Driving in LA with the GPS woman
by Janice Nigro
I do not have a car, and I live in Los Angeles. Everything happens in cars here, and the total number of hours you spend in a car just to get to work is not something you really want to calculate.
Visiting friends are somewhat incredulous at how little I know about LA, but Los Angeles is sprawling and I don’t have a car. It is an area or a state/country of its own rather than a city center.
When you look at the map of freeways and where you want to go, it all seems to be pretty easy-a basic grid to get on and off and the ocean to the west. Except if there is traffic. With the traffic it makes you wonder how a date could go (or for that matter any type of social activity). Two hours in traffic could kill any sense of romance before it has a chance.
I am not sure what was happening a couple weekends ago when a friend was in town, but there was no traffic. Oh sure there were cars but for the most part we were able to travel nearly at speed at all times. It gave me the feeling as if an atomic bomb had gone off, but I somehow did not receive the news.
We traveled with the GPS woman on. She is good, I have to admit. She rarely made mistakes with the exception of a few instances. We ended up on South Rodeo Drive rather than north which is the famous shopping district. I am not sure how a female GPS could make this mistake. She also preferred traveling freeways which I recently read is one of the top twelve things not to do in LA. Sometimes this meant taking us on and off multiple freeways in succession, but then oddly she once took us off the freeway about 2 miles before my exit. The best way to get her back for that mistake was to not follow her directions after we exited the freeway and see how many times she would say “Make a U-turn here” before she was forced to recalculate the route.
My friend had no previous experience driving in LA so he was naive to the idea of traffic and suggested a Friday evening car adventure to the Griffith Observatory, a full 23 miles away from my apartment. In utter disbelief, we arrived there in about 30 minutes, but we were unfortunately just a few minutes too late to look through the big telescope. Small portable ones were out on the lawn, but at the end of the line of our first attempt at a view was a line maiden who told us the scope was closed. No problem, we jumped to another before she could stop us. We saw the moon, one day short of a full one, and it doesn’t look that far…
And the grid that is Los Angeles fully lit.
My friend is German so we had an itinerary. It was 22:00 but with the GPS woman, we bravely drove right into Hollywood to the Walk of Fame. Our luck of no traffic followed us here, and we parked right on the street, near the Beatles. We wandered a bit looking at the stars, many of whom we did not know and included TV and music personalities as well. The Beatles however were the only ones where I stopped and took a photo.
It was the evening, and perhaps this was part of our luck with no traffic in LA. It reminded me of a drive on the Hana Highway in Maui. We were late, we were nearly the last drivers back to Lahaina, but we had the road to ourselves. A spectacular drive in the moonlight in a convertible. Not quite Maui but we did have the moonlight.
On Saturday morning, I took my friend to breakfast at Martha’s directly on the beach. The only reason I mention this is because of the omelets. You can not imagine what ingredients go into an egg wrap if you will in Southern California-like hummus with sundried tomatoes and goat cheese.
It was going to be a long day. We drove up to the Getty Center built of travertine marble-literally a piece of Italy on a hilltop in California. The first time I was at the center, I had just been traveling along the coast in Italy and noticed whole pieces of mountains missing. While I admired the beauty of this building (Richard Meier), I could not stop thinking about the empty space where a mountain once was in Italy.
The views from the Getty Center are terrific in all directions. The expanse of the LA area is significant and again from here as at the Griffith Observatory you have a sense of how big LA really is. At the same time, you are atop a mountain/hill alone. LA for all that the urban and modern life that we associate with it, is also full of big empty areas where one can escape to nature and look back on the urban areas and the sea simultaneously.
I like the idea of the Getty Museum-entrance to the Getty Center or the Getty Villa is free if you do not come with a car. A subtle way to support public transportation in LA.
GPS woman took us to Rodeo Drive but in fact to the wrong end of it. After a few minutes realizing that we were at the wrong end of it, we parked closer to the right end of it and just wandered around briefly. Every possible fancy car was on the street. And just like the jewels that they contain, the buildings sparkled and shined on the outside.
It is a humbling experience-you could not feel plainer or more out of place-like Tarzan coming out of the jungle. Men are walking around in ridiculous outfits just as the women are. It took some nerve but we finally asked an employee for the price of one of the ridiculous suits hanging in a boutique window. It seems if you have to ask for the price, it is not for you. But he played, and we laughed as he remarked that only one other person (whom he would not name) had exactly that suit (I apologize here for not having a photo because I am curious to know who would wear something like that and where).
In the middle of it all were three men standing on the corner shouting out passages from the Bible. It is hard to know why they choose to be here except as a reminder that you are in one of the most unnatural places on earth. The epitome of us humans with an overblown sense of self worth. Or perhaps lack of it based on the cars around.
About 30 minutes was enough for my German friend, and then we consulted with a human for the next part of our adventure as I was pretty sure how to get where I wanted to go from where we were without GPS woman. Nothing like a trip to Venice Beach as a palate cleanser after Rodeo Drive. We quickly parked for 5USD about 2 blocks from the beach.
Then it begins. We were not brave enough h to walk into The Green Team stores, but evidence that others did was all around us. The guys at Muscle Beach were not doing much but they do not have to do much for you to look. A homeless guy who seemed to have everything he owned expertly attached to himself so that he could roller blade with his belongings, elegantly passed us by. His belongings included some manifestation of a turban, which I was not sure was a sign of his religious inclinations or simply a way to protect his head if he fell.
It must have stolen the title of Tattoo Capital of the world from the beautiful Polynesian islands where the tradition began. All I see is pain. Yet, those tattoos are real works of art-something straight out of the imagination, sometimes a terrifying one so I always have to wonder what the point of it is. As well as the cost.
It is easy to be distracted and forget that you are right beside the Pacific Ocean in Venice. We did not and took a long walk along the shore admiring the big full moon out already before the sun set that evening.
Our goal for Sunday was to reach the LA Philharmonic or the Walt Disney Concert Hall right in the middle of downtown Los Angeles. It is a funny thing because downtown LA is the one place people who visit LA probably never actually see.
I had been outside this building a couple of times, ironically admiring it from the bus stop just across the street. A true work of art open for all of the public to view in the middle of downtown LA. I knew there was a sister building in Bilbao Spain, but that it was designed by a North American took me by surprise. It hardly seems possible that this could happen in Spain but it did. The Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Guggenheim were designed by Frank Ghery, a Canadian.
It is a technical work of art mixing the natural-wood-with the unnatural-steel. It is famous for disrupting LA in another way-it was literally too hot, reflecting too much sunlight and heating up the area nearby. Within months of its opening, a section of the building was covered with tarps and only re-exposed once the sheen from the surface had been removed.
Still I am waiting for such a building to appear in Bergen.
Chinatown was not so far away so we walked. Past the city hall, past the museum of contemporary art, and past the new Broad museum for contemporary art. MOCA, LACMA, talk about jargon, everything is an acronym in LA.
There isn’t a whole lot in Chinatown but it is clean. In fact, it wasn’t even really clear to me that we were there until we saw the metro stop that is designed like a pagoda. Not at all like Chinatown in SF, where restaurants are everywhere and lit up with neon signs. And crowds. We randomly stopped-or our stomachs stopped for us-and indulged in fresh wok sautéed Chinese broccoli and Kung Pao Chicken.
My friend convinced me to take the metro back to the car, something I had only done once. We easily found the car again, and GPS woman returned us to the beach. And that is Los Angeles in a nutshell…
PS I am ready for more visitors now :).
©2015 Janice Marie Nigro/janikiInk.com