Monday, November 28, 2011

Thanksgiving in LA

Piles of Leaves - Not!

To most of us Thanksgiving evokes recollections of family gatherings and tables full of comfort food. When I was a kid we'd get up, watch the Macy's parade, then pile into dad's buick wildcat and make the road trip to my cousins.

Once there we'd spend the day throwing frisbees and footballs. Then we'd move inside to play some board games. The whole time my uncle's big wooden RCA console TV would be flipping from one sporting event to another.

Then the food took over. It would start with deviled eggs and move on to the serious stuff. Turkey or ham would reside next to mashed potatoes, stuffing and an annual jello experiment (usually loosely interpreted from a recipe in Parade.) The meal would be finished up with syncopation of coffee being perked in a tall chrome percolator soon to be served with the pies; apple, cherry, pumpkin, and mince.

We'd then groan, sleep and wake up to see mountains of leftovers being wrapped in foil.

Nowadays my family has scattered like seeds in the wind. Without a matriarch demanding we all come together, we instead plan alternative holiday adventures with friends from church. This year we spent 3 days in Los Angeles.

Day One:
Thanksgiving itself was spent at Universal Studios. The day was a sunny 70°F. In a word; perfect. Crowds were pretty light netting short waits for even the best attractions.

Universal's Atlas Fountain and Mandatory Photostop  

We found that Universal has a lot of renovation going on right now and some of the popular (but tired) attractions like Backdraft are now gone. Perhaps in recognition of its reduced state, they offered us a 13 month pass for the same price as their normal $77 one-day admission. Hey, that worked for me as Miss M and I can now plan to return in the spring to see the new Transformers attraction.

Inside the park were lots of shows, music, and the new King Kong in 3D attraction. It replaces the elaborate old mechanized King Kong attraction that was destroyed in the backlot fire a few years ago.

We finished up the day amid the lights of CityWalk. I stopped and watched the I-Fly skydivers. Next trip over I am going to fly.


CityWalk is Ready for Christmas

We then went to have a turkey dinner at Dinah's near the Hughes Center.

Day Two:
After sleeping in on Black Friday the group assembled at the King's Hawaiian Bakery in Torrance for a full-on island style local boy breakfast; Char Sui on rice, Portuguese sweet bread french toast covered in coconut syrup. All washed down with a big glass of POG (passion, orange, guava) juice and Kona coffee. It was soooo good. Breakfast alone made the trip worthwhile.

After breakfast it was off to Hollywood and Highland. We window shopped, checked out all of the star's hand and footprints in the forecourt of the Chinese Theater and enjoyed the endless parade of ambulatory schizophrenia oozing along Hollywood Boulevard. 

Sid Grauman's Iconic 1927 Era "Chinese" Theater

One of the 200 Hand and Footprints At Graumans

We stepped across the street to admire the exquisite detailing of the restored El Capitan Theater and the lobby of the oh-so-haunted (and very wilted) Hollywood Roosevelt hotel. We then tried to guess the authors of each of the life stories on the "Road to Hollywood" in the Hollywood and Highland's plaza.

The Ceiling of the Outer Lobby of the El Capitan

The Hollywood Roosevelt

Hollywood and Highland 
The Road to Hollywood Snakes Around the Plaza

We were took in a matinee of the dazzling new Hollywood themed Cirque show called IRIS at the gorgeous Kodak Theater. Although we've enjoyed about a dozen Cirque productions over the years, I easily rate IRIS second only to the Beattle's Love at The Mirage.

Day Three:
On Saturday we slept in again (note the trend). After breakfast we made our way to The Grove / Farmer's Market to enjoy the street scene, shop, and have lunch. The Grove was totally decked out for the holidays and filled with families.

The Grove's Huge Tree

From the Farmer's Market we were off to Santa Monica to experience the 3rd Street Promenade at Sunset. It was filled with people. But it has gotten a bit edgy. There are still dozens of street performers (some that were darned good) surrounded by an armada of street people and panhandlers.

We parked at the renovated Santa Monica Place (the roof is now gone and the foodcourt is on three!) Once we found the food court we ate dinner. 

Street Violin

Sunset Over the Pacific
From the Roof of Santa Monica Place

We ran out of time and did not get to the Hollywood Forever cemetery. And we found out that Paramount does not operate its VIP tour over Thanksgiving. 

Guess we'll just have to return!

Love to all.

