The City of Angels and Demons

Los_Angeles_-_Echangeur_autoroute_110_105I have just completed a five thousand mile road trip with my husband and two of my grandchildren. It was a glorious adventure that will be forever imprinted on my memory. Together we saw and did wondrous things. This morning I am experiencing the letdown that so often comes with a return to normalcy. It has been three weeks since I was last inside the realm of reality. I managed to avoid the depressing news cycles and the speechifying propaganda of the Republican convention. I suspect that my journey would have exceeded perfection if it had been timed to ignore the Democrat convention as well. If there is one thing that I know for certain it is that a single speech does not define a political animal so I really don’t need to watch the cleverly rehearsed commentaries to decide how to vote in November.

When last I submitted a blog I was on my way to Los Angeles. We were driving through the Mojave Desert from Needles, California, a place so hot and devoid of personality that I had to wonder why anyone ever chose to live there. I noted that it was the home of Spike, one of Snoopy’s brothers, and had to chuckle that it must be a dog’s life in that dry and forlorn place.

By the afternoon we had reached our destination in the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area after wandering through a seemingly endless stretch of bone dry land that was nonetheless hauntingly beautiful. Many miles out of the city we caught up with the famous LA traffic that slowed our progress to a disturbing crawl. It felt as though we had somehow found our way into a beehive of uninterrupted activity.

Los Angeles is a behemoth of a city. It stretches in every direction with seven lane highways creating pathways from one part of town to another. Even with such gigantic road systems progress along the roads is slow and deliberate. There is no room for the timid. The landscape is a patchwork of ethnic and economic diversity from the plenty of Wilshire Boulevard to the want of East LA.

We stayed in a campground just past Magic Mountain that harkened to the California of the nineteen fifties. My grandchildren voted it the best of its kind with its two kidney shaped swimming pools and credit card operated laundromat. It lay in the shadow of Santa Clarita where we shopped for provisions and cooled our heels on a Saturday afternoon watching a movie. I remarked at the time that the entire area appeared to be a tender box just waiting for someone to carelessly toss a cigarette or match. I mentally planned an escape route if the place were to suddenly become an inferno. Luckily we did not experience any problems but only one week after our departure an enormous wildfire broke out nearby and it continues to rage to this very day. It seems that my instincts were right on target.

We did the usual touristy things in Los Angeles. We visited Hollywood and even joined a snake-like parade of cars in the drive to see the famous sign that sits on a hill overlooking the city. We saw the Walk of Fame and drove through Beverly Hills. We went to Rodeo Drive and up and down Sunset Boulevard. I suspect that some of the luster chipped away for my grandchildren who found the endless traffic and the multitude of homeless to be quite disturbing.

They were much happier at Universal City where they immersed themselves in the fantasies of moviedom. Under their direction we arose early and arrived at the theme park at 7:30 in the morning. We were able to enjoy the Harry Potter section without crowds and partake of the rides a number of times without much wait. The attraction was indeed as magical as the children had hoped and served to reinstate their interest in this incredible city.

We stayed until the park closed at ten that night. We felt an ecstatic kind of exhaustion that comes after an incomparable day. We had braved roller coaster rides and an hour standing in line to tour the studios. We jumped in fright at a velociraptor and were taken by surprise by a giant Egyptian. We walked through the Walking Dead exhibit with delight and I had to laugh that my grandchildren seemed to be the only youngsters daring enough to do so. All in all the park was well worth the long journey that brought us to this place.

We did not have as much time in Los Angeles as we had hoped. We found that getting from one area to another was far more time consuming than we had imagined it would be. I had hoped to visit the Huntington  Library on our final day but my crew was far too tired to make the trip. Instead we enjoyed the southern California sun at the swimming pool and took in a movie which seemed appropriate given our locale. Our journey to our next destination, San Diego, would take us across the entire north south expanse of the city and with wall to wall traffic that hardly moved we managed to see much more of this famous town.

Los Angeles is definitely a study in contrasts. North Hollywood where I lived for a short time when I was eight appears to have seen better days. Back then it was a middle class enclave with stucco structures much like the one where my family resided. We had a big yard with trees that shaded us from the sun. Our living room boasted a fireplace which was quite exotic to me. I recall riding a bus to school through hilly streets that held lovely structures that appeared to be the domains of the wealthy. Sixty years later the area has lost the luster that I remember from my childhood. It has a run down appearance as though it has been abandoned for greener pastures.

The LA freeways are in constant motion even at midnight. It seems as though the city never sleeps. In the more wealthy areas the streets are manicured and clean. In those where the economically disadvantaged reside there are mountains of trash littering the roads and bright and creative graffiti voicing the frustrations of those who experience want in a land of abundance. It is a vibrant place where one must keep moving just to stay in place. In many ways the city wore us out.

Even though my own home of Houston, Texas is the fourth largest area in the country it is a far cry from Los Angeles in terms of population and the problems that come with ministering to such an enormous number of residents. I found LA to be more than I want to handle at my age. I enjoyed the excitement for awhile but longed for a slower pace by the time that we departed.

Our three days in Los Angeles were wonderful nonetheless and I hope to one day return again. I have to admit that I found LA to be far less beautiful that the northern areas of the state. In spite of the luxurious estates of the rich and famous, Los Angeles still has a kind of gritty feel that evokes images more of the old west than opulent culture. It is a working man’s town where dreams seem likely to come true but often lead to bitter disappointment. It is a place filled with millions of stories that live themselves out while tourists imagine fantasies about what life must be like in this vast expanse. I have to commend anyone willing to try their luck in this city. It’s streets are both paved with gold and filled with dangerous detours but all in all it is a truly amazing place.