Monday, October 19, 2015

A Few Days In The City Of Angels

Listen to Randy Newman's satirical take on Los Angeles.

And here's Loudon Wainwright III complaining about how sunny it is in LaLa Land.

October 5, 2015

Since I'm actually writing this from Brooklyn, not in Los Angeles—I've been home since Tuesday, it's kind of anti-climatic to be writing a blog post about time spent in Los Angeles with friends and family of a week or so ago. But I'm compulsive, you might have noticed, a  nagging feeling that I have to finish it if only for the sake of a having a complete record of our trip that can  be looked back on. People travel widely, take 1000s of photos and then can't place where, when or what. That's not my cup of coffee. Besides, you might be wondering (or maybe you're not) what ever happened to me. and my travel posts The last you heard  from me, I was going on about Hearst's Castle and then, well, nothing. So on I go. If nobody else reads this except me, that's OK too. But I hope you will.


We left the town of San Simeon after touring Hearst's fabulous abode. perched on a mountain with spectacular view of the Pacific. The coastal road was, as it had been for the past week, breathtaking and achingly beautiful. I've heard this for years from many people who had negotiated the Pacific Coast Highway. I can tell you all, it's very true and I highly recommend taking this trip—put it it on your bucket list.

This is our route on the last day of our PCH drive.

Weeks earlier, in Yellowstone, while gaping at bubbling pools and shooting geysers, I spied another tourist. He looked like something out of a western movie of yesteryear: His face was leathery and aged. He wore floppy and well-worn cowboy hat, a belt with a large silver, western buckle, a western style shirt with pearly snap buttons and decrepit cowboy boots—a genuine cowpoke. Or so I thought. I engaged him in conversation and when I told him we were eventually headed down the coast, he regaled me with must-see places. One was a "Danish town" in California. "Just look for the pea soup sign and you'll be there." Hmm. Danish town? So what, who cares? But pea soup! That sounded interesting. Then the cowpoke ambled off to his RV with British Columbia plates on it. Hrrumph...a Canadian tourist playing a cowpoke!

Despite his pretend getup, at least one of his stories was genuine: the pea soup saga. As we traveled the last leg of the coast highway, I spotted the sign on the outskirts of Buellton, California. We got off the road and there it was: Andersen's Pea Soup—actually a sprawling restaurant and hotel, a little Dansh empire, in a California town, which specialized in Scandinavian food. But Mr. Andersen had spread his fame using the appeal of pea soup. Strange, but it worked for me and I'm sure for many others also.

It's Andersen's Inn but Mr. Andersen
wants you to focus on his famous soup
so every sign on his sprawling site
calls your attention to that!

Yes, it was good. Very good. Stacey and I weren't
in the least bit hungry but we took out a
large container anyway and shared it right there
in Andersen's parking lot.

Split Pea Mania.

We finished our pea (soup) and drove on—L.A. was our goal. As we approached that sprawling metropolis—it's 503 square miles (by comparison, New York City's five boroughs are spread over 305 square miles), we were forced to stop our forward progress. It was 7:30, we were tired, we so much wanted to be at our friends, Tamar and Jay's apartment. But we were up against one of the infamous L.A. freeway traffic jams! It took us an hour to go 15 miles. Sheesh!

Tamar and Jay are our bi-coastal friends with a house in Brooklyn and now a lovely apartment in the heart of Los Angeles, right near the famous Farmer's Market. That institution, by the way, has an interesting history. Housed in little white frame buildings that were built  in the 1930's, the history of this land goes back to the 1880's when it was a large dairy farm. Forward to 1900 and oil was discovered which transformed the farms and cattle herds into an oil field with oil derricks littering the landscape. In the 1930's, the city had grown so large that oil wells were no longer be permitted within its bounds and the site went through its final transformation into the folksy, charming Farmers Market that makes it such a big attraction today. By the way this site may have been a Farmer's Market once upon a time but now is more a rambling food court: restaurants, food stands, touristy knick-knack shops and so on. It's also directly adjacent to a sprawling mall, the famous Grove which has the same upscale stores one sees in malls througout the country. Their home is centrally located in a walkable neighborhood which is not common in car-centric L.A. and museums and parks are nearby. So our friends, it seems, have made a good selection on where to live in this city and they're enjoying it! And so did we in the days that we spent with them.
At Tamar and Jay's aspartment in Los Angeles.