Roadboy's Travels © 2011

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Cosmopolitan

No Cats, But What A View

A couple of weeks ago I walked through the new Cosmopolitan Hotel / Casino in Las Vegas. Like many mega casino / hotel's it is huge and appears to have been built using no discernable master plan.

But I also found its art collection and decor to be endearing. And I really like it's "Just The Right Amount of Wrong" advertising campaign with its uber cool music the Booty Swing by the Austrian remix artist Parov Stelar.

So this week when a business trip brought me back to Las Vegas, I decided to check in to the Cosmopolitan for a night. What clinched it was a low sunday night rate and finding out that it is now part of the new Marriott Autograph Collection.

The taxi drops you right at the registration lobby, which is nice (many Vegas hotels make you walk miles from cab to registration.) And oh what a lobby it is! It is simply a techno marvel that surrounds guests with lush, constantly changing, electronic imagery. While I was there it was falling leaves.

The Cosmopolitan's Registration Lobby 
Is A Visual Knockout
(Click to See Leaves Falling)

It was Sunday so check-in was really quick. My front desk “co-star” (really, that is what they call their staff) immediately offered a handshake. It seemed so "Enterprise" rent-a-car. Note to the service industry; take it from your former Las Vegas resident Howard Hughes - handshakes in flu season = bad idea.

In recognition of my Marriott elite status, my co-star upgraded me to a room with a balcony. That was very nice since many of the Cosmopolitan's rooms have truly breathtaking views.

The View From A Room On The 25th Floor

While in the hotel elevator I found no herds of white cats as featured in their ads, just some nice visitors from Argentina and a very inebriated couple who got on the tower elevator by mistake. When the wife realized her mistake she stepped off. The husband stayed on announcing after the doors closed with a broad smile that "she’ll never find me now.”

Upon opening the door to my room I was dazzled. The room was huge and lovely but not too earth friendly with 16 lights burning and two big flat screen televisions lit to greet me when I walked in. Ironically each TV offered an interactive presentation of the Hotel’s “sustainability” program.

The toiletries were nice. The minibar selections were also awesome, some a bit kinky. My breakfast was comped (Marriott perk). Good thing too since the 2 egg, toast, and bacon breakfast was $29 on the room service card.

I needed to get some work done that required the internet. Alas the techno saavy Cosmopolitan internet was down. To determine that I had to figure out the surprisingly complex phone system. “Help” at the Cosmopolitan is obtained from a button labeled “Beck and Call”. Touching “Beck and Call” resulted in me being put on hold. When my nice “Beck and Call” co-star came on she relayed that they had no idea when the internet would actually work again.

With no internet, I went for a walk through the adjacent Crystals mall. Home to names like Balenciega, Harry Winston, Fendi, Kiton, Hermes, Prada, Van Clef / Arpels, and Jimmy Choo, buyers here define wretched excess. 

Some of Crystal's Artwork 

Crystal's Colorful Tornadoes

Just out the back door was the Aria Hotel. I was stunned by the elegance of this hotel. You enter it past a three story curving wall of cascading water. Inside, I found a hotel and casino that was very clearly organized.

Imagine that.

The Aria Hotel and Casino

Have a Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Roadboy is off to LA to see the new Cirque show in Hollywood.

Roadboy’s Travels © 2011

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Eagles 35 Years Later

The Long Road Out of Eden

On August 6, 1976 I led a car caravan of friends from Coeur d'Alene Idaho to Seattle Washington. We had tickets to see The Eagles and Linda Ronstadt perform at Seattle's (now imploded) Kingdome.

In retrospect it is amazing we all lived through the trip. I mean Dennis drove a Ford Pinto (no explosions thank goodness). I drove my dad's supercab pick-up with its homemade camper.

Most of my friends were just out of high school. We all worked together at Pete Clausen's new McDonalds in Coeur d'Alene. Many had never driven further than Spokane. Some had never been given permission to go more than 20 miles any direction.

The concert tickets were $14. The interior of the Kingdome was filled with reefer smoke. When the lights went down everyone lit and gently waived matches. The opening act was Linda Ronstadt. Her voice was angelic. After Linda there was a long gap and then The Eagles came out and were pumped. They played long, hard, and loud. The acoustics in the Kingdome were so bad I actually left the arena to listen from the outer walk ramps.

We didn't have money for motels, so after the show we simply started to drive back to Idaho. Somewhere near Snoqualmie Summit we pulled off the interstate and slept under an overpass in our cars and the camper.

When the sun came up we were cold and (most of us) smelled bad. But everyone knew we'd had a great adventure.

