Los Angeles

Sunday, 23 June 2013 13:30
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la lead Four days in LA makes for a really long blog post...sorry for the gap in coverage there for a bit.

Venice Beach was an interesting choice of location as a place to stay in LA. I hadn't been here for a while, and it's a little bit different. If you don't know Venice Beach, it's that place that they always use on TV shows as a stereotypical "Southern California" background--people skating and biking along the beach, giant muscular guys working out in the outdoors, open air street basketball games (think "White Men Can't Jump"), artificially augmented girls in bikinis, and general beachside hijinks. However, it was a little more run down than I remembered it. Most of the people on the beachside paths seemed to be foreign tourists, the typical Venice Beach characters had thinned out a bit in the wake of the buskers, and the characters that were out there as 'characters' seemed to be primarily people struggling with drug problems or mental issues. It was sort of half street fair, half homeless shelter. Granted, I didn't spend my whole day down there, so that may be a bit of a snap judgement, but it did definitely seem that the general vibe and authenticity of the place has slipped quite a bit in the past 15 years or so.

The hotel wasn't too bad, though. It was an older place (originally built in 1912), and the rooms were basically little efficiencies--bed, shower, and a little tiny kitchen. They called them "suites", but that's stretching it a bit. It was right on the beach, so it was convenient for morning beach walks and stuff like that, and generally within walking distance to most of the Venice Beach attractions as well as the Santa Monica ones as well if you really like walking. Expensive for what the room was, but about right for what the location was. I lucked out on parking--it's free on the street in that area, but usually tough to find. I was able to get a space right in front of of the Bordello Alexandra both nights, and the residents there were big fans of the car, and subsequently very protective of it. As much as that neighborhood had a pretty high weirdo density, it felt pretty safe being there. The Bordello folks seemed to be mostly riders of 70s vintage motorcycles, and people who wrestle with old machinery on a daily basis generally appreciate others who do the same, whether it's two wheels or four. 

The "bordello", in all its glory
I decided to skip all of the usual partying with celebrities this time in LA in favor of visiting museums and other places that I've never gotten a chance to visit in all the time I've spent there. First stop was the La Brea Tar Pits. As a little "too much information" background, I once had a snap-together model of a tar pit when I was about 10, and have since then been vaguely fascinated by the concept of having a deep pool of tar just out there in the middle of a field sucking down large animals.  I'd wanted to go see what it actually looked like in real life for a long time, but for a wide variety of reasons I never seemed to be able to line up a visit there, even though I'd been working within a few blocks of the place on several occasions. Well, I can now report that a tar pit does indeed look like a pool of tar out in the middle of a field. Smells like one, too. It is a little odd to be be reminded pretty directly that petroleum is actually a naturally occurring substance, and that it does indeed just bubble right out of the ground in some places on the planet, just like in the Beverly Hillbillies (but without the need for 'ol Jed to be shootin' at some food to get it a-bubblin'). I was standing next to a group of kids looking at the biggest pit, and somewhat bewildered, one spoke up and said "Why would they put this right here?" It took a bit of explaining to convince her that these were actually natural features, and that they build Los Angeles around the pits and not the other way around. The pits themselves are still really active--big bubbles of methane would come to the surface in several locations on a pretty regular basis, some of which were big enough to make some noise. The museum itself was small but informative, and it had some nice displays of skeletons and other artifacts they've taken out of the pits over the years. The active excavation in 'Pit 21' where you could watch paleontologists slog through the tar has been suspended for a while in favor of 'Project 23', which is those same paleontologists digging through 23 giant (and much cleaner) blocks of sand, rock, and tar matrix that got dug out when they recently built a new parking garage. Not quite as interesting, but apparently it's yielding some results. 

Mammoths in distress What's going on in Pit 21 A pit of tar, hence the name
Fabulous smile Good thing these only moved as fast as sloths, 'cause they're huge The elusive mastodon

My next stop on the LA museum tour was the California Science Center, mostly to see the space shuttle Endeavor, although I was interested in whatever else they had, too. As expected, seeing a space shuttle up close and personal was pretty darn impressive. I'm glad they decided not to clean it up after its last mission. It looks like they replaced some of the missing heat shield tiles, but other than that it's still got whatever space schmutz it had on it when it landed the last time in June of 2011, which is pretty cool. It's currently in a temporary building  and being displayed in its landing position, but the eventual plan is to display it in launch position as part of a larger air and space museum expansion. 

