A September 2002 trip
to Los Angeles by melissa_bel
Quote: This is the tale, under the form of letters, about my trip to Los Angeles and confronting the mystique of the City of Angels.
Of course, California echoes something to everyone of us, we've read about it, we saw the movies and the TV series: the ocean, the sun, the movie stars, the surfers, the legions of Beach Blonde-girls, a lot of money and a lot of misery just kilometers away. None of these reasons had to do with my trip... It was football, American football that is. My better half is crazy about his college football team (Auburn University in Alabama). Now, you have to know that southerners are die-hard fans of their team and the city of Auburn which has 30.000 inhabitants has a stadium of 90.000 seats and when the team plays away, there is at least 15.000 people making the trip to support them. Justin is no different so, here we are on this beautiful Friday afternoon at the airport, tickets for Los Angeles in hands, hoping not to be selected for random searches. Now, just the plane trip from Chicago is worth going because you fly over some of the most amazing area of the US: Colorado, the Rocky Mountains, the Grand Canyon, the Deserts, Arizona, Nevada... Just before the Grand Canyon was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen: a painted desert!!! A brazen and sterile plain of rocks but with shades of sands, yellows, oranges, reds purples and greens. And nothing to spoil it... until I saw a road like a big scar across all this immensity. Then all of sudden, you see something that looks like a monstrous crack in the ground... the Grand Canyon with its red-orange-brown colored rocks. It is amazing to think such a tiny river carved the mountain this way... It looks like a vein you could see if your arm was cut open.
A little further away, lost in the middle of nowhere, here is Las Vegas, Sin City, like an incongruity. Forty minutes later, we're approaching Los Angeles, the City of Angels. And the first thing I see: The Hollywood sign...
It is the end of the afternoon in LA; the first thing we do when we reach the hotel is finding a place to eat. They have a little plaza not far away where the Mexican food is good: I felt like a steak fajita... After a delicious meal, we decide to go for a drive to the ocean and see the sun set and we reach Manhattan Beach.
On the parking lot, a surf girl is waiting for the sun to set before packing her board... All is quiet, just the sound of the waves. We leave and decide to drive around. Manhattan Beach is really lovely, it is a town build on a cliff toward the Ocean, it seem like the place for Surfers and Professional Beach-goers, lots of nice bars, the space is cramped, houses and apartment building are tightly put one next to others to save some space... and those tiny steeply streets reminds me of Vasto, the city by the sea I go to when I am in Italy. I could really picture myself living here. As it is now dark and we are somewhat tired, we decide to go back and go sleep; tomorrow will be a better opportunity to see more.
Got to save some room for the rest, there is plenty to tell.
After a good night sleep, we head up for breakfast. It is going to be a long day, so I stuff myself (omelets, potatoes, bacon, toast, yogurt...)... the typical American style breakfast. It is almost midday when we leave. First stop: Santa Monica, a well-off city by the sea, thriving with stores and galleries. It’s Saturday and everybody's out. We don't stay long and head towards Venice Beach and Marina Del Rey. As we are driving through Venice Beach, the Doors are on the radio. How uncanny... it was Jim Morrisson's hometown.
Marina Del Rey is a yacht man paradise... There are boats, boats and boats again everywhere. From the tiny boat to the big sailboat. Don't have one? No problems, you can buy on the spot. I am wondering to who the big boats are and dreaming of having mine... Captain Mélissa doesn't sound bad and in my head, I'm already sailing through the Pacific. But it is time to see one of the most famous place in Los Angeles, a place associated with priceless indulgence, Fame, Glamour and some teenage TV-show: Beverly Hills.
As we are driving to business-minded Wilshire Boulevard, I can already notice a difference: carefully planned garden, large sidewalks... and all of a sudden, here is the Beverly Hills post-signs. My first steps into one of L.A.'s legend, It is all here: the luxury hotels, the sky-high palm trees, the designers stores... we decide to go park the car and take a walk on Rodeo Drive. I must admit, I am excited... Rodeo Drive is just as expected: full of stores where you won't see any price on the window's item (first of all, it is tasteless, second of all the price could be scary, third of all, people who shop here never ask for the price). And here I am in front of the Versace boutique, admiring the clothes, taking a glimpse of the lucky ones inside. Then I realized... I'm in a different world and feeling a bit uneasy... As we walk down the street, I notice there seems to be only 2 brands of cars in Beverly Hills: BMW or Mercedes (sometimes, the monotony is broken by a Porsche or another sport's car). But I am a bit hungry, so we stop for coffee and a croissant and see people passing by, very distracting. A group Asian ladies who seem in a hurry, are transporting a bunch of orchids, lots of people on their cell-phones, tourists in shorts and local with shopping bags. As the afternoon passes, it is time we drive around some more.
The palm tree-lined Sunset Boulevard is extending before us, on both sides, houses so beautiful it is hard not to gasp. That’s until we reach Bel Air, where my jaw literally drops with houses that look like castles and neighborhoods under special watch.
Bel Air is right next to UCLA (University of California at Los Angeles), one of the most famous in the country. The Campus looks great and it HUGE! And the gardens, carefully planned with a variety of trees and flowers. In the building, a physical therapy seminar is going on and I even hear some French spoken here! Aaaahhh... being a student again. But we decide to go back to Bel Air and see some more of the houses.
