Friday, 10 June 2011

LA Story - Part Two

If you had asked us when we planned this trip what we thought we might be doing on our first full day in Los Angeles, moving hotels might not have been high on the list of possiblities.

Yet that is exactly what we find ourselves doing at just gone 8.00am following the farcical episode yesterday afternoon. Over breakfast at Fawlty Towers we read in the paper that it is absolutely bitching down in San Diego. We are due to arrive there on Friday. It is now Wednesday.

Shortly after a pointless grapple with a waffle-making machine, we are packing up the car and moving on. We had booked in to Hotel Marina Del Rey the previous night when we got back from the baseball. Memories of sleepless nights worrying about how to get home from Berlin were all too fresh to leave it to chance until the morning.

It's only a short journey to Hotel Marina Del Rey and so soon after 9.00 we are at the reception (having made it along the seemingly endless driveway) and keen to start again. It's almost like our first, farcical moments in LA never happnened and we are filled with optimism again. Even the further delay of THREE failed attempts by the hotel staff to give us the correct key for the disabled access room do not dampen our spirits. There would be plenty to do that later.

Foolishly, we take a taxi down to Santa Monica pier, the departure point of the Los Angeles city tour bus. It costs $20, which surprises us given that our friend Jesson had claimed yesterday that Santa Monica pier is only four miles from Washington Boulevard. Maybe Los Angeles cabs are expensive, I don't know. It's the first and last one we use during our stay. Once, in Tenerife, we had no choice but to go everywhere by taxi which cost us hundreds of Euros by the end of the week. Somehow, and wrongly as it turned out, we expected better from Los Angeles.

I don't want to go on about money, but it is $100 for two tickets for the Los Angeles tour bus. Admittedly this includes unlimited use of the bus for two full days. They call it hop-on, hop-off access, but forget to mention that if you find hopping a physical challenge, you're screwed. After paying the money at the kiosk to two very pleasant but staggeringly ill-informed ladies we make our way through the maze of lifts and ramps and doorways to the bus stop, only to find that the bus pulling in is not accessible. Of course.

Not only that, but NONE of the Los Angeles tour buses are accessible. A specatucularly frustrating and pointless conversation ensues, embarrassing for the driver and utterly futile for all concerned. It transpires that all of these buses should have an on-board ramp. This one does not. Even if it did, the fact that the others do not would entirely defeat the object in any case. Hopping off an accessible bus is an enormously bad idea when you are then going to be unable to hop back on any subsequent buses. It's a two-hour wait before the one that you hopped off reaches you again.

As I feel the weight of your (Yes YOUR, able-bodied scum) society conspiring all of it's efforts against me I am dealt another killer blow. A woman rolls up alongside me in a rather more cumbersome, cheap wheelchair. Brian Potter would baulk at this piece of kit. She stands up and WALKS on to the bus! No access on the bus? No problem, just walk on, what's the matter with you?

Able-bodied scum.

Beaten all but into submission by this, we trudge back to the ticket kiosk to cause seven kinds of blue murder. Only the pleasant ladies are all apologies and we didn't knows, and can't return our money fast enough. It's genuinely hard to be angry with them, able-bodied scum though they are. They advise us that it is pretty easy to get around the city on public buses which are, they are certain, accessible to everyone. They scurry around scribbling on maps, circling points of interest and being apallingly nice. They are as helpful as they can be under the circumstances and, devoid of any choice in the matter, we embark on the epic quest for public bus access to Los Angeles' main tourist attractions.

While trying to figure out the best route (frankly, the pleasant ladies just confuse us), we drop for a drink in a small cafe near to the bus information centre. It is here that we meet possibly the rudest person in America;

"I'll be right with you." barks the lady behind the counter, not even looking at me, nor doing me the honour of allowing me to actually ask for something first. This dismissal is accompanied by a wave of the hand normally reserved for guests on the Ricki Lake Show who don't think you have a very valid point of view. She wanders off. Somewhere in the distance behind her, she might hear me ordering a couple of drinks.

