I drew my first palm tree when I was around seven years old. I saw them in Florida but soon after, my attention was drawn to another city: Los Angeles. An oasis in the desert, land of tall palms that fan the ghettos of Compton. A place where you can skateboard all year. Where celebrities can be spotted on the daily and carbon-fiber-hooded Supras are on every street corner. Perfect place for a sheltered white kid from the valley.
From the air-conditioned cockpit of my Mazda 3, endless miles of sand lay baking in the sun. I passed a sign reading "Mojave Desert" and checked the thermostat in my car. It read a blistering 44 degrees Celcius. I turned the music up, pushed the gas pedal into the floorboard and sped up as the world around me transitioned from sanddunes to moutains.
The hours drifted by and the distance to my destination shrank. At a certian point, suburbs started emerging around me. I was almost there. I noticed a partiuclarly wealthy looking neighbourhood with the words "Rancho Cucamonga" layered over an archway. I couldn't help but smile as I remembered Ice Cube riding riding around in Pinky's car.
We'll skip over the details but LA traffic is every bit as congested as they say. First stop: the Griffith Observatory. I walked from the the base to the top to realize... "Holy shit, GTA V nailed it on this one". Rockstar actually got quite a bit of LA spot on. Standing atop the roof of the observatory, i had this feeling. Have you ever looked forward to something your entire life? I'd spent a good portion of my life visualizing what it would be like to step foot in Los Angeles. Take in the sights, sounds, smells. I was convinced I would have done well in the same neighbourhoods Dre and Ice Cube came up from (I realize now that priviledged teenage white boys from Hanmer wouldn't fare too well in the 'hood) Regardless, I had always wanted to go to LA. Now I was there, and this relief ran through my body. I'm not talking about a relief like "Ahhh... I'm home." More like a "holy shit, I've had to pee for three hours and now I finally can" kind of relief.
Then I made my way down the hill. I took the woods, looking for adventure, assuming I'd find trails. Nope. Tons of thickets, a few cliff jumps but was all in good fun.
I drove down Hollywood blvd, then Sunset blvd, as the sky bled pink and purple; the sun retiring for the evening. I made my way to Chateau Marmont for dinner: no reso? Try again later for cocktail hour. I drove through Santa Monica and parked my car at the overly-expensive Best Western. I found a highly rated restaurant in Venice and made my way. They were also full up. Annoyance began to bubble. I went into two other restaurants only to find out they were all, also, full up. I sat on a bench and realized: I kind of hate LA.
I should explain. Between the dense traffic, the insane hoards of people, the amount of money everything costs, the city seemed a lot like every other metropolitan city. It felt like someone had re-skinned Toronto with a palm tree theme.
Defeated and starving, I made my way back to my first choice in Venice: Felix. I stood by the 6 stool bar, waiting for a spot to open up. After a while: boom! A vacancy. By this point, it was nearly 10pm, I was famished, but cocktails first. I asked for a recommendation and was not disappointed. The bartender came at me with a hammering of flavour: floral gin, peaty scotch, elderflower syrup and lemon-basil garnish. I fell in love on the spot. It was followed by cheese-filled vegetables and a savoury al'amatriciana that hit all the right notes.
I went back to the hotel. Felix had brightened my mood but I was looking forward to the next day so I could move on and forget how much I'd hyped up this city, and how much it had failed to meet my expectations.
As I wiped the cloud of sleep from my eyes, I gave in to the idea that I had to see the boardwalk before leaving. I drove to Santa Monica pier, parked the car and started walking. The bright colours paired with the sound of the ocean and the lethargic morning energy was perfect. Kids were just starting to run up to the rides with tickets in hand. Young couples were holding hands and eating ice cream. Fisherman were planted with their buckets of bait next to them, just taking in the morning air.
I made my way to Venice. Picture every stereotype you've ever heard of LA: this is where they all become reality. Musclebound machismos riding tiny BMX bikes, girls in bikins rollerblading down the path, vagabonds walking with shopping carts and of course, surfers running towards the ocean. The sky was clear, the energy was pheonominal, it was perfect.
I stopped by the skatepark; the Mecca of my teenage years. Growing up, my best friend Joey and I would go on endlessly about renting a van and making our way to LA to skate that park. I stood on the railings and watched this new generation of skateboarders go. An hour passed by and I didn't even realize until my stomach grumbled.
I visited Arnold's famous sand-side gym, checked out a few shops, some boardwalk-side wares and took a stroll through the Venice canals. On the way back towards the car I checked out Hank Moody's apartment. By the time I got back to my car, 5 hours later, I was burnt like a lobster.
I unlocked the door to my car and plugged in my next destination. That's when I realized I had completely forgotten to dip my toes into the Pacific Ocean. I left my shoes and my shirt and ran out to the water. As the foam lapped my feet, calm ran through me. The morning had changed my view of LA from an overcrowded, generic tourist-trap to what it is: A beautiful, bright city with a culture worth exploring.
Oh right, and In & Out is dope.