I miss everyone from that trip. Three weeks later I left Coeur d'Alene for college and never saw them again.

Fast forward.

This past weekend I joined friends from church that wanted to go see The Eagles at the MGM in Las Vegas. The show is the second to last stop on their 2011 "Long Road Out of Eden" tour.

In the cab driving to the MGM I noticed a fine white Rolls Royce stopped at the light next to our cab. I laughed at the old dude driving it. He was older than Methuselah, yet was sporting shoulder length white long hair. His face that left no doubt that he had inhaled over the years. And, just like our cab driver, Mr. Rolls was clearly upset at being stalled in traffic.

It was a reminder that no matter the price of your tires, everyone in life gets the green light at the same time.

When we got to the arena most of the audience was pretty old. We were mostly bald or grey haired. Some had walkers. Many rolled oxygen tanks. 

The arena was (of course) smoke free. The Eagles started right on time. There was no Linda this time ;-(. The acoustics at the MGM were fine. I did not need the foam earplugs I brought.

As the concert began I realized the old dude driving the Rolls was Joe Walsh.

Voices were clear and strong. The music was tight. They played without a break for a little over 2 hours. They did two encores.

The concert was awesome.

Hotel California

One Hit After Another

Before the show I took my usual Vegas stroll. This time through the new Cosmopolitan Hotel (I love their current TV ads.) The exterior of the hotel was downright boring. The entrances are oddly placed. The roofline can only be described as peculiar. Signage is lame. The interior layout displays no coordinated planning at all.

But once inside the interior finishes, artwork, and overall vibe and "attitude" of the hotel is way cool. Staff is an eclectic mix of old and young all wearing black sportcoats. The place is fun. The Wicked Spoon buffet was also quite good.

A Cocktail Bar Resides Inside the Three Story Chandelier

Some of the Cosmopolitan's Art Collection

Cosmo is Home to Another Amazing All Saints Store

After the show I walked some more. When I reached the Ballagio its waters were choreographed to Frank Sinatra crooning "Luck Be A Lady Tonight". Life rarely offers 3 minutes of anything more perfect than that.

Luck Be A Lady Tonight

So, I offer thanks to the Eagles. You were wonderful. And this many years later, I extend a toast to all my friends in Cd'A, wherever life has taken you; "Salut"!

Roadboy's Travels © 2011

Friday, November 4, 2011

A Walk In Downtown Los Angeles

From Blade Runner to a Flight of Angels

When someone says "Los Angeles" it always conjures up images of beaches and long rows of tall wispy palm trees. Some think Hollywood, to others its shopping on Melrose or people watching on Venice beach.

"LA" means something different to everyone.

Over the years I've returned to Los Angeles and its suburbs many times, mostly for business, frequently for fun. Rarely, however, have I spent much time downtown. I've made the occasional trip to Olvera Street and visited Little Tokyo for some mochi and once visited the Museum of Contemporary Art. But I've never really just walked around.

Yet, when I do explore downtown, I seem to find surprises everywhere. It is filled with wonderful places to sightsee, eat, absorb culture, even pray. And of course it is home to some wonderful architectural icons.

This week I attended a three day conference downtown. The conference was a tired rehash of uninspired thinking (I had to fight off sleep). But before, between, and after my conference I explored downtown Los Angeles.

My starting place was the conference hotel itself; the Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel (now part of the Millennium chain). Facing onto Pershing Square, the Biltmore opened in 1923 with 1500 guest rooms making it the largest hotel west of Chicago. It hosted the first eight Oscar ceremonies. It's Gold Room has hidden compartments where elite guests concealed their liquor during prohibition. It has been featured in dozens of movies including Hitchcock's Vertigo. President Kennedy accepted his presidential nomination here. Paramahansa Yogananda passed to the next world here.

Although its entrance now is kind of an ugly car tunnel, thankfully, most of its magnificent public spaces are intact.

The Spectacular Original Lobby 
Facing Pershing Square

Next stop was the wonderful Los Angeles Public Library designed by Bertram Goodhue. LA Central is a mashup of Egyptian and Moorish styles that somehow works just fine. It is another of Goodhue's successful collaborations with architectural sculptor Lee Lawrie. The library opened in 1926 and is the third largest library in the US based on book and periodical holdings.

A Roadboy hint: Central has one of the best little gift shops in LA. It features a constantly changing selection of one-of-a-kind stuff at great prices. It is simply the perfect place to shop if you want to be a hero at Christmas.