I didn't buy a "Stars' Map" (how silly) but I'm starting to regret it as I wonder who lives in these humble abodes. As we see all those beauties, I feel more and more detached. No, I'm not envious. My ideal lies somewhere else. I'm thinking of that money that could have a better use... It is now getting dark and we decide to go to Hollywood. On the way, I noticed a thrift shop where they sell studios surpluses. I have to go! Second-hands clothes shops are always mines for discovery. This one is huge, I feel like a kid in a candy store. I end up with a pullover, a shirt and, a long time wish-listed item: a poncho and this one is BIG. I won't be cold during these freezing Chicago winter. And in the distance, the lights of Hollywood are shining bright.
Hollywood Boulevard is a real circus where you can find, not far from the Oscar venues, S & M shops and Mc Donalds. One of my first stars (you know, the "worthy celebrities" have their name imbedded in a star on the sidewalk) is Orson Wells, who is remembered here as a man of radio (after all, he created a panic with his version of "War of The Worlds"). Maybe he has another star for his movie career? It is hard not to look at your feet and check out the name on the stars, which prevents you to see what's going around you. Of course, Hollywood is dedicated to movies so, you I decide to check out the Kodak theatre, which is now he official venue for the Oscars and enraged some actors because the theatre is smaller than the previous one which means, less invitations to the party. The Chinese Theatre is one of the most moving stop. In front of the Theatre, prints of foot and hands of actors and directors. Audrey Hepburn had small feet and was wearing stilettos those days. Jack Nicholson on the opposite... The biggest feet I saw being Denzel Washington's. Further away, Donald Duck left his palms as a mark. Mel Gibson wishes us peace and George Lucas signed along with 6po and R2D2. All of this would be great if there was not that "commercialization" of the area. It is a bit pathetic. And as we are going back to the car, the Hollywood lights fading away, I can only summarize the day as this: yes, the magic is here, I got caught for a moment, mesmerized in part by LA's own "legends". Scratch and little, and you'll find nothing.
To be continued...
I hope you're doing fine and that you're enjoying the weekend.
Here is the final piece about my trip.
The following day, we head out for the beach. The weather is great and there is a tropical storm in Baja California which means: bigger waves... (Hopefully the storm didn't do much damage down there). We decide to take the Pacific Highway (which doesn't look like a highway anymore) towards the south. We pass through Long Beach, where the Queen Mary is anchored. It is an old ocean liner travelling during the glory days of transatlantic sailing. One of the finest ships of its class. It is now anchored forever and you can rent a part of it for events. I wonder what all the rich and famous and the crew that used to be on it would think of that. Further away, a navy base.
As we go down south, the cliffs get steeper and steeper, we also pass through Huntington Beach, supposed to be one of the finest beaches of metropolitan LA. We keep on driving, on one side of the road, colourful flowers, pine and eucalyptus trees, on the other side, the ocean. But soon we realize that the State Beaches’ parking lots are full (it was a Sunday). So we go back to Huntington Beach.
Finally, here I am relaxing in the sand. The waves are huge indeed (well... it's not Hawaii but...) so I jump, the water is cooooooooooold (it's not the Caribbean), but after a while, you get used to it. The waves are so strong that it is hard to stay on your feet when one comes but it's all part of the fun, you just have to be careful because body surfers are everywhere. I wish I had one... hmmm... Finally, I get audacious and jump on the wave... for a moment, I am a dolphin or or a mermaid... until I get rolled up by the force of the wave and end up with my hair all over my face and spitting salty water.
As the sun begins to set, and people are fewer on the beach, a whole bunch of surfers come out and there they are, riding the waves... And here I am, face to face with the Californian myth again : a surfer on his board enjoying the waves as the sun goes down. I am fascinated.
Not far from me, there is another surfer, he just got out of the water, planted his board in the sand and he just looks at the sun, waiting for it to disappear, he does not move at all, he's just lost in contemplation. I took a picture, I hope it turns out okay.
The following day was the game. It turns out 15,000 Auburn fans made the trip, the coliseum, which is the University of South California's stadium, can hold 100,000 persons... It is the first game of the year for both teams, so everyone is pretty excited. Unfortunately, soon after kickoff, things are not doing well. Games are always hard for players who make a long trip to play. Despite the fans screaming their heads off... despite some new players, unfortunately, they will lose. And we're of course, gently teased by the USC fans, but that's fair game.
Then the last day, Justin and I decide have a drive. As we head north, I notice Mullholland Drive is on our way. We're going to take it! Now, I didn't see the movie, but just by the location, I can have an idea of it. Mullholland Drive is a "mountain road", it goes up the hill, twisting and turning, along the road, you have either rocks, bushes and trees and it looks like Italy and occasionally, you have a glimpse of ritzy houses, carefully hidden by trees and fences. Further up, Los Angeles is at your feet and wow... You can get the feeling of opportunity (good or bad) a metropolis can have in front of this panorama. On the roadside, a wild rosemary grows, I pick up a branch and soon, the car is smelling great. It ends up by Hollywood. Metaphorically speaking, it is great find. It was one of the high points of the trip... So, here we are, in "studio city" finally, the Hollywood sign is there on the cliff... and here we go by Universal's Office... their studio is not far away and you can visit as if it was a museum.
Unfortunately, it's almost time to catch the plane. As the sun sets, we leave the Golden State, drowned by the light of the setting sun. Until we meet again...