Later, as we are about to leave Emma attempts to glean some information about bus routes from her. It's the mistake we should have expected it to be;

"Oh, don't talk to me about buses. I don't take the bus, I don't know anything about buses."

All of this is delivered as if we have asked her for advice on how best to strangle a kitten. She's clearly affronted by our insolence. We leave.

The plus side of being lost in Santa Monica looking for the right bus stop is that you get to walk around what is actually quite an attractive little city. If we hadn't spent our whole time there trying to get to somewhere else perhaps we could have enjoyed it's beautiful coastal scenery and it's vibrant city atmosphere. I'm more than certain now that we should have just stayed there and got blasted on vodka. Unfortunately, we were trying to get to Hollywood, which if we had listened to Michael Buble in the first place we would have known was a mistake.

Hollywood is indeed dead.

It's lunchtime and we are back at a bus information centre, trying to find out about the RED bus that will take us to North Hollywood. Everything we have seen so far has been related to the BLUE bus which will take us to downton LA. One day. Maybe. At one of the desks there is a man talking very loudly. He's a real slice of America, mulleted, moustache, hat that is pure country;

"What do you mean I can't have my cane?" he screams at the unfortunate person behind the glass;

"You have to show us your ID, sir."

"I ain't got no ID, I told y'all, I lost my ID. And my phone, and my god-damn cane! God damn it."

Or something.

He begins to mutter obsceneties under his breath as the receptionist goes to consult with someone. In the meantime I can hear him on his mobile phone trying to convince someone that they should pay for the privelege of listening to him play his guitar, which until that moment I hadn't noticed him carrying;

"Well sure, we're loud but when they hear us play they're gonna know how awesome we are!" he boasts, genuinely convinced of his own musical genius. We forget about him until a while later when, as we wait for the second of two buses we have to take to reach North Hollywood, he's busking to pass the time.

Earlier, and to a chorus in my head of Hallelujahs, we had found THE RIGHT BUS STOP. It was opposite a Hooters bar, though I resisted the temptation to delay us further. There'll be one in LA, Emma assured me. If there is, I thought, I hope it differs from this one in that it does not have a man sat outside it talking to himself. He appeared to be entranced, spouting some kind of religious drivel about what we're all doing wrong in the world. A little further up the road there sat a man who looked like a friend of mine. It obviously wasn't him, but if you had told me that after pushing around Santa Monica for two hours I would end up back in Thatto Heath I wouldn't have been that surprised. Things were going that way.

Finally we are on the second bus, crazy guitar man on board also. Though not for long. He takes an age to get on to the bus, staggering around on his one good leg (I had been wondering about the need for a cane), while trying to carry his guitar and said cane. At some point someone in the queue behind him lays his hands on the cane. Cue another bout of neurosis;

"Where's my cane? Who's got my god-damn cane?" he demands, all of a fluster. It's passed back to him. The joke's over, and people just want to get this bloody bus moving again. Especially us. We've been travelling for days, it seems. Guitar man is still muttering as he fumbles around for something approaching currency with which to pay for his bus ride. The bus is very busy, so he's perched awkwardly at the front, arms, legs, canes and guitars everywhere.

No more than a couple of blocks down the road, he's gone again;

"Stop the bus, stop the bus." he shouts, still stumbling around trying to keep hold of his many posessions;

"I wanna get off this bus, you're driving it like it's a god-damn go-kart!" he tells the driver.

As soon as she can, she stops and lets him off. There's a final showing of his stumbling idiot routine before he then announces that he has lost his phone. Presumably the phone he was using to try and book a gig for his band earlier. So, not only has he lost his cane, his ID and his dignity today, but also his phone. The last I see of him he is on the opposite side of the road as the bus pulls away, still muttering to himself. He's kicking a nearby wall and patting the back of his jeans in a frantic bid to find the phone. You get the feeling that there might not be a gig tonight after all. At least he still has the guitar.

