The rich, the famous, the beautiful, the hopeful, the freakish - and me (Los Angeles, California, USA)


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Published: May 1st 2010
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(Day 753 on the road)Say you are spending the night at Los Angeles Airport, on one of these typically uncomfortable benches that were just not made for sleeping, and a mean-looking cop with a shaved head and a big gun wakes you up just after two o'clock in the morning: "Hello sir, wake up, sir, wake up now." What would you think?

Well, I was thinking that I was in trouble, and that he was going to move me on. With little, sleepy eyes I squinted at him and realised he was carrying something big under his arm. Turns out he was offering me an enormous (pink!) blanket so that I wouldn't be cold during the night. I am not sure why I aroused his attention, but I have the feeling that me being wrapped in my sarong, lying in a fetal position and sporting a ridiculous blue and white hat that someone's grandma knitted might have contributed.

In any case, I certainly didn't expect this at all, thanks so much! Not that I am a major expert on sleeping in airports (the guys at sleepinginairports.com however are), but I have done my fair share of nights in them in various countries, and I have certainly never been offered a blanket at any of them. Thank you LAX, what a great welcome!

The next morning, without any idea what to do or where to go - but now equipped with the ability to recite all airport announcements by heart (ranging from "Please do no support soliciting" to "US Army personnel - we salute you for your service to this country") - I stumbled across a bus that was headed for Venice Beach. No time to think about it as the bus was leaving, I hopped on, and 30 minutes later I was in a part of Los Angeles that the guidebook had called Freakshow Galore. They weren't kidding. I guess you would expect things like uber-fit and deeply tanned bodies at Muscle Beach, the rich people walking their done-up-like-dolls pet dogs, the roller-blading beautiful women, the impromptu basketball games, and the tattoo shops.

But Venice was much more than that. The walk-in clinics that dispense "medicinal" marijuana for chronic body aches (some kind of loophole in the law). The countless homeless people. The Freak Show Theatre, sporting things like sword eaters or a two-headed turtle. Or, my personal favourite, the guy who charged one dollar if you felt the urge to kick him in the butt. I gave it a miss. And walked over to Santa Monica instead, which felt miles apart from Venice, and not just measured by the prices charged (the cost of a rental bike went up from $7 an hour to $12 within a few kilometres).

After a good nap on the Santa Monica beach in the shadow of the iconic ferry wheel - sleeping the last three nights in my car and in the airport has left its mark - it was time to go "home". LA was to be the first city on my trip that I was to try couchsurfing. And I couldn't have hoped for better hosts! I stayed with Laura and Brian, a lovely couple with a neat apartment just off Hollywood Boulevard, so almost in the thick of the action. Over the next few days, Laura and Brian would go out of their way to show me around LA and take me to their favourite restaurants. Thank you so much guys, I hope I can return the favour one day!

I was also able to meet up with Caz, and old friend of mine from university, whom I haven't seen since 2003. Caz is (South) Korean but has moved to LA right after graduation, and judging by her fabulous house high up in the Hollywood hills and the massive car in the driveway she has done very well for herself. Generally, pausing a second and looking at my friends from my university days, I am always astonished how different our lives have become, how different they are now, considering that we all left uni with the same kind of qualification.

On the point of sightseeing, I was quite pleased to have seen a fair amount of Los Angeles in a short amount of time, as I only had two full days in the city. The Hollywood sign was a must, as was the Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard and Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, where the rich do their shopping. Venice Beach of course, plus Santa Monica and Malibu (which was kind of boring actually as there wasn't anything to see). With Caz, Laura and Brian I also spent a relaxed half day at the Getty Museum (the panorama at the top shows the museum), with its great architecture, its fabulous collection and its great views of LA (if only it had been less hazy). I also went up to the Griffith Observatory (which was closed unfortunately) in Griffith Park, and spent a few hours at the great Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA, free after 1700h every day), where I was especially impressed by the extensive Joseph Beuys exhibition.

All in all, I have to say that I was very positively surprised by LA. Sure, I knew it was the home of glitzy Hollywood and the stars (and a large number of hopefuls, who often work as waiters until their big Hollywood career takes off), but yet I had somehow expected a more working-class, grayish metropolis with notoriously bad public transport. Instead, I found a stylish city, packed full with stuff to do and things to see, a decent bus system (though the Metro unfortunately only covers the inner city), and amazing restaurants (thanks Caz for the simply delicious Korean BBQ!).

