This trip was primarily to attend the 95th-birthday celebration for Mark's mother (henceforth known as "Mom"). She lives in Scottsdale, but it was in Los Angeles for reasons too complicated to be interesting.
Our night-before-the-flight crisis this time (there's always one) was that coming home at 9PM one of our shoes picked up a glob of seal-coating from the driveway (well after they said it would be okay to walk on) and we had to rush around removing it from the den carpet. God bless Goo-Gone!
(Actually, it was also before that when we went at 8:55 to Burger King and after taking and ringing up our order they said, "Oh, by the way, you have to take this to go; we're closing at 9PM to paint the dining room. We were not going to take our Burger King meal into our new car, so we ended up throwing something together at home. After we cleaned the carpet. But as you will read, things went downhill from here.)
Even when traveling in the summer, you need a sweater--airports are air-conditioned to a fare-thee-well. (And where did that prepositional phrase come from?)
We were in Boarding Group A, which was the sixth group to board. (Remember Dr. Seuss's "On Beyond Zebra"? This is "Coming Before A". Or like how "Large Olives" and "Large Eggs" are actually in the smaller half of those products.) There was First Class, Main Cabin Select, Gold and Silver Members, families with children under 5, and Priority Boarding Passes before they finally got to Boarding Group A.
Virgin America charges for movies (currently $8). Given that the movies are edited and often interrupted, it is yet another way the airline can soak you.
Residents are more than welcome Bridal suite is occupied Reasonable charges Plus some little extras on the side! Charge 'em for the lice, extra for the mice Two percent for looking in the mirror twice Here a little slice, there a little cut Three percent for sleeping with the window shut When it comes to fixing prices There are a lot of tricks he knows How it all increases, all them bits and pieces Jesus! It's amazing how it grows! [--"Master of the House", LES MISERABLES]
The map is still free (for now). However, *after* we were airborne, they announced that there was someone with a severe nut allergy, so could we please not eat any nuts. Great--Mark and I had packed trail mix and protein bars with nuts in them to eat on the flight. Even if they had announced this restriction in the airport, we could have bought something in one of the shops; on the plane, the choices are very limited. We decided to split a turkey and brie sandwich to start with, plus tomato juice (which is more filling and nutritious than soda). We also had a small bag of corn nuts (which are not nuts) and a small bag of figs which I brought for snacks, so those will get added to lunch.
I will say that Virgin America has the most entertaining of the safety films I have seen (though I have heard that Southwest is pretty good).
The nineteen-year-old had never flown before--and was apologetic about it. Apparently, not having flown anywhere by age nineteen betokens a terribly underprivileged or provincial life these days.
Our first stop was lunch. We went to the Beach Side Ethiopian and Mexican Cafe in Inglewood near the airport, where we had eaten last time we were in Los Angeles. It apparently had closed recently, but the "Fresh Ethiopian Restaurant" was in the same shopping center, so we ate there: lamb tibs, a vegetarian platter with a half dozen scoops of beans, kale, etc., and plenty of injira (sourdough pancake). With a mineral water, it came to $33 altogether, but was definitely worth it.
We drove to the Dunes Inn Wilshire through terrible traffic. Mark has written a full review; I will observe that the parking spaces are *very* tight, with narrow aisles as well, and there is a giant post or wall every three spaces, so I really want something next to an empty space. The room is big, but the television stations impossible to figure out (I think the control skips a lot of them unless you key the number directly). There is a fridge, but no coffee maker or clock. The whole place is a bit run-down.
We went to a Ralph's less than a mile away to pick up a few things, and then a Best Buy three miles away to replace an iPod cable that broke. These errands took two hours. Traffic was terrible, and in each case, we had to drive around a block at least once to figure out how to enter the parking garage.
Parking, by the way, is complicated and expensive. At Ralph's, you can get your ticket validated for up to 90 minutes, but you also have to show the garage attendant your Ralph's receipt. At Best Buy, it was easier--the first 90 minutes was free. In Hollywood, we parked in a garage that said Starbucks validation would get a discount, but they didn't say it had to be the Starbucks in the attached shopping center. So when we bought something at a Starbucks a couple of blocks away, they said they couldn't validate; however, if we took our receipt to the shopping center one, they would do it. (And they did.)