LA's Downtown Library

Lee Lawrie's One Ton Globe Chandelier
Surrounded by 48 "State" Lights  

From the library I was off to absorb perhaps America's most "noir" building; the 1893 Bradbury Building.

Here are some of the reasons to love this building:

1. The architect George Wyman, after repeatedly turning down the job, changed his mind after he had a "conversation" with his brother Mark. Slight wrinkle; his brother had been dead six years and the conversation took place using a planchette.

2. The French wrought iron work in the building was so wonderful it was chosen for display at Chicago's (White City) World's Fair before its installation.

3. The building has served as a set for countless movies, videos and television shows. The most famous probably being the rooftop climax in 1982's movie Blade Runner.

4. For years one of the doors upstairs had "Sam Spade Private Detective" etched in it.

5. In the telelvision show 77 Sunset Strip Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (yeah, I am that old...) had his office in the Bradbury. 

6. Both Marvel and DC have comics featuring the Bradbury (Marvel: The Order, DC: Human Target.) Marvel actually leases office space in the building. 

7. I'm a pushover for cage elevators. This building has two of them....

The Flanking Cage Elevators

A Huge Atrium

Perfect Terra Cotta

Amazing Wrought Iron

Upon leaving the Bradbury it was getting dark, so we opted to ride the 109 year old Angel's Flight Railway up Bunker Hill. Jack Webb in Dragnet once opined "for five cents, ride the shortest railway in the world". Well a few items to mention. It is now one block south of its original location and it now costs fifty cents. It is short, but it is sweet and Jack Webb was always a stick in the mud.

The Top of Angel's Flight Railway

At the top of the railway we had a wonderful view of one of LA's most distinctive skyscrapers; formerly the Interstate Bank building, now it is the US Bank building.

The US Bank Building and it's Trademark "Crown"

With that I must catch some shuteye.

Day Two:
The next destinations downtown were new buildings - the curvalicious Disney Hall and the new Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

The Walt Disney Concert Hall is the new home to Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra. The building, designed by Frank Gehry, took about 12 years to design and build. It rang up a breathtaking price - approaching $300,000,000. And that price was after the project was scaled back to be clad in metal instead of stone.

After all the noise and fury, the hall has been universally praised by performers and audiences for its superb acoustics. The sensuous Disney Hall replaces Welton Becket's stately and totally rational Dorothy Chandler Pavilion - which was always plagued by poor acoustics.

Walt Disney Concert Hall

The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

From the Music Center it was a short walk to the new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. New home of the Catholic Diocese of Los Angeles. It was built as a modern replacement the Cathedral of Saint Vibiana which was heavily damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake. Designed by Rafael Moneo it cost $250,000,000, unearthed a stunning amount of alabaster, and opened in 2002. 

As with any monumental architecture, I found parts much to be admired (the interior and the stunning wall tapestries) and parts that were lacking (the lackluster exterior color, its hulking fortresslike mass, and its very confusing and totally unwelcome entry.)

The Interior
With its Amazing Pipe Organ 
and Beautiful Wall Tapestries 

One of John Nava's Stunning Tapestries
(This One is About 4 Stories High)

From here we toured LA's New Police Administration Building. The Building is filled with light and replaces the earthquake vulnerable Parker Center a few blocks east. Surprisingly we were told it could not be called the "Headquarters" since it was not built to California's stringent earthquake standards for  Essential Service buildings. Lets see they replaced the old building because it was seismically vulnerable, then exploited a loophole in the building code to build the replacement building to a lessor standard? Odd priorities in my book. 

When one reached the upper floors of the new Police Administration Building they are afforded  perhaps the best view possible of LA's iconic City Hall. Perhaps with a bit more irony. The folks who opted to avoid incorporating stringent earthquake standards in the design for the new police HQ decided to literally lift up City Hall and install a state-of-the-art base isolation system under it to virtually assure its ability to survive a major quake.

Los Angeles City Hall
Parkinson, Austin, and Albert C. Martin Sr.

Now pretty hungry our last stop was lunch at LA's Grand Central Market. It reminded me of Seattle's Pike Place Public Market, it has been serving fresh meat, produce, baked goods, and ice cream since 1917. It has sawdust floors and lots of neon. I love it.

The Grand Central Market

I had an awesome carne asada combo plate.

I know any trip to Southern California poses many options to compete for your time. If you have an afternoon, I suggest donning some comfy shoes and taking a walk around its amazing downtown.

Roadboy's Travels © 2011