The plane lands and a jetway is wheeled up to the airplane. I was a bit confused since every flight I’ve ever taken had landed at an airport with a jetway that was attached to the terminal. Regardless, I grabbed my bags, got off the plane and started my way down the jetway. Long Beach Airport is really something else. It was a bunch of smaller buildings connected to each other with outdoor walkways. At first I thought it was probably just started as a tiny airport that kept growing and turned into the abomination that it was. It took me a while to realized that I was in California and everything here was semi-outdoors.
After navigating a confusing gauntlet of exitways, I found the rental car lobby and picked up my reservation. It was a newer Ford Focus sedan. Not the most luxurious of automobiles, but I really wanted something compact for weaving through LA traffic and easy parallel parking.
Once I got on the road, I found the nearest In-n-Out Burger to the airport and headed straight there to see what everyone who lives on or has been to the west coast has been bragging about. Well, they were right! It was a damn tasty burger! However, I had been to Shake Shack and Kuma’s earlier but in fairness, those tasty morsels were in a league of their own. The fries however, tasted “like dirt” as Cheryl later described.
After participating in that piece of west coast Americana, I headed towards Crystal’s apartment near USC. On the drive there I noticed a ton of strip malls, which reminded me of home, those stretches of road off the highway didn’t seem to be anything uniquely LA. I just just seemed like everyday America.
I arrived at Crystal’s, and we soon headed off to Santa Monica. We parked and walked through the 3rd street promenade. The promenade was like Somerset Collection meets Downtown Birmingham with the exception of the street musicians were actually talented instead of a handful of rich high school douchebags playing Dave Matthews covers.
The pier was a lot cooler. I’m pretty sure it was mostly populated by tourists and people on dates but to my surprise there were a ton of fishermen on a Wednesday night. The amusement park was closed but they left the lights on to stand out in the night. We made out way down to the beachfront and there I was, staring at the Pacific Ocean. Since it was late, it just looked like a never-ending dark blue abyss.
The next morning Crystal and I rode bikes down to USC for breakfast and for Crystal to give me a mini tour of the campus before she headed to class. Afterwards, I cruised around the campus for a while before returning to her apartment and jumping into my rental car.
While on the bus to Philadelphia, I met an LA native who told me that since I enjoyed my hike in Connecticut so much, that I had to hike Runyon Canyon. The entrance to Runyon is in Hollywood, so I was excited to drive down Hollywood Boulevard on the way there. To my surprise, when I turned off the highway and onto Hollywood Boulevard, it was a dump! You’re presented with this image of how incredible this part of America is and boy was it far from it. The street was dead for the most part until I rolled into the tourist trap area where I spotted some city sightseeing buses and Guinness World Records Museum.
Arriving at the gate to Runyon, I have no idea what I was in store for. Lucky to find a parking spot right on front the entrance, I took it as a good sign. Grabbing my water bottle and camera, I was off. You can let your dog wander almost the entire park off its leash so there was a lot of dog owners and their dogs wandering the park. Wandering blindly onto a side path I made my way to a dead end, however I had also accidently discovered a neat spiral of rocks someone with the time and patience put together. Heading back to the main path, I realized I had no idea where the hell I was going and that it might be a good idea to ask. I approached a woman sitting on a bench with a black lab. Regrettably, I didn’t catch her name but we chatted a short bit about the park, my trip, what to do in LA. She gave me two pieces of advice, one I’m not so sure of and the other, well I’ll get to that later. The advice I’m not so sure of was “from someone who had lived in the Chicago/Midwest for most of her adult life”, is to move out to California ASAP. I thanked her and headed in the proper direction of the main trail. As I climbed, the view got more and more unbelievable. I could see downtown LA, the Hollywood sign, the Hollywood hills, all of it. The brush growing on the side of the mountain was also incredible and was in all different colors; red, silver, green and blue. I snapped some photos and moved on. Every twenty minutes, I got to a higher point, looked around in amazement, took photos, rinse and repeat. The trail looped itself back to the gate in which I entered.
The second piece of advice the woman I had met earlier was to make sure I went to The Getty Center before I left Los Angeles. Thus began my drive from Runyon and through Beverly Hills. The houses in Beverly Hills were large and beautiful, but it wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen living in Oakland County and biking through Bloomfield Hills. Arriving at The Getty, I parked in the parking structure and took an elevator up to the unknown and unexpected. Exiting the elevator I found myself at a tiny tram station, so I hopped on the tram and was on my way up the mountain.
