Thursday, December 17, 2009

Los Angeles- in praise of celebrityhood

Amanda and I went on our short vacation to Los Angeles. I flew to L.A. on Delta and had no problems. During the first day, the weather was decent but for the subsequent two, it put the lie to “It never rains in Southern California.” I chose a hotel in Long Beach, which was not the best choice. It was too far from the things we wanted to see and also too far from conveniences. The electronic door locks failed frequently also.

The second day we went to Disneyland and the California Adventure Park. The area around the resort has been majorly improved since I last visited more than a decade ago. The park and its environs have seen significant upgrades to its landscaping. The weather seemed warm until we rode on the tram, when we realized that any wind made the subjective temperature plummet. It drizzled throughout the day and it became colder throughout the day. A got so cold that we had to buy a Mickey hoodie that I am sure she will never wear again. Disneyland is, well, Disneyland. The rides have not really been improved since the last visit and the size of the park pales in comparison to Disneyworld. The former Nautilus ride has morphed into a Finding Nemo submarine “adventure.” It was overly long, relies on unsophisticated technology, and overall, was a crashing bore. We could not wait for it to be over but it probably thrilled 7 year olds. The Haunted Mansion was decked out for Nightmare Before Christmas. It also was no thrill. We did the Pirates of the Caribbean and A marveled at how much money Johnny Depp must be making from licensing his image. Also, she was disappointed that the robotic man who used to have his leg resting over a footbridge is now legless. It’s a Small World was also decked out for the holidays. Apparently Muslims sing Christmas carols also. Space Mountain and the Matterhorn are still fun. There was the annoying holiday parade that held us up as we were trying to get to another ride. We avoided the water rides since it was so cold. We spent about 5 hours at Disneyland.

We then strolled over to the California Experience. I am not sure why there should be a theme park about the very state in which its located, but setting that aside- the park is sort of lame. The first ride we went on was California Soaring. As we waited in line, a 10-year old boy was terrorizing a little girl who was in line. He was roughing her up. His younger brother reminded him that he was treat girls with respect. As the 10 year old continued to be rough, I told him to stop. His little brother then snitched to his mother. That resulted in her coming over and asking if I felt the older boy was disrespectful to me. Talk about being on the spot. I didn’t want to get into the middle of this situation so I said that I didn’t notice. The mother then told the boy to get out of line so that he could not ride. A. and I discussed the merits of this approach. I thought it a bit harsh but felt that this was a repeat problem for the kid so the mother probably was just looking for an excuse. She had a blond mullet, by the way.

Back to Soaring- the ride is supposed to be like a hang glider tour of the Golden State. It’s a motion simulator ride that would be a lot more effective if, when soaring, you wouldn’t see the dangling feet of those in the “glider” ahead of you. Anyway, there were some effective flying sequences that encouraged my phobia of heights to kick in. I am embarrassed to say that I had to close my eyes from time to time. A thought the ride was full of lameness. We walked over to the Tower of Terror in a fake movie backlot. This must be the west coast version of the Orlando MGM Studios. I am always impressed with the detail that Disney puts into the rides and this is especially true with regard to the Tower. The lobby of the old hotel is so authentic to the 1930s. Anyway, the ride is not nearly as good as the east coast version. The drops are good, but the car does not move through the “hotel” as in Florida. There was a young woman sitting behind us that was sooo loud. I think she was trying to look afraid and cute to her adolescent male friends. Maybe they liked it but we didn’t. A young guy next to me kept flipping the bird during the ride. I don’t have a clue as to why. We went to the section of the park that is supposed to be an old-fashioned boardwalk. Fake nostalgia as I call it. The California Screamin’ (yes, they left off the “g” just like our president does when he addresses working class audiences) roller coaster is decorated to appear like a wooden coaster but it has a loop so that we were not fooled! The best part of the coaster was the zero to fifty five 5-second acceleration at the start. We also road the Ferris wheel that has a clever system where the cars are on rails so that they move and swing back and forth during portions of the ride, although the wheel stopped a lot to let people on and off. That was it for the “attractions” at the California Adventure. .A thought, and I agreed, that the park is weak and that it lacks focus. Not sure what it was trying to communicate, if anything, about the Disney heritage. We left the park around midnight.

