The best and the worst of America
15.04.2013 - 18.04.2013 20 °C
My flight to Los Angeles left Honolulu at 6.30am requiring a 3.45am wake up. I stumbled around in the dark hoping that I'd packed everything before waiting for an early morning airport transfer. United Airlines happened to be one of the most disorganised airlines I'd ever flown with, giving both Virgin Australia and Ryanair a run for their money. I managed to get away with not paying for my baggage (that apparently wasn't included in my round the world ticket) as they were out of change. Then, not having been assigned a seat number I waited with the rest of the non important passengers hoping to be allowed on board.
It was my third flight across the pacific and a could conclude that the pacific was turbulent. I'd had enough of flying over seas and was almost looking forwards to being in some sort of veritable mainland, or at least a continent, for the first time in several weeks.
Despite having actually entered the USA over a week ago and having spent over a week in the capital of the fiftieth states, a very American resort that encapsulated all that is both good and bad about the United States, it was flying over LA that I first felt as if I was truly in America. The city that stretched below us was huge - a never-ending grid system of neverendingness. Houses we cramped together in amongst the grid - many of them had pools so I'm assuming those were the nice ones.
Three hours after landing, I arrived at my accommodation, partly thanks to traffic, partly thanks to a loud aggressive local who had a screaming match with the driver accusing him of trawling for business (surely the job of an airport shuttle driver at the airport?) and partly thanks to the driver's lack of knowledge about the layout of his own city meaning that we drove around in circles for a long while. I ate and then slept for a long time - too long as by the time I woke up the next morning the water had been turned off for 'maintenance', a rather disturbing state of affairs given that it was over twenty four hours since I'd last showered.
Spending the day (feeling decidedly unclean) wandering around Hollywood was an interesting experience. Staying just meters from Hollywood Boulevard and its 'walk of fame', the immediate vicinity was littered with trashy tourist shops and 'fancy dress' stores of the adult variety. I wandered up around passing the stars of Tom Jones, Walt Disney and many other people most of whom I'd never heard of and various 'characters' trawled up and down seeking out tourists for photo opportunities. I saw the Hollywood sign up in the hills and the iconic tall (imported) palm lined strip. It was strange being somewhere so 'familiar' - of everywhere I'd been so far, it was probably the place I'd had the most expectations of.... or at least it was somewhere I'd seen a lot on TV and 'read' a lot about (seen a lot of pictures of) in magazines. But Hollywood boulevard itself was nothing like I'd imagined, grimey and a bit trashy - the sort of place I can imagine many dreams come to die.
But that evening I met up with an ex-colleague who'd recently relocated to LA. We'd arranged to meet at a bar that, on the map didn't look too far away, but as I'd learned once (and seemingly subsequently forgotten) before when attempting to walk 40 blocks of New York, maps of grid cities could be deceptive - walking about twelve blocks south followed by twelve blocks west took me the best part of forty five minutes walking along deserted (with the exception of a few tramps) 'sidewalks'. We met at an English style pub for dinner and a couple of drinks before he drove me around some of the nicer parts of LA including Rodeo Drive and all the way to Santa Monica and Venice beach. Although it was dark it was still good to see some different parts of the city and get a sense of how vast it really was not to mention nice of him to spend his Tuesday night playing tour guide in spite of an inevitable early start the next morning.
The following day was my only remaining full day in LA. Originally I'd had my heart set on going to Disney but, discovering that it was over two hours away by public transport and I hadn't yet met anyone else who wanted to make the trek there, I reconsidered. Instead, I spent the day with two Canadians I'd met the previous evening who already had a car, a ridiculous large white convertible. We drove into the hills and on to Universal Studios which was cheaper and closer than Disney but no where near as magical! They did however have some decent rides and, after waiting in line a long time, we did the 'Studio Tour' getting to see where so many huge movies and TV shows had been, and were still being made, including a trip to Wisteria Lane (a personal highlight - yes, I loved Desperate Housewives), a real 'crashed' Boeing 747 set and the studios where CSI is filmed too.
Whilst the girls went off for an evening tour of 'the hood' (I'd declined as I was unwilling to pay $65 to visit a scary ghetto!), I did a tour of Beverly Hills (much less ghetto!) - we drove up towards the Hollywood sign, passed the (supposed) residences of many stars and celebrities and through some extremely affluent neighbourhoods where even the 'regular' homes looked rather fairytale. Having seen some of the (much) nicer parts of LA, it was growing on me and, had I had time to visit the beach, I'm sure I'd have been even more keen - I can't not like somewhere that has a beach after all. Returning from 'the hood' the girls seemed to have thoroughly enjoyed themselves (whilst also being slightly terrified) but also with some slightly disturbing tales of the streets of thousands of homeless they'd seen. It sounded worse than anywhere I'd visited so far, especially that such a place existed in the US and just steps away from their central business district.