We discovered very early in our travels that, when living out of suitcases, the key thing is to know where everything is. We tried to live out of one suitcase most of the time, with me exchanging clothes from one into the other occasionally ‘just for a change’. It took a month or two for Steve to understand that I could become fed up of wearing the same things, from a limited wardrobe, and the conversation generally went along the lines of ‘isn’t one tee-shirt the same as any other tee-shirt?’ Well, no, in my world it isn’t. We quickly learned that knowing where everything is is equally important in terms of documentation, paperwork and tickets (OK, we had The Important File for that) and for other such things as room keys, car keys and loose change. These tended to be harder to position when we might be in different rooms on a daily basis but, by some general unspoken consensus, we tended to locate them on a table/desk somewhere near the TV.
So, when we were leaving our Ehrenberg hotel, literally in the corridor heading for Reception to check out, I was most surprised to hear Steve ask if
I had the car keys. ‘Me? No! Car keys are your thing.’ A quick pat on all pockets confirmed that neither he nor I had the car keys and we quickly returned to our room. A hasty scan of the table beneath the TV rapidly established that the car keys weren’t there either, nor had they fallen behind it or any other item of furniture in the room. I was quite relaxed about the whole business, having a casual look in the drawers, under pillows, etc, (as if, but where else might they be?) until Steve said he was ‘quite concerned now’. Steve doesn’t do concerned of any sort, be it significant or just ‘quite’ so I started to become quite concerned too. We exhausted all possible locations for the missing keys in the room so we searched around outside near the car, thankful that it was still there and someone hadn’t already found the keys and driven off in it. We peered through its windows, but they weren’t to be seen in there and Steve decided to wander over to Wendy’s, where we had eaten the night before. It had been close enough to walk to so it seemed
unlikely we would have lost the keys there and, it turned out, we hadn’t. I returned to the room and began to unpack the suitcase we were living out of, trying to recall what we had been wearing the previous day and fumbled through those pockets, the clothing at the bottom of the case, individual socks, a collection of souvenirs, the dirty laundry bag, anything we had touched that might reveal the magic keys. I had picked up and moved our washbag around multiple times during this rummage without bothering to look inside it because only a completely idiotic type of stupid person would ever put car keys in a washbag. In desperation, I opened it up and there, in amongst the toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, shaving gear and sponge, were the car keys. We were so relieved to find them we didn’t get into the ‘how did they get in there?’ conversation but I blame those ‘bottles of beer or two’ the previous night for being one too many.
Today we were heading for Los Angeles. One lady I had spoken to some time back advised us not to go as the traffic was so bad it was ‘painful’.
It had been described with similar words on the web. Still, it was a place on Steve’s wish list and it couldn’t be that bad, could it? These people just need to man up ....
We left Ehrenberg (eventually!), and were surprised but pleased to see Midnight the Dog and her hooman at the roundabout. We were on the I-10 once again, almost immediately crossing the Colorado River which formed the border with the state of California. The landscape was pretty much the same, still desert and mountains, but the Riverside County of California was clearly well-off because emergency telephones flanked the highway with remarkable regularity. I guess it’s better to need emergency assistance in California than in Arizona ... We had a lovely journey on a super road. All the ditches had names and all the bridges had numbers and the affluent Californian budget also ran to signs to tell us what they were. We skirted the Joshua Tree National Park (we later learned that these ‘trees’ only grow between 3000 and 4000 feet above sea level) and we were close enough to Twentynine Palms for me to start singing a la Robert Plant - ‘I feel the
heat of your desert heart’ - but not as tunefully. The views in this area were just stunning and some of the mountains had what looked like snow topped peaks. Gradually though, as we got closer to Los Angeles, the terrain began to flatten and become greener and the traffic began to build. We turned off the I-10 onto Route 60 at Moreno Valley and the traffic became more dense. By the time we joined the Riverside Freeway we were in the middle of hideous queues of traffic and after about an hour of going nowhere, very slowly, we began to think ‘painful’ didn’t do it justice as a descriptor – excruciating, more like.
We’d decided to spend the next night in Long Beach as LA city centre accommodation was really expensive. We figured we’d be travelling for most of the day and we only needed somewhere to sleep on arrival, so Long Beach it was. I was pleased, with hindsight, as trying to get into the centre of LA would have added a couple of hours on top of an already long day. We eventually arrived at the Best Western Golden Sails Hotel in Long Beach, situated near
the yacht club. After a quick sortie for something to eat we settled down for an early night in another enormous room. Sometimes, it was nice just to chill - no beers for us tonight, though!
