack of sleep. Eventually, the boys decide to take our friend back to recuperative care, leaving me to crash. I begin unpacking a few things to get ready for bed when I look up at the loft area where the bed is located and realize there are no linens on the bed. Dirty pillows and a dirty blanket are all that remain of what should be a fully made bed. A pile of debris sits atop a window shelf at the head of the bed, and dust bunnies line the edge of the loft. I look more closely at the rest of the apartment and find, to my disgust, dirt piles in the edges of all the rooms, a crust of soap or something like it on the edge of the sink in the bathroom, dirt on the countertops in the kitchen, and unwashed cups in the cupboards. Fortunately I found dish soap and was able to scrub the glasses before using them, but there was not a single thing to use for cleaning anywhere else in the apartment. I couldn’t even sweep up the dirt or wipe down the counters because we didn’t have anything to use. Ugh. I called Michael and told him to bring in the camping supplies (thank goodness we still had that in the back of the truck) when he got back.
When Michael got back well over an hour later, we got the bed covered with our own blankets so we could sleep for a few paltry hours, and then I woke fairly early because it got too hot for me to sleep anymore. This apartment in LA not only had no linens and had obviously not been cleaned (despite what the owner said in his email), but also did not provide any AC. This Airbnb was not a winner. I plan to leave a disgruntled review, especially since we paid quite a bit for that dirty apartment which felt like it was recently abandoned by a tenant. Nevertheless, we got ourselves up and moving, glad to leave the dirty place behind, and then got our other friend to head out for breakfast at Denny’s. I know, we go all the way to LA and we eat at Denny’s. That’s exactly the sort of thing I hate seeing in tourists, but we were exhausted and didn’t know where to find the good food and Denny’s was easy. Time for local food later, we thought. Breakfast eaten, we discuss what we might do with the rest of the day and settle on going to the Museum of Natural History so our friend can take pictures of dinosaurs. Why? It’s a story we don’t need to tell here, but he wanted it and he just had heart surgery. If you’re a good friend, you give the guy who just had heart surgery a visit to a museum if he wants it.
I liked the museum quite a bit, as I felt it was nice to run through it in a couple of hours, and they had some fun interactive things to play with and learn from throughout the displays. If you’re looking for a good museum for kids, this one would probably be fun. Not too big, and lots of cool dinosaur skeletons, taxidermed animals, fossils, and interesting stuff about evolution. After the museum, we opted to do a very touristy thing: the Chinese Theater. If you are not familiar with its name, you probably know it by reputation. The Chinese Theater is where celebrities put their hand and foot prints into the cement when they get a star on Hollywood Boulevard. This place was teeming with people at the time of day we went there, right around late afternoon on a Sunday. It was frustrating to try to see the names on any of the stars on the walk of fame or in the courtyard in front of the Chinese Theater, but we managed to see enough to satisfy ourselves. Since most of the four of us don’t particularly like crowds, we decided to get out of there and go walk to a place to get dinner.
Only about a half mile from the Chinese Theater we found Hoy’s Wok Chinese restaurant. It looked like your average hole in the wall kind of place, and none of us expected much. How very surprised we were to have an absolutely delicious meal. I ate shrimp with vegetables, and I was delighted that the shrimp were perfectly cooked and the seasoning delectable. Michael ordered some pork steamed dumplings which were also excellent, and the rest of our crew was very happy with what they ordered. Following the meal being cleared, I told the server I enjoyed the meal, and I don’t know if that’s why they brought out a complimentary bowl of soup for each of us, but they did. The soup was chilled, a sweet bean soup I have never had anywhere else. It was delicious, and even though I generally try to avoid eating sugar, I ate all the soup, both because it was good and because I felt it would be rude to refuse it. What a thoughtful gesture. This restaurant is on Sunset and La Brea in Hollywood if you want to check it out for yourself.
After dinner, we expected one of our friends to have to get back to Fresno where he was working temporarily, but he surprised us by saying he might choose to knock off work the next day and stay for another night, mostly because he didn’t feel up to riding his motorcycle for hours without the rest he should have gotten the previous night. Fortunately, we had rented a different place for the next two nights, and had already been there to drop our things and check in earlier in the day. It could certainly accommodate our friend for another night, as it had a futon and extra bedding. Without a good plan for how to spend our time on a Sunday night, we decided to drive around a little to see some famous sights, like the Hollywood sign on the hill (which we never found, as the GPS seemed stupidly confused and we gave up after half an hour of driving), Mulholland Drive (where we saw the famous view of LA at night from the overlook on the hill), and then gave up on the Griffith Observatory when confounded by signs indicating an alternate route to enter the park. Regardless of our success, we enjoyed chatting and catching up with each other, and the time passed since our last visit seemed nonexistent, the sign of true friendship. Time means nothing when people care so much for each other.