I was also able to improve my small-talking skills, an area where I am notoriously bad in. Of course small-talk is not a Los Angeles feature but rather an American thing, but so far I have not spent too much time with Americans, and I leapt at the chance to do this in LA. Riding the bus it was fascinating to observe just how much people from all walks of life casually chat to each other, with the business man in the suit having no problem whatsoever to chat up the homeless looking, disabled guy in the wheel chair, a guy with whom anyone back home in Germany would have avoided eye contact had they passed him on the street.

My personal favourite inconsequential chat was with an enormously overweight black guy next to me on yet another bus (he pretty much sat on my lap as he couldn't fit into his own seat), who turned out to be fresh out of prison and subsequent parole for drug trafficking somewhere in the mid-west, and who was now looking for a job in LA. I love just how approachable people here are!

Next stop: Yosemite National Park (California, USA).



To view my photos, have a look at pictures.beiske.com. And to read the full account of my journey, have a look at the complete book about my trip at Amazon (and most other online book shops).




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1st May 2010

Welcome!
Hi Ben, I love reading your blogs! I'm glad you enjoyed your visit to my wonderful home city. It sounds like you saw/tasted all the highlights -- Korean BBQ is my personal favorite part of living in Los Angeles. Have fun in Yosemite! Be sure to hike the Mist Trail!
1st May 2010

LA
I Love LA. I lived near Santa Monica and Western Blvd. in hollywood in 75 -1977. I rode the bus from 3PM to East LA to work and back again at 2AM some times 3AM. I rode the busses all over LA. I could write a book of the pepole I met. You meet every kind of person riding the bus. The one I remember the most is the one that would get on the bus with a army suit full of medals and a Jet Rocket like Plane sticking up on his hat with a bref case full of law suits. I saw him many times. He used to say he was General Sherman or something like that. He would tell everyone about all his law suits and mostly suing the US Goverment for cigerettes etc.. he was down right serious. Where to next? If I would have knowen you were going to stay in LA any length of time I would say go to east LA and meet an old friend of mine and take a LA Tex Mex culture tour. Then again you never know if one will ever make it out of that neigbour hood alive!!!! Patricia
1st May 2010

LA Venice Beach
That man with the guitar has been a part of Venice Beach for maybe 30 years or more..
2nd May 2010

Hi There! Good for you to have so many positive experiences with the americans. It's a shame so many Europeans are talking negatively about their positive attitude saying it's fake while you can see that it is just a way of life for them. I never ever trusted someone I didn't know as much in the US as I would have in Europe.
2nd May 2010

Great
Hi Ben, Great blog and pictures! Thanks for keeping us updated :-D TC AL
3rd May 2010
Trying his luck on Venice Beach

What a 'character' :)
4th May 2010

Your Los Angeles Airport Experience
Your experiences at the LAX are just great! These are the storys I like to read. Real life constantly challenges our sterotyps. Happy travel! walter
5th May 2010

Me love LA
The South Bay and LA was my home until I graduated college.. and I've always considered it my home while living overseas for 4 years. I enjoyed reading your positive review on the diversity and uniqueness of LA. Most people I've met during my backpacking trips had negative prenotions or experiences with LA.. so imagine my surprise to read such an open-minded, appreciative blog on this dynamic city. :) Also, agreed.. Korean bbq IS off the hook in LA! The only place that makes Korean food as good as it is in Korea. Enjoy the rest of your travel!! x
7th May 2010

La la!
Nice blog Ben. I can only assume that 2 days is the premium time in LA and/or couchsurfing hosts make it a very different experience (I would agree being hosted is the best way as I've done it here in Oz) because I didn't really like LA when I was there ('bout 5 years ago now). It just felt like a sprawling mass of cities connected by huge roads (LA is in fact one city out of 12 that make up the LA city as a whole). In fact as a pedestrian I felt like an alien. Plus the buildings all seemed to be facades - covering up the impermanence feel of the place. I called it an upmarket shanty town at the time! however! The Getty Museum was exquisite!

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