Friday, 17 June 2011

LA Story - Part Three

Endless hours spent bussing (if I may invent such a word) around Los Angeles in search of a theatre and a pavement might put the average person off more tourism activity, but not us.

No, we're back on the road to more buses again early Thursday morning. The plan is to take a trip to downtown Los Angeles, and this time we know which bus wil take us there. Only it's a long, long way away from Marina Del Rey. Really, really long.

After negotiating the various avenues and boulevards of the area (only briefly getting lost around the marina itself) we are back on Washington Boulevard. You remember that? Site of the hotel that wasn't. ONLY four miles from Santa Monica pier. Soon we are heading towards Venice Beach, and something which finally looks like the Los Angeles that we had pictured, and that we had heard existed. There's sand, sea, people relaxing and enjoying themelves, even.

We stop for breakfast at a cafe, the name of which completely eludes me. It's a very nice place but it could probably do without it's mix of Cuban and Carribean music. And the waiter could use some help. It looks like he runs the place on his own, so it takes him a while to get around to us. When he does he serves up a fine breakfast; scrambled eggs, bacon (or sausage in the shape of a burger), house fries and 'hat' tea. You must make sure you ask for 'hat' tea. Otherwise you will be presented with all sorts of herbal concotions, none of which are remotely fit for human consumption.

Just across the street from the cafe is the pier at Venice Beach. Still with plenty of time on our hands we take a wander out towards the sea. It's fairly busy for the hour of the morning and, though I hadn't really expected it, there are some eyebrow raising sights to be found. At various points along the way there are viewing areas overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Courteously, they have even managed to take a chunk out of the wall to create areas from which the view can be enjoyed from a sitting position. The wonders of modern technology, eh? You can stick your city tour bus with it's view of Arnold Schwarzenegger's illicit groping den.

The major activity at present involves surfers. Well, when I say surfers, I mean men dressed in wet suits holding on to surf boards waiting to be devoured by large waves. They are really not making that much of an effort to actually ride the waves in a standing position. Yes, I know, I'm not one to criticise, but I'm not going through with the pretense. There is one brave soul who makes a few token efforts, even managing to stay on the board despite being submerged on more than one occasion. He never really gets the hang of it, but his efforts are noble compared to one or two of the others, who merely bobble around like lost extras from Titanic.

We decide to move towards the far end of the pier, where the viewing areas are packed with fishermen. As we make our way out towards them I notice a trail of red leading along the pier. I look up and there's a man wrestling with what looks like a large fish. It's wriggling around in some distress. I take a closer look and find that it's a shark, and it appears to be the victim of what can only be described as a gutting. I don't know why, but I am genuinely surprised to find a man gutting a shark alive at the end of the pier at Venice Beach. You just don't get that at Blackpool, I suppose.

It's a grisly, awful sight. There's bloody everywhere and I feel slightly nauteous. Time to head back to shore.

Oh, one more thing before we do. We're ambling slowly back towards the street trying to erase all thoughts of shark guts when one of our wet-suit clad 'surfers' from earlier jogs along the pier in our direction. He takes a step to his right, quickens his pace and leaps off the pier into the sea. That can't be safe. That can't be legal! I'm not very good at gauging heights and distances but I can safely assure you that he fell what you might term A Bloody Long Way. Nobody but us seemed to even look up. There was hardly a splash, never mind any audible gasps from the many other onlookers. Then again why would there be? This is a place where gutting sharks is normal practise.

By contrast to shark blood and death defying surfers, the walk along Venice Beach is peaceful and idyllic. But long, very long. Where on one side there is the beautiful scenery offered by the beach, on the other there is a hive of activity as shopkeepers and street vendors try and sell you everything from tacky postcards to lingerie;

"Red underwear?" I say to Emma inquisitively, optimistically even. She may not even remember. She barely looks up, giving the Los Angeles comedy element it's chance to shine;

"No man, it's your girl who's supposed to have the lingerie." quips some ear-wigging wag passing by in the other direction. Brilliant. Richard Pryor lives.

So now we are plodding on down the cycle lane which winds around the shore, populated by the many dog-walkers and joggers speaking far too loudly into their hands-free kits. One man has even chosen this location for his morning yoga session. I'll spare you any Ryan Giggs jokes at this point. You can make your own up, I'm sure. Go on, it's easy. Yoga keeps you supple and is apparently the key to Giggs' ability to go on for so long. Titter. Eventually we are on the corner of something and something looking for something, and it is not long before the beauty of Venice Beach is replaced by more samey looking, bus-stop defficient streets.