Eventually we found our way to our friend’s apartment, where he hoped he could find his roommate home so he could pick up some things he needed to take back to the recuperative care facility. The roommate never materialized, but a friend who had his apartment key was able to stop by, so we waited in the bar below the building where our friend lives, meeting a few of his friends there. By the time the key was obtained and our friend was able to get into his place, it was late and we were all falling asleep in the booth at the bar. Time for bed. Once again we make the long drive to the recuperative care center, and then back to the B and B in Hollywood. Ugh, the driving. Let me say here that even though I only spent a few days in LA, I highly recommend picking one area of LA to visit for most of your time there, and then you can avoid wasting hours and hours in traffic. It’s brutal being trapped in your car for so much of a trip when you have places you want to see and things you want to do. Be smarter than we were.
Monday morning finds us slightly less exhausted, and we felt grateful for the better accommodations. In our second B and B, our host, Brad, communicated excellent details about checking in, where to find what we needed, and the expectations of us as guests. We also discovered when we arrived on Sunday that the owner had left us dog treats and bowls, since he knew we were originally planning to bring our dogs with us. Along with that generous and thoughtful gesture, he texted us on Monday to let us know where we could find a nearby dog park, and that we might enjoy a dog-friendly café. All our needs were met, and then some. This stay in Brad’s guesthouse on Irvine in Hollywood offered many touches you would expect in a hotel (like an ironing board, microwave, coffee maker, fridge) but felt more homey because it was tastefully decorated and in a nice neighborhood. The benefit of off-street parking and a private courtyard off the room was an unexpected boon.
Since our recovering friend needed to fulfill a couple of doctor visits, we took our time getting up and out to breakfast, this time taking the advice offered by our host to try out a local spot we could reach on foot. Jinky’s is a great place in Hollywood on Ventura, a fun diner which serves both healthy options and typical diner food, and even though we felt it was expensive, the food was good. We ate our meal happily, even spotting a celebrity who came in while we were eating (it was a lesser-known actor who neither Michael nor I could place), and then took a nice roundabout route back to the B and B. With just the three of us and a couple of hours to kill before having to pick up our friend, we headed out to Venice Beach, since I felt it would be nice to see the ocean. I mean, I’ve never been to the Pacific, so that seemed like a fun thing to do. Being a Monday, we found plenty of parking for the beach, and then we decided to walk along the beach next to the water with our shoes off, chatting happily and enjoying the lovely breeze. Even though the day started cloudy, people still flocked to the portion of beach near one of the amusement park piers. It got busier during the hour we spent there as the clouds gave way to full sun, with lots of bikers and walkers on the paved path across the sand. The water is quite cold in the Pacific, even off the coast of sunny Los Angeles, so if you go to the beach, expect to spend less time in the water.
After our walk on the beach we got the message that our friend was ready to go, so we headed his way. An HOUR later (oh, how I hate city traffic), we picked him up and once again drove back to our B and B. The friend from Fresno had to leave, so we needed to get him back to his bike. By the time we got to the B and B, it was already time for dinner. Where did the time go? Traffic, that’s where. Sigh. Once again, we get back in the truck and head out to a place our LA friend recommended, a nice place called Farida on Sunset Blvd. This Mediterranean restaurant has a modern feel, both in décor and plating. We all enjoyed our meals, especially our Fresno friend, who got a chicken dish, and though one portion of my Lamb Schwarma (yes, that stuff Iron Man mentions after almost dying in the Avengers movie) was too salty, my food was delicious and filling. The taste was spot-on for Middle-Eastern fare. After the meal we said goodbye to our Fresno friend, who seemed to keep finding reasons to delay his departure. Having the weekend with the four of us together after such a long time felt too good to want to leave, but the time had come. We all hugged and wished our friend safe travels, and then watched him head off into the crowd on the street as he walked back to the spot where he parked.