The Getty Center is one of those places which makes me wish I had a broader vocabulary so I could really describe it. It is without a doubt the most beautiful place I have seen on this trip so far and perhaps even the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen in my whole life. The architecture of the complex itself is stunning and then you walk into it to find the works of art it holds are just as incredible. Inside-Out this is a must see place when in LA.
After the Getty, I headed back to Crystal’s apartment in south central. The time was about 4:30pm PST and I was about to get my first taste of LA’s traffic at it’s finest. Essentially, as a motorist who has driven only in the midwest I hated it. However, after driving in it for a few days I finally came to the conclusion that it sucks but its not much more terribly inefficient than driving around the midwest. Since everything is so spread out in the midwest, it takes a while to get there. Everything in the LA area is much closer yet takes a similar amount of it. That and there is nothing like the first time a motorcyclist splits a lane and blasts by you. I picked Crystal up and we headed over to Sunset Bouvelard. On Sunset, we ate at a Jitlada, a Thai restaurant then moved onto a build-your-own frozen yogurt place called Yogurtland and then grabbed a beer at the Blue Palm. The Blue Palm was on that dumpy strip of Hollywood Boulevard I had described earlier and I felt bad for Lucielle Ball and Gregory Peck for having their stars all the way out there. On the way back, I drove through downtown LA. It reminded me of driving through the Chicago Loop on a weekday night. It was a business district and was fairly empty with the occational gathering at a corner bar or outdoor event.
The next morning I set out to do something I had only daydreamed about. Parking just south of the Santa Monica Pier, I kicked off my shoes and began walking up the Pacific coast. On a side note, the weather has been on my side this entire trip. From the day I left Detroit, it has been sunny and warm with the exception of an hour or two of rain as I camped out in a brewpub in Baltimore. Back to the beach! An hour or so had passed and I had made it to the north end of Venice Beach, having walked a few miles up the coast, I walked the way back down the Venice Beach walkway. Venice Beach was ridiculous! Vendors selling all sorts of crap. It was like Coney Island on crack. The most hilarious part was I had to have passed at least five different “Doctor’s Offices”. Places where you could see a “doctor” to get a prescription for a medical marijuana card. Passing the Muscle Beach was weird because there was only one old dude working out. I kind of expected a ton of meatheads instead. Making back to my rental car right as my meter expired had a nice feeling, but I realized I only had 35 minutes to get to download LA if I wanted to catch the Kogi truck.
Trying to jet down the freeway, I was met with typical midday LA traffic. Nervously weaving through lanes, I managed to make it downtown in just enough time to see the truck still parked on the street. Quickly parking in one of those large “event parking” style of lots, I ran across the street and made it to the truck just as they were about to close. Kogi is a vietnamese/mexican fusion taco truck. I first heard about Kogi from my friend Sara who insisted if there was one thing I eat in LA, it had to be from the Kogi Truck. My order of one Spicy Pork taco and one Beef Short Rib taco was up in a few minutes and after a few squirts of Sriracha, I ran to my car to devour them. These tacos were so damn good, its been four days since I’ve was there and my mouth is watering at the very thought of it.
Later in the afternoon, I headed over to Carson to meet up with Bobby, Cheryl and Carlos. We sat down for a quick bite at Five Guys then made out way to the Home Depot Center to the LA Galaxy vs. New York Red Bulls game. The stadium was gorgeous and once again I was taken back by the whole “everything is outside” California experience. Yes, I know Comerica Park and Soldier Field and so on and so forth are outdoor stadiums, but when you run the concessions, they are indoors. Here everything was legitimately outdoors. The game was supposed to be a particularly exciting one for a few reasons. One, David Beckham was off the injured list and back on the field. Two, The LA Galaxy have the best record in the MLS. Three, The NY Red Bulls are one hell of a team so this was a great matchup. Sadly, the Galaxy lost 2 to 0. I did however snap a good shot or two. We then headed to Culver City for a late-nite snack at Tito’s Tacos on Carlos’ suggestion. Any place that has strawberry soda is alright with me.
Getting to back to Crystal’s I tried very hard to try and hold a conversation with Crystal, but was so exhausted I fell asleep mid converstation. In the morning, Crystal and I headed to one of her favorite breakfast places and walked through neighborhood flea marketing looking at well, junk. What else do they have at flea markets? Crystal and I said our goodbyes and I drove back to Long Beach airport making a quick stop at the same In-n-Out burger for a snack. After returning my car, I was given an early birthday wish by the ID/boarding pass checking girl before flying a very painless hour to San Francisco.