Towards the end of this tortuous ride I catch the merest glimpse of the famous Hollywood letters. It is only a glimpse, but it at least let's us know that we have arrived somewhere close to where we need to be. When we finally get off the bus opposite the Chinese Theatre, we are immediately accosted by a man trying desperately to get us on to another tour bus. If only he knew.... This one took in all of the Hollywood homes, but if you are trying to sell me a product you are barking up the wrong tree (or even on the wrong bus) in offering me the words Arnold and Schwarzenegger. Besides there is no time. We have wasted an awful lot of time not knowing where we are, and we need to see the theatre, and the walk of fame, before figuring out how to actually get back to Marina Del Rey before September.

Staggeringly, while we are busily trying to snoop around the theatre reading all of the messages from all of the famous names outside we are again hassled by someone trying to sell us the original bus tour. You know the one? The inaccessible one from the beginning of this story? She insists it's accessible, consulting all sorts of people associated with the company until eventually we have a laughable conversation with one particular agent. He can't understand why we don't want to pay $50 each for a hurriedly arranged, whistle-stop tour with no prospect of any hop-on, hop-off. Like a night out in the Springy.

I have my photograph taken with a man dressed as Darth Vader. Why? I hate having my photograph taken but the awful truth is that I do have a strange obsession with all things Star Wars and in particular Darth Vader and Anakin Skywalker. It's just the greatest story ever told, and the only piece of science fiction that I don't regard as utter camel faeces. The exception that proves the rule, if you like. I pay him $5 for the privelege and he's genuinely surprised and grateful. If everyone paid him $5 he could go home before tea-time. I wouldn't advise him to take the bus, though.

There's a Hollywood-themed store across the street which, just because the other attractions have failed to capture my imagination, I spend a significant amount of time in. Yet all I'm doing is looking at movie stills. Rocky, Star Wars, Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider, The Godfather, Goodfellas, Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider, Scarface, Chinatown, Nightmare on Elm Street, Gone With The Wind, Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider. I don't buy anything, not even a tacky t-shirt or another mug for my absurd collection of unused mugs. Frankly I'm tired of Hollywood, let down by LA, and bewildered at the prospect of having to get the bus back to Marina Del Rey. Buses, I should say. Plural. This feeling is not helped by the fact that we then miss the last guided walk on the history of the chinese theatre by a matter of minutes.

We can't even go for a drink in Hooters. Well we could have, but so crushed was our collective spirit by then that I declined to make the effort. As Emma had predicted there was a Hooters bar on the very same street as the chinese theatre and the walk of fame. Unfortunately there was a couple of steps leading up to the main bar area. There was a lift, one of those awkward-looking white things that travel at slug-speed and are at best, erratic. The truth is I just couldn't be arsed. Who needs large-breasted women in tight tops when you've had your picture taken with Darth Vader? Right.

Instead of Hooters it's Hard Rock Cafe, but it still isn't straightforward. The only tables low enough for me to sit at are in the restaurant area. We're not having food. We'd already eaten between bus stops at a Jack-In-The-Box complete with toilets unlocked by the serving staff using an electronic switch. It takes more negotiation than should be necessary to convince the bar staff at Hard Rock to let us sit in the restaurant with just our drinks. Ironically, this is arranged through a girl at the bar who is barely an inch taller than me, and would probably struggle herself with the high chairs and tables which dominate the bar area.

We sit down with our multitude of maps and leaflets and plan a visit to Downtown LA for the next day. Even then we are questioned by more bar staff as to why we are using the lower seating in the restaurant if we are not going to have so much as a single french fry. Two beers and a well-earned rest later, we are back on the bus. We pass the bus stop where we had got on the bus earlier (we'd found a different route back, somehow) and there is a man sat there in an armchair. We presume him to be homeless. A large number of people in Los Angeles are, or at least purport to be. You can see them at various points half-heartedly begging for change, otherwise engrossed in a novel or strumming a guitar. Not all of them are lucky enough to have armchairs. At our last stop we wait patiently on a main road while buses marked 'Inglewood' pass by, and locals direct us towards Venice where they think the tourists should be. It's just possible that we are out of our depth here.

It feels like we've been lost all day.

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