Does anyone have a good word to say about Los Angeles? If they do they certainly say it quietly as some of the comments I heard in the build up to my long weekend there didn’t exactly inspire much confidence or excitement: Going to Hollywood? It’s a dump. Going down town? You’ll be mugged. Venice Beach? Nice if you like your sand with added needles. Driving? Drive-bying more like. You get the idea anyway – I was not expecting a great deal from the city but, as it transpired, I was pleasantly surprised.
The trip began in a slightly surreal way due to the time difference between the west coast of America and the east coast of Australia –we took off at 12PM Sydney time, flew for thirteen hours and then landed at 7.30AM the same day. An extremely disorienting experience. I was also slightly fortunate to get my suitcase onto the plane at all as it was a mere two hundred grams short of their absolute weight limit although this luck was slightly negated by the handle snapping off later in the trip.
We hired a car as soon as we got to LA, a decision that nearly ended in tragedy when, literally minutes after leaving the airport, I forgot the basic fact that Americans drive on the right and headed down a four lane highway in the wrong direction, stupidly responding to Carly’s terrified cries of “Right! Right! Right!” with “Yes, I’ve turned right!”. Fortunately no cars were coming in the opposite direction otherwise we would have been making a swift and sheepish return to Hertz with a totalled Corolla. LA is generally a fairly car-friendly city though (just as well as public transport is pretty much non-existent) and the rest of the drive passed off without incident before we arrived at our hotel situated right on Venice Beach. We dropped off our bags and began a slightly jet-lagged, zombie-like wander around the area.
I had heard mixed things about Venice before I got here (see previous ‘needles in the sand’ comment) but I have to say I loved the place. The beach itself is fairly non-descript – a huge expanse of featureless sand peppered with an inexplicable amount of bird shit – but the life that exists on the boardwalk that runs alongside the
beach is something to behold: Bikers, hobos, Segway-riders, tourists, locals, hawkers, touts, weirdoes, wannabe rappers, wannabe gangsters, club kids, rockers, the very poor, the very rich all mingle together in a collage of humanity unlike anything I have ever seen. This seething mass of life is sound-tracked by music pumping from the various shops and bars along the strip and also by whatever instruments the locals have managed to get their hands on to busk with. That’s not to say that the area doesn’t have its downside – I wouldn’t particularly recommend walking around there at 2AM for instance but as a people-watching spot it is second to none.
Another interesting feature of Venice Beach (and California in general) is the prevalence of ‘Medicinal’ Marijuana shops where you
can turn up and, if the resident doctor considers you suitably ‘ill’, can be prescribed cannabis. I had a peer into one of the waiting rooms and, call me cynical if you will, I have to say that none of the people in there looked particularly poorly. On inspecting the sign outside the shop, it would appear that weed can be prescribed for anything varying from AIDS to loss of appetite so I don’t think you would find it too difficult to find an appropriate symptom if you so wished. California recently voted on ‘Proposition 19’ which would have completely decriminalised marijuana but this was narrowly defeated by forty-five percent to fifty-five percent although to be honest I was surprised that the pro-weed vote was that high: I would guess that most of their core vote would be too stoned to turn up at the polling station or would perhaps roll a spliff out of the ballot paper rather than actually voting with it.
The next day we decided to head into LA proper with Carly, sensibly, behind the wheel this time. It must be pointed out that on this journey it became clear to me that some of the criticism levelled at Los Angeles has merit to it. The majority of the suburbs we drove through were characterless, ugly and dull and literally every other shop seemed to be a fast food restaurant. Nonetheless we drove on before reaching the equally underwhelming Hollywood Boulevard to take the obligatory snaps of the Chinese Theatre (most of which was obscured due to a premiere that was taking place that evening) and the famous Hollywood sign. After being inexplicably shouted at by some militant evangelical black preachers we decided to head back to the hotel for a bit of rest and relaxation before checking out LA after dark.
Carly and I left the hotel at around 7PM and strolled down Venice Beach Boardwalk with the intention of checking out one of the many bars on offer. Before we could reach such an establishment though we stumbled across a curious doorway which appeared to lead into someone’s flat but which had a neon ‘Open’ sign above the entrance and a smaller sign below that displaying the words ‘Live Tree Show’. Intrigued, we ventured cautiously into the darkened hallway of the building where a television showing footage of what can only be described as a man dressed in a giant tree costume parading around Los Angeles. Bizarre to say the least. Unperturbed we moved on through the hallway and down a small flight of stairs before reaching a further doorway which was curtained off but from which the sounds of frantic bongo-playing could clearly be heard. This proved to be the final straw and, lacking in Dutch courage as we were, we made a hasty exit.
