Monday, March 16, 2009

An Ocean’s Gargled Vomit on the Shore

My first morning in California, I awoke to an empty apartment and a skittish Chihuahua. I had all day to meander around one of the most famous cities in the world. Los Angeles, in all of its glory and filth, was waiting for me.


First though, let explain the title on this particular entry. In the age of connectivity, I saw a phrase someone had posted on an online profile about dreaming of being an architect. I mocked him only later finding out it was a lyric from a song by The Decemberists. After YouTube-ing the band and exploring their music I bought one of their CDs. A track that I’ve become fond of, called “Los Angeles, I’m Yours,” explores the life and culture of the city. It parodies the vanity and hilarity that the diverse culture exhibits. The title of this entry is a lyric from that song. So Bobby, if you are reading this, thank you for shaming me.


Anyway, back to LA. I was actually in Santa Monica. Jaime’s apartment is only ten blocks from the beach, and practically in line with the Santa Monica Pier. Seems as good a place as any to get started, so that’s where I cycled to. I spent about an hour just hanging out and observing the people on the pier that day.


It’s become a hobby to capture average people in my photographs doing normal things. Sometimes it creates a nice composition, other times it’s a challenge to see how close I could get to somebody and not have them notice I was taking there picture. Any way, here are a few of mine from the Santa Monica Pier:

It’s not often I end up in my own photos, so here I am with the roller coaster over my shoulder. And as if it’s not bad enough that I’m not photogenic, I have my jeans rolled up, high style, I know!

On the beach in Santa Monica is the 1988 L.A. Art Tool that has been dubbed “Walk on LA.” It’s a huge concrete drum that they hook to a tractor and smooth out the sands on the beach. The drum has an inverted impression of the city of Los Angeles so it leaves a map of the city in its wake. That way you can do your best Godzilla impression and stomp over the grainy citizens of the miniature repeating sand castle version of L.A. I imagine it gives one a power trip. Here are my photos of the drum.

And one more of my bike looking like a beach bum.

The L.A. beachside has a long bike trail that parallels the Santa Monica Bay coast side. It’s about 20 miles long and stretches from Malibu all the way to Redondo Beach. I rode the short distance to Venice Beach and took in the sights. As one would expect near Venice Beach, lots of hippies and homeless, and because if was an off season time, it meant most of the boardwalk business were closed.

There were also some nice beach front homes that edged the boardwalk.  I don’t know of any architects that specialize in beach front properties, but it would be a nice opportunity to play around with ideas.

(Note: these pictures were taken while I was on my bicycle)

It was at this point in the day in which I got the idea to give a video editorial. I set my camera to video mode, held it so I could comfortably frame my face as well as the path and views ahead all while pedaling down Venice Beach. But when I hit the shutter button to start the video, I apparently hit it twice. So there is a two second clip of my bare handlebar with the sidewalk zooming by and the static-like sound of the beach winds disturbing the microphone. Anybody who ran into me that day saw me talking to myself as though I were on a Travel Channel documentary show. Odd, sure, but in L.A. odd is commonplace.


Few pictures taken while cycling…

Oh yeah!


It was a good 8-10 miles cycling around that morning. I took a breather under a palm tree. It was here that the realization set in: I was in freakin’ California! It was also a decent place to take a portrait, so what do you think I did…

Jamie had recommended a Caribbean Jerk joint called Cha Cha Chicken, near the beach. I found my way through the high rises to discover a neat hole in the wall restaurant that looked fun.

The outdoor dining room was a neat tropical garden. Little cramped, but still made for an appropriate atmosphere.

And this is a treat. I ordered the daily special, a platter of jerk chicken in served two ways with a side of fried plantains. There was a jerk chicken tamale and the salad dish was something that they claimed as a unique. It was all gulped down with a delicious watermelon juice beverage.

After lunch I took to the streets in my car for a driving tour of Los Angeles. I decided to plug in the Hollywood sign into the GPS, and what do you know, it worked. It took to a location in historic Hollywoodland, the housing community that the sign was originally made to publicize. The final four letters were removed as the sign became popular and now it’s a landmark known around the world. Oh by the way, the view from Hollywoodland…

Then I headed for downtown, right through L.A. traffic. It has been called the most famous traffic in the world, and even though I had been warned, I got stuck. It took me about 25 minutes to go half a mile. I didn’t even touch the accelerator pedal; I just let the idling engine slowly pull the car forward.

The sad part about this, it was 3:00 pm in the afternoon. Folks, it only gets worse! If you don’t like traffic, avoid L.A. But I bet you’re asking, “Why head down town?” Let me tell you. I wanted to see the Walt Disney Concert Hall. I was a little upset to not be able to find parking near by, and with 6 months of my life in the backseat of my car, I was not about to risk it to chance. That meant settling for taking pictures through the windshield. Since I’m in L.A., I’ll call it a drive-by shooting!

The rest of my time downtown made me feel like I was on the set of Jack Nicholson’s movie Chinatown.


Here’s one of my favorites, it’s the sun rays reflected off a neighboring building.

I decided to drive by the La Brea Tar Pits, but once again parking was an issue. My La Brea experience was limited to a tall fence that surrounded the complex. With issues about parking clouding over doing anything downtown I scanned the map for other attractions I wanted to see that weren’t in the urban area, The Getty Center seemed perfect. It was another attraction that Jamie recommended and being an architectural case study, I was longing to see it.


By the time I got there and pulled in to the parking lot, the realization that not only were cars everywhere but capitalists were going to make you pay to drive. The Getty center sits perched up on a cliffside that over looks L.A. from the north side. On top of a presumably $10 or more museum entry fee, they wanted $20 to park my car, and on top of that they wanted to search the back seat and trunk! First, that’s a lot of money being by myself. There are a lot of things on this trip that would have been better if they were shared with a friend or loved one. But the searching the car! I just opted to avoid the hassle and turn the car around. I’ll come back, it’s L.A. I imagine I’ll come back later for an AIA conference or a sports event.


The rest of the evening was spent talking and enjoying being with Jamie and her boyfriend. I learned the ways of the inner city and the rules about throwing out good food in a manner that feeds the homeless. Put it in the dumpster and they know it’s no good; on top of the dumpster and it will be eaten in a matter of minutes.

We also discussed my escape route. The next day was the trip to San Francisco. I could take interstate 5 and be there in 5 hours, or I could take the road less traveled, also recommended by Sonya, and enjoy the natural beauty along the Pacific Coast Highway. Sure the PCH added three to four more hours the trip, but it was the PCH! After all, it’s not where you go; it’s how you get there that matters. 

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