One of the advantages of jetlag travelling westward is that you wake up a bit earlier at your destination. But when you wake up at 11.30pm after about three hours’ sleep, that’s not such an advantage. We needed a day to get used to the new time zone, so what could be better than pottering around Los Angeles whilst feeling completely spaced out?
After a frankly dismal breakfast we got the airport shuttle bus to Union Station. Our impression of LA was endless sprawl: dozens, maybe hundreds, of districts and neighbourhoods no higher than three storeys. Was it because land was cheap? Or for earthquake safety reasons? Whatever the reason, it went on and on and on.
Along the way we took the opportunity to see what we could expect on the LA freeway once we got the camper van. For one thing, enough cars to give you hallucinations; for another, nobody seemed willing to pick a lane and stick with it. Every single driver had one hand on their wheel and the other thumbing at their cellphone with their attention flitting between the two. This did not inspire confidence.
Union Station is a grand and fantastic art deco edifice, and the first recognisable film location of the trip (it doubled as the police station in Blade Runner). We did a lot of walking around downtown – past the city hall (Dragnet! The Naked Gun!) and the Walt Disney Concert Hall (Get Smart), to the 7th Street metro station.
While we were waiting for the train, a young gentleman with slightly glazed eyes and wearing the unsubtle scent of marijuana offered us some free marital and sartorial advice, which I was able to record almost verbatim afterwards. Other Angelenos cast furtive glances at us, keen to see how the out-of-towners would deal with this. I adopted my best Alan Whicker demeanour: smiling, polite, and terribly British.
Hey, you guys is like king and queen, yo. You, like, beautiful people – you got these eyes, right? An’ yo wife, she got the looks – you married her fo’ her looks!
(The first time I saw my wife she was the only one in the room reading a book.)
“I married her because she’s smart, too…”
Bullshit, man! Bullshit! No disrespect or nothin’, but bull-shit!
He then went on to further compliment her on her looks but she didn’t understand a word he said and gave him only the vaguest of responses. He returned his attention to me.
An’ you man – I can see why she went fo’ you, cuz you dress sharp. You, like, a hard-workin’ man: smart shirt, sharp slacks, an’ you got ’em pulled all the way up. You gotta let yo’ balls breathe, man!
“I hoped you wouldn’t notice.”
Be more like me! I respect a hard-workin’ man, but you gotta let yo’self get a little scruffy; that way you gonna get more action, ya know what I’m sayin’? Cuz you’re a good guy an’ you take care of yo’ queen, an’ she likes that, cuz how else she gonna stay with you with yo’ mornin’ breath, right? An’ when she takes a shit you be there on one knee wipin’ her ass, know what I’m sayin’?
At this point the train to Sunset & Vermont arrived. I told the fellow to take it easy and we boarded without delay.
After lunch at Stamp Proper Foods, we walked up to Griffith Park Observatory, through a leafy street of Italianate and modernist mansions (and one misguided, dark and gloomy faux-Tudor; there’s always someone trying to ruin it for the others), sidewalks torn up by tree roots (I guess nobody does much walking around here) and signs promising truckloads of armed bastards ready to shoot anyone who set foot in a garden that wasn’t their own.
In Griffith Park, we took a path frequented by joggers seeking a quiet spot to sit and scroll through their social media feeds, and a middle-aged woman patiently waiting for her husband to finish his call about a deal with Warner Brothers which had fallen through (I imagine this sort of phone call happens a lot in LA).
When we got to the top, the whole area was packed with school trips and a busload of geriatric Afrikaaners. In my mind, my vision turned red with white targeting lines picking them all out for immediate termination with a laser gatling gun.
The observatory has featured in a bunch of films, from Rebel Without A Cause to Dragnet to The Rocketeer to the opening of Terminator. It offers views of the whole city, the Hollywood Hills sign, and outer space, as well as a chance to breathe in probably the cleanest air in the city before you get to the ocean.
There were plenty of other things I wanted to see in LA, but we had no time and it’s too spread out to see in a single day. With a couple more days we might’ve been able to take in La Brea Tar Pits; or the Japanese Garden at the Tillman Water Reclamation Plant; or Venice Beach – but I didn’t have any interest in any of the theme parks or Beverly Hills mansions (on the grounds that people with more money than sense annoy the hell out of people with more sense than money). What we did see wasn’t particularly surprising – it all looked just the way it does in countless films, but with fewer alien invasions, meteor strikes, nuclear blasts, volcanoes and rampaging dinosaurs.
That night we managed to sleep until 1.30am, making it the best night’s sleep we’ve ever had in LA.
We were ready to get on the road!
To be continued…