The mighty Endeavor The business end Underside of the right wing
Inside one of the engines Heat shield tiles...have to keep track of every one Future plans for the exhibit

Since I was roughly in the neighborhood, I hit the Petersen Automotive Museum next. (In the interest of keeping all of the automotive related stuff in one place, I'll also include the Nethercutt Museum, which is a lesser known (but way better) car museum than the Petersen, even though it's out of chronological order.) The Petersen was pretty neat and very slick, but not quite as car-oriented as I expected. I know that sounds weird, but bear with me. The museum itself is built into an old Seibu department store building, and it takes up three floors of that plus the parking garage below, where they store the cars that aren't on display. A regular admission ticket gets you into the three floors, and adding a "Vault Tour" ticket gets you a 90 minute tour of the underground garage (where photos are not allowed, unfortunately). They've got some great stuff on display and in the collection, but it's a little eclectic. Robert Petersen, the founder of the museum, was also the founder of 'Hot Rod' and 'Motor Trend' magazines. The collection reflects this, with a large percentage of the cars being either hot rods or otherwise modified cars, as well as cars that were either in movies or TV shows or that were owned by movie and TV stars. I asked the tour guide about this, and he said that the curating and collecting 'theme' was that the cars had to have something to do with Southern California, and that's about it. That philosophy resulted in a collection that was more "cars as icons" than "cars as machines", which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but not what I expected. In retrospect, that is definitely the sort of museum that the editor of Hot Rod would put together. 

Jaguar XKSS Pretty fast Speed Racer 'Mach 5' promotional car The only Datsun they had there, a 1959 Datsun 220 pickup Part of the Hot Wheels collection at the Petersen

In contrast, the Nethercutt Museum was much more car-oriented, and slanted a bit more toward automotive history and design. The bulk of the collection is from the early- to mid- 20th century, and man does it cover some ground. I only saw the "museum" and not the "collection", but if you're there on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday, I highly recommend seeing both of them. There was everything from extremely rare cars like the 1931 Bugatti Dubos Coupe and the 1937 Talbot Lago Figoni et Falaschi (both coach built cars), to more run-of-the-mill stuff like a Ford Model A and a variety of Packards. If you're in the greater LA area and can only see one car collection and you're not personal friends with Jay Leno, see this one. 

1913 Chalmers Model 18-Six Touring The Talbot-Lago 1913 Mercedes Some early instrumentation 
 One of several Dusenbergs  A full Moon  One of the many non-car machines they had restored there  There were a lot of cars, all in perfect condition
 And this wasn't the enitre collection. Cosmetics is apparently a profitable business.  Many rare and unusual marques  1930 Buxton. There were a lot of manufacturers in the early days  1955 Ford Thunderbird

I also got to take a quick peek at the old Charlie Chaplin Studios, which is now home to Jim Henson Studios (and the Muppets). The original soundstages used by Chaplin and his brother are still there and still in use, and they're protected as historic landmarks. The Henson studios had plenty of memorabilia around, including figures from The Dark Crystal, Where the Wild Things Are, and plenty of others. 

Charlie, pointing to the door Kermit and some of his awards Home of Jim Henson Studios, but not the Muppets--Disney owns them Original home of the Muppets One of the creatures from The Dark Crystal

After checking out the home of the Muppets, it was on to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for some outdoor jazz and a quick look through the current exhibits. As it was fairly close to closing time by then, I didn't get to see everything, but I did have a look at a few of the more iconic exhibits, including the giant rock, the big curved steel walls, the lamp post thing, and the model city (all of which have real names, mind you). It's a great museum, and I highly recommend it if you happen to be in LA and are itching for a little art. 

Levitating Mass Metropolis II Band The band was great, sort of an afro-cuban fusion thing One night prior to the 'supermoon'

The last stop on the LA science and museum tour was the Griffith Observatory. I'd been here before, but it was defintely worth visiting again. First off, it's a lovely drive up through Griffith Park to the top of the hill to the observatory, and once you get there, it's a lovely observatory in all its 1930s art deco splendor. They recently added a large section to the facilit--not by tacking it on to the side (which would have ruined its looks), but by excavating a whole 'nother building out underneath of it. Twice the observatory, and all of the historic good looks. And not only are there spectactular views of the heavens, but there's also spectacular views of all of Los Angeles below. Well worth the visit.