The next day we went to the Getty Museum. Parking is a very expensive $15 but it does include the museum admission fee. The museum is located on a hill but since it was so rainy and foggy, we didn’t get any nice views of the surrounding area from the museum plaza. To reach the Museum from the bottom of its hill, it is necessary to take a tram. It is powered by a cable rather than by an on-board electric motor, which made the ride slow. The Museum buildings are beautiful. They should be for the $1 billion they cost to build. They are covered in limestone that already has some mold growing on them. The plaza areas are travertine. The buildings are magnificent and house large galleries. We were not unable to tour the gardens nor were we able to eat al fresco because of the rain, so we did miss some of the Museum’s best features. But, in all honesty, the Museum’s art collection is second rate. I realize that the art came from the collection of one man, but it provided only a small sample of art from various periods. Maybe having seen museums around the world is bound to make the Getty seem inadequate. Maybe the rain added to our disappointment, but there is no doubt that the building is better than the art. The one exception here was a display of photos by Irving Penn that capture laborers from around the world in the early 20th century. These photos, all in black and white, are brutally honest about the dirt on and rounded shoulders of the workers. They were not airbrushed, decked out in Armani, coiffed, or malnourished. They were the people that helped to make America great. We have no manufacturing class left so these images are stark to the modern eye. The butchers, carriage drivers, chimney sweeps, etc. had great dignity and pride, as shown in these photos. This traveling exhibit made the Getty visit worthwhile.

We finished far earlier at the Museum than we thought we would so drove into downtown LA. We wanted to see the Geffen museum, but could not find an entrance. Maybe it was the insistent rain, but signage was almost totally lacking. Also no one seemed to be walking into the building and we didn’t want to park and walk in a downpour to find an entrance. So we bagged it.

Someone once said that LA is a collection of suburbs in search of a city. I can see why. The downtown, like many newer cities, has broad streets with great stretches of sidewalks between buildings. It is anything but pedestrian friendly. In the old northeastern cities, buildings are closer together and seem to draw walkers from one to another. Not so in LA. Not being compact makes downtown LA seem unhurried, unexciting, and empty. There is also some terrible architecture here. The federal buildings are hard on the eyes, but that is true in many cities. It seems like the 1950s through the 1980’s were a very dry spell for governmental architectural design. The Disney Concert Hall, in contrast, is magnificent. Gehry’s design is flawless and the flowing shapes of the fa├žade help to temper some of the angularity of the buildings in downtown LA. I wanted to take pictures, but it was raining too hard. There are a few preserved art deco buildings in this area that are also quite beautiful. Overall, we were disappointed.

The next day we went to Catalina Island. I had been there maybe ten years ago, but stayed only a short time. I probably should have done the same this time. Again the weather was cold, but not raining. I made reservations early in the morning for a bus tour of the island. I was supposed to receive and e-ticket, but it did not arrive. A little hitch is that tickets could not be bought on site, so if the ticket didn’t arrive, we might have been out of luck. As fortune would have it, we had some helpful tour representatives who facilitated us meeting up with a tour that had just left. By the way, we were told the tour would leave at 1:30. Instead, it left at 1:15. So we joined the already departed tour bus and the guide resumed his narrative. He was knowledgeable but he went on and on about stuff that I had little interest in. Since the roads on Catalina are so narrow, he would slow down at a key viewing area, but he never stopped to let us out to take pictures. And when he did slow down, I would get my camera ready and he timed the departure to the moment I was about to take my picture. Without stops, the tour became a grind. We finally did reach the summit of the island where the Catalina airport, aka, the Airport in the Sky. It is about 1600 feet above sea level. We were given 15 minutes to grab a cup of coffee, a chocolate chip cookie, and a few pictures. We again loaded onto the bus and went down the same road we traveled up. The guide restarted his narrative. Ugh. When we finally got to Avalon, we searched for a vegan restaurant so that A could eat. We did find a place that had a hummus plate, so we stopped, ate, and waited for about 2 hours for the ferry back to Long Beach. It was cold enough that we did not want to walk around anymore, but there is little to see in Avalon anyway, unless you like shops with sea shell lamps, glass fish, and overpriced tee shirts. The ferry ride to and from the island were relatively rough and apparently the boat had no heat. Ugh again.