Now down to three again, we decided to walk to Amoeba Music on Sunset, famous for its giant collection of music, books, and movies for sale, and also famous for its celebrity-based What’s in My Bag? videos. True to its claim, Amoeba does indeed have a huge collection, and one could get lost in there for hours and hours if you choose. We spent quite a while in the shop perusing the options, and we walked out with a few well-chosen items, then made a decision to take a short walking tour of the area. Our LA friend made it into a bar-hop, though we did it without drinking (because we had to drive, and alcohol is not good for a healing heart), stopping at such establishments as the Burgundy Room and Frolic. The Burgundy Room is fun, with red candles and lighting, and a rather gothic theme with skeletons hanging in a couple of spots. Frolic is one of the oldest bars in LA, and famous for its occasional celebrity sightings. In general, we enjoyed walking the streets of Hollywood to see the neighborhoods, this time taking part of the Walk of Fame at night. It was almost deserted, which led me to believe the best time to visit might be after dinner, when the tourists have all gone elsewhere.
All too soon, the hour came when we had to bring our friend home and say goodbye. We chatted in the truck for a few minutes before we left, promising to stay in better touch, and for the two of us to collaborate on some writing soon. Even if we don’t do that, I’m so glad we got to visit with the four of us, yakking it up like old times. Michael and I drove away feeling both happy and still worried for our friend, whose choice to live in one of the most expensive cities in the country means he lives on a slender budget. We hope he will be okay, but after meeting so many of his friends there, we feel a little better about leaving him. He has a good network of people to take care of him.
On that score, I have to say that I was very pleasantly surprised by how NICE people seemed in LA. I was expecting the same type of grouchy annoyance from these city dwellers as I have experienced in northern cities, but no. Los Angeles proved to me that the sun can make all the difference in the general demeanor of its people, as people who were total strangers to me were friendly, smiling, congenial, and willing to offer help or advice when asked. I’m sure there are plenty of nasty elements to LA if you go to certain neighborhoods, and maybe we just lucked out, but I was quite pleased with how incredibly nice people seemed. I don’t think I had even one unpleasant interaction with a stranger there. Not one. How cool is that?
After our last night in the lovely B and B, Michael and I saw fit to leave a handwritten note for our host to let him know how much we appreciated his hospitality. We did our best to leave it as clean as possible, and then off we went for one last meal. This time we went to the Good Neighbor Place, another diner in Hollywood. Though the service was excellent and the place was neat and clean, we felt the food was bland. Even with the high prices, Jinky’s was much better. For one last hurrah, we drove to the Soap Plant in the neighborhood of Los Feliz, a fun shop where pop surrealism was apparently birthed in the attached art gallery. We happened to go at a time when the gallery was closed, unfortunately, but the place lived up to its “wacko” name. Lots of oddball coloring books (like one on the Kama Sutra), amusing tchotchkes (like a toilet bowl mug), and interesting art-related curios line the many shelves. Even after an hour in there I felt that I had not seen everything. The store is chock full of fun, and I highly recommend you visit the restroom. Yes, I did suggest you use the bathroom while there. Trust me, it’s interesting.
I picked up a few things, and then we got in the truck for our drive. As we left LA, I felt I could understand why so many people are attracted to living there. The weather is beautiful all year, you have the ocean, mountains, and lots of greenery and flowers growing in the city, due to so many people landscaping. Though traffic is terrible, people are friendly and you always have a choice of places to go and things to do. If you don’t have a car, this might not be the best place to live, as the public transit seems limited without much of a subway or train system like the Big Apple or Chicago. This aspect of city living surprised me, especially in a state which regulates so much of the environmental and agricultural laws for its residents. Wouldn’t it make sense to have more of a transit system to keep the traffic off the road and reduce smog? The air is a lot cleaner than it used to be, but it’s still smoggy. Still, I enjoyed my visit to LA. I don’t ever feel the need to live there, but now that I’ve seen it I am more willing to go back so we can see some of the things I missed on such a short stay. Next time maybe we can see the Museum of Jurassic Technology (which was closed on Monday, darn it), or take a tour of Hogwarts at Universal, or make it to Toi Thai restaurant, which I hear is amazing. We did leave things open for another possible visit in the not-to-distant future. One must take advantage of relative distance to friends, since we live so very close now. Seven hours seems like nothing after driving across the country for days.