Arrival in Los Angeles
Trip Start Aug 26, 1994
11Trip End Sep 18, 1994
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We arrived at Los Angeles International Airport at 4.30pm, several hours before we left Sydney. Was I dreaming or had my hair begun to lose its silver streaks? Four hours younger but no less wise, I joined the long queue which crocodiled around several pillars and impacted against the immigration desk. I stood disoriented in the arrival lounge, a stranger in a strange land, before asking a plump black lady the best way to get to Santa Monica. Shuttle Bus C to the bus terminal then Metropolitan Bus 3 to Santa Monica. The whole forty five minute trip cost me a mere fifty cents, though it was obvious that my fellow passengers were members of the poorer class who could not afford their own cars. The journey was hardly exciting, though I wasn't mugged or panhandled as I had expected.
The Los Angeles International Youth Hostel was large and impersonal but had the advantage of being flanked by a sleazy porn cinema. I upgraded my accommodation to a four bed dormitory and paid a couple of dollars for sheets and towels before ascending the metal staircase to a room which proved to be almost unbearably hot and stuffy despite the efforts of a small oscillating fan. Two of my room mates arrived at 11.15pm and spent an eternity zipping and unzipping their backpacks and gibbering in Israeli.
DAY 2 SAT I had corn flakes and coffee for breakfast and by the time I got back to my room the others had woken, leaving me free to shave. I visited several toilets several times in case I felt the urge at a less convenient time. The Universal tour being unavailable, I had arranged a full day LA. city tour costing only twenty dollars. To fill in time I walked down to Santa Monica Beach and gazed at the famous pier. At first sight Long Jetty on NSW's Central Coast was just as impressive. I tried to take a photo but my newly-repaired camera didn't work. People weren't terribly friendly, many didn't even speak English (perhaps they were tourists).
The van arrived at 9.30am and we struggled aboard. My fellow passengers included a New Zealand family (grandma, daughter and grand daughter), a pair of young Englishmen, four very young German au pairs and another Australian. The driver was from Kent and spoke with a broad Kentish accent. Just outside Santa Monica we stopped at a set of traffic lights. Our guide, employing his voca dramatica, told us that just last week a pair of thugs had dragged a couple of people from their car at these very lights. The victims were actually undercover cops and shot both perps dead. "Oooh", we exclaimed. We continued to "ooh" and "aah" as we passed the late Jim Morrison's apartment and Arnold Schizophrenia's gymnasium, while reserving our breathiest exclamations for the famous Hollywood sign perched on a hill above Madonna's mansion. The view of Los Angeles would have been stunning except that the city was shrouded in a dense smog. We drove on to Hollywood.
Not all of that fabled place is the stuff of dreams. We stopped at Mann's Chinese Theatre and looked upon the hand and foot prints of long dead movie stars. For miles along the pavement brass-edged pink stars carried the names of the famous and near-famous entertainment personalities who had paid $4,000 to be walked upon by the flip-flop clad feet of gawkers such as myself.
To add spice to the tour we drove through the seedier sections of downtown Los Angeles. Through South Central, where the Krips and Bloods sometimes exchange deaths. The streets were peopled with crack addicts, schizophrenics and other socially unacceptable semi-citizens. The nicer part of the city was almost deserted. In LA., city of the car, the automobile is king and there are no pedestrians. On our way to Beverley Hills we passed buildings experiencing their fifteen minutes of fame. The house where they filmed Happy Days, the skyscrapers prominent in films such as Die Hard, Speed and Demolition Man, the police stations which housed Cagney and Lacey and the jolly cops of CHIPS. For a vicarious brush with the macabre we raced pass O.J. Simpson's "House of Death", the murder mansion of the Menendez brothers and the Vipers nightclub, last watering hole of River Phoenix.