Biggie's right at home on Tamar and Jay's large patio.
The Hollywood Hills are the backdrop to a view over their neighborhood.

A lovely lunch on the patio under the sukkah. 

Here's one reason our friends sought a home in L.A.
Meet Yarden, their sweet granddaughter.

Donkey ears x 4.

Our days went fast in Los Angeles. We spent four days but filled it with visits with friends and family in addition to hanging out with Tamar and Jay. But the city is also home to our son Mike and his girlfriend Jamie. I also have a couple of cousins and a niece (through Stacey's family) and some dear old friends who we know for decades. We've been to L.A. many times so we didn't feel the need to see the sights. For us the "sights" were the friends and family who call the city their home.

We arrived on Thursday night. On Friday, our friends had things to do and they were nice enough to leave us on our own so we went for a walk and that evening had dinner with them at home. The next day we met our niece Lizzy and her son, Cassius. Along for the day were Michael and Jamie. We all met Barnsdall Art Park in Hollywood which has a Frank Lloyd Wright home within its boundaries. Unfortunately, it was in the process of being restored so it was not open for admission. After the park, Mike guided us to a great Thai restaurant in Hollywood for a delicious lunch.

Our handsome great-newphew Cassius. Nine years old
but quite grown up. Cash is Lizzy's son.

Stacey in Barnsdall Art Park in Los Angeles.

Cash and Stacey having a laugh.

Cassius and Lizzy. Happy together.

Making funny faces.

It's love!

At a great Thai restaurant in Hollywood. Yum!

Mother and son. Stacey and Mike.

A handsome lad.

Jamie and Cassius—perusing the menu.

Stacey and Jay. Later that day and back at the apartment. 

There were lots more dinners with many other family and friends to spend time with. Mike took us to Japan Town and we had dinner with him and his girlfriend, Jamie. But Jamie's parents, Toby and George were there as well. We had met them once before on an earlier visit to the city and liked them very much. Our second time with them reinforced the feeling. The Japanese section is in downtown L.A. and is hopping at night—it might be one of the only places to get a good meal late at night. "Late" in this case means after nine o'clock. Los Angeles, like many other western cities, closes early.

Jamie, Toby and George - a nice family!

George Hall and our boychick, Mike at a cool and good
sushi restaurant in L.A.'s Japan Town.

Having a laugh.

After dinner chat.

The restaurant was on the 3rd floor of this modern mall with an open center to look down upon.

The way out.

The next day, Sunday, October 4th, we met my cousins Suzy and Muriel and Suzy's partner, Carol, at their house in Beverly Hills. We picked up a picnic lunch at a nearby deli and headed to Holmby Hill Park. Carol told me that they go there regularly—it's small but a beautiful gem of a neighborhood park. With their dogs and ours, we picnicked, strolled and enjoyed the day. Suzy and Muriel are the daughters of my father's first cousin, Max, who's deceased. I didn't know them as a child but discovered them in more recent years through Max's sister, Dottie, who I'm very close to. What a great discovery that was! We've met them each time we visit Mike in L.A. and have grown to love them, wishing I had known them forever. But it's never too late. Suzy and friends have come to New York and we've gotten together there as well. Like they say: Tengo famiglia! I have family! What's better than that?

My sweet cousin Suzy (left) and her partner Carol. Two beautiful women!

Posing for my camera in front of the house:
the women and the dogs. No Matt though.

Carol, Muriel, Susan and Matthew ... and some dogs.

Take out from this great deli and cheese shop, Wally's.
We're having a picnic!

Sign on the wall.

In Holmby Hills Park. A picnic.

This, everyone, is Pandora. Suzy and Carol are her humans.

My wonderful "new" cousin, Muriel.
Carol took the dogs, two of whom belong to Susan and her. The third, Einstein, belongs
to Muriel. We met her at the park.

For our final night out on the town we headed east of the city to Hall, California. The name didn't register with me but, apparently, that small town of mostly Latino residents, is infamously and nationally known: the Mayor and associates are in jail for a massive corruption conviction, paying themselves millions while the town was destitute and ignored by its civic "leaders." Mike wanted to try a Mexican restaurant there called La Casita Mexicana (the little Mexican house). It was a good choice and the reason we wanted to be east of the city was that my friend, Matt Berkelhammer (who I know and love for decades) lives a bit further east in Whittier. So Hall was a good compromise for all of us, about equi-distant for us and for him. The food was excellent and quite exciting and authentic. And the place was painted in deep colors typical of Mexico and decorated with artifacts and artwork that gave it great ambience.