California law means no more free disposable grocery store bags. Luckily we only bought three things (and the bags would have been only 10 cents each anyway), but if you're going to California, you might want to bring a tote bag suitable for shopping as well.
Saturday we had breakfast at Han Bat Shul Lung Tang, a Korean restaurant that specializes in Shul Lung Tang, a Korean soup vaguely like Vietnamese pho, but milky white in color, with fewer noodles. The color comes from the ox bones, which are boiled for hours to create the soup. Some say it has a very beefy flavor; I did not think so, but it could be I am used to beef soup being just salty rather than beefy.
When I say Han Bat specializes in this, what that means is that there are eight items on the menu: five which are soup with your choice of meat added (brisket; flank; tongue; intestine, tripe, and spleen; and mixed), and three of which are boiled beef (Soo-Yook) (flank; intestine, tripe, and spleen; and mixed). The soup is $11 including tax, the boiled beef is $22, and the whole menu is posted at each table on the wall in small frame. The food arrives very quickly, because the soup is already prepared in a large pot, and the meats are already boiled and just have to be added. Seasonings (salt, pepper, hot sauce, and scallions are on the table, and kimchi and "turnip kimchi" are served.
It was interesting to try, and Han Bat is apparently the "gold standard" for this (plus it is actually open for breakfast, and this is traditionally a breakfast food), but I think pho has more flavor. Parking is either street parking or in a "lot" behind the restaurant--actually more like a very wide alley. It's valet, because all the cars are packed in like those "move-the-blocks" puzzles, but it's only $1.
Then we drove to Hollywood Boulevard, where we did what we did on our last trip: walk the entire "Walk of Fame". We also stopped in Larry Edmunds Bookshop, which is *the* cinema bookshop. We did not buy anything, in part because the science fiction/horror was a bit sparse, and in part because the most interesting book weighed about four pounds.
After we finished this, we had to get our validation and then find the garage. The shopping center had a big open courtyard, lots of levels, and no signage pointing you toward the parking garage. Eventually we found the garage and the car, and left. Before returning to the hotel, we drove past the First United Methodist Church of Hollywood a few blocks away. Why? Because that was the church featured at the end of the 1953 version of War of the Worlds.
Saturday night was the birthday dinner (at Off Vine Restaurant). (I do not know what thei normal prices ar, but I can say that their filet mignon is the best I ever had.) Sunday was a family brunch at my neice's house. At this point our plans got somewhat derailed, because Mom felt so weak that we all took her to the emergency room.
At this point, the vacation got somewhat derailed for a couple of days. Mom was probably just dehydrated--she got much better as soon as they got some water into her with her a saline drip--but they wanted to keep her overnight, and in fact due to the necessity to arrange a flight back to Phoenix for her, she stayed until Tuesday. (She had come by car with Mark's brother, but the hospital definitely felt that a six-hour car ride was a *bad* idea.) So Monday was spent with her in the hospital, and Tuesday morning was spent picking up Mark's sister (who changed her flight back to Long Island to fly to Phoenix with Mom first, then proceed on Wednesday), then picking up Mom at the hospital, then dropping them both at the airport. Luckily the luggage fit into our compact car's trunk, and luckily we noticed that they almost left Mom's cane in the back seat. But everything worked out with only one person needing to change her flight, and Mom ended up fine.
Sunday evening after leaving the hospital, we ate at Beverly Falafel a few blocks away. The meals came with lentil soup; I had lamb kebab with hummus salad and rice, and Mark had a falafel and chicken kabob platter with hummus, salad, and pita. It was okay, though the lamb was a bit overdone and tough, especially considering the forks were plastic, and the price a bit higher than back home.
Our plan for Monday had been to walk around downtown Los Angeles, but it is probably just as well we did not do that given, how hot it was. And I really did not need to visit any bookstores there. :-) Monday we ate a late breakfast/early lunch at The Zipbob, a Korean restaurant with a California slant (somewhat lighter disges, with unusual ban chan--cheese and corn melt?). Mark had a seafood soup with handcut noodles, and the problem of how to eat mussels, clams, and crab, all in the shell, in a soup. I had Soft Tofu Soup with Perilla and Mushroom. Both were very good, but again, not cheap.