The driver dropped us off at the Hard Rock Cafe for lunch. Wishing to conserve money, I sneaked off to a hot dog stand called the Tail O' the Pup for a "Naked Truth" hamburger, which turned out to be a bun surrounding a piece of meat. I filled in the remainder of the lunch break exploring Bullocks, my first American mall and notable for its external escalators and plush toilets.
Although I had no plans to do a tour of the homes of the rich and famous, I found myself marvelling at the luxurious mansions of Marilyn Monroe, Rod Stewart, Tom Jones, Englebert Humperdink, Glenn Ford, etc, etc. Most of them were fairly unimpressive by Sydney's North Shore standards, though Pickfair was rather large and pink and Johnny Weismuller's waterless pool circled the remains of his house like a moat. We stopped at an enormous property, late the residence of a wealthy oil family, called "Greystone". A wedding was in progress and we watched the suspiciously large bride being photographed outside the Gothic sandstone walls of the main house.
After driving down lots of famous streets we entered Sunset Boulevard, cruising the well-known Sunset Strip. Towards the end of the tour we halted at Rodeo Drive for half an hour so that we could walk from one end to the other, gazing with total lack of interest at glitzy shops like Tiffany's and Armani. The guide told us that we might be lucky enough to spot a star! My fellow Australian was convinced that he had seen Telly Savalas, however his conviction turned to uncertainty when I told him that Telly was no longer available for spotting, being dead.
We arrived back at the hostel at about 5pm. I returned to my room briefly before setting out for Venice Beach. On the way I took a detour so that I could stroll the length of Santa Monica Pier. The path to Venice Beach was shared by pedestrians, bicyclists and roller bladers, and my uninsured life was constantly under threat from half naked, fast moving people of all ages. After what seemed to be several miles I finally reached the legendary beach. As my daughter Alexandra had forewarned, it was jam-packed with people, some strange and others even stranger. Each side street contained a police car and a pair of large, well-armed policemen. I had my first reasonably nutritious meal in the US at a beachside eatery; six battered shrimps, lettuce and celery as well as a very nice strawberry shake.
Back at the hostel I took a couple of sleeping pills and sat on my bed to read for a while. Five minutes later a new arrival walked in the door. He had just flown in from Spain and told me that he had rented a car and was going to visit a friend, did I want to come along? What the heck! We drove off into the night. I had told him of my unfulfilled wish to visit Universal Studios and, lo and behold, that's where we ended up. We drove right up to the toll booth, at which point he revealed that he didn't have the $6 parking fee. I didn't volunteer to provide it (11pm seemed a bit late to be starting a studio tour), so we made a U-turn and sped off. Even at 11pm the place was packed.
From Burbank we drove many miles along Mulholland Drive, a very twisty, badly lit mountain road which provided wondrous views of Los Angeles by night. By 11.30 I was beginning to fear that Fabio might be a serial killer (a recent survey revealed that serial killers make up 43.76% of LA's population). We seemed to be driving further and further away from the city. He constantly pointed out restaurants and bars and exclaimed as to his gnawing hunger. I got the feeling that he was hinting that I might like to shout him a meal. I played dumb, not a difficult feat for a penny-pinching Cullis! We finally returned to the hostel at midnight. Come morning Fabio had ceased to be a real person and had joined the pantheon of people I had met and left, never to see again.
DAY 3 SUN I awoke at 6.30am to the sound of the Israelis noisily departing. After lazing in bed for another fifteen minutes I rose, showered and descended the red metal staircase to the breakfast room for my customary large bowl of cornflakes and cup of coffee. The shuttle bus I had ordered arrived fifteen minutes early and sped off to the airport. As I waited in the departure lounge for the 11am USAir flight to San Francisco a young audially-challenged girl sold me a rather fragile key ring for a dollar. This was my second act of charity this morning. The first was a $1 donation to the homeless of Los Angeles. That makes a total of $3 to date. Yesterday I gave a dollar to a black gentleman on Santa Monica Pier so that he could buy a hot dog (I think that "hot dog" is street slang for cocaine).
Where I stayed
International Youth Hostel