Saturday, December 3, 2022

Los Angeles, November 2022

I'm always amazed and grateful when I talk to people who actually read my blog - and of course you tell me you've noticed the decrease in frequency. Partly that's family- and career-driven, and COVID certainly hasn't done anything to increase my traveling. And in 2019 I wrote that I was just going to be a Californian for a while. I had no idea at the time how much I meant it!


Venezuelan food in Little Ethiopia - previously unbeknownst to me, there is a little Ethiopia on Fairfax not far from the tar pits. A neighborhood never smelled so good about 6pm. That said, I went to Flavors From Afar, which has an interesting model where they have guest chefs who are refugees from various parts of the world. When I was there, it was someone from Venezuela. I'd never had Venezuelan. The shredded beef, goat, and cheese bread were pretty tasty. Not surprisingly, Caribbean, in my experience reminded me of Puerto Rican food.

As a rule, when I'm in LA, I will not leave without hitting Thai Town (~5100 Hollywood Boulevard.) Pictured below: octopus from Crispy Pork Gang.

Pictured below: Chengdu Taste in Alhambra. Pictured from left: fish, chicken, and gizzard.

Din Tai Fung - the one in Glendale. Din Tai Fung has developed the Mercedes model of international marketing. That is to say, at home in Taiwan, they're a solid but not fancy noodle house chain. In the US they are a high-decor type of place with earnest and good-looking young servers (the one in UTC in San Diego is similar), and prices to match. But the noodles are still quite good. I came back to life in this place after getting unexpectedly rocked by Mt. Wilson.


Laurel Canyon - I'd never spent any time in this area before, and it's pretty neat. Reminds me a lot of the Berkeley Hills. If you don't know the history (which I didn't until recently) it's an area well-known as the place where a lot of folk and rock figures from the 60s and 70s lived - Joni Mitchell (Ladies of the Canyon), Jim Morrison, Mama Cass to name a few. Jared Leto lives in a converted radar station at the top of the ridge not far from Mulholland because of course he does.

Above: the San Fernando Valley from an overlook along Mulholland.

Above: Laurel Canyon during the day, at night, and from inside our Airbnb. Below, Griffith Observatory, with important astronomical markers to scale.

Griffith Observatory - sadly the planetarium broke while we were waiting in line for it, but the museum and views are worth it alone. Also, not surprisingly, it's been used as a backdrop quite often (Terminator, Rebel Without a Cause, Metallica, and Star Trek Voyager.) Don't forget in Griffith Park you can also hike up to the Hollywood Sign or the Bat Cave.) Not an unreasonable hike from/to Thai Town.

California Science Center and Natural History Museum right next to USC, who I still have a problem with. They have a Space Shuttle but that's certainly not the only attraction. (I like to keep track of positive surprises when I travel and the positive surprise for me here was Natural History's mineral room.) The Science Center has a pay-by-exhibit model (like a small amusement park) but most are free, including the shuttle. Detail on the shuttle includes tiles, and reaction control system thruster ports.

Hollywood Boulevard. Of course. I think maybe I went there once with my parents when I was about 15 and found it underwhelming. I can't say I find it that much more exciting now - it has a claustrophobic, trying too hard to be Times Square vibe to it - but you have to take your family there once. Instead of Hollywood, here are pictures of the inspiration for the name, actual California holly (toyon), taken a few days later in Novato, Norcal. (Merry early Christmas.)

Danzing's Evil Bricks. Do you know who Glenn Danzig is? Do you know he had evil bricks? (Really, click on that.) We paid a visit to his house (or maybe he moved, I don't know) and to be honest I actually got nervous. Related, Monty's in Santa Monica has a dog as its mascot and the style of the logo may seem familiar (see below.)


Hiking up Mt. Wilson to the observatory. I was getting over a respiratory illness (not COVID) and this mere 7.5 mile, 4500' climb unexpectedly sucked the life out of me. Beautiful climb next to the Santa Anita trail complex, in the western greener end of the San Gabriels. My bizarre obscure association with the roads winding through Angeles National Forest is now the Name of the Game episode L.A. 2017 (made in 1971), one of Steven Spielberg's first projects, where he imagines a future Los Angeles moved underground due to pollution and policed by psychiatrists with intramuscular sedative guns.

I'm always surprised by how "ferny" the western end of this range can be. It just seems inappropriate for them to be in such close proximity to yuccas.

We also rode from the Venice canals along the boardwalk past Muscle Beach and the skate park to Santa Monica pier.

Idyllwild up on San Jacinto. San Jacinto is part of the SoCal mountain trifecta which I bagged starting from Humbert Park in 2012, though the Cactus to Clouds route is more interesting for sure. The mayor is a dog, Maxwell III. At lunch at a brewpub twice I overheard from the hostess speaking to a group of customers "Unfortunately we're at our dog capacity so we can't seat you right now.") A group in the late 60s manufactured LSD there and then dropped it out of a plane onto Laguna Beach. It's just that kind of place. As for us, we just met up with a nice family and had ice cream and played with Aussie shepherds, so you can do that too. Below: two photos of Idyllwild I found online, forgot where, if they're yours comment and I will gladly credit you.


  • People like to talk about how LA is a homeless hellscape. Yes we saw a few tents and homeless people. It was maybe a little worse than the average U.S. city. The worst thing I saw was a breadline on the boardwalk in Venice Beach on a Sunday morning with about 20 people in it. Two of them said hello and were polite and just regular folks.
  • I made a point of driving by Paramount's Bronson Gate (reminded by having seen the tank sticking up looking down from Griffith Park.) I wonder, why do some studios have an amusement park and others don't? Is it just real estate? (On review sites people seem to complain more about the lameness of Paramount's tour.)
  • Downtown Glendale is getting better and better and I like it for many reasons. And it's going to sound cringey but I'm going to say it. Walking around, I saw a bunch of young people with genes hailing from every corner of the planet, either busting their asses working hard, enjoying life, or both. This is the American experiment working spectacularly well. When these kids run across some aggrieved Republican crying about America's supposed decline and yelling about taking it back and making it great again, I can only imagine they just think to themselves "What are these people even talking about?"
  • What happened to the prominence of the defense industry in SoCal? The pseudodystopia of Kim Stanley Robinson's Gold Coast is not what happened.
  • Like many northeasterners who migrated to California, I imprinted on the part of CA I arrived in (Norcal) and absorbed the chip on my shoulder about Socal from the people in the Bay Area. But it really is a one-sided rivalry, and after living in Socal for a few years I got over it, and I really like visiting LA. And, amazingly, a city based on the entertainment industry DOES have a lot of good-looking people! Shocker! Still, somehow LA always gives me a feeling of desperation coursing underneath the smiles (that I'm certainly not the first to observe) which is at the same time somehow also freeing. I cannot recommend this essay enough.