It takes the best part of an hour to get to downtown LA by bus, and what seems like something similar to work out a sensible way back to Marina Del Rey. Emma has a telephone conversation with someone who is apparently there to help, provided you can speak Spanish and you don't need to know what time your last bus home might be. It's baffling but not surprising to note that Union Street Station in LA has information about every single bus in the Americas except the one which might be heading back to Marina Del Rey this evening. Eventually we establish that if we get back to the station for around 6.10 we should be able to catch the direct commuter back to Marina Del Rey. We had tried to get on it this morning, but the sign helpfully told us that it only runs at rush hour. Unhelpfully, it did not elaborate on exactly what hours of the day rush hour might be. We can only speculate, even now.

Soon we are back to doing what we have done best in Los Angeles, wandering around. We wander for an hour at least. A man taps me on the shoulder and hands me his business card. His business is repairing wheelchairs but what he hasn't factored in to his plan is the fact that this being me, if my chair was about to suffer any mechanical catastrophe it would do so when I am out of Los Angeles and therefore not within reasonable distance of a man who repairs wheelchairs. I'm leaving Los Angeles tomorrow but I take the card anyway. You never know, I might commit a heinous crime and if the British prisons are all full they might send me back here. For a week this time. Christ's bowels!

We move past an important looking building which resembles a courthouse. We always seem to see a courthouse or court-related building no matter where we are in the world. All of which is a shame for Emma, who you would think would be desperate to get away from such things. She photographs it nonetheless, which seems to me to be like some kind of humorous masochism. We pass through Broadway, a street in which, as the name might suggest, theatres are very much the theme. Every building looks like a theatre but most are now just various types of shops, trading in all sorts of different areas. Perhaps they all originated as theatres, and maybe one or two of them still house red carpet affairs in the film industry. It's hard to see Tom and Katie emerge from their limo, all big smiles and flashbulbs in a street like this, but then having seen Hollywood yesterday maybe it's plausible.

We make it right across to the other side of downtown LA, finally landing at the LA Grammy Museum. We had seen this in the leaflet for the tour bus and thought it might be worth a look. In the present circumstances it's appeal rises immeasurably and so, after stopping for a drink in a fish-related restaurant (how could we after the shark episode?) we pay a visit. Next door is the Staples Center, home of the Los Angeles Lakers NBA basketball team. It's shut. You would think, being American and loud and apallingly capitalist, the Lakers would make the most of their off-season revenue opportunties by running tours of their home. This sort of thing does a roaring trade for tourists at the likes of Anfield and Old Trafford in this country, but bafflingly not in LA;

"They don't let anyone in there unless there is a game on." we are told by the waiter in the restaurant, looking at us in a genuinely bewildered 'why would they?' fashion.

If I told you that the LA Grammy Museum was four floors high you might be impressed. However, only the top floor holds particular interest. That is after you have waded your way through the entrance, met as we are by huge video wall footage of Grammy presentations of the past. There's Kelly Clarkson wailing and crying, Will Smith shouting about nothing very much and Elton John performing with celebrity homophobe comic Eminem. At last you reach the main exhibits, with large amounts of space afforded to John Lennon and Roy Orbison in particular. I had wondered about this, and learned later that the exhibits change every few months just to keep the museum looking fresh and give a different perspective.

All of which is very interesting. Orbison's story is perhaps less well documented than Lennon's, but is no less harrowing. Did you know that he lost his wife and his child within a few years of each other, and then died himself of a heart attack at just 57 years of age? Set against that backdrop, Pretty Woman doesn't seem like such a terrible crime after all. And anyway, he had nothing to do with the casting of Richard Gere or the revolting, schmalzy plot and script.

Almost every other genre of music you can think of is covered by the exhibits in the rest of the museum, provided it has made an impact on the American consciousness and therefore, comes under the radar of the Grammys. Don't go through this door if you're expecting to find anything about Robbie Williams or Oasis. When the LA Grammy Museum boasts about reflecting the glorious history of music it means music in America, bought by American people, rated by American audiences and critics. Shakira makes the cut, Bob Marley has an entire floor dedicated to him.

The long walk back to Union Station never happens. En route I notice a bus stop with the number of the commuter to Marina Del Rey written on it. It's quite the most outrageous fluke since Cliff Thorburn's opening red at the start of his 147 at the Crucible in 1983. What follows on that bus journey is equally bizarre, and is perhaps best saved for part four of what was supposed to be a trilogy.

Well, if the director of Scream can get away with it.........?

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