The Griffith Observatory The big telescope at the Griffith Nice view of the Hollywood sign from up there Nice views of downtown LA, too

After a few days in LA traffic, both me and the car were eager to get back on with the "road" part of the road trip, so heading out of town I stopped first at the Hollywood Farmer's Market for some tasty road snacks, then up to the infamous Mullholland Drive for some fun driving (and hopefully to gawk at some of the supercars and bikes that go up there on the weekends). Mulholland is pretty short as epic drives go, but it's got a big reputation, as many of LA's finest come up here to try to throw their Ferraris and Ducatis off of cliffs or into oncoming traffic. It's mostly tight switchbacks with the occasional fast sweeper, so it's great in a little short wheelbase car like the Datsun. It was a fun drive with light traffic all the way back out to the coast and Highway 1, where I joined the PCH for the drive up to Santa Barbara to try out my first airbnb.com stay. Navigation note for future road trips: If you plan on sticking to the coasts, and being able to easily pull over and sightsee along the coastline is for you, then plan a route that keeps the ocean on your right (i.e., north to south on the Pacific, south to north on the Atlantic.)  I'm doing it backwards for that, and while the scenery is still great, both the Pacific and the Atlantic are on the other side of the road for me, which makes impromptu pit stops a bit of a pain in the butt. 

Sunday morning at the Rock Store. I'm usually on a motorcycle for this. Check on the license plate on the 2nd Fiat

I did pretty good with food while in the greater LA area. It's quite a melting pot of ethnicities there, and there's decent stuff to be found of all types, and you could probably spend a month there just working your way through the top 10% of the good ones. I managed to get in excellent taco stand/truck tacos (twice, not to be missed), your basic Southern California fusion/gastropub thing, Lebanese shawarma, Japanese noodles and sushi, a small Thai feast, Chinese dim sum, and excellent goodies from two farmers markets, so it was a pretty successful stay, gastronomically speaking.

You know it's going to be a good taco when they've got condiments in buckets "Not for the faint of heart"

I think that I've had my fill of cities and tourist attractions for a while...it was great to visit LA and see friends, but one of the main purposes of this trip is to give me an opportunity to unwind and reflect, and being in the hustle and traffic of LA and the omnipresent entertainment industry saturation there was moving me in the opposite direction. Tonight, I went out to see the 'supermoon' (which was indeed pretty super), but it was also dark enough that I was also able to see the Ursa Major (the Big Dipper) and a bunch of other celestial 'friends' for the first time in a while. That was always sort of my touchstone while travelling; I could be on the other side of the world, but I could always look up and see Orion or Casseopeia or any of the other familiar sights in the sky and I wouldn't feel quite so displaced. It's nice to get back to that place now, and I think a lot of this trip will be in spots like that where I've got my bearings, not in places like LA where I don't.

On a car related note, I can definitely recommend the Hella "Vision Plus" halogen conversion headlights. I swapped the original Toshiba headlights that came with the car for those (and it's pretty remarkable that the car still had a set of working 45 year old headlights), and they're really great at night. Tight, controlled beams, really strong brights, and they don't seem to draw any more current than the originals. If you've got an older car that still uses 7" round headlights and are looking for a little more output, these are your guys. I also got to use the heater for the first time on the trip tonight (it gets pretty chilly when the fog rolls in), and the repaired/rebuilt heater valve with the new O-rings seems to be working fine. The car has been running great so far, and hopefully it keeps it up.


#1 Mom 2013-06-26 04:01
All I can say is WOW !!! a great blog Scott.
#2 SJMike 2013-06-26 05:48
Great pictures loved the Buxton
#3 laceytrynn 2013-06-26 07:27
Been missing this the last few days! Did you get the Special #1 in the picture? Great pics as usual...
#4 lectacave 2013-06-26 08:38
Ah, yes, the ol' "HWD", or High Weirdo Density. I smell a new app coming. I'm wondering if the youngster confused by the placement of the tar pits is in some way related to the woman who had trouble with deer and they're unusual crossing habits. At any rate, I'm glad you're alive and well and will be joining your celestial pals again. They are indeed good company!
#5 sk8rchk 2013-06-27 19:59
How was the airb&b?
#6 admin 2013-06-28 09:00
Quoting sk8rchk:
How was the airb&b?

It's in the next post. :-)

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