The day of our departure, we drove along Mulholland Drive. It is not the elegant road that I thought it would be, especially after having read about it. There were a few nice houses for sure, but most looked like ordinary ranch-style homes. We took the obligatory pictures of the LA skyline. We then drove to Beverly Hills and had the most fun of our visit. We were intent on seeing the Ivy and Mr. Chows, where, at least according to TMZ, all the celebs go to eat. My GPS was great at helping us find them. The Ivy is much smaller than we thought. It has maybe 6 outdoor tables. We drove around and noticed some paparazzi hanging out. We knew them by their cameras. We found a place to park and I tried to take some photos without looking like a tourist. We then walked by the restaurant to look, nonchalantly at adjacent windows, while sneaking glances to see if there were any celebs at lunch. We again walked by the outdoor tables. There was one very tall woman who was waiting for her car that had been valeted. She was very thin and was dressed in an all white outfit. She had on a hat and her slacks had bell bottoms with huge cuffs. She probably was someone we should have recognized, but didn’t. We also saw a woman seated at a table who looked celebrity-like. She resembled Kim Bassinger, but what do I know? We then went to ask the paps if there was a celeb-sighting. They said “no” but they had their cameras ready none-the-less. Initially we asked the guys if they were indeed paps. One demurred saying that the other guy was, but that he himself was not. They both had cameras, however. They agreed to let me take A’s picture with them. We then walked to an Armani Casa store. First time I had been in one. The furnishings were beautiful and very, very pricey. The sales person sort of glommed onto us. We chatted a bit while I admired the stuff. A. and I then walked to a coffee shop to feed her addiction. We both noticed that women in Beverly Hills wear clothing that would be more appropriate as evening wear and that everyone looks you right in the face, as if to see if you are celeb or celeb-worthy. She and I got plenty of stares. A. noticed this particularly since she is from New York, where no one looks at another in the face. We went by Mr. Chow’s but saw no one. By this time, the day was growing long and we still had several hours before our planes were to depart. I wanted to go to the Pacific Design Center, but again, the place looked barren. We could see no one going in or any activity on the inside. We decided against it. We then road along Sunset looking for Gloria Swanson, but didn’t find here. We went to the local Target to kill some time but it’s just like a Target anywhere.

All in all LA was a disappointment. A. thinks it is full of cheaply made buildings that fill up every inch of space possible. In fact, we went to a small vegan restaurant in a little strip mall. It looked to be maybe 15 years old. As we were eating, the ceiling started to leak. I mentioned it to the waitperson who said “Yes” and went about her business. I guess in heavy rain, leakage is expected. I thought the LA had more one and two story warehouses than I have ever seen. This evident while driving along the freeways, and especially in the Hollywood neighborhood. The good news is that the LA area is replete with good vegan restaurants. We went to one in Santa Monica (the RFD Bread Company) and one near Mulholland that I particularly liked. The former was pricey with good food; the latter was less expensive and had the very best green iced tea that I have ever had. I also had a chance to read about how cruelly animals are treated in the food industry.

It was wonderful being with A. We are very much alike and say or think the same things in unison. She is very, very bright. She is well read and retains what she reads. She makes a father proud.

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