I arrived into Union Station, downtown Los Angeles at seven thirty on a Monday night. I left Jack behind on the train; he was going another couple hours south to San Diego; he had to go to work the next day.
I had never been to downtown Los Angeles before, and had no agenda. I had just found a room a couple hours earlier on Priceline.com.
Union Station is a beautiful art deco building that opened in 1939.
Especially considering the low price I paid, the Westin Bonaventure is an impressive place. Built about 1975, it had mesmerizing patterns on the wall behind the front desk, and fetching interior design in the lobby, which led to four high rise towers. I now have learned that it is supposed to be a great example of postmodern design. Pretentious words about the hotel from Edward Soja (via Wikipedia)
(It is) a concentrated representation of the restructured spatiality of the late capitalist city: fragmented and fragmenting, homogeneous and homogenizing, divertingly packaged yet curiously incomprehensible, seemingly open in presenting itself to view but constantly pressing to enclose, to compartmentalize, to circumscribe, to incarcerate.
That night there were all sorts of expensive restaurants within walking distance. I went to the sushi place Chaya. It cost a lot, but I kept the entire evening at less than fifty dollars by ordering the cheapest a la carte sushi. It was the only time I remember being served sushi by an actual Japanese person, who exhibited the professionalism I imagine you would see in Japan, including bowing to me after the meal.
Starting the next morning, over the next two and a half days, I bicycled a big loop through some of Southern California. The first day I cycled from downtown to Hollywood, then to Santa Monica, then on the bike path down the beach to Redondo.
The view from my hotel room was Jetsonesque; about five layers of freeway circling high rise buildings. On leaving downtown, the scene became gritty while being multicultural in the extreme.
Despite the movie star names embedded in the sidewalk, I found downtown Hollywood tacky and depressing. I turned toward the ocean, cycling through prosperous neighborhoods, ending up in the beach town of Santa Monica. On the outskirts, I ate salad for lunch at a low cost ethnic place. Across from me these guys seemed very Southern California; casually dressed but with a determined formalism that one would not see back here in Chapel Hill.
I have written before that cycling along the coast through a string of beach towns is some of the best urban bicycling in America. In Southern California the wind generally blows from north to south, so going in that direction increases the smile factor.
This particular ride went from Santa Monica, to Venice Beach, on the beach under the LAX airport runway, to Manhattan Beach, then Redondo Beach. The entire ride is a delight.
That evening I stayed at this nice little motel in Redondo, two blocks from the ocean. I bicycled in the dark a few blocks to a gastropub.
The next day I rode a big loop, first south to the hills of Palos Verdes:
then through the suburbia of Torrance (home of Jan & Dean!)
I turned onto the bike path following Ballona Creek. It feels very California as you remember these concrete rivers that continually appear in the movies.
I had lunch in downtown Culver City, which is the town born of the MGM movie lot. In a Mexican restaurant, the guy on the right first sat down alone at the table next to me, and looked almost like a homeless person. Later when the dreadlocked guy on the left sat down with him, I realized these two are probably serious creative types in the movie industry.
I then biked up into Beverly Hills, looking at rich people’s houses. I also enjoyed seeing the hubbub that surrounds the “public” elementary schools in a wealthy enclave like that. (Expensive cars lined up at 3:00 PM; several hired police officers standing around)
I stayed that night back in Santa Monica, at an Airbnb six blocks from the beach. The next morning, I walked over to Starbucks for a coffee and an oatmeal. It was a neat L.A. experience, both this young woman and this guy clearly were aspiring actors, working at the coffee house. The guy says he has done a couple commercials, and also does D.J. work to pay the bills.
The young woman showed everybody her cheerleader routine.
At a UPS Store I recovered my bicycle carrying suitcase that I had sent there from north in San Jose. I then did something I have only done once or twice; ride with my suitcase to the airport. Because the ride along the beach was so nice, I strapped the almost empty suitcase on the back of the bike, rode the 6 – 7 miles to LAX, and then put the bike into the suitcase for my flight a couple hours later.
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