We set off the following morning, planning to relocate to city centre accommodation for our exploration of LA. We went via a quick visit to have a look-see at the Queen Mary, now a floating hotel moored in Long Beach, and she looked quite sad in her faded glory. Our journey there took us through mainly residential areas which looked prosperous and well-to-do on the whole. Britney Satnav told us it would take 1h 45m to cover the 30 miles or so of the journey but, as it turned out, ooops, she did it again and that was wishful thinking. There were roadworks along our route which impacted on the already slow-moving traffic, bringing it to a complete stop on a regular basis. Some hours after setting off we arrived at the Quality Inn near Hollywood Boulevard situated, as the name suggested, slap bang between Hollywood (and Sunset) Boulevard, just around the corner from the Hollywood Walk of Fame and perfectly located for
our time in LA. It was opposite the corner of a fast food enterprise where Brad Pitt had worked and stood outside touting for customers before he hit the big time. The constant noise from sirens and helicopters hovering in the sky replaced the sound of trains.
I’d gone to LA with no particular preconceptions or expectations and I was surprised at my star-struck reaction to it! Parts of it had a very ‘village’ feel and I liked that, while the exclusive areas seemed just that – completely inaccessible to ‘normal’ people. I kept saying out loud, with wonder, the sights we saw and the names of the streets we travelled along – ‘Oooh, look, Wilshire Boulevard/Hollywood and Vine/Rodeo Drive/La Cienega/Cedars-Sinai ...’.
We used the Hop On Hop Off tour buses a lot and explored the local area on foot. The HOHO bus operated several different routes and these were a great way for us to sight-see and get a feel for the city. We covered a lot of LA in them, hopping on and off at places of interest, and the commentaries were informative. We learned that the Walk of Fame is about 50 blocks long and
the ‘stars’ have to pay (about $30,000) for the privilege, so they don’t come cheap. We heard how Santa Monica and Beverly Hills are separate cities from LA and it was hard not to be impressed by the lovely houses and wide streets in Beverly Hills, each lined with a different type of tree. It is still a chosen place to live for many of the rich and famous, but it was the stories about the names from yesteryear that particularly grabbed my interest: Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, John Wayne, etc, who helped establish the film industry and made the city what it is today. The musical venues were abundant and we saw the Capitol Records building (designed to reflect a stack of records on a turntable for those of us old enough to know what that means), the Rock Walk of Fame, the Viper Room (where River Phoenix met his death, for the youngsters) and the Whiskey-a-go-go and the Troubadour (probably more meaningful for those of us of a certain age!). I could imagine the likes of Janis Joplin, Carole King, the Byrds, the Doors, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young walking through those doors. We travelled down Sunset Strip
(remember ’77 Sunset Strip’?!), Santa Monica Boulevard (which has a part of Route 66 subsumed within it), we saw Chateau Marmont, the Comedy Store, the Laugh Factory, the Four Seasons Hotel (where John Travolta met with Quentin Tarantino to discuss a part in Reservoir Dogs), La Brea Tar Pits (still bubbling away) and Paramount Pictures and Fox studios, almost hidden in the suburban sprawl. There were soooo many stories associated with the buildings and sights it’s impossible to document them all. We travelled down to Venice and Venice Beach, Venice Pier and the Boardwalk, which is well used. I was amazed at my ignorance, not realising that Venice is built around canals, and it is a very pretty area with canal-side properties costing millions of dollars. We saw the iconic Santa Monica Pier (I had a lovely hotdog there!) and discovered that the surrounding area is home to a large British community, supported by ‘The British Store’ which sources hard-to-get home comforts. We journeyed out to Marina Del Rey, which is apparently the cash-cow for the area, the Federally-owned land being leased out rather than sold, and generating huge amounts of income. We travelled through Brentwood (another popular residential area
for the in-crowd) and I looked out for Matt Damon (ooooh, Matt Damon) who lives in the area, but I didn’t see him. Closer to home, we visited Grauman’s Chinese Theatre to see the hand and footprints set in concrete, saw the ‘Four Ladies of Hollywood’ public art statue, the ubiquitous Madame Tussaud’s (we didn’t go in!) and the Dolby Theatre, home of Oscar ceremonies. There were lots of theatres, academies, institutes and museums in the area, mainly associated with the performing arts, and street performers dressed as film characters (Batman, Iron Man, Star Wars Stormtroopers) interacted with the passers-by on Hollywood Boulevard. And watching over all of this, there was the ‘Hollywood’ sign, set high up in the Hollywood Hills (part of the Santa Monica mountain range) which are still home to wild coyote and deer and the really, really wealthy.
However, there were many homeless people on the streets, some living in tents tucked into side streets away from the main drag. The residential block opposite the hotel was seemingly occupied by the reasonably affluent. From our balcony I could glance one way and see the downtrodden and desperate and then look the other way and see
the aspirational achievers. A young lady came out of the residential block one day to help a homeless person right and repack his shopping cart of worldly belongings. It had toppled over outside the building and the man’s vocal diatribe at this calamity probably alerted her. Some time later, with belongings back in place, the trolley chap resumed his wobbly travels having offered the woman a cigarette in return for her act of kindness. It was only then, as they chatted on the street beneath me, that I realised that the woman was, in fact, a man with a lustrous ponytail and wearing a skirt. These two people typified lives of extreme opposites and summed up, for me, this city of two halves, with the reality, excesses and freedom of expression of the American Dream on the one hand and the broken hopes, wishes and trolleys on the other.
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