Five pints of Dutch courage later it seemed like a good idea to return to the house and with new-found confidence we strode into the front room to be confronted by, well, not very much to be honest. It transpired that the flat was owned by a guy who goes by the name of Treeman who is evidently a major exhibitionist and enjoys inviting randoms into his home as well as donning a pair of stilts and tree costume. Unfortunately the Treeman wasn’t in when we called (apparently he was out rollerblading which immediately brought to mind images of a Silver Birch skating up and down Venice Beach) so it was left to Matt (a friend of the Treeman’s who minds his house when he is out) to show us around. In fairness the flat was fairly normal, save for an odd water feature in the corner and Matt suggested we liven things up by calling the ‘Tree Emergency Line’ (+1 4247-03333 if you’re interested) which would apparently have brought the Treeman rushing to see us. Unfortunately we were getting pushed for time by that point so we had to politely decline his invitation and head straight into the next surreal situation of the night.
We were planning to go clubbing that night and the chosen venue was Avalon in Hollywood so we jumped into a taxi and I immediately spotted a microphone lying on the back seat. “What’s this for? Karaoke?” I joked, forgetting I was in California where, frankly, anything is possible. “Yes” replied the driver. Emboldened as we were by the Dutch courage from earlier as well as a walking
stick full of alcohol (see picture) we proceeded to murder various hits by the Pet Shop Boys, Ace of Base as well as a particularly stirring rendition of ‘Living Next Door to Alice”. Quite why a taxi driver would want to actively encourage drunks to sing in his cab is beyond me but it certainly made the journey pass quickly and we were soon deposited outside the club.
Two hours later we were inside having the time of our lives getting deep down and dirty to the sounds of Sebastian Ingrosso…is what I would like to be writing but in reality two hours later we were still queuing outside the venue and when a fire engine appeared it became obvious that all was not well. Shortly afterwards it was announced that the Fire Department had shut the club due to overcrowding and our night was left in the hands of Crazy Mark. Crazy Mark was a random who we met in the queue (he did actually introduce himself as ‘Crazy Mark’, a moniker that he somewhat dubiously claimed was endowed on him by Judas Priest when he was thirteen) and who assured us that even if we couldn’t get into Avalon he knew various club owners and managers in the area and would definitely get us in somewhere. Crazy Mark was as good as his word and shortly afterwards we were hitting the dance floor in an even better club around the corner…is what I would like to be writing but it appeared that Crazy Mark had somewhat exaggerated his knowledge of LA clubland and we spent the next hour wandering aimlessly around Hollywood. To be fair Crazy Mark was a genuinely nice guy but by 3AM it became obvious that this was not our night and we hailed a, sadly, karaoke-free taxi and headed back to the hotel.
On our last full day in LA I managed to achieve two long-standing ambitions – I rode on a Segway and managed to visit an real-life freak show, something that I imagined had been outlawed early in the last century.
The freak show came first and naturally this was found in Venice Beach, the boardwalk of which would probably pass as something of a freak show in itself in most countries. I was slightly dubious about entering the show on moral grounds, not that morality is something that troubles me normally but is it right to capitalise and exploit someone’s terrible birth defect for the pleasure of others? An ethical question that was soon put to bed by the discovery that it was only $5 to get in. Apparently there is a price on my conscience.
The show contained an assortment of multi-limbed animals such as terrapins with two heads, a dog with five legs and various other creatures with various other amusing physical disabilities. There was also a short show featuring a sword swallower who also hammered nails into his nose as well as a resident ‘electric girl’ who bore a striking resemblance to Charlotte Church and could pass a high enough voltage through her body to allow her to light matches
off her tongue. Highlight of the show though was a Mexican Wolf Boy by the name of Larry Gomez who happily posed for photos and shook my hand at the end of the performance; conversely his palm was curiously hair-free (unlike the rest of him), I’m not sure whether this indicates too much or, perhaps, too little masturbation. Either way it was $5 well spent, a diverting rather than massively exciting way to spend an hour.
Next up were the Segways. Unperturbed by the recent news that the UK distributor of the Segway had recently driven one of his machines over a cliff, Carly and I paid for a three hour tour around the environs of Venice Beach accompanied by a guide by the name of Axel. The Segways themselves are very easy to negotiate and after fifteen minutes of orientation we soon found ourselves whizzing around at the top speed, albeit twelve miles per hour. They are great fun though and allowed us to see a whole new side to the Venice area – the Venice Canals. These were constructed in 1905 by a gentleman called Abbot Kinney and now form a luxurious area of Los Angeles where, down the years, Jimi Hendrix, Julia Roberts and Matt Groening (of Simpsons fame) among others have lived. Axel proved to be a very knowledgeable guide and it was a hugely enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.
The weekend in Los Angeles had proved to be both eventful and surprising – I was expecting little more than a three day stop over before Las Vegas, most of which would be spent in the hotel either recovering from jet lag or hiding from the villains of LA. It turned out to be interesting and enjoyable and I will happily return one day – there are aspects of the city such as Universal Studios and Beverley Hills that we did not get a chance to see this time.
The next morning we embarked on a five hour drive across the desert to Las Vegas although I’m not sure that I can remember enough about the five days that followed to piece a worthy blog entry together.