Monday evening we ate at El Pollo Loco, a fast-food chain specializing in grilled chicken. It was okay, and did have some interesting sides and condiments, but nothing special.
We still had half of Tuesday (we dropped them off about 12:30PM), so first we stopped at El Bronco Tacqueria for lunch, sharing a chile relleno platter and two carne asada tacos. This was definitely a place aimed at Mexicans, though they spoke English as well, and pretty good. The chile in the chile relleno had some kick; the ones we get back in New Jersey all seem very bland.
Then we went to the Page Museum and "the La Brea Tar Pits." I put that in quotation marks, because "La Brea" means "the tar" so "the La Brea Tar Pits" is "the the tar tar pits." We had originally allowed a full day for this, but that would have been too much anyway. We first took a docent tour of the small museum, and I apparently made her day (if not her year) by being the first person to ask if one of the animals in a mural was a quagga. She said no one had ever correctly identified it as such before. Then we took the "Excavator" tour, which covered several of the pits on the grounds, as well as the area where they are working on what was excavated from the area next door when they built the art museum there.
(They are building an extension of the Metro underground, and have to dig the tunnels at 90 feet down, as much to avoid current sources of methane at higher level as to avoid drilling through fossils.)
One case has hundreds of dire wolf skulls. Now that lots of people have watched Game of Thrones, dire wolves are much better known. Coyote skulls have also been found, and they are one of the few large mammals from that period to still survive.
The iconic pit in front of the museum, with its three mammoth statues, is completely man-made--it is a lake, not a tar seep.
The museum is very careful to always refer to "sabre-tooth cats", not "sabre-tooth tigers," because they are not tigers (just as the extinct "American lion" is not a lion). The Aquarium of the Pacific (Wednesday) also seemed to use new or more accurate terminology: "sea stars" rather than "starfish(es)" and "jellies" rather than "jellyfish(es)". Seahorses are still seahorses, though. I guess people might be misled by calling jellies and sea stars "fishes", but would not think the seahorse was actually a horse.
Dinner was at The Counter, a Los Angeles sit-down burger restaurant chain. The burgers were good, but pricy. Everything in Los Angeles so far has been pricy, in part because we have not had much chance to pick a place to eat other than at random. We also stopped at a Ralph's (with its own parking lot that we had to circle only twice) to pick up more soda and snacks.
Wednesday was basically our only real, full vacation day, and we drove to Long Beach to see the Aquarium of the Pacific. Traffic, of course, was terrible. Los Angeles has carpool lanes, but they also have "Express" lanes for people who have Fastrak (their version of EZPass). They have "freeway marquees" that tell you, for example, that it costs $3.85 to use the Express lane as far as 10th Street, or $10.10 to Broadway (which according to other signs is about ten minutes ahead!). It is possible that carpools can use it for free; the signage was confusing, especially when driving by at highway speeds.
We had breakfast at The Potholder Cafe Too in Long Beach. I had a chorizo omelet with spinach on the side (instead of potatoes) and Mark had the waffle special (waffle, two eggs, and sausage). They also had their own parking lot, with reasonable-sized spaces. (By this point, where we ate was determined as much by whether the restaurant had a parking lot as their menu.) Thus fortified, we proceeded to the Aquarium of the Pacific.
This was a full day, with a lot of exhibits covering not just the California coast, but other Pacific regions as well. The best parts were the jellies; the seahorses, seadragons, and pipefish; and the octopuses (though the giant one was basically hiding the whole time). There was a heavy ecological message throughout, which I suppose one cannot complain too much about.
We also got to pet some small sharks and watch the shark feeding. I guess this puts a cap on "shark summer", which included the centenary observance of the 1916 Jersey Shore shark attacks near our home.
Then back to Los Angeles, with dinner at a Carl's Jr. (a favorite of Mark's not available in New Jersey), and gassing up the car.
Thursday it took almost two hours from motel to gate, but luckily we left early. (Whatever time the GPS or Google Maps tells you for driving in Los Angeles should probably be at least doubled.)