Crosses of all types on the wall at La Casita Mexicana.

Stacey and Mike greet our old (long-standing) friend, Matt Berkelhammer.

Matt's girlfriend, Connie.
What's up with these expressions?


Two love boids.

Connie and Matt at La Casita Mexicana.

Our son Michael. Contemplative mood. We LOVED seeing him and spending time with him.

Good food. Lovely surroundings. We'd go back for sure!

Hand measuring contest. Matt's the judge.

Big Matt and Little Matt (you guess who is who).
We go way back together. One of my favorite people!

All of us at the end of a lovely dinner in Hall, California at La Casita Mexicana.

We left L.A. on Tuesday, October 6th and began our long trek home. Riding northeast out of Los Angeles we passed through a vast expanse of of uplands and desert: The Mojave! The one impression we came home with is the vastness and emptiness of large parts of the West. Prairies, plateaus, large expanse of inhabitable desert - all of this fills parts of many western states. We stopped at a roadside rest area where signs defined the topography. From north to south and descending in altitude, there's the Great Basin, covering a narrow strip of Northern and Central California lying east of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Most of it lies above 4,000 feet and is very cold in winter. It's often referred to as the High Desert or the Cold Desert and from California it stretches east across Nevada and parts of Utah, Idaho and Oregon. Because of the cold temperatures and a short growing season, plant growth is limited.

Below the Great Basin is the Mojave Desert, which we drove through on our way to Arizona and New Mexico. It's a bit warmer and not as extreme as the Great Basin, lying at around 2,000 feet elevation. It gets a bit more rainfall than the Colorado Desert which lies to its south and extends into Mexico. But it does have cooler winters than the Colorado so most geologists consider it a transitional desert compared to its southern neighbor, much of which is below sea level (think of Death Valley) and is called the Low Desert. There you have it: a concise description of western deserts. I found it fascinating and didn't know any of this - another bonus of this road trip. Another interesting fact: just 20,000 years ago—at the end of the last Ice Age, most of the Mojave was covered by the waters of Lake Manix, which had a depth of 380 feet and covered an area of over 150 square miles! It was both wetter and  cooler than today and that supported great numbers of large animals who fed on the expanse of trees, shrubs and grasslands that spread down from the mountains to the shores of the lake. The large mammals of that day (just a tick in time ago) included giant mammoths, camels, bison, horses and dwarf antelopes. The Shasta ground sloth, an eight-foot long mammal, lived in caves in upland areas. Imagine! Camels and mammoths roamed the area just a mere 20,000 years ago.

Leaving L.A.and heading east with a first night stop
in Flagstaff, AZ. We'd stay two nights so we could
tour the Grand Canyon.

The Mojave. A quite incredible view from Interstate 40,
looking east from a reststop in California.

The Big Empty. View from the driver's seat. Interstate 40 - The Mojave Desert, California.

Trucks move through The Mojave on Interstate 40
but there are no other signs of human habitation for as far as the eye can see.

Needles, Califonria, I think named for the needle-like mountains that surround it.
It's on part of the old and historic Route 66. This is the attraction of last resort for many of these
towns that are so desolate, having been isolated by interstate highways
and left to crumble back i to the surrounding desert.

Lots and lots of murals, and some really nice ones, in many of these towns that were touched by Route 66.

Another Route 66 mural. Some advertise local businesses.
Some promote the town through which that road passed.

Betty -- I hardly knew ya.

Wall mural in Needles, California.

Liquor. The Bible. There's hope .... I guess.

Leaving California. Raising Arizona!

Stacey looks out on more desert ... Arizona.

The big skies of our western states give rise to many rainbows.
This one is a double - look for the faint second rainbow to the left of the strong one.

We ended our day's drive in Flagstaff, Arizona. We'd use that as a base for a tour of the Grand Canyon. And that, my dear readers, will have to wait for the next post (from Brooklyn)...but you won't want to miss that, now will you?


  1. Great family gathering and pictures. Enjoy the view.

  2. OMGeeee!! Nice photos...Nice. Trip....good seeing all those peeps. Thanks!